Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why I Test Drove a Prius Only Four Blocks

We've been considering a hybrid for years, but they were always a little too expensive. G. found one at the dealership where we bought our last two cars (ahem...10 years ago). It was a 2008, priced around $16G, had 38,000 miles, and looked pretty. So we packed up the boys and went over for a test drive.

Our regular guy, the one who sold us our cars 10 years ago and amazingly still works there, was off today, so we spoke with the nice young man fresh out of the car rental biz. He tried to start the car, and found that the battery was dead. Apparently, these batteries will die if you leave them sitting around too long. So he got out his trusty portable-jumper-briefcase and jumped it. It was running fine, we gave our drivers' licenses up for copying and decided I'd take the first drive and G would stay with the kids, then test drive it after I returned. The nice young guy offered to watch them so we could go together, but, no. We didn't know him from jack, and we'd have his car, but he'd have our kids and we're not really willing to trade. Now, in hindsight, maybe I should be more trusting.

So I got in and it was like a video game. The computerized dashboard seems so far away, I was looking down a tunnel to see the numbers. He handed me the key, but said I didn't need it. I looked all over for the ignition, and there is none. You press a "Power" button that is marked like the one on my computer, seriously. They made a fake gear shift on the dashboard so you'd feel like you were shifting into drive, but really, I got the feeling it could have been done with buttons or a mouse.
The engine is pretty freaking quiet. In fact, I'd gone about four blocks and stopped at a red light when I thought, Geez, it's REALLY quiet. Then everything went dark. Crap. The traffic light turned green and I couldn't start the car. I pushed that button over and over, managed to get the dashboard lights back up and the window rolled down so I could wave people past me, but then it all went black again. Since it was all black, I couldn't shift into neutral. Fuckin' A, I'm stalled on a busy street in not-the-best-section of my city, and I can't even push it over to the side. I hate people who stall and then just sit there blocking the lane. Now I was one of them, and it wasn't even my car.

No battery, no hazard lights. G. was not answering his cell phone. I grabbed the piece of paper the salesman had given me, and of course there was no phone number on it. Goddamnit! It was making me crazy that I was causing this huge traffic hazard and I couldn't even reach someone to help me and it WASN'T MY CAR. I could not believe G. wasn't answering his cell phone when he should know something like this could happen! I considered leaving it there and hightailing it the four blocks back, probably about half a mile, but I'd left the window open and now couldn't get it back up and I felt bad leaving an open car unattended like that.

Oh wait, I have an iPhone!! I opened the browser, googled the dealership, found the number and called. When some dude answered, I yelled at him that I was test driving one of their vehicles, it died and I was now blocking a whole lane of traffic and could someone come out NOW??? He told me to hold, and a minute later our salesman answered, saying, "This is Ron, how can I help you?" Goddamnit all to hell, was I not clear?? I repeated myself and he asked, "What happened? Did it just stop?"

"It DIED. It's DEAD. And there are a whole bunch of people on this street who are not at all happy with me or your car so get out here."

OK. I felt a little better that someone was coming, so I stood behind the car waving cars past since they couldn't really tell the Prius was stalled. I mouthed, "Sorry!" to each of them as they passed. A couple nice people offered to help me push it over, and I told them I would LOVE to push it over but I couldn't get it into neutral. One kind of oddly dressed guy yelled, when he found out it wasn't my car, "They let you take a test drive by yourself????" He returned to his bus stop, then came back and said, "I just can't get over this. Someone should've gone with you!" He was hanging around a little too much and I was wishing his bus would show up.

Nice young man showed up, handed me the cars to the Mazda 626 he'd taken off the lot and told me to drive it back to the dealership. I was happy to leave him with Dead Prius and then I thought, "Oh, geez, what do you want to bet he'll get in, push the button and the thing will start right up?" So I glanced back and was gratified to see him opening the hood and beginning the jumping process. Odd Guy was there with him, probably giving him hell for letting me take a test drive by myself, and I was really just fine leaving them both there together. G. drove by with the boys in the car, I guess to make sure I could get back. He told me later that the boys had decided in the back of the car that we weren't going to buy the Prius under any circumstances because we "at least want a car that's going to get us to the end of California." Or more than four blocks.

The 626 drove quite nicely. Believe it or not, we haven't ruled out the Prius. Young Man assured us that this wasn't a usual problem, but that because it's sitting on the lot, it doesn't get driven enough to keep the battery charged. OK. So now you know, don't let people test drive it when the battery's low. So glad I could help. The only bright spot was that it wasn't pouring rain today, like it has been for the last two weeks or so.

Edited to add: If you take the previous post and this one together, it would appear that I should just give up driving altogether and take the bus.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The. Longest. Day. EVER.

We got up at 7am, as usual. We were in Portland, taking over the two bedrooms on the top floor of Grandma and Grandpa's house. We were scheduled for an 8pm flight back to California. I questioned how on earth "we" decided on an 8pm flight, and was informed that we saved several hundred dollars by flying out on the last available flight. (In retrospect, so not worth it).

Packed our suitcases and two duffel bags and three backpacks, made breakfast, did 2 loads of laundry, packed an extra box to take to UPS because we couldn't fit everything in our suitcases, played a couple rounds of Trouble with Grandma, got coffee.

Went to see Biglittlethings at the Imago Theater in Portland. On the way, G. stopped at Franz Bakery ("The GOOD Bread") to show the boys where he worked a few summers. You could see the machines, whipping out english muffins, through the windows. It was cold, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Saw the show, went to the bathroom and heard people yelling from the hallway, "It's snowing outside!" No way. Snow wasn't in the forecast.

