Friday, July 31, 2009

Beep beep

I've not been sleeping well lately.

There's no good reason, although on Tuesday and Wednesday it could be explained by an air conditioning unit that wasn't working properly and producing something akin to cracking sounds. (I opened the utility closet to see that a pipe emerging from it was surrounded by ice and had developed two young icicles. That can't be good, can it?) And then there was last night.

I had been sleeping as deeply as I have in awhile when I was awakened at 4:30 a.m. by the sound of a persistent car horn. Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep...

My apartment dampens the noise from the outside fairly well, so the fact that I could clearly hear it in my place tells you how loud it was. (I must admit to being a light sleeper, though.) I expected this annoyance would go away soon enough but it didn't. I looked out the window and didn't see flashing lights on any cars in the lot, which indicated the noise wasn't coming from my complex. If not, where was the source?

I tried going back to sleep, but there was no chance that was happening with a honk per second. I thought maybe I was wrong and that it was an alarm from the strip shopping center. I looked out the window again and didn't see anything out of the ordinary. No doors were ajar, and the sound didn't seem as though it was from that direction.

Then I wondered if the alarm was coming from my car. From my apartment I didn't see any signs of it being broken into or having its alarm tripped, but I had to check, if merely to alleviate my concerns that I was the owner of the vehicle disrupting everyone's sleep. I slipped on my shoes and wandered outside. Nope. Not my car. Not any others out there.

Again I tried to fall asleep, but that incessant beeping could not be ignored. I looked out the rear window of my apartment again and saw a flashing light through the trees that was synchronized with the alarm. The car was in a different apartment complex that was nearby but not especially close. So it was at this point that I decided to take action.

The problem was that I lacked two critical pieces of information. First, who do I call? The city on my address is not the city where my taxes are sent. Do I call the suburb's police department or the Columbus cops? Of course I had no idea what either number was since this was not an emergency of the 911 variety. Second, how do I explain where the problem is? I don't know the address because it's not where I live.

I fired up the laptop and went to Google Maps. I entered my address, clicked the button for satellite display, and could easily identify the building. Now I had a location for the beeping car. I looked up the suburb's police department and found the non-emergency number. When I told them the address, they told me to call Columbus. I rang them and was told that someone else had notified them and that a police officer was just about on the scene. This was 5:15 a.m., 45 minutes after I first heard the alarm.

According to Google Maps, the lot with the beeping car was .7 miles by foot from my home. (It's not a straight line, for what it's worth.) How in the world no one over there, especially the owner, hadn't heard it and done something earlier mystified me, but whatever, I figured the issue would soon be resolved. When 6:00 a.m. arrived and the car was still unleashing its cry for help, I began to wonder what was up.

I looked out and saw the flicker of the red and blue police car lights through the trees. Clearly they were present. Could they just not reach the vehicle's owner? As I lay there weary, perturbed, and wide awake I started counting the beeps in the cycle. One hundred twenty honks sounded before a slight hiccup that indicated the repeating of a fresh set.

Finally, at 6:40 a.m., almost an hour and a half after the police arrived, it stopped. I strained to make sure that it really, truly was over. Making a conservative estimate, the car honked no fewer than 7800 times in the wee hours of the night. However restless tonight's sleep may be, I have to expect it will be more productive than what I lost during this minimalist automotive symphony.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Parts known and unknown

The last hotel has been booked for my soon-to-begin vacation. Six stops, nine states, just shy of two weeks long. I don't necessarily know what I'll be doing, but I know where I'll be and who I'll be seeing. For right now that's plenty of preparation.

It is, to be sure, an unconventional vacation with a lot of driving. Essentially I pulled it together in about a week, although I had a vague idea or two of what I wanted to include. (I never would have tried to do this with the old car lest I end up stranded in who knows where.) I'm excited at the prospect of this nonsensical trip and the nice surprises it might contain.

The process for choosing the first destination was pretty random. I knew where I was starting (obviously) and where stop #2 would be, but the first city on the trip was decided, more or less, by opening up an atlas on Monday and seeing what might be an interesting way to get to the second location. I would have never thought of going to this place, but in this context it seemed like a fun idea to travel there.

My family didn't travel a lot when I was growing up. Dad ran the business and couldn't afford to leave or close it for an extended time because there usually was no more than one other employee. And of course it's expensive to haul and lodge a family of six. To a certain extent I've made up for that with rambling summer trips every now and then.

Driving a car across the country may not be the fastest method to get around, but it is a way to obtain a better feel for the nation and its regional and local differences. This upcoming trip mostly takes me to cities where I've been, but even such pseudo-familiarity will be a change of pace from my day-to-day surroundings. Anyway, the first couple days take me somewhere I've never been, so that ought to be fun.

Yes, I'm being vague because I might as well keep an element of surprise here on the blog. Think of it as "Where in the World is the secret knitter?"

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Craft services

Yesterday's ballpark listing and reminiscences took an inordinate amount of time to write, so today I'm going to keep it short and sweet. A reader helpfully provided a link to some potential blog fodder, so I now pass it along to you.

