Well this is awkward. After regularly posting on WordPress for the past while, I arrived at a decision that may not have been all that well thought out. From now on, my efforts will mostly be focused on a new Tumblr blog. Where I plan to post something at least every day, maybe even a few times a day. Since Tumblr seems to be more socially based, this will hopefully diversify the works I’m creating, and I could get more involved in another community. At this point I think that it would be better for me to try and write something shorter every day rather than just one piece each week. As ever, let me know what you think via twitter since there’s no comments section here. I look forward to seeing you at the new site!
The worst thing about the GTI is that everything works properly. With all the previous cars I would turn the key, more in hope than expectation. In every tangible, reasonable way, the GTI is the best car I’ve owned thus far. But it’s not interesting like the 1991 Civic hatch that wouldn’t start, or the 1997 Jetta that wanted to kill me. It has airbags (lots of them), anti-lock brakes, traction control (make sure to turn that off), AC, radio, power everything, and heated leather seats. Most people would see these features as good things, but I’m not so sure. Yes it is nice to have an audio system that works so that I’m not listening to my iPod via earbuds. Having seats that aren’t leaking foam is another positive aspect. However, all these things make the car very heavy which means worse fuel economy (30mpg instead of 42mpg), and a less engaging driving experience. While the turbo does add some excitement, I have to drive this car differently than the Civic which was light but had no power at all. Also, the GTI runs on premium gas which disagrees with my student loan payments.
However, the GTI does actually work, which is convenient. The only reason I replaced the 1991 Civic was because it just wasn’t reliable anymore. If I couldn’t count on the car to get me to work on time, then I needed something that would. The main reason the GTI is in better shape is because it’s much newer, only had one previous owner, and it cost SO MUCH MORE. For the first four broken cars, I hadn’t spend any more than $2000 on the car itself. The GTI was $7000 which makes a huge difference in how many warning lights are on the dash. Even though the running costs and insurance are much more (which is annoying), it is a reliable car, with much more power than I’ve had before, so it balances out in the end.
Something to consider is that driving old, cheap, broken cars builds character and perspective. It changes what’s deemed a “real problem” and what you could live with. For example, if the car burns oil, and the check engine light is always on, that’s not a real problem, just add oil when needed and you’ll be ok. However, when the car won’t start, and will stall itself if it does manage to start, that’s more of a problem. Similarly, broken cars change what features are really necessary and what you could live without. The 1997 Jetta was the first car I had with power windows and in the first week, the back two had broken and fallen off the track. Now I only want crank windows since they are far more reliable. Having no radio really isn’t the end of the world, you can focus more on the driving and save a bit of weight as well. You don’t really need power steering, airbags, anti-lock brakes, or traction control, just don’t crash and you’ll be ok. In fact, I don’t like the fact that the GTI has so much safety equipment on it. If you have lots of airbags, ABS, traction control, and a non-rusty frame, you feel much safer. The 1991 Civic taught me a lot about driving awareness because I didn’t have anything standing between a poor decision and my certain death. With no safety equipment at all (no passenger side-view mirror either), I had to actually pay attention when I was driving. Now with much safer cars, people feel that they can text, take pictures, drink, and whatever else behind the wheel because in the back of their mind, they think they’re safe. More safety features leads to less safe drivers.
If you’ve never owned an old, cheap, broken car, I’d highly recommend it. It will make you a better person.
I don’t usually watch movies. And I certainly don’t go the the theater unless I’m fairly certain that the movie in question will change my life. So when The Perks of Being a Wallflower was first in theaters, I was going to see it, even if the closest screening was 45min away. I ended up going alone since my only friend at the time didn’t want to see a “sad movie” and I didn’t want to see something else. It’s my ability to compromise that wins me so many friends.
