Saturday, March 18, 2006

Always, always, my next car is my last.

You know, lately we've been toying with the idea of trading off our small SUV since losing two of our three greyhounds in the past ten months. They're the reason we got this "truck". We needed a way to transport all of them at once. But now that we've only one dog to transport, the wife and I went looking for a smaller vehicle, one that will get much better mileage. On Tuesday, I told a dealership if they got a red one in they could call us.

Well, they got a truckload in the very next day, so I ran over Wednesday afternoon to take a look and, as luck would have it, there was a red one among them.

And so, while contemplating trading vehicles, I'm also in the process of reading "The Party's Over" about peak oil and the collapse of civilization. To say it's impacting me deeply is understatement. It's down right depressing in fact. And no one knowing exactly when we reach peak oil, if in fact we haven't already, makes me pretty edgy.

It is estimated by a number of experts peak oil will occur within this decade. One of the reasons it's impossible to predict for sure is peak oil is based on oil reserves which determine the amount of oil an OPEC country can export, so they overestimate, they lie.

So I venture over to the Honda dealer in a depressed state thinking about this. When peak oil occurs I've learned, when supply will no longer meet demand, the price of gas will begin to increase dramatically and continue to do so. Only an occasional economic recession/depression will temporarily ease the price pressures on declining supplies. As I was driving over there, I noticed the price of gas the past week of two has begun to increase dramatically. (Last night on the news, they said it was up 12-13 cents in the past week alone!)

Maybe I shouldn't even be thinking about a new car? If peak oil is near or has begun, maybe I should be shopping bikes! Anyway, in paging through the annual Consumer Reports auto edition, I note they couldn't recommend our present SUV because, in their testing, they experienced a "tipping" problem. Upon that revelation, my wife wanted to be rid of that vehicle, the sooner the better.

I arrived at the car lot. I swear part of their training includes watching videos of vultures circling over lame and struggling animals and vultures sitting in the dead yet lone standing desert tree's branches over a carcass they've stuck their claim to. I'm sure because I drive past a small flock of them before parking. As soon I step from the truck, a voice jolts me from behind, "Is someone helping you?" I can feel his talons clenching on. I've been "claimed".

I explain to the salesman my mood. I try to impart my sense of urgency to him about this end of the age of oil; the irony of what he's peddling to we unsuspecting patrons who will have to wait in long lines for gas (if we can afford it), sometimes killing each other in the process.

Perhaps it was some defense mechanism, but my wife gasped when I told her I even went so far as to say to the salesman, "Why, you'll have to find a new job." I've usually more social grace than this, even with a car salesman. But like I say, I was depressed from my reading and I was only inviting him to share in my urgency. Or maybe it was his talons digging in. Whatever, maybe I shouldn't have gone car shopping this day.

I noticed as I looked around, the huge, huge investment this dealership has made in a new storefront, not just for their Hondas, but another adjacent one for their Chevy's and yet another huge lot/facility for their used cars! I begin to imagine what will become of all this paved Earth when we dismantle this multi-million dollar complex after the oil runs out. It won't matter. Billions of us will die. Estimates run as high as 90% of all human life. I wondered if maybe that might not be optimistic.

Inside the dealership, I hand over the keys to our Tribute and take a seat as they appraise it. I'm looking out at the beautiful view thru these new huge glass panes. Well, actually, I'm staring directly at the freeway embankment that was built up immediately in front of us. It blocks the view of the mountains you would otherwise see. And I wonder what we'll do with all these 100's of 1000's of miles of pavement when we've nothing to drive on 'em?

In explaining to the salesman my angst over the future, I had joked with him, telling of my wife's suggestion that, should we be unable to procure gas for the new Civic, "We could always use it as a mini-greehouse for the vegetables we'll need to try to grow to survive." I followed that by saying, "So this may be the most expensive planter-box-on-wheels I'll ever buy!" My humor seems lost on him.

But back in the showroom, I watch as the salesman goes around our truck appraising its trade-in value. It's then I remembered, "Oh shit, the anti-Bush stickers I'd intended to remove are still there! That'll probably cost us at least $500," I moan to myself.

Waiting, staring at the freeway traffic, I notice it's slowed to a crawl. I look at my watch. Five-thirty. "Probably rush hour traffic," I tell myself. (I was later to learn after asking the salesman, "No, it's not commute traffic, it's an accident a mile or two down the interstate," he assured me.) I realize, of course, at this time of day there would be no logjam heading into town. Everyone's on their way home, to the 'burbs." Cars sucking gas like there's no tomorrow.

