Things to Do in Your Crash Helmet

Things to Do In Your Crash Helmet

This is written for motorcyclists who wear a full face helmet. If you choose to wear an open-face helmet, you would not like the rest of this anyway. If you choose to not wear a helmet, even more so.

“When the helmet drops the bullshit stops.”  This little mantra I began to use decades ago.  I am not all that sure I invented it, although Wikipedia gives me credit for it. The underlying tenet is that riding a motorcycle trumps everything else you may have going on in your life at that time. Riding a motorcycle does not require all of your mental and physical abilities… until the moment it does.

When the helmet drops you stop thinking about the myriad problems you are working on right now. You stop fretting about bills, work, a problem with a child, that upcoming performance review, a spat with a loved one, concerns for the future.  If you stop thinking about all of that while riding you will be a safer rider.  An added benefit is that sometimes the solution to a nettlesome problem will magically appear, after you have spent some time away from it.

For me, this means that there is nothing going on in my helmet other than what my brain can provide.  No music from an ear bud or two, for instance.  No GPS voice prompts.  No phone calls.  The last has always amazed me. One of the joys of riding for me is the absence of outside voices.  Anyone who needs to talk to me can wait for the next time I pull over for a break.  I am not sure about having your helmet connected to another rider. I can see the advantages, but I have no experience.

And ear buds for music? For one detail, minor do some, the use of two ear buds is illegal in most places.  More importantly, music from an outside source can have unintended negative consequences.

When you are rocketing along, bopping along to a favorite song, it is possible for the song to become sort of a movie soundtrack for your adventure. I have known several people who suffered crashes because the engineers who designed the highway were not listening to that song!  Sad, but true. 

Same thing with GPS, even without the voice prompts. I have chatted with at least two people who crashed because they were studying the GPS on the handlebars for a second too long before a corner.

Look at it this way.   Riding a motorcycle is not dangerous, but it does entail risk. The difference, to my mind, is that danger is danger, whereas risk can be reduced by the application of training, equipment, experience, and mental focus.  There are some areas of the world where if you are strolling around at night, by yourself, you are in danger, period, no matter how much experience and preparation and gear you have with you.

Most of us know that riding a motorcycle may require your instant response to a threat, either natural (deer!), or human (see that car that is about to turn left?), or weather.  I know what my physical and mental abilities are, and I do not feel I can “give away” any of them on a motorcycle.  That means no drugs or alcohol, enough food and hydration, a brain focused on what I am doing, and fairly frequent breaks to rest and recharge.

I once had a conversation with a motorcycle salesman I worked with who liked to listen to music piped into his ears while riding. In his former life he’d been an up and coming professional baseball player, before a catastrophic knee injury ended his career.  I asked him if he ever listened to ear buds when he was at bat.  Of course not, he replied. Hitting a major league fast ball or curve ball required his complete attention. I argued that riding a motorcycle required the same attention to the task at hand, and actually more. Why would you concede any degree of attention? 

A second example.  I have a friend who is an excellent rider and a motorcycle safety instructor of many years’ experience. He mentioned on one occasion that he listened to music while riding. I immediately clambered atop my soap box and gave him chapter and verse.

I saw him again about six months later when I was invited to be the guest speaker at an instructors’ meeting.  When he saw me walk in he said “Daaaavvve Presstton!  Boy am I mad at you!”

I was taken aback, because I think quite highly of him and wondered what I had done to offend.  (this time)

He referred back to my lecture. He had thought about it and decided I might have a point.  (Might? Harrumph!)  He decided to go a week without the ear bud.  During that week he noticed that he was paying more attention and was more aware.  So now, thanks to me (he said with an ironic grin), he could no longer listen to music!

One for my side.

So if you’re not going to listen to music or take calls or watch the GPS, what are you to do?  If you’re on a long ride on challenging and winding roads, especially if you are riding at “efficient” speeds, this may not be a problem.  One of my favorite times is to be in a motel in the evening totally spent from the effort of maintaining focus for 8 to 10 hours of exhilarating riding.

But there are times when you are simply cruising for a long time on roads that are mostly straight, with little traffic and no obvious risks at hand for minutes at a time.  The mind is a restless critter, and it will wander given half a chance.  Here are some techniques I have used over the years.

Pre-loading music. Before a long trip, I may spend time at home listening to some of my favorite songs over and over and over again. The album “Alive” by Kenny Loggins was a favorite for many years. I would essentially “load” the entire album into my brain before the ride. (Your taste in music will undoubtedly be different) While riding I could “listen” to the songs in a way that does not intrude on your thought process to any discernible degree compared to an ear bud, and unlike an external source, the music will instantly “mute” when your eyes or ears or nose detect something of interest.

Helmet trombone.  This one is more recent, and is now my favorite.  I discovered that I could hum in such a way that, inside my helmet, it sounds exactly like a trombone or French horn solo!  For some reason, I can hum the music to “Back Home In Indiana” and enjoy a spectacularly musical sound.  More recently I discovered a four trombone group called the “Maniacal Four.”  They have two pieces on You Tube, and their rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is in some ways better than the Queen classic.  I cannot wait to try “my” version on my next long ride in the comfort of my Arai.

Play By Play.  If I sense that my attention is wandering, I call on many years of announcing high school football and basketball games and start talking out loud. Everything I am seeing, where I am, what lies ahead, all the potential risks I can spot ahead, what speed, what gear, and so on. A couple minutes of this and I am back to full function.  If this does not work, it’s time to find a rest area and pull off and get off the bike for a bit.

Deer!  In high risk deer areas, of which there are many these days, I occasionally belt out “deer!” in a loud voice, which causes me to scan the road verge ahead for as far as I can see. It used to be that if you avoided riding at dawn or dusk or at night the deer were seldom seen, but the deer seem to have ignored that concept of late.

You may have your own little tricks. Care to share?

 

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

 

 

Posted in Education, Motorcycles | 2 Comments

The Murder of My Friend Arpana

The  Murder of My Friend Arpana 

The murder trial of the monster who murdered my friend Arpana begins today.

Arpana was one of the most fascinating people it was my good fortune to get to know. She grew up in India, received her college degree in computer engineering there, and then a Masters from a prestigious east coast university. I don’t recall which one.  By the time she graduated she was of the top people in the field of security for large company data base systems, and landed a job here to pursue that.  If I recall correctly, one of her clients was Toyota. There were few people in the world who could carry on a conversation with her about her work with any degree of comprehension.  Certainly not me.

First thing she did was purchase a motorcycle, her sole mode of transportation.  She rode it everywhere, rain or shine or snow notwithstanding.

In addition to her work, she threw herself into a dizzying array of adventures and charity work.  She rode on many of the group rides I led at Cycle Barn, including three day jaunts, and also rode with other groups.  She lacked experience and advanced training, and learned rapidly by crashing her motorcycle several times. Many of my friends and those in other riding groups tried to help with riding tips, which did some good over time, but each time she had an incident she leapt to her feet unhurt and carried on with enthusiasm.

On the rides I led she endeared herself to everyone she met, and she never really cared what the intent of the ride was. We spent a day at the drag races in Bremerton, and a weekend in Bend, Oregon. It was such fun to listen to her many intelligent questions and also discuss her childhood in a vastly different culture.

She was incredibly active in charity work, volunteering at all sorts of events. She agreed to help out at a Seattle 100 charity track day. There she met pro racers Josh and Melissa Herrin, and got a ride around the track on the back of Josh’s AMA Pro Superbike Yamaha. She became good friends with them, as she did with everyone she met.

I can recall many conversations with male and female rider friends about her. We were worried that her entirely open and trusting nature would cause her to be taken advantage of by someone. 

On one occasion she rode with me in my car to a weekend kart race in Centralia. I was the announcer, and Arpana went along just to help out wherever needed.  That bothered me a bit. Here she was climbing into a car with a much older man she hardly knew, and by the end of the weekend I knew where she worked and where she lived.  She had no pretense about her at all, just a warm smile and obvious incredible intelligence.

 

I have never met anyone with such a zest for life and adventure.

She was murdered at a Halloween party at her apartment complex, where revelers evidently roamed from unit to unit as the party continued. The man who brutally murdered her (allegedly) was a convicted sex criminal staying with a friend.

Her funeral was sad, but also remarkable. The turnout of mourners was enormous. She had moved to this area knowing absolutely nobody, less than one year earlier, and had attracted a wide array of friends from all sorts of contacts.

And so the trial begins, years later.  It is easy to have a personal philosophy opposed to capital punishment.   But not so easy today.

