Archive for January, 2002

The Joy of Owning a Car in Boston

Parking on my street is a game of musical chairs.  When the music stops, the person who isn’t home yet get the opportunity to pay the City of Boston for parking illegally.   If I arrive home any day after 6:30pm, I am not able to park my Jeep (The RB) legally.  There are no spots left on my street, or on any of the streets within a five-mile radius of my apartment.  This situation is by no means accidental.  We residents of Boston may play roulette for the parking spaces, but our Mayor doesn’t have to worry about parking, and he gets to drive around in a big car, just like those people in Connecticut who claim to be members of the “Pequot Tribe”.

The City of Boston counts on parking ticket income, enough so that if for some reason the cash flow from parking tickets does not reach the expected levels, the Mayor of Boston makes public suggestions about how to increase ticket revenue.  One such scheme was to have meter maids layer tickets on illegally parked cars.  I’m not completely sure about the details, but I think that according to this scheme, the person who lost at musical chairs would find approximately 482 tickets on their car in the morning.  The Boston meter maids refused to participate in this policy because they claimed their safety would be in jeopardy.  No kidding.

The biggest scam in parking tickets is Boston’s street cleaning policy.  Every other week, if you park your car on a certain side of the street, you are awarded with a parking ticket for disrupting the City’s efforts to clean the streets.  For example, on my street, if you are parked on the left side of the street on the 1st or 3rd Wednesday of a month, or on the right side on the 2nd or 4th Wednesday of the month, you get a ticket.  Easy, right?  I have actually seen people counting Wednesdays on their fingers while parking their cars.

This ticket is awarded whether or not the streets actually get cleaned.  I don’t think I have ever seen a street cleaner come down my street, but every week there are shiny new tickets on the windshields of every car on the “wrong side” of the road.  This policy is aimed directly at the people who own cars and take public transportation (the “T”) to work and have to leave their cars on the street during the day.  Every person I know who owns a car and commutes on the T could wallpaper their apartments with street cleaning tickets. 

Of course, a number of these people use the City’s buses, which add their own distinct flavor to the Boston driving experience.  The City has gone to the trouble of further limiting the amount of parking on the streets by placing signs to prevent parking in designated bus stops.  The theory behind this is that buses will have a designated area to pull over, out of traffic, to embark and disembark passengers.

Those signs are a waste of steel.  The buses never even attempt to pull over; they merely stop in the middle of the road when they decide to allow their passengers off.  This completely blocks all traffic in their lane, and treats that traffic to a steady diet of thick, black exhaust smoke.  There is no way around these mobile roadblocks without running the risk of merging into oncoming traffic.  Passing the buses in this manner takes on an added element of danger because the buses will, without warning, begin blindly lumbering forward without regard for any cars that might have attempted to pass them, leaving those cars pinned in the oncoming lane.  Risks notwithstanding, I will do almost anything to pass a bus if I find myself stuck behind one.  Traffic stops enough as it is, without needless stops because huge buses can’t be bothered to pull over. 

Only slightly less annoying than the buses are the Kings and Queens of the Road.  These are the people who go zipping by me when I am sitting in a line of traffic.  They are in the left-turn only lane, but they have no intention of turning left.  They get to the front of my line of traffic, throw on their right directional and begin to merge.  These Kings and Queens don’t have time to wait in traffic like the peon in the red Jeep; they have important things to do, they have to get home in time to watch Sponge Bob.  I am waiting for the day when one of them tries to cut in front of me, so I can just SMASH INTO THEM HAHAHAHA WOULDN’T THAT BE GREAT??!!!

No, that would be wrong.  Despite the fact that this might give me a large amount of personal satisfaction (and maybe a new car!), knowing my history of my vehicle, I’m sure that my seatbelt would fail and I would have Steering Wheel Face for the remainder of my life.  So, the Kings and Queens are safe, unless I can avoid parking tickets long enough to be able to afford a car with air bags.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 17 Jan 2002 No Comments

The RB

jeep.jpgGiving a name to a car is a nice, folksy thing to do.  I’m generally in favor of nice, folksy things, so I have dubbed my car “The RB”.  R stands for Red, which is the color of my 1991 Jeep Wrangler, and B stands for a bad word for which one meaning is “female dog”.   I truly believe that my Jeep is a malevolent entity thrust upon me by the angry car gods as punishment for my past sins with previous cars (a story for another time, but the short version is that in my youth, I tortured my first car to death with mistreatment.  My mother stills gets weepy when she thinks about it).

I don’t want to hear any arguments about the fact that I chose to buy The RB with an exercise of my own free will, because if you’ll notice, all of those doomed characters in the Greek myths used their free will and still wound up with the outcomes that had been predicted for them.  I am convinced that The RB is a punishment, for no innocent vehicle would inflict so much pain and suffering upon its owner.

I believe that the used car salesman who sold me The RB must have had a sick sense of humor.  He asked me, “So, where are you going to take the Jeep on your first weekend with it?” as I was driving it off the lot.  That first Saturday, I was still glowing from the happiness of having a new (to me) car when I started the Jeep and attempted to put her into gear for a trip to the store.  

