22 May 2009

My Car is Cursed (2 of 2)

To recap, the day I bought my car I had an accident and the instrument panel was be-lit, the next day I had to get a new catalytic converter, and I quickly started missing the cool things that I'd wanted - like a fin, a sunroof, a stereo with an MP3 jack and a display that told you what song was playing, and cruise control.

The brakes squeak, though. It's a high pitched squeak, starting when the pedal is depressed about one quarter of the way and increasing in volume and high pitchiness through about the halfway point. Pumping the pedal doesn't really seem to do it. It's declined a lot since the first few months, but wow, it was loud.

So ten days later, I was in Los Angeles with my still-new - squeaky-new - car. Because the 405 South through the South Bay was FUBAR'ed, as usual, I was thinking of alternate routes to get to the 24 Hr Fitness downtown Long Beach. Western south to Anaheim or Lomita, I figured, would save time and take me through my old stomping grounds from when I lived in LB ten years ago.

Traffic on Western can go at a pretty good clip, and I drive along with traffic, but up ahead of me the light turns yellow. And it's pretty far up ahead of me. I stop. The car behind me doesn't even slow down. WHAM! The driver of a Honda Civic plowed right into me, pretty much at full speed. Christine lurches ahead but not fully into the intersection, thankfully, and when the light changes I point to the curb and the Civic dutifully follows me over. I get out, and so does he.

Civic: "I thought you were going to go!"

Me: "Nope. Nope, I didn't."

Civic: "Sorry man."

We look at the trunk, and despite the fact that I am now driving a "Pontia" with no "c" and the bumper is scratched, there doesn't look like there's anything wrong with it. I pop the trunk from inside and that works, and both of my tail lights work.

Me: "Looks alright. No blood, no foul." He thanked me and we both drive away. I continued heading down Western, and at the first corner he turned left and disappeared. That's why they call them bumpers, right? My neck did hurt from a few days as I got a good snap from the impact, but nothing a little stretching and yoga couldn't cure, I figured.

Two accidents, less than a month, but both were pretty small potatoes as far as accidents go. I thought perhaps Christine was just getting her bad luck out of the way. No reason for me to have thought this, I just do. It's completely irrational, but we humans like to abscribe meaning to random events to make us feel better about the world in which we find ourselves.

But that's another blog entry.

So - the latest?

I met a friend for dinner at Lucky Baldwin's, a nice pub in Sierra Madre on a nice, Thursday evening. We meet, I have two beers with dinner because I know that's the legal limit given my weight, and a few hours later we walked out into the lovely SoCal night. The streets are more or less empty - it's Sierra Madre and it's after 9:00 p.m. - and my buddy's car is a block up. I over to give him a ride to his car. We're talking, get in, belt up, drive maybe 15 yards up to the four way stop, stop, signal for the left turn, turn left, and get descended on my five black-and-white patrol cars. Five. (Have I mentioned that my buddy who I met for dinner is a former boss, and kind of a big deal in the profession in which I work?)

I only see two cop cars at first, and I immediately pull over and think "Ho-lee CRAP I'm gonna get busted for a DUI!" I am very responsible about drinking if I have to drive - I have the chart on my bulletin board at home that shows weight, time, and how much you can drink before you're legally impared.

My next thought is "I didn't do anything... are they really pulling me over?" There was a woman sitting on the curb, at the intersection, and the cop immediately behind me was yelling instructions to her. I speculate with my dinner buddy - had I done anything? I thought maybe they were after her. So I eased - eased, just the tiniest bit - forward. Well, they weren't after her.

In what could only be described as a cop-who-is-not-messing-around kind of voice, cop 1 yells: "Driver! FREEZE!"

I freeze.

"Driver, put the car in park!"

I put the car in park.

"Driver, drop the keys outside of the car!"

I take the keys out and drop them and my lanyard in the street.

"Driver get out of the car! Hands up! HIGHER!"

