Sunday, December 31, 2017

What to name the new old car . . truck really?

The deed was done.
The California Bureau of Automotive Repair's (BAR) Consumer Assistance Program (CAP)- Vehicle Retirement (AKA Cash for Clunkers) sent me a voucher good for $1500 when I take the dear old Banana Boat to the scrap yard. They didn't make it easy. It was supposed to be easy but it wasn't.
I went to the official website. I am not sure why, but there are unofficial ones for some reason.
I filled out the online application form. It was supposed to take 4 weeks to process.

While I waited Social Security sent me just a taste of my disability back pay so I was able go to the DMV and pay the past due registration. 2 years worth $359, yikes! Then I went for a smog check. It had been using oil, I thought. I had to add oil every 1000 miles or so and none was on the driveway so I just assumed it was burning oil and wouldn't pass smog. But it did pass. The smog check guy said my new tags would be in the mail in a couple of days. Weeks went by and the new tags and registration never came in the mail. I sent an email to the DMV. They emailed me back telling me that because I paid the registration before getting the smog certificate it would take 3 more weeks from the date of the email to process instead of 3 days. Huh, I thought.

Meanwhile the BAR sent me a letter telling me that I was good to go but I needed to send proof of low income to qualify for $1500 rather than the $1000 already rich folks get. The letter also said to hurry before funding runs out. My disability (SSD) each month plus what's called SSI ($30/mo in lue of food stamps) still adds up to an amount way below the poverty line. I sent my docs in.

Two weeks later the BAR sent me a letter telling me that I was good to go but I needed to send proof of insurance for the 2 years before I sent in the application. This was because it was not registered when they checked, because I paid registration before smog (yes I called with my explanation, no help there). You can still be approved if your car is not registered as long as you have paid for insurance and it passes smog. So I am out $359 for registration I didn't have to pay, great. I did use the roads and such so guess I owed it. The letter also said to hurry before funding runs out. It took a little persistence, I made some calls and managed to come up with documentation in the format BAR required. I sent it in, waited.
The tags and my new registration came the next week.
Almost 2 months after I applied, the CAP voucher came in the mail. Yay!

The search for a replacement vehicle was on. In the post before this one I went over some of my goto's like eBay and Craigslist. I have purchased cars with each of those in the past and was sure it would work again. Also in the last post I included links to candidate vehicles. I haven't checked but those links might be dead. Craigslist deletes after so many days. Anyway there were many possibilities in my price range that looked to be really nice cars. The week before the voucher came I found 3 or 4 nice ones. As you might has guessed, as soon as the search turned serious those great deals were sparse. sigh. My search parameters did change. The amount I was able to spend including any fees and taxes was $300 less than anticipated. Also part of the reason I am on SSD is that sitting gets painful after and hour or two a day. Even putting up with a bit of agony my travel range is 60 or 70 miles each way.  That narrowed my search. Pickups and bigger SUV have the best long term reviews. Besides I don't drive that much anymore. No reason to drive all scrunched in a low headroom sedan or coupe?

To make things worse once I started making inquiries I turns out most of the ads are bogus. You send a text or an email asking to see the car, if they reply at all, they reply asking you to email their sister (or someone) who is really selling the car. I quickly learned to spot the fake ones. Weird phrasing in the ad or a private party ad with just one photo that was professionally shot. Real people use a cell phones to shoot the pictures.

Finally got a hold of a real person. An old guy up in Lake Isabella selling a 1990 Mercedes Benz.  Those have some head room. Older than I'd like, the photos it looked okay. He couldn't tell me much about it. He was one of those guys that go to the big car auctions in LA. The thing is too old to go all the way to Isabella in the Lincoln to see it (at least $20 in gas) then if it was good impose on who for a ride up there to get it?
I have bought cars 2 different times sight unseen through eBay.  Both times I took the train pick them up and it worked out fine. Different time in history I guess.

Only a few people in my area sell their own cars it seemed. The newspaper was useless as was eBay this time. The free Camera ads tabloid that you find at convenience stores didn't have anything for me. The BAR said to hurry before funding ran out but in my experience opportunities will present themselves if you take your time, keep your eyes open and don't get desperate. This works with ladies too, opportunities for romance. That kind of opportunity comes up, unfortunately I am better at picking up on the clues and following through in other areas. Like buying cars. But I digress. I convinced myself that if I missed the funding window I could reapply in the next quarter. No heater this winter, suspension, or windows that work in the Lincoln were things I have had to deal with and could continue work around for a few more months if need be. Craigslist became more about grazing than searching. I found a lead that responded within an hour with a phone call. I called the seller back (more about cell phone weirdness in a minute). He turned out to be in my neighborhood less than a mile away. Arranged to meet him the next morning.

