The Amazing Race

I’m on the way to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Between home and there, we have to cross Nevada and Utah.
The plan is to drive to Richfield, Utah on day one and the rest of the way on day two.
There are three other families driving this route at the same time, spread out along the way so as not to advertise each other’s driving techniques.
Some of us *ahem* drive a wee bit zippier than others.
I don’t name names in this blog, but one rhymes with “chubby”.
Our wimpy car could’ve gone even zippier, except Hubby had everything and the kitchen sink packed into the back of it. The man likes his options.
We are all connected by a running group text, in case of emergencies.
Such as, someone in our car needs a slushy pronto and has anyone seen a Dairy Queen up ahead?

The first car headed east had a solid two hour lead.
Halfway through Nevada, their air conditioning broke.
It was over 100 degrees and climbing.
Their plan was to get to a dealership somewhere in Utah, where the next two cars coming along would catch up and offer assistance.
They ran their car heater in case it would help the engine, and landed, dripping wet and in borderline heat stroke, in St George Utah.

We pulled into the dealership parking lot just as they were informed that the air conditioning wasn’t going to be fixed. Not today anyway.

As the third car joined us, and folks generally milled around in the volcanic heat, I noticed Hubby looking at the front of our own car.
Like a man who just found a hair in his soup.
Like a man who just discovered his kids’ secret booger collection.
Both of our front tires had gone bald. The tread gone, the cables showing.
No explanation other than: we need two new tires immediately.
“Jolie? What do you have for me?”
Within five minutes, I had discovered via Smarty Phone that the nearest Costco was at the next exit up the freeway, their tire department (“Mike”) had tires in stock for us, and could install them in the next half hour.


Which is how the other cars took the lead in this Amazing Race while we ended up browsing a Utah Costco. A fascinating experience in what a Costco can do when called upon by Brigham Young to provide for multiple wives, each of whom require a phenomenal kitchen at exceptional prices.

The following is actual footage from my cell phone text with the car that had gone ahead of us.
It began by asking if anyone needed anything from Costco while I was there.
I was eyeing up the wine selection while thinking of our hotel room still tantalizingly out of reach.
I didn’t get any takers.

So this Costco is totally geared up for big family homes.
Domestics alone – kitchen gadgets! – is killing me.
I want it all and have no room in the car for a single spatula.
I blame Hubby. If he hadn’t’ve packed the kitchen sink I could be buying a new one right now. Besides, I don’t fit in.
Surrounded by good Mormon mamas and I’m dressed like a wicked city woman.
Well. I got the skirt right.

Cover those shoulders Jolie! People will be scandalized.
Are you taking photos?

Hey! This isn’t Walmart.

Hahaha! That’s what they thought until you arrived.

You’re a very bad friend. Why do I talk to you?!

I don’t know.

So I took some pictures for her.
The first one is to prove that yes, I could have bought a kitchen sink.

In this case the dishwasher is an upgrade.

In this case the dishwasher is an upgrade.

The other one is proof that, in addition to a huge selection of furniture that was being jumped on by a multitude of identical children supervised by pregnant women wearing skirts and tennis shoes, this Costco offers thirteen different vacuums.

Just of vacuums.

I fled St George Utah before my overwhelming nesting instincts kicked into gear.
I could feel my hair growing past my waist and a sympathy pregnancy coming on.
We caught up to our peeps in Richfield and they had the courtesy to not “U Turn” us.

The Amazing Race continued the next day, our Utah Roadblock now in the distant past.

The Smart Car

I have a smart-aleck car.

It’s bad enough I have a smart phone that tries to out-think me. Which it occasionally does.

But my ridiculous car just made a fool out of me. How do you take revenge on an inanimate object?

You all heard the stories last year about our old faithful Suburban finally dying and our trial by fire of car shopping.

We ended up with a small car suitable as a taxi, with enough warranty that the taxi won’t suddenly go out of service.

Only a couple of months in, the unthinkable happened.

It was a dark and stormy night.

My son and I were driving down the freeway, wipers going furiously, when a red light suddenly appeared in the dash panel.

Accompanied by a loud frantically dinging alarm.

Naturally, I calmly and slowly veered across several lanes onto the nearest exit ramp and reminded my son that screaming was not going to help the situation.

“Mom,” he said, “that was you.”


We parked beneath a street light to assess the damages. The red light was a circle around an exclamation point.

