I am feeling a little grumpy today. It feels like 2013 is not off to a good start for me so far. There are a bunch of little issues that have been tugging at me, and I need to vent and get some of them out there.
The first big issue is with my car. Just before Christmas, I spent about $600 to have the brakes fixed. The ABS light had been on for almost a year and I was tired of looking at it. It took two $150 sensors and the rest was labor. Fine, I paid it and was happy to have a car that was mechanically in good shape once again.
Well, that lasted almost a week before the alternator started making a terrible whining noise. I brought it to AutoZone and they tested it and told me the diodes inside were bad. That did not surprise me; the last time the alternator was replaced was during my Mississippi Road Trip in 2007.
I drove around with the whining alternator for a few weeks. It got pretty bad to where the gauges would get dim and the battery voltage light would come on. I was afraid of getting stranded like what had happened in Arkansas, so I ordered a new one from AutoZone’s website (it wasn’t in stock at the store).
I replaced it myself, which necessitated buying a $7 serpentine belt tool from Harbor Freight. Come to find out my serpentine belt was cracked and dried and some of the teeth were falling off. With a new belt, I was finally good to go – or so I thought!
The car has developed a new water leak at the #4 cylinder, and it’s coming out between the block and the cylinder head. It looks very bad. I’ve had mountains of cooling problems with the car before, but it’s been fine since I put a new radiator in it exactly a year ago.
There are also a few other minor problems. The passenger rear tire has a slow leak that has to be filled about once a week. The tires are 4 years old and are getting pretty worn in some spots. There is a power steering leak that is an all-or-nothing kind of phantom.
The latest issue is that today, I noticed a rather loud knocking noise coming from the engine as I was about to head home from work. It seemed to be coming from the top of the engine, near the intake manifold. I limped the car home trying not to think about what new expensive repair awaits me.
New Car Indecision
I’ve been driving the car for 9 years and have spent well over $11,000 on it – mostly on repairs, but a little on upgrades. Like a battered girlfriend who refuses to leave her abusive boyfriend, I want to believe that the car really loves me. I’ve taken excellent care of it and though I love the car, it always finds a new way to let me down. I am tired of dealing with problems. I want to be able to go on road trips and adventures without worrying about what’s going to break next!
The answer is to get a new car, but that’s not so easy for me. I consider myself a bit of a “car guy,” and the decision about what to get next has had me stumped for years. I’d love a Corvette, but I cannot afford one. I want something that can go off road, something that’s fast, and something that gets great mileage. I also want an old car because they look so cool and are inexpensive to work on. No one vehicle fits the bill.
The obvious solution would be to get a Toyota Camry. It’s bigger than the Cavalier, more powerful, and gets excellent mileage. However, I just can’t bring myself to be a Camry driver. Nothing about it stirs the soul; it’s about as exciting as day old bread.
To help me make my decision, I have created an Excel spreadsheet of every sedan sold in North America from 1996 to the present. I have recorded every make, model, trim level, engine, along with horsepower, torque, and fuel economy figures. I have recorded whether the back seats fold down, whether it takes regular or premium gasoline, and the capacity of the gas tank. I have tried analyzing all 263 cars on the list in every way, and I still just cannot decide which is the right car for me!
Project Car Troubles
The Cavalier isn’t the only car that’s bugging me right now. In January of 2009, myself and two friends put some money together and bought a project car: a 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Landau coupe. For $600 bucks, we couldn’t have done any better than this full-size cruiser with a small-block 350 and a 4-barrel Quadrajet carburetor.
For the past 3 years, we have been fixing the car up. I’ve got quite a bit of money into the thing – around $1600 not including my 1/3 share of buying the car. After replacing the water pump, smog pump, fan clutch, and valve cover gaskets, we succeeded in getting it to pass emissions this winter! The culmination of 3 years of work had finally resulted in a car that we could insure and drive on the street with a real license plate!
Only…the car seems to have a few issues. The car has trouble with warm restarts. It fires right up when it is stone cold outside and is able to drive around town fine. But park it for 5 minutes and come back to crank it up, and nothing. Let it sit for a while and it’ll come back to life.
It’s got fuel and spark, but something else must be the matter. Is it the choke? Is it flooded? Is the battery bad? I’m at my wits’ end trying to figure it out, when all I want is to just drive the car and have fun with it – which was the original plan when we bought it.
