Tuesday, May 31, 2005

My guide, Peggy

My good pal, Peggy, has become something of my Travel Scout.  She went to New Zealand on her honeymoon right before my trip to New Zealand, and she supplied lots of valuable info.  I followed all of her advice to the letter and was never disappointed.

So.  When Peggy says "When you're in Reykjavik, go to La Primavera and get the chocolate lava cake for dessert," I go.  Took me some time to FIND La Primavera, as the woman at the concierge desk at my hotel was ... well, she wasn't a concierge.  (They were renovating the Tour Office at the hotel, so they let Tour Desk Lady sit at the concierge desk.  She was selling tours and trying to fake being a concierge, but her restaurant directions weren't the greatest.  Restaurant was actually quite a ways away from the dot she put on my map.)

ANYWAY, had this tasty chicken in goat cheese and herbs thing for dinner, and asked for the dessert menu, looking for chocolate lava cake.

Here's the difference between America and Iceland.  If a restaurant in America served this item, the menu would read:  Hot Chocolate Lava Cake -- Individual mini-chocolate cake, with gooey hot liquid chocolate in the center.  Our Best Dessert.  Served with vanilla ice cream.

In Iceland, it reads, innocently:  Warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

If Peggy hadn't told me about it, I never would have known about the warm delicious oozing center.

Ironically, I would have had enough cash to pay the bill if it wasn't for the lava cake.

Oh... my

During dinner, I was mentally composing the entry I'd write.  I was eating at a restaurant in downtown Reykjavik, and had several borderline interesting observations to make about the food, the city, my travelling habits, and so forth.

After dinner, I waited a good ten minutes, but they never handed me the bill.  Thinking back to last night at Pizza Hut -- I'd had to walk up to the counter to pay -- I figured maybe this was some Icelandic custom of which I was unaware, so I went up to the lady at the bar (where the cash register was) and said something about how I should probably pay her before I left.

She ran a computer printout of what I ate.  It was in Icelandic, but I assumed it was right (had the right amount of items on it, anyway).  I handed her my Mastercard.  She ran it.  She ran it again.

She shows me the slips the credit card machine printed up -- they all say-- well, they say something in Icelandic, but she tells me it means "No answer."

No problem.  I am carrying another credit card.  Problem.  It is also a Mastercard.  (I used to carry a Mastercard and a VISA, but Citibank changed my VISA to a Mastercard behind my back.)  It gets rejected too.

No problem.  There's an ATM nearby.  I run down to the ATM, leaving my jacket in the restaurant as a sign of my good faith.  I stick my ATM card in the cash machine.  It says (and it says it in English, as I was able to select my language) "BREAKDOWN -- Unable to dispense money."  This is not good.  I give it my OTHER ATM card.  Same response.

I run back to the restaurant.  I tell them what happened.  The guy at the restaurant (there's one girl and one guy, and, I assume, a chef in back) tells me there's another ATM belonging to a different bank down the street.  Try them.

I do.  I take my coat this time.  Good faith is one thing, but freezing my buns off is another.

I get to the ATM.  I give it my first card.  It says "Please wait" for an eternity.  Some guy appears and waits in line behind me.  I drum my fingers in annoyance at the "Please wait."  Finally, I decide to cancel the transaction and see if this other guy can have any luck with his card.  I hit "Cancel" and it doesn't work.  It's sorta like when you hit "Esc" when your computer is in the middle of something and won't let go.  Finally, the ATM gives me the same "Breakdown -- No cash for you" message.  I retrieve my card, take a step back from the ATM, and gesture to the guy to be my guest.

He tries.  He fails.  I don't even bother with my other ATM card.  I count all the money in my pockets.  I'm about 1500 kronur short on the bill, but could cover it if they'd take American money.  I go back to the restaurant again.

Good news!  Well, not that good.  The system isn't working again, but it now rejected someone else's card, so the restaurant is now fairly certain that I'm not trying to get out of paying.  I offer the American money.  He declines.  He goes digging through a nearby drawer -- his junk drawer.  I can tell because everything is jammed in there totally unorganized.  (In a way, I was pleased to see that, because everything else I've seen in Iceland is so tidy and organized, it's almost like the Stepford Country.)  Anyway, dude is throwing around miscellaneous receipts, an electronic translator, and a nearly empty box of ballpoint pens, and he finally finds one of them old-fashioned credit card imprint machines.

He does not, however, find the slips that you use in said machine.

He finally gives up.  He tries the Mastercard again -- and again generates a slip with the total, my credit card number, and a "No answer" notation.  He staples this to a piece of paper which he asks me to sign.  I did, and left -- with him wanting to believe he'd be able to put it through once the system went back up, and me wanting to believe he'd tear up the slip once he put through the bill and only the bill.

Ah, the spirit of international trust.

Iceland -- Morning Two

Ahhh!  That's much better.  Managed to stay awake until about 9:00 last night -- which wasn't easy as the hotel carries seven channels, of which four are in the Icelandic languague, and a fifth is CNN World.  Which, y'know, pretty much repeats itself every half hour.  Conveniently, the other two stations were BBC1 and BBC2, so I ended up watching "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (which, some fifteen years after it first came out, is really showing its age) and some British version of "Cops."  .... Although, being British, it's all about traffic cops politely pulling people over -- not wife batterers being hauled out to the yard in their underwear.  Still, British Traffic Cops were interesting enough to keep me awake until 9.  (Did you know they have their own little "warnings" they give you when you're under arrest?  And they differ from US "Miranda warnings."  It's like -- you have the right not to say anything, but if you try to say something in your defense at your trial, it will be used against you if you DIDN'T say it in response to police questioning.  (I paraphrase.)  Interesting.)

Just had my (free) breakfast at the hotel.  Since food is so pricey, I totally scarfed out.  Yes, they had herring.  And cod liver oil.  No, I did not partake.  But I did have tons of bacon -- and that's the good crispy stuff Americans know as bacon -- not that pink, flimsy stuff that passes for bacon in England.

Oh well, someone else wants the terminal, so I'll be off.  Later.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Iceland, Day One (last update today)

So.  I clear immigration and customs and I'm dumped out in front of shuttle busses.  Before I had a voucher to the shuttle bus driver, it dawns on me that I am leaving the airport without any local currency.  This seems a bad idea.  I go up to the nearest ATM, feed it my card, and ask it for Kronur.

I never actually researched exchange rates.  Like, at all.  It kinda slipped my mind.  But I did take a peek at the in-flight magazine -- particularly, the prices they were charging for alcohol and other small items for sale.  Something that was 100 kronur would cost $2.  But if it was 200 kronur, it would cost you $3.  (Airline exchange rates aren't an exact science.)  From perusing these figures, I figured 100 kronur was worth something between $1.50 and $2.  Not exactly a solid exchange rate, but it at least gave me some vague idea of how much to ask the ATM for.

