Monday, May 19, 2003

Meet Miss Jane

I am now up to my nipples in debt, but I have a beautiful new 2002 Ford Focus SE (in Liquid Grey) to show for it. She has a CD player and a great sound system (I would enjoy the gas chamber if it had a great sound system), enough headroom for 6'-3" me with space to spare for a tiara, an enormous trunk and fold-down backseat to expand my totin' space, cruise control, ABS, power everything, air-conditioning, various as-yet-undiscovered perqs, and that joyous boner-inducing New Car Smell. I'm so happy I could just pee!

So this weekend Caroline and I went out car-shopping. First I wanted to look at used cars, since I knew exactly what new car I wanted, assuming I decided to buy a new car. But before making that kind of committment, I wanted to see what was out there in the Used universe. We went first to Alameda's Park Street, where there are mounds of car dealerships spread along six or seven blocks. In particular I wanted to check out a place called DT Motors, which had some ads on Yahoo! Autos advertising older-model Mercedes and Jaguars at quite-nice prices.

Not that I would have bought an old Jaguar, mind you... I'm told on good authority that Jaguars built in the 70s and 80s spend more time in the garage than on the road, and I just don't have time for that kind of temperament, no matter how fabulous the cars look. But they did have some older Mercedes models in my price range (I was trying to stay under $5k for a used car) that looked interesting online. Unfortunately, the one I liked best online (a classy cocoa-brown '79 sedan) fell unfortunately into the "Monet" category... lovely from a distance but a mess up-close. The grille was falling apart, the hood-ornament was gone (and really, what's the point of a Mercedes without a hood-ornament?), the upholstery was cracked and worn, and the engine was described on the sticker as "a mechanic's dream"... meaning that a mechanic would find plenty of opportunity to be in there tinkering around to his heart's content (and my expense). There was also a great old Dodge Charger in almost-mint condition but with glittery girlie butterfly stickers in the windows and a V-8 engine that probably got about seven miles to the gallon.

On the other hand, the salesman was absolutely adorable... twenty-three, pretty in a somewhat feline manner, black hair and bright cobalt blue eyes, and Russian (I love accents). So I test-drove a camel-beige '87 Mercedes sedan, two thousand more than I wanted to spend on used, but quite attractive and in extremely good condition, one owner who kept it very clean and pretty. The only catch on it was that it had absolutely no pick-up... getting from a full stop to 25 MPH took forever, and if there's one thing I hate it's a slow starter.

But I did like the look of the thing, so told the Pretty Russki that it was a "Definite Maybe" and I'd be back if I didn't find anything I liked better. So off we went with business cards (he'd jotted his home phone number on the card he gave to Caroline... ahem) and looked in on the other lots of Park Street.

We paused in front of this one huge rambling dealership (it had a large new-Toyota lot and three ancillary Used lots) to look at an Acura Legend that was an extremely pretty shade of blue... I wouldn't be caught dead in such boring-looking car, but the color was nice... and no sooner had we stepped onto the lot than we were beset by a grinning salesman. I told him my needs, an American or European model (I don't know why I am so prejudiced against Asian-built cars, but there it is), something old around $5k or a certified used around $10k with financing, and he showed me a number of crappy-looking cars that didn't quite meet my needs... things were either too ugly or too expensive or simply the wrong color (I refuse to drive a white or black car, nor any unnecessarily bright blues or reds, and categorically loathe all yellow cars). Still the smarmy grinner would not let me go without putting me on his mailing list, giving me a coupon for something-or-other that I had no use for, and showing me every car on his lot.

We escaped eventually and checked out some of the other lots, but there wasn't anything really interesting to see. Caroline went back to the first lot and flirted with the Pretty Russki a little more while test-driving a super-sweet Merlot-colored Jaguar XJS convertible while I had a pastry and coffee at this odd little market.

Afterward, as we were driving to the next destination on our map, we passed this grimy little hole-in-the-wall Hawaiian restaurant downtown that sells an object called Pork Lao-Lao (sp?), for which Caroline suddenly developed a craving. And since I like trying new things, I had it too. I don't recommend it... it sounded so exotic, but it's just a hunk of fatty pork steamed in a mash of seaweed and spinach and wrapped in some kind of giant leaf. It smelled awful and was so greasy even my stomach couldn't handle it. The macaroni salad was pretty good, though. I'm glad I tried it, but I'll never touch it again.

Then we went to Broadway Auto Row in Oakland, which at one end contains the Ford dealership that I would repair to for a new Focus if I didn't find anything good on the used lots. Several of the smaller used places were closed already (it was getting on in the afternoon), and the lots that were opened didn't have anything that reached out and grabbed me. There was this gorgeous 1990 Mercedes, mint condition with black leather interior, Bose stereo, and power seats and whatnot in an exquisite shade of titanium blue, only $7,500, but I didn't feel like test-driving another car just then. I was getting tired and grumpy and hot. And when I had completely given up on the idea of a used car, and we got to the Ford dealership, it was closing. But the man who was locking up told us they opened 11:30 to 4 on Sunday, and 10 to 6 weekdays if we wanted to come back then.

