December 2nd, 2009


Song Info (from Beatlesongs):”Matchbox” is on the With the Beatles album and was written by Carl Perkins, who hadn’t been able to make a hit of it. The Beatles’ version got as high as 17 on the Top 40. Pete Best sang lead on it in concerts until 1962 when John Lennon took over. Sure sounds like Ringo on the recording, though.

I’ve been driving a 1999 Saturn Wagon for a while now and it’s been a mostly reliable little car for me. It’s only got 129,000 miles on it, so it should be good to go for quite some time — keeping in mind that I drove an Oldsmobile Calais to 212,000 miles and it was ready to go a bunch more when I sold it. Sadly, though, I don’t think the Saturn is going to make it as long as the Calais.

Two weeks ago I went to pick up Megan at her apartment so we could go work at our church’s Community Center. When we got back down to the car, it wouldn’t start. There were lights on the dash and the headlights came on, but it wouldn’t turn over nor click. Not cool.

The first thing I do in these situations is call Dad. He knows most cars better than most people, and I can’t tell you how many times he’s been able to diagnose a problem over the phone, sometimes by hearing the car run and sometimes just by hearing a description of how the car runs. As far as I know, he’s pretty much the best mechanic ever.

So I called him and told him what I knew and he gave me few suggestions, but none of them were working this rainy, chilly night. We were able to jump it using her car and I was able to drive it to the Auto Zone across the street from her place, but once there, it was unstartable and unjumpable. The fine folks there were able to test my battery and said it was bad, so I bought a new battery…and it didn’t change a thing. Still no starting.

It should be mentioned that at this point I had called my friend Pete, who is the “car guy” in our immediate circles. He was able to wrangle the battery out and the new battery back in, a skill I did not possess. Alas, even Pete was stumped by the issue. I had no recourse but to call a tow truck and have it towed to Pep Boys (who I shan’t be linking to for reasons that will become evident shortly).

They were closed by that time in the evening, so I bummed a ride from a coworker the next morning and got there soon after they opened. It’s a short walk from there to Barnes & Noble, so I went there, got a hot chocolate, and bummed their free Internet until I heard from Pep Boys. Rather, that’s what I intended. What actually happened was that I called them after three hours because I hadn’t heard from them. This is what they said:

Well, we couldn’t find the problem, but we were fiddling with some wires under the dash and now it’s starting and we can’t get it to not start anymore. We want to look at it a bit more and we’ll let you know what we find.

So I guess that was good and bad – working is good, not knowing why is bad. Also, as it turns out, “we want to look at it a bit more” is good but “we’ll let you know” means “when you call back after three more hours of not hearing from us.” Sigh. In the end, though, they didn’t charge me anything since they couldn’t figure it out, so all I was out was one vacation day from work.

Fast forward to last night. Same deal: I spent the evening with Megan (it was Spaghetti Night!) and when I went to leave, my car didn’t want to start. So I called Dad again. He’d been looking into it, figuring that since it wasn’t technically fixed, it would probably stop working again at some point. He had me check a few more things, then said I needed to check a few connections with a tester.

Yeeeeeeeeeah. It was at this point that my Dad apparently started speaking in fluent Greek. I knew he was capable since I’d heard it before, always in conjunction with explaining car stuff. I was able to figure enough of it out to realize I didn’t have what I needed with me at that moment, so I made plans to talk to him this morning when I was better prepared. Megan loaned me her car so I could get home and get back in the morning.

This morning I dutifully tested the things I was supposed to test and relayed to Dad what I was finding. Somehow he was able to figure out from what I was saying what the probable cause was, circuit-wise. Armed with this information, the following things happened today:

  • Called the towing company, had to leave a message
  • Called the towing company again, talked to a lady who said “The lines are crazy, I will hang up and call you right back!”
  • Called the towing company again 15 minutes later after not hearing from them, talked to a different lady who said they’d be there in 20 minutes.
  • 45 minutes the tow truck arrived
  • Had the car towed to Pep Boys, got a ride from the towing guys
  • Went inside, explained what was happening
  • Was told “Uh… we can’t really work on that sort of thing”
  • Called secretary at church to see where was a good place to take cars
  • Called CarX, they were willing to look at it
  • Called towing company – “They’ll be there soon and give you a ride”
  • Called towing company 45 minutes later – “Hey, how soon will they be here?”
  • Was told “Oh, they already towed your car there.”
  • Arghed
  • Walked across State Road 52 to CarX, at great risk
  • Talked to Mike, explained what I knew
  • Walked back across 52 to McDonald’s, then Best Buy, then Barnes & Noble
  • Mike called me back! Like an hour and a half later!
  • Walked back across 52 to CarX – I am a decent Frogger player
At this point, Mike had good news and bad news for me. The good news was that he had found the problem: the place where some wires connected to one of the fuseboxes was all messed up. The bad news was that he couldn’t fix it.
He recommended another place to me, but had more good news for me – a way to get it working until such time as I could get it the parts replaced:

“What you do, see, is jiggle these wires right under here…”

January 28th, 2009

Drive My Car

Song Info (from Beatlesongs):”Drive My Car” is on the Rubber Soul album and was 70% written by McCartney and 30% by Lennon. Not much else to say about it, really, so here’s a link to the song.

If you’ve read my blog more than, say, three times, you’ve probably read about how much I don’t like driving. I’m not entirely sure where it comes from. It’s kind of like sleeping, I guess, one of those things you have to do that requires your full attention. You can listen to music (or an audiobook, if you’re so inclined), and that’s about it. Can’t play Scrabble or watch a movie or knit or whatever else. Then there’s the fact that cars are small enclosed places, and the fact that no one is a good driver (even though everyone thinks they are), and, well, it’s a recipe for nervousness on my part.

I passed my driver’s test the first time I took it, which I remember being a while after I turned 16. Not sure what the holdup was, other than the fact that I didn’t really need to get my license any sooner. The very first night I drove by myself after getting my license, I ran over a rabbit. I was on my way to help a family in the church hook up their VCR and it hopped out in front of me. All these years later, and I can still hear it. Poor rabbit :(

My dad’s been a mechanic since forever, and I grew up never knowing what kind of car might be in the driveway. My first car was a 4-door two-tone diesel Buick Century. It wasn’t speedy, by any stretch, and it’s hard to drive crazy in a diesel. It was a reliable ride, until February 1989 when I put it in a ditch. From then on, it never drove exactly right again, and had a weird thing where I had to keep more than half a tank of fuel in it or it wouldn’t work, especially in winter.

I’ve often wondered if having a “family” car as my first vehicle set some of my driving habits. I have only gotten one speeding ticket in my life, and that was in the fall of 1990. It was a construction zone on a weekend, and I was doing the normal posted speed. $74 later, I learned that construction zone speed limits count on weekends, too. To this day, people call me “slowpoke” and “grandma” when I drive. I have two thoughts about that: a) I’ve got other things I’d rather spend $74 on and b) Speeding’s breaking the law like stealing is breaking the law.

I spent five summers in a van with 5-6 other people while I was traveling for college. We spent 12 weeks a summer traveling to churches and schools to sing and perform dramas. The 7 of us and all our luggage fit into a 15-passenger van with the last row of seats removed, and it was a pretty tight fit. I’m not sure why I kept signing up for that, but I must have used to like traveling. Perhaps traveling all over most of the 48 contiguous states got my traveling bug out of me in a serious way.

Driving through or even around big cities stresses me out like very little else does. There’s too much going on with 4+ lanes of traffic all going at once, and my brain doesn’t apparently deal with it well. If there’s any kind of traffic jam, well that just makes it worse. There’s something about stopping and starting that have an effect on me, both physical and mental. It wears on me much like painting seems to.

I can drive a stick shift if I need to, but I’m not very good at it. One of the first times I ever had to drive a stick shift – a huge pickup – I was stuck at a stop sign on a hill for twenty minutes or more. Folks in the Midwest are usually fairly friendly, but the kinds of waves I got during that 20-minute stretch as people went around me were not the neighborly sort.

These days I drive a Saturn station wagon. It’s a good car and hasn’t needed much work. My only complaint is that it sits a little too close to the ground, and I have a hard time getting up out of it some days. That…might be more a function of my getting older than the car being too low, I suppose.

I doubt I’ll ever like driving, but having someone along for the ride usually makes it nicer. I feel guilty asking them to drive, as I figure if I hate it so much, it doesn’t seem fair to ask them to do it, especially if I’m going to enjoy my not-driving by sleeping or reading. Here’s what I figure, though: GPS is the first step towards self-driving cars. If the car knows where it is and where it needs to go, it should be a fairly simple prospect to have it get itself there. Once self-driving cars are commonplace, driving becomes riding, and I’ll get a lot more reading and sleeping done.

Hurry it up, scientists! I ain’t getting any younger, and I’ve got places I need to get to.

November 14th, 2006

Here He Is!

I am now the proud owner of a 1999 Saturn Station Wagon:

Meet Siam

He’s small and zippy and takes cheap gas. I like him! I can actually tell where the corners are on him, too, so parking’s been a lot easier.

There’s only one thing left to do: put a sticker on him that says “Chick Magnet.” I figure that’s the only way anyone will ever know he is one.