Let's call him Rudy, met me and handed me the keys "let's go for a test drive".  He had just rinsed it off so it was clean. The 1999 Infiniti QX4 was 18 years old had not been garaged. It looks shiny in the picture but the clear coat has mostly worn off. The interior is clean, it sounded good and drove well. As soon as we were on the street he says "It's not a salvage title we spun it out on the freeway down south a couple of years ago, insurance replaced some of the body panels. Mechanically it's all good". That was a weird thing to lead with. Like he's worried about it. I asked why he was selling it "I just finished restoring my Mini Cooper". "My roommate works out in the oilfields in Lost Hills and wants something better on gas". Roommate is code for boyfriend or husband. This guy was close to my age. In his 50s I guessed. Younger gay people tend to say 'partner' when they feel the need to be vague. Whatever. As they say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. When we got back to Rudy's house I asked to look under the hood. I'm not a great mechanic but have done many repairs and can spot obvious problems. Sometimes. It all looked good except for a thick coating of what appeared to be axle grease on the top of the radiator. 3 or 4 tiny beads of green antifreeze sweating through it. "Oh my mechanic found those little leaks and put that stuff one there, said it would seal it".  He immediately said he would have the radiator replaced.  He was asking $1900 I offered $1800 if he had the repairs done. He agreed to have it done and hold it for me. Parts of the deal seemed fishy the radiator thing, 'not a salvage title' thing and something else he wasn't saying, but $1800 won't buy you much car these days and this seemed more or less doable. And the heater works, And the windows go up and down. 2 summers (18 months) of pulling up or pushing down windows by hand was enough.

This was on the 17th of December, so a week before Christmas.  I called him a couple of times to check the progress. Each time the phone would stop and an automated voice would say something about searching for subscriber. They the ring and the call went through. I assumed it had something to the other guy working in lost hills. Different area code or something. I wasn't ready yet but that he went ahead and had it smogged for me. Something I'd have to do to transfer title anyway.

I called the salvage/recycle place (scrapyard) at the special number provided to find out the hours of operation and other details. They have several locations in the state and so one recorded message to answer all questions. The first thing the recording said was that the program had unlimited funds. They must get many people like me stress over the time crunch. I'm sure it's a lie but saying it saves everyone worry over matters that are out of anyone's control.

On Thursday Rudy called to say it was done and that it cost him more than anticipated and could I go the full $1900. So now things are starting to feel scammy. I had looked up the cost of the radiator and surprisingly they go for $55-$60. They aren't hard to install but that doesn't mean that a mechanic wouldn't charge a couple of hundred to do it. I had looked him up on the internet and he sells insurance at AAA. Just the kind of guy that would have a line on cheap repair work and smog certificates. Quid pro quo or like that. Hmm.

Okay fine I said. $1900. Logistics came next; taking the Lincoln to the scrapyard then the resulting check to the bank then meeting up with him. I have 3 guys I know to ask for a ride. One doesn't have a car right now. One works in an office 8 to 5. The third guy is also disabled but and has the time but whines like a little bitch whenever he drives me places. It happens once a year or less; it's not my fault that he never asks anything of me. So that's me whining about other people whining. There's always Uber or Lyft. I looked it up and $8 from scrapyard to my bank. Cool. Rudy said he would drive the QX4 to work with him and could pick me up at my bank on his lunch hour. That was nice of him. Also that if I had AAA they are also an official DMV outpost. We could do the deal right there and I could get the paperwork out of the way all at once. I was planning on getting AAA again for the towing. Must have if you drive an old car.

Friday was a slow day for me. What with it being the last work day before Christmas places were closing early. Scrapyard closes at 3:30 normally and I missed it. That's my story anyway so I put it off till the Tuesday the 26th.  Rudy didn't like it but I assured him I wasn't flaking out so it was fine.

I have owned a number of cars over the years. I get kind of attached to them but they always depart in the anticipation of a new one. Each is it's own adventure. This was the second Lincoln TownCar. The first one I got was my dad's. I got it when he died (ironically at his 80 birthday party). This one belonged to Dan an older friend of mine that wasn't like a father to me so much as a . . .well like an eccentric uncle. His family an extended family of mine. I had gone to high school with 2 of his kids and we are still thick as thieves when we get together. I've gone on vacations with them, the whole thing. Dan and I had our own relationship as well. I produced a cable access TV show that he hosted for 18 months or so and we had other adventures. I was quite fond of the old coot. If you think this post is long I'll have to write that adventure one one of these times. Anyway when he died a couple of years ago at 84 I got the Lincoln. So I am a little more sentimental about Town Cars than I might otherwise be.