Off we went home, tired and a little discouraged. I had been prevented from doing anything rash, like buying the first car I could find in my price-range, and had spent a fairly entertaining afternoon with Caroline, but it had been a long and tiring and unsuccessful process. Added on top of the rage I'd experienced earlier in the day when trying to find my insurance papers (they'd been moved from where I put them, and I spent an hour searching through the entire house for them, cursing the superfluity of paper in my life), and the irritated frustration of a second envelope-stuffing project that had fallen into my lap (I'd made a mistake on one of the ballots I sent out, and had to send a correction ballot to all 405 part-timers, most of whom wouldn't even have voted in the first place), on top of all the irk and anger from my weeks of automotionlessness (to coin a word), and my mood could only be described as disgruntled.

But at any rate, Caroline picked me up on Sunday morning and we went down to Broadway Ford to look at the new Focus. Chuck the sales manager greeted us at the door, then turned us over to Carlos the salesman... the polar opposite of the grinning freak in Alameda, polite and soft-spoken Carlos simply was not the kind of guy you'd peg as a car salesman. He showed me the two Focus sedans they had on the lot, a brand-new 2003 model in a lovely creamy gold color and a certified used 2002 model in an interesting multihued grey that was three thousand dollars cheaper and had rather more features included. The features would of course be more attractive to the seasoned and rational car-buyer... I, however, was swayed from the 2003 model by the "expression in its eyes," the shape of the headlights looked somehow angry and sour. I also liked the color of the 2002 better.

So I test-drove the 2002 model. By the time I returned to the dealership, I had not only decided to buy the car, but had already named her. I sat down with Caroline and Carlos and a cup of coffee, and nodded sagely while Caroline pretty much made all the financial arrangements for me. I had no idea what she was talking about half the time. But I ended up with $3k down and 8.9% financing, an extended six-year/75k-mile warranty with roadside assistance and whatnot, 59 monthly payments of $260, and a thirty-day "binder" insurance to cover the gap between the moment I drive it off the lot until I get my insurance changed to cover the new car for $200 (which I would have spent on a rental car if I didn't drive a new car off that lot... there was no way in hell I was going to get on that bus again... not that I have anything against buses, per se, but the inconvenience and schlepping was too much for spoiled old me to handle).

After taking the car back to the house to show the Grandmother, I got some CDs and took off for my rehearsal in the City. The inaugural music, by the way, was Ella Fitzgerald's "Somebody Loves Me" from the Get Happy album. I sang along at top voice all the way into San Francisco, and after rehearsals I sang at top voice all the way home (though my voice was rather tireder by then, having started rehearsing a number where we sing and dance at the same time, which is rather harder on the throat than I expected). Then I took Grandmother and my nephew to dinner at Emil Villa's, and took the longest possible route home in order to show off the superior cornering and road-smoothing suspension.

And so now the biggest problem in my life has been solved. I am a new car owner!

On the other hand, I still have my second-biggest problem, The Trouble With Miss Marjorie: or, What Do You Do With A Comatose Volvo? A guy I know says he knows someone who might be interested in buying her, and I'd be happy to sell her to another driver for the cost of registration. Otherwise I guess I'm just going to donate her, but then I have to think about which charity deserves my largesse. Either way, I feel terribly guilty for throwing Miss Marjorie over for a younger girl.

And yet, on the other other hand, when I was discussing with my cousin the possibility of donating the car (which she had done herself), Grandmother decided to donate her car, also. This is a major breakthrough for Grandmother, who has been holding on to that poor old heap (an '81 Dodge Aries station wagon), which doesn't really work and isn't really worth fixing. She feels bad getting rid of a machine that has been such a good old soldier, lo these many years (she bought it brand-new), and like me has the fatal twin habits of packratting her possessions and anthropomophising her cars. But if we get rid of Old Greenie (as Grandmother calls her... I address her more formally as Mrs. Green), that means I can park Miss Jane in the garage, thereby extending her life and good health.

Once we solve the problem of the old cars, that will leave me plenty of brain-space to work on my other problems. Like my stomach (the 36-inch waist is proving less temporary than I had intended), my love-life, and my low self-esteem. Or the poverty that will ensue from car-payments on top of higher insurance on top of paying down my credit card as fast as I can (I put the down-payment on my Visa), and the fact that I won't be able to assuage the above problems with my therapeutic shopping.

In the meantime I am simply going to revel in my new car!


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