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

 

 

Posted in Motorcycles | 1 Comment

What Happens to the Motorcycles You Sell?

What Happens to Your Used Motorcycles?

Had a nice visit yesterday from the fine fellow who purchased my beloved Triumph Speed Triple. He enjoys astonishing people who cannot believe it has covered 50,000 miles.  Triumph of Seattle was wise to hang onto the thick folder with every receipt over the 11 years I owned it. Said receipts showed all the maintenance that was done on time (most of it by the same person, one of the finest Triumph techs in the country), all of the options and tire changes, and all sorts of other details.

That got me to thinking about what happened to all the other bikes I’ve owned.  Although I’ve had the rare good fortune to cover hundreds of thousands of miles while riding over 500 different motorcycles, I’ve actually owned a paltry percentage of that total. I found that riding motorcycles owned by the dealership where the fuel was paid for and I was getting paid to ride them was a pretty good deal!  But! What happened to the bikes I had purchased with my own money and then sold? What has happened to the motorcycles you have owned?  It’s a mental ride that makes an interesting muse down memory lane.

1965 Yamaha YDS-3. My first bike, and one I cherished. I rode it for two years in Minnesota, every chance I got. It was one of the reasons I chose to move to Seattle, as storing a motorcycle for 5 or 6 months of serious winter weather was just not going to work for me. For the Yamaha I purchased a semi-road race fairing from Craig Vetter, the 43rd fairing he sold, if I recall, in 1968.  I think it cost $143.  Later that summer I rode my little two stroke demon from Minneapolis to Seattle and back on a camping trip.

Sadly, I did not cherish it enough. With youth and testosterone in full bloom, I thought I was a riding god. Alas, physics did not agree, and two days after arriving here I threw it into a ditch at 60 mph. Once home from the surgery for my separated shoulder, the bike somehow ended up with a young man who lived next door to my Dad’s house in Bellevue, where I was recuperating. Said fellow was also recovering from a motorcycle crash, in his case resulting in a ruined knee. The crash was not his fault, and he spent some of the settlement on a new Pontiac Trans Am convertible.  If he held on to it (which I doubt), that car is now worth a ton of money.  He was kind enough to take me on many outings to Alki Beach that summer, where we trolled in vain for hot babes.  Of course, my arm in a sling and his limp did not work wonders with the women. Actually, I would have not done well sans sling, either.

He also purchased the remains of my bike. The fairing was mounted when I crashed, and how I wish I knew where it was – it would also be worth real money today. My new friend purchased a set of front forks from a motorcycle wrecking yard, and for some reason mounted a solo seat.  The bike looked ugly and sad, and when I moved to my own place in September I lost touch with my friend and the bike.

Of course I went out and purchased another bike – a 1969 Honda 450 Street Scrambler with about 850 miles. The owner had been smitten with the new Yamaha 650 twin, and as I recall he sold me his Honda for $850.  He had removed the center and side stands, smoothed all the rough edges with a grinder, and then had them chromed.  It was magnificent. I rode my Honda all over for three years, including trips to San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Minneapolis again on the way to St. Petersburg Florida.  Alas, I did not know that the central timing chain on a Honda 450 engine stretches as it wears.  Two miles into my planned return from Florida the chain snapped, and I heard the innards of the engine self-destructing as I slowed to the side of the road.   A local dealer purchased it for precisely the same sum as the air fare back to Seattle, and I arrived back home with no bike.   I remember leaving the dealership and seeing my bike sitting behind a chain link fence. It was raining, and I was crying.

With the kind indulgence of the teacher’s credit union, I purchased a new for 1972 Honda 500 4 – the 3rd one sold in this state.  Such technical innovation!  Disc brakes! So smooth! Perfect performance.  And, to me – dull as the thud of a spoon on a rubber pail full of water.  It was actually boring.  To me.  Fortunately, my freshly minted wife loved old Corvettes, so we purchased a rolling wreck of a 1958 Corvette, with the Honda sold to pay for it.   I don’t remember who bought it, but he got a fine bike.  Just not for me.

Then came the “dark time.” I did not own a bike for three years. In 1976, as the freshly elected president of the teacher’s union, I decided I needed a motorcycle to commute to the office on nice days. I purchased another 450, but this one was nowhere near as nice as my Street Scrambler. I told myself I would get used to the badly sun-faded paint on the fuel tank and the incredibly ugly welded exhaust pipes. I never did.  It went away in 1977, and I don’t remember that sale either.   So far the trend is that I do not remember who purchased the bikes I was not all that in love with.