I found ‘Perks’ to be one of the most real and most interesting films I’ve seen in a while. I even learned a few life lessons from the experience. The first and most profound of which, is that we’re all broken. Throughout the movie, I saw that each character was relatively normal on the surface, a bit more interesting once you got to know them, and all the while strongly impacted by something in their past. Charlie had been sexually abused as a child and blamed himself for his aunt’s death. Sam had also been sexually abused as a child, and later on in high school. Patrick’s homosexuality was not embraced or even accepted by society at large, and he had to live everyday in a mocking and hateful world. I know people personally that have been abused, suffer from depression, get panic attacks, have PTSD, and live through a myriad of other psychological troubles. I’m sure we all do. This all illustrates that even though everyone looks and acts normal enough, inside we’re all broken in one way or another.
Secondly (and less dramatically), I gained a renewed appreciation for interpersonal relationships. There’s a scene where Sam welcomes Charlie to the ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ as if to say “we’re all broken, but we have each other.” Looking back on the film, I can’t help but think that if Charlie, Sam, and Patrick didn’t have their group of close friends, they simply couldn’t get by. They all needed acceptance and support from one another. I hadn’t thought of friendships as all that important before. Convenient, helpful, overall positive, but not valuable. Never something to invest in and treasure.
Later that afternoon (bills to pay = matinee) I made a list of my friends. I have a few Facebook friends and a relatively low number of twitter followers, but I had a different criteria in mind for this list. The only names would be people that live or work close enough to actually meet up. Essentially, a list of real, viable, meaningful friends that I would actually want to spend time with, rather than just staring at my laptop alone. It was a short list, with only one name. Since then, we’ve had a falling out and so now I’m down to 0 close friends. I know lots of people online and offline, but under this criteria, the list is still at 0. To be fair, this is mostly my fault, I just don’t really want to invest in building up meaningful relationships.
Going forward with the knowledge that we’re all broken, and a partially renewed appreciation of friendships, I’ll at least consider making some changes. I already try to be absolutely open and honest, anything less than that is a waste of their time and my effort. And if I need to be fake, then it’s obviously not real anyway. But I might invest more in relationships and try to consider others enough to entertain the possibility of becoming friends at some point. No promises of course, but I really don’t have anywhere to go but up.
Once I realized that the Jetta was probably going to kill me one day, I figured I should replace it. I looked for a while to find the best car and of course, ended up on craigslist. However, I learned my lesson at this point, no more night-time buys from shady individual sellers, I was going to a dealership. But not a real dealership obviously. So I bought the car on Sunday, I test drove a 91 Civic hatchback and a 92 Civic sedan. (And by “test drove” I really just mean, first and second gear around the parking lot.) I liked the 91 Hatch much more, it just felt so light and alive despite being 20 years old at that point. So $1800 later after trading in my death-trap, it was all mine. It had working A/C for the first time! I never had a car with A/C before, I was about a half-hour down the road before I remembered and turned it on…
But wait, there’s more. It didn’t have a passenger side-view mirror, any airbags, or antilock brakes. There was no tachometer, no cup-holders at all, and the driver’s seat was collapsing and leaking foam. There was no radio (again), the rear brakes were metal-to-metal so they didn’t work and just got very hot not doing anything, the power steering rack was binding (which is worse than not having power steering at all). It was very rusty and painted four different colors of gray.
And I loved it.
The trick with getting an old broken car past state inspection is to go to an inspection station that doesn’t look too closely. After getting another $3000 estimate (I guess that’s the magic number) to replace the rusty panels and fix the everything, I went down the street to a gas station, and $300 later I was good. But the car had another trick up its sleeve.
I bought the car on Sunday, it didn’t start on Saturday. Within a week of purchase it was really broken. It was at this point I thought that maybe I should start spending more then just $2000 on cars in the future, that they might last longer and not try to kill me (but what’s the fun in that?) But fear not, I figured out that if I started the car and immediately got on the gas, I could keep it from stalling itself and so long as I didn’t let it idle (like the Jetta) until it was warmed up, I would be ok. Of course by “ok” I really mean that the car would mostly work. This is what I came to call ‘broken-mode’ and a less dedicated individual would call it ‘un-drive-able’. In broken-mode, the check engine light was on (nothing new there), and it was very bad, it would stutter and hesitate, it was way down on power (and didn’t have much power to begin with), and would make my day much worse.
