as for the truck...

...for those who were left hanging: the truck lives, in a manner of speaking. it sits on the lawn next to the driveway, having weathered a summer immobile, by virtue of having been replaced by my new 2008 Ford Escape.

following repair, the Dakota ran well for some weeks of normal duty, constituting the time elapsed to the closure of my home mortgage refinancing, followed by a period of researching some intended purchases.

having traded an increasingly daunting, mounting stack of credit card bills (about $24,000, with payments in the neighborhood of $550/mo.) for a $34,000 increase in principal (equal to a modest $120 increase mortgage payment and a five year increase in term), and having locked in a fixed rate approximately 1 percentage point lower than the rising, variable rate i replaced, and having paid closing costs from this same draw from my home equity, i was left with about $6,500 in cash.

with this cash i intended to purchase outright both a new computer and a new HDTV.

it is with no small satisfaction that i view the creation of this post on what may be the most impressive 24" LCD monitor i've yet seen: my Acer P243WAid. i could type the specs but i'm sure neither of my readers are particularly interested.

unfortunately, for the moment- for a very long string of moments now, actually- it remains coupled to a donated, decidedly outdated computer which is nevertheless a substantially more powerful machine than the P3 500MHz i'd been using up to that point (thanks Scott). i intended to relegate this newer dinosaur to work duty months ago (sans kick-ass monitor, naturally) but the absolute madness that is a summer spent working at Hollywood Lights has so far seen half the components of the most badass computer i've ever seen still in their boxes. at this rate they'll be obsolete before i ever get them assembled.

(readers are graciously excused their great collective sigh of relief as i inform them i hereby avoid including copious self-indulgent paragraphs of in-depth analysis of the painstaking research and complicated purchasing procedures and shipping disasters associated with the acquisition of those components.)

nonetheless, the lack of progress on the computer assembly front is unacceptable! progress must be made!

thankfully, we've seen the last of full-on summer madness (it is, after all, nearing the end of October) and the hours i work should diminish signficantly at this point, which of course leads to an increase in the amount of free time i have.

as usual, i follow a tangent too far forward. allow me to digress a bit.

having spent a considerable amount of time researching makes and models of more fuel efficient vehicles, i was further spurred toward the purchase of one by further difficulties with the Dakota.

the first stimulus was the unknowable longevity of my repairs. though they held for weeks, they were unfortunately followed by the death of the Dakota's ignition switch. this ushered in a pathetically prolonged period of starting the truck with a screwdriver across the solenoid terminals.

incidentally, this required a surprisingly stressful constant vigilance in the selection of opportune parking places from which the truck, lacking a functional parking brake since the day it was purchased in November of 1995, would either not roll (in neutral) while i opened the hood to start it, or would roll back slowly enough, after being taken out of gear, to allow for the placement of something behind one of the back wheels (usually a 2-gallon antifreeze bottle filled with water, kept in the truck bed against the possible failure of the coolant system repairs), while i opened the hood, started the truck, and closed the hood, and then again roll back slowly enough, after removing the ad hoc wheel chock, to allow me to jump in the cab to apply the brakes before hitting anything.

during this period of pseudo-manual starting of the motor i realized it would soon be much more convenient to have 2 vehicles. Loren was rapidly approaching driving age, and i figured i'd be less apprehensive handing him the keys to something less likely to leave him stranded on the side of the road. i also began to feel it would be basically irresponsible NOT to buy something better equipped to protect him in a collision if i had the means to do so.

but once again, i veer from the story of the pickup. its battery eventually died, refusing to charge (despite passing bench testing) and though i replaced it and continued driving the truck for a few more weeks, that proved to be the last push i needed to buy a new vehicle.

i'd basically made my mind up to buy a Honda Civic, probably a Civic Si 4-dr 5sp; i even made an appointment to go test drive a slightly used one with every option i'd imagined, at $8000 below list, but i was diverted by a loss-leader ad from Jason's brother JR's dealership (Frontier Ford in Stanwood, WA) for the Escape i now drive. i got an excellent deal on it, and bought it from someone i know, so i know i'll be taken care of if i ever do have a problem. i have to say buying a car from someone you know is an experience i highly recommend to any that can do so.

still, sometimes i wonder if i made the right choice. the Escape is a great vehicle; it gets between 27 and 30 mpg overall (note that probably 90% of my driving is on the freeway, predominantly in moderately-to-extremely-heavy traffic and my Escape is 4-cyl 5sp manual), and it has superior ground clearance, and likely much better visibility than the Civic (it certainly is much easier to see out of than the '08 Focus i test drove the same day), and the added size and accompanying practicality of an SUV are certainly positives, but the Civic would likely have been an extremely reliable sport sedan, and it's certainly a sexier ride, having a more powerful engine and superior handling, and it gets a bit better mileage. in the end i opted for the cheaper of the two vehicles (comparing showroom prices) and for something less likely to tempt Loren to put the hammer down, and for something less likely to be damaged by the huge potholes in the often-barely-gravelled excuse for a road that is the last quarter-mile or so approaching Loren's mom's house.

Loren is enrolled in driver's ed and able to get his permit, though he opted out of doing that today (basically his earliest possible opportunity) in favor of sleeping in and attending a birthday party this afternoon. nonetheless, he'll be climbing behind the wheel of the Escape in short order, likely next weekend. by the time he gets a full-fledged license, i may let him drive the pickup sometimes, depending on his skills. some have thought my intention Loren drives the better (more expensive) vehicle strange, while his skills are developing, but 2nd-generation airbags are the deciding factor for me. i'm looking to err on the safe side with my only son.

i've told Loren if he manages a 3.0 cumulative GPA throughout high school, he can have the Escape when he graduates; or, if he prefers, and i believe his driving skills are good enough, he can have the pickup. if his GPA comes in below 3.0 he'll have to take over the remaining three years of payments on the Escape if he wants it, or buy the pickup from me if that's his choice of vehicle. i'm hoping it's enough motivation for him to apply himself- which is all it will take for him to hit the mark. so far this year he's on the honor roll, with a 3.5 GPA for the year at mid-trimester- the best grades he's managed in a long time.

so far the Escape has seen 3 trips to George, Washington, for concerts at the Gorge Amphitheater (an addition to the summer routine that Loren welcomed enthusiastically, including- in reverse chronological order- the Dave Matthews Band, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Police w/Elvis Costello and the Imposters, and- in the pickup, prior to buying the Escape- Rush). i've racked up about 11,400 miles on the new ride in something like 4 months. my daily commute is about 75 miles; a single trip to Loren's mother's to pick him up is 26 miles round trip....the Escape will likely be nearing 100,000 miles by the time Loren inherits it. it's my goal to give it to him without a scratch on it. technically, this is already impossible, since the deflowering of the paint job- less than a week after i drove it off the dealership lot- was accomplished by Moose, Loren's otherwise AWESOME big galoot of a dog (at his mom's). that taught me quickly not to leave Chowder in the vehicle and Moose unattended outside the vehicle while parked there. i managed to buff nearly all the claw marks out of the driver's side door by hand (you have to get your nose very close to the paint to notice them), and i could probably get a bit more out with some more aggressive buffing compound, but for the moment i've let it ride. i'm happy to report i've managed to avoid spilling any drinks or staining the upholstery with fast food thus far.

i tried not to smoke in it, but settled for never smoking in it without at least one window open. so far, though it doesn't smell new anymore, it certainly doesn't smell like the interior of the Dakota, which lacked the luxury of heat.

however...allow me to change course once more, from the 2nd of my post-refi purchases to the 3rd.

happily, i can report i successfully acquired a rather stunning, top-rated 50" Panasonic plasma TV, model THPZ800U, for the steep but quite reasonable sum of about $2000- a $130 discount on an already-decent list price from Video Only in Lynnwood, due to their being out of stock at the time i purchased it.

interestingly, having recently given a one-hour summary of my weeks of television research to my parents, who found themselves lacking a television upon the death of their very nice standard-definition Sony, they purchased the exact television i was leaning toward, and i was afforded the opportunity to put it through some of its paces in their living room prior to my own purchase. ironically, they purchased the set at the same store i did, and their purchase contributed to both the lack of that model in the store's stock when i purchased, and the subsequent discount which allowed me to purchase the set for less than they paid. the wait was worth the money.

the setup and implementation of the new TV was obviously much easier than that of the new computer, and was accomplished before the 2nd Sunday of football season. to be honest, i'm sure partial credit for this can be attributed to the absolutely massive box obstructing my living room. the set is heavy, at about 100 pounds, and the weight, combined with the dauntingly unwieldy shape, forced me to wait for help (Loren's) to remove it from the box and place it upon the TV stand. i opted against a wall mount, since the best available are about $300, require even more complicated installation, and preclude turning the TV 90 degrees in relation to the wall. Loren and i have a longstanding habit of turning the television toward the dining room while we eat, and the wheeled stand we've used works excellent with the new set.

i opted to upgrade to Comcast's telephone service, and digital cable w/the NFL network (in order to catch the Thursday night games available in November) and a DVR box, which i'm hooked on now. having never experienced OnDemand or the ability to pause or rewind live television broadcasts before, not to mention surf the HD content available or record 2 programs at the same time, as well as getting a complimentary 1-yr subscription to the Starz premium channels, and eliminating my $30 Verizon land-line bill and lowering my overall Comcast bill by $20/mo. for a year (effectively saving me $600 over that time), i'm happy with the new setup.

all this leads me closer to the present, in which things have taken an unexpected and decidedly somber twist, which seems to me to belong to another post.

here's to a long post after a long dry spell. more to come sooner than later but later than now.


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