Sunday, July 25, 2010

Update Post

This is an update to the post: Wardrobe Malfunction II.

I've admitted that, as a kid, I loved sewing and that one of my proudest achievements was when I made a hamburger shaped pillow from a kit.  Well, writing that post made me nostalgic for those good ol' days, so I  searched the internet for similar kits.  I was delighted to see that the folks at Haan Crafts not only still produced the same hamburger pillow kit, but they've expanded to include a lot of other fun designs.  For a very reasonable $7.25, I bought a Two Peas in a Pod kit.  After a few tedious and occasionally exasperating hours, I produced the pillow.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Update Post

This is an update for the post: Final Chapter: Tow Me to the Biggest Little City

As I mentioned, my boyfriend and I had a great time in Reno.  First, the Grand Sierra Resort, is a great place to take a vacation with your dog.  Not only did they allow the dog to stay in the room, they gave us a plastic dog bowl for us to keep and a baggie full of treats for Teabiscuit.  Teabiscuit was allowed eat with us at the sushi bar in the hotel restaurant, where he got a lot of loving attention from the hotel staff. Teabiscuit was, amazingly, also allowed to gamble with us on the casino floor.  If it weren't for the casino's security concerns about folks snapping pictures or videos of the casino floor, I'd post pictures of Teabiscuit playing the Fireball slot machines.

Right behind the Grand Sierra Resort, there is a driving range where you hit golf balls into a cement water reservoir.  There are little islands in the reservoir that serve as targets.  Depending on the one that you hit, you can win prizes like a dinner at Johnny Rockets or a trip for two to Hawaii.  On my fourth or fifth ball I sunk in a ball that won me a 1 liter bottle of Pepsi.  Considering I hadn't swung a golf club since my worst outing ever about 15 years ago, I was pretty happy with myself.  As my boyfriend can attest, I was insufferably smug for the rest of the day.

My boyfriend and I also discovered that my boyfriend's favorite hole-in-the-wall pizza place in Brooklyn has franchise restaurants in Reno.  We noshed on some first rate pizza.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Moron Tax Weekend: The Final Chapter

The Final Chapter:
Tow Me to the Biggest Little City

As I wrote in my past two posts, I got stranded in the small town of Bridgeport, California, when my car broke down.  Because the car broke down on the Saturday of the Fourth of July weekend, I had to wait until Monday before the local mechanic, Steve, could buy the right transmission fluid and pump it back into my car.  On Monday morning, Steve set out to search all the open auto parts stores in the 200 mile area to find what I needed.  Poor Steve.  Three hours after he left, he called me on my *phone in a slightly frantic tone.  "I'm in Bishop (about 90 miles away), and I am standing outside the only European auto parts store in the Eastern Sierra.  I have been to at least four automotive parts stores and this is the only one that carries your transmission fluid.  They only have one bottle left.  They can order more, but it'll take at least two days and then I have to drive down here again."  He sounded so sorry.  "You should probably get towed to Reno."

On to Plan D.  Reno, the closest city, was 115 miles away from Bridgeport.  I called Shelley at AAA who kindly offered to tow me there for $450 ($125 less than the standard $5 rate).   "One catch," he said, "the dog is going to have to stay in car.  He can't sit in the tow truck."  Poor Teabiscuit.  My boyfriend and I decided to ride in the car, as it was towed, to keep my dog company until the state border.  Once in Nevada, my boyfriend and I were required, under state regulation, to sit in the tow truck.

About three hours later we arrived in the tow truck at the one VW dealership in Reno.  At this time, it was six o'clock at night and the dealership and service department were closed.  We left the car on the lot and called a taxi to find us a place to stay.  The taxi took us to the Grand Sierra Casino Resort.  "I know they take dogs," the taxi driver told us. "Sold," I said.

On Tuesday morning, I rented a car while the dealership took a look at my car to see if they could repair it.  While my boyfriend, the dog, and I were exploring Reno, Mike from dealership called my cell phone.  "I've got bad news," he said.  Although more than a few people said, "I've got bad news" to me in the past two days, this time it really hit me in the gut.  "Do you understand what it means when your car is totaled?" Mike explained to me that my car's transmission was severely damaged as was the transmission mount and possibly the body mount.  As my car was very old, the actual value of the car was less than half the cost of repair.

