Friday, February 29, 2008

Karma takes a "Super Energy Pill"...

The continuing stooooory of a quack, who's gone to the dogs....

So you remember me mentioning the impending evaporation of my current livelihood? You think that'll get ME down? Not this week, my furry friend! But first...

Monday was Liam's Cub Scout Blue & Gold banquet. The food was WONDERFUL, even if the program was a bit tedious and slow. He walked away with a PILE of patches and the Pinewood Derby Grand Champion trophy. I was immensely proud of him. I never won a trophy (for myself) in my life. The kids' been struttin' like a peacock all week whenever it's mentioned. Granted, Sonya and Jeremy did a lot of work on and research for it, but Liam deserves a lot of the credit. A big night for my boy, and I was thrilled for him!

As I mentioned a couple blogs ago, after hearing about the imminent demise of my current place of employment, I spoke with my friend and former lead, Brad, who's currently singing with the Greenfield Village Quartet. I was always a bit envious of him, being able to sing barbershop for a living (as opposed to occasionally for pay). He informed me that auditions were coming up, so I signed up, figuring I had little to lose in the attempt. Brad's only real advice was to be personable, outgoing, and chipper.

Umm - he DOES know who he's talking to, right?

Anyway, I brush up my barbershop résumé, find a couple decent head shots to throw with it, and head down to the audition on Tuesday after work. The audition material said they would be expecting a 1-minute song and a 1-minute monologue. I haven't done a stage audition in about 15 years, so my chops for this kinda thing were pretty rusty. I had no idea what to perform. Brad had mentioned that playing ukulele would be a bonus, so I did "Tonight, You Belong To Me", accompanying myself on ukulele. For the monologue, I chose the only thing I could think of and KNEW I had memorized completely: "Trouble" from the Music Man (go ahead, Dondero-ites, roll your eyes, but I've known that since I was 10). Yes, it's technically a song, but it's pretty much entirely spoken, so I figured it would do.

I arrive a bit early, check in, and fill out the necessary paperwork. This seems to be the full audition to cast parts for characters, singers, and other odd personnel for the season. The room's mostly filled with college kids looking for a fun summer job. Most are nervous wrecks, going in front of a bunch of "grown-ups" and strangers for the first time to try and look professional. I, however, am not resting my famously fragile ego on this, so I'm pretty cool, wishing each one luck with a big smile as they're called in. An old colleague of mine, Roger Smith (former band director-turned-vice-principal for Ferndale High) is accompanying his son to his audition. We exchange pleasantries and I wish his kid luck.

After about 1/2 hour or so, I'm called in. I march in with a big smile, exuberant tone, and a friendly handshake. I take the stage and begin strumming. After about 2 bars of intro....I completely blank on the lyrics. No biggie, the guy in charge of the quartet and ladies trio starts me off and aside from probably mixing up verses, I do fine. From there I do my usual energetic rendition of "Trouble" as well as I've ever done it. Then after telling them I was hoping for the quartet, I head down to the seats to try my hand at sight-reading a part. He opens a 60-year-old book of barbershop tunes. I mention I think I actually own that one, myself, and do a reasonable job sight-singing an arrangement of "Margie" I don't know.

Wednesday is a fairly busy day at work. Tubas to pack and ship, a warehouse to organize, marimbas to put away. Tiring, but my mood is resilient. I get a call from Sonya that I've been asked to the call-backs Thursday night! SCORE! I finish the day thinking about my call-back and the evening's quartet performance for Jay Bradley's Birthday Benefit for Gift of Life Michigan. This is usually where the other shoe will drop and something horrible will happen.

Wait for it....NOPE!

I head home from work and Sonya and Liam are busy putting together his 'about me' project for school. They're engrossed in the project, so I leave for the benefit ahead of Sonya to help with the ticket-taking that she signed up for until she can arrive. I get there and the rest of the quartet is there waiting for me. We immediately bust out a song or two and are approached by a member of the Grosse Point Chapter. We sing a tune with him and I return to my duties as ticket-taker.