I rarely have any place that I have to be in the mornings, or any other time for that matter. I do try to get up or at least be awake by 8 am everyday. They say routine helps keep you sane. Not sure it's working but one has to try. Being in a hurry and having details to attend to is the thing I am really out of practice with. I'm up, full of coffee and prescription medications before 9:30 so plenty of time to turn in my voucher and get to my bank by noon. I started to call Rudy over the internet with Google Hangouts. It's like what they call a VoIP phone. It's free and I have a regular type handset, the kind you can really hold onto, that plugs into my computer. But the internet was going off and back on all morning. I got through once but got cut off. Weird.

I have heard plenty and even looked at the app but it's finally time to try Uber for myself. Drivers I know prefer Lyft but Uber was $1 cheaper that day so Uber it is. I find the android app and start to load it on my phone. My phone is too old for the app. I change a few setting; it want's to load but not enough memory. Fuck. I thought you could request a ride from a browser but I'm not a morning person and the website only wants to sign up new drivers that day it seemed like. My iPad is old but it had the app before and so I downloaded it again. Great it still had my info and payment settings. I tap in the locations. I'm looking for where you put in when you need it. Before it lets me confirm, it wants a different form of payment. PayPal not good enough anymore? I tap to go to the next screen but nothing happens. Damn the internet is out again and made the iPad freeze. Restart the iPad. Unplug and replug the modem to get it going again. I launch the Uber app again and there's a little map showing me that he is almost there. WTF? Now! is the only time you can hail a ride? Gee Zus.

I emptied the car of all my stuff the day before and had all the paperwork ready. Hoping I have enough gas in the tank off I go on the Banana Boat's last journey. I get to the place, lots of signage but nothing says "Office Here" or any of that. I park and walk into an office trailer that is a lunch room. I am directed to the building next to the truck scales. That makes sense. I go in and it's one of those 'don't rob me' setups like in a bank or ghetto liquor store. The counter lady behind the thick glass tells me to drive onto the scales. Scales? The voucher is a flat $1500 but whatever. After 3 days off there is a line that goes down the street of semi trucks and other trucks loaded with scrap iron. I wait in line in the middle of the road's two way left turn lane.

No sign of the Uber car. The line is so slow that I put it in park and walk around the parking lot looking for, I think the app said, a corolla. I am no fan of physical exercise. I don't have anything against walking. These days however with the damaged spine some days I can walk a mile or more but more often lately after 30 minutes on my feet I am bent over in the shape of a question mark. It took me 2 days to recover from the last art walk. I didn't even have my cane with me. Shit. It's 11:30 and I am still on the street in the line of trucks. I better call Rudy and tell him I have been delayed. My phone started to do that thing where it has to look for the subscriber but this time it says it's roaming and says I have to enter a calling card number or make a collect call. What? I try again, same thing. It's a free phone with not a lot of minutes but I rarely use it so. I remember getting a text telling me that it was good to go for another month. I thought.

Finally it is my turn on the scale. I was was really putting out the a stranger in a strange land/kindly/old hippy vibe that day. That is what I was feeling in one way. In another way, kind of intuitively, I was working my audience. I handed the clerk my paperwork through a little window in the side of the building. She asked me if it was tan or white. I said buttercream, it looks light yellow to me. That's why I call it the banana boat, because it looks like a banana cream pie. She scoffed. Websites that claim to know about such things call it Ivory Metallic or Pearlescent Ivory Parchment. Okay, whatever.
Here is the wikipedia description of the Town Car.

I pulled it forward where a man in a hardhat looked it over with a checklist. He helped me remove the handicapped plates. That was it. In the office they had me sign and fill out a number of papers, then handed me a check.

I asked the clerk to use their phone. The instructions I got in mail said more than once that a ride home was my problem. She said the phone wouldn't fit under the glass so called Rudy for me. She said he said he'd be there in a few. Nice, and on his lunch hour. I waited outside. As he drove up I though it was a different SUV. It looked smaller. He drove us to his office where he signed me up for AAA. $49 is not bad if you need the towing. He took plastic for that sale and a check from me that I had printed for the car. The DMV counter there only took cash so I had to I had to find a branch of my bank. The registration was complete when I turned in the plates that had been on that car . . SUV and attached my handicap plates. Rudy had been helpful through the whole thing. Didn't make sense that he'd pull a scam at his workplace. Still, he kept giving me the feeling of the cat that ate the canary. Especially after our business was complete. Idly scanning the big open office as I waited in line he was staring at me intensely from the other side for way too long. Who knows? People are goofy.

