A $15 piece of rubber

Last Saturday, I took my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze “Dracourage” to DePaula Chevrolet for the car’s annual inspection, as well as an oil change, fuel top-off and a detailing.  Hey, when you’ve owned the car for a year (and your more than halfway complete on your goal of paying off the car loan), you celebrate anniversaries.

I dropped the car off, and figured I would wait at DePaula’s customer service lounge for a couple of hours while my car received the TLC from DePaula’s certified GM technicians.

About twenty minutes later, one of the DePaula employees met me at the customer service lounge.

“That was fast,” I said.

“Mr. Miller,” he interrupted.  “We have a problem, I think you should see this.”

Oh no.  No no no no no no…

Continue reading “A $15 piece of rubber”

Thanks for the slap, DePaula Chevrolet…

If you’ve read my blog over any period of time, you know that I am a loyal General Motors man.  The four cars I’ve owned over the past two decades were all manufactured under the General Motors aegis – my 1991 Pontiac 6000 (“The 6”), my 2005 Saturn Ion (“Cardachrome”), my 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS (“The Blackbird”) and my current ride, the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze (“Dracourage”).

Winter Chevrolet. Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I’ve chosen DePaula Chevrolet as my repair and maintenance shop, and when I acquired Dracourage, I worked with DePaula directly to take care of all the paperwork.  They understood that my previous car – the Blackbird – was pulverized and destroyed in a heinous car accident in North Carolina.  Which is why I had to get a new car – i.e., Dracourage.

Continue reading “Thanks for the slap, DePaula Chevrolet…”

Penance for my sin last week

Some of you already know about this.  And you’ve been supportive.  But I don’t want anyone thinking terrible thoughts about me.  That, and I need to come clean with everybody.

So I hope you forgive me for what I’m about to say.

Last week, I was not in the greatest of mindframes.  And I did something that was a poor exercise in self-control.

Bear with me.

 

Last week, I went to the Saratoga Casino and Hotel (hey, to me it’s still the harness track), and I spent some time (and money) in front of the slot machines.  I don’t know why I did this … normally I’ll play a few pulls on one of those one-armed bandits, lose a few dollars, and then mutter, “The machines are smarter than me today,” as I leave in a walk of shame.

When I do gamble, whether it’s with the slot machines or the horses or a scratch-off lottery ticket, I always gamble within my means.  I assume right off the bat that I’m going to lose the money, and that I’m not gambling away my rent money.

Still, for some reason or another, I sat down at one slot machine last week and played the one-armed bandit for a while.

And surprisingly, one of the special “bonus combinations” came up on the slots.

And after the machine went through its song and dance and ring and jingle … I was now $300 in the black.

What?

Yep, I hit one of the machine’s “maxi-jackpots,” and next thing I know that little penny slot machine now had some serious cash in it.

And in the back of my mind, my brain is screaming at me, “Chuck, this is your lucky day.  Run over to the roulette wheel and put everything on 27 black.”

And for the love of me, I thought about doing that.  Such is the seductive pull of gambling.  You start thinking that you’re playing with “house money,” that this is your chance to claim the big bucks.

I looked at the CASHOUT button on the slot machine.  It would be so easy to do this.  I have this money.  It’s right there.  And for a brief moment … I thought about throwing every cent of my winnings on a spin of 27 black.

Then I thought once more.

I have to be extremely careful.  There are plenty of addictions that I’ve seen from people in my life – compulsions that can destroy a person without question or remorse.  It’s one thing to know that you’ve set aside $40 for the OTB or $20 on lottery tickets when the jackpot is high … but you can’t assume that the luck will continue.  There are numerous professional gamblers who find themselves in a room on a Tuesday night with six other professional gamblers, and they’re beginning step one of the twelve-step process.

But here’s this money.  Three hundred dollars.  Right in my hands.

I hit the CASHOUT button on the slot machine.  The one-armed bandit spit out a $300 voucher.

This is the trick.  It would be so easy to put that $300 voucher in another machine.  It’s just like money.  It’s not gambling, it’s gaming.  We all love to play games, don’t we?

Well, I decided to play another game that Saturday.

And I put my $300 in another slot.

And in the end, my money disappeared.

But I felt like a winner.

See, the “slot” I put my winnings in was the drive-through slot of my bank.  I actually arrived at the teller window about 15 minutes before close of Saturday business hours.  And the $300 game I played?  It was called “pay a little more on my car loan for my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze Dracourage.”

Yeah.  Rather than let that $300 burn a hole in my pocket and end up back in the casino’s coffers, I used every drop of will power, cashed out, left the casino, drove down to Albany, and dropped my winnings into my car loan.

And believe me, the temptation to stay and gamble all day and night was tremendous.  It’s tremendous for anybody.

But in the end, I thought about where I was in life.  It’s one thing to lose money at the casino … but it’s another thing to get $300 and then lose it in nothing flat.  And when you figure that I’m already six months ahead on a five-year car loan (and Dracourage has only been in my possession for about nine months), I think I made the right choice.

Now I have to remember a few more things.  I can’t go up to the casino every week and claim a $300 prize, any more than I can buy a lottery ticket and automatically be $300 richer.  It doesn’t work that way.

Because although they say it’s “gaming,” it’s really “gambling.”  As in you’re gambling with your cash, and you’re gambling with your soul, and you’re gambling with your life.

For those moments, I was tempted.  Tempted like the seductive kiss of a sensuous siren.  And although I felt like I could do this … I knew I had to walk away from the siren.

This is the tough decision we all make.  It isn’t just gambling.  It’s a thousand different life choices.  It’s will power and commitment and choice.  And we do this every single day.  God bless all of us who can make it through, and God support us when we can’t.

In the end, I’d rather immediately spend my winnings on an additional bonus car payment …

… than leave the casino with the thought of “Damn it, I wish I had walked away when I had that money” running through my brain.

Oh, and there was no way I could put all my money on 27 black.

Seeing as … 27 is a red color on roulette wheels …

Continue reading “Penance for my sin last week”

My car snitched on me…

Last week, I received a phone call from DePaula Chevrolet.  “Hi Chuck, we heard that your car needs an oil change, can we schedule an appointment to get that taken care of for you?” the voice sweetly asked.

Wait a sec.  I know it’s time to change the oil on Dracourage … but how did DePaula Chevrolet know this?

I snitched, Chuck…

“We heard from your car that you needed to change your oil.”

Wait … how is that …

And then I realized.

The last two cars I’ve owned – my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze “Dracourage” and my 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS “The Blackbird” – both came with factory-installed OnStar vehicle monitoring services.  Now even with all that OnStar could provide for me and all it advertised it could do, neither car’s OnStar really met my needs.  And even as I let the service lapse out, I found that Dracourage would still e-mail me a monthly report – mileage, fuel economy, pump up the air pressure on that left front tire…

Which is all well and good.

And with Dracourage, I purchased an extended vehicle service contract with DePaula Chevrolet.  No, not one of those cold-call vehicle service contracts that doesn’t cover anything more expensive than an air freshener – with this VSC, DePaula would take care of oil changes and repairs and maintenance for at least three years.  And they’ve done that in the past with my car – oil changes and air filters and whatnot, for very little out-of-pocket expense to me.

So now I figure it out.  When Dracourage e-mails me a vehicle report each month … it must also be e-mailing a report to DePaula Chevrolet.  And sure enough, the moment I hit that point of necessary fluid replacement .. Dracourage not only let me know, it let DePaula Chevrolet know through the OnStar program.

Great.  My car is possessed with the spirit of a tattletale.  All I need now is Ann Sheridan’s voice blaring through the car stereo at me.

So bright and early this morning, I’m off to DePaula Chevrolet for an oil change (I think, at 27,000 miles, I’m either getting regular or semi-synthetic) and probably a top-off of all my fluids.  That’s fine.  While I’m at DePaula, I’ll nosh on their breakfast treats and coffee and window-shop their showroom displays.  Oh yes, I’ll take that powder-blue Corvette, can I get that in an automatic transmission?

I suppose this also means that Dracourage is looking out for me – even the most rudimentary owner knows that the best way to avoid major repairs tomorrow is to keep your car’s oil fresh today – but what’s next?

“Hi, Chuck, this is Dr. Mohler and Choo, D.D.S., your dentist.  Your car e-mailed us and said you are due for your cleaning.  We have an 8:00 a.m. appointment tomorrow, your car says you don’t have anything scheduled, would you like to come in?”

“Hi, Chuck, this is McGreevy Pro Lab.  Your car just e-mailed us and said that you were in the Adirondacks taking pictures, so don’t forget to drop your rolls of film off with us on Monday.”

“Hi, Chuck, this is Hamilton College calling.  Your car just e-mailed us and said that you should be making a donation to us this week.  We can take cash, check or money order, how would you like to pay?”

Yep, folks, it’s official.

My car is a snitch.

And I guess … if that’s the worst thing I can say about Dracourage…

Then that’s not so bad.

Seven months later … did the lizard and the stag finally blink?

Last summer, when my car was destroyed in a nasty highway accident, I was forced to deal with competing insurance companies for reimbursement of various out-of-pocket expenses, including a $300 car rental bill to get from North Carolina back to Albany.