In 1977 we sold our first home and purchased the one we live in to this day. I peeled off $2,000 of the profits we made on the sale of that first home and purchased a brand new 1977 Yamaha XS 750 D.  First time I ever paid cash for a new bike.  I spent 6 months before the purchase researching every print road test I could find, because I knew I could not afford to make a mistake. I’d promised Susan that my new bike would last me at least ten years.

In fact I rode it for 22 years and almost 50,000 miles. Along the way it gained a copy of a BMW R90S fairing, narrower handle bars from a Norton,  S&W shocks,  K&N filters, and a replacement three into one exhaust when the first one rusted out.  Eventually the engine cried enough, and was replaced with an 850cc unit from Bent Bike, installed with the help of a friend.  That friend eventually purchased the bike from the guy who bought it from me. My friend knew the bike well, as he had done all the mechanical maintenance on it for 22 years.  Last I knew, and this was in about 2003, it was still going strong.

I sold the Yamaha along with a very sad Porsche 911S Targa I had purchased in a fit of enthusiasm/madness. Doing a rolling restoration on a 911 that was tired when we purchased it was folly.  After 8 years of pouring money down its six throats I gave up.  Susan was eager for my new plan: sell both the bike and the Porsche and replace them with a small elderly pick-up truck I would not mind parking at the curb and a new motorcycle that would luxuriate in one half of our two car garage.

I really wanted the new Kawasaki ZRX1100, but I feared Susan would rebel at the rather lurid green, white, and purple paint scheme. I took her to Cycle Barn and first showed several alternative bikes I was considering, such as a Honda VFR or an early Triumph triple. She turned and saw the new ZRX and said “Wow – what’s that?”  She loved it!

That buying experience also gave me my first insight into how dealerships are rated.  I had worked for Cycle Barn almost twenty years earlier for a couple of summers behind the parts counter, the sort of part time job I had almost every year of my teaching career. During that time I got to know owner Jim Boltz well, so when I wanted to purchase a new motorcycle he passed me on to Sales Manager Scott McMillan – allowing me to bypass the sales staff. While we were negotiating with Scott he left the room for a bit, and I mentioned to Susan that if we did not like the price we could go to another Kawasaki dealer.

“Oh no,” she said, “We have to buy it here.”  She had two reasons for this statement. The first was that I had worked there 18 years earlier, so it was “my” dealership.  The second, and this really stuck with me, was that the bathrooms were clean.   Seemingly minor details are crucial!

That was an awesome bike. As fate would have it, a year later I was hired for a position with Cycle Barn that I had invented and proposed to the owner, and the fact that I had been less than a jerk when we had purchased the ZRX helped me in gaining the trust of the Sales Manager.  I rode the ZRX 18,000 miles in two years, many of them work-related, as I was now leading customers on rides.

Here is how awesome a ZRX is. I was leading a group up Highway 9 in November, and it was bitter cold. I noticed that they were all dropping back and eventually far behind me. I pulled over in Acme and waited for the group to join me.  Riders came up and asked if I had lost my mind.  It seems they had been following my tire tracks through the frost that covered the road!

Making a joke, I said “Aw heck – you should not be impressed unless there were two tire tracks.”  They all responded “There were!”

A ZRX is such a stable and lardy bus that you can ride in on frozen roads and it will move around a bit, but never alarm you.

In 2001 came the oddest purchase ever. In 1997 Muzzy performance, building on their national and international road racing success, built a run of Muzzy Raptors. These were ZX7Rs taken to the edge of legality. Flat slide carbs, Marchesini mag wheels, full titanium exhaust, and much more.  The Raptor was the only street legal bike to ever podium at an AMA Superbike race.  It came in two flavors. The “mild” street version for 14k and the comp edition at 18k. That was a lot of money for 1997.  Originally the plan was to make 30 of them, and Cycle Barn agreed to purchase all of them. Then Muzzy got greedy and decided to build more, and Cycle Barn trimmed its order back to ten of them.  In the end, 53 of them were built.  When I went to work for Cycle Barn in 2000 they had two left – basically showroom jewelry.  I came up with a whacky plan where Cycle Barn would see me one of them at a killer price. I would then use it to lead sport bike rides until someone just had to have it, and then I would sell it and split the profits with Cycle Barn.  Incredibly, this went through.