After the ATM spit kronur at me, a British man came up to me and asked if I knew the exchange rate.  I apologized and said I did not.  "Even for US dollars?" he asks.  "Sorry, no," I reply.  He says, "Then how do you know how much to get?"  I apologized again, and explained I was guessing wildly at the exchange rate.  (I later found out on the bus that the rate was $1 to 65 knonur.  I am too tired to do this in my head, but it did confirm I was in the right ballpark, or at least in the parking lot right outside it.)

Took bus to hotel.  Was in my room unpacking when I got a phone call.  Informing me of my massage appointment at noon today.

Man, I want that to be my first phone call WHENEVER I check in someplace.  (Here I was thinking they were calling to yell at me for the unfortunate incident with the sand painting on the lobby floor.)  I had a package at the hotel that included a "jet lag refresher" massage.  Whatever the hell that was.

I still had a few hours to kill before noon -- which were filled by my hike to the mall and hunting down of the internet cafe.  (I am now just overusing the one in the lobby.  Hey, they said it was free.  And nobody is using the terminal next to me so I don't feel guilty for hogging this one.)  Got back from the internet cafe and got the Jet Lag Refresher.  Which was great, but, unfortunately, relaxing.  I didn´t feel rejuvenated -- I felt all the tiredness of ... of ... of ... going to my grandmother's 90th birthday party half (a third?) a world away in what was, when you get right down to it, THIS MORNING.

Let me tell you how tired I was.  I was so tired, I went to eat at a Pizza Hut because it was right next to the hotel.  (My first meal in Iceland and it's Pizza Hut!  Horrors!  As I was walking into Pizza Hut, I thought, well, maybe I can Iceland it up and get fish on the pizza or something.  I giggled to myself over this.  Then I saw "tuna" on the menu as a pizza topping.  No, I wasn't that brave.  Not when the exchange rate is making this a $20 pizza.)  I was so tired that, although I had free admission to the spa in the building (and a lovely thermal pool a few blocks away), I went back to my room instead as I didn't see myself having the strength to hold the blowdryer to dry my hair.

Watched bad TV for a few hours.  Also kept running down to the tour counter because one of my scheduled bookings (day after tomorrow) sort of disappeared off the face of the earth and we had to retrieve it from limbo.  (Finally accomplished.)  It is now 5:30.  I'm going back to the room and forcing myself to stay awake till 8 or 9 o'clock.  (Normally, I'd say 10 or 11 -- but since my tour tomorrow picks me up at 8:30 -- and my hotel package includes a big breakfast if I get to the restaurant before THAT -- I'm going to be aiming to for a fairly early morning.)

That's it for today.

The Flight

So.  Icelandair had told me, in no uncertain terms (printed all over my tickets) to check in NO LATER THAN THREE HOURS BEFORE MY FLIGHT.  I showed up a good three hours, fifteen minutes before, and must have been the third person checking on the flight.  They had signs saying that you might get bumped if you checked in later than ONE hour before the flight -- nothing about three. 

Once I checked in, I had two hours to kill.  The gate agent told me there was nothing over here in E area -- and if I wanted to hang out, I should go to the brand new food court way the hell over in A.  There was a "shortcut" from E to A via the parking lot.  (I put it in quotes because cutting through the parking lot was still quite a shlep.)  Of course, I had to go through Security at A, all to get to ...

Some McDonald's fries. 

Seriously.  It was that or Church's Chicken.  Once I finished them, I went back over to E, passed Security again, and waited for the flight.

Our promised in-flight entertainment (free headsets!  and a free meal!) was an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and a movie.  The in-flight magazine said the movie was "Foul Play," but then went on to give a description of "Parenthood."

They put the first video on.  There's an Informative Video About Clearing Customs In Iceland; an "Up Next: Everybody Loves Raymond" ad; another Informative Video About In-Seat Exercises; an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and some "Up Next: Parenthood" ads.

But before they start "Parenthood," something goes wrong with the video.  They then put in A DIFFERENT VIDEO.  This video features the SAME Informative Video About Clearing Customs in Iceland; a DIFFERENT ad for "Everybody Loves Raymond" -- although the ad is another clip from the episode we JUST WATCHED; the same Informative Video About In-Seat Exercises; followed by -- yes -- the SAME episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" that we just watched...  and what really gets me is that nobody said anything.  Two hundred people sat there and dutifully watched the same stupid episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" without saying a word.  THEN the "Up Next: Parenthood" ad.  THEN....  Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn in "Foul Play."  Two hundred people simultaneously thought, "What the ... ?" and then dutifully watched "Foul Play."  Or fell asleep.

We landed in Iceland at 6:05 Iceland time.  As I said before, I'm pretty sure I got about three or four hours of sleep.  And now I have another day ahead of me. 


Ah, Sunday!  The potential logistical nightmare. 

11:30 -- leave for grandmother's party.
12:00 -- arrive at grandmother's party
3:30 -- skip out early on grandmother's party...

Now things were pretty much going according to plan until this point, when I walked into the parking garage and Could Not Find My Rental Car.  Must have walked up and down the aisles four times before I finally got the brilliant idea of clicking the trunk release on the remote.  I clicked, and a car some 8 cars away dutifully opened its trunk.  Success!

I drove to the Holiday Inn near BWI, where I left my suitcases (I'll pick them up later) and took my two duffels (no wheels!) on my way.  Then, returned the car to Hertz at BWI, and took their shuttle to the airport....

....where they dropped me off in the MIDDLE OF THE TERMINALS -- with no signs at all telling anyone where to go.  Luckily, I remembered having seen Icelandair over at the end, so I booked on down to what *I* call Terminal E.

(Next up:  the flight.  Deserves an entry of its own but I'm using the internet keyboard in my hotel lobby and they have no chairs and I'm so tired I can't stand up anymore.)


Man!  What I just spent on a pizza in Iceland.  You don't want to know.

OK, so... Maryland.  I arrived Friday night, picked up my rental car, met my folks at our hotel.  We then went out to dinner and went to the airport to pick up my sister. 

I hadn´t planned on doing this.  I had flown into Dulles, which was closer.  She had flown into BWI, which is rather farther away.  I thought my folks would get her while I ran errands or something.  Cause I had my own car.

