Call me

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Call me.

That’s what I say to the Owner of this white Corvette, parked on the right along Junction Highway just shy of Woodlawn as you travel north.

Because more than wanting to know the price, I’d like to know why it’s been sitting there since I moved to Kerrville one year ago tomorrow. I mean, she’s a beaut.

Just sitting there.

Maybe it’s the lack of a phone number. But you’d think that the Owner would stop by now and then to check on this cream puff.

I just want to know the story behind it.

So: call me. You’ve got my number.

Maybe.

A longing for chrome?

Karen said, “Do you realize every car we’ve bought has been silver?”

No, I hadn’t, as a matter of fact.

But, yes: “the Corolla, the (Honda) minivan, and this one” (a used Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD, as of yesterday).

“Even the Volvo,” she said. Yes, even the “volume car” as our toddler son Carter dubbed it. A Volvo 240 with standard transmission that Karen taught me to drive. Loved it. Felt the road. Made me pay attention to my actions.

Four cars, all silver. Like a corporate fleet. There must be a…thing…about that. Something about color or ego or insecurity. And because we’ve bought these four cars as a couple, who’s to say who’s got the color or ego or insecurity issues?

It’s a conundrum.

But when I sold the minivan to the garage parking attendant shortly after we moved back from Massachusetts to New York City’s Upper West Side in 2007, he pointed me to a silver Bentley adjacent to our car and said, “That belongs to Lady Gaga.”

I replied, “Who?”

I did.

Some colors

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It caught my eye Sunday–a latte-colored station wagon crossing Sidney Baker toward Lowe’s. Good thing we were headed that way anyway, because I was intent on seeing it up close.

It pulled in to the lot, and I pulled around near it to park. That is, I circled the entire lot until an SUV next to it pulled away so I could park right here.

“Is this creepy?” I asked the person riding shotgun. There was an inaudible reply.

She–Inaudible Shotgun Person–went into Lowe’s to do some actual good for the homestead, while I took a photo of the vehicle, a Chevy Nova wagon, white roof and a rain gutter, which would be perfect to affix surf racks onto except that I wouldn’t want to lessen its sleekness. (A Chevy Nova…”sleek”? Yes, sleek.)

A bumper sticker read, “RIDE OLD BIKES.”

The glass was flat and had a Mediterranean blue-green clarity to it. I half-expected the driver to be a sea turtle.

teal wagon

I saw a car today on Bandera Highway heading in the opposite direction, so instead of trying to take a photo out the driver’s side window doing an apparent speed of 90mph away from me–that’s not advisable, right?–I found online what was roughly the color of it.

Some colors should be kept around simply because they’re cool.

Better sleep “in” it

Transportation in New York generally requires only a MetroCard and a pair of shoes that don’t have holes in the soles. (That way, one can navigate a rainy day with minimized discomfort. Holey soles wouldn’t necessarily bother me in a drier climate.)

Here, however, transportation requires that I not only know what an alternator does, but also accept that when it gets replaced on a car run by a computer, the part must “re-learn”–the mechanic’s word–how to interact with the engine through multiple “drive cycles,” so that it doesn’t stall out when the RPMs drop too low at stoplights or turns or when idling in our driveway or when I look at it the wrong way. In other words, this car has a mind of its own, when it has absolutely no right to.

As everyone knows, shoes have no minds, and their souls are only of the material kind. And, therefore, they are easy companions. They are like dogs, cars are like cats. Or something like that.

We had to replace the alternator two days ago, and it took a day and a half of remedial lessons for Karen and me to teach the part how to do its job and to play nice with the rest of the car. This meant we had to treat the automatic transmission like a 5-speed manual. On Bandera Highway, I could drive it in 4th gear or “D,” but coming up to a red light at Loop 534, I’d down shift to third, then second, and then, if the light hadn’t changed, I’d either put it into neutral and rev the engine while slightly coasting toward the car twenty feet ahead of me–it’s basically zero grade road there–or if stopped, I’d have to keep the brake applied with my left foot and rev the accelerator with my right. Keeping RPMs above 1000.

