Jan. 1st, 2011

shavastak: (Default)
On December 25th at about 5:45 am, I got up to do my petsitting jobs. Chris came with me. I wanted to take pictures of each pet and send them to their owners via phone, to say "Merry Christmas," so it took a little longer than I was hoping. We got back at 7-something, and had to spend a little time getting the GPS filled with podcasts and doing other little getting-ready things. Finally, just after 8, we all loaded into the car and headed east.

At 6 am, the sky was clear. At 8, as we left, it was just starting to snow lightly in Knoxville.

The drive to the mountains was uneventful, although the snow got thicker and wetter as we traveled east. I was driving, and going a speed I felt comfortable with. The roads are somewhat winding, and I wasn't having any trouble with the curves. Then, some 10 miles past the North Carolina line, I come up behind a mail truck going slower than I am. We're in the right lane, which is relatively clear, while the left lane is filled with fresh snow.

I take my foot off the gas, and find that we are not slowing down sufficiently, so I put on the brakes. Not hard, just as much as you would if you were trying to drop 10 miles an hour in the space of 150-200 feet.

Immediately I could tell that the brakes weren't doing anything. We were sliding forward and to the right, and not slowing at all. The mail truck was looming rather close and there was a ditch on the right side of the road I had no desire to fall into, so I took my foot off the brake and steered to the left, aiming for the fresh snow and figuring that would give us better traction. The steering I was doing did not seem to be sufficient so I turned the wheel more, and all of a sudden the car veered left. Then we were going too far to the left, so I tried to steer us back to center us in the left lane. No luck. I hit the brakes again. The back end of the car swung outward and the front left quarter of the car hit the concrete median divider and slid along it for about 40 feet.

When the car finally came to a stop, I hit the warning lights and turned to look at my traveling companions and make sure everyone was okay. Then I took stock of our surroundings. We were on a curve where the left side of the road was less visible than the right, so I trundled the car along slowly, trying to find a spot where we could get out and survey the damage safely. Having found such a spot, Chris got out and checked the car out. Saying that the damage seemed mainly to the front left panel, he got back in and I started us back forward, slowly.

But the car wasn't driving right. After another few hundred feet, I pulled onto the shoulder so we could take another look. I had a great deal of difficulty controlling the car and we ended up hitting the guard rail. I found that I could not open the driver's side door, and Chris found, upon further inspection, that the front wheels were not both facing the same direction. The 40-foot-slide along the median divider had broken our car's ankle - the wheel had pulled part of the suspension out. The car was no longer driveable.

A State Trooper pulled up a few minutes later as we were looking for the number for our insurance company. He gave me a ticket for driving too fast under the conditions and called a tow truck. I texted people who needed to know, and we sat there for two hours. When the tow finally arrived, getting the car onto the back was an interesting adventure. The tow truck had to back up to the car six or seven times, because it kept sliding out of line with the car. When the car finally got hooked up to the tow chain, I couldn't get the right wheel to turn at all, and rather than rolling up the tow bed, it had to be dragged. We huddled in the tow truck's cab while the driver helped another tow truck drag a silver sports car out of a ditch a little ways up, and finally we started driving towards Waynesville. On the way there, we passed a red crossover that had flipped completely over.

In Waynesville, the driver dropped us off at a Shoneys where we availed ourselves of the buffet and the bathrooms and figured out what to do next. Conversations with the insurance company and the moderately helpful locals brought us to the conclusion that in order to get back home, we would have to get a cab to drive us to the Asheville airport and rent a car from there to drive back home.

I will swear that the cab was sent from one of the upper levels of hell. It was a badly maintained hatchback with two ladders strapped to the top. It smelled like shit - literally, it smelled as if someone had taken a dump in the car. The heater was on but the windows were open. The check engine light and another somewhat important light (don't remember exactly what) remained on during the entire trip, and the driver went 70 miles an hour down roads that were at least three times as bad as the roads that had tripped me up at only 60 mph. We passed more cars on the side of the road, but somehow we made it to the Asheville airport intact.

