Posts tagged ‘stories’

Hunting The White Whale

19 July, 2011 | | 8 Comments

Call me Ishmael.

A Big Ugly Man needs a Big Ugly car, and every once in a while it’s nice to drive something that will go vroomvroom all low and growly-like, if only to impress SOBUMD, who likes that sort of thing almost as much as some of my readers.  When you combine these items with the fact that the Toyota Pequod I’ve been driving for the past many years is about to roll 200,000 miles, is coming apart at the seams (literally, in the case of the front seat), and isn’t likely to pass mandatory inspection at the end of this month, and you have a recipe for a quest.  When you factor in our budget, you have a challenge suitable for an epic tale.

This is that tale.

I used to drive a Subaru Outback.  It was a great car, and I loved it, but things being how they are, we wound up selling it and I inherited the Toyota Pequod I’m driving from the Very Clever and also Very Generous Grandparents.  That was almost 100,000 miles ago.  The only thing the Subaru Outback I drove didn’t really have was pick-up; it was a 4-cylander getup that got the job done, but you sometimes had to ask nicely.  So in considering a replacement car, the primary considerations were as follows:

  • Cost
  • Ability to back up the Van when needed; i.e., getting all three lunatic children across the back seat safely
  • Ability to get out of its own way
  • Reasonably low miles
  • Being a Subaru Outback

I considered listing cost three times in that list, but you get the point.  Note that getting the lunatic children in the back safely is required, but comfortably isn’t.  The comfort of the kids in the back was considered only to the extent that I have a hard time driving while beating people who keep yelling “will you stop touching me” at one another – so really, extreme discomfort becomes a safety issue, since I’d be leaning back for beatings instead of driving. 

Since those bullets are pretty much in rank order, it became quickly apparent that “Cost” and “Subaru Outback” were not overly combatable requirements in a new car, and adding “6 cylinders” to those was out of the question.  Looking then at new cars turned into looking at used cars, which continued to be problematic.  In the interests of Cost, SOBUMD spent a good amount of time looking at cars listed by our bank, which has a select cadre of dealers with whom they work. 

And then she saw it, just a glimpse, but there!  There, did you see it! It just breached!  Look – the White Whale!

It was a white 2006 Chrysler 300C, with an 8-cylander Hemi engine, 36,000 miles, and room to play full court basketball in the back.  Here was 2 tons of big car, and it was almost within our budget. 

And so it was that I drove the Toyota Pequod an hour to Baltimore to meet with Erwin at Thompson Automotive, who was going to show me everything about the car, on a Saturday at 10am.  He asked me to be sure to let him know if I wasn’t going to make it, since he was blocking out that time for me.

He wasn’t in, of course, when I got there, and wasn’t expected to be in, and no one knew who I was or why I was there, but Derek jumped in and helped.  He pulled the car up for me, and we took it for a test drive, and it was just as low and growly as could be hoped for, but the driver’s side mirror was permanently fogged and rattled like a maraca in a mariachi band as soon as you went over 10 mph.  Other than that, it met nearly all our considerations, except for the bit about being a Subaru Outback. 

So we went back to the dealership and discussed the mirror, and the Pequod, and the price, and the weather, and the White Whale, and the General Manager of Thompson Automotive.  And they really thought the trade on my Toyota Pequod was worth about $500 bucks, but they’d waive the $1150 in “internet” fees if I was interested, and they hemmed and hawed and “let me talk to my manager”ed about the mirror.  And they thought that maybe the Pequod might be worth $1000 if I was interested RIGHT NOW.

And I thanked them, and I drove home in the Pequod, and over the next few days we drove several more cars.  I drove a Subaru Outback, 4-cylanders with a stick shift, and it was OK but over the budget.  And I drove a Ford Focus, which may be the most comfortable car I’ve ever sat in.  It giggled politely when I hit the gas, and began moving forward only after due consideration and thought, but it was at least a comfortable thing.  I drove a Hyundai Sonata, which was very much like the Pequod, except more boring.  The Hyundai Snorata would actually fail on the safety requirement, since we were pretty sure I would fall asleep while driving it, just from sheer boredom. 

And I emailed my good friend Derek at Thompson Automotive, and told him that if they were still interested in giving me $1000 for the Pequod, and fixing the mirror, and waiving the $1150 in “internet” fees, I’d come back up and buy the White Whale.

