The Disconnect

On Tuesday I did what I said I would never do.  Three years ago, as I was buying an iPhone 5, the Verizon guy was intent on selling me a $70 case called “Lifeproof,” which was guaranteed to be exactly what it sounds like—you can drop it on concrete from five feet up, a horse can step on it, no harm done, and most importantly it is waterproof.  I looked at the salesman and said, “I’m not an idiot, I wouldn’t put the phone in water!”  He smiled knowingly and said, “Women drop their phones into the toilet ALL the time.  They wear tight jeans and put the phone in their back pocket and forget about it and when they stand up, it pops right into the toilet.”  I said, “I don’t wear tight jeans and I don’t take my phone to the bathroom, so THAT will never happen–but a horse stepping on the phone is a distinct possibility!”   Thirty minutes later I walked out with my new iPhone and a $70 case.

I was so very pleased with my Lifeproof case that last summer, when Verizon informed me that I was “due for an upgrade,” I hurried into the nearest Verizon store and got my new iPhone 6, a trimmer sexier model which required—you guessed it—a new $70 Lifeproof case.  As someone who now drives her fourth Chevy Suburban, product loyalty is a big thing with me.  If I like something, the only way to pry me away from it is to give me a new one, same model, perhaps with an upgrade or two.  The last Suburban is fifteen years old and going strong at 250,000 miles.  The upgraded new one cannot hold two 700 size dog crates the way the old one can, which in my opinion is a major design flaw.  This prompted a two hour phone call to a Chevy customer service rep in India, to no avail.  No such problems with the iPhone 6 or my new Lifeproof case.  They function perfectly—no glitches.

So on Tuesday I loaded up the Suburban and headed north to Pagosa Springs, CO, a beautiful town in the Rockies which boasts some of the best trail riding around.  I was going to meet some girlfriends for a 4 day ride.  When I got to my cabin, I put my cell phone in the back pocket of my jeans while I unloaded the car.  And promptly forgot about it.  So imagine my surprise, sometime later, when I noticed a strange blue light emanating from the—well, you guessed it—the toilet.  As I fished it out, the screen gave a last little flutter of activity and then, suddenly and irredeemably, went black.  Lifeproof, as it turns out, is only waterproof if one closes the charging port, which one did not.  Twenty four hours and one bag of white rice later, I ordered my new phone.

If I was going to be disconnected, I only wish there had been a little more excitement—my horse sailed over a rocky cliff, the phone went flying into the air, and landed in the West Fork River but we survived the tumble a la “The Man From Snowy River.”  Next time, that’ll be my story and I’ll be sticking to it!

A Not Quite Requiem for Big Red

Some of us think of the automobile as a means of transportation and nothing more.   Others, like me, see the car as something else entirely—an extension of ourselves, and an expression of identity.  Growing up I was influenced by my dear old Dad—our childhood was marked by a succession of American made muscle cars from the 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible which met its sad end on the 610 freeway in the rain, to the Pontiac Firebird Formula 400 I drove out to Big Bend National Park, reaching its top speed of 160mph on a lonely stretch of interstate 10 before my new husband cried “Uncle!”  The first car I ever bought myself was a 1975 Chevy Camaro, V8 engine, bright red with white vinyl upholstery.  I was 21, and I was GOING PLACES.  I enjoyed that car for seven years until one too many spin-outs on Route 9 in the snow after I moved to Boston convinced me that it was time for something more practical.  The day I drove my brand new front wheel drive bronze Nissan Stanza out of the lot was the day I knew I had made a big mistake.  I was born for red cars with big engines.  I like people to see me coming.

Sometimes, however, we have to be practical.  By 1991 I had three children and a growing menagerie of pets.  I got my first Chevy Suburban, known then and probably now as the “National Car of Texas” on a company lease, and from then on I was hooked.  That car was indeed “like a rock.”  I drove it until the lease was up and then got another, this time the heavy duty three quarter ton with enough power to tow my house.  The menagerie had grown to include horses by then, and I wanted a car that I could both  live in and drive with three kids, 2 horses and an assortment of dogs.  There was nothing comparable to the trusty Suburban in the automotive world. A bemused trucker watched me struggle into a parking space at a truck stop and actually taught me how to park my behemoth.  By 2001 I realized that the horses were safer with professional drivers and big rigs, and I “traded down” to my current Suburban, affectionately known as “Big Red.”  That was in the spring of 2001, and I was in love—with a big red car.