I had an idea though. Once the car was warmed up and we were rolling at about 70mph, I would do a rolling-restart and turn the car off. I’d give it a few seconds and then re-start the car and hope that it would work properly for the rest of the drive. This plan (read: very dangerous idea) worked well many times. Although it did go very wrong twice. These times, I tried to restart the car and nothing happened. The car didn’t even try to start. So there I am on the highway with my speed rapidly falling, with the car off and just rolling for as long as its momentum dictated. Both of these times, I was able to get it restarted before I came to a stop (or got killed). Because of this and all the other interesting issues with this car, I started to think of it as the Millennium Falcon. When it worked it was great, it got 45mpg and was very light and agile. When it didn’t work it might die completely, and was almost un-drive-able about half of the time.
Now I’m sure some people think that if you have to pray every time you turn the key that the car would actually start, then get on the gas to keep it from stalling itself, then not turn on the headlights, A/C, or heat until it’s warmed up (or else it would die), that maybe it’s time to reconsider your life. I’m sure these would be the same sort of people that think driving a car so dangerously rusty that I’m concerned the body will fall right off the frame in a fast turn, with no passenger side-view mirror, no useful brakes, and no airbags (not even for the driver) would be a “bad idea.”
However, those people are wrong. This was without a doubt my favorite car so far. I loved the lightness, any Driver (with a capital “D”) will tell you that weight makes the biggest difference in how a car feels. The 91 Civic Hatch was a very small and very lightweight car, it got great gas mileage and was perfect in every way. The lack of safety features was good as well. I might write more about this idea later on, but with nothing separating my poor driving from certain death, I paid more and more attention when I drove and became a better Driver as a result. I learned how to brake, turn, and accelerate on very narrow tires that would lose traction if I even thought about the rain. I learned how to take advantage of the lightness and turn into corners quite fast. The 91 Hatch was perfect, and exactly what I wanted.
But the fact remained that it was not the most reliable. I knew that one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe five years from now, it would die completely. And since I have to get to work (bills to pay) I needed something I could count on. So I sold the last completely stock EF hatchback in the world to a co-worker (whose girlfriend (now wife) was less than thrilled) for $500 and bought a reliable, boring car instead. I just heard that he has since sold it. I hope that little rusty Civic will limp on forever.
On 2/26/13 and 2/27/13 instead of getting work done I had to report for Jury Duty. Thankfully my job still paid me for those two days, or else that would have been problematic. It wasn’t all bad though since it gave me the opportunity to see the courtroom process first-hand and I learned a few key tips over that two days:
1. If you are summoned for Jury Duty, you need to show up. If you don’t, they can come and find you and there might be a warrant to take you into custody.
2. If you find yourself the defendant in a criminal case, please get a lawyer. Do not represent yourself, you’ll look like an idiot and it’s best to have a (highly paid) professional to formulate your defense.
3. Also, make sure to dress up for court (especially if you’re the defendant). The defendant in my case had his shirt untucked and didn’t have a suit jacket for the first part of the proceedings. Over the lunch break he acquired a jacket and tied his tie. However, the next day he had his shirt untucked again, his jacket on inside out, and two ties, both loose and sloppy. It looked ridiculous, and all these small things add up in the eyes of the Jury deciding your fate.
4. Make sure to deny everything. If you’re pleading not-guilty, you need to immediately and repeatedly say “that never happened” or “I didn’t do it.” At no point in the very lengthy process did the defendant in my case actually deny his alleged crimes. Now while the defendant doesn’t need to say anything (presumed innocent, burden of proof is on the State), this still matters to the Jury.
5. Stop talking when the Judge bangs the gavel and tells you to stop. In fact, it’s always a good rule of thumb to do what the Judge tells you in the courtroom.
6. On a related note, under no circumstances tell the Judge that she is “ignorant and incompetent.” It won’t go over well. This actually happened in my case, the defendant called the judge “ignorant and incompetent” on record, in front of the rest of the court. The court clerks (law school students) and the Jury could not stop laughing at how ridiculous that was. Such a foolish decision.
