A Bad Day in America

So everything about my day went well until about 5pm.

I went to a credit union to investigate car financing. They asked for ID, but I left my wallet at work. So I provided my passport instead (I had come prepared to apply for a loan). It turned out the dealership I talked to on the weekend had already applied to that credit union on my behalf. For $7,000 more than the retail price of the car I want. At no point in the conversation with the dealer did I mention wanting any extras. In fact I stressed on several occasions that I wanted no extras, the base model, etc. So they’ll be getting a “you lost a customer today” call tomorrow. The credit union applied internally for a better deal, and obviously less principal.

I drove home to get ready for my personal training appointment at the gym. I stopped off to get the mail, parked in front of the communal mailbox, which happens to be in the middle of a T-intersection and a fire lane (painted red, no parking allowed). I pulled the keys from the ignition, unlocked my mailbox and retrieved three useless pieces of junk mail. Yay. Climbed back into the car for the 45 second drive to my parking spot. Keys in the ignition, and nothing. No electronics, no lights, no ignition. The car wouldn’t start. I heard a fizzing noise in the steering column. Great.

So the car was immobile in a T-intersection, a fire lane, and it was blocking the mailboxes. I popped the hood (bonnet) and there was blue fuzz all over the positive terminal. Google search: blue fuzz on battery = leaking battery. Okay. It was only 6pm. I called the gym and rescheduled. I checked if Autozone (five minutes away) was open. They were, until seven pm. I still needed to get the car started. Grabbed some tools from my apartment. Blowing off the fuzz revealed the positive connector had broken off the positive terminal. I wiggled it back into place, but only temporarily. It started! Success. No way I was going to risk turning off it again. So I kept it running while I locked up my apartment and headed to Autozone.

Oh wait. My wallet is at work. So off to work instead.Fifteen minutes later, I arrived in the secure parking lot. I kept the car running and went inside. I searched my desk for my wallet. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t in my laptop bag either. Okay, it must have been at home this whole time. Whatever. I headed outside, only to find my car was running, and all four doors were locked. Things just went from bad to worse.

My car was running, and the keys were locked in it. It was time to call the locksmith I know (from my apartment complex). I didn’t have his number in my phone for some reason. So I called the insurance company’s roadside assist.

‘Do you have your policy number?’

‘No, it’s locked in the car’

‘Okay, unfortunately without the policy number, there will be a charge, for which you can be reimbursed by sending in the receipt.’

‘Can you look it up by my name?’

‘No, we can only search by policy number. So unless you can find the policy number, you will have an out of pocket expense.’

‘Like hell! I have insurance with you!’ (Yes, I lost my temper.)

‘Okay sir, let me connect with a Company representative who can help you find the information you need.’

‘Alright, thank you.’

The insurance company verified my information, and I’m returned to the roadside assist people – a young lady this time.

‘I’ll note that it’s an emergency, and send you a text with details.’

The text arrived seconds later. It mentioned a 45 minute wait. Screw that. I would rather break the window. I ask a nice dude from Security if he had  tools. We found a hammer and a sharp saw with a pointed tip.  Perfect.

‘Before you break your window, let me make  a call to our locksmith guy.’

While we waited for locksmith guy to call a more local locksmith buddy – probably the one I know from my apartment complex – security dude and I chatted a little. We hunted for a slim jim to unlock the door using an emergency unlock button. I found a suitably long and thin piece of metal, and ka-chunk, the door was unlocked. Success. I was home free.

It was now nearly 8pm, and so Autozone was well and truly closed. No chance to replace or repair the battery issue. I drove home and when I turned off the car, it wouldn’t start again. That will be a problem for tomorrow morning.

Even a bad day in America is still a good day in the world.

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Why I bought an eight hundred dollar motorcycle

So when I arrived in America I had set myself up with limited funds. Enough to get by, but not enough to live comfortably without seeking work immediately. While the job search went on, I bought a cheap Dodge Neon.