My family was up in arms.  I mean, I’d caught some flack for marrying SOBUMD because she was a Mets fan, but at least she was National League.  This was a CHRYSLER.  I would be the first of my name, to the knowledge of everyone I spoke with, to buy a Chrysler.  We were GM people, before imports became common, and I learned to drive with an Oldsmobile so big it made the White Whale seem a minnow.  (That Oldsmobile had the distinction of being the first car to leverage Service Oriented Architecture in its design – the steering wheel and the tires were bound with what is called “loose coupling.”  You could turn that wheel a full 180 degrees without impacting the direction of the vehicle.)

My grandfather, FOBUMD’s dad, was an Oldsmobile guy.  He was of the opinion that you should replace a car after 2 years, since after that they started to need work and maintenance, and he didn’t really have time for that kind of thing, so he just got a new one every 2 years.  My father tells a story of watching his dad buy a car.  They never left the kitchen, and he only heard Grandpa’s side of the conversation:

[Dials Ray Olds Dealership in Chicago.]
“Hi, Ray, it’s George.  Yeah, it’s that time again.”
“Yeah?  What do you have on the lot?”
“Really?  What color is it?”
“How much do you want for it?”
“Sounds good.  Why don’t you have one of your boys bring it around, and they can pick up the old one.”
“Great, talk to you later!”
[Hangs up.]

This was the late 1970s or early ‘80s.  You try buying a car like that today, see how far you get. 

Anyway, Erwin called to say that yes, he’d seen my email to Derek and they agreed, and when was a good time to come back up?  And we decided that he would email us with the final price and we would work with the bank, and we’d get the check and come up on Saturday. 

The next day was Wednesday, and having received no email, I called him back and left voicemail, then called Derek, who said that no, in fact they couldn’t quite make that same deal, since $1000 for the Toyota Pequod and fixing the mirror was going to eat into their profit, and the General Manager of Thompson Automotive wasn’t willing to make the same offer on a Wednesday that he was on a Saturday.  And Erwin called back to explain that he was sorry about that.

And we discussed the idea that we could just sell the Pequod on our own, and that seemed to be a pretty good idea to SOBUMD as well, and so they fixed the mirror, and sent us a final price, and mentioned that he couldn’t hold the car without a deposit.  In the meantime,  we got a check from the bank for the final price, made out to Thompson Automotive.  Erwin was very happy that we had the check, and we sent him a picture of it, which he shared with the General Manager of Thompson Automotive, and we all agreed that we would drive the hour back up to Baltimore on Saturday at 1000am, and trade them the check for the White Whale, with its newly fixed mirror.

And Saturday dawned bright and early, and we woke the girls, Number One Son being awake all the time anyway, and Erwin sent us an email at 0815 that morning stating that we should call before we leave, since the General Manager of Thompson Automotive had sold the White Whale to some guy named Queequeg on Friday night.

Had we put a cash deposit down on it?  We had not.  What is a deposit?  It is a promise to pay in full.  Is an excited customer who sends a picture of a check made out to a dealership a promise to pay in full?  Well, I think so.  Erwin and Derek both tell me that they thought so, too, and both of them used the words “I apologize” on the phone with me.  But they’re not in charge. 

What price is honor?  For the General Manager of Thompson Automotive, the price of honor is the amount more that Queequeg was willing to pay, over the “guaranteed” internet price that our bank’s website says the dealer will honor.  The General Manager of Thompson Automotive is the kind of used car dealer who most maddens and torments, the kind of used car dealer who uses truth with malice in it, the kind of used car dealer who makes all the used car dealer jokes funny. 

And so passed the White Whale.

So finding ourselves suddenly free on a Saturday, we explained to the kids that we were not going to pick up a car, took the check back to the bank to be shredded, and called Fitzgerald Subaru, which is where we bought our first Subaru back in the day.  Our man Peter Z had one just checked in, and we agreed to meet at 1400 hours to drive it.

We pulled up right at 1400, to see another couple getting into a 2006 Subaru Outback that looked exactly as this one had been described.  They were with a salesman, going out for a test drive.  When we found Peter, he was very glad to see us, and then quite suddenly speechless when he realized that the car he’d just had pulled up for us was, “um, out for a moment, they’ll be right back.”  SOBUMD lost no time in explaining her opinion of this turn of events, harpooning the unsuspecting Peter with most of the above tale.  Her pauses in the narrative were like the sound of a hammer being lifted back for another swing.  Her intakes of breath were chambered shells in a 12-guage.  I was just glad it was him and not me. 

When the car and its potential buyers returned with Peter’s cube-mate, we asked the other sales guy if there was any real point in our driving it.  “Oh yes, they’re not that interested.” 

O-kaaaaay.  So we put all three lunatic children in the backseat, cheek to cheek, and they were all able to buckle in without too much touching, and SOBUMD and I sat in front, leaving Peter there nursing his ego and bruises and probably giving his cube-mate a solid keel-hauling – at least I didn’t see the cube-mate or the other couple again.  The 6-cylander Subaru Boxter engine did everything one could ask, albeit quietly and with a minimum of growling, and the seats heated and cooled and the radio got nice and loud.

And Fitzgerald Subaru was happy to fix the windshield wipers that didn’t squirt washer fluid, and happy to give us $1500 for the Toyota Pequod, and happy to have us go to the bank and get a check and bring it back Tuesday, and happy to hold the car until Tuesday.  And Peter was happy to give us the 4-CD set of Book One of the Lord of the Rings Audio Book, as a gift for having frightened us with the car not being there when we arrived, which may be the oddest inducement to buy a car I’ve ever run across.

Oh, yes, and of course I gave them a deposit to hold the car between then and Tuesday.  I gave them my word.  Ray Olds isn’t there in Chicago anymore, but Fitzgerald Auto is still in Maryland and online.  

And so this morning we picked up the shiny black Outback, and handed over the Toyota Pequod only after going around the block to roll it past 200,000 miles with honor.  We wound up with the car we wanted in the first place, pretty much on the day we were going to buy a car, and for about the same price.  In the end, the White Whale got away, and I drive the Blackfish now.

So if you’re going hunting for your own Moby Dick, hark to my words and stick to these waters:  Fitzgerald Subaru, yes.  Thompson Automotive, no.

The Giving Car

11 July, 2011 | | 9 Comments

I want to go to the park, said the Boy.
Tell your Dad, and I’ll bet he’ll drive you to the park, said the Car.
And the Boy told his Dad, who loaded him into the Car with a nice picnic lunch, and drove them to the park.

And time went by.

I need some money, said the Boy.
Get a job, said the Car.  You can drive me to your job and back, if your Dad says it’s OK.
And it was OK with Dad, and the Boy starting driving the Car to work and back, and pretty soon the Boy was driving his Car to work and back, and the Boy had a Car.

And time went by quickly. 

I need to get laid, said the Boy.
Put one of those new carburetors in me, so I go vroomvroom really low and growly-like.  Chicks totally dig that.
Yeah? asked the Boy.
Oh yeah, said the Car.  And clean out the backseat.

And the Boy spent some of his money on a new vroomvroom carburetor, and cleaned the Car inside and out, and bought some of those fuzzy dice for good luck.  And he met a terrific redhead who liked cars that went vroomvroom really low and growly-like, and wasn’t afraid to show it.

And time went by.  Nine months’ time, to be exact.

I need a family car, said the Boy.
No problem, said the Car.  Put some after-market safety straps in the back and load me with carseats.
I suppose I should clean the backseat again, said the Boy.
Dude, what’s the point? said the Car.
Yeah, sighed the Boy.

And time went by.  And young and stupid people did young and stupid things.

I need a car that can outrun a police car, said the Boy.
What on earth for? asked the Car.
Because he’s gaining on us, said the Boy.
The things I do, sighed the Car, shifting into overdrive.

And time went by, and the Boy woke up one morning and realized that he wasn’t getting any younger, so he joined a gym and met a much younger women and bought a mid-life Chrysler and left the Car with his first wife.

I need a minivan, said the redhead.
Sorry, said the Car.
Not your fault.

But no one wanted to buy an elderly Car with after-market straps and a goofy carburetor, so she eventually put it on blocks, drained the fluids, and threw a tarp over it.

And time went by.  And it was dark in there.

And the Boy came to his senses about 2 years later.  And the redhead made him sleep in the garage for the first month, so he spent some time putting the tires back on, topping off the fluids, and getting the stains out of the backseat.

I really made a mess of things, didn’t I? asked the Boy.
In pretty much all cases, yes, said the Car.
Oh, who asked you anyway, said the Boy.

Hey baby, said the Boy.
Don’t you hey baby me, said the redhead.
I fixed up the old car, said the Boy.
Hmmph, sniffed the redhead.  But she was touched just the same, and let him sleep in the house.  On the sofa.

And time went by.  A lot of it.

I have to go to a funeral, said the Boy.
It’s raining, said the Car.  Better check my brakes, and it would be nice if you waxed me shiny and tuned up my carburetor, so I can go vroomvroom all low and growly for her one last time.
And the Boy did those things.

