Category Archives: Automobiles

The fallout

We got about 6.5″ of snow yesterday–light, powdery stuff, the kind of snow that makes me twitchy for skiing. Unfortunately my skiing days are over (bad knees, sketchy back) unless the resort has long, gentle runs down the sides of the mountain as they do out west–I’m thinking Vail and Beaver Creek in Colorado. If I ever get the chance to visit Banff, however, this Vermont girl will throw caution to the wind to experience one last glorious run. One recurring dream I have is a happy one: I’m skiing down a mountain from the very top, and I’m doing jumps, moguls, and sharp turns effortlessly. The dream is always so thrilling I’m a bit sad to wake up and creak out of bed in the morning.

Speaking of creaking: tonight I have my second outpatient physical therapy appointment in Concord. Monday night I had my initial evaluation and the PT seemed impressed by my recovery. When he asked me to bend at the waist and try to touch the floor with my fingers, I surprised him by getting my palms flat on the floor without bending my knees. “Gymnastics team in junior high,” I explained. Which explained to him why my lower back has such a pronounced curve. He told me a lot of former gymnasts have this problem. The goal for these visits is to help me build my “core” to support my weakened spine.

Last night’s snowstorm had my husband coming home after midnight. The commute out of Boston/Cambridge earlier in the evening was longer than two hours for some people, so he decided to wait it out. The 35-minute drive home took him about an hour, which wasn’t so bad, but today he’s working at home.

Which leads me to a question: do any of you have spouses who wait until a car craps out before taking it to the garage for fixing? My husband does this and it. Drives. Me. NUTS. For months, now, he’s had this noise coming from the rear wheel wells. I asked him about it and suggested he take it in to our mechanic, but he insisted the problem wasn’t a major one … it was just a piece of metal flashing that would be expensive to remove and not fixing it wouldn’t hurt the car. The noise has gotten louder and louder, so I’ve kept at him. (“Maybe you should bring it over today since you’re working at home–I really think you have a brake problem,” says I, multiple times. “No,” says he, multiple times, “It’s nothing.”) It got to the point where when I had to drive to Connecticut for family stuff, I refused to take his car and rented one instead because I knew the problem was more than a loose piece of metal flashing.

Sure enough, when I woke up this morning he said the brake indicator lights had started flashing during his ride home  (meaning the car should not be driven at all!) so that’s why he was staying at home today. Yes, I rolled my eyes because if he had taken the car in months ago like I asked him to do, the fix would probably be a lot less money than it will be now.

I used to have a wonderful mechanic who worked on my Volvo and we would always get to talking about this and that when I brought my car in. He always loved working on my car because I took such good care of it. (214,000 miles until an au pair totaled it, grrr.) He told me that his female customers were much better at getting problems checked out and keeping up with regular maintenance than men were. He said my husband was his typical male customer. Interesting! So I’m off to rent a car later this afternoon. At least I’ll have wheels for a few days.

O has a short day today, and with DH home I won’t get as much done as I’d hoped to. My co-author Linda and I are writing a new book, which I’m very excited about. It’s called The Introverted Entrepreneur, about how introverts can develop, grow, and promote an online presence without crushing their souls. Both Linda and I are major introverts; I’m an INFP in Myers-Briggs parlance and off-the-charts introverted according to other psychological tests I’ve taken. We were talking about it and noted that we’ve succeeded by doing things our way, so we figured, Hey, there’s probably a lot of introverts out there like us who would like to know how we built our brand despite our hermit-like proclivities. Let’s write a book!

If you are an introvert and have an online presence (blogging, Etsy store, Internet marketing site), please contact me. I’d love to interview you for the book. 🙂

Tomorrow I plan to have some knitting to show off.

 

What a week

Fiat 500

City Fish Market, Wethersfield

Remnants of fall in spring puddle

O and Carolina

O and Carolina

O and I spent his spring break down in Connecticut with my parents … a couple days at my father’s house on the lake, then a day at my mother’s house in Mystic.

We were lucky and got a Fiat 500 from the rental car company. I was so excited to get it. And yes, it lived up to my expectations. Not only adorable, but peppy and surprisingly comfortable. Usually after an hour of driving, I have to get out and stretch my spine … not so with this car. I was sad to bring it back to the rental company at the week’s end. 🙁 Fingers crossed I can buy one when my car-less in suburbia experiment ends in October.

On Monday the 15th I left O with my parents and drove up to Northampton, home to my alma mater, Smith College, but more importantly, home to the yarn Mecca called WEBS, which was having its anniversary sale. I spent several hours there, bummed that the wool I’d picked out for two projects was backordered, but I did find enough for other projects in the queue. Thanks to my parents for the generous Christmas gift that financed this expedition! 🙂

On the way back to Connecticut, I stopped at another favorite place, City Fish Market in Wethersfield to pick up some salmon for dinner. I love this place. My mom used to buy fish here when we were kids, so it’s always a nice nostalgic visit.

When I got back to my father’s house, I recall asking him who won the Boston Marathon. My father is a former marathoner who has actually run this marathon, but he didn’t know. I went to work preparing dinner, then went to check my e-mail when I saw a couple “Are you okay?” e-mails. Panic rising, I checked the news and saw what had happened. I quickly called my husband, who works in Cambridge, and he assured me he was fine. The rest of the night we stayed glued to the television.

We cut our visit to Connecticut a little short so we could return to Boston. It’s weird, but I just wanted to be home even though it felt like everything was crazy up there. We did sneak in a visit to Storrs to the UCONN Dairy Bar, got in a nice walk at Center Church Camp, and my mother treated me to the first whole belly clams of the season down at Sea Swirl in Mystic. (Sorry, North Shore folks but Sea Swirl clams are superior, nyah-nyah.)

My husband usually works late on Thursday nights, but he came home a bit early because we’d returned. I was beat from all the drama of the week so I went to bed super-early and when I woke at 7, my husband had already left for work. He works at 500 Technology Square, which is part of MIT bordering the east campus. The first thing I do when I wake is check my e-mail … and oh no, a bunch more e-mails asking if we’re okay, or specifically if my husband is okay because of what happened at MIT!!! Frantically I checked the news, then called my husband. He happened to get into work so early that he was able to get into his building before they locked down Cambridge, but the fatal shooting and carjacking the night before had happened within a block of his building. I was so grateful that he’d come home early the night before because he would have been in the thick of it otherwise!

I had some worry that he wouldn’t be able to get home that night, but with the action firmly over in Watertown, he was able to leave work around noon and return home.

And that was that.

I can’t bear to watch the news anymore. It disgusts me that such a fun, iconic event like the Boston Marathon was attacked like this. But the pundits and comedians all have it right: Boston is a tough city. I mean come on … we stuck by the Red Sox for how long? The people who live here are resilient. My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones who were too young to pass. The people who were hurt and maimed will be loved and supported by not just their families, but the whole community.

 

 

 

Car-less in Suburbia update

So … I’ve passed the three-month mark of my car-less in suburbia experiment. By now, I figured I’d be missing my Subaru, but it hasn’t happened, even with the holiday snow and bitterly cold weather that kept me off my bike. Even when I have use of my husband’s car on the weekends, I tend to stay put (if it’s bad weather) or use my bike or walk (weather permitting).

DH bought me some nice Christmas gifts for my biking — a high-powered rechargeable headlamp that I can attach to my front handlebar, handy for when I’m biking down the trail after sunset, and LED clip lights I can attach to the spokes of my wheels, so that people can see me better from the side.

The only thing I really dislike about biking is being in traffic, a necessary evil for some trips. Bedford’s a bike-friendly place, but inevitably I run into what I call “road hogs” — ignorant drivers who think they own the road and that bicyclists should be up on the sidewalks. I wish states would require drivers to review the rules of the road when it’s time for license renewal as so many drivers don’t understand that bicyclists follow the same rules and are afforded the same rights. When I’m biking on a road with a left turning lane and I need to make that left turn, I have to get my bike over to that lane, making sure I’m not cutting off anyone in the right lane. (I’m equally peeved by bikers who do stupid things like dodge out into traffic.) Now and then I’ll get someone behind me who starts honking as I wait to cross the oncoming traffic to make my turn. Very frustrating, not to mention startling. God forbid the extra ten seconds I need to cross keeps them from their morning stop at Dunkin Donuts.