Sonya and her brother Jeremy arrive just in time for me to head up on stage. We do our set to polite, yet enthusiastic encouragement. Most knew that barbershop was on the bill, but 1/2 hour set is usually a bit more than most 20-30somethings can take of it. Still, the crowd was very gracious and engaged throughout, and we had a blast performing, as always.
J Bradley's Birthday Benefit
Photo Courtesy of Valerie Keiser

It sounded very good. Not perfect, but very good. We leave the stage and after biding our baritone a fond farewell, commence to partying.

This shindig was a blast! Catered hors d'oeuvres, great music (kudos, Paulie B., on bustin' All About the Fire's cherry in grand fashion!), and tons of good friends I haven't seen in eons, it seems. All tolled, the event raised over $1500 in ticket sales and donations, not including what the bar chipped in from the evening's sales. This was quite possibly the BEST way to celebrate my friend Jay's birthday and memory: good friends, good food, good drinks, good music, and all helping a GREAT cause! Plans are already in the works for next year's benefit. Mark your calendars for March 27th 2009, folks!

The next day, Thursday, I had a wonderful day at work. Asshat was gone, the other salesman was gone, so it was just "the help" (as Asshat so eloquently refers us). I had a handful of projects to complete, which I got done in the early part of the day. The rest of the day was largely spent chatting with my fellow underlings, doing some minor repairs, blogging, and thinking about my audition.

I leave work a bit early to make my 5:30 call time. Detroit rush hour, however, was looking to undermine my plans at every turn, and I arrived about 4 minutes late. The "Head Honcho" was already teaching parts. I walk in and he hands me the sheet music they were learning. It was (get this) Down Our Way. The same arrangement that's in the Barbershop Harmony Society's standard book of Polecat tunes that I have known for about 5 years. I politely set the music on the floor and start singing when I'm cued as he teaches the kids their parts.

And they WERE kids. Most of them obviously college students with vocal performance or theater majors. Most of them had no idea how to sing barbershop (over-enunciating, too much vibrato, etc.), but that doesn't necessarily seem to be a criteria for this guy. He wants guys that can sing the part without straining, and learn quickly. Correct genre style is secondary, if considered at all.

I was the only tenor there until one of the guys wanted to try it. All of the sudden, I was a bit worried. He hit the notes alright, but after 2 runs with rotating individuals on other parts, he begged me to step in and relieve him. It was obviously not his natural range and he apparently didn't understand that barbershop tenor is mostly falsetto.

After we're dismissed, I grab 3 of the guys and just have to teach a tag. I blow a 'C' on my ever-present pitch pipe and start teaching the "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" tag. Easy to learn and great suspensions. A bit modern for the era of Greenfield Village, but nonetheless, in a mater of about 2 minutes I have them ringing it like nobody's business. I only wish the "Head Honcho" was there to see it.

I did very well at the audition, but I'm still not putting all my eggs in this basket. The guy directing the quartet is obviously not a barbershopper, so while Greenfield Village always strives for historical authenticity, my knowledge of barbershop may be irrelevant. My only hope is that I didn't come off as too cocky, as I have a tendency to do with barbershop - I may have. If this guy has worries about control or is concerned I might try and usurp his authority, I may have unwittingly shot myself in the foot. I have NO intention of trying to run anything unless I'm asked. I'd just be thrilled to sing barbershop and get paid regularly for it! Of course, I'd be more than happy to offer my expertise, if asked.

For some reason, my answering machine isn't picking up at home today, so I hope I haven't missed a call from them, but keep your fingers crossed for me! If all goes well, I may have something to add to my performance
résumé soon!

God, please let these blessings continue for a while longer!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Karma finally tilts the scales (knock wood)...

Be prepared for shock and awe...this is a happy blog!

That's right! For the first time in weeks, I won't be opining my latest tragedy, because...there's no tragedy to report! Oh, I'm still not degreed, on the financial precipice, and tiptoeing on the mental brink, but this past week has been a FLOOD of wonderful, triumphant, happy, warm-fuzzies!

Let's begin at the beginning...