I want to go to the park, said the Boy.
Tell your son, and I’ll bet he’ll drive you to the park, said the Car.
And the Boy told his son (who had kept the old Car in good condition since it looked like it would be worth a bundle one of these days, and besides his wife and the kids loved it), and his son loaded the old man into the Car with a nice picnic lunch, and drove them to the park.

Well, that was helpful.

12 April, 2011 | | 1 Comment

Sometimes, people leave you hanging.  Sometimes, you are people. 

I spend a bit of time in the car, and since I’ve found that I can’t take notes legibly while driving, I record my thoughts on the Blackberry for later review.  This is possibly the single most useful feature of that device.   For the record, I can’t take notes legibly while I’m not driving either, but that’s not important right now. 

What’s important right now is that it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually reviewed my voice notes in a while, and so I listened to many of them on the way home today.   These tend to be notes for things I’m writing, have written and need to edit, or plan to write – either sometime soon, sometime when I get around to it, or Real Soon Now.  So, many of these notes tend to be fragmentary and end with the words “or something like that.” 

So while not altogether a surprise, it’s still annoying to hear my own voice come on and recite the following: 

“We were deep in the jungles of Sulamalasy when I found the body.”  I dunno, take it from there.

That was it.  And I said, out loud, to myself, “Thanks a lot, asshole.”   Sheesh.  That guy just expects me to do everything for him.  What a jerk.  I’m tempted to call him and tell him to write it himself.

Not all the days are filled with joy

1 March, 2011 | | 2 Comments

Yesterday was just annoying.  The whole damn day was irritating.  I was going to post a nice shiny recap of the month, but the day got away from me, and I’m ranting instead.  Mondays, bah.

It started with getting up, which wasn’t very nice, and then rolled into showering, which you would think would have some satisfying naked bits.  But you would be wrong.  The water from the shower just fell from the nozzle limp and as bored as a teenager at a wedding, and it fell at just that never-quite-as-hot-as-you-wanted temperature, vacillating between tepid and scalding.  A Rahm Emanuel of showers.  I got out as soon as I could. 

I woke the kids up after that, and at 8, 10, and tweenager you can imagine what a fun job that is.  Like little unlit bulbs, they were all simply delighted to arise and face the day. 

Dropping the younger two off at their respective schools reminded me of the article I read recently that explained in no uncertain terms that it’s always the moms who deal with the schools, which annoyed the holy crap out of me.  (It’s true, all of the crap in me that was holy has now gone.  I am left only with damned crap, which I suppose comes as a surprised to no one at all.)  Besides, if the memory of that bit wasn’t enough to chafe my delicate psyche, getting through two elementary school Kiss-n-Rides is enough to get Francis of Assisi to think seriously about gun laws and waiting periods.  How hard is it to move forward 20 feet toward the entrance when there are no fewer than four people waving you forward?  The 2nd Grader gets it, but not the driver.  And yes, it was a guy.

Eventually I made it to the office, where I asked one of the clients if they wanted me and two of my co-workers to dial into our standing 10am meeting, or to drive over and attend in person.  “Please attend the 10am in person.”  So we trundle over to the client’s building at 3 minutes before 10, nod hello as we walk past the client’s open office door where they’re talking about the project, and wait in the conference area. 

For 22 minutes. 

“OK, let’s get started.”  We were done in 8 minutes. 

I’m just sayin’, is all.

On the way back we stopped at Dunkin Donuts, which is not, in fact, Starbucks.  If you haven’t had their coffee, imagine the most mundane-tasting coffee you’ve ever had from McDonalds, then make it hotter.  No no, hotter than that.  To say I’m not a fan is an understatement.  One of my co-workers picked up a dozen holes with jelly in them, which was decidedly a high point of the day – which was dashed when I tried one when we got back to the office and found that by “jelly in them” what they meant was “jelly near them” and not, you know, jelly filled.  Still, nice of her.

The day did not get better.  Unrequited emails went unanswered, phones didn’t ring, and another co-worker tried to warm up his lunch in the toaster.  Which was a problem, since he was having soup. 

I wish I were making this up. 

The high point of the day was eating dinner in front of the television watching clips of old “Whose Line is it Anyway” skits.  Oh, that Ryan Stiles!  He’s so tall and dreamy. 

The kids went to bed as cheerfully as they got up, which is saying something, and rather than do anything that could be accidently productive, so did I.  Monday.  You can have it. 

Now with that irritating Monday 3 hours behind me, I can put it in perspective.  I can recast yesterday in my mind, find the good parts and …  Nah.  It sucked.  Hopefully the week gets better, for me and for you, Gentle Reader.