I’ve had Big Red for nearly 14 years and 230,000 miles.  Shortly after the model year 2001, Chevrolet in its infinite wisdom decided to turn the historic first true sport utility vehicle into a soccer mom-grocery shopping car.  Gone was the bench middle seat, replaced by “captain’s chairs” for easier access to the third row.  Gone were the “barn doors” which opened from the middle out, one at a time, replaced by the hydraulically lifted single back window-door, which may have provided better grocery access, but was entirely impractical for those of us carrying three to four hundred pounds of dog, all wanting to exit the vehicle at the same time. Gone was the middle seat that folded entirely flat, allowing the entry of two 700 size dog crates, the only passenger vehicle to this day which had that much cargo space.  In my distress over the changes to my beloved Suburban, I spent an hour on the phone with a Chevy customer service representative from India, who duly noted my concerns, but had no idea what I was talking about.

Last week I covered a practice in El Centro, about 140 miles east of my home in Rancho Santa Fe.  I felt Big Red shudder and heave going over the Laguna Mountains.  For the first time ever, cars were passing me to the left as I struggled to maintain 55 mph. My good friends at Quality Chevrolet have been patching the air conditioning compressor together for years, but this was something entirely new.  Fearing the worst, I took the car back to the dealer today, with clear “Do Not Resuscitate” orders.  All day I waited, and finally around 4 pm I got a call from service.  Bill said, “Ma’am, I think your engine and transmission are okay.  We found a faulty oxygen sensor. We’ll replace it tomorrow.  You’ll be good to go.”

Good to go to New Mexico?  I sure hope so.  I don’t want a new car.  I love Big Red.  I am loyal and I persevere. The Chevy Suburban no longer comes in red.  My family thinks I’m nuts.

The Road Warrior

Those who know me know that I am no stranger to traffic school.  My last session, in January, had to do with a disagreement with a camera perched on top of a traffic signal on my way home from work.  I said, “The light was yellow.”  Unfortunately the camera disagreed.  Bad news, good news—that self same camera, while capturing an image of me in my big red Suburban perfectly, did not capture the cell phone held up to my left ear.  I paid my dues and did my time, and I did not cheat on the test.

 

And so it was no surprise today, after only three hours on the road out of Cedar City, Utah headed towards Las Vegas, when I saw the flashing blue and white lights behind me, signaling me to pull over.   I was six hundred miles into a nine hundred and seventy mile road trip transporting my father, and his Volvo, back from Colorado to San Diego.  The officer said, “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were going?”  I said, “I don’t know Officer, I think about 80?”  He replied, “No ma’am.  I clocked you at ninety miles an hour.”  My father, in the passenger seat, piped up helpfully, “I thought you were going a little fast when you passed him.”  When I passed him? Thanks, Dad.  The officer looked at him, still a bit pale three months after open heart surgery at nearly 88, then at the heat shimmering up from the road and sighed.  He said, “The speed limit in Nevada is 75.  But I’m not going to give you a ticket today.”  Since he had K9 Corps emblazoned on his uniform, I felt compelled to chat him up about his dog.  He waved me on my way.

 

Between helping my daughter drive from Texas to Boston Memorial Day weekend, and now traveling from Colorado back to California, I figure I will have passed through seventeen states in three weeks—not bad for an old road warrior.  It’s hard to stop and smell the flowers when you’re driving 500 miles a day.  But last night, at a truck stop near Moab, Utah, I captured a perfect western sunset through the lens of an iPhone, the twin rain shelters over the pumps framing the darkened silhouette of the convenience store behind them.  I was reminded of taking this same route nearly seven years ago with my then sixteen-year-old son.  As we headed east from St. George on his first trip through the West, my son said to me, “Mom, now I see why this country is worth fighting for.”   He was right.  I think I’ll just slow down.