Went with them anyway.  BWI is one huge terminal.  By all rights, it is actually FIVE terminals, but they´re all in one massive building -- so, rather than call it five terminals with connecting walkways, they call it a single terminal.  As we drove around the terminal trying to find which section of it housed American (on which my sister was arriving), I tried to take note of where Icelandair was located.  I thought I spotted it as the very last airline in Terminal E.  This would become relevant later.

The next morning, my mother went off to do family stuff (the whole reason were in Maryland was my grandmother's 90th birthday) and my father took me and my sister into Washington DC.

We drove by the new WWII Memorial -- which is really quite spiffy -- then continued on to our REAL destination -- the International Spy Museum.

Here's what you need to know about the International Spy Museum:  It sells out.  We never called ahead, so couldn't get in to see it.  We went for lunch at a nearby restaurant, dejected.

After lunch, we asked some guy if there was anywhere nearby worth walking to.  He speaks with a heavy accent, and tells us something about going around the block to 14th.  This makes no sense.  Fourteenth is, like, 6 blocks away.

But we follow his directions anyway, and it finally dawns on us that he wasn't saying "Fourteenth" but "Ford's Theatre."  Right there.  They have a museum in the basement with all sorts of artifacts pertaining to Lincoln, Booth and the assassination.  They even have Booth's gun.  Tiny little thing.  Amazing, though, to look at this small, worn pistol and think, "This killed a President."  (I took pictures.  You´ll see them later.)  We also ran across the street to see the house where Lincoln died.  (It has a big sign outside the front reading, "The House Where LincolnDied," which, for some reason, struck me as funny.)

Saturday night we had a great big family dinner.

I went back to the hotel and turned my two suitcases into Two Suitcases and Two Duffels (much repacking).  I was all set for the adventure that was...  Sunday!

The Journey Begins

And now, a brief trip in the WayBack Machine ... to Friday, when I first went to the airport.

The rest of America was at the airport too.

Wall to wall people.  After I got my boarding card and checked my heavy bag (it was 4 pounds over the 50 pound max -- so I had to pull a few pairs of shoes out and shove them in my carryon), I tried to follow the mob over to the escalator leading up to Security. 

The line was STOPPED a few people ahead of me.  A Security guy was blocking off the line and aiming us onto a bus.  Selected out from the Security Line?  This can't be good.

It was good.  In a brilliant display of logistical maneuvering, we were ushered onto a shuttle bus, which took us over to another terminal.  There, we were met by an airline representative who paraded us (single file) through the terminal to the security area -- where there was NO LINE.  We cleared security and got on another bus.  This one took us back to the first terminal and dropped us off in the gate area -- neatly bypassing an hour+ security line in 15 minutes.

I gotta add something here, because it has been irking me since Friday.  When I travel, I am always extra polite and stuff.  I always wait my turn to board (not crowding the gate area before my row is called), I smile at the security guys, and I thank EVERYONE with whom I come into contact.

So, here's me in the waiting area for my flight to Maryland.  I have a ticket for "boarding group 5."  Gate agent calls pre-boards.  She calls group 1.  Then group 2.  Then group 3.  Meantime, I'm still sitting there.  I even fill in some nice lady who just made it to the gate ("She's on group 3 now; you've still got time.")  Gate lady calls group 4.  Then she says, "If your boarding card doesn't have a group number, you can board now."

And I'm thinking, "Dude, you missed group 5."  I mean, normally, you'd expect 5 to go after 4 and before the people who didn´t even get a number, right?  So, I go up to the gate lady and ask, "Excuse me, but what about group 5?"

And she just tears into me.  Honest.

"I'll get to 5!  You still see people in the boarding area, right?  The plane's not going anywhere.  Just hold on and wait your turn."

So I figure I ought to explain why I felt the need to even mention it.  "OK.  I was just concerned you might have forgotten about us."

And she´s all.  "Just wait!"  And then, she takes her little loudspeaker microphone thing and leans over the counter and says, "Do you want to do this?  Do you want to trade places with me?  HUH?"

American Airlines used to have this program where frequent flyers could give little cards to employees who were really nice -- and they could trade the cards in for valuable prizes.  Right now, I wish there was a way we could single out employees who are just plain rude.

This was also my first flight on American since they began the "Food for purchase" option, rather than serving meals.  For the five hours I was hauling butt across the country, I had a choice of a $5 egg salad sandwich, or a $3 snack box.  I took the food in a box -- a "muffin bar," some "Craisins," a bag of bagel chips (each chip no larger than a thumbprint), and some cream cheese.  I spent a good twenty minutes dabbing little spots of cream cheese on each of the freakin' bagel chips.

Between the bitchy gate agent and the obvious cheapness of making you pay extra for a bag of craisins, I'm seriously questioning whether American is going to remain in business.  This because I'm a longtime loyal American customer -- but this was such an unpleasant experience, I'm seriously considering other airlines for my flying needs.  And if *I* don't want to fly American anymore, they're in real trouble.

Holy crap, I'm in Iceland

In an internet cafe in a mall somewhere near my hotel, to be exact.  Or, as exact as one can be in my state.  I left Maryland (more on that in a later entry) at 8:45 at night, and some six hours later, I arrived in Reykjavik at 6:ish in the morning.  Aren't time changes fun?  I'm fairly certain I got three or four hours of sleep on the flight (woo-hoo!) and, with that, I'm supposed to function normally. 


Upon arriving at my hotel, I managed to walk right through a sand sculpture on the floor.  I think I broke a little candleholder sitting in the middle of it, too.  I apologized profusely (I try to be on ESPECIALLY good behavior when I'm an American abroad), but, really -- you shouldn't put obstacles on the floor (between the registration desk and the elevators) at a hotel that caters to tourists.  Your clientele is largely sleep-deprived.

My first impressions of Iceland -- gained largely from the walk to -- and around -- the mall, is that this is really the first country I've been to where English isn't the official language.  OK, I've also been to Israel and Jordan, but I was never ALONE there.  Here, the lady at the hotel registration desk told me there was an internet cafe on the third floor of the mall -- it didn't dawn on me until I got here that ALL THE STORE NAMES ARE NOT IN ENGLISH.  Try staring at a directory in a foreign language and figure out the shop you need.  I ended up walking from one end of the mall to the other, and not finding it.  Finally gave in and asked at the Information Desk (everyone seems to speak English, which is great -- you just have to let them know you need it) and it turns out the cafe is on the FIRST floor.  Probably would've found it walking by, too.  Although the place is called S24 (which means little) it does have "Internetkafe" written on it. 

