Monday, October 3, 2011

Park 'n Ride

My parents have always subscribed to the notion that used cars are better than new cars for the following reasons:

1)  Better to have a $500 payment (on repairs) once in awhile than have a steady, monthly $400-$500 payment.

2)  Was there another reason?

I'll admit, there's some logic to #1.  I mean, if you get a good used car (and of course I'm an expert at this after a lifetime learning from the parents), you could go a whole year, maybe even two, without having to make a "payment."  On the other hand, a steady monthly payment on a new car pretty much ensures that you won't find yourself coasting down a main thoroughfare, gritting your teeth and attempting to bargain with your vehicle (If you could just make it to that parking lot up ahead...I promise I'll never again let the tank go all the way down before filling it).  Neither does a monthly payment come as a surprise to you, like some warped Santa's idea of a gift (You chose to make do with what you have instead of just buying a new one!  Great!  As a reward, here's your Complete Exhaust System Repair Bill!  It's the gift that keeps on taking...).  Add those concerns to the "guilty-until-proven-innocent" attitude one must have when dealing with those no-good mechanics (got this one from the parents too), and it's no wonder I've spent so many hours focused on designing my new XTerra online, like any good ostrich in the sand.

Incidentally, now is not the time to mention the possibility of not being able to afford said monthly payment.

Wondering where this post is coming from?  Well, here's been my day so far:  I take the car in for a semi-routine fixing of the serpentine belt, which (surprisingly) did not require any arm, leg, or other body part payment.  The mechanic comes out to let me know I'm "all set," and then casually mentions, "Oh, and you might want to get ahold of one of those bolts pretty soon."

"What bolts?"

"Oh, the one that typically holds your alternator on.  It's missing."



"Well, where is it?"

"I don't know.  It wasn't there when we put the belt on.  But like I said, you might want to see about that pretty soon, because without that bolt the alternator'll probably just fall off at some point."

Now I don't know much about cars, but I'm guessing that wouldn't be good.  "Well, can you put another one on for me," I say hopefully.

"Yeah, no problem."  He doesn't move.


"Sure, won't take a minute.  I just need a bolt."  He looks at me as if I've been hiding one.

"And you don't have any here."

"Nope.  Probably have to go to the dealership for that.  But once you have one, just bring it back in and we can put it on for you no problem."

"Awesome."  I'm about to leave when I realize there are probably any number of bolts involved with a car and that I most likely will not be able to describe which one I need, so I ask him to write it down for me.  He gives me a slip of paper with the words "alternator bolt" scrawled on it.  I'm pretty sure this will not be of much help, but I leave anyway and drive across the street to the Toyota dealership (grateful that there is one in such close proximity).

"Hi," I say to the guy at the counter.  "I need an alternator bolt for a 2005 Toyota Corolla."  He nods and begins typing things into his computer.

"Do you want the bolt that holds the alternator in, or the tension bolt?"

Why I don't say "just give me both" I'll never know.  Instead, I say, "Uh...I'm not sure, but I think he meant the one that holds the alternator in."  He nods, grabs the part from a drawer behind him, charges me $4.00, and I'm on my way back across the street to Jiffy Lube.

The Jiffy Lube guy takes one look at the bolt and says, "That's way too big -- not gonna fit."

"So I need the other bolt then, the tension bolt?" I say, thinking I sound a bit knowledgable and therefore "on top of my game."

"Uh...yeah, sure."

If I were telling this story to my mom on the phone, at this point she would say, No, Keyna, that's not right!  You need to take it somewhere else!  She would not get the humor.  Luckily for these guys, I do get it.  So I take my faulty bolt, go back to the dealership, and proclaim the need for the Other Bolt.  Two guys (the same from before and another guy) spend fifteen minutes trying to locate said bolt on the computer inventory to no avail.  They even come out to the car and look at it to see what they need, but the part is simply not listed in any of the diagrams of my car.  So they give me a handful of bolts in different widths and lengths, a refund for the previous bolt, and send me on my way.