I get out of the car, and think "I thought I was putting them up higher?" as I put my hands up higher. I am also soiling myself. Guns are drawn and pointed right at me.

"Driver, walk backwards! SLOWLY!"

I do so, despite the fact that I am in slippers (flip-flops), had two beers with dinner, and have guns drawn on me. In retrospect it might have been the most coordinated I've ever been.

"Driver, take three steps left!"

I do so, wondering what in the hell my colleague and friend in the passenger seat must be thinking. Wondering what the hell I could have possibly done. Wondering what the hell Christine, my troublesome Pontiac, could possibly have done. I don't have too much time right then to reflect on it as I'm cuffed, guns on me the whole time, and put in the back of a squad car. That's when I saw the other squad cars. I haven't said anything. Very conscious of the beer that might still be on my breath despite the shepherd's pie, I ask the cop in the front seat: "May I ask what's going on here?"

"We'll explain it to you later."

I was surprised that the backseat of the Sierra Madre cop cars are form plastic, and those handcuffs hurt, and, I can admit this, I was scared, in pain, and very subdued. From where I was sitting, I could see the cops gingerly approach the vehicle, open the trunk, look around, and then go around to the passenger door. I can also hear on the cop radio them calling in my friend's driver licence information. So add embarrassed onto the emotions going through my head.

In my glovebox I have all the paper work for the vehicle, including the bill of sale from the dealer, all insurance cards, everything. Good thing.

After I have no idea how long, a cop comes and lets me out of the backseat, removes the cuffs, and starts explaining to me what has happened. It seems that Christine, my new car that I bought from the dealer, was stolen at one point in her life. And recovered in Mexico. And while it was returned to the good ol' U.S. of A., the plates were never cleared off "the stolen car licence plates" list by the State of California DMV.

So Christine's great luck didn't start with me. And what's more, the officer explaining this to me said that he called the original owner, who had been paid by his insurance company for the stolen car, but he was never paid by his dealer with whom he had gap insurance, beacuse the dealership went bankrupt. So that guy, the original owner? He was out $4000 on her from the original theft!

But there I was, standing on the sidewalk, with my friend, being thanked by Sierra Madre's finest for being "cooperative," rubbing my wrists, so my empahty for the dude who was the original victim of Christine's particular brand of unluckiness was at an ebb.

There have been other things - the plate of food smeared, not spilled or dropped, but smeared, on her windshield Thanksgiving night; the University of Hawai'i "H" magnet stolen from off my trunk - but surely kneeling on Sierra Madre Blvd and getting tossed into a squad car because of stolen plates is the worst of it. Surely. Right?

How did a car dealer sell me a car with plates that hadn't cleared the DMV as being stolen? How was it that when I was pulled over by the CHP for having expired tags (I had the new sticker in my glovebox and had neglected to put it on) they didn't mention the stolen tags? What info does the Sierra Madre police force have that the CHP doesn't?

In any case, Christine and I are in it for the long haul. I'm not the kinda guy who bails due to a string of bad luck. If there were to be great deals on new Pontiacs now that the brand is being eliminated, well... 0% interest does make things more affordable. Just don't tell her - I hate to think how she's take it out on me!

20 May 2009

My car is cursed (1 of 2)

It looks nice, right, my 2007 Pontiac G6? Your basic, American sedan, maybe with tinting a little darker than some on the back windows, but it's nothing out of the ordinary, right?


She's cursed. I call her Christine, because she's cursed, like the car in the horror movie. Okay, she hasn't killed anyone yet, but she has had an improbable string of bad things occur, to her or while I was driving her, and last night's is just the icing on the cake.

Let me back up to the night I bought her. As I was driving home, thrilled to have my G6 finally, a car I'd coveted since they first came out, and yet worried as I re-played the five hour negotiations in my mind that I'd paid too much, or signed too many documents, or got played like a mandolin at a bluegrass festival, the engine light comes on.