By the way, the keyboard is the same ... but different.  They´ve got a few more characters here (like these guys: æ and ð) and, in order to have keys for them, they've moved the other stuff around.  I have to hunt around every time I need an apostrophe, as it is living two keys over to the right of "p" -- and shares a key with the question mark.  I'm telling you, typing is a challenge on a strange keyboard on four hours of sleep.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Ten Things That Aren't Necessarily True About Me

As previously mentioned, there's this meme going around.  It's pretty simple to play.  You find yourself a willing subject and then write up Ten Things That Might Be True about said subject.  I found out about this when Wil (Olddog299) posted the Ten Things Carly Thought Might Be True About Him.  Seemed kinda fun -- a sort of playful way to find out how others perceive you, as well as some generally good journal fodder.  So when Wil asked for a willing subject for him to write Ten Things about, I volunteered.

His list has been up at his journal for awhile -- so now I'll reveal which things are true...


1.  Nzforme is addicted to peanut butter

Not true.  I'm addicted to pretzels.  In a pinch, though -- while vacationing in England where they apparently do not have normal pretzels -- I've satisfied my urges with peanut butter filled pretzels.

2.  Nzforme loves to have workers traipsing through her condo with their “plumber's crack” exposed

False again.  I s'pose this might change if I had better-looking workers, but, sadly, most of the guys that have come to do repairs in my condo have not have "trouser cleavage" I've wanted to get a good look at

3.  Nzforme claims at the top of her journal that she is a “35-year-old wussy girl.” That is only partially true.

Wil's right.  I am not 35 anymore, and I'm only partially wussy.  I am, however, a girl.

4.  There once was a photograph on “So This Is A Treadmill” that put Sharon Stone's infamous scene to shame.

I was going to say this was false, until Andrea reminded me of the unfortunate photo of a, er, zorb "giving birth" to me.  No, I won't link to it.  You'll have to find it yourself.

5.  Nzforme enjoys hiking up mountains in the pre-dawn light in order to watch the sun rise.

Maybe?  I've been hiking a total of three whole times, and none of have been pre-dawn.  I've been offered pre-dawn hikes a couple times, and have turned them all down in the interest of sleeping in.

6.  Nzforme is a Deputy District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles, California who specializes in prosecuting child molesters. (Her favorite class in law school was torts and whey.)

Partial credit here, as I'd wanted to be a DDA when I was in law school.  I never got the job (was told I was first on the waiting list, though) and I ended up working for the appellate court instead.  I've helped affirm convictions of child molesters, if that counts.

7.  Nzforme grew up in a large Catholic family with seven sisters and one brother in eastern Connecticut.

Not even close.  Small Jewish family with one sister in suburban Maryland.

8.  Nzforme has a major “thing” about shoes. In fact, she is a distant relative of Imelda Marcos.

The shoe thing is true.  No comment on my relationship to certain exiled wives of former dictators.

9.  Nzforme has a dark obsession she hides from us all and it doesn't involve chocolate, nor shoes. It's way more kinky than that!

I had a great laugh when I read this -- Wil knows that this is true; he actually researched it when I made an off-hand reference.  I hid it plain sight -- Wil was just the only one who followed up.  Sorry to say, though, it isn't that kinky. 

10.  Nzforme's favorite movie is “Earth Girl's Are Easy” because Jeff Goldblum's tongue “makes me hot...”

Uh, no.  Actually, I don't know what disturbs me more -- that Wil thinks I dig "Earth Girls Are Easy" (which I've never seen) or that Andrea said she knows I like Jeff Goldblum.  Where did I pick up this Jeff Goldblum reputation?  I know that I've mentioned several perhaps, uh, nontraditional celebrity crushes over the twenty or so months I've had this journal, but Jeff Goldblum?  I don't think so.

It's actually kinda funny because, what with me being a person of the Jewish persuasion, I've frequently complained (to female friends) that there aren't enough Jewish male hotties working in Hollywood.  I mean, really, who is a nice Jewish girl supposed to drool over these days?  Alan Arkin?

Thanks to Wil for using me as a subject.  I'd be happy to carry on the meme if anyone out there wants me to write Ten Things That Might Be True About Them, although I won't get to it for awhile as (if everything goes according to plan) Sothisisatreadmill is going to turn into a travel journal again real soon.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

What's grey and mine and Green All Over?

My new car!  Observe its cuteness.  I got the grey one.  An' it's a hybrid, so it's all environmentally righteous.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, sit down and hear the tale of how it came to be owned by me...

Once upon a time ... ok, about a month ago, it dawns on me that maybe now is a good time to trade in my car.

So, I do a whole bunch of research and hunt down the car I want (the Escape Hybrid SUV) and the price I should be paying for it (which is the sticker price, as demand for these suckers is so high, lots of dealerships get away with charging $5000 more than the sticker price).

Edmunds.com recommends a Ford dealership which isn't really close to me, but promises to sell the car to me for what Edmunds thinks a fair price is (aka, the msrp).  And I went down there three weeks ago, and sure enough, they agreed to sell me the car for the msrp.  As soon as they got one in.  And my salesguy asked me what I wanted for my trade-in, and I (having researched that, too) said "around $4800" and he researched it on the internet, and came up with the same $4800, so we're pretty much agreed that that's what the trade-in will be, and that's that.

So, he calls me every week to update me on the car situation.  He doesn't have a car for me until Friday, when he calls and tells me he has one that exactly meets my specs.  Can I come in on Saturday to buy it?

Abso-freakin-lutely.  I clean out my car, and show up at the dealership with my pink slip, proof of insurance, registration, and checkbook.

I go on a nice, long test drive.  I like the car.  A lot.  We go back to his office to talk turkey.  He says the car comes with a Lojack.  (For $595!)  I say I don't want a Lojack, and cross that off the info. sheet.  He doesn't seem to complain.

We go over to his "appraisal" guy to get the car appraised.  Appraisal guy comes back with a piece of paper which gets shown to manager guy, who gives it back to salesguy who says...


Now, remember.  We've BOTH seen on the internet where the "trade-in blue book" value of my car is $4800.  (Actually, we ran it again and it said $4900, so I went with that.)  I mean, we pull up the Kelly blue book website on his computer, put in all the specs of my car, say it is in "fair" (not good, but fair) condition, and it comes up with "A dealer should give you $4900 for this car."  I point this out to the salesguy.  But the manager had written on the little form that the market value of my car is $4350, and it's going to cost him $1350 to recondition it, put on new tires, and get it in saleable condition.  Leaving a total payment to me of $3000.  Riiiiight.

I make the salesguy take the print-out that says $4900 back to his manager.

Salesguy walks away.  (I believe he is leaving me in his office to stew.  I purposely take out my cell phone and wirelessly connect to CNN, reading news stories.  By the time he comes back in, it isn't like I was eagerly awaiting his return, it's that he is interrupting me.  Take THAT, mind-game boy.)  Salesguy comes back. 