That was it.

The car was trying to tell me something. Important.

What? What is it car?!

My son decided to do the intelligent thing and reached into the glovebox for the manual.

What to look up? Alarms? Red light? Circular memo?

We finally narrowed the chapters down to discover that this particular alert indicated a serious issue with the brake system. We were advised to stop immediately and call a tow truck to take the car to the nearest dealership.

Proceeding was sure to lead to certain doom. The manual writers could simply not take the blame if we were foolish enough to proceed.

So you’re telling me that a new car with a fat warranty has decided to suddenly lose it’s brakes?

As I’m not James Bond, I decided that no one (probably) had a contract out on me, and that (possibly) the brakes had just gotten a lot of rain water up inside of them and (maybe) we were going to make it the last two miles home because (darn it) it’s late and I’m tired and we’re just going to address this tomorrow when (very likely) this will all go away by itself.

It’s happened before.

I put on my “I’m smarter than a car manual” face and we crept home and snuck into the garage, leaving it in solitary for the night.

The next morning, Hubby drove everyone to school while I made phone calls. We bought the car in Riverside. But I needed to service it in San Diego. Once I had the proper person on the line, I explained my situation and secured an appointment right away.

They were very concerned. So sorry that a car could have escaped a dealership anywhere with faulty brakes. Understanding that, yes, of course the warranty will apply unless, of course, they discover that perhaps it won’t. I had to make a two hour appointment so they could fully investigate the situation. Please, ma’am, if you really must drive it over here, do be extremely careful.

And I was.

I drove gingerly up into the service bay of the dealership and parked it.

An eager to please service man walked up with his clipboard and pen and wrote down all the pertinent information, including everything from the Riverside people and so forth.

I explained again what had happened. I may have been a little peevish. After all, we’d had quite a little scare. And I had trusted the car salesman in Riverside. I really couldn’t believe that after all our trouble, we ended up with a lemon.

The service man listened carefully, a concerned frowny crease in his forehead and an empathetic look that clearly said, “Well WE would never have done that ma’am. You’ve come to the right place. We’ll just get to the bottom of this, shall we?”

And then he asked me to turn on the engine so he could take a look and a listen.

Immediately the warning light came on. The alarm pinged shrilly across the parking lot.

He stared hard at the whole business and then calmly asked me to turn it back off.

I could see many emotions crossing his face but he obviously hadn’t yet decided which one to go with.

So he said, “Well. The good news is…it’s not your brakes.”

“But,” I said bewildered, “it says right here that it is!” I pulled the manual out of the glovebox and rapidly found the page. “Look! Here’s the symbol and the instructions.”

“If I could ask you to turn to the next page?” he asked.

On the next page was another row of symbols, none of which had I ever seen on my car’s dash.

One was almost identical to the alert from last night. Only there was a tiny gap in the circle at the top. That was it.

“Your tire pressure is low,” stated Mr Helpful.

We stared at each other for a full 30 seconds before I lost it and started laughing.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I gasped, “why in the world would my car fall to pieces because the tire pressure is a little low? It’s ridiculous.”

“Yes,” he replied, “but if you drive with low tire pressure over time, the tires will wear unevenly and that would be dangerous later.”

I just stared at him.

“Well,” he said, “Why don’t I just take it around the back and fill the tires for you?”


My two hour appointment was over in ten minutes.

It was nice to meet him, but I really would prefer not having a reason to see him again for a long time.

If my car has a meltdown over low tire pressure, I just don’t want to know what it does when something important happens.

If I’m driving down the road and the transmission falls out, I don’t care if the car goes into auto-pilot and tries to eject me from the driver’s seat.

I’m going to buckle down and tell the car to man up and keep going.

Big whiner.

Death of a Champion Part 2

So Tuesday I limp home, and start looking for mechanics.  I call hubby to report.  He’s taking it in first thing in the morning himself. I’ve been fired from mechanical maintenance.

Wednesday, the car is repaired by a man whose name I cannot even pronounce, let alone spell, for a “good deal”.  Fine.  We team tag with the cars and get everyone home and two working cars in the garage by dinnertime.  High Five! We had waffles, by the way.  Pretty good last minute meal.  Anyhow.

Wednesday night is Bible class, so rush, rush, and all jump in the car for the trip across town.  Backing out of the garage was the easy part.  Apparently putting it into drive was an issue.