OK, I’m whining. I’ll stop. Really, it’s all good. I love biking and I love love love the money I’m saving by not having a car. My insurance premium has dropped to $22 a month, I went from two or three fuel fill-ups a week to none at all, and there’s no upkeep/maintenance bills to be paid. This weekend, DH and I discussed selling the Subaru and I’m about 90 percent there. He wanted me to think about buying a car for the summer — we’ve got an 11-year-old with an active social life — but I  want to stay car free until October 1. Not sure if I’ll be able to get through another winter without a car, but by then I’ll feel better/less guilty about buying a “new” car.

Speaking of which, here’s what I’ve been drooling over …

fiat_500

A Fiat 500. Yeah, yeah, yeah I know … Fiat stands for “Fix It Again, Tony,” but it’s so sexy. And cute. I’ve always been a sucker for Italian design, what can I say?

 

Carless in suburbia update

I survived October without a car!

So far, I haven’t really missed not having one during the week. We had a fairly mild October, except for the last week with Hurricane Sandy. When the temperature drops below 45 degrees F, my exposed skin gets very cold. I was going to knit a balaclava since I couldn’t bring myself to spend $50 to $75 (!!) on the ones I saw at our local bike shop, but then this weekend I spotted one for $15 in Ace Hardware of all places, so DH bought it for me as a birthday present. Awww. The last two “skin-saving” items on my list are gloves (can I knit them? Maybe lobster claw-style ones?) and goggles, which I’ll have to buy.

A couple weeks ago I decided to visit my  mother on the Connecticut shore. A perfect opportunity to test run a car rental! I rented a Toyota Yaris through Hotwire. We picked it up on a Saturday morning at the Enterprise rental location, and returned it on Sunday around 9 p.m. The total cost came to something like $45 plus $26 in gas costs, which my husband says we shouldn’t count because I would have spent that much (probably more) driving down with the Subaru or his car. Not bad — and this included insurance. The Yaris was one car I wanted to test drive during my carless experiment. The best thing about it was the gas mileage, and it had good zip. Unfortunately, the seat wasn’t very comfortable (I’m spoiled with my Subie’s plush leather *heated* seats) and there was a lot of road noise especially on the highway. When we dropped the car off Sunday night, I noticed that someone had returned a Fiat. I love the look of the new Fiats, so I hope I can test one out at some point.

The difficulty I’m having with my carless experiment right now is that I have to get out early on my bike because it starts getting dark so early. My goal this month is to get a little more organized about my errands so that I don’t have to kick myself around 4 p.m. for not getting down to the store to pick up milk. The new bike bag has made grocery shopping a lot easier so I’m feeling better about spending the $80.

I also resolved another challenge last week. My cats’ vet is a half-hour away and their weekend hours are spotty. I can’t ask my husband to take a day off from work so I can take the cats to the vet, so I found a new one down the street that has Saturday hours and is close enough so that if I had to walk (with a pissed-off cat in a cat carrier in hand, ugh!), I could. I felt bad leaving my old vet since we’ve been going to her for years, but they understood our situation and were kind enough to fax our cats’ records to the new vet for a Saturday appointment.

O has a student council meeting every other Thursday at 8 a.m. We were lucky that my brother had left his truck at our house when the last meeting occurred, but now he’s down in Staten Island doing hurricane relief work. We may actually have to walk to O’s school this Thursday, but my husband said he may be able to go in late. Fingers crossed!

And speaking of my brother … thank you today to the veterans who’ve put their lives on the line to defend our country. In my family, that’s my brothers Matt and Kevin (U.S. Marine Corps) and my father and stepfather (U.S. Navy).

 

Election 2012

It’s finally here. Election Day 2012. After months of sitting through the interminable television ads for candidates, chiseling out legitimate mail from our mailbox jammed with postcards from the Democrats, the Republicans, the Greens, the Reds, and political issues vying for our attention, walking and biking past lawn sign after lawn sign, listening to my mother rant about the Evil [insert political party that shall not be named]s, blocking discord mongers on my Facebook feed, and waving off pollsters at grocery stores, today I can take a nice bike ride down to the middle school, cast my vote, and be done with Election 2012.

I hope.

It’s not all over but the shoutin’. I’ve read reports where we can expect recounts and charges of voter fraud before one side can claim victory. So much money has been spent on this presidential election, yet most people I talk to are voting to prevent “the other guy” from winning or they’re picking the candidate who’s least objectionable to their beliefs and values. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s genuinely crazy (in a good way!) about their candidate. I’m not someone who believes one party or presidential candidate is the be-all-and-end-all solution for our country’s problems, but I do like to see citizens charged up for change. It  feels like people have, I don’t know — given up? don’t give a rat’s ass? — about who gets in because we’re heading for another four years of Been There, Done That, Drank the KoolAid. In fact, I know a few folks who’ve grown so apathetic and discouraged they’re not even bothering to vote this election.

