Sunday, November 13, 2011

LIFE: Rusting Away in Margaritaville

Sorry about the title. It should have been Rusting Away in My Driveway. But you're here, so you might as well know, I've given up my car. More or less.

The Saturn I've driven throughout this century is now parked in my driveway, tucked out of sight up against the kitchen window. I no longer am insured to drive the car and the only reason I haven't sold it  (or scrapped it, which my father has stumped for, for about half of this century), is that I might just bring it out of retirement in the spring, throw a few bucks into it and see if I can nurse it along for another couple of years. Assuming The Experiment fails.

I have been thinking of going no-car for at least two years. The economics of it has been close. But not close enough to not have a car for when the mood--or an emergency--strikes me. After all, I'm the guy who normally shops for groceries at 4 am. Amazingly few lines at the checkout stand at that time of the morning. Against that, the bread isn't always bountiful or fresh. And you can't buy lottery tickets. Oops, that last one was supposed to go into the Pro column.

In reality, I've been known to leave the house as few as one time a month. That's to fetch money from clients and put it into the bank. Inevitably to be followed by a little food shopping. In February, at least the last three, I've managed to not leave the Cave at all in two of them. The other? Had a doctor's appointment on the 28th. I'm not a Travellin' Man.

What really tipped the scales in favour of trying The Experiment was finding out that the daily rental cost from Enterprise would be a LOT less than the hundred bucks I thought it would be. The range I will be paying for a small car will be $50-$63 per day. A three-day weekend for $123, tax and insurance in, would be doable in rare cases (like, say, Christmas shopping in December, if I hadn't already finished my shopping for this year). And even those prices are subject to some change downward. Ed Hills tells me my trusty Visa credit card might get me out of the $23 insurance cost. I'll be investigating. But for right now, I'm assuming the costs I've outlined above.

For taxi rides, it's seven bucks each way to my doctor's, eight bucks to the City Centre Mall and $15 to my main client. So, if it's just to get there and back, I can keep THOSE trips down to a financially feasible outlay.

Against THOSE costs, I won't be paying my insurance, which rose 17 percent this year to around $114 a month. I live in Brampton, apparently the worst city for driving in all of Canada (have these insurers ever visited Montreal?). So, if they (they being the guaranteed profit-making insurance companies) don't get you one year, they get you the next. Don't know anybody who hasn't been dinged above 15 percent in at least one of the last two years. They seem to do it in odd years to me, even years to Patrick's family, for example. In my case, I haven't asked anything of my insurance company in more than 30 years. And the car I'm driving isn't worth much more than scrap. So naturally, they assume I should pay them another $200 next year for doing it again. Ahhhh, no. You will also notice that JUST the insurance payment saved means I have two Enterprise days pre-paid.

Now, factor in the license plate renewal, my own private yearly experience in hell. I've had ALL kinds of issues with license renewals and not having to do them next summer and every summer after that? Priceless. But for now, let's just attach a hundred dollar bill in fees and time spent to my savings. Emission tests for the car were due in 2012. Time and money adds up to one Enterprise day there too.

Which brings me to repairs. I have been going to Lew at All About Imports for a few years from now. He's a jewel. An honest mechanic who appreciates the dollars I contribute to his daughter's college fund, but won't take a dime he doesn't work for or have to. He had the Saturn in for pre-winter service in early October, with instructions to do the breaks, which felt a bit mushy, too. I knew I was going to have to eat the better part of five bills.

Instead, he came to me with the news that the car was going to be a progressive money pit over the winter and into the spring. I should replace the calipers behind the breaks. The exhaust system, stem to stern, was looking frail and the service log book indicated I was already two years past the date the drive belt should be replaced. I could drive the car home as is, and park it. He and I'd talked over that possibility often enough in service visits over the last few years. Or he could do the brakes right then and there. Or, or, or... His reckoning was that after putting in the two thousand dollars, the ol' Saturn might get around two years before finally, truly, earning scrap-heap status. And he thought it was throwing good money after bad. His recommendation was a newer car, knowing that I've never bought an actual new car in my life.