The bike was sold to me for $6000 on in-house financing.  At the same time my salary was raised $200 a month, so all I was paying was the insurance.  What a deal!

While I was purchasing, a guy called from Salt Lake City. He and his wife were flying in the next day to look at the other one. I asked the finance person to finish the paperwork before the Sales Department squashed my good idea.

That evening a salesperson called to ask me to make sure I rode it to work the next day, as the other one had not been prepped and the customer would want to hear it run. I explained that the bike now had four coats of wax on it, and that it was raining. Instead, I would drive my car to work the next day and then ferry the couple to my house to hear it run.  (There were no test rides for a Raptor, for me or anyone else)  In my garage the three of us watched in fascination as the bike warmed up, the titanium pipes flitting through a kaleidoscope of colors. Once it was warmed up, blipping the throttle sent a two foot long sheaf of blue and yellow flame out the exhaust. I drove them back to Cycle Barn and they purchased the bike and had it shipped to Salt Lake City.  When I returned home that night, Susan asked me to never do that again, as I had managed to fill the entire house with the strong smell of unburned fuel.

Problems arose immediately. Riding it was such an intense experience that I did not want to have anyone near me. In addition, the mirrors were useless, so it was less than ideal for leading rides. The suspension was hard as a rock unless you were traveling at over 80 mph, where it smoothed out quite a bit.  If you gave it too much fuel at a “normal” rpm the flat slide carbs would drown themselves, and you had to wait for the plugs to clean themselves.  In addition, the riding position was so radical that I could not see out of my Shoei helmet, so I switched to an Arai, which had a higher viewing port. After a ride I would be so adrenalin jacked that I had to walk around my garage for a while to calm down before coming in to the house

By 2002 the Muzzy Raptor had only 11000 miles on it, and by this time was one of the only Raptors that had not been raced.  I sold it to a guy in the Midwest, and I made a serious mistake.  When you do this you should make sure the new buyer accepts delivery at the point of origin. In this case I got a few wonderful e-mails from the guy about what a wonderful bike it was. Then the tone changed, and he began to complain about “shipping damage.”  The shipper paid him the maximum amount available under the standard coverage, and then the guy began hounding me for more. He eventually sued me (and Cycle Barn) for $5000 in small claims court – in Illinois. I had to fly back for the trial, which took a few hours.  Cycle Barn and I were exonerated, and the guy never showed me any evidence of shipping damage. At the end of the day I split about $6,000 of profit with Cycle Barn. 

In 2002 I decided I should have a new bike.  I don’t recall why.  My ZRX was traded in for a Triumph Sprint ST.   The guy who purchased the ZRX dropped by to say hello and reported that he was ecstatic with the bike. He commuted from Marysville to Redmond every day and reported that even when he rode only on nice days the fuel savings over his 4X4 truck were more than the monthly payment. A free motorcycle!

Alas, a month or so later he came over a hill to find a dog right in front of the bike, and the resulting carnage destroyed both the dog and the bike. I was so upset, as I really liked that bike.

The Sprint ST was sold to a fellow who was 78 years old. A very nice man, he came in a couple of weeks later to tell me that I had never told him how smooth the bike was cruising at 120mph!  I had never told him that because, while I did ride fast, I never cruised at such a speed!

I also purchased a 2000 Kawasaki ZX12R in red. It was traded in with only 538 miles on the odometer in two years. The first owner had done everything you would to such a bike – a Power Commander, Akropovich exhaust, tinted screen, tail tidy, et al. It almost sold the first day on the floor, but the deal fell through. I walked by it each day several times going two and from my desk, which at that time was in the used bikes building.  Finally I went to see the Sales Manager and asked how much he would charge me for it. He surprised me by asking me how much I thought it was worth.  “$8,000.”  

“OK.”

Really?

I soon discovered by close inspection that it had never been ridden in the rain and never had the chain lubed. It had a faulty switch that never turned on the radiator fan, and the first owner had never ridden it far enough to be noticed!  With that fixed I rode it in earnest for two years, and it was the fastest accelerating motorcycle I had ever ridden. In 2nd and 3rd gear when urged, the data coming in through my face port was faster than I could process. It was like the Millennium Falcon – stuff was streaming at me like bullets.  I actually slowed down long before a corner several times because by the time I got to it I would be going so fast any attempt to turn would be a disaster.  I entered it in the Cycle Barn dyno tests, and it usually turned in 164hp or so at the rear wheel. Amazing.