Weekend Recap

14 February, 2011 | | 8 Comments

This past weekend I took the three lunatic children to The House in the Woods.  This is, of course, a mythic destination rooted firmly in fairly tales and folklore, and as such includes the requisite babbling creek, forbidding mountain, impenetrable forest, and small host of woodland creatures.  There is wood that will not split itself, hikes that do not hike themselves, and fires that won’t et cetera.  There is, of course, no television.  It’s a place where a kid can be a kid, as long as said kid remembers the way most kids ended up in the majority of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

We left SOBUMD at home on this trip, to recharge her batteries free of the constant barrage of sound that accompanies our children, and to paint.  Together with the Very Clever Grandparents, whose house in the woods this is, I tried to buy her as much time as I could.  The children loaded into the car early Saturday morning, and fueled by coffee and gasoline we left the suburban landscape and crossed the Mountains of Myth. 

Arriving, we took it in turns to try to poke holes in the iced over babbling brook, on the grounds that it wasn’t going to babble much if we couldn’t see the water running.  Unleashing Number One Son on the problem solved that in a trice and the brook was shortly babbling her heart out, glad to have her voice back.  The Reigning Queen of Pink, completely in her element running through a mythic forest, reacquainted herself with the brook as well, by dint of putting her foot in it while trying to leap the small ford.  As it was only up to her royal pink ankle, neither the RQoP nor the brook were much put out. 

Wood was split, because it does not split itself, and because wood goes well with fire.  This being a 21st Century folktale, we eschewed axes for hydraulic fluid – though a 27-ton log splitter would make a great monster for any tale.  Split wood was then stacked, and the RQoP made it her solemn business to drive the riding tractor.  Hikes were hiked, ales were quaffed, and dinner was contemplated. 

It only makes sense that the nearest town is called Lost River.  Already you can imagine the quest, the charge on the young hero to find the damn river if he wants to win the girl. 

The Lost River Grill is a mythic restaurant.  It’s presided over by Pat, who is the Grandmother in every fairy tale you’ve ever heard – usually the Grandmother who turns out to be the Head Grandmother in Charge when you get to the end of the story.  She’s a wonderful lady who seems to know everything about everyone around, presumably because she saw it already in her gazing glass before you got there.  She keeps up the pretense of asking you what you want, even though you can tell she already knows.  The rest of the staff includes a short Giant, only 7 feet tall and complete with beard, not an ounce of fat on him, who rushes around the restaurant on very speedy errands that no one can discern or guess, and ducking prodigiously.  There is also a steady series of buxom young barmaids and serving girls who clearly belong in this story, but of mysteriously short tenure – I’ve never seen the same one working there twice.

I had the Liver and Onions.  I didn’t ask whose liver it had been, because there are questions to which I fear answers, and Pat might have told me.  Regardless, it was delicious. 

Once back at The House in the Woods, the evening was capped by a fine young fire in the fireplace, conversations around the hearth, and Scotch whiskey older than the Human Tape Recorder. 

The morning dawned with crepes made of magic and thin air – they’re wafer thin – and the magic of them was so potent that they were completely safe for the RQoP, who remains allergic to eggs and dairy (among a host of other things).  Have you ever tried making crepes without eggs, butter, milk, and cream?  These are magic; I’ll post the recipe if anyone’s interested.  Eggs for those who eat them followed the crepes, along with the coffee of life, and another good hike.  There was also a gorilla in a dress, about which the less said the better.

Finally, following more work on freeing the brook from her icy prison, a few games of chess (in which I maintain that I was distracted and not really paying enough attention, which I suppose is proved clearly by the fact that I lost one of them to the 10-yr-old), a scratch lunch of wondrous meats and a brown rye-type bread that looked completely at home in the fairy tale surroundings, and a nice visit with coffee and the only neighbors in hailing distance, we loaded up the car and drove back over the Mountains of Myth toward the more mundane suburban landscapes of home. 

We stopped on the way, since we were nearing the dinner hour, at a wondrous roadside diner, which is of course its own kind of magic.  The Marshall Diner has the look of a place that understands its place in the order of things – road food for those travelers bridging the worlds of magic and the daily grind, and the heart of the community for the locals, for whom this patch of in between IS the daily grind.  The food is wonderful and fast, and will stick to you long after you’ve forgotten you stopped there. 

Thus fortified, we returned to find a house of painted walls and halls, a final coat of alchemy there to make the old and dreary new again.  A spot of late snacking, a glimpse of the Grammys, and all to bed.