Aside from, perhaps, receiving a diagnosis of cancer, I couldn't think of worse news.  I loved my car.  For twelve years, it faithfully carried me over 145,000 miles without complaint, even though I would let years go by before washing it.  My car pushed through snow-laden midwestern winters, endured three 2000 mile trips between Chicago and Los Angeles, and bumped over mile of rocky off-road terrain.  Last year, I left it at the cold Whitney Portal trailhead while I went hiking.  When I returned to the car 19 days later, the car -- despite the neglect and old age -- started on the first turn of the key.  Totally exhausted and in desperate need of a hot shower, I had hugged my steering wheel with tears seeping out of my eyes.  For all the abuse I heaped on that car, it was always ready to take me home.  Even in its last act, it brought me to safety before dying.

I went to the dealership to clean out my car and say goodbye to it for the last time.  Irrational as it was, I felt horribly guilty.  I shuddered thinking about the tow truck hauling it to the salvage yard where it would sit alone and abandoned until it was picked apart for its parts or, worse, smashed into box of scrap metal.

Afterwards, I rented **another car so that I could finally start heading back home.  While I was sad about the outcome of this weekend, I was feeling relief that I might be back home in about five hours.  But then, as I turned onto the highway that climbs over the mountains that separate Nevada from California, I saw dark clouds swirling over the mountain pass.  Bolts of lightening flashed.  "Now what?!" I demanded from the Fates.  No sooner said, a freak hail storm pounded the car.  We heard bullet-like pops as the hail stones -- as large as one-inch in diameter -- slammed against the windshield and roof then bounced to the ground.  Water flooded the road up to the top of the tires, and I worried that the little Yaris I was driving might stall in the middle of this insanity.

We did make it through.  About 84 hours after I hit the rock with my car, we were back home.  That first night back in my own bed was the best sleep I had in a long, long while.

The End.

*  On the first day in Bridgeport, I got no signal on my phone (T-Mobile) or my boyfriend's phone (AT&T).  By Monday, my boyfriend and I had found three separate spots about 2x2 feet where we would could get a signal on our phones.  We discovered that as long as we did not move from these spots, we could make and receive calls.  

**  I mentioned that I rented 3 cars in 3 days.  On Monday, I rented a car while I waited for mine to be evaluated at the dealership.  I had to rent a different car to drive back home to California, because the first rental agency does not allow interstate transfers.  The day after I got home, I had to transfer to yet another rental car that I could use for the week while I shopped around for a new car.

*** As a final note, I don't normally wear Crocs outside of my house.  They were the only shoes I had in my possession that weekend other than my hi-top hiking boots, which are uncomfortable to wear in 90+ weather.

****Like Bridgeport, Reno has a lot of  charm.   To read about our good times there, see my Update Post.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Update Post

wrote about how I got stuck in the small town of Bridgeport, California, when my car broke down after hitting a large rock.  While it was not fun to wreck my car and stressful to be unexpectedly stranded more than 200 miles away from home with no immediately discernible way to get back home, I did have a good time in Bridgeport.  Bridgeport sits in a gorgeous part of the country, just east of the imposing Sierra Nevada mountain range, and is surrounded by breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks.  More importantly, all the people we met were incredibly open and friendly people.  In a city, with its teeming anonymity, faces melt into the urban landscape.   In Bridgeport -- where someone you meet on the street is someone you might see the next day at the only coffee shop in town -- everyone stands out as a distinct human.  Whenever I stopped strangers on the street to ask for advice, each person listened and answered my questions with care.  No one seemed to be in a hurry to shake me off or eyed me with suspicion about my motives.  Some people offered to let me use their phones.

Several people, in particular, buoyed my (and my boyfriend's) spirits during this stressful time:
  • Ramon and Merna -- the wonderful couple we met at the coffee show.  Ramon and his blue-grass band, "Big Meadow," played several fun, toe-tapping songs while my boyfriend and I sat in the sunshine outside the coffee shop waiting to hear from Steve about the car.  Merna inspired us with stories about about driving snow-mobiles in Swagger Creek and building her hydroelectric powered house.  
  • Brian -- the slightly drunk, bigger than life personality that made two different phone calls on our behalf to his friends to see if he find a hotel or camping spot for me, my boyfriend, and my dog, for the night.  Brian also went out of his way to knock on the door of a friend who might have been able to give us a ride to Mammoth Lakes (a city about 60 miles away).
  • Kathy -- the incomparable hostess of the Bridgeport Inn who not only made us feel welcome at the Inn, but went out of her way to inquire about Teabiscuit several times.  
  • Steve -- the mechanic who went above and beyond the call of duty -- including working on a holiday weekend and driving 1.5 hours to search for the right transmission fluid -- to try to get my car running again.  And when all those efforts failed, Steve refused compensation.  
Also, Fourth of July in Bridgeport is a must-see event.  The city spends the whole year fundraising, planning, and looking forward to this occasion.  Even the most cynical, I've-seen-it-all naysayer would be charmed by the honest-to-goodness earnestness of Bridgeport's Fourth of July celebration.  
  • There is an old fashioned parade, complete with donkeys, horses, marines, balloons, fire trucks and old cars.  Everyone shows up to the occasion wearing red, white and blue.  