Eventually I had the scariest event of my riding career. Accelerating in 2nd gear through a mild corner on a cold and damp evening, I hit a manhole cover and a bump. The rear wheel spun up and the bike turned sideways. I was launched off the seat and had enough time to think “Susan is going to kill me.”  By luck, I fell back onto the seat, and the bike straightened out. I continued down the road trying to catch my breath. At the next stop sign my friend Sid rode up next to me, put his arm around me, and said “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“I don’t think I’ll do that again.”

I never trusted the bike after that, even though it had done nothing wrong.  I eventually put it up for sale on the floor at $8200.  One guy talked to the sales person for quite some time and then came to me and said “You know you’re asking too much for that bike.”

“Yeah, I know, but try to find another one that is in that condition.”

He bought it a month later, and then rode the wheels off it.  He drag raced it, did a bunch of dyno shootouts, and then mounted a nitrous oxide bottle on it.  He ran nitrous through it until he burned through the down pipes on the exhaust. Akropovich was so impressed that they gave him a new system for free.

He dropped by to chat once in a while over the years.  By 2012 the bike had been repainted twice. It had over 96,000 miles and the engine had never been apart. Full marks to Kawasaki.

The last bike I purchased for myself at Cycle Barn was a 2006 Triumph Speed Triple.  I rode it almost 50,000 miles in eleven years, and had so many adventures and great times.   When I went to work for Ride West BMW in 2010, part of the deal was that I got to order a new BMW of my choice each year.  The Speed Triple sat in my garage for the next three years, and was ridden only a couple of times a year.

I thought about selling it a few times, especially when someone would offer to purchase it. Susan refused to consider such a move, reasoning that I loved the bike, it was paid for, and that I would not be working for Ride West forever. Wise woman.  When I retired for good at the end of 2013 I took it back to Cycle Barn and spent about $1,000 on new tires, a tune-up, and the resolution of some minor glitches that had cropped up, such as the failure of the Oxford heated grips. Then it was back to full enjoyment for the next two years and a bit.

Last spring I traded it in for the 2016 Triumph Bonneville that sits in my garage on this rainy and cold day.  How long will I own it, and will the 2nd owner adore it as much as I do.

All motorcycles have stories. What of yours?

 

Copyright 2017                                David Preston

 

 

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles | 1 Comment

So Off We Went to the Hospital

A Year of Living Medically – the Saga Continues

First of all, it needs to be mentioned that I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate with my health for several decades.  I rarely took a sick day in my 44 years in the labor force.  I had a physical every few years, aced it, and went on with my life.  At times I wondered when my luck would run out.

About now, it would seem.

No feeling sorry for me here.  I am merely dealing with the statistically likely consequences of living well for almost 70 years.

When last we left my drama, I’d been set up to see a cardiologist over concerns with possible hardening of the arteries. I would also be seeing a spine specialist on the 19th to determine what had caused the severe pain that had brought about the “event” that sent me to the emergency room on the 10th

The cardiologist did some tests, and then fitted me with this cool little heart monitor taped to my chest. The plan was that I would wear it for seven days and then the info would be downloaded. 

So much for plans.

The next day I checked in with my usual doctor to see how I was doing.  He opined that the incident on the 10th made it obvious that something had happened with my lower back, and that another MRI was needed – now.  He wanted me to get an MRI done the next day, so the info would be available on the 19th.  Fat chance, methought.

 Incredibly, the MRI folks had a cancellation, and at 6pm on Wednesday I went in for another MRI. Had to remove the heart monitor for an hour.

Thursday morning I showed up before 8am for the spine doc appointment. After we chatted a bit, he booted up the MRI.  There was this look that flashed across his face, the look doctors are trained to try not to ever reveal.  A look that said to me, as clearly as if he’d spoken aloud: “Holy shit!”  I thought this was amusing, even though it did not bode well.  He excused himself to call in a neurosurgeon.  Hmmm.

