Archive for cars

Not with a bang, but a whimper: “Millennials” and the new world order

Posted in simple living with tags , on 04/20/2015 by Fox

There is nothing permanent except change.

Unsurprisingly, television ownership and use are falling. I’m not even surprised it’s picked up speed. As ease of streaming increases, and as television culture as we knew it decreases, the change is only going to become more rapid.

It’s like good ol’ Blockbuster. Faded away to obscurity because something better has come along. I saw the new Cosmos on Hulu. Netflix is creating their own television series. It’s happening…television has become the domain of the older generations. Television channels are becoming horrible, panicked conglomerations of whatever they think will bring in viewers. Hello, bullshit reality TV on every channel. Television companies are popping out idiocy now in hopes of prolonging their own demise. Unless they innovate, death is inevitable.

Commercials as we know them are dying as well. Hulu will prop them up for a while, but I predict we’ll see more product placement and/or companies like Netflix will continue to bankroll their own shows in order to entice viewers to continue with their service rather than switch to another. In short, we’ll see streaming channels rather than television channels.

What does surprise me is that car ownership may be in decline as well. It’s not because of the smartphone, though, as the writer suggests. Read the comments. The decline in car ownership is due to increasing urbanization, increasing costs of ownership (although the guy who said a Versa Note is “$800 a month before gasoline” is full of shit), and increasing college attendance with the student loans that accompany it.

In short, kids these days are broke-ass motherfuckers (what cursing?) that don’t need a car as badly as they once did.

That being said, cars aren’t going the way of televisions. There will always be those, like me, who choose to own a car for whatever reasons. But you can bet your ass that if this trend continues you’re going to start seeing sub-trends of more environmentally friendly vehicles and more budget sub-compact cars.

In the meantime, I’m going to bask in the slow death of the television.


Toyota’s Scion iQ: The next generation of pretentious car ownership

Posted in green living with tags on 01/04/2015 by Fox

The cars we drive say a lot about us.
~Alexandra Paul

I’ve discussed smart’s fortwo before. I found it wanting, honestly, with a price and fuel efficiency that were only marginally better than the Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa. Not enough to justify tooling around in a two-seater that can barely hold your groceries.

But now Toyota itself is offering their latest conspicuously pretentious car, the Scion iQ. Don’t ask me how the guy in the promo photo is going to be able to fit those plants in that car. It’s basically the smart fortwo all over again, except that in keeping with the conspicuousness, it’s priced between two and three thousand more than the fortwo, the Versa Note, and the Yaris. It jumps to five grand more than the Versa sedan.

Like the fortwo, the fuel efficiency is pretty much on par with the subcompact class. The Versa advertises a whopping 40 mpg highway (my own Versa Note gets about 36 highway, with an average 30-33 combined), which is the highest advertised for any of these cars. Honestly, at this point the difference between the EPA estimate and the reality is greater than the mpg difference between the individual cars.

But ultimately, it comes down to a desire to look good over a desire to have a functional vehicle. I hauled an eleven-foot baseboard home in my Versa Note a couple weeks ago (yes, part of it was sticking out the back, but not much), and I regularly surprise people with just how much shit you can fit into a hatchback. I paid less, I get comparable efficiency, and I can haul shit like I’m rocking an El Camino. The only reason I see for the Scion iQ and the smart fortwo is the pretentious factor. They’re like giant, wheeled hybrid badges. LOOK AT ME, I GIVE A SHIT AND DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT PRACTICALITY.

The Dallas to Houston high speed rail project is doomed

Posted in green living with tags , , on 10/22/2014 by Fox

When I was a kid, I went to the store and asked the guy, Do you have any toy train schedules?
~Steven Wright

So after no more was heard about the San Antonio to Dallas via Austin high speed rail project, Someone apparently decided to spend a lot of money to propose a Dallas to Houston high speed rail project, which lacks the fundamental flaw of the previous project. Namely, Houston is a bigger and more important metropolitan area than San Antonio, or even San Antonio plus Austin (let’s face it, the old project was really Austin to Dallas, with an extra leg to just connect San Antonio because why not). This new project is so far underway that I actually received a little DEAR OWNER OR CURRENT RESIDENT card in the mail informing me of a public input meeting that I won’t be attending because I will be drinking beer in Terlingua and giving absolutely no fucks about anything, much less a doomed high speed rail project.

And why, exactly, is the project doomed? Well, for starters, we’ve got the same problem I discussed with the SA-D rail line. There’s a lack of good intra-city transport in Texas cities. There’s the sad beginnings of intra-city transport, but it’s not going to be the first thing most white and/or affluent people think about when they think of transportation. Sure, if this is built you can get to Houston from Dallas or vice versa and quickly. But unless you’re a salaryman moving only from one downtown to another, or willing to waste a lot of time with crappy “mass transit,” you’re hosed.

From looking at the maps, this high speed rail is not even remotely interested in stopping anywhere along the way. Sure, it might stop in Teague (if there was anything in Teague worth stopping for), and if one of the alternative routes is the Chosen One, a stop may appear outside of Bryan/College Station (only slightly more interesting than Teague), but more likely than not, this sucker is not stopping for anyone, Aggie or not.

If it were to make two stops along the way, let’s just say Teague and BCS, I could see salarymen moving their suburban asses to one of these towns and just taking the train to work. Most people who work in Houston commute from Fucking All Over anyway (some as far as Brenham and no, I am NOT joking). This way, they wouldn’t have to drive or fight traffic and they can have that wonderful small-town lifestyle where their children get bored and do meth and the cops don’t care because their own children are in on it.

But it doesn’t appear to be stopping nor does it appear to actually be taking the human equation into account at all, for all they’ll sell it as a people-mover. Like most of the high speed rail projects out there, this thing is meant to move cargo, not people.

How I paid off a brand-new car in one year

Posted in simple living with tags , on 09/18/2014 by Fox

Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.
~Robert H. Schuller

First, off, I apologize for my rather erratic posting schedule. I had a post that I wanted to write a week ago, but I’ve been busy with the house and it just hasn’t happened. I wanted to post something, though, and this one requires a lot less putting together of thoughts. Hopefully I’ll have some breathing room to write the other this weekend.

One Sunday in October last year, I was cooking pancakes for breakfast when my neighbors from a couple doors down knocked on my door and informed me that the apartment complex had flooded badly the night before and that our cars were among the victims.

Sure enough, the interior of my car was soaked, just up to the bottom of the dash. I ate my breakfast, called my insurance company, called my father, sent out the fox signal to friends, and then started cleaning out my car. I threw away what was ruined or useless to try to salvage, and left the doors open (seriously, who was going to steal a half-drowned car?), and attempted to dry it out.

A couple friends showed up to give advice and to help salvage the engine. We got it running, took it to a car wash, and vacuumed the shit out of the seats, hoping to get as much water out as possible. Then I drove it on the highway, trying to drive as much water out of the exhaust as possible.

Then I drove it to work on Monday, and my bosses helpfully allowed me to use a large fan and space heater to dry it out some more. My insurance agent handling the claim told me to expect someone that day (Columbus Day, actually), to have a look. He came by, examined the car, expressed surprise that I was able to drive it to work, and left, informing me that the car was likely totaled. I blue-booked the car at about $6,500, and figured I’d get a couple grand from the insurance company.

Tuesday I got a call from the insurance company. They totaled the car, and estimated its value at $9,000, due to “low mileage.” I didn’t think it was that low, but I wasn’t going to argue. My deductible was only $500, so I got half the value of a brand-new Nissan Versa in exchange for my six-year-old car.

So I bought a new one. I took three grand out of my emergency fund, went to the dealership, found a Versa without all the bells and whistles (seriously, it doesn’t have power locks or windows, how cool is that?), and in a good color. My old car drowned on Saturday night, I drove a new car to work on Friday.

I financed the full amount of the car, minus my $3,000 down payment. I opted for a three-year note, which made my monthly payment quite high. Financing through Nissan netted me $500 off the purchase price. When I got my insurance check, I threw it at the principal, dropping it like a rock. And here in about two weeks, I will send off the check that will pay the last of it.

Naturally, you can’t plan to have a six-year-old car drown, nor can you plan to have your insurance company offer you half the cost of a new car in return. But take this as a case study. Things can go horribly wrong and there’s nothing you can do. Things will go horribly wrong and there’s nothing you can do. But you can prepare. An emergency fund and living below your means will turn disaster into a story about How Fucking Awesome My Insurance Company Is And How Nissan Versas Hold Their Value Really Well Actually.

Denali National Park: a unique approach to tourism

Posted in green living with tags , , on 09/17/2011 by Fox

One other very important question I have…does one need to technically climb — ropes and grommets — or can one hike to the summit of Mt. McKinley? My last question is, is Mt. McKinley usually covered with snow around the first of June?
~Person Who Will Be Just Riding a Bus When in Denali NP

While I was in Alaska, my mother and I visited Denali National Park, which contains Mt. McKinley. It’s also probably the most unique national park I’ve ever visited.

Most national parks have roads you can drive on to get here and there, and hiking trails. Denali had few of either. There is effectively one road that winds about eighty miles into the park (and then promptly dead-ends). It’s unpaved for most of its length, and barely large enough for two vehicles to pass one another. There are a few hiking trails, but they encourage backpackers to go anywhere they want, which is, heretofore, unheard of in a park. My first reaction to that was “What the fuck…really?!”

But the road is what I want to talk about. You see, they don’t allow personal vehicles beyond the Savage River campground, about 15 miles into the park. In order to see the rest of it, you have to take a bus. There are several buses, but I’ll focus on the official Denali NP bus, which is the one I took.

You pay a fee, depending on how far you want to take the bus into the park. But the bus driver will drop you off wherever you want, and you can catch rides on other green NPS buses to get somewhere else or back, although it’s advised that you take your initial bus as far into the park as you can go before getting off, for simplicity’s sake.

The park service started this in the 70s, when the new highway to the park increased the number of visitors. And in my opinion, it is one of the best systems of any park.

There are no “wolf/bear/moose jams.” In fact, a jam in Denali only really occurs on the 15 miles stretch leading to Savage River. Otherwise a jam is when the bus meets another bus coming the other direction and has to stop a second to let it by.

Think about it. There’s a bear. You have one bus stopping instead of twenty some-odd vehicles. Furthermore, you have thirty-some-odd extra pairs of eyes out looking for wildlife, too. At one point a few people spotted a lynx, and a good portion of the bus got to catch a glimpse before it disappeared. More people got to see it than would have if we’d all been in separate cars.

It’s also safer for wildlife. The only time they see a human that’s not in a bus is when they see a backpacker. Mostly. We did see a number of idiots on the way to Savage River harassing a bull moose while trying to get a picture. One ranger said they hadn’t had a major incident between a tourist and an animal in 94 years. But beyond Savage River, the idiots are all on the bus, leaving the more experienced backpackers to face the animals.

Not to mention that the animals ignore the buses for the most part. They continue doing what they do, and thus I saw pictures of wolves trotting in front of buses and got photos myself of bears foraging not terribly far away.

Personally, I can’t think of a better system that benefits both wildlife and people. Sure, the upfront costs seems greater, since the bus tickets run 25-50 USD. But that includes a seven-day park pass ($10 per person), and hey, you’re not spending the money for up to 160 miles worth of gas. And you’re chauffeured, and you get to see more wildlife. I call that an epic win.

The only downside is that due to the large amount of time it took to get to our destination, we didn’t get to do any real hiking in the park. But that’s a function of the time it took for us to get out there (5+ hours to Wonder Lake one-way), and isn’t the park service’s fault.

I want to see this phased into every major national park. Yellowstone needs it horribly, from what I’ve heard about it. Denali definitely gets my seal of approval for the way they’ve handled the park.

An automotive arms race?

Posted in green living with tags on 08/20/2011 by Fox

The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers.
~Dave Barry

Apparently my car can be “deadly.” For me, anyway. A lot of people feel that smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles are less safe for occupants than larger, heavier vehicles.

Naturally, as a driver of a small car (I often describe it as “paper-mâché”), I don’t feel that my car’s safety is a result of a poor vehicle choice on my end. I know damn good and well that in a collision with a Chevy Suburban, my Nissan Versa and I are going to come out the losers. Then again, I also ride a bicycle, and bicycle vs. anything (including the Smart Fortwo) is also a losing scenario for me. And just to add potential insult to potential injury death, I walk a lot. I’d lose to even the bicycle, then.

But I refuse to join the automotive arms race. I like getting good gas mileage, and I like not putting other vehicles and their occupants in danger because I want to come out on top. But my personal safety isn’t very high up on my List o’ Important Shit. (See also my views regarding “national security.”)

All this means is that when driving my car, I can’t screw up. Bicycling helps with this…when on a bicycle, you can NOT take anything for granted. I can’t assume that a driver has seen me, or will stop for me. This also means I love to use my horn. Try to fling your weight around in another vehicle, and you’ll be sure to hear exactly what a Versa’s horn sounds like. Beep.

How to fail at selling a car battery to a biological female

Posted in simple living with tags , on 06/04/2011 by Fox

The car has become… an article of dress without which we feel uncertain, unclad, and incomplete.
~Marshall McLuhan

I took my car to the dealership to have its oil changed this weekend, and they told me that the battery failed the load check. My first thought was, of course, that the battery is not that old (four years). My second thought was that I can get a battery for less than the $130 quoted me by the dealership.

So I told them I’d hold off on that for the moment and the next day at work I talked to one of my co-workers, who has far, far more car experience than I. He reminded me of a simple fact: the only places I really drive to are work (from home) and home (from work). The only terrible thing that would happen if I had a dead battery would be that I’d either have to bike to work and/or catch a ride from someone to Napa to get a new battery.

Basically, as he said, the dealership “just wants to sell a battery.” They tried to play on fear (being unable to start the car to get where I need to go) to sell it to me.

My car doesn’t need a new battery yet. I’ve still got plenty of starts on the current battery. And I’m not so dependent on it that having it fail to start is that big a deal. And I’ve got my savings account to help cover it should I find myself without the money to pay for it immediately, so that’s not even an issue. Waiting until my current battery is completely dead is both frugal (I get more starts per battery) and green (more starts per battery means fewer batteries need to be produced).

This is a perfect example of selling by fear, which is a subset of the “but I might need it someday” syndrome. I will not die because my car did not start. I will not be raped by hooligans. I will not be stranded for long, if at all. I probably won’t even miss work. I will have to get a ride, buy a new battery, and pay for someone’s dinner. I had a dead battery once before…nearly everyone has. I called my dad who called my cousin, who picked me up, drove me to Napa, helped me pick out a battery, and installed it. I drove away less than an hour later.

Not everything has to be a big fucking deal.