7. If you find yourself accused of three counts indecent exposure on a corrections employee, do your best to avoid intentionally committing indecent exposure while addressing the court. Yep, that happened in the case too. The defendant exposed himself in front of the Judge, prosecutor, Jury, and several policemen in the court, while speaking before the assembly. That action (more than any other factor) cost him the case. We were deliberating for hours and once five of the Jurors agreed that they did indeed see the defendant expose himself in court… It wrapped up quickly after that point.
So, the case got more interesting, the court bought us all pizza for while we were arguing in the back room. I got a whopping $30 stipend for my two days of effort, and completed my civic responsibility.
Now I’m trying to remove my name from the voter registration list so they don’t summon me again.
The Miata robbed me, the Jetta tried to kill me.
Once my 1994 Civic was stolen, it took me about 8 months to save up enough to buy another horribly broken car. This meant I was taking the bus everywhere and carrying the week’s groceries on the long walk back to my safe neighborhood (read: where my car was stolen). I found a 1997 Jetta on craigslist (where all the safe, reliable, inexpensive cars are found), stood in front of the TV and asked my room-mate/land-lord if he could drive me out to get the car right then.
So I get out there and have a look at the car, the trunk was “big enough to hold two bodies” the seller told me, so that was confidence building. However, he wouldn’t let me test drive it since the tags had expired. Pro-Tip: don’t buy a car at night, and always test drive it first. After sorting out some paperwork, I was going to get it dropped off for the state inspection. It was while driving around 50mph with the steering wheel sideways that I realized how bad the alignment was since it had been sitting with two flat tires for so long. Of course I carried on with the drive even on two flat tires because once again, poor decisions are what I do best. About $1M later the car was past inspection and all was well.
This is when the problems started. The mk3 Jetta had a great bagel-storage solution, it was a space in the dash the perfect size for a few waffles or a bagel! Some say that was just where the radio used to be before it was stolen, but I attribute it to German ingenuity. It also had no A/C but I’m sure you already guessed that one. Another awkward issue was that the rear suspension was shot, this meant that when heavier individuals sat in the back seat, the tires would rub and it would break everything. It was quite difficult to try and explain this to the people in the car without undue insult, but I’m sure I managed to do so professionally and courteously (probably not).
The first week I was driving it, with no A/C, I put the windows down. And heard a loud cracking noise. Both rear windows had fallen off the track into the door, the window motors were broken, and it would be $450 to fix it. Instead I asked the shop to raise the windows again and wedge them into place. I figured only the (now lightweight) people in the back seats would need those windows to not suffer heatstroke and I could live without them (and the rear windows).
At one point, I tried to install a short-ram intake to make this dismal deathtrap better in every conceivable way. Unfortunately the piping wouldn’t fit properly so this too was a failure. But wait, there’s more! We didn’t bother securing the loose vacuum lines properly so a few weeks later I found 2 lines almost cut completely in half by the spinning belts and proceeded to cover the gaping wounds with electrical tape instead of properly fixing the issue. Also, we had to “secure” the intake filter with zip ties. Of course the store didn’t have any black zip ties, so I had to use one red and one green on each side of the new filter. Believe me, it was awesome (read: terrible and embarrassing). At this point, most of the engine bay was held together by zip ties and electrical tape.
Another fun little problem was that for a while, the car would stall itself at idle. This meant that I couldn’t let the car idle at all, I would have to stay on the gas when in traffic, at a stop sign, or red light in order to keep the engine going. And once I got going, there was a hole in the exhaust so there was a loud rattle noise between 1800 and 2200rpm constantly. In case I wasn’t embarrassed enough by being seen anywhere near this car yet, the back tires wouldn’t hold air. Therefore, every morning to go to work, class, the store, or a job interview I would have to use a bike pump (ran out of quarters) and get the tires full enough for that day. Every. Day. So there I was, sometimes in the snow, sometimes dressed in a suit, bike-pumping the tires every morning before starting my rattling car and going off on another adventure.