Road Tripping

ROAD TRIPPING

Road trippin’ with my two favorite allies
Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies
It’s time to leave this town
It’s time to steal away
Let’s go get lost
Anywhere in the U.S.A.
Let’s go get lost
Let’s go get lost
Blue you sit so pretty
West of the one
Sparkles light with yellow icing
Just a mirror for the sun
Just a mirror for the sun

 

It’s been awhile since I hit the road with my two current favorite allies, the Q’s—Queen and Quicksilver.  Now that I’ve figured out how to solve the carsickness problem which had me out of the driver’s seat, into the back of the van on my hands and knees with my Lysol, paper towels and those green plastic bags, usually within 20 minutes of starting out, I’m eager to go again. Two years of that and all it took was a little bit of Bonine—who knew?  My last big road trip with the girls was to Oregon eighteen months ago, for the Scottish Deerhound National Specialty.  Time was short, and we did not get to take the scenic route up the coast.

I’ve loved cars and driving for as long as I can remember.  Growing up in the flatlands of coastal Texas, having a car was an essential rather than a luxury.  During my early teenage years the driving age in Texas was 14, and I felt stunned and cheated when the legislature changed the legal driving age to 16, four months before my late December fourteenth birthday, and well after most of my classmates had earned their freedom.  My own liberation came soon enough, in the form of a 1963 white Chevy Impala, owned by my late grandfather, who literally only drove it to the corner grocery store and back. When I inherited that big engined beauty, with its turquoise Naugahide upholstery and plastic steering wheel with the little depressions for my fingers, the year was 1969 and the car had 7,000 miles on it.  I was in heaven.

By the time I graduated from medical school my love of the V8 surrounded by lots of “heavy metal” was fixed and for the last twenty years my vehicle of choice has been a Chevy Suburban, three in succession with the last one, Big Red, now 12 years old and about to roll over 200,000 miles.  I am somewhat pathologically attached to that car—I say that it’s because two years after I bought it in 2001, Chevy had the bad idea to turn it into a “soccer mom” car by pulling out the standard second bench seat and replacing it with two “captain’s chairs”, thus effectively removing 18 inches of rear cargo space, just enough to ensure that I could no longer get two 700 size giant breed airline crates in the back.  In the early years I spent hours on hold with Chevy’s customer service reps, likely somewhere in India, waiting to explain what a bad idea those captains seats were, not to mention the hydraulic lift that replaced the rear “barn” doors.  Imagine having 400 pounds of dog trying to exit the vehicle all at the same time.  But the real reason that I am hanging on to Big Red is the memories of many wonderful, and some not so wonderful road trips with kids and dogs.

The one my kids will likely never let me forget is the trip to Palm Springs when they were eleven, eight and five respectively and in a fit of sheer stubbornness (my husband was working in Rhode Island but there was no way THAT was going to stop me), I hauled the three of them along with three deerhounds to the dog show in January.  By the time we had come down the mountain into the valley, all six of them had thrown up. After the unloading at the hotel and the clean-up, we were back in the car where they commenced a fistfight over what kind of food and where we were going to eat for dinner.  I mistakenly turned down a blind alley and in one of the worst “Mommy moments” ever, briefly accelerated towards the adobe brick wall at the end.  Finally, there was silence in the car.

The ones I will always remember are the road trips taken separately with each child.  With my daughter, the ritual was always the same—peanut M and M’s, Cheetos, and Cokes for snacks, and turkey sandwiches with potato salad and dill pickles for dinner on the road.  With my older son, it was my turn for music education—he always made a CD of “his” music so he wouldn’t have to listen to mine. The content never failed to raise eyebrows the next time I would forget to turn off the player while ferrying a colleague around.  I took the longest trips with my youngest boy.  In 2007, when he was sixteen, we drove through southern Utah on our way to Colorado.  As he looked out the window, he exclaimed, “I never realized how beautiful this country was until we went on this trip.  Now I understand why people want to fight for it.”  Definitely worth every penny of the price of gas.

I’ve been feeling the wanderlust again lately—I dream of no agenda, no AAA prerouted trip, no reservations, no timetables, and no deadlines—just the open road, and of course, a couple of my favorite allies.  Want to come?