"The manager agrees that $4900 is the market value of the car [really?  that's progress] but you have to undertand that we have to pay for the new tires, and to condition the car."

I pick up the piece of paper again.  I underline the bit on the piece of paper where we said the car is in "Fair" condition and that "Fair" condition means that it needs new tires and might have some cosmetic damage.  I say that all these things were taken into account when the computer came up with $4900. 

I further point out that we all know what's going on here.  Other car dealers are charging an extra $5000 for hybrids, but they're not -- they're selling for MSRP.  But now they're just trying to take extra profit by low-balling me on the trade-in since the car price itself isn't open to negotation, and I'm not standing for this.  I tell him if he comes back again with a number lower than $4900, I'm walking.

He goes away.  (I surf the web some more.)  He comes back with the manager, who claims to have been making phone calls to find someone willing to give him more than $3000 for my car.  (Right.  Who on EARTH would he be calling?)  He now raises my trade-in offer to $4200.

He picks up the form to show me the total price of the car.  He credits me $4200 for the trade in.  He charges me over $3000 for "taxes and fees" which, when we break it down, includes a "document preparation fee" which isn't a tax at all, but a hidden "fee" that the dealership gets.  (It's small and I'll pay it, but I wanted to point out to him that I knew he was taking profit there.)  He adds in $595 for the Lojack.

Is the Lojack already on the car? 


Then I don't want the Lojack.  Take it off.

He refuses.  "Some dealers charge an extra $5000," he says.  "We don't; but we make you buy a Lojack."

I thank them for their time and stand up to leave.  Salesguy asks me if I'm really leaving over "700."  "And $600 for a Lojack I don't want?  You bet."  I walk out. 

My dramatic exit was somewhat undermined by my discovery, some fifteen minutes later, that I'd forgotten to get my deposit back.

We're going to skip over the next part of the story, because it involves a transaction that hasn't been finalized yet (so can still be screwed up, and I don't want to jinx it).  But let's just say that, within about 15 minutes, I made a tentative deal to sell my car to someone else for a fair price.  (Let's also say that we researched prices that my car is going for on the open market, and that it is going for about $8000.  Hmmm.  And this Ford dealer wanted to give me $3000 for it.  There's that magic $5000 profit figure again.)

I called the salesguy back and left a message on his machine.  Forget the trade-in, I said.  I'll just buy the car for the msrp, take it or leave it.  And if you leave it, give me my deposit back.

He called back.  "Including the Lojack?"  He said.

Sigh.  Yes, fine, including the damn Lojack.  (At least there I'm getting something for my money, rather than just lining their pockets.)

I go back to the dealer today.  He gives me a huge pile of paperwork to sign, a lot of which doesn't apply.  I complain about having to sign stuff that doesn't apply.  My salesguy doesn't understand my complaint, so takes me to the finance manager.

The Finance Manager sits me down with the forms and walks me through them like I'm a little child.  I find this extremely annoying and patronizing, and do what I can to cut this short.  Although, I can't help but notice the first thing he says when he's going through the contract...

"The first thing I have to tell you is:  This price includes $595 for an optional Lojack.  Do you agree to pay for that?"

Hello.  "I'd rather not," I tell Finance Manager.  "Salesguy said I had to get it."  Salesguy is sitting right there.  Finance Manager asks him if it is already installed.  Salesguy admits it is not.  Finance Manager says I don't have to buy it if I don't want to.

I don't want to.  We print up a new contract.  No Lojack.  No getting screwed on the trade-in.

YAY!  New car!  New car!

Friday, May 20, 2005

This week's homework: Usin' the Force

For this week's homework, Scalzi asks:

Recount an interesting moment in your life that somehow involves Star Wars. It can be deeply tangential -- it doesn't have to have happened at a Star Wars movie, for example. But let's face it -- for the last 28 years Star Wars has been part of the common culture. Surely there's an interesting moment in your life in that time, in which Star Wars, its characters or its merchandise has been a part of it.

In 9th grade (somewhat ironically, it was in Miss Cunningham's class -- Miss Cunningham being the subject of my post on last week's homework), we read Romeo & Juliet.  Now, Miss Cunningham pointed out to us how West Side Story was a very clever retelling of Romeo & Juliet reset in the context of two warring street gangs in New York.  We had an assignment to put together a script for some other retelling of Romeo & Juliet in some other place and time.  Some kids did a Wild West Romeo & Juliet, for instance.

Me?  Well, I did ...

I never did make it all the way to production, but, as you can see, I saved the title card.  I found the script too.  It was full of all sorts of horrible things like Darth Vader (in the role of Montague) saying, "Was it you who initiated these unpleasantries?" and Luke skulking around with a bunch of ewoks.  The world is, I am certain, a better place for the fact it never got made.  (I never could figure out the "casting" once it was revealed that Luke and Leia were brother and sister.)

Now, if only it had been Hamlet...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ten Things Meme

Our pal Wil over at The Daily Snooze (see that link in my Other Journals?) is doing a "Ten Things That May Be True About [someone else]" Meme.  If you click on this link right here, you'll find ten things that Wil thinks may be true about me.

And while they all may be true, only a couple of them actually are.  Go on, guess.  The truth will be posted later...

Lower Your Expectations

Just got back from Star Wars III -- Revenge of the Sith.  Here's the thing.  It's good.  Maybe it's even really good.  But don't listen to the critics who are falling over themselves to heap praise on this movie.  I think they're just so damn relieved that Lucas finally stepped up to the plate and delivered an adequate motion picture.  He had to "thread the needle" as it were -- to get everything from Point A to Point B -- both of which were already established.  And he did that beautifully.  Watching Revenge of the Sith is pretty much two and half hours of pieces clicking into place.  (Lucas even explained one thing I hadn't realized needed explaining.)  Revenge of the Sith is the prequel we've been wanting for twenty years.  Indeed, Lucas probably should've just ditched Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and gone straight to this one.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  It's still problematic.  I mean, really, when the second best performance in your movie comes from a puppet, you might want to reconsider your leads.  Hayden Christensen gives a performance light years ahead of his work in the last movie -- which means he's actually watchable now, but only has rare moments of being genuinely good.  It's not all his fault.  Lucas still can't write a love scene to save his life, and every time Christensen is on the screen with Natalie Portman, they're both so lost with this corny dialogue, it just sucks all the life out of the movie.  And it isn't just them.  Ewan McGregor does OK with most of this stuff, but he trips over himself every time he has to refer to children as "younglings."  When McGregor and Christensen pace around each other, in preparation for their long-awaited duel, they're throwing around all sorts of bull about the Force and the Jedi Code, and you just want to see Christensen crank up his light saber and say, "Bring it on, old man."  Only Ian McDiarmid can successfully navigate his way through this dialogue -- perhaps it takes a certain level of Shakespearean experience to be able to threaten a puppet with genuine sincerity.

So... if it isn't the acting and it isn't the dialogue, it must be the action sequences, right?  Wrong.  With each successive movie, Lucas has attempted to make the light saber duels more and more impressive -- the result being that each one is faster and harder to follow.  By now, we're just watching a lot of tight shots of streaks of light flying across the screen.  Impossible to tell who has the lead in any battle -- worse when the two fighters have the same color saber -- and the brightness of the fast-moving sabres very nearly makes your eyes water.

Why do I recommend it at all, then?  Because it gives us what we needed.  It is true to the universe of Star Wars; the effects do have a few "wow" moments; and although the acting doesn't always connect, it does exactly when we need it to.  Every character in this movie has to go on some sort of journey to get from the end of Attack of the Clones to the place where everything is lined up in preparation for Star Wars, and each and every journey is completely believable.  Lucas really did thread the needle with this one.

And he had to.  Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were so ... not good, they threatened the integrity of the whole series -- fans were at the point where they thought Lucas should have left well enough alone.  Revenge of the Sith restores the dignity of the franchise.  We finally have a worthy prequel to the original trilogy. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


1.  Damn.  Looks like they're going to kill Tony off on 24.  I mean, standard set-up for death is when the "fallen" guy redeems himself and gets back with the ex-wife.  But the OTHER standard set-up for death is the guy "one last mission away" from retirement.  Both are a double whammy.  If he survives this season, color me shocked.

2. Wow.  Bo sang his face off on American Idol.  (So much so that I was almost willing to pick up the phone and actually call.)  The judges seem to think, at this point, that Bo will win this thing.  I'm not so sure.  Rocker Bo will score huge in the "blue states," but those "red states" there in the middle will go heavy for Country girl Carrie.  Vonzell will leave this week.

3.  Some months from now, when Emmy nominations come out, look for one for House, for last night's episode.  Seriously.  If they don't get nominated for writing that, there's something way wrong with the universe.

4.  A week after Amazing Race, and I'm still glad Rob and Amber didn't win.  Used to be that when you auditioned for a reality game show, they wouldn't let you on if you'd done one in the last three or five years -- now, apparently, that's a bonus.  Look, I don't begrudge them their fame or their success from Survivor -- but one of the things that should come with fame is that you're not "a regular person" anymore.  Rob and Amber had a huge advantage in Amazing Race, simply because they were recognized all around their world, due to their appearances on Survivor.  Other players -- who are actually competiting for real prize money -- shouldn't have to play against someone famous.

5.  And, of course, I'm pleased that Tom won Survivor, although I do wish Katie had been less of a butthead at the final tribal council, so that there would have been a little competition in it.  But, man, refusing to answer Janu's question?  Who did she expect to earn points with using that move?  All she served to do was further alienate the jurors and put them even more solidly in Tom's camp.  Funny that Coby said his vote for Katie was really a vote against Tom -- after Katie's performance before the jury, I figure most of them were voting for Tom just to vote against Katie.    

Monday, May 16, 2005

I Smell Like Pledge!

Ever buy those Pledge Grab-It cloths?  They've come up with a new version that smells all orangey.  OK, "citrus scented," according to the label.  I find the smell intoxicating.  Makes me want to just get high dusting the living room.

OK, not really.  Very little makes me want to dust, as the three unopened packages of Citrus Scented Pledge Grab-It clothes sitting in my utility closet attest.  I keep buying them -- apparently because I can't bear the thought of running out -- but that still doesn't make me use them.

The other day, I went to the mall, and found myself in The Body Shop.  Was about to buy myself another little bottle of Ananya, the floral-scented fragrance I usually use.  But I had a few minutes to kill, so thought I'd sniff a few bottles and see if there wasn't anything I liked better.

The very first one I tried was Satsuma.  And it was love at first sniff.  The woman behind the counter told me it was a "Japanese Orange" scent, but I knew better.  It was Pledge!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

I'm such a lemming

Just bought my ticket for Star Wars III.  Not really sure why I did this.

I mean, Star Wars I blew.  And the most I can say for Star Wars II is that is that blew somewhat less than Star Wars I.

But I'm a sucker for completion.  There are many TV series I watched all the way to the end long after they stopped being good, just to get that sense of accomplishment that comes with closure (even though the only thing I actually accomplished was wasting an hour of my time on a weekly basis for several seasons).  It takes a lot for a TV show to go so bad I'll stop watching it, after that sizeable investment of time back when it was good.

And so, Star Wars III.  I have such a history with this series.  Hell, like many others of my generation, I go back to 1977 with it, and can tell you where I saw Star Wars IV for the first time.  Heck, Star Wars VI has a very nearly sacred place in my history, as its opening day marks the one and only time I ditched school.  (Yes, I say that knowing my mom reads my journal.  She drove me to the theater.  My mom rocks.)

So, I bought my ticket for Star Wars III opening day.  I didn't go for a midnight show, because I have such reduced expectations based on the most recent two.  (Yes, I know the reviews say this one is much better.  I'm not falling for that again.)  But I am going to see it as soon as possible.  Partly because I know that if it's enjoyable at all, it will be more enjoyable with an opening day crowd.  But mostly because I just want to cross it off the list and close the book on it already.

Friday, May 13, 2005

This week's homework: Teachers

For this week's homework, Scalzi asks:

Weekend Assignment #59: We've all had teachers who have made a difference in our lives. Tell us about one of yours. It can be a teacher from any level of education, from kindergarten to graduate school.

Extra Credit: Tell us your second favorite subject in schoool.

"Schoool" ??  Well, John, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say "spelling" wasn't your favorite.

OK, teachers who have made a difference.  Actually, I've been very lucky in that I've had many wonderful teachers.  In part, this wasn't luck.  Fairly early on, I learned that the teacher is more important than the subject -- so I selected a lot of college and law school classes based on the professor, not the subject matter.  I ended up with a love of several different subjects I'd had no idea I was interested in.  Go figure.

But for this assignment, I'm going to go all the way back to a Junior High School English Teacher -- Miss Cunningham. 