It’s the most basic model, manual transmission, windows, mirrors, etc. The interior is clean, but not fancy. It has a salvage title, which means it was written off previously and repaired. The paint is worn, although there’s no signs of rust. The engine rattles, which is probably something in the throttle assembly, because it’s worse during acceleration. I had to replace a wing mirror when I smashed it against a car port post. It was cheap, it runs, it’s fuel efficient. It’s the kind of car to get me from A to B. I pretty much figured I’d run it into the ground, and in six months I’d buy something with better performance.

So with the neon in hand, I turned my attention to getting a motorcycle. I went to dealerships and a second hand motorbike specialist. Their cheapest bike was $3,000. More than I had to spend. So I looked on craigslist instead, and found a kickstart, ’89 Yamaha dual sport. A dual sport is designed for both on and off road riding. It has the style and ride height of a dirt bike, but all the electronics for road riding. I bought it for $800 even, as it wasn’t running.

The bike is a work in progress. At least I’ve got it running. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But it gets me around on sunny days, and being on two wheels has become a source of happiness for me. I love it. I could have saved up and bought a perfectly working used bike, but I didn’t want it to be easy.

It’s a kickstart. Which means I have to exert myself to get it started on cold mornings. Once it’s warm, it starts up first or second kick. It can get frustrating, but once it’s starts, the reward is that much sweeter. The throttle sticks, and won’t rev up past a certain point, the tachometer doesn’t work, the choke cable is not securely mounted to the handle bars. A piece is broken inside the carburetor which is going to require replacement eventually.

It’s missing pieces. Specifically a left side cover which is no longer available. I have removed the right one, so the bike is completely exposed from the seat down: wiring, frame, battery, air box. All the components are visible. I like the look of naked bikes, which expose the engine. This bike takes that look to a new level. It’s not just exposed, but almost deconstructed.

It’s dirty. The previous owner rode it on trails and never completely cleaned off the dirt. So there’s dirt smeared on the rear mudguard, and on the skid plate. There and scratches on the parts that stick out, where it’s been dropped (including by me). Some parts, like the skid plate and headlight cover, are held on by zip ties. Any decals and stickers are half scratched off. The exhaust pipes are rusty and beaten up. When the engine is cold, sometimes, it spews out white smoke, from the tail pipe and from a hole near the engine.

You might have a picture in your mind of a rolling piece of junk on two wheels. But it rides, and it rides straight and smoothly, for the most part. I don’t know if I want to go to the long effort of getting this bike to a pristine state. I feel more attachment to it than the neon. I’ve put effort into the bike. I don’t know if it’ll be worth spending the money on, to make it absolutely perfect.

I think I chose to buy those two imperfect vehicles because they were cheap (the neon), and presented a challenge (the bike). They are both temporary investments. I won’t keep them forever. They work now, and if they die young, I’ll let them go. There’s something meaningful in that. I know there’s a deep reason why I bought the car and the bike.

I’m not kept here by my possessions. I think that’s a big part of it. I can let it all go and head off to the horizon if I need to. I’ve discovered that I need that freedom in my life in order to be happy.

I’m still deciding what my life here is going to look like. I don’t know if the car and bike really fit who I am going to become. I’m still experimenting and exploring. This is just the beginning.

Why I like feminism

I don’t know that much about it yet, but I like the way feminism:

  1. Challenges the status quo
    We can’t be afraid to pick a fight over socially acceptable behavior just because it’s expected or the norm. Feminism isn’t afraid to call out social norms we might not have even thought about.
  2. Has imagination
    When we come across a situation or behavior we disagree with, we have to create a new way to respond. Feminism gives us language to work through those issues, and actions to change the way things are.
  3. Takes responsibility
    Feminism requires both men and women to behave better, and sometimes change the way we do things. It encourages us all to live up to a higher standard.
  4. Is all about respect
    Respect is a buzzword, but it’s powerful. Saying ‘show a bit of respect’ usually brings people’s behavior into line.
  5. Is academic and practical
    There’s a lot of theoretical and academic discourses in feminism giving us intellectual engagement with the issues being worked through. It’s also practical, as there are immediate and real world things we can do to make things better.