1999 Infiniti QX4 vs 1997 Lincoln Town Car - Cartier

Specifications QX4 Town Car
Turning Diameter - Curb to Curb 37.4' 44.1'
Wheelbase 106.3" 117"
Overall Length 183.9" 219"
Width including mirrors 72.4" 76.7
Overall Height 70.7" 56.9"
Curb Weight 4275 lbs. 3997 lbs.
Maximum Towing 5000 lbs. 2000 lbs.
Head Room: Front 39.5" 39.1"
Leg Room: Front 41.7" 42.6"
Leg Room: Rear 31.8" 41.1"
Trunk/Cargo 82 cu.ft. 22.3 cu.ft.
Trunk/Cargo hidden from view none 4.3 corpses

These numbers were gathered from a few different sources. I wasn't going to do the measuring myself. I'm 73, or by some accounts, 72 inches tall and can easily see across the top of the QX. It is a foot taller in round numbers. A yard shorter. Wow. A chunk of that was lost in rear seat leg room. I never sat in the rear seat of the old one so am not likely to in this one. Shorter turning radius is a good thing.

Early assessment: It is a truck and rides like one mostly. Still a softer ride than the TC after the shocks were shot.  Nice to have a working heater and window regulators. Seats are leather, worn but comfortable. I am out of the habit of terrestrial radio and it's too old to have bluetooth. Reused the cassette adaptor and bluetooth receiver I used in the TC. Routine of audiobooks and NPR on accastion reestablished.

Downsides, scary things:

  • At first I thought the interior lights didn't work. It has 2 dome lights. Both were switched to the neutral position. I had noticed the little dash light showing that not all the doors are closed. Recloseing or slamming them closed doesn't help. This must have something to do with the wreck Rudy mentioned. This means that the interior lights are always on or always off. At some point in time I will investigate with tools. Till then stick on led lights are cheap. 
  • There are more dents on the outside than I noticed at first. Rear spoiler fin is missing. 
  • It has not been garaged so the clear coat is gone from the hood and other places. Flat not glossy is okay. Makes it less conspicuous. Less likely to be stolen or broken into. 
  • Just one key. I am a clutz at times and like to have a spare. It's the kind with a chip in it. The dealer wants over $200 for a spare. Floyd's will make a duplicate for 'only' $69. Blanks are under $10 on eBay but the cheapest a local locksmith will charge is $75 to cut and program it. YouTube has a couple of different work arounds. 
  • The key fob door opener thing doesn't work. I pointed this out to Rudy and he suggested a new battery. I put in a new battery and nothing. Then I accidentally pressed the red panic button on it. That works. Maybe just get a replacement.  
  • The ignition switch is not consistent as to what works with it off or on. This and the door thing may be related to a bigger electrical problem in the making.  Hope not though. Those kinds of repairs can be expensive or impossible. Let's hope not. 

Now the big question: What to name it?
Something will occur to me or I'll get a good suggestion that isn't a snark.

Addendum: I think addendum is what you put instead of P.S. when it's not a letter.
The cell phone thing. As a duly authorized poor person I qualify for what was called an Obama phone. Society runs on information and communications. Where would underpaid workers come from if you couldn't call them up? How are debt collectors supposed to find people? It's not like there are still pay phones everywhere. If someone makes enough to live on you have to pay them more. Underpaid workers are the backbone of capitalism.

Anyway, what you get is the cheapest recycled pay as you go type phone available and something like 100 minutes and text messages per month. I found a company called Budget Mobile that offered 100 megs of data too. Yay. I lucked out and the one they sent me also would connect to wifi.
After I got home I tried using the cell phone again. Still roaming, no calling out. Budget Mobile hadn't sent me an email since I got the thing a year and a half ago. I found and old email and clicked on their address. No website. I checked the newsfeeds. No news about them. Hmm. Then I did find an old press release from 6 months ago saying that they getting out of the lifeline phone business. But if not this month I do remember getting the 'you're good to go for another month' text message from them. Then it made the chime telling me that I had gotten a new test message. Slowly I realized that it was on wifi at the house. That was text messages going to my google voice number. Google voice is app and web browser based not cellular if you are on wifi. It is cellular if you have cell service and aren't on wifi. I must have been using it wifi only for, who knows how long. I did call the lifeline program; they found that I was already approved and in the system for this year but could not find my number. Told the Indian phone bank guy that it was on Budget Mobile and he said they had been out of the system for a while.

Here in California the Lifeline program (CLP) is better than other places. The phones themselves are not special but I found Virgin Mobile offers unlimited voice and texts plus 2 gigs of data per month. Obviously I didn't use the lower amount but I guess it will be good to use the gps map thing sometimes. I signed up with them so CLP will send me a new application to restart the approval process again. I will send them poverty docs like I send to BAR and wait for a phone to arrive in the mail. Till then fingers are crossed that the QX lives and doesn't leave me stranded far from the non-existing pay phones of legend.

Addendum Addendum: I may be able to rig the old phone or iPad to function over wifi as a phone in the meantime. So if I do get stranded but am near a McDonald's or Starbucks or place with free wifi I won't be totally SOL.

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