Saturday morning, after Sonya & Liam returned from unicycle class to pick up Courtney, I was able to get a few errands run while Sonya took the kids to Flint to see "Annie" with their grandparents. While I was out-and-about, I indulged myself a bit by stopping at my friend's comic store (Comics & More on John R near 11 1/2 Mile Rd.) and chatted him up a while perusing the newest stuff. I had a great time just chilling in his bright, clean store on a nice sunny day while getting a few necessities for my new mobile Fortress of Solitude at the auto parts store nearby. As I walk in, Chris stops everything and says, "I have something for you," and proceeds to hand me a double-disc special edition of "Free Enterprise". Apparently, his friend that works at Anchor Bay had a bunch of leftovers odds and ends he brought in. Chris set that aside for me immediately. Cool free stuff - yea, he's got a customer for life.

Anyway, after a pleasant hour or so of hanging, chatting, and browsing, I bought the newest Batman (#666, and they played up that angle VERY well) and went home to tidy up a bit while I was motivated. Wile I missed the chance to hang with my wife and kids, as we rarely see each other anymore it seems, it was nice to be productive and get a few nagging errands and chores done.

Friday & Saturday nights were my barbershop chorus's annual show. My costume looked great, the chorus performed a fun show, and my quartet did very well.
Coda Honor - Underdog!

Liam was an absolute hit as Rudolph and soaked up the adoration of all of the grandparent-types who wanted to take his picture.
Liam as Rudolph

After the show, I met up with my mother-in-law and daughter, who came to watch the show. I send Liam off with them to spend the night at Grandma & Grandpa's. As I'm getting ready to change out of my tux, I bump into my friend (and current Pioneer District champ) Paul Ellinger, who had brought his 4-year-old son to his first barbershop show. Knowing with a young-un at his side, he wasn't going to be going to the afterglow, my quartet decided to give them a command performance in the hallway. We sang VERY well (being able to better hear each other) and received some very nice compliments from him.

From there, we went to the afterglow. After a wonderful dinner of breakfast food (that always confused me, as it does every year - beer & scrambled eggs?!), we went up and did my arrangement of "Rainbow Connection" again (I have a tendency to push for that one, not surprisingly) and rang it better than we have in a while. I received several compliments from the guest quartets on my arrangement, and apparently more after I left, as relayed to me by my best friend and lead, Lou. I left a bit early, as I had had an exhausting - but fun - weekend, and arrived home to Sonya and her brother watching TV & chatting. I relayed the events of the evening and went to bed happy and content.

Sunday, I woke up and finally got off my ass to do something that I've been meaning to for a few years - I went to get glasses. I used to have beyond perfect vision, but over the past decade or so, it's been ever-so-slowly deteriorating. I can still function without corrective lenses, but I have to strain a lot more than I used to and freeway and street signs creep up on my more than they should. So, Sunday morning I hopped online and made an appointment at America's Best (yeah, the ones with the always horrible, near disturbing, commercials). They determined I have a slight astigmatism in both eyes (more pronounced in the left) and glasses would help a lot. I picked out a slim, relatively fashionable pair of the ultra-cheap class (to be delivered next week) and headed to my quartet rehearsal in (what I thought was) the nick of time.

I arrive at our baritone's house to find our bass had to push back the time by an hour-and-a-half. Being incommunicado due to problems with our Sprint P.O.S. family plan, I wasn't reachable. Oh well - off to McD's for a bite and a read-though of the Metro Times while I kill a little time.

I arrive a bit early and chat with our bari, Dave, for a while. The other guys arrive and I run down the set list I concocted for Jason Bradley's Birthday Benefit for Gift of Life Michigan the following Wednesday: a nice balance of standard stuff, show songs, and general feel-good music. We run them down one-by-one and a they were ringing amazingly well! In one of the tunes, we hit this beautiful barbershop 7th and just held it there till our tanks ran dry! We didn't want to stop! We cut of the chord just before we all turned blue and burst our laughing with glee!

We discussed the pros and cons of competing this season at districts, go over the logistics of the benefit gig, and parted ways. About 2 hours later than we planned, but DAMN did we feel good about ourselves!