I drive back across the street to Jiffy Lube, pass on the handful o' bolts, and the guy disappears to "give them a try."  He comes back a few minutes later with three bolts, and I say, "Oh, good so one of them was the right one."

"Yeah," he says, "it was kind of a tight fit but I made it work."  Very confidence-inspiring.  Nonetheless, I thank him and head out, eager to get on with the more important parts of my day's plan, like purchasing mouse traps for the house (another story for another time).

I make it to the Ace Hardware a few blocks from my house when the car radio and clock blink out, followed quickly by some sputtering, and then coasting with no power into a convenient parking spot.  Deep breaths.  More deep breaths.  I try to start the car -- nothing, not even a click.  More deep breaths. Must.  Control.  Fists.  Of.  Death!!

The Cliff Notes for the rest of the story go as follows:  long conversation with Jiffy Lube guy, no new information; friend tries to jump car, no luck; random guy from barber shop next to Ace goes on smoke break, chats pleasantly about cars breaking down, tells me not to go to Handy's (where I usually go), then recommends a small Asian mechanic across the street; Random Barber Shop Guy, Small Asian Mechanic, and I push car across North Ave.; Small Asian Mechanic tells me "battery and alternator bad."

I guess the upshot here is that I'm once again thankful that Burlington really is a biking/busing town (see previous post).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ride of Your Life

Recently I've been conducting an experiment.  I keep telling people that one of the reasons I like Burlington so much is that it's a great bike/public transportation town, unlike any of the other places I've lived.  I decided I'd try to take better advantage of that fact, so I purchased a bus pass (good for unlimited rides) and have been busing/biking to as many places as I can.  This decision has yielded several interesting experiences, but here are the Top Five from the week of September 25th:

5.  Ran into this girl that I frequently run into in Burlington but haven't seen in about a year.  We worked together at Borders (pre-bankruptcy) for about two days, then I had to quit because I was in grad school and was slowly going insane.  Then I saw her intermittently, usually at random places, throughout the next few years, and she always acted like we were best friends (I usually had trouble remembering her name).  She acted the same way on the bus the other day, and in fact she remembered not only my name (which in and of itself is a feat), but where I was from, what I went to grad school for, and what my favorite book was.  Next time she'll probably remember what stop I got off at.

4.  Forgot to put the bike rack back in place after getting off and retrieving my bike.  I was almost three blocks away before I realized the honking was for me.

3.  Ran into an ex-friend who recently (as in last week) "fired" me.  She got on, we ignored each other; she sat two seats in front of me, we didn't speak.  Good times.

2.  A young blond woman, probably in her twenties, but also probably not carrying an entirely full deck, got up and gave me her seat when I got on because she was "taught to be kind to the elderly."

1.  Official transcript from a conversation between a crazy woman who spoke VERY loudly, a kind, random girl sitting next to me, and me:

       CRAZY WOMAN:  Where's the baby?
       RANDOM GIRL and ME:  [looking at each other, then at the woman, confirming that she is, in fact, talking to us]  What baby?  [in unison]
       CW:  The baby, I said!  [speaking even louder, as if we haven't heard her]  Where's your baby??!!
       ME:  Oh, we left her at home.  [Girl suppresses a laugh]
       CW:  What??  She's only six months old, I thought!
       RG:  Yeah, we figured it was time to stop coddling her.  At some point you just gotta let 'em go, you know?
       ME:  [nodding my head]  Yeah, I mean enough's enough, right?
       CW:  [horrified]  You just left her alone?  No one watching her?
       ME:  Oh, well, no -- the dog's there.
       CW:  [back to normal; not sarcastic] Oh, well, that's alright then.