What Happens in Vegas…
I was lucky enough to get invited to Las Vegas this month to attend the 2013 International CES trade show for work. It was a blast and I had a great time, but there were consequences to deal with when I got home. The hotel rooms were prepaid on the company credit card, and the hotel accidentally charged my personal credit card for $800 for the room! It took close to two weeks to get it refunded and everything sorted out, but I was nervous about it the whole time.
Speaking of work, I am starting to feel a little tired of my job. I like the work I do and the people I work with, but it doesn’t challenge me. I can’t say that it ever really has. I’ve been there 7 years and they act like it’s a big deal for me to make HTML and CSS changes on the website and set up a WordPress blog…uh, guys? I’ve been making websites as a hobby since 7th grade. The work is child’s play, and the pay grade is far too low for someone with a 4-year degree which I am not using at all in my current position.
The answer is to find a better job, but like the situation with my Cavalier, I don’t know what else I want to do! What kind of job or career would I rather be doing? I’ve thought about it for years, and I honestly don’t know. I would like to start my own business one day, but I am still searching for an idea. I’ve had lots of mediocre ideas, but have yet to run across that one golden idea – the one I feel I can truly put myself behind 100%.
Besides my car and my job, my wristwatch recently stopped working. Again. It’s an old Citizen Quartz that a co-worker gave me for free. I took it to a jeweler who installed a new 2-year battery in it, which lasted approximately a year before dying. He kindly replaced it for free, and said it should definitely last longer than that. If it goes dead again, time for a new watch. Eight months later, here I am with a dead watch once again!
I’d like to get a replacement, but buying a new watch is a daunting ordeal! There are so many brands and styles to choose from, how is a guy ever supposed to decide?! I would love to buy an Omega Speedmaster Professional, famously known as the “Moon watch.” Although many watches have been certified by NASA for spaceflight, the Speedmaster Professional is still the only watch certified for extra-vehicular activity (space walks). I think that is awesome and I would love to own one, but $2,500 for a watch is a little beyond my current budget right now. Also, it has a gigantic 48mm face which would look very gaudy on my small wrist.
Withholding Tax Increase
Speaking of finances, I’m bummed out about my paychecks lately. Congress did not renew the Social Security stimulus that has been in effect since 2011, so Federal withholdings returned to their old rate of 6.2%. For the past two years, withholdings were lowered to 4.2% in an effort to jump start the economy. It’s not an increase, but it still means that there are $52 fewer dollars in my pocket every month.
Overwhelmed with Projects
On top of everything else, I feel like I don’t have enough time for my own projects! I want to frame my diplomas, get some real shelves for my living room, and sell a whole closet full of stuff on eBay.
I have about a dozen new websites I would like to start, if only I could find the time! I can barely find enough time to write for the 3 main sites I’ve got going now! I would like to redo my personal site, Trevorland, using WordPress as a CMS. I think it would be really slick and my site could definitely use a face lift.
Besides that, I also have a guitar and a keyboard that I would like to learn to play. I have a list of trips I want to go on, including one to Japan that I’ve been dreaming about since I graduated high school 10 years ago. Lately, I’ve been dreaming a lot about taking a trip to California. I can’t remember the last time I took a real vacation from work, and I am definitely overdue for one.
One other thing that’s been getting under my skin lately has been my computer. Since I upgraded to Windows 7 almost two months ago, my rock-solid machine has been running like crap. It started when I noticed that my audio was clipping when playing back MP3s. After watching my system resource meter, I noticed that it never seemed to fall below 20%, even with no programs or services running.
I spent a ton of time troubleshooting it, and finally narrowed it down to the graphics driver for my video card which was causing a large number of “hardware interrupts.” I updated to the latest drivers, yet the problem persisted. I tried 4 or 5 older versions of the driver to no avail.
Finally, I was able to get my hardware interrupts to drop to acceptable levels by disabling the Aero interface. In spite of those efforts, I am still experiencing intermittent system freezes and occasional booting issues which I had never experienced with XP.
It hasn’t all been bad news this year. I had a great time at Barrett-Jackson with my friends. I am looking forward to the air show in March, a trip to Antelope Canyon in April, and some new album releases from some of my favorite bands due out this year.
For now, I will just have to stay positive and try to tackle each of my worries one at a time. I remain optimistic that things can really turn around and this can be a super great year for me.