We wrote lots of papers for Miss Cunningham, and I usually received good grades on them.  Most of my papers, though, were written with a certain level of informality.  I never really saw a difference between hoity-toity "legitimate" reference sources and sources from popular culture.  When analyzing Shakespeare, I'd have no trouble at all making references to contemporary movies or TV shows.  And I'd have lots of footnotes (yes, even in Junior High) -- I'd run off on tangents, or go the extra mile for a pun, or write something else which I'd thought was worthy of inclusion, but didn't quite make the cut for the main text.

One day, Miss Cunningham pulled me aside after class.  I had just turned in a paper which was overflowing with popular references and footnotes; it was really some of my best work.  And Miss Cunningham asked me to rewrite it.  She said that she knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and this style of writing would never do.  She wanted me to rewrite the paper in a more "proper" style, because that's the way lawyers write.

I was dejected.  It wasn't like I had any problems with spelling or grammar -- it was purely a question of style.  She wanted me to take out everything that made the paper mine, everything that made it fun.  I rewrote the paper.  All of the analysis was still there, but none of my particular style.  I gave it back.

The next day, Miss Cunningham had me stay after class again.  And she said, "Forget everything I said the other day.  The first paper was much more persuasive."  And I said something about, "But I want to write like a lawyer."  And she said, "This is the way lawyers like you write."  And from then on, she encouraged the writer I was, rather than trying to force me to write some other way.

Brave of her to admit she was wrong (to some kid) -- but going through the whole process was extremely valuable to me.  Before I settled in my current job (where I've been for eleven years, thanks very much), I was with some law firms that tried to make me write in their styles, saying, "This is how a lawyer writes."  No, this is how a lawyer at your firm writes.  I am a lawyer, and this is how I write.  Miss Cunningham taught me that.

Second favorite subject:  Probably "History of the Common Law."  Yes, I know.  Geek.

A coupla words about "The Apprentice"

And here I was all set to do Scalzi's weekly assignment.  I'll do that tomorrow -- right now, he's being pre-empted for a little reality television.

So, tonight was the second-to-last episode of The Apprentice -- we saw the two contestants do the final task, and have their final chance to have their say in the boardroom.  Pretty much all that's left is for Trump to stall to try to fill an hour of live television next week.  Nobody on the West Coast will watch it -- it was boring as all get out last time, and we will have read the results on the internet by the time it airs.

The thing that I'm wondering now is, exactly who is editing this show and how much discretion do they have?  Because, in the final task, it looked like Kenda wiped the floor with Tana.  And -- in what looked to be an adorable little twist -- Tana was too full of herself to even notice that she was tanking the challenge.  Leaving the Governor of New York standing around doing nothing?  Printing up thousands of copies of a program that said one of the athletes was useless as a competitor but would look good on camera?  These were not just itty bitty errors.  And compare that to Kendra -- whose event sponsors were so happy with the work she did, one of them offered her a job.  Not to mention the difference between the way they interacted with their "employees" -- Tana was all about the image of being in charge and having respect, while Kendra actually earned it.

The point is:  that's how it looked to me.  As a viewer.  Watching the edited version the producers of the show wanted me to see.  For all I know, Kendra screwed this thing up as badly as Tana did, and it just didn't air.  But the way this show was edited made it look like Trump would be a freakin' moron if he hired Tana.

Same sorta thing happened last season -- although, there, it wasn't so much the final episode, but the entire season.  Two competitors:  Kelly and Jennifer.  During the whole season, Kelly was shown as cool, calm, and professional, while Jennifer looked to be just sliding by.  Indeed, each week Jennifer escaped firing, you sorta wondered how that happened.  So, by the time of the great big one-hour live finale -- after all of America had seen the show which was edited to make Jennifer look like a moron -- Trump claimed that he didn't know which one to hire (so he needed to take an hour-long show to make his decision), but everyone knew what would happen.  And it did happen -- every time Trump asked someone which one he should hire, the answer was always "Kelly."

So here's what I wonder ... suppose there were no live finale, and Trump had made his decision at the very end of the prerecorded episode (the one which just aired tonight).  Assume further that he decided to hire Tana.  If that had happened, the episode we saw would have been edited way differently -- because the people behind The Apprentice never want to make it look like Trump made the wrong decision.

So, near as I can figure, one of two things is going on.  Either (a) Trump has already decided to hire Kendra, and has passed the word to the editors so that they would validate that selection in the editing; or (b) Trump seriously had absolutely no idea who he would hire at the end of the episode, and left the editing up to someone else, but now that the episode has been edited the way it was, he has no choice but to hire Kendra, so he doesn't look like a world-class idiot.

Either way, the show would be more honest without the live finale.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

What's Appropriate at the Ball Park

Went to a Dodger Game the other day.

Some people in the crowd were throwing around a beach ball.  A woman got hold of the ball, and apparently did not pass it in the direction the rest of the crowd had in mind.

Dude sitting in front of me called her a "stupid [f-word] whore." 

(Course he actually SAID the f-word.)

He yelled it.  In a crowded ballpark.  Nobody said a word.

Later that night, everyone in my section started standing up.  I couldn't figure out why, but stood up so I could see, too.  Turns out, there was some guy about 15 rows in front of us who had stood up to take off his shirt.

Dude in front of me tells him to, "Sit down, you [f-word] [other f-word that's a derogatory term for a homosexual]."

I was APPALLED.  I was even more appalled that nobody said anything.  Had he made a similar comment which was race-based rather than sexual-orientation based, I expect everyone in earshot would have kicked his butt from here to Tuesday.  But since it was about orientation, nobody said anything.

(I sure didn't.  I'm small and female.  And I bruise easy.)

The now-shirtless guy yelled back at the dude in front of me, "I was just taking off my shirt."  To which the dude came up with, "I don't see no sun."

To which I burst out laughing.  Sad that he apparently had the quickness of mind to actually come up with a witty retort, but preferred incendiary foul-mouthed insults instead.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Clothes Shopping

You know, sometimes when you go shopping, you're looking for a particular image.  For the "interview suit," you want "conservative and professional."  For the evening gown, you want "sexy and elegant."  And so forth.

But, sometimes, when you go shopping, you try something on at random and it volunteers the image itself.

The other day, I was at a clothing store and tried on this khaki skirt.  It was a full skirt with extra panels, so it was very flouncy, but in a casual, cotton, don't-bother-ironing-it way.  As soon as I put it on, the total image magically appeared in my head -- it needed an olive-colored tank top, and a casual shirt hanging open over it -- perhaps in camouflage.  Shoes would be thongs (which I normally disdain for anything but beach wear) -- leather ones, probably with some beads to give it a "crunchy" look.  Hair casually pulled back in a loose pony tail.  Just give me a rifle and I would be the Special Guest Star on a MacGyver episode -- I'm the spunky daughter of the rebel leader who has been kidnapped by the agents of the evil dictator (who only recently took over in a military coup) -- and I'm going to get my father back "with or without your help."