Stay tuned for next week's adventures!...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Least Complicated

Another Friday night spent at the B & N.  I remember the last time I wrote a post on a similar experience...turns out it was almost exactly two years ago.  I just reread it; it seems I was decidedly more bitter then.  I can't say my mood tonight could be illustrated by unicorns and rainbows, but it is a mood sans edge.

The thing is, here's what I realized (and wanted to share with you):  I chose to be here tonight.  I actually could've gone out with a friend, but I chose to come here.  What's more is, I chose to ride my bike here, and about half way it started raining.  And it's dark (because it's 7:51 pm).  So clearly I really wanted to spend my Friday night at the Noble.

And now that I'm here and I've found a seat that I like reasonably well, I can see why I wanted to come.  They're playing sexy saxy jazz music overhead, and they've just pulled some cinnamon scones out of the oven, and I'm looking around and all the people look normal.  No mental patients pushing napkins like last time.  And this time I'm not running from anything (or anyone).  I'm just hanging out, in my place.

Just thinking and writing...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cycling Through

Okay, I promise all of my posts won't be so gushingly inspirational -- I guess I've just been extra introspective as of late -- but I just couldn't pass this one up.

I discovered yesterday that my bike, a Trek 3900 mountain bike, has 24 speeds.  I have owned the bike for four years.  I knew when I bought the bike that it had 24 speeds, which is part of the reason I liked it, and yet I just discovered the range of speeds yesterday.

I was taking advantage of the absolutely gorgeous day we were having in Burlington, thoroughly enjoying the ride, when I hit a hill.  As per my post about Miley Cyrus, I pushed on.  In the middle of the hill, I found myself thinking, why the hell is this hill so damn hard?  When am I gonna start being able to just speed up these hills like all the other bikers?  (I was feeling decidedly less inspired than the other day).  Then it occurred to me:  I was in the wrong gear.  Without getting into the details of the gears on my bike, I'll say I usually stay within a small range of about 7 gears out of the 24 at my disposal.  Why?  I have absolutely no idea, except that I'm not really one for change.  But yesterday, after I decided to go out on a limb and switch to a lower gear (or higher -- not sure -- whichever made the hill easier), low and behold I made it up the hill with relatively little trouble!

Previous to this experience, I'd find myself thinking, I can make it up any hill, no matter how difficult -- it's just a matter of allowing myself to go as slow as I need to, which sounds like a reasonable, if not positive, sentiment.  But then I would quit about half way up about half of the hills I undertook.  Then I'd feel shame and guilt -- you know the drill I'm sure.  So I'm amending my thoughts.  I'm not retracting the above statement --  I still think it's true and helpful.  But I'm adding this:  you can make it up any hill, no matter how difficult, as long as you allow yourself to go at your own pace and use the right gear!

No Really...You Shouldn't Have

I'm allergic to cats, so naturally they flock to me as if I were the Pied Piper toting an extra juicy fish to divide among them.  No kidding -- whenever I visit my friends who have cats (and I never tell them ahead of time that I'm allergic, because then they always make a huge deal out of vacuuming, banishing the cats to other rooms, etc.), the situation usually goes something like this:

ME:  [enters room, chatting happily with friend; sits down on comfy chair/sofa]
CAT:  [appears in doorway, cocks head curiously at new possible playmate; gracefully leaps up into my lap]
FRIEND:  Oh my gosh, he never does that!  He's usually so shy, you almost never see him!  Obviously you're very special!
ME:  [laughs nervously, smiling and petting cat, knowing that within minutes the sneezing, puffy red eyes, and itching will begin, as will the explanations, apologies, and subsequent banishing of said cat]

I've basically come to accept this truth over the years, and it doesn't really bother me.  After all, cats are mildly cute and usually very soft, and mostly worth a few sneezes.  As long as I know that after a few hours, I can leave and the other, somewhat less enjoyable cat issues will be the owners' problems.  Other problems? you ask.  What other problems?  Aren't cats pretty low maintenance?  