  • The city coordinates festivities that involves many members of the community.  Men and women arm wrestle in their weight class for trophies.  Kids climb up greased poles to grab dollar bills. These simple games were enormously entertaining to watch.
  • The community organized an arts and crafts fair where you could buy handmade birdhouses shaped like tractors and kids could make candles in the same of ice cream floats.  There was also mobile studio that took old-timey photographs that portay you as a western-style gunslinger or showgirl.  I went for the Annie Oakley look.  (Thanks to Chris, at who did a great job.)
  • Of course, there are also fireworks.  It was a spectacular show.  In a year of depressing economic times when major cities struggle to pull off fireworks, the Bridgeport display is a testament to the resilience and come-together spirit of small-town residents and businesses.  

All told, it was a beautiful way to spend a holiday weekend.  I plan to head out there next year.

(Peace Love Bridgeport)

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Moron Tax Weekend: Chapter Two

Chapter Two: 
Welcome to Bridgeport, Population 817

As I wrote in my previous blog post, on July 3, 2010, my car broke down at the gas station on the edge of the small town of Bridgeport, California.  I had run into a large rock that, in turn, ripped a hole in an oil pan, causing my car to lose motor oil until the engine could no longer run.  When I ran into the gas station to ask for help, I was informed no one there could help me.  "Find Steve," I was told, "He's the only mechanic in town."  I asked at the gas station across the street and got the same answer: "You need Steve, and Steve's not here."  When I called the local AAA affiliate to locate a mechanic, the dispatcher asked, "Isn't Steve there?"

It took some time to find Steve.  The rodeo was in town -- I mean that literally -- and Steve was enjoying it with his family.  This was not only a Saturday but a holiday weekend, and he was rightly on vacation.  Lucky, for me, though, word somehow got to Steve that an idiot fool tore up her car running over a rock and needed his help rather desperately.  Steve was nice enough to follow up and find me at the gas station to offer his services.  He, my boyfriend, and I then pushed the car over to his garage and Steve examined the undercarriage.  He came back with sobering news.  As it turns out, the rock did not merely crack the oil pan, it crumpled one of its corners.  The pan looked as if Superman had punched it in anger and left an indent in the shape of his fist.  The rock also ripped through some wires and chipped off sizable hunks of the metal frame.  Despite how bad it looked, Steve would try to patch (J-B weld) the oil pan.  If everything went perfectly, the patch could allow me to limp home with my car.  

With hope in our hearts (and wild, delusional optimism in our minds), we left Steve to his work, bought ourselves some burgers for lunch, and then lodged ourselves at the one coffee shop in town.  The coffee shop was across the street from Steve's garage, so we could watch the progress.  Around 5 pm, Steve called me over for the bad news.

"The rock," Steve explained, "cracked your transmission pan.  In order to weld the pan, I had to drain out all the transmission fluid."  
"Uh huh..."
"I welded your pan, and it looks really good.  But, your car isn't like most cars.  Most cars have a place in the engine for you to pour in transmission fluid.  You car has a sealed transmission, so there's no place for me to pour the transmission fluid back into your car."
"And here's another problem: even if I could pour it in, I don't have that kind of transmission fluid.  Your car takes a very special kind of transmission fluid that I've never seen before."
"There is no way to fix your car until -- best case scenario -- I can drive down to Bishop (a town about 1.5 hr drive away) on Monday (today was Saturday) and find the transmission fluid you need and then use a pump to get the fluid back in the transmission."
Here is a comprehensive list of the challenges I was then facing:
  • I was 231 miles away from home.
  • Nightfall was coming, and I had no place for me and my boyfriend to sleep.  There were only four motels in all of Bridgeport, and the Fourth of July Weekend was the town's biggest tourist event of the year.  The nearest campground was more than 6 miles away, and it was totally booked.
  • The closest town bigger than Bridgeport was Mammoth Lakes, more than 60 miles away.  The closest city was Reno, Nevada, more than 115 miles away.
  • There are no taxis, buses, or public transportation that run in that area.  The nearest rental car company was closed until Monday.
  • Neither my boyfriend nor I had any cell phone reception.  (I can't tell you how many times I heard someone say to me "Oh, you don't have Verizon" while shaking their head.)  There was only one pay phone left in town.
  • Lastly, I had my dog with me.  Poor Teabiscuit.
I did not feel I had much choice.  There was no place to go.  I left the car with Steve on the instructions that he should try to fix the car on Monday.  My boyfriend and I set off to see if we could find any place that would squeeze us in for two nights.  I felt desperate.  I could see the neon "no vacancy" lights of the motels turning on in the dusk-light.  We walked up and down the main street, stopping random strangers for advice on where to go and what to do.  People were warm and kindly, but everyone turned up the same answer, "It's July 4th weekend.  It's the biggest weekend here.  Everything's probably sold out."  Someone suggested that we ask the church if we could camp on their lawn.  I started to wonder if we should appeal to the Sheriff Department for a ride somewhere, anywhere, that would have a bed.  