You think that's enough? But WAIT! There's more...

Coming up next: Good Karma takes a "Super Energy Pill"...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Great Show and a Great Cause, plus Coda Honor LIVE!

My quartet, Coda Honor, has 3 - count 'em THREE - gigs coming up this week! This is your chance to see me and the guys in action!

First two are the Detroit-Oakland Chapter's 69th Annual Parade of Harmony show:

It's sure to be a great show and fun for the whole family! Come out, support my chapter and quartet, and take advantage of a chance to se a couple PHENOMENAL guest quartets as well!

Second is a benefit concert for Gift Of Life Michigan, in tribute to my good friend, Jason Bradley:

Jason left us back in October, so we all thought, what better way to honor this great and fun-loving guy than with a birthday party and a concert?! It features my quartet, Coda Honor first, followed by my good friend and Coda Honor almunus, Paul Bastian, with his new band All About the Fire - great original rock stuff. After that is everyone's favorite local punk band, Cowboy Messiah.

"Barbershop, Rock, & Punk on the same bill," you say!? "Isn't that like serving buffalo wings with chocolate-covered escargot and a Vernors??"

Maybe, but it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as Jay's musical tastes, and we wanted to have a little something for everyone! Plus, where else you gonna get a sampling like this for only $7 AND help a great cause at the same time?!

If you can't make my chapter's show, DEFINITELY come to the Memorial Benefit on Wednesday. Lotsa great entertainment for a great price and a great cause.

Hope to see you all there!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Geekdom Indoctrination: the Next Generation…

I’ve been reading my friend, Chuck’s, blogs for a while now. They recount the goings on of a great dad who is basically the balder, more athletic, more professionally successful clone of me. He’s a goatee-clad, barbershoppin’, sci-fi watchin’, music edcuatin’ ubergeek, like myself. The biggest difference between us is that he’s (currently) a stay-at-home dad. As such, he gets more opportunity to pursue and share his geekly obsessions with his 7-month-old son more than I. I have recently been taking every opportunity to share my slightly off-center hobbies and interests with my boy, in hopes that I raise a well-rounded 3rd generation geek. (Sorry, dad, but Ham radio, barbershop, Star Trek, and computers before they were in vogue? You’re a geek, too. You know I use that term with the utmost respect and love.)

Liam has had behavior issues, in school particularly, for much of his scholastic career. Usually involving a temper tantrum following some minor incident he blows out of proportion, he gets pretty regular reports and disciplinary action sent home from his teacher. They ebb and flow throughout the year, ranging from weeks of being the ideal student to suspensions for his fits. He’s never directly violent toward people, and his grades are astounding, but he can be disruptive to the extreme on occasion. This week, he’s been very well behaved, receiving 3 stars (perfect day) and one name on the board (1 minor offence). If he comes home with another star today, as a reward, I decided to indoctrinate him into one of the holiest realms of Geekdom, by giving him his first, REAL comic book.

There are a few realms of Geekdom I haven’t delved into much myself, mostly due to time and/or financial restrictions: Dungeons & Dragons, card-based role-playing games, modern video games (by that, I mean post-NES), to name a few, but most notably, comics. I have a meager collection of some late 70’s “Action” & “Superman” comics I picked up for a quarter a piece in the early 90’s, an early “X-men” comic I’m fairly proud of, a smattering of dated, kitschy titles like “Sledge Hammer” and “California Raisins in 3D” comics, and I once owned a 1st printing of “Batman: the Killing Joke” (sad story behind that one), but nothing I followed regularly or got really into. With all of my busy goings-on, I had to balance my mild-mannered life as a husband, father, student, etc., with my dark alter-ego of UberGeek.

Recently, however, a number of my friends have been talking about comics more and more. Between Chuck and his regular outings to the comic store with his boy, my co-worker, James, regaling me with updates on major title storylines and his weekly trek to spend $60+ on comics, and such, I figured it was at least worth dipping my toe in the water and see how deep I could afford to venture. A former schoolmate of mine recently took over ownership of a comic store nearby, so rather than head out to one of the local comic MegaStores, I figured I trusted my friend Chris to steer me in the right direction of a comic to start with.