This blogger knits little figures from pop culture. Initially I thought that Han Solo was the only one, but if you scroll down, there are plenty others, often of the unpredictable variety. I'm betting that this is the only crafty person to make a knitted Kraftwerk.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Diamonds are forever

With the car reliability question solved via getting a new one, I've moved on to figuring out what I'm doing for vacation. As it turns out, a heaping helping of baseball games in various locales looks to be on the itinerary.

More than any other sport, baseball is the one in which fans take great interest in tracking the stadiums they've been to and constructing trips around visiting different parks. It isn't unusual to read of a couple guys or a family setting out during the summer to attend games at all thirty Major League Baseball stadiums.

What ballparks have I been to?

In memoriam

-Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field (Cincinnati, Ohio) x multiple games

This cookie cutter stadium was where I saw my first games. There doesn't appear to be much appreciable nostalgia for it being torn down. Give it a few years.

-Memorial Stadium (Baltimore, Maryland) x1

It's hard for me to believe now, but this was the first ballpark outside of Riverfront where I saw a game. My church youth group went to a work camp in Maryland. Evenings were open, and I convinced the leader that we should go to this game. I seem to recall that Cal Ripken Jr. hit his 200th home run that night.

-Cleveland Stadium (Cleveland, Ohio) x3

In 1993 I attended the final series in this enormous yard with a couple college friends who are diehard Cleveland fans. Our seats were underneath the upper deck and way back, so the sight lines were pretty terrible. It was kind of like watching a game through a letterbox. Any fly balls of significance went out of our sight. The next summer I saw the Rolling Stones (with opener Lenny Kravitz) there with a better but still distant view of the action.

-Veterans Stadium (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) x1

Here's another of the 1970s cookie cutter stadiums that no longer exist. During the game I sat in the upper deck, where the fabled Philly fanatics were suitably boisterous. Of note: getting to see Tony Gwynn during his last season.

-Olympic Stadium (Montreal, Quebec) x1

Unlike the other ballparks, this stadium is still around, although Major League Baseball has vacated it. For those interested, I previously wrote about my experience there.


-Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati, Ohio) x multiple games

I saw a couple Opening Day games, including the first one here, when you could still buy one without having to get a ticket package. Of course it's my stadium of choice because of who plays there, even if the team can be mighty frustrating. It came as a shock to me this week when I read that this team has made the playoffs just twice in thirty years. WHAT?!

-Jacobs Field/Progressive Field (Cleveland, Ohio) x multiple games

The first time I went produced a 12-inning game that left those of us dressed for spring--it was late April--feeling pretty cold. Manny Ramirez hit a mammoth home run in the bottom of the twelfth to keep things alive for the home team, who rallied for three to win. Not bad for what was, at the time, a brand new stadium hoped to help change the franchise's losing ways.

-The Ballpark in Arlington (Arlington, Texas) x2

I kind of like the totally generic name--it's better than the rotating sponsor names without any sense of place--but I see that it took naming rights for a few years. Most notable thing from this game--I think...or the next night--was that this was the only time I sat in the winning row for one of the between inning contests. The prize: a Rangers t-shirt with Rafael Palmeiro's name and number on the back.

-SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) (Toronto, Ontario) x2

The name, look, and features of this ballpark--hotel rooms in the outfield--made it seem like some futuristic place. OK, so it has artificial turf and is so huge as to eliminate any sense of intimacy, but I kind of loved it the first time I went there anyway. That game wrapped in a tidy 2:01, a fast time for any baseball game, especially an American League match-up. The upside? I was able to get out of there in time to run across town to catch a movie.

-Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field) (Phoenix, Arizona) x1

I do believe this was the first baseball game in air conditioning that I ever attended. Hey, it's Arizona in early August. I think I heard the outside temperature was 110 that day. Nobody was complaining about the air going full blast.

-Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles, California) x1

It's pretty telling of the ballpark construction craze in the '90s and beyond that this is now the third oldest stadium in Major League Baseball. I remember really enjoying my time at this place. My brother and I sat in left field and had a gorgeous view of the stadium. It wasn't the fanciest place, but it felt like a timeless spot to watch the game.

-Turner Field (Atlanta, Georgia) x2

Because my brother and I waited too long to get tickets I missed my chance to see a game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a place familiar to me from years of watching games on TBS. (He was living in Atlanta at the time, and we didn't think about them selling out the weekend series against the Phillies while I was visiting. Of course, that's what happens with good teams.) My first visit to Turner Field is notable because the game ended in a tie. The Braves won the following year when I was in town for my brother's wedding.

-PNC Park (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) x1

I saw the first regular season game here when my visiting Reds whipped up on the hapless Buccos.

For good measure...

Minor league stadiums

-Cooper Stadium (Columbus, Ohio) x multiple games

Last summer I wrote about attending my last game at the sturdy old home of the Columbus Clippers.

-Huntington Park (Columbus, Ohio) x1

In June I went to my first game at their new home.

-Bush Stadium (Indianapolis, Indiana) x1

I went to this former home of Indy's minor leaguers while the family was in town for a church conference. I had broken my ankle days earlier and was grudgingly along for the trip. Biographers, take note. This place hosted be the only baseball game I've attended in a wheelchair. (It was easier to get me around that way.)

-Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (South Bend, Indiana) x1

See last summer's report.

-Memorial Stadium (Fort Wayne, Indiana) x1

Featured in another of last summer's reports, although the team has changed nicknames (from Wizards to TinCaps) and relocated to a new stadium since then.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Follow the stitches

Busy day, not much to say. Here's a video of knit plastic tubing having water and color circulating through it. Maybe this could become a knit equivalent of a lava lamp?

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

A new perspective

Since my dad was coming over around a week ago to help me find a car, I knew that it was time for some emergency apartment cleaning. In other words I needed to get the stuff piled up in chairs out of the way so they could be properly used. The place doesn't look that bad, but I'm not proud that the chairs were de facto storage containers. The truth of the matter is that I would toss newspapers, mail, hats, and who knows what else onto the chairs.

I don't have much furniture, so it's a wonder that I haven't used the two small padded rocking(?) chairs that I claimed when my grandmother's house was being cleared out five years ago. I've sat in them from time to time, but for the most part my futon has been sufficient.

Anyway, since my dad's visit I've been using one of the chairs for its intended purpose, which means (obviously) that I'm sitting in a different spot in the room. It's not a drastic shift, but it gives me a different experience in this space. I wouldn't call it transformative, exactly, but this relatively unfamiliar perspective in a place where I've lived more than two years gives me a new appreciation for the room.

Similarly, driving a different car, which sits higher and gives me a new (read: better) view, freshens up the same routes I take to the places I need to go.

I suspect that oftentimes it's minor changes--small adjustments--that provide all the relief necessary to break from the routine. While a sledgehammer may be needed for big alterations, I'm betting a carving chisel is best suited for the kinds of adaptations to keep things interesting.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Does Russell Crowe knit?

An article about knitting's origins and its celebrity-credited resurgence ticks off plenty of familiar names from stage and screen who've expressed fondness for the needlecraft.

Once again I see the same picture and claim that "even" Russell Crowe knits. Honestly, I've always been pretty skeptical of this information. The repetition of it--based on a photo shoot picture? a single internet story? wishful thinking?--hasn't inspired any more confidence in its veracity.

As an image--the temperamental tough guy indulging a fondness for a hobby associated with old ladies--it holds a lot of affirming power for men and women who knit. If Crowe is a knitter, then how knitting must be masculine and worthy of one's time, right? (Yes, I realize this opens up an entire can of worms about gender and the marginalization of female domains, but in this case I use "worthy of one's time" because clearly the suggestion of Crowe being a knitter means something to some women.)

But is it true? There's an anonymous source who claims Crowe knits, although the 2004 item reads more like gossip column fodder. (The publication doesn't inspire tons of confidence either.) This 2001 article might be the genesis of all the other mentions of Crowe as a knitter. At first I thought it might provide a definitive answer to the mystery, but notice that there isn't even an unnamed source.

A commenter to a 2007 story tries to shoot down the knitting Crowe rumor. While there's no reason to put any stock in what this person says, I'm more inclined to believe her than pieces that seem to have passed along this as fact like in a game of telephone. Why, here's a June 12, 2009 story that makes the same flimsy statement that Crowe is a knitter.

Best as I can tell this rumor has been going around for eight years, but of the articles I've pulled up, none come straight from the horse's mouth...or even anyone with a name. Of course, short of the unlikely prospect of interviewing him myself, I'll not come upon a definitive answer. Perhaps one of my readers or her husband might straighten this all out if the opportunity arises.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Play him off

You all know about Keyboard Cat, right? (If not, get up to speed here.)

A television program held a contest for Keyboard Cat-related art, and the third place finisher was a knitted hand puppet of the immortal feline.

What a place this internet is.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cool it

July has been unusually cool and low in humidity. Lower temperatures mean that my apartment's air conditioning hasn't needed to kick on as often, which provides some nice little summer savings.

One of the topics in a Cincinnati sportswriter's blog entry today was central air and his preference of not having it growing up. Either his miserliness is exceptionally strong or nostalgia is clouding his memory. In this part of the country air conditioning may not be as critical as it is in the South, but it's not something I would want to do without.

I didn't grow up with central air. In fact, I didn't live anywhere that had it until I moved into the apartment where I lived during my senior year of college. Funny but I don't have any rosy recollections of sweating like a horse while struggling to fall asleep at night or trying to hear the console TV over the loud hum of a window unit and/or box fan.

With the way my shared bedroom was configured, there was always the risk of kicking the fan if my brother or I needed to get up in the dead of the night. The only advantage these whirring machines had over AC was the lulling white noise they generated, but that hardly makes them equal.

I don't remember a lack of central air promoting more neighborliness because it got us out of the house. Having an above ground pool took care of that, I suppose.

So if some old-timers (or aspiring ones) wan to reflect fondly about not having central air, let 'em. Just don't expect me to join the chorus.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Midas touch

What a difference a week makes.

Last week it seemed like I had a target on my back. It was getting pretty ridiculous. On the way from the bank to pick up my new car (and trade in the one I was driving) someone pulled out in front of me without anywhere close to assured clear distance. Just what I would have needed, to get into a big accident right before turning over my old car.

This week everything seems to be turning up roses. My dental check-up was passed with flying colors, not that I expected any different. I've been able to get a lot of work done in an efficient manner. I've not been contacted by the owner or insurance company of the SUV I lightly bumped in the no-speed collision. I received some very good news today that makes life a little bit easier.

Honestly I'm not quite sure how to react.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Needles and spools

Knitting on view in films unspooling now or soon at a theater near you...

Only in the knitting world would I even think to consider this a spoiler, but in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (KNITTING REFERENCE SPOILER) Dumbledore asks if he can keep a magazine of knitting patterns that he finds in a muggle household.

As evidence that Katherine Heigl must be a frumpy stick in the mud--you know, because she totally looks the part--Gerard Butler discovers the knitting in her home in The Ugly Truth. (For those who care, she is not actually seen knitting. The presence of needles and yarn is shorthand for her dowdiness.)


Monday, July 20, 2009

Whoa whoa

It's been a catch-up day for me after last week's attention was turned to car shopping, so the best I can do here today is type out a couple of lines and embed a video.

The search led to talk with my dad about how car dealerships and car prices used to be. He mentioned that when he was younger he'd been able to custom order one of his first cars. Like so many other automobiles of the time, that car was immortalized in rock history with a song all of its own: Ronny & the Daytonas "G.T.O." (No, it isn't The Beach Boys.)

I don't expect a rockin' tune about a used, sensible mid-size sedan anytime soon.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009


I feel like the last nine days of car researching, shopping, and recovery led to a lost week. Which end is up? What's going on in the world? What day is it? I've felt unmoored and stressed out by the experience. I didn't need this to tell me that a vacation is certainly in order, although it has revealed that it may be more urgently needed than thought.

Aside from sleeping away this afternoon, my attempt to bounce back led me to pick up the needles and knit a little for the first time in ages. I kicked back with the live stream from the Pitchfork Music Festival rolling on the computer and worked on a dishcloth started months ago. It was a nice break from worrying about the outcome from that minor automobile scrape on the next to last day with my previous car. (I ought to be able to let it go, but it's easier said than done.)

So hopefully this ushers in my return to knitting on a regular basis again. I know its absence has driven away most blog readers, which makes sense. We'll see how it goes.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

The art of the sale

Having little firsthand experience with car dealers until this week's automobile shopping, I was amused (and frustrated) by the performance aspect of the negotiation and potential transaction. The way these men and women behave is extremely theatrical. The process is one big show with the express purpose of persuading the consumer to purchase a vehicle at the highest price possible.

Wednesday night I got The Two-Faced Professional. He started all chummy and casual, but then he got to asking what I thought my car would fetch as a trade-in. I threw out a figure that I'd seen in the Kelly Blue Book and a higher amount that was floated by a saleswoman. He practically called me a liar or a thief for daring to think that I should receive such a price for my heap.

He pressed on and came up with a final figure that was easily beyond what I was willing to spend. Then he walked away to talk over any potential discount with the manager. He returned much later with a price that was a jaw-dropping $3500 lower, although this was a "late night special" that expired the moment I walked out the door. (Yeah right.) He worked it and kept putting the screws to me and my dad, but I hadn't intended to buy that evening and wasn't prepared to pull the trigger even with such a tempting offer.

Outside the heat of the moment it was pretty clear how ridiculously jacked up their price was, so the dramatic impact of the cost cutting--with tax and title he was offering it at nearly half of an older, higher tag on the car--was arranged to shock and awe. Based on the research I've done, it turned out to be a competitive price, if on the high side for the make and model. Of course, he was hoping to jolt me into thinking I'd just been delivered an unbelievable deal.

I suppose that was good practice for the place where I purchased a car. Unlike any of the other dealerships, this time the salesman rode along in the back seat and chatted up my dad and me during the test drive. I wasn't thrilled about that--it definitely affected how much attention I could give to everything--but this was probably the only pressured aspect of the process.

Once we arrived back at the dealership we were whisked into the office. One of a steady stream of salesmen took the key to my car to evaluate its "trade-in worth". (Let's face it, even if I weren't trading in a car they surely have no intention of reselling other than to the junk yard, those are dollars they would be willing to knock off.) I must have been greeted by four or five people, and part of the reason for this receiving line seemed geared toward getting me to say yes, whether the question was if I wanted them to take a look at my car or would like a bottle of water.

My salesman had the voice and swagger that you'd expect of someone who sells cars for a living, yet he wasn't pushy. He began with the price I'd seen online--interestingly, there was no price on the actual car--and subtracted an expected amount to account for my trade-in. The dance had begun.

That price was too high--and of course you never take the first offer in these instances--and so he went back to talk to the manager. I was sort of expecting to see the big reveal of a significant price drop, but this one was more modest in the form of additional value given for my car. (There must be a reason, tax write-off or otherwise, for this.) It was still more than I really wanted to pay and what we thought they'd be willing to take.

Then we played our chip. I knew the price offered on a comparable car that was a model year newer but had mileage more in line with its age. So we tossed that lowball figure into the sales arena. The dealership also sells that company's car, so it wasn't like they could brush it off as a worthless comparison. My salesman didn't think he could do any more. I said that I understood. While I liked the car, the price was higher than I could accept. If they would get the key to my car, which they still had, I was ready to go.

The salesman went in search of the key, but of course he came back and said that the owner was going to get involved as he was the only one who could approve anything approaching the price I wanted. He asked if we'd have a deal if the owner cut it there. I said we would. He didn't think it would go that low--honestly, I didn't either-- but it was out of his hands now.

After another long waiting period, the star of the show appeared. He was an older guy whose name is on the sign for several dealerships in this smaller town. If he didn't found this dealership fifty or sixty years earlier, surely his father did. He was exceptionally soft spoken and mumbly, not unlike Boomhauer on King of the Hill, and he pretty much cut right to the chase. He saw how much we were apart and offered to split the difference plus a little more to get a nice even number.

I asked for a couple minutes to talk it over with my dad. Neither of us expected they would go any lower or could. (We agreed that they had probably listed the car at a less inflated price than the other dealer we dealt with.) The number was slightly more than I'd been hoping to get out of there with, but it was a fair price according to my research and within the range I was willing to spend. The deal was complete.

Granted, maybe working them down by a thousand dollars wasn't so much our doing, but I displayed preparation and knowledge about the car's worth and claimed (truthfully) to have a fallback option. Even if they might have gone lower, the theater of the sale accomplished what a proper car dealership should do in these situations: it convinced me that I had driven a hard bargain and was happy with the experience.

I can't say that all this was exactly pleasurable. It was hard work, but the place where I bought the car didn't talk down to me or act as if I was asking for the moon. It was just the nuts and bolts way of doing business. Everyone ended up a winner, and we got a free show included with the vehicle.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

On the lot

Cutting right to it, I now own a more recently manufactured car with much less mileage on it than the Saturn with 192, 541 miles that I put out to pasture by trading it in. I visited eleven dealerships and one car lot, test drove seven cars, and negotiated twice. (My dad was an invaluable partner. I can't imagine doing this solo.) Some of the dealers were only a mile or two from where I live. The place where I bought the car is thirty-some miles outside the city.

My online searches and research chewed up a lot of hours this week and led to more lost sleep than I wish it had, but the legwork produced the purchase of a vehicle that I think meets my needs about as well as anything could. The experience yielded its share of strange, funny, and aggravating moments, such as:

-At least two salespeople fed me the line that the car I was looking at and test drove was owned by an older person. It may very well have been true, but talk about the stereotypical pitch.

-I took one car out for a spin and had someone pull up beside me to inform me that I lost a hubcap. I hadn't driven even a half mile from the dealership. We were able to recover the hubcap, which came off because it had at least one broken plastic clip.

-There was a reason why I typically eliminated cars at places whose online presences indicated that they weren't dealerships. I went to one of these to find the car blocked in and unable to be test driven, not the least of which was because it had to be jumpstarted. (No surprise that it was a salvage rebuild.)

-One salesman gave me the key to a car and let me take it out without presenting a driver's license or signing any paperwork. His informality tightened up with a post-drive medium-to-high pressure negotiation. (I did not end up buying this car, although it did prove useful to have as an alternative to play as a bargaining chip in the negotiation for the car I got.)

-"That car hasn't been driven in a couple days. The rust will come off the brakes shortly after you use them." Umm, no. My guess is that the rotors are warped because the brakes pulse like crazy. So much for your dealership's 115 point inspection.

-Making derisive remarks about the minorities and immigrants in the area and using some jokey pidgin English probably aren't the best tactics when you don't know the customer you're talking to.

-No way of talking your way out of this one: the salesman hopped in the back seat and had me drive him to a gas station since the fuel light was on. He could not get out of the car because the lock couldn't be undone from the inside. He tried to pass this off as a child safety lock. That might have been a passable explanation except that this car had manual locks.

I'll write about the negotiation and completed sale tomorrow as it deserves space of its own.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

And in the end...

I was just about ready to crawl home and call it a day with the way things began this morning. For starters, I scratched my leg on a piece of metal sticking out from my futon. My dad slept on it last night, and I'd folded it up to sit on it. Turns out that nearly a third of the cross supports had broken and one was jutting out. No, my dad didn't do it. Although I didn't quite realize it, the weak welds snapped long ago. (I knew that something wasn't right, but I didn't think it was this.)

The scratch was painful enough, but I was not thrilled at the prospect of having to replace my main piece of furniture, which I purchased when I moved into my current apartment two years ago. This did not portend good things to come.

Sure enough, the day got worse. After going through the Tim Hortons drive-thru for a coffee and a donut, I got in line to exit the shopping center. What happened next isn't entirely clear to me. I thought the Envoy in front of me had pulled onto the road. I looked to the left, saw an opening, and started going when my dad yelled at me to stop. The vehicle in front of me hadn't gone anywhere. I had rearended it.