You ever stop at a busy intersection in the front row and watch the hundreds of vehicles and the people inside--most of them single occupant--as they cross in front of you? They're all busily headed somewhere else applying eye make-up, talking on their cell phones or sipping their Starbuck's. And it hits you how gluttonous these materialists look.

And then it hits you. You're sitting there alone in your own gas guzzler, but immediately dismiss that thought because you're different. Your circumstances are different. You think up some excuse that warrants your separation from the herd. That's what I found myself doing on the way home during an inordinately long redlight at an intersection where three police cars and two tow trucks were busy cleaning up the remnants of yet another accident.

But before I left the car dealership, I got an idea of what they think a new car should cost me. High-balling the value of their car, and low-balling mine, we were at least a couple thousand dollars apart. I learn they think it should cost me dearly.

Then begins the haggling. I hate the back and forth negotiating with people that do this for a living, because no matter how great a deal you ultimately negotiate, my cynical nature feels screwed so long as they shake hands and draw up the papers. So I say to my salesman, "Let me talk with my wife and I'll call you tomorrow." I don't let on how disappointed I am at their math.

Maybe they think I'm easy. Maybe I am. But the truth is I don't feel like haggling over a price this particular day. I'd read enough to depress me before going there and I'd seen enough of their multi-million dollar facilitities, their three car lots with rows upon rows of guzzlers, of the freeway built up blocking the view of the mountains out their 20 foot "picture windows". Of the miles of backed upped traffic crawling to somewhere. Of the vehicles at the front of this log jam whose occupants itineries were unexpectedly diverted by rides to a hospital in the back of an ambulance as crews busied themselves towing away and sweeping up all signs of their crash so angry and impatient drivers could get on down the road.

My salesman, assuring he'll be there when I return the next day, gives me his cell number and asks I call before coming over. As a parting gesture, probably to separate him from the flock of vultures circling outside, he pulls out an envelope from Arizona. Removing its contents, he separates a small picture from the letter therein. It's of his fourth and latest grandchild. She's only 9 weeks old. She's very pretty. What ugly future awaits her in the impending oilless age, I wonder.

"Nice touch," I think. Maybe my salesman carries this picture with him every day. Maybe he shows it to all his serious customers. To cement in their minds he's one of us. The next morning, I called him early. I didn't want him waiting around for my return.

I hate buying a car. I stayed home instead and read some more about why "The Party's Over"; to help me decide if we really need an expensive planter box on wheels. Oh, and by the way? I didn't like it in red.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

yes, dada, all our vehicles are purchased with dogs in mind. My car even has rear A/C vents for their comfort. They go with us whenever we leave town due to bad boarding experiences esp with our Lab (she just dies a million small deaths, it's pitiful).

I agree the purchase of a new car is painful. Where else but at an auto dealer in the USA does one suddenly need to acquire the finely honed skills of a 3rd world bazaar trader? We get no practice with this sort of haggling, no wonder we suck at it. At the conclusion, what should be a pleasure (new wheels!) leaves you so drained, all joy is gone & you're no longer happy with your decision. Then you look back at the "vultures" pecking & prying away at your "sales deal" & think well at least my salesman can afford his rent this month.

Even the best experience is just a little less blood loss than the full leaching treatment. So I don't envy you at all, altho I hope you only suffer partial blood loss. Especially with your concern over "peak oil" crisis! I went back & read some of the comments you & B. DeFord were making about that depressing scenario. Hummm, maybe those little vespas & mopeds will make a comeback. Look how prevalent they are in China & European cities.

Maybe because I read a lot of science "fiction", this just seems one of many possible ways for our society to wind down, for humanity to go in a different direction (for good or ill). I know that's no help for us in the short run, but if you spend all your time in full disaster mode, you'll not enjoy your final days & that may be all we have in the end. Is that hopelessly pollyannaish? Perhaps I'm just not feeling pithy today what with facing an inch-deep layer of dust covering every possible surface in our house. We survived Mt St Helen & got far less dust in the house than this mess. Home remodeling, be damned!

