Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The trials and tribulations of used car shopping

My first car: a 1961 American Rambler, which I drove when it was 16 years old.
It was the antithesis of the muscle cars--Mustangs, Chargers and Cougars
popular when I drove this car in high school in 1976-78.
I'm about to use three words guaranteed to make your head ache, your stomach churn and your palms sweat. Ready?

Used car shopping.

Ick! Is there any task less appealing?

Who looks forward to wading knee deep through the doo-doo of deceitful used car ads online? Who relishes the thought of dealing with commissioned sales people who descend hungrily upon you--teeth bared and grinning--like the great white shark in "Jaws?"

My daughter's 1993 Toyota Camry finally bit the dust. Thanks to a loan from her aunt, my daughter has a modest budget. However, we're not finding much in that price range.

But after doing research online and at the library, we girded our loins for battle and drove to a used car lot. The salesman was upon us before I turned off my car's engine. I brought a notebook and took copious notes. That made the salesman nervous.

On the entire lot, only one car fit our budget and other requirements: a shiny red Ford Focus. It had 86,000 miles, which was a little on the high side for my comfort level. My daughter was excited about the car, but I insisted we take it to my mechanic, Don Orange of Hosely Eco Auto. We dropped the car off at his shop for a thorough pre-purchase inspection while we walked to Uptown Village for lunch.

When we returned from lunch, Don greeted us with: "Don't buy this car. This is not a safe car. It hasn't been taken care of. You can do much better."

Then he gave us a three-page print out listing the car's issues and needed repairs.

My daughter and I were disappointed the car wasn't going to work out. We talked about being relieved to have not made a mistake in buying an unsafe car that needed multiple repairs and would have cost much more money in the long run.

My daughter summed it up like this: "They polished a turd."

We've been car shopping for a couple of weeks now, and after some other dead ends, are no closer to having found a car. However, we're much more skeptical of pretty, shiny cars and the sales people who push unsafe vehicles to unsuspecting buyers. Shame on them!

So this week it's more used car shopping for us. We're skeptical. We're cynical. We're running Carfax reports. We're checking the Kelley Blue Book values. We're kicking the tires. And we're relying on my mechanic to weed out the polished turds.

Meanwhile, we're looking for a reliable, safe sedan with a clean title, low miles and one or two owners--for under $5,000. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A tiny babushka fishing from the dock

"Babushka" by Irina Gaiduk
Recently while climbing into our dragon boat one warm, summer night, I noticed a teeny-tiny, very old woman fishing from the dock just six feet from our boat.

Her slight frame was tucked into a wheelchair. She was so short that her thin legs dangled like a child's. She was dressed like a grandmother from the "Old Country," as my own grandma would have said. Graying hair peeked out from underneath a hefty headscarf tied under her chin. She wore a dark coat, dress and dark stockings, even though it was a warm evening.

In her time-worn hands, she grasped a fishing pole. Her head bent toward the water, she peered intently into the river where her she'd dropped her line. Waiting. Waiting patiently for a bite.

A man who was probably in his sixties--likely her son--stood next to her, minding his own fishing line.

Jeanie, our dragon boat coach, gave the command to "Shove off" and we began the rhythmic paddling to pull our boat through the Willamette River. An hour later, after paddling hard, we returned to the dock.

And the fishing babushka was still there, grasping her pole, peering into the water and hoping for a bite.

I climbed out of the boat and felt compelled to try to talk with this woman. Wish her luck in her fishing.

"Excuse me," I leaned down toward her.

But she shook her head and murmured some words. Russian maybe? Her son shook his head too. No English. They continued fishing in silence.

I wished I'd been able to speak to her. I wanted to tell her that I hoped I'd be fishing and having adventures when I'm 90. That she inspired me to keep paddling my own canoe.

I stood on the dock a moment to watch her, to remember her face. Then I turned and walked with the other Mighty Women toward home.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Three years a Mighty Woman!

In three years of paddling a dragon boat with the Mighty
Women, I've reinvented myself--and earned all this bling!
Our blades in the water, the Mighty Women waited for the horn starting our last race of the season.

Perched on the edge of bench four in the dragon boat, I closed my eyes and took deep breaths. In 30 seconds, I would be paddling so hard I would have to remind myself to breathe.

The horn blasted! We dug in.

I was completing my third year paddling a dragon boat with the Mighty Women. And I have the biceps--and the dragon boat bling--to show for it. It's been a wild ride!

In the past three years, I've reinvented myself. Dragon boating has changed my body, my attitude and my life.

My old life had fallen apart, piece by piece. Although life doesn't offer us a chance at a complete do over, my only viable option was to make a fresh start from where I stood: divorced, suddenly unemployed, broke and trying to find firm footing on shifting sand.

Three years later, I'm standing on firmer ground. Have there been tough times? You bet! That's life.

Am I better off now, three years after the bottom dropped out of my life? Absolutely! I'm happier, healthier, more confident and definitely stronger. We don't realize how strong we are until we have to paddle through challenging rapids with lots of debris blocking our path and threatening to overturn our boat.

But now safely on the other side of a series of rapids, I've learned how strong I am:

  • I can learn to become a journalist 30 years after earning my journalism degree, even though I'm twice the age of many of my fellow reporters.
  • I can live in 550 square feet for three months without a bathroom, heat or running water.
  • If I have to, I can move three times in three months. But I wouldn't recommend it.
  • If I am frugal, I can live on 29 percent less salary than I had before.
  • If a day seems particularly challenging, I can look deeper to find joy in simple things: walking in the woods, marveling at a sunset or hearing a loved one's soothing voice.
I've learned my limits too. I am not willing to live without friendship, laughter, chocolate or adventures!

On a Post-It note attached to my laptop I've written this prescription for joy in my new life:

Believe in myself.
Listen to my inner voice.
Build the life I imagine.
Reach toward my dreams.

When I'm powering through the water in a dragon boat with my teammates, I'm doing all of those things.

During our final race, I concentrated on my rhythm, my stroke, my breathing, my rotation. It's a big no-no to look outside the boat, especially during a race. But my ears are more easily distracted. I heard boats closing in on either side of us as we neared the finish line.

We had to paddle harder, deeper, stronger than ever before.

My lungs burning, I breathed out an audible "whoosh." Then with my paddle, I reached for my dreams.