It's been quite a week here - in fact, quite a month - so anyone who is waiting on an email from me please accept my apologies for not answering yet! As for my blog, I've hardly had a chance to scratch my fleas, much less write about them. (Note to the literal: No, I do not actually have fleas!).
I'll start with the most recent happening and work backwards:
The Volatile Volvo
My 16 year-old Volvo 850 developed a new problem, wherein the car would squeal loudly upon first being driven and then begin to stink like burning rubber. Kirk couldn't seem to smell the car, commenting usually upon construction smells in the area and it just being another squeaky belt. The power steering fluid again needed refilling and the AC stopped blowing cold. All par for the course as the Volvo gradually repossesses itself. Then Kirk went out of town for several days, including a three-day visit to Disneyland after completing his business obligations at this year's Siggraph conference in L.A. (prayer to the God of Vain Wishes...please send me a Cintiq tablet, Amen.). The first full day of his being gone I had Kelly out in the green car and the belt thing happened. This time the car decided I just wasn't taking it seriously enough and all of the indicators lit up on the dash and it stalled at the first stoplight leaving the shopping center. I restarted it and made it home, but the hard turn up the driveway again caused the lights to go on. I stayed home the rest of the week, but since I was expected to pick my husband up at the airport on Thursday night I took the car to the grocery store on a bit of a trial run. It did not run beautifully, but it ran. The hard turn at the driveway again caused the dash lights to go on. I called Kirk and expressed my concerns. He said it was probably the power steering rack continuing to go, and that if it went while I was driving I would just have to steer really firmly. I almost took the truck. I almost bought Triple A before leaving the house. But I didn't. At 9:30 at night I approached the freeway on-ramp and noticed the headlights and dash lights beginning to dim. I was too far onto the ramp to stop, so I hoped I could get to the next off-ramp. I couldn't. The car died and I managed to coast it to the shoulder. Here I was in one of the scariest situations I had ever imagined: stuck on the side of the freeway with my 5 year-old daughter and no lights at all - not even the hazard lights would go on. I quickly climbed out the passenger door and got Kelly to get out of her booster seat and then I hoisted her over the concrete barrier into the grass. With that darkened car and a dark freeway the possibility of someone running into the car on the shoulder was too possible. I called 911, who connected me to highway patrol, who said they would send someone out. An eternity (6 minutes) passed, and a nice couple who had passed by and seen me with my little girl standing in the weeds behind the barrier came back around and parked their car behind mine with the hazards on (bless them!). They insisted on staying with us, and after a while I accepted their offer to drive us home. Kelly was a very brave girl throughout all this, but began to cry as we got in their car, saying she missed her pink carseat. We got home and I retrieved our 92 Ford Ranger's keys from the house. I have never driven the truck on the road but I had to get to the airport to pick up Kirk so we could go try to revive the car. With Kirk now off the plane I was able to talk to him on the phone, but he seemed not to "get" my near hysteria over what we had gone through. Men. By the time we got back to the car it was around 1am, and we parked the truck behind the car to try to jump it. The cables wouldn't reach and every second I was becoming more terrified as the traffic whizzed past my entire vulnerable family. Eventually Kirk lined the truck up behind Volvo and pushed her (with me steering) to the off-ramp, where it was possible to coast downhill until I saw a 7-11 to steer into. There we were able to determine that the car could be started when connected by jumper cables to the truck, but that the alternator was not charging and the car would die immediately if not connected. The very nice older woman working at the 7-11 allowed us to park the car next to the store and we made our weary way home in the truck. The next morning we took the re-charged battery back to the car and were able to drive it home. Kirk worked on it in the driveway for quite a while and we determined that the alternator was only working intermittently, and the compressor for the AC was broken and turning it on would make all of the indicator lights go on again. So here we were - broken alternator, compressor, steering rack...the time had come to cry "Uncle" and get a better car.
Meanwhile this was the day I was supposed to bring the kitties to the shelter, and we were having a heat wave. I carefully drove with the windows open and got them to MEOW, where they got their final booster shots and a big cage to be displayed in. I drove home again. Pingu the cat was lonely for her siblings, but adjusted amazingly fast to being without them, and our cats have accepted her into the fold. Beebers is still peeing on everything in response to the challenges from Mama Cat, who was adopted a couple of months ago after the Raccoon Incident.
At this point we began the intensive research into getting another car. At first we thought we would scrape together about $3000 and get a slightly better beater. We argued about what to get; Kirk wanted an all wheel drive SUV (I've always hated SUVs), I wanted a large sedan., maybe a used Toyota. On my list there were Honda Odysseys, Toyota Siennas and Rav4s, Subaru Foresters and Outbacks and on Kirk's were Toyota 4Runners, Nissan Pathfinders, Chrystler Pacificas... The two of us sat hour after hour at our separate computers looking up car ads and then looking up each car in Consumer Reports and CarFax and Edmunds.com. I haven't been this full of car information since I was a car saleswoman back in the 80's. We went to look at a Rav4 and it was tiny, like a little toy SUV. We moved on to another lot, where the salesman pointed out a van which featured a VHS player! Honestly, he may as well have told us it had an 8-track player. A VHS in a van?!? Put that one in a time capsule and bury it. By this time our spending expectations had gone up into the 6-7000 range. We were aware of model year changes on all SUVs and minivans from 1996 and newer. On Monday we got in green Volvo (thinking to trade her in rather than burden some poor soul with her) and drove to Lynnwood. Unfortunately it began to rain and we discovered that turning on the lights or wipers would also completely drain the battery. I was asking Kirk if her felt prepared to bargain hard with whatever dealer and be prepared to walk if the deal wasn't right when I had to laugh - we agreed that since the car was running so badly we might end up walking anyway - all the way home. We drove a Honda Odyssey after arriving (barely) at the dealer; hated it. Like driving a big squishy sponge with soft handling and unstable front wheel drive. We looked at the Pathfinder and 4Runner we also had come to see and were unimpressed. Kelly was bored silly. We hoped the Volvo would start after Kirk spent so long picking apart the flaws on the dealer's cars. It would be embarrassing to be quibbling about the rims on a truck and then have our car show everyone what a turd it had become. The car started and Kirk had the voltage meter plugged in so we were able to watch the battery drain all the way home.
By this time the thought of buying into a very used car was driving us to consider car payments on something decent.
We decided on a Ford Escape or a Mazda Tribute (nearly identical), and bravely took Volvo out to Monroe to see one. Kirk had secured financing from his bank, and we had cleaned out the Volvo. We had examined costs, payments and car reviews. We had run the carfax on what we wanted to see and knew how long the dealership had been trying to sell it. We had a sheaf of papers with other Escapes and Tributes to go see if this one didn't work out. We spent the whole day there haggling. They wanted to give us only $100 for the Volvo (what about the $40 of gas still in the tank?). In the end we got a 2003 Mazda Tribute ES with 77,000 miles for under blue book, and they got the Volvo for about $400 (you could sell a few parts of it on eBay for that!). The Volvo will probably end up on a lot somewhere, but I hope they fix some of it first. The good news is that I love my new car/SUV. It is a 4 wheel drive, small for an SUV, drives beautifully and we no longer have the crappiest car in the neighborhood. We have car payments for the first time in three years, but I am happier with a car that is actually worth paying for.
And that was just LAST week. Stayed tuned for what else I've been up to!