I was surprised to see it there. I know the next word out of my mouth was one that has rarely, if ever, passed my lips in front of a parent. Really all I did was rub it. I couldn't have had any speed. (For comparison's sake, I drive a four-door sedan that is not very big.) I don't know that I really did anything to it, although he said it bent some stuff. (Keep in mind that the nose of my car practically fit under his rear bumper.) Much to his credit, the passenger in that vehicle was personable and didn't yell. I was mortified by my mistake. He was headed out on vacation, so I may not hear anything until next week.

So, double whammy. I have a very minor collision with a car, which is probably my first "accident" since 1994. (This was not reported to the police, obviously.) I have to wait for days to hear what he may want done.

I take responsibility for what happened, but I'm unclear about what went on because the person behind me came over and gave me their phone number while saying that I didn't do anything to the other car. She then drove over the curb and around to be on her way. I'm wondering if the driver ahead started out and then either drifted back or should have gone but was dawdling. Like I said, I screwed up, but I felt terrible for at least the next two hours.

And then more car shopping.

In brief, I took a look at three more cars at two dealerships and then headed home with what I thought was a better idea of the specific make and model I wanted. I won't trouble you today with the details of what transpired over the next three-plus hours, but assuming that nothing strange happens with the bank, I've all but sealed the deal on my next car.

The negotiation and some of the other occurrences in this process merit dedicated entries, so I'll finish for today by saying that this evening my dad engineered an unconventional fix of the futon. So maybe this day came out on the plus side after all?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Let's make a deal

My dad rolled into town today to help me with actually looking at cars and not online searches. On his way in I drove about twenty miles from home to meet him at a place that had a vehicle of interest. It wasn't quite right--brakes clicked, just the basics--but OK, so it goes.

The next place proved to be what I suspected--rebuilt salvage vehicles--but then we swung through a series of dealerships lined up in a row. I took one car in what appeared to be immaculate condition, so of course it lost a hubcap after driving less than a half mile from the lot. Luckily another driver pointed it out to me, and we recovered it in time. (It was cheap plastic with a broken piece on it, so I was not at fault.)

I felt all right with that car, although it wasn't something I'd researched. Expectations remained in check and were tempered with some skepticism. I've since found out that its fuel economy is not so hot.

After a bite to eat we swung by four or five dealerships near my place just to see what they had. The last had a car whose price, while a little higher than I would like, was in the range and had the newness, mileage, and Consumer Reports reliability I was seeking. I took it for a test drive and was suitably impressed. And then the fun began.

I wasn't planning to buy anything today simply for the fact that I didn't want to be pressed into making a snap decision. I'll be spending the most money I've ever laid out for a car and possibly more than the cost of my four previous vehicles. It is not a decision I'm taking lightly.

The salesman did a nice job of applying the screws and then walked away to see what he could give me for the trade-in and knock the price down to. I was a little irritated by the length of the wait--it was near the dealership's closing time--and I was determined not to make a commitment that night. (My dad had been quieter than I'd hoped during this process, but at least he provided some moral support.)

Both of us expected a nominal discount and were thus surprised to see the price the salesman offered. Of course, this was an "only good right now, late night price". It was tempting to take the deal, but I stood firm and told him that I wanted to think about it and would come back if I felt like it was the right thing. He couldn't guarantee the deal would be offered on a return visit. I'm willing to live with that anyway.

What irritates me to no end is that this process is driven by anything but truthfulness and best intentions. The salesman put on a good performance, but you know what, if the car had been priced at what he offered rather than going through the whole give and take, I might well have that contract in hand now. I loathe the haggling and pretense that's all about trying not to get screwed over. Obviously they're making a pretty penny even with the "discount", which just tells me how artificially high the price was to begin with. (If going by the original/highest price on the car, I was being offered in the range of a 40% reduction including tax and title.)

Since coming home I've found the same and comparable cars advertised at about the same original price. Some have slightly better mileage and features. The car with the discount does not appear to be such a rare deal after all. I've tried to be diligent about educating myself during this process and going in knowing what's what. It's certainly been very useful--I can't imagine how badly some people get ripped off--but this nonsense puts me off the whole car buying dance to where I wish I didn't have to do it.

Buying a car should be fun? Ha. I'd settle for non-inflammatory.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Still searching...

I know, it's another car entry, but I'm telling you, this new-to-me vehicle search has become all-consuming. Not satisfied with what online searches were turning up, I slightly raised my upper price limit to see what I might find. I was a little more pleased with a couple potential options and was feeling a smidgen more hopeful about getting something I'd be happy with.

Of course I obsessed over this all day and started having doubts. I plugged the VINs into a free database check and found that both are salvage vehicles despite the listings making no mention of this fact. I was more concerned about hidden flood damage, but obviously my suspicious deal detector was triggered. Thanks but no thanks.

So the search for the perfect--or good enough--car for me continues. My dad's arriving tomorrow, which potentially means that I'll take a look at a vehicle or two in the afternoon or early evening. I think I've found one that could be what I want and seems like a reasonable price, even if it's a bit more than I was hoping to spend, but we'll see how that plays out.

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Monday, July 13, 2009


So I've been doing my work in anticipation of getting a replacement car. Checked on loan offerings, done the electronic version of dog-earing Consumer Reports, searched online for cars, and arrived at one unshakable conclusion: I'm less certain of what to do than when I started this process.