With the neurosurgeon present we looked at the MRI. It showed a white band running down the spine and then around one of the lower discs.  Two possibilities were mentioned. It was either an infection, or possibly what is called an insufficiency fracture, where the disc partially collapses.  The first could be treated with antibiotics, and the second would self-heal with 6 weeks of wearing sort of a girdle around my lower back. Surgery would not be necessary for either.

Terrific!  

IF that is what it was. 

…oh.

In either case, I needed to be admitted to the hospital – right now. Next problem – the hospital was full!  So I was admitted to the Emergency ward, again.

Next problem.  The Emergency doc had never heard of EITHER the neurosurgeon or the infectious diseases doc who had been added to the growing roster of highly skilled people interested in my case.  Turns out that both of them are not new to doctoring in their specialist areas, but both had been added to Evergreen so recently they were not in the computer system. 

Once that was straightened out I was eventually moved to a room in the “Silver” section on the 7th floor.  One thing I was glad to hear was that I would stop taking the pain meds immediately, which meant I would be able to drive again.

If and when I got out.

Another MRI, which meant the heart monitor had to be removed and was essentially useless for the purpose of the test. Priorities. That can be saved for a later trial, but many other indicators showed that I am probably fine anyway.

I spent the next 5 days in the hospital. Every 12 hours I would be hooked up to a bag of antibiotics that would take about two hours to drain into the doodad sticking out of my arm.  The pain had subsided to a dull ache, and seemed to be mostly from sitting on my butt or lying on bed all day.  I also had a heart beat monitor thingie on my finger, which I had to remove each time I wanted to go to the bathroom, which was yet another minor bother.

A major bother for everyone else except me was that the exact nature of the suspected infection was not known. This meant that anyone entering my room for any reason had to “gown up.”  Any nurse coming in to check my blood pressure or draw blood or hook up the IV, Susan, any technician doing whatever, the nice fellow who brought the food, and so on – all of them needed to pause and put on a gown, which was then discarded into a large hamper when they left.

I noticed that some of the doctors dodged this by saying “I am not going to gown up because I am not going to touch you.” Seems to me that would apply to most of the visitors, but rank does have its privileges.

I discovered over the course of a few days that when your blood pressure is taken several times a day you can learn to predict what the numbers are going to be.  I got to be pretty good at it.

After the first day I was allowed to get out of bed and do hot laps of the section I was in, which helped my mood a lot.  I was visited by an amazing array of doctors, specialists, technicians, nurses, and so on, and ALL of them were caring and kind and extremely interested in my situation.  I was just blown away by the level of care provided.

One of the treatments ordered was a needle biopsy of my spine, which terrified me. It sounds horrendous!   Again, it proved to be no big deal.  I also had blood drawn twice a day, and either the technology of needles has improved greatly over the years, or the training of the nurses who do it.  It was ridiculous.  The standard got to be that if I can feel it you did not do well.  I was not on any pain meds now except for Tylenol twice late at night that helped me get to sleep.

I had great fun finding things that were curious and asking the nurses questions.  They seemed to enjoy this, as I was not in pain, nor was I being a pain.  The most fun one was when I noticed the seat in my bathroom placed there in case the patient needed to sit down while taking a shower.   Lots of equipment had a stenciled code for where it belonged.   Most said “ 7 Silver OSN.”  The seat in my bathroom said “7 Siver OSN.”  Evidently nobody had ever noticed the missing letter.

So now the questions were  1.) Was there a reason for this?  2.) Was this the only one with the spelling error?   3.)  What about other floors?  Eventually we decided that mine was the only one.

I also noticed signs on some rooms that read “NPO.”  I knew that meant that nothing was to be administered to the patient orally, but what did the letters actually mean?  Most of the nurses had known this at one time, and knew it was Latin. One had sufficient time to look it up, as there is often not much going on at 2am.   It is Latin and stands for “nil per os.”  You may need to know that some day.

About hospital food.  It is excellent, at least at Evergreen.  Unfortunately one of the side effects of the antibiotics is a loss of appetite, so I was not able to take full advantage. I did lose about 4 pounds, and I am still losing weight, so every cloud does have a silver lining.  Maybe that is why I was in the “silver” section…

I was visited by three doctors, and they were all wonderful.  Dr. Lopez bears an incredible likeness to Antonio Banderas!  In appearance and accent, but younger and with an incredible aura of kindness.

Saturday was the Women’s March we had intended to go to.  Susan and I did our own version, walking around the unit wearing our matching pink hats.  That went over very well.