BTW, I don't revel in the prospect of our societal demise. I'm scared & depressed, too. I want to lash out at the facilitators, shake them & show them the ghost of xmas future. My dad tells me he's taken to using one of those soft rubber balls to exercise his arthritic grip. When I said, oh so you can hold your pen & write a little nicer ... he said no, so he can more effectively throttle a few politicians & other evil wankers that fall into his grasp! Is that kind of wryness inheritable? God, I sure hope so, for his grandkids sake. D.K.

some_maineiac said...

well, looks like "the party's over" will have to go on my expanding reading list...it sounds like just the sort of thing I'd enjoy in a "gallows humor" sense...experts have been predicting an end to endless oil for a while and, sooner rather than later, I think they'll be dead on right...which do you suppose will go first? home heating oil, gasoline or the plastics industry? my money's on the first one and i thank whoever gave me my stubborn, frugal yankee character which made me spend extra money to have my house built with a masonry heater, 10 or 20 tons of brick and mortar fueled with wood to heat my home...even though it gets to be a royal pain-in-the-ass to feed the thing twice a day around February, 4 cords of wood a year is a small price to pay for not using oil for that purpose...i am also thankful for my thick blood which makes me feel cozy when it's 62 in the house...

and i do revel a bit in the prospect of the demise of the gas-guzzlers and the financial ruin of the shmucks who buy them when gasoline starts trading for the price of maple syrup ($50/gallon)...just think, no more Hummers and their like, no more 500-horsepower "ski boats" (so you can walk on water faster than everybody else, how quaint), no more jet-skis (a plague on water birds and peace and quiet in general), no more snowmobiles to disturb the stillness of a winter day, no more ATVs to go tear-assing through the mud or to use in "hunting"...sounds almost like paradise...

i don't envy you your position of having to shop for a new vehicle, especially in light of what you're reading...car salesman are an ugly 2-faced lot of vultures just as you describe and i prefer to avoid them at all costs...

dada said...

DK, your consolation thought of getting screwed with a car purchase at least enables your salesman to pay his rent for another month brought to mind a ford I bought from a "neighbor" over the back wall and two houses down.

This is the truth! We first got an estimate from another dealership. So when I then went to our neighbor to see if he could better it, we learned in the process...he'd actually been in touch with our first salesman at the other dealership!! (They were friends! That shoulda been our clue to 'walk'.)

Well, I don't remember why, but we decided to deal with our neighbor. I didn't feel he did us any particular favors, or gave us any special deal. But as we finished signing the last paper, Curtis smiles and says to us, "Alright, I just got my free trip to Hawaii(!)," all excited like. I felt so had!

Oh, and BTW, did you inherit your dad's wryness? Undoubtedly, but I'd say from some of the zingers you've unloaded here, you're on the throes of perfecting it!

dada said...

Maineiac: Somehow I think you're right re the first thing to go being heating oil. And, you know? While we have a small SUV, I confess: Taking the little MX-6 out of the garage the other day and having some of these humungous SUV's pull up side me at a light, I swear I'm sitting low enough to drive under 'em and change the oil on some of those suckers. And that makes me feel real, real uneasy thinking about ever having a run-in with one of 'em. (Altho, it doesn't incline me to buy one--honest--okay?)

In fact, yesterday downtown for the peace rally, I (as pedestrian) encountered a couple of Humvees. Talk about opulent materialism run amok!

BTW, you had me convinced when the end times come, that you, being in Maine, in the cold frigid north, would be no place to seek haven from the collapse, but your masonry heater has me considering putting Maine back on our list. (grin)

some_maineiac said...

dada, you'll be welcomed here and it's a compliment to me that you'd even consider it...it does get pretty damned cold sometimes (-20F is about the coldest i've ever seen)...but the summers are fine, fine, fine! i don't need A/C for the few days it hits 90 every year...i pissed off the excavation contractor by refusing to cut down a huge, old oak tree 20 feet from the house on the south side and it provides shade in the summer...one of the benefits of building one's own house is that you get the chance to do things your way, instead of accepting the many compromises of something that is "mass-produced" by a developer...that includes environmental impact...even though the masonry heater cost me 4x as much as a furnace, it'll never need to be replaced...

but i'm no saint when it comes to consuming gasoline...the 6-cyl small truck gets about 20MPG, but a truck is pretty much a necessity for life in the country...hopefully, i will have the rust repair done soon on that old ford escort i mentioned some time ago and can start enjoying the savings of 35MPG and the nimbleness that's necessary to avoid the behemoths on the road...if one ever hits me in that car, i'd probably go right underneath 'em and get squished like a bug!