I was torn as to where to start. Some collect comics to read, following stories and biting their nails at each cliffhanger. Some buy them to collect, purchasing each one like coin-collectors, hoping their investment will mature greatly and quickly. I’m a little of both. As much as I love the major titles like Spiderman, Superman, Batman, X-men and the like (I’m a newbie, so I haven’t developed a preference for DC vs. Marvel yet), there was a bit too much history in those storylines to jump right into. It’d be like starting to watch a long-running soap opera like Days of Our Lives, with references and characters popping up now and again I’d have no frame of reference to. Too frustrating. I wanted to start with something kind of classic, but at a major turning point where I could start relatively fresh. Then I caught something on a feature story on the news.

Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, was being killed off and passing his legendary shield to a new hero. This was perfect. A new pivotal point in the Captain America saga, destined to appreciate in value, AND a fresh, new character and storyline. Yes, there will obviously be references to previous Captains, but I could research them or ask any of my well-versed fellow geeks. Off I go to Comics & More.

I arrive at the store and am greeted by my friend, Chris, behind the counter with a warm smile. He’s more than willing to share his vast knowledge of comics and guides me to the genres I’d enjoy. I am absolutely overwhelmed. As I peruse the shelves I find MOUNTAINS of titles I simply MUST read: Star Trek, Transformers, Evil Dead, Darkman (my nickname in high school, due to my perpetual wardrobe of trenchcoat and fedora), and crossovers in seemingly innumerable combinations. I’m a kid in a candy store. They will, unfortunately, have to wait. I have Chris put the 2 most recent Captain Americas on hold for me until my paycheck is deposited, and walk out with a huge grin. I have a new obsession.

Since then, I have popped in to say hi to Chris a few times, most recently, to pick up my Captain Americas, drop him a bootleg of the complete series of Automan. Suddenly, a brilliant thought occurs to me. I’m always on the lookout for inexpensive incentives and rewards for Liam when he’s behaving well. His last one was getting a role in my barbershop chorus’s annual show, "What's Up, DOC?", as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’ll be up on stage, strutting his stuff next weekend with us, and he's REALLY looking forward to it, as am I.

Lately, when his attitude has been improving, he has been allowed to get into a plethora of other great geek hobbies: magic tricks, unicycling, etc., and indoctrinating him into the Cult of Comics would be a perfect prize. Since he saw the Transformers movie, he’s been hooked on them. He got a few for Christmas and they’re his favorite toys. I grabbed a Transformers comic featuring Blaster (an Autobot who transforms to a boombox), with no particular ongoing storyline to it and added it to my small pile.

Today, after waking Liam up and getting him ready for school, I showed it to him, explained the proper care and treatment of comics (akin to the lecture Sonya got from her father regarding vinyl records) explaining the importance plastic sleeves, careful handling, and proper storage, and told him that if he gets just one more star today, he gets it. If not, I’ll hold onto it for him until he gets an appropriate amount of well-behaved days. He was absolutely thrilled.

I plan on trying to take him to my friend’s comic store this weekend to see the full spectrum of what this world has to offer. This will be great fun for the both of us, starting a journey into a new geek realm with my son as we both discover the joys of comics. I can’t wait!

Quick Plug: If you ever want to get out of the stranglehold of the local comic megastores like Warp 9 and Time Travelers, go check out Chris Brown’s store, Comics & More on John R. Road, at 11 ½ Mile in Madison Heights. So far, he mostly deals in new stuff as opposed to collectibles and vintage titles (though he does have a few). It’s a great (if a bit small for now) store, Chris has a GREAT knowledge of the genre, and is just a fun place to hang out and talk GeekSpeak. I can’t recommend the place enough. Check out his MySpace for more info.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Yea...Not The Golden Chariot I Expected

So that new car I was so thrilled with? Well, still runs great, still comfy, still better than walking in the Michigan winter, but...

I took it to my favorite mechanic to see what the deal was with the conspicuous lack of ANY heat and lethargic temperature gauge. It seems it wasn't just a simple thermostat, it was the heater core. Someone bypassed it, apparently to avoid replacing it. I went online and found a part at a place just down the road for a mere $33. Unfortunately, to get it installed is $370 or so in labor. The entire dashboard needs to be removed to get to the damned thing. UGH!

I could just try and bundle up and tough it out through the next 2-3 months, but in this kind of cold I'd have to institute a "no breathing" rule in my car. The windshield gets fogged up quickly and simply freezes. After about 3 minutes of driving I can see absolutely nothing.

On the one hand, I could feel pissed, ripped-off and pine about it. On the other, given I offered $500 below their asking price, I could say I'm still coming out $100 ahead for a pretty damned nice little car. We have to go over our finances and figure out where the rest of the money is going before I make a decision on when to do the repair. I'm hoping I can find a local grease monkey willing to do it on the cheap, but I'm not holding out a lot of hope there.

My "GREAT DEAL" is turning into a "pretty darned good deal". Let's hope it just hovers at that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Pedestrian No More!

You’re probably asking, “Where the heck has Paul BEEN that past 2 weeks?!” My usual M.O. for blogging is to drive to the coffee shop and blog on my laptop.

Well, No car + no laptop = no blogging.

My car was totaled, as you likely know, and my laptop has been MIA for a while due to a fried-out power cord. It was giving me battery alerts when it was plugged in, but was still occasionally working, until I plugged it in at work one day and heard light ‘ticking’ and saw little puffs of blue smoke. Not good. So, I had to order a new one online, after some extensive searching for good deals. Got it on Saturday, so I’m back in business.

Now, the big news: After a month-and-a-half of walking to work in the bitter cold, snow and rain, begging for rides from friends and co-workers, and having to completely reschedule parts of my family’s life to work around sharing Sonya’s car…I finally have my own set of wheels!

I’ve been on the lookout for a good deal on a reliable car since shortly after my little automotive calamity, recounted in my previous blog “So, How Was YOUR Christmas, Paul? Part 1” (December 31st, 2007). I don’t usually buy cars on my own. Frequently, I just get family hand-me-downs for cheap or free. The nice part of that is that I know what to expect from the car. I usually can get a real clear picture of what it’s been through and how it’s been maintained. I’m wary of dealers, as their goal is usually simply to get the thing off the lot for as much as they can get. Thus, I’ve only purchased 2 of my succession of 10 or so cars from dealers in my entire life.

Thanks to my grandfather co-signing on a loan (well, technically I’M the co-signer in order to qualify for the credit union’s better interest rate), I was able to get enough money for the car and pay some bills to boot.

Rather than trek all over Hell’s half-acres in the FREEZING cold, I figured I’d start with utilizing the wonders of the information age and begin my search online. I started with eBay, hoping I could find a good deal. The problem with eBay is that you rarely – if ever – get a chance to actually SEE and DRIVE the car before you buy. If you do get the chance to check out the car before you bid, you still have to drive all over to get to them. Given the difficulty in my schedule and transportation to do so, not to mention the plethora of seedy malcontents skulking on eBay, waiting for their next prey, I decided to go another direction.

As I was debating which charity to donate my beloved, yet destroyed, Isuzu Rodeo, it occurred to me – why not BUY from them, too? I figured a charity whose goal it is to help people of limited means get reliable transportation is less likely to take advantage them. Naïve? Perhaps, but infinitely preferable to the plaid sport-coated shyster just trying to boost his commission check or the greasy conman spreading his villainy through the relative anonymity of the Internet.

I checked out Charity Motors’s website and was delighted to find that most of their inventory was not only listed online, but was complete with a full description, mileage, amenities, asking price, and pictures from every angle including the interior and odometer. I determined my price range ($1500-$2500) and narrowed my search.