"Great," I think. And then I thought "You have GOT to be f&$%in' KIDDING ME!" Actually, I didn't just think that; I shouted it. Aloud. More than once. "Sunuva gun why didn't I pay the $300 for the protection that lets you change your mind in California for any reason whatsoever, no harm, no foul, and return the car within three days?" was also a thought.

Well, that ship had sailed and I was stuck with her, so whatever, I have to take her back to the dealer. Tomorrow. They were closing as I drove off the lot. Natch.

But I'm hungry - I'd been at the dealer lot for hours, dickering and walking away and calling my insurance agent (more on that soon), so before I go home I go to Arby's for a couple of skin graft sandwiches. Nothing says "new car" like "gross fast food." I'm in line in my new car at the "drive-thru," which is unlike me to start with (ask my friend Menelek who I made get out and go in with me every time we'd make a lunch run), and the woman in the red Honda Accord in front of me has never, ever, seen an Arby's menu before. Or a "drive-thru." Or, apparently, a speaker. She's bellowing into the night (it's 21:56 and they close at 22:00), and not particularly towards the speaker but in circles, more like someone making a cruel parody of an advanced Parkinson's patient, as if the speaker were not, in fact, stationary and right in front of her, "How much for just the fries?" which was followed by, and I'm not exagerrating here, a good 20 second pause. "Uh-huhn." Palate searching pause. "And what if I just get the sandwich, how much for just the sandwich?" Arithematically needed pause. "Uh-huhn." Oddly reflective pause. "And if I get them both together?" Inquisitive pause, followed by a second pause for growing delight, and then "Oh! You have shakes!?"

And my thought bubble is "Oh for F&%$'s SAKE, you've got to be effin' KIDDING me right now!" I'm buzzed from spending the money I've just spent on a car with an engine light on (I'm not used to spending money like this), and my blood sugar has crashed because I haven't eaten since breakfast 12 hours ago (at the Old Saw Mill), and I'm a little shaky and a little light headed and a lot hungry.

What would you have done?

Yup, I decide to abort the "drive-thru" run in favor of "dine in."

And nope, there's no room to pull out of the "drive-thru" between me and Pausilla.

Yup, I put my brand new, less than two-hour-old car into "R," glance at my wing mirror, and back up.

Yup, I back right into the '86 Mitsubishi that had been parked in one of the spaces when I got in line at the "drive-thru," making a sound that no owner of a two-hour-old vehicle wants to hear. My head spun. "I was only going maybe 5 mph, it won't be bad, you can walk away from this, it'll be fine, you're good!" I had managed to do noticeable damage to her bumper.

I've never had a wreck with another vehicle before, so I don't really know what to do. I take her info, take pictures of it with my cell phone, give her my info, and wonder if she's really going to want to pursue this. I mean, her car is pretty banged to hell. It's been customized on both sides with dings and scrapes, and it's an '86 (the same year as my beloved Cutty so I knew exactly how old that car was), but it's absolutely my fault and I have insurance and it's absolutely her right to get it fixed, so we swap info and I calm down and try to go "dine in" at Arby's, forgetting that it's closed. I try the door. It's still closed. Oh, but look, the "drive thru" is open until 11:00. D'oh! I get BACK in the drive-thru, make my order, look for my phone, can't find it, pull far enough away from the window with my sack o' skin graft sandwiches that I can open my driver's door and THERE'S my phone, on top of the car, retrieve my phone, settle back into the seat, take some more deep breaths, get back in the car, and drive slowly and carefully home.

The next day I call my insurance agent, who asks, helpfully, "Um... didn't you just buy this yesterday?" But she took care of it all (thank you, State Farm!) and my premiums never went up, so I'm not sure what happened. (Christine's bumper was fine, by the way - just a little scratch. Well, from this incident.)