The vehicle in front of me – a camper whose bicycles became detached from his rear and landed in the road, crashing into me – was represented by GEICO.

The vehicle behind me – an RV that clobbered me at 70 mph while I was trying to avoid the bicycles – was represented by The Hartford.

A third vehicle – Ford F150 that slammed into my car’s left side and forced me into the guardrail – was represented by USAA.

Now since the GEICO and Hartford drivers were ticketed for the accident, I submitted my expenses and claims – including getting nailed on car rental fees just to get home.  GEICO claimed that the Hartford’s insurance should pay me; Hartford claimed that GEICO’s coverage should reimburse me.

Yep, it’s auto insurance hot potato, and I was getting sour creamed.

Eventually the claim went to insurance arbitration, and I figured – well, the arbitrator will make like King Solomon and make each party pay half.  I don’t care who pays me, as long as someone pays me.

Then came some upsetting news.

North Carolina has an insurance rule that states, in arbitration, if a party is knowingly responsible for any part of an accident – as in, “You caused this somehow” – that party gets no money.  Bubkis.  Nada.  And although my insurance carrier – Allstate – reassured me that I was completely blameless for the accident, that I had no way to avoid it and that I had not caused it – there was still that nagging thought that even if somehow, if I was 1% responsible for the crash … that I would have to eat those out-of-pocket expenses like spoiled cabbage.

Urgh.

Then, last Friday night, I received an e-mail from GEICO.

Okay, probably another spam e-mail from Aussie Lizard Caveman Tiki Barber runs a barber shop Insurance Company…

No.  Apparently they sent a check of some sort to Allstate, as my subrogee.

Could it be?  Had the lizard blinked?

Only one way to find out…

I called the arbitration representative in charge of my claim at Allstate.

And yes … after much arbitration and arguing and wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and rendering of garments…

GEICO was found 40% liable for the car crash, in that their claimant did not secure the bicycles properly to his vehicle, and the bicycles came detached from the rear of his camper and crashed into me.

The Hartford was found 60% liable for the car crash, in that their claimant followed me at an improperly close distance and at an improper speed and was unable to stop in time to avoid the accident, which destroyed my car.

The USAA claimant was not found liable, in that they were – like me – innocent victims in the vehicular carnage.

One quick phone call to The Hartford.  And lo and behold, their representative shared this little tidbit with me.

“We sent our payment for the accident, and since we’re 60% liable for the accident, please forward that car rental bill to us and we will forward you a check for 60% of the reimbursement.”

Which means that GEICO is responsible for the other 40% of the reimbursement.  Which was confirmed in another phone call.

As I said before, I don’t care who pays me – as long as Chuck gets paid.

Take that, you stag and lizard.

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto Chuck Miller that which is Chuck Miller’s.  So both of you insurance companies – get to rendering.

Besides, I have another car payment to make on Dracourage.

And the least your companies can do is help me get my new ride paid off.

The Dracourage Snow Test

To own a car in upstate New York, one must understand that the four seasons are pre-winter, winter, post-winter and heat wave.  And in those three seasons where the sun isn’t beating down mercilessly on us, we have to work with vehicles that may or may not be able to handle things like snowstorms, icy roads, and other wintry defensive driving maneuvers.

Case in point.

Yesterday, I woke up and looked out my window – only to see mounds and mounds of igloo-shaped snow mounds along my street.  Yep.  Winter’s here.

So now I must dig my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze “Dracourage” out of the snowbank.  And I have to hope that it can extract itself without my needing a push or a tow.

First up.  I have to break out the snow broom.

And by “snow broom,” I mean the blue-handled house broom that’s really seen better days.  See, the evening’s previous snowstorm left powdered snow on the car, so all I needed to do was push it off my windshield, my hood, my roof, my rear window, and my trunk deck.  A few long strokes, a little shove here, a little push there, and we’re done.  Good.  I wiped down the side windows and the side mirrors, ensuring I would have as much total visibility in the cockpit as possible.

Okay.  Now will Dracourage start in the cold?

And as I began to turn the key, I remembered one of the failures of my first car, the 1991 Pontiac 6000.  There was always something collapsing or breaking on that car, and at one point during a road trip through New England, the blower fan for the heater gave out.

In January.

Yeah.  I’m driving through New Hampshire and it’s 5° above zero.  And I’m getting no hot air.  None.  I actually had to stop at a Pep Boys in Manchester, New Hampshire and have them replace the blower fan – apparently the wires to the original blower fan had broken off.  Yeah.  You never forget your first car.

Dracourage starts with the turn of the key.  Perfect.