The greatest test of my mettle was dealing with Hill Country Dry Clean Super Center yesterday on Sidney Baker.

The store is sunken about 15 feet below street level, which means that the in and out ramps are just that: ramps. Ramps are college level. We are dealing with a pre-K after a new alternator.

I had choreographed my day so that I’d work at Pint and Plow and drop my shirts to be cleaned on the way home, so that my turn into the small lot was with the flow of traffic and not across it, and my exit would be likewise, when I’d continue on down to Loop 534 near the YO. As I was approaching the store headed northeast on Sidney Baker, two pickup trucks with perfectly good alternators had partially blocked the exit ramp leading out from the all-too-small parking lot. I gently made the right turn in but had to slow to a point where my power went out–the alternator’s amps dropped below 15, which shut off the battery and thus the car (at least that’s how I understand it; I’m still working on how to get a good shine on my instep). I then coasted in, and since it was downhill, I turned left into the lot and right into a parking spot, made all the more difficult since the power steering was out now, so I had to man-handle the car like it was my 1998 Ford Contour, whose only asset was that it, like the two pickup trucks now delightfully on their way, had a working alternator.

After dropping my shirts–which, at $2.75 per shirt here compared with $2.25 in New York City, will cost me over the year as much as a new alternator–I then had the task of getting out of this pseudo-ditch. The task presented itself like running up a muddy hill wearing plastic bags over your shoes. The trick first is to start the car, rev the engine while in park, and then throw it into reverse and back up past the blind spot created by the large white pick-up to my right without hitting another customer coming in from behind me.

Did that.

Then, throw it into second to keep the RPMs up and head up the ramp on the left to get back onto Sidney Baker.

At the top, stalled out.

Wait for traffic with the engine off. Traffic stops at the red light by Tractor Supply Company. I start the engine, rev it, throw it into second and step on the gas. My back tires bark as I practically fishtail out onto Sidney Baker headed northeast. I follow these practices successfully all the way home.

A few months ago, my brother-in-law kindly replaced the car’s starter after it had gone out when Karen was at the small H-E-B. He did this there in the parking lot, in a slight drizzle, while I sat inside, pretending to be of moral support. Because, seriously, I know about shoes, ok?

Karen knows more about cars, and yet, when purchasing this one, she unwittingly texted the previous owner what should have been the key attribute we’d look for in a car…

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She wrote to the owner that she wanted to sleep “in” it before buying.

This is wise.

Because while it is always good to make a decision after sleeping on it, it is even better to sleep in a car before buying it, because you never know whether that is exactly what you’ll be doing when a part fails and the car subsequently refuses to learn its job.

Left turn onto Thompson Drive

My last post was depressing to write and, what’s worse, it rambled and contained various non sequiturs. It read back to me like a 7-year-old explaining how a car engine works. Starting with simple observation and ending with the entrance of a superhero. Or something like that.

Speaking of which: defective headlights and Kerrville Police.

Last night, I got pulled over twice in the span of 20 minutes for a unbeknownst-to-me defective headlight (‘knownst to me, of course, after the first stop). The previous time I’d been pulled over was in May 1994, when I was speeding at 2am somewhere in North Carolina heading back to Atlanta after my friend’s wedding in Philadelphia.

But last night, we were picking up our middle son after he had dinner with his girlfriend at Chinatown. They were going for a walk in Louise Hays Park, and coming from the west, I was making the left off Sidney Baker South to Thompson. I was in the middle of the intersection and the light turned yellow, which is when I usually take the left, but a car that should have stopped at the opposing red ran it instead. (After multiple morally-gray turns like mine, I’m pretty sure the lights turn red simultaneously. Maybe this instance was different.) I made the left on red. A police cruiser who had stopped opposite me–and who I thought for sure would go after the absolutely morally corrupt red-light-runner instead turned behind me. On came the blue and red flashing lights. I was certain he had tagged me for the left turn; this seemed inescapable.

