Monday, March 2, 2015

Back on the road

Through most of the '90's, I didn't own a car.  I lived in the City of Milwaukee and they have this great bus system.  Back then, it won some awards and it wasn't the worst system I'd ever used.  I was happy with this arrangement.  There was a bus stop within walking distance of every apartment I rented during my 15 years in the city, and the busses always went to the places I worked and played.  Most of the times that I needed to go beyond the reach of the bus system, I was usually able to find rides from friends.  This was especially true for camping trips and group activities; out of town shows, visits to friends in other cities, etc...

Then, an amazing thing happened.  I bought a second-hand Isuzu pickup.  Strange things began to occur.  In an effort to anticipate all that could go wrong, I began leaving early for work, and arriving 45 minutes earlier than ever.  I was always the first to arrive at gatherings.  I was the first to volunteer when someone needed a ride.  I was beginning to love my ability to...GO!

I love to drive.  Put me behind the wheel and fall asleep in the passenger seat.  You may wake up to find yourself whizzing through Minneapolis or, at least, Chicago.  My best friend and I arranged a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  The plan was to rent a car and get two other friends to ride along, splitting the driving duties as much as possible.  That plan lasted until two minutes after we left Avis, then I proceeded to drive the entire 14 hours to Louisiana.  After a solid week of frivolity, I drove back, too.  Many is the time I found myself becoming the "designated driver".  You see, I don't drink anymore.  I had a girlfriend who once told me that driving was the reason I quit drinking.  I firmly believe that I didn't need a reason to quit drinking, and there are NO bad reasons, but if being able to continue driving is one of the perks, who am I to argue?

And, for the most part, I'm the safest and best driver I know.  I don't always stay at the speed limit, and I don't always use my signals, but I've never been directly involved in an accident, and I've avoided several by inches that wouldn't have been there had I not anticipated chaos and backed away from potential troublemakers.

In 2001, I moved to the Upper Penninsula of Michigan.  My dad told me, "You're going to have to have a car if you want to live up here."  Who was he kidding?  I would need a car to keep my sanity!  I was amazed that ANYONE could live more than 45 minutes from a Walmart!  Yoopers took all of this in stride.  I hear stories about how, years ago, the natives would drive for more than an hour to get to the grocery store.  Lunacy.  To add insult to injury, the only public transport around would get you to the most necessary places (groceries, hospital, etc...), but never far off of the main road.

That little pickup was eventually replaced by a Chevy S-10.  The mileage wasn't as good, but I had more room in the cab.  The S-10 served me for another 45,000 miles.  During that time, we (the wife and I) took it everywhere.  We visited relatives miles away.  Road trips to national parks and state recreation areas were common.  Add the tedium of a daily 20 mile round-trip commute and the miles just piled on.  Maintenance was vital, and oil changes were many.  I could tell you how long before the next oil change simply by listening to the engine start.

By 2005, I'd achieved a life-long dream of becoming a truck driver.  I was given a brand new 2007 Kenworth T600 after two years with the company.  In 5 years, I put on half-a-million miles!  I hear that's the average a trucker might expect, but to me, it was outstanding.  I got to see more of our nation than most citizens know exist!  With the wife along, I've been to 47 of the 48 contiguous states (Vermont being the elusive exception).  The wife missed a few chances to go to Maine, so she has only logged 46.

But, as all things, my dream job came to an end when doctors told me that a brain aneurysm was going to keep me off the road.  A small bout of depression followed the news and I spent the next couple years staggering through life, aimless.  Yet, the cars came and went.  There was the Malibu that ultimately became the victim of a truck tire that came loose at the top of a hill and came to rest upon the rear quarter-panel.  There was the Grand Am in which I hit a deer.  There was the Buick that was an inherited item from my wife's brother.  And, there was the Chevy Blazer that became junkyard filler after I'd decided to do some repairs on my own.  You see, I'm great driving 'em, but not so good fixing 'em.

That leads me to the most recent time when I didn't have a vehicle.  It lasted nearly a year.  I walked through the snow.  I walked in 80° F. heat.  I walked in the rain.  You see, the one thing that made being without a vehicle painless while I lived in the city was public transportation only feet from my front door.  Now I was being forced to walk for times of up to 30 minutes just to get to a bus stop, and that only worked if I was going to one of the "necessary" places that the bus could get you to.  The "shoe-leather express" is a cruel mistress when you've acclimated yourself to 27 mpg on the highway.

So, let's fast-forward to the near-present.  I've spent the last couple years admiring the 2004 Saab 9-5 that my wife's oldest grandchild had.  So, when he gave us the opportunity to buy the car, I jumped as high as I could to make it happen.  We were getting a deal, and I wouldn't let this one pass us by.  We didn't pay rent that month, and both cable and electricity payments were light by about $100, each.  I didn't care.  We were MOBILE, again!!

Now, I can get to the doctor appointments that require 300 mile round-trips.  Now, we can see family that live beyond the limits of the county that we live in.  My dad tells me, "You're going to have some expensive repair bills with a foreign car."  To which I say, "Yeah, but I'm mobile!!"  And, I plan to constantly and religiously change the oil and watch the other fluid levels.  I plan to have a running account at the car wash.  I plan to...  well, I plan to drive the crap out of the car!

 I joined several forums, online, that are dedicated to the brand.  Sites like SaabCentral and SaabWorld.  On those sites, I've learned that there are things to watch for.  I have to keep my eye on the DIC, and the EGR, and the CPS...  I have learned the difference between my DICE and my TWICE.

This car was built in a country where they put up with weather like ours all the time.  Those boys in South Carolina who are building BMWs have nothing on the boys from Sweden when it comes to building a winter car.  I never thought I'd own a car with heated seats.  Now, I have no idea how I lived as long as I have without them!

We're mobile again, and we're happy.

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