OK, that's not entirely true, but it is dispiriting to read reviews, professional and anything but, that essentially say you're doomed to make an expensive mistake because you're looking for an economy car.

I've spent way too much time looking at this stuff today, yet that's what I'll probably be doing until Thursday. I suppose I can be distracted until then by the fact that my current car is sending definite signals that all is not well. (My guess: a cylinder is dying, not that I'm a mechanic in any way.) I'm driving as little as possible in the hope that doing so will keep me from being stranded on the side of the road.

Is this over yet?


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Search engines

The search for a new car is on, and by new I mean used (or "pre-owned", per the industry parlance now).

To be perfectly honest, this is not something I consider fun in the slightest. Aside from a college education, cars are the most expensive things I've bought, yet there's always the niggling sense that the buying process is rigged against the purchaser and that the hidden expenses can't be anticipated. (The more cynical might suggest the same is true of higher education, but we'll part ways there.)

Let's face it, if the stereotypes have a seed of truth in them, we expect to get screwed over by whoever is selling the cars. In this country how often do we go to buy something while arming ourselves with a protective shield and combative attitude? More information than ever is available to the consumer these days, but that way also lies madness. Reviews, reliability reports, online comparison shopping...there's more data to sift through and make sense of before even getting behind the wheel.

I know what I'm willing to pay and what I value in a car, but the point where those qualities converge can be difficult to find. I've driven myself a little bit crazy poring over car searches and discovering what is (or isn't) available. It's overwhelming.

Per my request my dad is coming over later this week to help with dealership visits and car evaluations. I probably overestimate his knowledge. He's suggested as much. Nevertheless, when I'm getting ready to spend more than I've ever spent on a single item--something that is necessary for getting me where I need to go--I could use a second opinion. It won't eliminate the stress of the choice, but hopefully it will ease it.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Auto focus

To me the car is mostly what gets me where I'm going and not much more. I've liked some cars more than others, but ultimately the main thing I have invested in the vehicle is its reliability. Maybe that's what made my parting with each of my previous cars relatively easy.

There was the 1982 Datsun 200SX (owned August 1992-August 1996). It was my first and, let's face it, my favorite. The $600 purchase price didn't hurt, but that car had horsepower AND a woman's voice that delivered information ("the door is ajar). It was kind of like owning KITT. I hated to get rid of it, but it broke down on the side of the interstate one night and then had the hatchback window shattered when someone threw a beer bottle at it. (Luckily I wasn't in the car at the time.) With glass all over the interior and who knows what to repair under the hood, it had to go.

Next was the 1987 Toyota Corolla (August 1996-March 1998). Call it a rebound car, again purchased for $600. The first major problem I encountered with it was antifreeze leaking into the oil. Not good. That eventually seemed to be patched, but then the clutch went. It wasn't worth putting additional money into it, and I wasn't sad to see it go.

My third car, a 1990 Ford Taurus (March 1998-April 2004), had been totalled and rebuilt by someone my dad knew. Considering how long I did have it, perhaps it was worth the chance taken on it, although I remember it having its share of issues. Again, when the time came, there was no question I needed to move on. A dead cylinder will do that.

My current car, a 1997 Saturn (April 2004-???) has treated me well despite having more miles on it than I preferred when I bought it. I've only ever had to have regular and routine maintenance done on it. In that way it's probably been the best car I've owned. I'd been hoping to maybe get another year or so out of it, but today I think I've decided that the time to call it quits may be soon.

You see, the car is bucking, a problem that seems unrelated to the transmission. It started a little more than a week ago and has been stressing me out since. While it accelerates fine, I'm worried that whatever is underneath the hood that wants to leap forward--I can feel it--is going to cause me to get stranded or worse.

If this unidentified problem were the only thing in need of repair, perhaps I wouldn't be so hasty to break it off, but there are plenty of other issues that could use addressing but would be prohibitively expensive for a car with 192,000+ miles on it. So I've decided, more or less, that we've had a good run, but I'll be better off moving on.

The car buying process isn't something I enjoy. Ideally I would get another year or year and a half out of my current car. Fingers crossed, at least this time I might be able to end things on my terms rather than being in a situation in which I have a vehicle that won't operate and must find a replacement.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Walk on

One of the areas where my energy has been going of late is exercise. Added to my commitment of eating properly (most of the time), it equals feeling better and losing weight.

I'm not doing anything fancy. Simply put, I'm hoofing it over to the nearby park and walking around it for about an hour at least five times a week. Unlike the hilly, more picturesque park where I exercised when I lived on another side of town, this is pretty much all flat terrain. In that sense it's probably more ideal for running, but I'm giving my knees and shins a break and just walking. (It is concrete, after all.)

The slower pace and open area allows me to soak up the atmosphere in a neighborhood I'm not really connected to--can't say I even know those who live in the same building beyond the names on the mailboxes--yet feel very much at home in. Since I've been dedicated to walking, there are a few people with whom I may share hellos with out of recognition and a few dogs I may give a friendly scratch behind the ears.