Okay. Now let’s see if I can get out of the snowbank.

And it’s at this point that I remember my second car, a 2005 Saturn Ion nicknamed “Cardachrome.”  Cardachrome was a good little car, certainly light-years advanced from the Pontiac 6000, but it was not a winter car.  I still remember the traction control on Cardachrome misfiring in the middle of a trip through Vermont, and me ending up in a snowbank because of it.

I slowly step on the gas pedal.  Dracourage exits the snowbank with ease.  Hot, friendly air pipes through the Chevy’s ducts.  Mmm… toasty.

And now for the third test.  Can I avoid the idiots on the road who seem to think that all they need to do is sweep off a little porthole on their windshield, jump in their car and drive away and hope that high speeds will blow off the remaining snow from their car?

Let’s find out.  It’s a snowstorm, so I’m not taking I-787 to downtown Albany today.  Rather, I’ll use Route 32 instead.  Slower traffic, better control.

Luckily for me, this time there weren’t any highway meatheads who thought they could zip through the road like they were trying out for the Jamaican Bobsled team.  So I’m kinda glad that I didn’t have to put up with any of that today.  No reason to produce a test if one isn’t needed.

So yeah, Dracourage passed its snow test.  Which is a very good thing.

And in all fairness… maybe I’ll keep this car a little while longer.

It’s truly proving itself as a worthy successor to my other previous vehicles.

Which is a good thing, indeed.

A hardcore score from 1964

Oh great.  The guy in front of me at the Cumberland Farms is paying for his purchases with a bag of coins.  Yay me.  Like I really need this in my life.

To her credit, the cashier dutifully took the bag of coins, counted out the currency, and handed the man his purchases and a receipt.

Okay.  I can deal with this.  I know it’s difficult to get rid of loose change, and you don’t want to have it jingle jangle jingle in your pockets as you go riding merrily along.

I put my items on the counter.  “Just a moment, sir,” the cashier glumly said.  “The man before me gave me a ton of half dollars and dollar coins, and I have to put them in the tray.”

“How much did he give you?”  I asked.

“$20 worth of them,” she replied.

And I had a tiny flashback.  As a kid, my Grandma Betty started me with a small penny collection, and taught me how to search through penny rolls for certain coins – 1955 double die stampings, 1909 VDB pennies (or the even rare 1909 SVDB pennies), and the 1943 steel pennies (copper was a rationed war weapon that year).

And although I never became a big-time numismatist, I did know the differences and nomenclatures of rare U.S. coinage.  The difference between proof sets and uncirculated stampings; the “D” and “P” under the coin’s year of stamping (Denver and Philadelphia mints), and why you should always glance at your coinage to see if there’s something special in the pocket change.

$20 later, the bagful of half dollars and dollar coins were mine.

Okay.  I looked through the dollar coins.  Nothing impressive, nothing surprising, there was a Susan B. Anthony coin and a few Sacajawea coins, but that’s about it.  And then I peered through the half-dollars.

All Kennedy half-dollars.  And the earliest one in the batch was from 1964.

Wait … 1964?

I looked again.

img_20161125_1200520Yep… 1964.

In case you’re wondering why I’m geeking over a 1964 Kennedy half-dollar… that I found in the loose change at a Cumberland Farms … let me explain.

1964 Kennedy half-dollars replaced the Ben Franklin half-dollars after 1963 because … well … November 22, 1963.  Look it up, you millennials.

But there’s one other reason to find these coins.

1964 Kennedy half-dollars were the last half-dollars manufactured in nearly full silver. In fact, 1964 was the last year of silver mintage for dimes and quarters as well.  Halves from 1965 to 1970 were 40% silver, and halves from 1971 to today are a mixture of copper and nickel.

Now if I took this coin and melted it for its silver content, I’d have maybe about eight dollars of spot silver.  And it would cost me about $25 to do that.

I have a better idea, though.

Little coin, you’re going to be my “Ceremonial Last Coin.”

See, I may have mentioned before that my goal is to pay off my car – my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze nicknamed “Dracourage” – with a target date of August 25, 2018 – my 55th birthday.  And when I get down to that final payment…

This coin will be the final 50 cents to transfer the car note from my credit union to my personal ownership.

I’ll actually set a personal record as well – fastest payoff of a motor vehicle in my lifetime.

Nice goals to achieve.

And I’ll do it with this special 1964 Kennedy half-dollar, rated maybe G+ or G on condition.

Yeah, its currency value is barely half a buck.

But as far as I’m concerned, it’s  going to be the last “half a buck” I’ll spend on Dracourage, if all goes well.

Count on it.

Count up to 50 on it.