At last, we came to the Bridgeport Inn.  They had the last available room in town. I jumped up and down as relief steamed out of me until, I realized, there was a catch.  No dogs allowed.  I started to beg the proprietors for compassion (and frankly, propose to pay a double rate), but they told me that health laws forbade dogs in the room because it was above a restaurant.  I relented and quietly paid for the room.  My boyfriend and I spent the rest of the night sitting in the warm night air at the local burger joint with Teabiscuit, until it got late.   Around 11pm, we walked the dog back to the car where he would sleep alone that night.  I bedded Teabsicuit down and left him with a bowl of water and doggie treats.  He didn't even bark or whimper when we closed the door and walked away.  When we got to the hotel room, I cried.

*This is a blog about moron tax, so I focused my story on the stress and series of unfortunate incidents that plagued me.  At that same time, there were some really fun and great times.  Bridgeport is a really cute town with tremendously friendly people and a great spirit.  If you want to read about the bright side of the weekend, visit my updates.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Moron Tax Weekend: Chapter One

This past four-day weekend was an Odyssey of moron tax.  On Saturday, I committed one small error in judgment that got me stranded far from home.  It took me nearly four days from that point to find my way back.  On that journey, I got stuck in 2 cities that I never thought I'd visit, spent three hours in a tow truck, abandoned my car in Reno, rented three cars in three days, drove through a violent hail storm, and wasted more than one thousand dollars.

What happened?  As Homer might have said, Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story....

Chapter One: I Hit a Rock with My Car

For the Fourth of July weekend, my boyfriend and I decided to spend a few nights camping around Peeler Lake in the Hoover Wilderness.  The Hoover Wilderness is on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.  To get there from my house, we would have to drive several hours on Highway 108 and traverse the Sonora Pass.  Because Highway 108 travels over a high mountain pass, it is notoriously steep, curvy, and narrow.  It also goes through relatively remote territory.  There are no cellphone signals in that part of the country, the towns are many miles apart, and there are no public phones or public transportation to speak of.  If you car breaks down, you are stranded until you can hitch a ride from a kind stranger to the closest gas station, which may be more than 40 miles away.

I was coming around a corner on Highway 108 when I saw a huge rock in the middle of my lane.  The rock was a chunk of the mountainside that must have broken off and tumbled into the road perhaps just moments before I arrived.  I had less than two seconds to make a decision.  Although I braked, I did not have time to bring the car to full stop.  I did not want to veer right, because, at such speed, I could careen into the mountainside that runs along the highway.  I also did not want to veer left and cross into the opposing lane.  Instead, I decided to run over the rock and hope that my car could clear it safely.  Of course, it didn't.

The car slammed into and then violently bounced over the rock.  There was a crunching sound so loud that it could be heard over my involuntary screaming.  When I regained control of the car, I pulled over to the side of the road ahead of the rock and jumped out to assess the damage.  I could see splintered bits of my car strewn across the road.  Part of my bumper had cracked off.  Worse yet, I could see a trail of black motor oil leading from the rock to my car.  From past experience, I knew that such a drip meant that my car was heading towards total system failure.  

My boyfriend and I hopped back into my car and drove in the direction of the nearest civilization.  Despite the trauma, the car drove well and carried us almost twenty miles to the nearest gas station in Bridgeport, California.  After we reached the station, I turned off the car and ran inside the station for help.  When I got back, there was a puddle of motor oil beneath my car, and my car was dead.  We were now stranded 231 miles away from home.

This was the beginning of my weekend.

**To give you an idea of what it was like to run over the rock, I would say that it was worse than this:

but better than this: