Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Car Also Rises

Following the auto accident, now over two weeks ago, I have been dealing with the usual issues though my insurance company, Liberty Mutual, has been really great in handling everything. I didn't need a rental car to get back and forth to work, having no job to go back and forth to – and my one-night-stand class at Harrisburg Area Community College on Ań≠da last week was canceled for lack of interest – so I didn't bother getting a rental until I knew for certain what the settlement would be and what I would have to spend when buying a new (read “used”) car.

The guy from Enterprise came over and picked me up in this deep red 2009 Toyota Camry. On the way back to their office to do the paperwork, we were almost in two separate accidents while sitting at the same traffic light! It was around 5:15pm on a rainy Friday afternoon, at an intersection that shouldn't be blocked, so we left the requisite amount of space open in front of us. Two small cars pulled around us to get in front of us so they could be that much closer to the intersection when the light would change, the one's butt sticking out into the right lane. Their impatience now meant a car turning in from Rt. 22 was unable to make the left-hand turn into the side-street so traffic now was backed up across the west-bound lane on Rt. 22 and south-bound traffic turning left onto Rt. 22. I think the guy obstructed by these drivers' impatience decided to move on, and almost colliding with a car who was trying to sneak around him in this idiotic impasse. Only one car made it through that change-of-light. And as soon as the right lane could make its turn onto Rt. 22, someone coming out of the side-road tried sneaking across into the left-turn lane which my driver allowed him to do but the guy was very nearly broadsided by someone going too fast in the right lane hurrying to make the light who chose to step on his horn rather than his brake.

Two near-hits happening within seconds of each other! I was about to tell the guy to turn around and take me back home, forget the rental...

After being shocked to find a customer standing at the Enterprise place who looked exactly like the guy who totaled my car on the 12th - was it a coincidence or just too small a world? - finishing the paperwork and driving home, I was annoyed to realize how much I disliked this Toyota Camry. Sitting at the wheel, I couldn't see the front end or back end of the car, not knowing how much hood or trunk there might have been to judge distance: it was longer than I was used to (in fact, it barely fit in my garage: you couldn't walk around it once the door was shut) and it felt much wider. I had difficulty judging where I was on the road and given the downpour and the idiots with their high beams on, it was a long five mile ride home. Later, I discovered I could adjust the seat, raising it an inch or so which allowed me to see – aha! – the front end of the car. At 5'7", I didn't think I should feel like Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann character, sitting in her oversized rocking chair, here, perhaps, looking at the world through the rim of the steering wheel. But of course, now I kept hitting my head on the door-frame when I'd get out of the car, but hey...

On Monday, I began checking on-line for cars, seeing what might be available and how much it might cost. Whatever it would cost would certainly be outside my post-employment, pre-retirement budget, thanks to a guy who couldn't focus enough to see a red light (by the way, it's official: I got the police report - he did not have insurance). Given the damage to my car and what could've happened after being “T-Boned” at about 50mph, I was determined I would get another Subaru. Several people told me, including the adjuster from the insurance company who examined my wrecked car (and he should know, given his line of work), that Subarus are one of the better-built brands, right up there with the older Volvos.

The problem is, not many people seem to trade them in. I found nothing at a couple of places I'd looked at, so far.

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Years ago, because a friend had good luck with a Subaru and recommended the salesman he'd worked with at Cumberland Valley Motors, I bought my first used car there in 1990. Now, I'd owned a Corvair in the '70s which did everything Ralph Nader said it would do (if only it could've run as long as Nader'd been running for President...) followed by a Toyota Corona (or was it a Corolla? Some cigar...) which I nicknamed “Hiroshima's Revenge” and got rid of when it was no longer drivable shortly after I moved back to Harrisburg in 1980. Most of the intervening time, I lived in town where I could either walk to work or rely on public transportation or friends for most everything else. But in 1990, I got a job that required a 4 mile drive through the worst parts of town, coming home at 1am.

When I told the salesman at CVM what I was looking for, he showed me this bronze box of a Honda Civic station wagon. It had just been traded in by an older couple who wanted something smaller now that they were retired. But it had a/c and a radio which was all I cared about and it was an affordable price. Since I had not been driving much at the time, I asked my friend who'd driven me out there to give it a test spin. He said it was okay. I said “okay, I'll take it.” Elapsed time was about 15 minutes.

The salesman looked at me in disbelief. “My wife spends more time thinking about which pair of shoes she's going to buy than you did to buy a car!”

I drove that car for the next 16 years, until it would finally no longer pass inspection. So I went back to CVM and the same salesman and said “I need a new car.” He showed me a list of things, nothing that caught my eye (mostly because of the prices).

Then he said, “you see that woman over there? She's thinking of trading in her 2001 Subaru for a new model.” It was her second or third day back, looking over this one or that one, not making up her mind. My salesman had sold her the car, CVM had done all the maintenance on it, I could trust them that it was a good car. “If she goes into that office,” he continued, “that means she's made up her mind.”

A minute later, she did.

So we hurried out to the parking lot and he pointed out her car. Now, obviously, we couldn't take it out for a test drive but if I was interested in it, we could check it out later, maybe the next day. I walked around it. It looked pretty sharp: a 2001, sleek and black with black leather interior. It also had a CD player, something I hadn't thought about with the old Honda. In fact the only thing I didn't like about it, I remember, was the faux leopard-skin cover she had around the steering wheel.

“Okay,” I said, “I'll take it.”

“Don't you want to test drive it?”

I put a down-payment on it to hold the car and we finished the paperwork long before she'd finished everything she needed to buy her new one. Two days later, after she'd picked up hers and the trade-in had gone through the shop, I picked it up and drove it off. Yeah, I really liked it (except in the summer, a black car with black leather interior was like driving a microwave).

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Then, two weeks ago, a guy with the initials D.J. – how I'd hated that term when I was working at the radio station – decided it was time for me to buy a new car.

So this past Monday, around 2:15, I saw this 2004 Subaru Outback listed at CVM. I called to make an appointment – the salesman I had worked for had recently left the company, however – and got over to see it before 3:30.

By 4:00, it was mine.

As it turned out, it had just been traded in that morning and posted on-line around noon-time. The listing described it as beige with cloth interior but it was really a greenish-gold with beige leather interior. The paint on the side-view mirrors was a bit funky looking, like a road-salt skin-rash, the total mileage was about what I'd had on the 2001 Impreza, and it had a few things my old car didn't have, including a driver's seat you could raise or lower (good for my back but unnecessary to see the front of the car) and a defroster in the rear windshield. But considering how much I disliked the Camry, I decided I will take this one for a test drive, just to see how comfortable it would be. We got less than a ¼ mile down the road and I said “well, that's all I need to know, it's fine. I'll take it.”

We went back, finished filling out the paperwork and I made arrangements to come over and pick it up the next night. It's now sitting in my garage and with any luck, I'll be driving it for many years to come, knock on plastic laminated artificial wood-substitute.

And of course, depending on the Other Driver.

On my way home – at 7pm, it was again raining heavily – a tractor trailer decided to drift over into my lane because he probably couldn't see I was there. Fortunately nobody was behind me, so I could slow down considerably and give up the contested space without risking car or life. A little later, a car in front of me started swerving to the right, then the left - texting, no doubt. I was glad to get home again.

But this reminds me: I need to get out and buy a new pair of shoes, now...

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