Finally, this car was trying to kill me and anyone else foolish enough to go along for the ride. I was on a church internship at the time and when the leader-guy asked the room who had a car with them I held my hand up in a wavering “sort-of” motion. Upon further inquiry, I explained that I had a car in theory that Yes I did actually have a car but considering that there was no radio, no A/C, both back windows were stuck, both back tires didn’t hold air, the engine hoses were held together with zip ties and tape, there was a loud rattle, the suspension was shot, and it would stall itself, I couldn’t really say I had a car with any real confidence. When someone did have a lapse in judgement and asked me to drive them I would have to give them this disclaimer:
In addition to the long list of issues with this car, some I don’t usually mention to people unless they need to know are as follows. The anti-lock brakes don’t work which means we won’t be able to stop in time if something goes wrong. Also, the emergency brake doesn’t work either so that’s no help. Finally, the airbags don’t work at all. So here’s how it will go: something will go wrong, we won’t be able to stop in time, when we crash, the airbags won’t safe us. So I can drive you if you really want, but you may want to take a minute and make your peace now just in case.
I eventually sold the Jetta once it got too terrible and unreliable. Which led to my favorite broken car so far, the much older but slightly less broken 1991 Civic.
One sure sign of adulthood is when snow goes from being a good thing to being a bad thing. Another is when ‘play’ becomes ‘exercise.’ Back before I had allergy issues, before I had internet access, and before I discovered the joys of video gaming, I spent most of my time playing outside. (Eww, that phrase felt so strange to type “playing outside”? who does that?) Anyway, I used to run track and cross-country through middle school. In high school that didn’t work out so well because these people could actually Run, and my knees hurt quite a bit so no more running. I did some mountain biking and got into road biking because it was so much faster. In college I tried the Ultimate Frisbee team but they took it real seriously and practiced almost every day. I had to get a job so that fell by the wayside as well. It was at this point that ‘play’ turned into ‘exercise’. For the most part, physical activity is now something that I feel I have to do rather than something I want to do.
I used to have something motivating me though. At this point I’ve considered joining the military three or four times in all. Part of this consideration and testing process is physical training. So I would run more and more, try to do some pushups and situps, then look at the target ranges for a 20-something male. Once I realized I could maybe reach some of the minimums, I lost that drive and realized I just couldn’t be good enough. Now with nothing really motivating me to get physical activity beyond the fact that I don’t have money to buy new clothes once I get morbidly obese, I’ve found ways to make exercise more bearable.
The most important change was efficiency. I could ride my bike for about an hour and get a similar workout to running for about 25 minutes. Since most of my 30min shows are about 24-26min on Netflix, this seemed perfect. If I can watch TV it doesn’t count as lost time, so I watch my show while running on the treadmill and it takes half the time as biking so all is well. In fact, I almost never exercise if I can’t watch something on my laptop at the same time.
Another change was trying to recover some of the lost fun and excitement that went missing from this forced-labor exercising. So for the low low price of entirely-too-many-dollars a month, I joined a climbing gym vaguely close by. After about four months of bouldering (like real climbing only more difficult, lower height, and with no ropes) I am kind of intermediate which is better than ‘n00b’ I suppose. Despite reading some of this website before starting, the people there are actually ok and sometimes helpful. Except the little kids. The EarthTreks gym has a climbing team made up of (so far as I can tell) kids between 8 and 18 years old. Which is great. However it is extra disappointing to fail and fall off the wall to my death when I get up only to see a group of little girls standing there waiting for me to fail. At which point they fly up the route I just finished falling off of (sometimes using only one foot, or presumably while laughing at my shambling disgrace of an attempt) as if to say “You couldn’t do this? It’s just a V4 (out of 16), not difficult at all. Maybe it’s because you don’t weigh 60 pounds…” So now I know to not try something difficult if there’s any Team members around to see me. I tell myself that one day these kids will grow up a bit, and have to worry about health insurance costs, and how much time they’ll have to take off work if they fall and get injured, and they might not be as fearless. But in the meantime, they’re much better than me, so I’ll just try to watch and learn.
All that to say: exercise is terrible, but with a few adjustments, it can be less terrible.