Saturday, December 12, 2009

Counting one's blessings: A SAAB story

I love sporty, beautiful, tight performance cars (especially European makes).  For many years, I had my own subscription to Car & Driver until I decided that the auto lust engendered by exposure to all those lovely automobiles would be deadly to my decision to stay debt free.  My beloved little Saab went for a full brake transplant on Thursday of last week.  Should be a one-day job, but it's been 10 so far.  First they couldn't find parts because, haven't you heard, GM is putting Saab into liquidation.  Then the parts they did find got stuck in a snowstorm in the midwest. Then they reassembled the brake system and the master cylinder failed, or so they say.  Funny, there wasn't a brake pressure problem when I brought it in. That part was over-nighted and the car reassembled for delivery yesterday and the brake system still won't pressurize, so now they have to keep it for the weekend to start troubleshooting on Monday. 

Whatever.  The shop has provided a loaner car, free of charge - which goes a long way in allaying my frustration.  It's a 2002 Ford Taurus with 112,000 miles on it and there is nothing cool about this car.  I'm not sure what's missing, but it is simply underwhelming.  Despite an impressive amount of noise when you boot it, it is completely gutless... except when it's going downhill then it's all "dig me - I'm a Ferrari!"  There's no way to slow it down, even in low gear, without braking all the way to the bottom.  On a trip back over the coast mountains last weekend, I checked the speedo and saw that it had sneakily crept up to 72 mph and I wondered if a cop would let me off on a "this car really sucks" defense.

The ironic thing - it sucks fuel like a jet engine.  It even has this cute little whirring, winding-down sound after the engine is shut off... kind of like the turbine on an airplane when you arrive at the gate.  As if it's trying to justify the outrageous fuel consumption in the face of such dismal performance.  "No, really," it pleads, "I actually DO have a jet engine under the hood!"

But the best part is when, during record low temperatures in Oregon this past week, its door locks froze shut every stinking morning.  Searching the interweb to solve this unfamiliar problem, I found the lighter on the key trick to be the best solution.  The car's heater was asthmatic and for several days, I arrived at work in my snowboarding clothes, feeling slightly ridiculous, but at least not frozen through.

So I'm really looking forward to getting my car back.  When D and I were out and about, every time he saw another Saab like ours, he would mutter, "rub it in, lucky bastard!"  It might not be a Mercedes or a BMW or one of the many other models I would love to own, but there is nothing like a little absence to make the heart grow fonder.

Anyway - we have had some of the coldest temperatures on record in Portland this past week.  Each morning when I woke up, temps were in single digits.  This has made me ever so thankful for central heat.  You see, for the past three winters, we have been living with only a small woodstove for heat, pioneer style.  While the living room was lovely and toasty, every other room in the house would get more and more frigid as winter progressed.  It wasn't unusual for temps inside to hover in the low 50s and during a particularly cold few weeks last winter, the bedroom was in the 40s.  Returning after a weekend away in January, the temperature in the unheated house had dropped into the upper 30s!

Now, I love me some heat.  I spent a large part of my childhood winters huddled over the heat registers and being chastised for hogging up that blissful blowing warmth.  I have a space heater at work and coworkers often comment on the sauna-like temps I prefer in my office.  This past summer, we took advantage of the tax credit and at long last reinstated the central heating system, wincing at the cost involved.  But I must say, every morning when I wake up and the house is warm - bedroom, bathroom and beyond - I'm so thankful for central heat.  It's a little thing that is easy to take for granted when you've enjoyed that convenience your whole life.  But missing it for three years has made me appreciate it so much more.

So despite the cold, despite the car trouble, I am thankful.  Grateful to the mechanic for lending me a vehicle, grateful that I've saved up the money I could have spent on car payments for expensive repairs like this, grateful this is the first expensive repair I've endured with this car, grateful for my furnace, and grateful for the roof over my head to shelter me from the brutal cold outside.  Sometimes it takes a little trouble to remind you how good you have it.

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