“Where do I pull over?” I asked my passenger, who is a native of these parts and yet was as stunned as I.

“Go down into the park.” Since we were heading there anyway.

I did, and pulled into the Loading Zone near the fountains. At this point, I kind of wished cars had the ability that dogs do: to roll over on their backs in submission to a Bigger Dog.

“What do I do?” I asked The Passenger. Meaning: do I put my hands on the steering wheel like in the cop shows, so that I don’t get shot or tased. I mean, really, last time I got stopped, I was 31, still drunk off the fumes of a weekend wedding celebration, and carefree. In 1994, I was trying to see what my red cape looked like when flying behind me at 75 mph. Last night, I didn’t know the protocol. The dance. Do I roll down my window first or wait for him to tell me to? Important moves like that.

The Passenger intoned: “Put the car into park and roll down the window.” We’re talking Violation Primer here. I shut off the engine.

Long story short: it was a defective headlight, and we got off with a written warning. After the paperwork and the apparently necessary confirmation of my weight–“Um…187. No, wait, 188.”–we were on our way.

With our son now in tow and telling him that story, we turned once more to Sidney Baker South headed toward Bandera Highway. Round about the top of that hill by Rio Robles, we had yet another Lit Up Police Cruiser behind us.

Again, my question, this time more annoyed than stunned: “Where should I pull over?” She indicated a small parking lot to the right.

I pulled in and put the car into park, ignition off, window down. I was Level 2 now, about to level up.

The officer approached, and I noticed he was a different person from the first officer who came to my window in Louise Hays. I looked back at him, hands still on the steering wheel. (I’m telling you: I’m not jeopardizing my Level 3 status with lazy dance moves.)

He smiled. “You already got pulled over tonight for this, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Yeah. My colleague just told me. No worries. Y’all have a good night.”

Just like that.

The lesson?

Level 3 is easy.

It’s Level 2 that’s the bitch.

 

Gracie has passed hands

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Panorama view from iPhone; this was a lone car driving by. Just a little less than what’s left of my old Ford Contour.

The evening was cooling off; it had been so warm earlier that day that a couple men snaked me in line at Chick-fil-A to get more ice for their refills, one saying, “On a day like this, ice doesn’t last too long!”

So after a Thursday late afternoon meeting, I sat on a metal bench on Jefferson off Earl Garrett and waited for Karen to pick me up.

Why was I waiting…why was I not driving to meet Karen for tacos or maybe a stroll on the River Trail? you say. These are good questions you ask, because no one here walks but the homeless. (“Strolling” does not count; it is in the category of sauntering. Rf. Thoreau.) Sadly, the answer is that Gracie (my Ford Contour) has run her race and, after only 3.5 months, she has decided to ask me to put as much work into her–a new serpentine belt and power steering pump assembly + labor–as it cost to purchase her.

No.

Loyalty has its limits. (And those limits come quickly when we’re dealing with a 20-year-old car that only cost me $650.)

And so, Gracie made an appearance yesterday on Facebook’s “Kerrville Online Garage Sale” (as well as “The Hill Country Classifieds,” “Bandera Online Without All The Rules,” and three other sales outlets). Within half an hour, I had two offers and also a text from a friend who was floating the sale to another friend. Three hours later, title, cash, and Bill of Sale had exchanged hands.

My buyer was a guy from Ingram, who came with his father. The first offer, significantly lower, was from a guy also from Ingram, whose Facebook page wall showed only his winnings from online casino. His profile photo was a white man in stetson, blonde mustache and no smile. The photo was blurred, which to me was probably more troublesome than anything else. I was a bit worried his might be the only offer, and he would talk me down to $12.95 plus a Shiner Bock. (And I don’t drink.)

The eventual buyer, however, had a Facebook profile showing him hugging a toddler, ostensibly his daughter or a niece. No mention of online casino. Mention of his home improvement business.

