The Great Automobile Shuffle

We were a 2 car, 2 driver household. A change to one driver’s health status made both of our cars not amenable to this life altering event. Ease of entry and exit became a new requirement, as well as the need for easier access to manageable carry space for the extra things we now need to carry.

Our 2012 Camry was a joy to drive but getting things of substantial weight in and out of the trunk was not a simple task.  It was also not an easy car to get in and out of for someone with mobility issues.  The same problem existed on our other car, a 2013 Corolla S, with the added issue of a very hard ride due to the sport suspension and tires.

The Camry was sold to the Toyota dealer in town, and the Corolla was sold to CarMax.  With the purchase of the replacement vehicle we had decided to locate and buy, we came out financially ahead on the deal.

We had purchased a new 2005 Scion XB when they first became available in New England and we both loved that car, owning it for about 8 years.  My sister has driven it for the last 3 or 4 years.  They stopped selling new XBs in the US in 2015 or early 2016, so I hunted one down on CarMax, and found a very low mileage 2013 in Virginia.  I paid $300 to have it shipped to Hartford and within a week we were happily driving it home.

The car meets the requirements – easier accessibility and more, manageable carry space.  Lifting weight into the back is much easier due to the hatch back and it’s rear bumper-level sill, not requiring lifting the weight up and over to get it in the car.  With the rear seat backs folded down (forward), the extra space provided is ready for extended road trips requiring luggage and more.  In either scenario there are many hooks and loops on the inside body and rear seat backs to secure loads with bungee cords or rope.

The entry into the seating areas is a little lower to the ground than either of the 2 previous cars, making entry significantly easier.  We find the car is noticeably quieter and gives a nicer ride than the 2005 version.  The 16″ wheels (as opposed to the 15″ on the older version) and the slightly extended wheel base are the main reasons for the improved ride.

We need to wait until the honeymoon is over and more miles are put on the car to see what the actual miles per gallon will be, for both town and highway.  My initial feeling is that the newer XB may not be as comfortable at the highway speeds I used to drive the old one (70+ mph), and have been staying closer to 65 except to pass.

Time will tell if it will be as dependable and problem free as the 2005 model was, and still is for my sister, but for now we’re just enjoying the new ride.

The Best Birthday Present Ever?

This year brought one of those major life event birthdays – 65. I wasn’t getting depressed about it, but I was overthinking it. Getting my Medicare and all other medical insurance policies set up was a stressful nightmare leaving me frazzled, which helped generate an all too solemn aura to this pending personal holiday. The background low level chatter in my brain repeated “this is a big one” whenever I had any thought related to the event.

For a few days the week before my birthday, my wife and I were staying with good friends and relatives in New Jersey, and spent one afternoon at a museum in Morristown. It was a fair sized museum, fun for all ages, with exhibits ranging from music making machines to a large toy train layout.

Late in the visit the four of us were in the rock exhibition room and saw 3 or 4 kids run into a seemingly dark room. We could hear the excited oohs and aahs, and decided to take a look. As we got closer we could see the room was actually a large closet, with flat black walls and ceiling, and no light except what leaked in through the door. A girl about 5 or 6 years old met us at the door and hurried us in, and as we entered the black lights came on. The rocks all appeared out of the darkness, lighting up the room in different shades of red, green, yellow, blue, and purple, and the oohs and aahs repeated.

The girl who invited us in then ran out, her companions trailing, and she yelled to her mother across the large room, “Mommy, Mommy, we showed the old peopleā€¦”. I looked at my brother-in-law, and we both started laughing. I could hear her mother quietly admonish her with a “Don’t say THAT!” and I laughed a lot more and didn’t stop for quite a while.

This kept me in chuckles the rest of the day – and the next few days. And I still crack up inside my head whenever I think about it. I can’t yet explain why it sticks with me, nor why it permanently defused the overthinking of the “big 65” as quickly as it did. I told my wife and friends it was the best birthday present I could have hoped for, one I’ll never forget.

Note: The Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, was a lot of fun. The Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata is well worth a visit, to see 19th century (and earlier) machines that make music, and also, mechanical dolls and robots. Shows and demonstrations of these exhibits are on the schedule. See the Morris Museum web site for more details.

Climate change gets personal

I live in southern New England. For the past few weeks the nightly temperatures have been in the single digit range with some dips below zero, more often than not. The wind chill factor has brought it down to -25 degrees on occasion. Current predictions have nightly temperatures staying in this range well into the end of this month.

These temperatures are apparently the new norm for this time of year where I live. The last five years or so hinted this change was coming, but these omens were of shorter durations and intensity, growing only slightly year to year. Previously, we experienced this “winter chill” for no more than 3 to 4 days in late January or early February, if at all, and the cold rarely got near zero.

I am fearful of my next electric bill, last month’s was outrageous. The battle to keep the kitchen water lines from freezing, a threat that has only come to reality once before in the more than 20 years living in this home, is also wearing me out.

I’ve spent money addressing this plumbing issue already, but am now determined to resolve the problem this spring and summer so’s not be face-to-face with it again next winter. Trending has me believing temperatures will probably be a little lower for a longer time then. The fix will be ugly. I see the wall and floor in my kitchen torn up. Addressing the insulation could be enough or some electrical wrapping to keep the pipes warm may be required.

So please forgive this whine. I’m sure I’m not the only one with new issues due to this change in climate, and others have much more significant impacts. Those without a home come to mind. And to those of you still not recognizing these trends as a climate change, regardless of the cause, you may wish to revisit that denial opinion.

Goodbye to the Camp Commander

I lost a good friend and mentor yesterday, my Uncle Robert, who was part of my life since the mid 50’s. He tried to teach me, among other things, how to sail a boat, drive a standard shift, maintain a car, and shoot shotguns and pistols. I say tried to teach me because I was an inept, nervous little idiot that most often proved to be a difficult student. This brought out the patient part of his nature which got me through the lessons unscathed – although he lost a clutch and almost his new sailboat in the process.

Some of the best memories are of time spent in his garage with him and my father, maintaining the fleet of family cars on Saturday mornings. I was in my twenties during this period, when all you needed to do this were ratchet wrench and socket sets, feeler gauges, and a timing light. We did tune ups, oil changes, brake jobs, and other assorted tasks. That was a special time learning from the masters, telling stories, breaking chops, and stealing each others hand tools.

Those times ended when electronics and pollution control systems took over under the hood and the simple tools were no longer enough to get the job done. Uncle Robert and I still spent time together and I visited him and my Aunt Bonnie often over the weekends. He and I went to the shooting range together on occasion, or just took a ride somewhere.

The Camp Commander, cooking the bacon

For four or five years in the early 2000s, I joined him and his camping crew at 4 scheduled weekend trips every summer at Austin Hawes Campground in Barkhamsted, CT. These were the best of times. The core crew of campers during my run were my uncle (known thereafter as The Camp Commander), his son Bobby (the best camp cook you could ever hope for, and a great friend of mine), his exceptionally humorous brother-in-law Sal (who started camping with The Camp Commander much earlier), and me. The nights around the camp fire, occasional treks into the woods or up the mountain, and general comradeship with its nonstop banter and jibes made for some of the happiest times of my life.

Uncle Robert was robbed of his well deserved retirement by illness all to soon after it started. And selfishly I must add, I was robbed as well. I looked forward to spending a lot of time with him after I retired, picturing us as a couple of stumble bums, driving or hiking around at will. Second only to my father, he was the most influential person in my life as far back as I can remember. It was all good, and he will be greatly missed.

The Camp Commander
The Camp Commander.