So for the last week or so, a random neighborly cat has been hanging out on my doorstep, often giving me a look that says, you know you want to take me home.  Like I said -- Pied Piper.  This was all fine and good, since I had no intention of inviting the cat, whom I believe to be around its teen years, into my home, and it was kind of cute coming home to a cat on my doorstep.  But two days ago, instead of a cat on my doorstep, there was a somewhat less cute squirrel carcass, complete with oozing guts and a bloated belly.

At first I thought, that's weird -- I wonder where this thing came from.  I know it couldn't have been Indy [dog] -- she doesn't go out in the front yard.  Then I thought, does someone in the neighborhood hate me enough to leave this on my doorstep?  Is this a message?  Have I offended the Burlington Mafia?  Does Burlington even have a Mafia?  Then it dawned on me:  it was a gift.  A token of respect, love, and gratitude, if you will, from Mystery Cat.  Supposedly, I hear from other cat owners, this is one of the highest honors a cat can bestow upon human-folk, second only to bring a live rodent into said human-folk's home.

So...thanks?  Although next time, I'd be just as happy with a DVD, as cliche as that may sound.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Be a Loser

Today I'm reminded of a song that, cheesy as it may be, holds a lot of truth and inspiration: "The Climb," by Miley Cyrus (of all people). I know, I know...I'm sure there are plenty of sarcastic, snide remarks about my questionable taste in music coming my way, but just hear me out... 

Today I climbed a mountain. Okay, I actually climbed about a tenth of a mountain. But my intentions were good. After my recent epiphany about being an "athlete" (see previous post), I figured I'd stop being an Eastern Mountain Sports poser and actually GO HIKING. I've done this before, so it wasn't my first time. But today felt different somehow. As I was scrambling over the rocks and making my way through what the trail guide called "moderately strenuous," I couldn't help but sing Miley to myself: "There's always gonna be another mountain. I'm always gonna want to make it move. It's always gonna be an uphill battle -- sometimes I'm gonna have to lose. It ain't about how fast I get there. It ain't about what's waiting on the other side: it's the climb." Granted, I also couldn't get Stevie Nicks out of my head: "I climbed a mountain and I turned around...and the landslide brought me down." In this case, though, Miley proved to be a bit more inspiring (although Stevie has inspired me many a time). 

I can't tell you how true those lyrics to "The Climb" are. I can't tell you how much they sound like me -- well, the first part at least. I am ALWAYS trying to move mountains (or climb them), and even though I try to remember that "journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step" stuff, I usually find myself wondering why I can't just kick the mountain aside like a wayward piece of trash. And inevitably those thoughts lead right to the "what's wrong with me?" thoughts, which are, as we all know, less than helpful. 

Today what stuck out to me, though, wasn't the line about the journey being more important than the destination, although that's usually the one that gets me. Today what got inside my head was that "it's always gonna be an uphill battle," and "sometimes I'm gonna have to lose." I think that's the part I've never accepted, never even entertained. No losing, right? Who wants to be a loser? Well, at this moment...I do! Right now I have a LOT to lose, both literally and figuratively (I'm catching the irony in the whole "losing weight" vs. "being a loser" thing as I type). 

The thing is, if you never try, you never fail, but you also never succeed -- anyone who's ever sat in a classroom plastered with inspirational posters knows that. But for years I have told myself that I would try, knowing that I might fail, but never really believing it could happen to me. And then when it did happen, when I did fail, it was like, "wait a minute -- I'm not supposed to fail! I get points for trying, right?" Somewhere along the way I seem to have lost the message. So here's the new thing (or at least today's thing): if you never lose, you never really know what winning feels yeah, sometimes you're going to have to lose. 

Betcha didn't know your song was so deep, huh, Miley? 

On a different note, I plan to write the publishers of my trail guide and suggest they change the difficulty rating of today's hike from "Moderately Strenuous" to "Calves in Hell." Guess there's more than one reason it's called Mount Hunger.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What Color Are Your Walls?

