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The Marine View Driver: Cruising in the Radio Flyer… er, Dodge Caliber

In which the author gets revenge on Cash for Clunkers.

by Mike Smith

I think I’ve written a little something about all the cars I’ve owned except one. My current car is probably the youngest used car I’ve ever purchased. The only time I ever bought a newer one was my 1992 Ford Tempo.

Capture2The car that I’m driving now—actually, that my wife is driving—is a 2009 Dodge Caliber. Yes, we finally have a car from the current century!

When our 1993 Buick got clobbered in a recent accident we had to get something else. My wife works in Kent and we live in Renton so she has a commute issue. She can ride the bus but, as I’ve always said, axiomatically and parenthetically, “When you absolutely have to get there, and no excuse will suffice, you drive your own car.” King County Metro’s current motto is: “We’ll get you there.” But you’ll notice in that slogan a lack of urgency or guarantee. Hence, according to my axiom, my wife has to drive to work. She needs to “get there” on time.

We submitted our humble circumstances to our close friends on Facebook. Our car was dead and we needed another.

Wait a moment. I think I need to reconcile my circumstances with some people’s intuitive assumptions. I will list them in random yet pseudo-alphabetized order. (Must be orderly about these things, even if randomly so.)

A: We are not fabulously wealthy, not even modestly so.

B: We did not really have the savings for a new car at the time of the accident.

C: We are also aggressively opposed to going into debt for a car. (N.B.: automobile debt is the worst type of debt because you are on the hook for something that is depreciating in value faster than your interest on the loan can be paid. You are essentially paying someone to accelerate your economic demise. Not good.)

D: This has not always been my mentality. (Live and let live, I used to always say.)

E: D = pretty poor financial planning and discipline, and very little nest egg.

F: I work as a part-time bus driver for the deceptively optimistic Metro, as mentioned above.

G: It is not my fault if you are late for work on my bus! But I do my best. I will get you there, as advertised. Eventually.

Enough excuses!

So here we were without wheels, but loaded with friends. Only weeks before our predicament hit the national scene, one of our closest friends had just retired from his job. He did not need his car anymore. Anyone want to guess what he used to drive to work? Hint: see the fourth sentence, very far above.

We were not looking for this type of car. I was, however, casing out the local dealerships looking at used cars simply wondering how Providence would provide for us this time. But I was thinking in the used Dodge Dart or Toyota Yaris part of the market. [You flatter me, Mike. –ed.] Of course, we were not anxious to compromise our cardinal car/debt rule, but we were open to whatever worked out best. Suffice to say that driving to and visiting car lots is a lesson in: “Listen to your gut.” I got a real sickening feeling going to the lots.

Now, I have nothing against car dealerships and car salesmen. I was one for a short time. (Salesman, not dealership.) But I think the more experienced dealers can smell a guy who has just lost his car and needs to “get there.” (Maybe it was my Metro vest.) So my visits to the car dealership felt more like I was a dying longhorn lost in the Texas desert with only a day to live. I was a marked man. To the point, it felt icky.

A few weeks after the incident my wife was visiting some of our high caliber friends and mentioned that we were in need of a new car. Linda, the hostess, chirped up and said, “Hey my husband just retired. He doesn’t need his car anymore.” The obvious unspoken inference: He may want to sell it.

Just like that. The deal was done.

The Caliber was purchased in 2009 during the “Cash for Clunkers” debacle. We did not participate because our car was too old at the time, but our friends were able to take advantage of it. So fast-forward five years, and we got to participate, too! I don’t promote command economics like Cash for Clunkers, so I thought it was ironic that we got a car that was purchased that way anyway.

CaptureDespite all the details, the Caliber is a great little car. It is red, it has bluetooth, and lots of auto-stuff. What’s more, it is actually classified as a wagon. A station wagon. Not a Conestoga. Does anyone talk about taking the station wagon out for a spin anymore?

There is sure a lot of mawkish flash-back built into this Caliber purchase. One of my weekly lunch companions and film reviewer buddies recently owned one. He had the sport version with five-speed and coolish wheels. I’m not jealous, I’m just saying… Well, I may be saying with a slight bit of jealousy. But, we are happy campers with our little red wagon. Call it the Radio Flyer.

We are always amazed at how things work out. My wife and I have actually had so many car issues and car thefts in our lives, all of which have “worked out,” that we don’t even worry anymore about how the next thing is going to be resolved. After the last accident with the Buick—no one was hurt, not even the perp’s vehicle, as you may recall—we actually kind of just waited to see what would happen. Obviously, we took some steps; but underneath all that, we were mainly at peace about the whole event and its impending resolution.

May I just say that the result was of very high Caliber?

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