But, remember the engine light? So I also call the dealer who can't get me in until Saturday (natch), until I say that I bought the car YESTERDAY and the engine light is on, so they will take me TODAY. So they take me that day, they run a diagnostic, and they tell me it's got a defective catalytic converter. It's a year old. I got it used, yes, but it's a year old. Well, I'm on the hook so what can I do? They say they'll fix it for free and they gave me a 2008 G6 loaner, with all the bells and whistles, and the realization I had the night before - that what I bought wasn't maybe as cool as I thought - really started to sink in more deeply, and settle in like that bad college buddy in the movies into a newlywed couple's couch. It wasn't looking like moving out anytime soon.

My car has no rear fin. The stereo doesn't tell you what song and artist is currently playing. There's no jack for an MP3 player. No moon roof. No owner's manual. No cruise control. (Which I noticed last night, as I was driving home from the lot on the 163, and here's how that went in my head: "The cruise is on the stem. The cruise is on the stem. Where's the cruise? No cruise control? Is that even possible?!? How does it not have cruise control!? What... how is that even possible?! HOW DOES GM MAKE A FOUR DOOR SEDAN IN 2007 WITHOUT CRUISE CONTROL!?!" Yes, of course I should have noticed that before I bought it, but come on... isn't that pretty standard?) I'm running through this list in my mind, with my loaner, and feel, I'll admit it, a little sad when I get a call the next day that Christine is ready to be picked up. So I go get her, and turn in my shiny, be-whistled and be-belled loaner, and drive home.

If only the Christine-ness was through.

19 May 2009

Why Marriage Matters

So, that's nice.

A Washington state woman, Janice Langbehn, and her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond - not wife, you'll notice, I said "partner" - and their three kids were on vacation in Florida. Lisa collapsed of an apparent aneurysm, and Janice couldn't get in to see her before she died, though hospital staff apparently gave access to Lisa's sister as soon as she showed up. Janice had forms faxed in from Washington State showing power of attorney, legal domestic partnership, and adoption papers for their children, and she still couldn't get in to see her.

Read the full story at the NY Times.

From Lambda Legal:
Even though Langbehn held Pond’s durable health care power of attorney, the hospital refused to accept information from Langbehn regarding Pond's medical history. The hospital also informed her that she was in an antigay city and state and that she could expect to receive no information or acknowledgment as family. A doctor finally spoke with Langbehn, telling her that there was no chance of recovery. Despite the doctor's acknowledgment that no medical reason existed to prevent visitation, neither Langbehn nor her children were allowed to see Pond until nearly eight hours after their arrival.
(Emphasis mine - read about the suit being brought by Lambda Legal here.)

Don't tell me that Domestic Partnerships = marriage. Don't tell me that separate is equal; we know better than that in America. The fact that this can still happen anywhere in this country is proof that we need to rescind that coward Bill Clinton's Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") at the Federal Level and provide equal protection under the law.

The fact that DOMA was written by, among others, Bob Barr (who, I crap you not, now thinks it's a bad law and should be repealed due to its heavy handed Federalism) - the Bob Barr with two divorces under his belt and with wife #3 in tow - and was signed by that pillar of marriage rectitude, Bill Clinton, is even more nauseating.

That these two conspired in a law that prevents marraige - and by extension, equal protection under the law - is beyond absurd. Are we or are we not a secular nation? Do we or do we not believe that all Americans have equal protection under the law? Am I the only American who remembers the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause!? It's right there - in Section ONE! - so even the tired and lazy can find it!

Repeal DOMA, make marriage rights equal and accessible to all, and let's end this mean-spirited public policy.

There is nothing to be gained, on a policy basis, from keeping these women apart as one lay dying. There is a tremendous price to be paid, on a human level, by the surviving, broken hearted partner and her three children.

We're bigger than this. Equal protection matters. Marriage matters. And the both matter at the Federal level.

Go here, write your congressperson, and tell him or her to vote to repeal DOMA. Go here and contact your Senators and tell them that you think it's mean-spirited and bad public policy to separate families.

And because Lisa and Janice aren't the only ones to whom this has happened, unfortunately, go here and give the Lambda Defense Fund your tithe for the month.

Hell - you can even tell 'em Bob Barr sent ya.