Now, I have a certain amount of vanity, to be sure. I’d want to avoid something akin to my first off-the-lot purchase after destroying my 84 Ford Tempo in PA back when I was 18. That car was a great deal, as reliable transportation goes, costing a mere $750, getting 35MPG, lasting me 3 years, and making damned near 200k miles. It was, however, the ugliest thing on 4 wheels: a beat-to-hell, rusted out 81 Subaru Wagon with a crumpled corner panel, no roof insulation, tricky 2nd gear, ignition switch, AM-FM MONO radio, and no exhaust system to speak of. I want something reliable, of course, but at 33, I want something that looks a bit better than something a 16-year-old bought on his own as a first car.

There were Oldsmobile and Buick sedans (nah, too bulky), A few nice 2-door sedans (nah, getting the kids in and out would be a headache), a couple older compacts with some rust (nah, with the winter salted roads, they’ll be Swiss cheese by spring), a beautiful Ford Explorer (nah, as much as I liked the amenities, higher ride, and spacious interior, it was at the higher end of my price range, had too many miles on it, and I’d had enough of the fuel costs on SUVs). Then I saw it – a 1994 Mercury Tracer Wagon at $1,995. Hmm…intriguing.

The body had little-to-no rust, very few dings and no major dents to speak of. It’s metallic teal – a trendy color for 1994, but not my favorite. Beggars can’t be choosers. It listed a host of comfy features: power windows, locks, steering, mirrors, and seat belts, alloy wheels, cruise control, CD player, great gas mileage, and best of all, it was a wagon, so I had my storage space. The odometer only read 2,006 miles, but as it was only a 5-digit odometer, it was more likely 102,006 miles. I HAD to see this car.

I did a bit of research, checking out stats, reviews, and common problems with that model. I was surprised to find that despite it being 14 years old and basically a Ford Escort (notorious for being Ford’s disposable compact) it still got great reviews for being reliable. Most of the complaints were from folks who were expecting too much by way of comfort and luxury of a low-end compact car, or had poorly maintained them. Regardless, being an older Ford, repairs would likely be inexpensive (if not necessarily infrequent), with most parts being cheap and/or available from local junkyards.

After a bit of finagling with our schedules and with Sonya’s brother Jeremy over for a visit, Sonya, Courtney and I headed out to the lot, just north of Pontiac. Liam chose Spongebob over car shopping – go figure. We looked at a few other cars, briefly, but finally looked long and hard at the Tracer. It had a few more dings than the pictures conveyed, but still nothing major. The interior was a rather Spartan, angular, and a bit boxy, but that’s the early 90’s for ya. No liner for the wagon bed, computer core was hanging out a bit, but it started right up. We took it for a spin, and after getting the engine moving and the brakes cleared of the ice, it ran like a dream. I get back and offer $1500 – sold.

They were able to do all the registration paperwork in-house, but unfortunately, my insurance agent wasn’t open on Saturday. Damn. I’d have to go back to get it on Monday. I now OWNED a car, but still didn’t HAVE a car. GRRRR!

After a day-and-a-half of tortured anticipation, I head to my insurance agent Monday morning and get things squared away there. Sonya drops Liam at school and we head to the lot to get my car. After driving it for the day, I noticed a few things to work on. The CD player, though fancy-schmancy with a removable face, is a bit quirky and 3 of the 4 speakers don’t work. I can fix that. The car wouldn’t warm up at all and the temperature needle stays well below normal, so the thermostat probably needs replacing. I can fix that. There’s no liner in the trunk bed, necessitating a stop by a carpet store for a remnant. I can fix that. Front driver’s side tire is a bit leaky. I can fix that. Driver’s power window is clunking on the way down. I likely can’t fix that, but it works for now.

For now, I finally have a car that works and fits my stuff. The kids love it - especially the power front seat belts (though they shouldn't sit in the front seat, I know), they now refer to as "magic seat belts". As the weeks go by, I’ll get to fixing the minor irritants of my new Fortress of Solitude – adding my bumper stickers, decals, fixing the stereo and presetting my radio stations, etc. – making it my own.

I’m just happy as a lark I don’t have to walk to work in this crappy Michigan Winter weather anymore!!!