Recently I made a "discovery" that rocked my sense of reality.  I put "discovery" in quotes because it was one of those things that's been right in front of me all along, for several years now, and I just now noticed it.  Kind of like when you wake up one morning, look at your walls, which have been painted a lovely shade of blue for years, and go, "Huh.  My walls are blue!  I mean, they're really blue," and you even consider calling a friend and discussing this brilliant realization, but in the end you don't because you actually need more time to process it.  That's the kind of discovery this was, and now I'm at the end of my processing time, so I'm sharing it with you...out loud...on paper:  I am an athlete.

About four years ago I started practicing Taekwondo.  I had wanted to be the "Karate Kid" since I saw the movie when I was 10, so I was very excited to finally be embarking on this journey.  From day one, I loved Taekwondo, as much for the community aspect as for the sport itself.  But I quickly discovered that it is just that -- a sport -- and that's when the anxieties set in:  I'm too overweight to do this, too out of shape.  What if I make a fool of myself?  What if I'm the last one down the floor?  What if everyone's just standing around waiting for me to fail?  Can I really take that rejection?  What am I thinking -- I am not an athlete.  I kept going, but the fears didn't go away.  Each class I would just push them to back of my mind as best I could and continue kicking.

In March of 2010, I successfully tested for black belt.  I was still overweight -- by quite a bit -- and I'm sure I survived the test on pure adrenaline, because had I been faced with that kind of workout in another setting, I honestly don't know if my body could've handled it.  But I huffed and puffed and sweated my way through it, and in the end I vowed that I would not test again until I was at my goal weight (which at the time meant I needed to lose about 60 pounds).  After that I gained about 15 more pounds, and this past spring, I started to notice the effects of this extra weight on the mat.  I have more difficulty getting my body in the air for jumping kicks; I land heavily on my heels; I generally move slower, even when I tell my body to hustle; I experience more aches and pains, during and after my workouts; and (maybe most importantly) I've become increasingly self-conscious on the floor, which impacts my ability to fully execute the techniques. 

As of this moment, I have five months to train for my 2nd Dan (degree) black belt testing, which will take place at the beginning of March 2012, and I have once again recommitted to dropping down to goal weight (or at least close) before I make another appearance before the Testing Board (a bunch of high-ranking black belts who judge your performance).  I've struggled with losing weight all my life.  Despite the fact that, in other areas of my life, I am a driven goal-achiever, no amount of positive (or negative) reinforcement has ever seemed to be enough to push me toward achieving this goal.  I make sure I get anything else I want; why not this? 

Master White, my Taekwondo instructor (a 7th Dan black belt), is helping me train, which means he's giving me a focus and some specific things to work on, along with a lot of moral/emotional support.  After my first private lesson with him last week, I started thinking:  a lot of people pay him a lot of money to whip them into shape.  A lot of athletes pay him a lot of money for his expert advice on how to win sparring matches and make Nationals (which of course he's done several times).  When he worked with me on Friday, he didn't begin any of his instructions with, "Now, because you're overweight, we're going to..." or "I know you're not really an athlete, so..."  He talked to me the same way I've heard him talk to so many gold- and silver-medalists before.  Like I am an athlete.  Like that's a given. 

Yesterday I spent two hours working out, a combination of eliptical, weights, ab work, and Taekwondo-specific exercises.  I will do that at least three or four times a week, hopefully more, between now and March.  I will do this, in addition to eating nutritionally and drinking lots of water, because I am an athlete in training.  In the process I'm sure I'll lose weight, but more importantly, I will have the inner and physical strength to join my fellow athletes out on the mats for testing.  Maybe the reason I haven't achieved the weight goal all these years isn't because I'm not capable or I don't have the drive or will power; maybe it's because I was focused on the wrong thing.  I was so busy trying figure out how to be something I thought I wasn't, I didn't even realize I already was.

Like I said, this morning I woke up and realized my walls really are blue.