When he showed up at Texas Express Lube, where Gracie had been parked since the belt broke two Wednesdays ago, we shook hands and I noticed just how small and uncalloused my hands are. I can hold a small fish taco; this gentleman could grip a large burrito and a Shiner Bock in his hand and still flip the bird to a Yankee car seller if he so chose.

Although he seemed the epitome of kind and friendly, I had not sold a car privately before, and I decided to pretend I knew what I was talking about in the event he turned out to be shrewd:

“Well, ____ , let’s take a look and I’ll show you what you’re dealing with.” I had the hood open within three seconds. “So–” I pointed to where the serpentine belt had been “–the belt broke because the rotor there had been vibrating and threaded the grooves on the belt. The needed work was made complicated because they’d need to support the engine from underneath while replacing the assembly so that it wouldn’t shift and break one of the side mounts.” I had pretty much practiced these lines, and I believe I got away with about 95% believability that I knew the vast majority of words that came out of my mouth. Especially the verbs. The nouns came out at about 50% believability.

I showed him a cosmetic problem inside the car, which he didn’t’ care about. He just wanted the vehicle and was going to do the under-the-hood work himself.

“Howard, I really appreciate this. It’s such a blessing to me. Really came at the right time. The last few months, everything that could go wrong, has.”

Brother, I’ve been there. Glad to help.

Let Me Carry You

“Well, that was an ugly hand!”

“The worst one yet!”

IMG_0176The four women playing bridge at Pint & Plow yesterday laughed knowingly like old friends are wont to, and one dealt the cards for the next hand.

My phone rang, and it was Karen.

“Did Tivy [High School] get a hold of you?”

Her tone made me think immediately of–sadly, I’m serious, in this age–a school shooting.

“No…what’s up?”

She outlined the situation, and I realized the morning–and maybe the afternoon–would not be about me getting work done at this coffeeshop that doubles as an office. In fact, I had not had coffee at home; I’d run out my supply the previous morning and hadn’t stopped at H-E-B for more. (Careful Readers will note that I used the hyphens there, when I’ve omitted them in the past. You’re welcome.) I was nigh halfway done with my very first cup of java when Karen called.

Oh, well.

Parenthood.

IMG_0175So this son left school and came with me, and we grabbed lunch at Whataburger, which has a radio ad with a pre-teen, a real one, not an actor, who actually says that a meal there is as close to a home-cooked family meal as you can get. Whataburger is heads and shoulders above the crowd of fast food, but I’ll let that bit of hagiographic copywriting speak for itself.

The women next to us, one of them in her 40s and in nursing attire–lots of nursing work here; it’s as common and nearly as lucrative as hedge fund work in New York City (speaking of hagiography)–were talking about Adonijah and Solomon and the scandals of the Old Testament. This is the talk of Kerrville, and I find it refreshing to eavesdrop on. In New York, if you eavesdrop on the wrong table, you might find it necessary to wipe your ears with alcohol and a cotton swab.

Then there was The Tale Of My Car.

Driving with the out-of-school son to pick up the in-school son, all of a sudden my steering got arthritic. It had been like this for a time, and I finally took the advice of my wife, who said “Check the power steering fluid,” which I did two days ago. (Years ago, knowing I did not grow up with cars, she sent me to the mechanic with our old Volvo but instructed me on my way out the door, “Remember to ask them to check the power window [sic] fluid.” Those of you who know her will know this practical joke is completely in character.)

Yesterday, I had power steering fluid added–I had learned years earlier that most real cars do not have “power window fluid”–and this transformed the ease with which I drove Gracie. (That’s my car, a 1998 Ford Contour.) She was like a vessel newly christened by champagne, and she responded to the slightest urging of her pilot. First thing today when I tried to turn it over, the battery and oil lights came on. It took three cranks to get it running smoothly. And today around 3:15, the battery light was back on, the A/C wasn’t working, and the steering went out, making it hard work to turn corners. After school pick-up, I drove the boys home to drop one of them off and, pulling away, saw a black coil on the street where my car had been parked, engine running.