Bought the skirt.  Damn Banana Republic.

Friday, May 6, 2005

This Week's Homework: 'M' is for the ...

For this week's homework, Scalzi asks:

Weekend Assignment #58: Post one of your favorite mother/child pictures. This could be a picture of you and your mother (at any age), or a picture of you with your children (again, at any age), or even one of your spouse and kids. But it should be a mother who is important to you personally.

Extra Credit (this is an optional part of the assignment): Share a piece of fun trivia about your mom.

Hmm.  When I was thinking about what photo to use, I had forgotten the bit about me having to be in the picture too.  But I decided on using this one, and this is the one I'm going to use.  I'm just a rebel that way.

There are a lot of things I've gotten from my mother.  You can argue till the cows come home whether I picked them up by some sort of biological predisposition or if it was just that she was so enthusiastic about things that her love for them ended up rubbing off on me.  But whatever way you slice it, I picked up mom's math nerdiness, her love of science fiction, and her theatre geekiness.

Oh yeah.  Big time Theatre Geeks, we are.  Sometimes, she'll just leave my dad at home and hop on a plane to come see plays with me.  That's just Our Way.

And, one of those times, we ended up in New York.  At a theatre flea market and charity auction.  (For details, see this entry.)  At the flea market, different Broadway shows set up different tables or booths, where they try to out-do each other with fun and exciting ways to get you to part from your money in support of the cause -- maybe by selling off props or autographed playbills, or other fun things.  Which brings us to the booth for The Producers.

If you've seen the musical, you know it involves an ensemble of "Little Old Ladies" (young men and women dressed as little old ladies).  One of the highlights is a dance number in which the Little Old Ladies, all identically dressed, do a "tap dance" in which their taps aren't made by their shoes, but by their walkers.  (It's in questionable taste, but funny as hell.)  And, at the flea market (for a small donation), you could get your picture taken with two of the actual Little Old Ladies from the show.  Why, they'd even give you your very own walker to stand behind, and your very own little black handbag to dangle over your arm.

Thus, my mom:

Isn't that the best?

No Phishing Zone

Got a phishing email yesterday.  It was different from most phishing emails I'd received in that everthing in it was spelled correctly.  But still, I could tell it was Phishing.

It claimed to be from PayPal.  (And the "From" didn't contain an email address -- it just said it was from PayPal Support.)  Told me that there was some unauthorized activity on my PayPal account (how would they know?) and I should just click on this link and verify my account information.

Here's the beauty part:  The link I was supposed to click on was spelled out, and the URL was a perfectly good secured link to PayPal.  On the other hand, when I ran my cursor over the link, it showed me where it was ACTUALLY linking -- and that wasn't PayPal at all -- that was someone's private website which would (I have no doubt) spoof the PayPal site and collect all my financial information.  Sneaky.

Now, there were plenty of reasons I was suspicious of this email.

Not the least of which being that I don't have a PayPal account on the screen name to which this email was sent.

Also, I could not make it disclose the email address from which it was ACTUALLY sent -- something a real PayPal email would never do.

The fact that the link didn't actually GO to PayPal was just icing on the cake.

Got me to thinking.  I know that AOL takes a very aggressive attitude against spammers and phishers.  And that it does LOTS of things to educate its users against spammers and phishers.  And also does things like automatically disabling links in incoming mail in order to prevent users from falling for this.

But I started thinking that the REASON phishers get away with stuff like this is that they're ABLE to hide both their real originating email address AND the true destination of any email links in the message.

I imagine a phisher would be totally powerless if AOL automatically noted the TRUE originating email address next to the name the sender wants to use -- and/or automatically inserted the TRUE destination of any link right next to the link.  I mean, would anyone click on a link to "Paypal Member Info" if, right next to it, in parentheses, there was a URL for "Joe's Website"?

Do we have this technology?  Any reason we're not using it?

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Fast Things

There's the speed of sound.

There's the speed of light.

And then there's the speed of my cat, after she fell in and momentarily joined me in a nice, warm bath.


....I found her a few minutes later and I swear there wasn't a drop of water on her.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Score another for the internet

So, I'm sorta shopping for a new car.

OK, I'm actually shopping for a new car, but even the act of shopping isn't something I want to affirmatively commit to until I've actually signed the purchase agreement and am driving off the lot in my new car.  Because, I mean, the whole thing is rather stressful.  And expensive.  (And I can back out at any time and get my deposit back.)

But the really nifty part is how the shopping experience itself is vastly changed by the existence of the internet.

I've found that, in my own experience, it usually takes two times for me to give a task completely over to the online world.  Like, the first time I got my hands on TurboTax -- I did my taxes by hand that year, then used TurboTax to confirm the result.  Once I was confident that TurboTax did everything I did (only faster), I used TurboTax exclusively the next year.  Same thing with booking travel.  First time, I used the internet for researching the flights I wanted, but I still booked them by phone.  Second time, I became my own "internet travel agent," and I haven't really looked back since.

So.  When I bought my last car, I poked around online to get some vague idea of the cars I wanted to test drive, but I did all the legwork out there in the real world.

This time ... well, this time I did all my comparison shopping online.  My good pals at Edmunds.com gave me all the information I wanted about all the vehicles in the class I was looking for -- even enabled me to print it all out in a nice comparison chart.  AND (bonus), they also gave me three prices -- the msrp, the invoice price, and the average price the car was actually selling for in my area of the country. 

Armed with this information, I went out for my test drives.  Let me tell you -- you have such a feeling of confidence when you're going into a dealership with all of the data you could possibly need.  I so totally felt like I wasn't falling for any of their crap -- when they tried to steer me toward a vehicle I didn't want, I was able to give them an itemized list of all the reasons why I'd already rejected that choice, thanks very much.  And when I saw a dealer who tried to charge me $5000 more than the average selling price for the car -- see ya, bye, I'm outta there.

Edmunds even hooked me up with a dealership in my area which would guarantee selling me the car for the "average price" as posted on Edmunds -- so I'd know I'm getting a fair price for the car and there's no need for all that posturing and negotiating.  Of course, there's still room for negotiating when it comes to the price they'll give me for my trade-in -- but I've already investigated my car's blue book value online (at two different sites), so I know whether their appraiser is giving me a fair deal there, too.

It's still stressful and scary and expensive ... but with all the information I got from my pal, the internet, I am certain I'm not being taken advantage of -- which fact genuinely makes the car-purchasing process a whole different ball game.