I’m always curious how other countries view our election process and what they think of our candidates. The Guardian has a geographic roundup of perceptions of U.S. presidential candidates. Bottom line: the apathy I’ve noticed on the domestic front crosses international borders.

What do you think of the U.S. elections this year? Are you ready for election season to be over already? Hopeful for the future? Add your comment below.

Meanwhile, I do have an election first: I’ll be biking over to the polls instead of driving. 🙂

An experiment in doing without

This week I decided to give up my car. For the next year, I’m going to do without it and see where it leads.

For years I’ve idly wondered aloud to my husband if we could go from a two-car family to a one-car one. He thought no, and he was probably right. We were living in a town with a deplorable sidewalk situation and a nonexistent biking culture. Getting to the library or the grocery store on a bike was often harrowing.

One of the attractions of our new town is its bike-friendly culture. Still, when we moved here in 2011 I needed the car to drive my son to his school back in our old town. When he got out of school in June and we enrolled him in the local public school, I found I didn’t need my car that much. I had a bike trail to use for grocery shopping and town amenities and two farmstands open year-round within a mile of our home.

A couple weeks ago we found out our beloved Subaru Outback was in worse shape than we thought, $1800 in repairs we needed right away, then $2,000 more in the spring to fix an ongoing emissions problem. The debate became Do we sink major bucks into a 12-year-old car or go out and buy a new (used) car?

That’s a lot of money to sink into an old car, even if it is otherwise in great shape. As for car shopping, I’d rather get a root canal than go car shopping. I’m not exaggerating. I hate almost everything about the experience — the slick salespeople trying to sell me more than I want, the amount of research that we have to put into it (my husband won’t buy a box of toothpicks without doing extensive research on the benefits/drawbacks of flat-end versus round) and the weeks of rigmarole and drama of car-buying in general. If you get a used car, you inherit the past owner’s headaches. When my husband had to buy a car last year, he spent weeks looking for a specific model, got it all checked out by his mechanic, and bought it; within two months, he had to sink a couple thousand into it for something that was missed during his mechanic’s inspection. Don’t get me wrong: I love looking at cars and get all ooo-and-ahhh- at a car show. But buying one? Seriously, rev up that dentist’s drill.

So I’ve decided to go without a car until September 30, 2013. The plan is on October 1st I’m going to reduce my insurance on the car to the bare minimum and store it in the garage. With this type of insurance coverage, I can’t drive the car but I don’t have to drop the registration. If I decide in a couple months I just can’t live without a car, I can put the regular coverage back on, and get it fixed or sell it/buy a new car. I was just too unsure of dropping the insurance and registration, and right now I’m not ready to sell it. If things work out really well with my plan, maybe I will drop the insurance/registration, but baby steps right now.

It’s not like I’m going to be completely car-less. I’ll bike or walk during the week, and if I need a car, I can take my husband’s on the weekends. Or if there’s a day where I absolutely need a car, I can drive him to the commuter station. If I need to pick up Oliver from school during the week, I can call a cab. If I need to get into the city, it’s no big deal: we’ve got MBTA buses that run twice an hour into Cambridge. For longer trips, like visits to my parents in CT, I can always rent a car.

Even though I’m a bit nervous about this, I’m also excited. Since I dislike spending money on fuel costs and believe Americans waste way too many resources with their oversized cars and SUVs and thoughtless driving patterns, it feels like I’m putting my money where my mouth is. Whenever I’ve been to Europe, I’ve looked with envy at the city squares filled with parked bikes and wished I lived in a community like that, where people bike instead of drive. Why wait for that trend to come to U.S. when I can go for it now? I like the idea of putting physical effort into obtaining a thoughtful list of goods I need rather than passively driving to a mall and filling up my trunk with “stuff.” As I age, the more I need physical activity — not just to keep in shape, but to get my head clear — and I need it most in the winter. A bit of Internet research shows that winter biking isn’t all that uncommon, especially around here. On especially wicked cold days, I’ll stay home, just as I do when I have a car. 😉 Lastly, we’ll save a considerable amount of money as a result of this experiment. If I can go without a car for a year, maybe I’ll decide I don’t really  need one. But if the experiment feels like it has to end, I’ll have saved enough money to pay cash for the car I really want — a Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, or some other tiny car with a great safety rating and good gas mileage.