“I think that’s part of my car,” I said to the remaining son. I got out and walked over. Sure enough, it was part–part only–of a black rubber grooved belt I’d seen when inspecting my power steering fluid reservoir yesterday. I put it into the trunk and told myself I’d stop at Texas Express Lube after dropping my son at his appointment nearby.

When I got to the mechanic, they opened up the hood. Three guys, all looking in, barely letting me get my eyes on what they were seeing, and groaning, “Oh, man.” “You see that?!” “Oh, wow.”

The manager said to me, “It’s amazing you even got here.” Sure enough, I had driven 35 MPH most of the way, even when the speed limit was 55. At one point, I was on the shoulder in a 55 with my hazards going along Bandera Highway south of the intersection of Loop 534, and a State Trooper appeared and then slowed about fifty feet behind me, in the lane, ostensibly to check if I was ok. I gave him a thumbs-up out the window and then pulled into the lane at the intersection.

The serpentine belt had completely broke off. It runs the power steering, the A/C, and a whole bunch of stuff, I’m told. Maybe even the windows, the radio, and my general outlook on life. The new belt is cheap, around $42, but to get at it, they need to take a whole bunch of things to get at the pulley, which also might be broken. [Editor/Writer’s note: today, my birthday morning, I get a call and learn that, yes, the whole assembly needs replacing. The total cost is nearing Gracie’s original sales price of $650. I’m thinking about next steps.]

The good news is that one of the mechanics is interested in buying it.

“My girlfriend’s son needs a car.”

I looked at him–he looked to be about 25–and I did the relational math in my head. My pause allowed him to fill in the details.

“She’s ten years older than I am.” (I had guessed correctly, he was exactly 25.)

“Oh, so she has like a 17-year-old?”

“Yeah. This would be a first car for him!”

*  *  *

I left the car there for the night.

This is the field I was about to walk across–I’ve been reminded many times that no one in Kerrville walks…only the homeless do–to get to where the son’s appointment was.

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Reminds me what my father would tell me about his wanting to walk the ten minutes from his aunts’ house on Church Street to downtown Williamston, NC. One of them would say, “Law, Frank! [Lord, Frank!] Don’t walk! Let me carry you over there!” [Drive you there.]

 

Knighted

In the time it takes me to fly from DFW halfway around the world to Hong Kong, I could drive across Texas from Beaumont to El Paso (via Dallas of course), with just enough time to stop at L&J Cafe for a dinner of green chili chicken enchiladas.

The world is getting smaller and smaller.

But Texas sure is big.

And don’t you forget it.

Of course, my trip didn’t terminate in Hong Kong. I still had to fly to Manila on Cebu Pacific, a flight that was not altogether comfortable–unlike American’s flight to HK, which was cushy–due to the cranked AC and a neighboring gentleman doing Boss-Level manspreading. I almost took a photo of his intrusive left leg but you never know what will happen when you document a Rampant Manspreader.

That said, the flight attendants were delightful, and while this is certainly generalizing, Filipino culture has social graces built into most interactions.

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In Tagalog, people use the word “po” in a suffix position to a verb or phrase to indicate respect to another. From what I understand, it can serve as “Sir” or “Madam.”

And of course, when you order a simple sausage croissant from a food kiosk in the Philippines Airline terminal 2 (domestic) en route to Tagbilaran City, then you are knighted.

Turning lanes

Let’s talk about driving. And parking. Specifically, turning lanes and Corvettes taking up two mall slots.

First, Corvettes and mall parking spaces. That’s the one that burns me up a little, so let’s expunge this little rant like last night’s jalapeño poppers.

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Rude ‘Vette

I described the scene above to Karen, who said, “Ooh. He’s just asking for it.”