With that minor horror show over with, we rented a new black Ford Fusion and, after admiring the spaceship-like interior, started driving carefully home. Chris was driving this time; I swore off driving for the rest of the day. We passed many more cars on the side of the road, including one that had managed to drive itself up onto a guard rail. It was a very bad day to be driving.

We got home without incident, and I was able to take care of my petsitting jobs and our own pets and beat myself up a bit and then remind myself how lucky I really was. I mean, I only tore the suspension to pieces; I didn't end up in a ditch, or upside-down, or halfway up a guard rail. We were all a little rattled, but nobody was actually hurt. We got off pretty well, considering.

So this past week, the adjuster finally got a chance to get out and look at the car. The suspension would have just come under the totalled amount, but with the body work required, the adjuster decided to total the car. We talked about it, figured out what the insurance company was likely to give us for the car, and decided that we would take the check and Sue's '93 Chrysler New Yorker (fair-to-poor condition) and go get TWO new cars. We figured if we had about 6500 for the Vibe and Sue's trade-in, we could get two cars in the 3500-4000 range and haggle them down so that it would all be covered. I mean, what car dealer wouldn't want to sell two cars at once?

Yesterday, the insurance company called us back and offered us 6790-something for the Vibe, which we took, resulting in a check for 6290-something ($500 deductible) being retrieved shortly thereafter. We spent the entire afternoon - from 11 am to 6:30 pm - traveling to two used dealerships we'd seen online and trying out cars under $4k. One dealership had quite a nice '00 Altima, but nothing else we would have wanted, so we moved on to another one across town. This one had a much larger selection but the cars were mostly in somewhat iffy shape. We finally settled on a well-accessorized '96 Camry ($3450) and a basic '00 Kia Sephia ($3250 - manual windows!), and presented our offer to the dealers: the '93 New Yorker and $5500 from our check for both cars - with the resultant end price after taxes and so on eating up the entire check.

They couldn't quite make it work. They drove the New Yorker and were forced to assume there was something wrong with the transmission (it doesn't shift above 35 mph; we've been told it's an input-output sensor, not the transmission), so they could only really offer us $200 for it. Finally we decided to keep the New Yorker and only get the Kia - if they could fix the door handle, which seemed to be its only issue. We gave them a deposit to hold the Kia and order the part for the door, and climbed back in the New Yorker to head home.

By this time, we were tired, hungry, cold, disappointed, and cranky. I drove home, Sue being the most tired of us for having not gotten a full night's sleep. We debated, poorly and crankily, whether to get pizza or have dinner out or take it home or what. Finally we settled on going out for dinner at Applebees, the idea being that we would eat sooner if we sat down in the restaurant than if we had to drive it home.

We had forgotten, I think, that it was New Year's Eve. Even though it was only 6:30, the wait for Applebees was 45 minutes. I suggested take-out, which at this point I figured would be faster, and was greeted with only grumbles. I said fuck it, let's go home, we have plenty of food, we have animals that need to be taken care of, and it'll let us sleep. Sue had soup and Chris and I ordered pizza. I got some cash from Chris - did I mention I left my wallet in the car in North Carolina? - and headed out the door to take care of my one remaining pet sitting client, a rabbit, intending to pick up the pizza on the way home.

Somewhere along the way, I lost the cash I'd brought to buy the pizza, and on my way out of the house with the rabbit, just after I discovered the loss of the cash, my ring wedding ring slipped off my finger and I heard it 'ting' once on the pavement. I did find it again, after a few minutes search, but you can understand why, after I was already pissed off, hungry, tired, and cold, why this would top off my rotting-banana-split month with just the frustrating teeth-gritting turd-cherry it seemed to deserve.

Today, I determined, would start out right. I woke up naturally at just after 8, took a shower, took care of the rabbit, brought home bagels, found the lost money, sent out some much-needed emails, and decided to write it all down for the benefit of those who felt like hearing the full story. Tomorrow we go to UU services and out for a nice late lunch/early dinner. Monday we cash the check from the insurance company, pick up the Kia, drive to NC to empty the Vibe and say goodbye to it, and drop off the rental car. And the rest of the week will be spent doing all the things I should have done since the 10th of December and really should do before the 12th of January, when classes start again.


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