It was snowing outside. Yippee. Fun for the boys (including the adult one) and cold for Grandma and me. Drove back to the house and began thinking, "Geez, this is kind of a lot of snow." Decided we'd better get going to the airport now, even though our flight didn't leave for 4 hours. We kept thinking it would turn into rain any minute now.

We'd borrowed my BIL's car, and were supposed to return it to him way up in Vancouver, WA, about half an hour away. No problem, if it's not snowing. Portland doesn't do well in snow. They have maybe one snowplow, that gets let out after the storm.

Apparently, everyone and their brother were surprised by the sudden snowstorm and decided they'd better hightail it for home, except no one hightails it anywhere in Portland snow. Traffic was horrible, the roads were icy and we were driving a Lincoln Continental. I called my sister and asked her to meet us at the airport instead. She mentioned that our flight was delayed and it might be canceled, in which case, we'd need the car. So we decided we'd just get to the airport, check the status and then maybe they could come meet us and pick up the car.

The highways were pretty much stopped, so we decided to take Stark all the way out to the airport. There's this little hill on Stark, though, that we couldn't get up. We got stuck, with the back end fishtailing from side to side. G got out and tried to push it all the way up the hill but with the icy road and his tennis shoes, it was hard to get enough traction to push. I tried to steer, which was pretty useless given the ice. Cars who had better traction than us went around us, while we slid this way and that. Other cars had pulled over and either were abandoned or had passengers hunkered down waiting for it all to stop. Benjamin was whining from the back seat, "Mama, could you please close the window? It's cold." And I was answering, "No, because it's the only way I can see." I wanted to give up, I didn't see any way up the hill and it made me nervous that we were backing up an entire lane of traffic. G kept saying, "We're almost there!" Finally, a dude who'd begun putting snow chains on his van came over to help push and we actually made it up. Yay!

G said, "OK, it's pretty level from here on out." I was just grateful we were headed somewhere, but I was really nervous we were going to hit another hill. Even the slightest incline would mean pushing again. As we approached the airport, we saw cars trying to make it off the freeway and up a slight off ramp and sliding all around. A van had slid into our lane, facing us, and was abandoned. Fortunately, we slid around it and could keep going.

G. asked for a Power Bar from my backpack and I told him he was on his own, this was my stash. It's not my fault he doesn't prepare for disasters. Then I realized he'd have to eat me if things got hairy and so I offered him a Power Bar. But then he saw it was chocolate and rejected it. He doesn't eat chocolate after 4pm.

It took us two hours to get to the airport, normally a 20 minute drive. I called my sister and told her we'd park the car in the long-term parking lot so it wouldn't cost them an arm and a leg to get it out the next morning. Unfortunately, the long-term parking is outside. Did I mention we were in the middle of a snowstorm? We parked and lugged our two suitcases, one car seat, two duffel bags, and three backpacks over to the shuttle stop. By this time I was thinking I would never, ever fly anywhere again. I decided I would travel again when I can be beamed instantly to my destination and not a day before.

We lugged our stuff onto the shuttle, off the shuttle, onto a cart, to the ticket counter, where the attendant told us our flight was overbooked and we would be asked at the gate to give up our seats. He glanced at my face and stuttered, "Of course, you do have seats, you're OK if you don't want to give them up...."

Dragged all the luggage over to the #3 security (in Portland they make you take all your suitcases to the screening machine). It was closed. Go to #2, he said. We lug our stuff back to #2 and I want to threaten the guy with death if he doesn't take our goddamn luggage, but remembering the recent terrorist incident decide to keep my mouth shut. Just in case, I stand far back and let G. give the guy our bags while I give him the evil eye.

Have some pizza for dinner, find an outlet to recharge my poor dying iPhone. If I'd known I would need it for the snowstorm, I wouldn't have checked Facebook so much that morning. Get to the gate, find our plane delayed 2 hours. Eh, could be worse, it could be canceled and I could be 8 months pregnant. Always with the positive thinking, I am.

Everything closes in the airport at 9pm. For some reason, I thought airports stayed open all night. They don't. We finally get on the airplane close to 10pm, and then wait an hour for the de-icing machine. They spray the airplane with a giant, loud hose. I hope the runway's not too icy, but even if it is, I figure the pilot can steer it correctly once it's in the air, right? While we were driving, we'd have been better off if we could have made our car take off and fly. It was because it was stuck on the ground that we had such problems. Benjamin has a loud voice and keeps dropping pieces of his Anakin Skywalker figure between the seats and the cabin wall.

We get to Oakland around 1am. As soon as we get our bags from the carousel, everything shuts down. The baggage handlers say goodnight, the security guard leaves and it looks like we're the last ones in the airport. It's weird. I could run right past that sign that says "You are leaving a sterile area. No readmittance!" I could readmit myself right back to the gate, it seems.

We're waiting for G to go pick up the car at the off-site parking lot and come back and get us. Everyone is gone. A.'s a little freaked out by all the workers going home and I tell him I'm sure there's a security guard somewhere on the premises. We did see a maintenance guy taking out all the trash, but then he disappeared too.

So G. finally gets us and we drive home. It's 1:30am and the boys want to see what Santa left for them while we were in Portland. G. tells them he wants to turn on the tree lights first, rushes into our 50-degree house and quickly takes all the presents and stuffs them under the tree.

Benevolently, we let them take 30 seconds to look and then rush them to bed. I grab the stockings, thank G_d that they didn't notice they were hanging empty, and fill them quickly. We got to bed about 2am. Longest. Freakin. Day. Ever that ended the longest freakin' visit ever. But that's another post.

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