After I had the Jeep towed back to the dealership, the mechanic told me later that “somehow” all of the hydraulic fluid had leaked out of whatever part of a car allows it to be put into gear, which is why the Jeep had refused to allow me access to first gear.  Now I believe that this “hydraulic fluid leak” had been the equivalent of a dog peeing on a hydrant, with me playing the role of the hydrant. 

I should have backed out of the deal right then, but I had the hope that things would work out for the best, and maybe the problem with the hydraulic fluid was just a freak accident.  Besides the fact that I found nails in the spare tire, The RB allowed me to continue to feel good by acting innocently until the lemon law grace period had passed.

Once my window of opportunity to return her to the dealership had closed, The RB began to break down fairly regularly.  The pattern of the breakdowns, which still holds true, was that every time I was about to get ahead financially, my lovely red Jeep would suddenly require extensive repairs.   

First the entire exhaust system died.  Then The RB refused to start.  The AAA guy thought it was my starter, but the mechanic thought the problem was bad wiring, and removed quite a few wires.  For what he charged me, he must have replaced the wires with gold jewelry.  The washer fluid for the back window didn’t work. The heater blew air that could never be described as “warm”.  The gauges on the dashboard waved their needles around quite a bit, but not with any actual relationship to what was going on in the engine (I discovered this in the second month of ownership, when The RB ran out of gas on the highway on my way to work). 

For a time, the alternator would periodically stop functioning, and my mechanic replaced most of my engine while trying to figure out what was wrong.  He would replace something (probably chosen at random) and tell me that the problem was fixed.  I would drive for a while, and things would seem normal  until I drove into the middle of a busy intersection, when The RB would seize its opportunity and stall.  It would then refuse to start, causing every driver in the Boston area to honk their horns and make obscene gestures at me. I changed mechanics and the new mechanic figured out the problem, but by that time I had broken down in the middle of the three busiest intersections in the Boston area.                                  

More time passed.  Both headlights winked out.  The knobs fell off both window cranks.  The driver’s seatbelt (which regularly works itself into a position that prevents me from closing the driver’s door successfully on the first try) had the clip fall off.  Many batteries died prematurely.

My tires were twice punctured by people with ice picks. As far as I know, I don’t have any enemies (except for the people from those intersections), but twice I came out of my apartment to find my beloved Jeep quite a bit closer to the pavement.  I’m not sure how The RB managed to do that to herself, but I assume that she honked something insulting about some kid’s mother, then conveniently left an ice pick on the ground next to her tires.

The U-joints needed to be replaced.  Various belts were changed.  The brakes were replaced.  The lifters in the engine blew out.  A hole cracked open in the floorboard on the driver’s side.

During my first winter with her, I discovered that the seal between the fiberglass roof and The RB herself was far from optimum.  The screws that were tasked to keep the front of the roof attached to the windshield would, no matter what I tried, leap from their holes in the general direction of my head any time the Jeep got moving with any speed.  This was distracting at best, and if the screws found their mark it could be actually dangerous.  To this day, there are no screws keeping the windshield connected to the roof, and I wonder how long it will be before the roof flies off.

The worst part of the roof-Jeep relationship, however, was the shrill whistling sound that occurred at all times when the speedometer was above 20 mph.  The sound became so overwhelming that it became a habit to drive The RB with my face in a constant wince (I suspect that other drivers merely thought that I had an urgent need to go to the bathroom).  I somehow put up with this incessant, mind numbing whistling for a full four years before I finally came to my senses and filled every space between the roof and the Jeep with roofing caulk (including the holes where the screws belong).  This, to my shock, actually solved the problem.  I am not able to accurately describe the relief I felt when I was finally able to drive The RB without the equivalent of a 200 lb. bird screaming into my ear.

One time, The RB managed to turn on its interior light while parked overnight in a downtown Boston lot on the coldest weekend of the year.  I tried to coax The RB into starting on Saturday morning, but she would have none of it.  I was shivering with my girlfriend in her car (she has a car that works) waiting for the AAA truck to come, when one of those big vacuum trucks stopped next to us.  The driver was a friendly guy who offered to attempt to pull The RB with his truck while I popped the clutch in an effort to get the engine started.

This sounded like a good idea to me, since the AAA truck wasn’t due to show up until Wednesday.  We hooked a rope to the back of his truck and to the front of The RB, and he dragged me around that entire icy parking lot, with me repeatedly popping the clutch without success.  After trying this again and again for at least fifteen minutes, I noticed that The RB had somehow managed to engage its parking brake, and that the parking brake had been set for the entire episode.  How that brake cord didn’t snap, I’ll never know.  I had begun making hurried plans for an “accidental” car fire when the truck driver walked up and asked if I might want him to try a jump start using his truck’s battery (an option which had somehow not previously occurred to us).    Realizing the danger, The RB started right up.  My girflfriend was kind enough not to laugh at me out loud.

I won’t bore you with more of these stories, but trust me that there are more.  As things stand right now, The RB is paid for and running decently well, so I am going to see how long she runs before I have to commit myself to a new car payment.  Stop shaking your head in disbelief.  I realize that this decision does not say much for my intellect, but I have FAITH!!  Wait a second…what’s that rattling noise?

The RB Tim 03 Jan 2002 No Comments