Any advice to share? I’m all ears! (Speaking of which, I’m researching lightweight balaclavas I can wear under my helmet to keep my ears from freezing off.)

 

 

Retro video and photos

I spent a good amount of time this morning poring over the photos and videos posted at How to be a Retronaut, which is sort of like a web-based time machine powered by a database of video, photos, documents, recordings, and more. My favorites are the color film of London shot by cinematographer Claude Friese-Greene in 1927. There’s a brief shot of the women bending down to leave flowers at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which brought me to tears as I was reminded that WWI was only a few short years behind them and their grief was probably cold and fresh. We also know that in just a few years, London would be under raid by the Germans.

Then there are the high definition photos taken around London in the late 40s (love the signage!) And, of course, this opening sequence (above) from “The Prisoner,” filmed in the mid-60s. You’d never see a long opening sequence like this in a television show today! Another series worth checking out are the color photos taken in Paris during the occupation by the Germans. In many ways, Paris looks the same to me today than it did then, except for the fashion and cars (and Nazi soldiers, of course.)

Live from Abbey Road (London webcams)

Did you know there’s a webcam view of Abbey Road at the crosswalk made famous by the Beatles? I didn’t. I’ve been watching it for the last half hour, waiting for a gang of four to do “the walk.” So far, I’ve just seen some groups of people gathered on the sidewalk; perhaps they’re looking for a break in traffic — it’s a busy street!

Here’s another of Oxford Street, one of my favorite places to shop. Oh, it looks so springy there today!

This one gives a live view of Piccadilly Circus from the Criterion Theatre, overlooking the Statue of Eros.

This webcam focuses on Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Not one of the more exciting London webcams, I’m afraid.

If you happen to be driving around London and want to know what kind of traffic you’ll face, check out the BBC’s list of “Jam Cams.” You have to refresh your browser to get fresh shots of the streets, but it’s still a fun way to get a bit of London in your own backyard (or home office).

Prince Charles to commute on the Tube?

The Prince of Wales, who owns a fleet of rather nice cars (two Jags, two Audis, an Aston Martin and more, not to mention a few mud-spattered Range Rovers I’m sure he has garaged on his estates), is urging housing developers to design communities that rely less on automobiles and more on walking and public transport.

That’s right. So we can expect to see more of Charles and Camilla hoofing it for England on the high street, canvas shopping totes in hand. Or spot them in a ticket queue at Euston Station before they head off to Manchester for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Or maybe not.

Weekend roundup

  • Few mourn US embassy relocation — “Now all is set to change, as the embassy prepares to shut up shop in central London and move to a brand-new building – in somewhat less salubrious surroundings on the south bank of the river Thames.” (BBC News)
  • Do WAGS make good role models? — “Lizzie Cundy, the wife of former Chelsea Player Jason Cundy, and Caroline Jordan, headmistress of St George’s school in Ascot, discuss whether WAGs make good role models for schoolgirls.” (BBC News)
  • Britain’s lonely high flier — “A resurgent Rolls-Royce has become the most powerful symbol of British manufacturing. Its success may be hard to replicate, especially in difficult times.” An exceptionally interesting article. (The Economist)
  • Old time ads — “Nostalgic commercials and brands are being revived as advertisers seek to tap into recession-ridden Britons’ urge for security, predictability and reassurance.” Interesting slide show of some classic British ad campaigns. (Financial Times)
  • She’s married to one of the country’s sexiest actors – so why does Emma Thompson think British men are retarded? — “The Oscar-winning actress compares her husband to a clam because he’s so hopeless at opening up — like all his ’emotionally autistic’ countrymen.” If I had to pick a celebrity to be my friend, I’d pick Emma. (The Daily Mail)
  • Blagojevich, the Iambic Anglophile — “Impeached, indicted and feeling alone, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has found some unlikely friends: Dead British poets.” May I suggest a little Robert Browning? “I give the fight up: let there be an end, a privacy, an obscure nook for me. I want to be forgotten even by God.” (the New York Times)
  • Kate’s no lady in waiting — A video from CBS’s Early Show about Kate Middleton’s 27th birthday and will Will or won’t Will pop the question soon?