So, I told him to pack it up and I'd drive it home as is. I knew my insurance was paid up until Remembrance Day. I wanted to extract the last bit of THAT money (well, the benefit of having spent that money, as required by law). And as I got closer to that day and investigated the possibility of doing without the car, I started to look at it as a day to just walk away. And I have.

Can I get by without a car at hand, rusting away in the driveway? I really think so. I might even be money in pocket, if I can rearrange those few times out and about, down to just one day a month. Shopper's Drug Mart, the beneficiaries of more than $300 a month in prescription bills, will deliver for free. Heck, they even call me these days, when I go a little long in renewing a prescription. I think I'm taking eight different kinds of pills daily. Patrick's wife Dawna has been doing Costco runs and asking me if I need anything for more than a year as it is. I was only maintaining my membership for McCain's French Fries and Heinz Ketchup, two of the most important food groups there are. I lament the passing of the availablity of the Kirkland Potato Chips. And other friends have volunteered to make milk and bread runs (Naturel Lactose Free 2% milk, Weight Watcher's White Bread).

I don't socialize much. When I do, it's because people have ignored the "UNWELCOME" mat at the front door and have come to see me. They apparently don't believe my good-bye sentiment, "Be A Stranger!" I spend my time reading, watching TV and using the computer for work and play. I actually have access through the internet to my clients' computers and, to be honest, clients like it when I stay away. A visit from me frequently brings work to a stop. I'm a bit of an attention hound. For bridge tournaments and the like, my partner of the day usually drives and I pay gas and parking. Works for them.

Ultimately, there will be yet other side benefits. Impulse control isn't one of my strongest suits. I know I dithered for 18 months before buying a tablet (which I love dearly). But generally, I'm a "See It, Buy It" kind of guy. Or a "I Feel Like Some Fast Food" guy. Not pizza, which can be delivered, but only enters the house when the Movie Gang is around. Nope, it's popcorn from Kernels. Or fries and a dog at my favourite local spot, Sonny's Drive-In. Then there is my total lack of control in front of a magazine rack. A magazine I can't partially (or fully) read on the internet is a rarity. And even when I do get one of those, I ready a small portion of it, browse through the rest and when finished, toss it onto the stack. And that stack fills two rooms and most of the basement in the house. Did I mention NO SELF CONTROL? If I'm right and can limit my excursions to one a month, I bet I could save upwards of another fifty bucks in simple lost opportunities to prove how weak my will is.

The single benefit that pleases my folks is that it cut down on my already meager time spent on the road. Less opportunities for kooks to kill me. In my last trip to my main client in the Saturn, I watched a car in front of me edge out into the left-hand turn lane, with blinkers indicated he was going to turn left. He then made a right-hand turn across two lanes of traffic and lived to tell about it because it was mid-afternoon and nobody was in the right lane and coming hard with the green light. On the way home, a somewhat similar situation saw a car go right THROUGH the red light I was sitting at, not even slowing the littlest bit to see if there was a crossing truck or whatever to blot out his (probably) besotted life. I actually caught up to the schmuck at the NEXT light. He couldn't speed on through that one because there cars in both lanes obeying, you know, the law. As soon as the light turned green, he started cutting in and out, risking a LOT of people's lives. I caught up to him AT THE NEXT RED LIGHT. This time, I turned off, not willing to engage in what had to be an incipient multi-car crash caused by this mental midget.

I've often said that the only benefit I could think of for getting rich was to be able to afford a chauffeur driven Humvee. These days, I'm not even sure that would be safe enough. No, it's better I let my car rust away in my version of Margaritaville.


Naomi Champy said...

You sure had a good time with that car. Are you still letting it rust? You can still find other uses for it. If some of your car parts are still fit for restoring another car, then you can sell them or trade them for something. Do you have a new one, btw?

Naomi Champy

Gary Mugford said...

No, the car remains in stasis, protection against failure in The Experiment. Thanks for asking.

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