It needs no further qualification. It is anything that falls into the category of things he–and you know it’s a “he”–didn’t want to happen to his Precious Ride, so he took more spaces than God granted him in this great country. IT DOESN’T MATTER TO ME THAT THE LOT IS LARGELY EMPTY. That’s not the point, Dear Reader. The point is justice. The point is fairness. The point is that he was the camper in 8th grade who had the last cup of “bug juice” at the cabin table during lunch and didn’t abide by the “you kill it, you fill it”

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Manspreader to left; hapless manspreading victim to right.

rule, which every kid on Planet Earth knows is right and good and beautiful. This is kind of like manspreading on the NYC subway, except that I wouldn’t personally tangle with most manspreaders. They manspread because they know no one’s going to mess with them. But a Corvette parked like this is “asking for it.”

Now, on to the kinder side of driving.

The turning lane.

The turning lane is a wonder of ex-urban driving, which practically doesn’t even acknowledge lanes. Having got my license at 17 in New York City and as a former Uber driver, I can tell you that driving there is like a video game: Competitive…leveling up…finding the “easter eggs”…always multiplayer and never campaign mode. The turning lane here changes things. Softens things. Makes life pleasant. Creates smiles. Reduces manspreading.

Imagine you’re coming out of the Take It Easy RV Resort (where Karen’s paternal grandmother once lived) on Junction Highway. You want to go to Hometown Crafts, which is really just a few hops and a skip north. Only about 75 yards, in fact. BUT…you’ve got some serious traffic between those two places. Well, you could drive in the breakdown lane going the wrong way. But that would not be Driving Friendly, as they do in Texas. (They really do. If you pull onto the shoulder on a highway to let a faster car pass, they wave out the back window or, at night, tap the breaks a few times to acknowledge your thoughtfulness.) No, you don’t drive in the breakdown lane the wrong way. That would be wrong. That way is for Corvettes. That’s the way of Darkness.

What you do instead is pull out into the Turning Lane.

Now, there is actually a raging debate about the proper use and the misuse of this Gift From God which is the Turning Lane. Even the Kerrville Daily Times has covered this. It’s a thing.

But in any case, let’s say you’re a sweet Kilgore grandmother, and you’re simply going from your RV to Hometown Crafts to get, say, some fake ferns to decorate the front porch. I mean, right? Not a big deal. You pull gently out into the turn lane–all the Super Duty trucks whizzing to and fro with their dual exhaust pipes the diameter of large shop vacs–and sally forth the 75 yards north. Then waiting for the red ‘Vette and the three Dodge Chargers to pass, you make a gentle left…a slight swing…a smooth curving 90-degree arc like a graceful figure skater of old, the kind we don’t see anymore on TV–these days we see them flipping three or four times so fast our heads spin and give us whiplash and they’re all probably using those steroids and such–no, I’m talking about a gentle turn, a smooth graceful arc, DAMNED be the dual exhaust on those big ol’ white Super Duty Ford trucks a-rumbling down Junction Highway–and you gracefully turn into Hometown Crafts to get your fern. You are smiling. Others who pass you in the parking lot are smiling. They have their ferns. You almost have your fern.

All because of the Turning Lane.

And that is why Turning Lanes are good and Corvettes are bad.

In front of Baublit in the late afternoon

My nearby meeting yesterday evening wasn’t starting for twenty or so minutes, so I wheeled my car into a diagonal slot along Water Street, in front of Baublit Jewelry. (What a great name: Baublit. Reminds me I need to name this $650 Ford Contour before it gives up its ghost. Since each day driving it seems to be its last, and since I feel grateful to have it another 24 hours, I think she will be called “Grace.” Maybe Gracie, to make it a little more personal. Gracie it is. Also one letter different from the Italian for “thank you.”)

I watched the traffic go by, but in reverse to the other morning. Instead of some cars going from south to north and others going north to south, some were going north to south and others were going south to north.

This activity was ok for about 3 minutes.

That’s all I have on this.