I like seeing all the different activities going on. The tennis courts seem full at night, and from time to time I may chase down a stray ball knocked over the fence. A pick-up soccer match is often going on, and a wiffle ball game (or some variation) is a common sight. A few lacrosse sticks may be in action, and a person or two is typically on one of the basketball courts. Lately organized youth flag football has been setting up shop on weekday afternoons. And then there are dogs chasing tennis balls, frisbees being thrown, and kites being flown. Runners are on the middle school track, and someone may be tossing or hitting a ball against the elementary school's brick wall.

Round and round I go--about five miles worth tonight. It's a time to reflect, a time to clear my head, and a time to see how diverse my surroundings are. Nobody may know who I am here, but it feels like where I'm supposed to be.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

A weekend to do list

-Catch up on three movies and possibly rewatch one seen a few months ago.

-Try and stay on top of writing about said films.

-Figure out when and where I'll be using some of the vacation time I've amassed.

-Come up with more interesting blog topics than I've had lately.

-Break this knitting drought.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

So what are you saying?

I came across an interesting, if incomplete article about the country's psychogeography. In other words, it lays out personality groupings in regions of the United States.

I have no idea if the study is good science or not, but on an anecdotal level it makes sense that people living in a specific area will share some traits.

In taking a look at the maps I noticed that my home state, where I was born and have always lived, only makes the cut in one particular dimension. Apparently Ohio is a hotbed of neuroticism. Sigh. I'm just too upset to even continue thinking about this.

(That's a joke, people.)

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Early to bed, early to rise

I used to be more of a night owl than I am now, but I realize I still stay up later than much of the standard working crowd. I usually go to bed around midnight or a little thereafter, although it isn't unusual for me to up until 1 a.m. I can get away with it--sometimes--because I don't have to get up until the national TV news magazine shows are at least half over.

Last night I was feeling especially tired after a full day of work and a good workout, so I went to bed at 10:30. Aside from illness, I can't remember the last time I called it a day so early. Really, it's unheard of for me to go to bed then.

It may have taken another good hour or so until I finally fell soundly asleep. When I woke up I had the strangest feeling. I was refreshed. (I've not been sleeping well lately because this time of year the sun shines through the blinds and into my eyes at an unfortunately early hour, which can only be ignored for so long.) Is this what it is like to get a good night's rest?

Today was a bruiser, and tomorrow promises to be another one, so once I click the publish button, I'm hitting the sack early again tonight. I don't foresee this becoming a habit, but I could get used to feeling ready to take on the new day.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Flags and needles

The other writing I must do is gobbling up my time, so while I'm typing away at other stuff that needs to be written by tomorrow, why don't you check out this piece about the intersection of patriotism and knitting?

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Knitting as historical protest

While looking for something to blog about today I noticed that Google News offers an option to check the archives and not simply the latest reports. While most of the results I received lead to links that require payment to access the stories, I did find a curious little piece that, I think, is an editorial about peace activist knitters in the August 8, 1931 Milwaukee Journal.

If I'm reading the article correctly, the idea, which the newspaper writer took none too seriously, was that women could try to prevent war by refusing to make socks and such as contributions to the effort.

It's hard to know the context. A quick search for the woman mentioned in the piece turns up nothing. Perhaps, per the reference in the editorial, the protest had something to do with the World Court, a.k.a the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague. Fascinating, nonetheless.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy 4th

The 4th of July is usually a work day for me. It was again this year, so I'm just going to post this short video and try to get some rest out of the remainder of the day.


Friday, July 03, 2009

Windy with a chance of scarves

Using wind power is talked about as an alternative for generating energy to be delivered to homes and businesses, but what about putting the wind to use knitting?

The Wind Knitting Factory is an art project that harnesses the wind to power an old knitting machine and whip out a scarf in supposedly a couple of hours. (This page has a short video of the machine in operation.)

This isn't particularly practical, especially with the limited knitting it can do, but it's a charming idea executed in a creative way. That's enough for me.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009


-I find it distracting, if not downright bothersome, to be driving on the interstate and encountering passengers in the car in front of me seated facing me.

-Exercising outside in early July on an overcast day that feels like fall and puts a chill on your skin? Wonderful.

-I can't explain it, but there was something really cool about walking out of a movie and seeing the lighted underside of a jet as it passed directly overhead in its descent to the airport.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009


I get the feeling that I've hit the wall or am coming close to doing it--in other words, I need some vacation time--so in lieu of anything reasonable to write about, you get a couple videos.

The title of yesterday's entry referred to an early 1980s new wave band known primarily for their hit "Love Plus One". I expect that videos from today will look just as dorky twenty-five years from now as this does, but the current ones sure seem to have their cost splashed all over the screen. I don't know that you can say the same for the Haircut 100 video.

Looking up a little info on Haircut 100 led me to their former lead singer Nick Heyward, whose "Kite" was a minor alternative rock hit in the mid-1990s. I'd forgotten all about it until seeing this video, which someone must have tried to sync (badly) with the song:

And just in case you're getting your 80s Nicks confused, this is Nik Kershaw in his chroma key suit:

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