Remember we got the Suburban brand new?  We have the “base model”.  Translation: every possible thing that we can make of plastic, we will.  The plastic expires, apparently, at around 10 years.

I have Tupperware that lasted longer.

The entire gear shift handle has broken off inside the steering wheel column.  In his confusion (translation: “WHAT IN THE…?”) hubby puts it into park and well, we are parked.

At this point, everyone hops back out of the sub and hovers while the situation is assessed.  I have pulled out my zen.  Big can of it.  This is just enough.  “Everyone into the Lexus and we’ll figure this out tomorrow.”  Yeah, at that point, our huge kids take one look at the parents’ faces and decide they can sit in each other’s laps across town and not make a peep.

We are not going to be held hostage by a big blue bucket of bolts.  It can just sit there and think about the error of its ways.

Maybe I’ll get it fixed.  Maybe I’ll put it on Craigslist for free.  Do you know what gas costs these days?  Do they sell mopeds with attachable sidecars?

Today, I am enjoying a beautiful sunny peaceful day at home.  There is nowhere I need to be, the kids are all able to get home from school on their own.  I am thankful the car, if it had to die, died peacefully here and didn’t strand us elsewhere.

The sub gave it’s all to the service of our family, took our abuse and still carried entire water polo teams, sheets of plywood, bales of hay, couches, and a group of my girlfriends into Palm Springs for a weekend of birthday fun.

It was the Party Sub. It was the Clydesdale of cars.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Hopefully, I will see you next time around….in a new car.

Disclaimer: This was an email two years ago and I felt much better after I wrote it. The sub is still among us, a one-eyed elderly retiree leaking bodily fluids into an oil pan in the driveway. You can’t get out of the driver’s door without first rolling down the window and pulling the handle from outside.

It wants to keep us.

Death of a Champion Part 1

It is such a good thing that I hedged my bets and stayed home today.  As you know, I took our Suburban in Monday for an oil change.  I go to the dealership because they also go over the whole car, hoping to find other things wrong and therefore get to keep it for a week, do a million dollars of repairs, and then pat me on the head and send me home penniless.

So I told Anthony right up front:  “Take a good look at this car.  We got it brand new 12 years ago exactly.  We have 5 kids.  They are monsters.  There is nothing breakable on this car that is not broken.  There is nothing moveable that we have not moved.  Permanently.  I have a bag full of parts in the backseat that I do not intend to stick back on.  Take the car and change the oil.  Make THE LIST, and I will go home and look it over (translation: “I will laugh and file it in the round file”) and get back to you.”

So maybe I was just curious about what they would find.

“Oh yeah, and don’t set the parking brake, because the release broke awhile back and I have to thread a shoelace up through it if it gets accidentally set.  And sorry about that door.  You just put your finger into the jagged hole – gently! – and pull the door shut when you’re ready to drive.” Armrests are for wimps.

I tried to keep the car decent.  Sure, road trips and beach sand and meals on wheels occur, but that’s washable.  It was when my adorable last born child keyed my car (it’s the happy face on the driver’s side) that I realized this was the family vehicle; I should just breathe and let it go.  After all, priorities, right?

So Anthony changed the oil, made the list, didn’t even try the lecture, and handed my keys over.  “One thing,” he says, as I’m trying to slink out the side door, “Both brake shoes on the back are cracked.  If you want to fix just one thing, you may want to do the brakes.”  Good idea.

I already know about the brakes.  My oldest daughter drove all the way to work and back about three months ago, with the parking brake set.  How was she supposed to know it was set?  It’s broken, right?  No one was supposed to set it.  So the weird smell and the odd behavior of the car seemed…odd.  Sigh.  So for three months I stall because we just DID brakes, it seems like, and as long the car will stop, we’ll get around to it.  Grr.

Tuesday, two blocks from home, the brakes give way.  I have had this happen before if we must be honest, and I swore never to repeat the experience.  You are coming up to the intersection, brake slowly, then a car jumps in front of you (or a wildebeest, if you must make the story more dramatic to stave off a furious husband) and you hit the brake hard, and suddenly you hear a *pop* and feel a —-sliiiide—- and the car is simply not going to stop, so you pump the brake while looking frantically side to side for a soft tree to land in, and the car grinds slowly to a stop right where you desperately need it  to.

You can’t use the emergency brake in an emergency, remember?  You don’t have your lace-up shoes on.