I told people I was protesting Trump’s election in the most creative way possible – by spending about $100,000 of Medicare funds while they still exist.

One of the things that interested the staff was that I was unusual.  Almost all of the procedures used can have side effects, some of them quite serious.  I did not develop any of them.  It seemed that I was also reporting remarkably little pain, a circumstance I was quite happy about.  I do not have a high pain threshold, I don’t believe, and I am certainly not stoic or likely to hide any pain to look more brave.

Essentially I was now for the most part relaxing in a high end resort. Little pain, good food, and people to wait on me hand and foot. I spent four hours a day with antibiotics draining into my body, and twenty hours doing whatever I wanted.

Of course it was boring at times.  I was appalled to see how awful TV really is.  All night long there are movies with the same plot, involving the male hero who kills dozens of people to get to the happy ending.  Blah. 

I did a lot of crossword puzzles, and went for frequent walks around “my” block.  Occasionally a nurse or doctor would have time for some conversation, which was so comforting.  Almost a normal circumstance for a while, at least. One of the nurses used to ride motorcycles years ago, and I really enjoyed swapping tales with her, and of course urging her to get back into it. A divorce and then the death of a second husband had taken her away from two wheels.

And what a United Nations you will find in a hospital. I learned a great deal from people from all over the world, and each had a great story, when there was time to tell it, about how their life’s journey had ended up in Kirkland.  My experiences hosting a call-in radio show for three years helped here.  You just ask a polite question and sit back and enjoy the ride to places and experiences that are new.

Time to go home, but the adventure is nowhere near conclusion. At home I would need to continue the “infusion” treatments, every 12 hours – for 6 weeks.   Not fun, but better than so many alternatives.  If I were still working this would be a real drag.  To make this easier, a PICC was installed in my arm – a line extending into my arm and directly into a vein.  Having that installed was not fun, but hardly something to whine about.

Again, more amazing technology. At home we have a display of devices on the dining room table.  Twice a day I sit down and lay out the materials on a mat with a template of what is needed and in what order.   First you wash your hands with fancy hand soap, and then apply a dab of further goo that smells quite “medical.” Then you open an alcohol swab and clean the fitting for 15 seconds. Then you screw in a syringe and flush the tube, and then install the infusion device, which looks like a softball and contains the antibiotics in a pressurized form.  Then you open that valve in the line and do whatever you want. Two hours later it is empty, and you take it off, clean some more, and then flush the system with two different syringes, in the correct order.

This was really intimidating when the home nurse explained it, and we lived in fear that first night. We needed to get up a midnight to do this. Actually, it is one of those things that’s pretty easy after the first or second time.   You do need to follow the instructions  and do everything in the correct order, because screwing it up could lead to an infection, other dire circumstances or, in rare cases,  death. Gulp.

One nice thing about the PICC port in my arm is that when the visiting nurse comes once a week for a blood draw, it can be taken from there – no more needles.

Supplies are delivered by FedEx as needed

So there we are.  Today we will tweak the timing so the infusions can be done at 10am and 10pm rather than midnight and noon. I am getting better each day, and it is possible the infusions will be reduced to once a day in time.  In addition, if the cultures taken at the hospital show specifics, the antibiotics mixture can be modified into a more specific cocktail.

Again, without Susan by my side I would now be reduced to a psychological and emotional mess, a quivering blob of a person with all optimism squashed.  It would not be a pretty sight.

All in all, I am one fortunate dude.

 

 

Copyright 2017                                David Preston

 

 

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The Cyborg Junkie and the Greatest Husband Excuse Ever

The Cyborg Junkie and the Greatest Husband Excuse Ever

More adventures in medical land this week.  First up was a visit to a cardiologist, after the Emergency Room doc thought there might be some evidence of hardening of the arteries.  All of the initial tests the cardio doc did looked good, so just for fun I was given a tracker device that is glued to the chest. You leave it on for a week, taking care to not get it too wet, and then seal it into a box and return it. A week or two later they get some results.   It reminds me of “Robo Cop” or other cyborg movies, although in a pretty minor way.  It does not make any noise, but I am supposed to press down on the button in the middle if something happens.

Then off to see Dr. Marinkovich to check in and get my Oxycotone prescription renewed.  He wanted to have a 2nd MRI done on my lower back, and the spine specialist we are seeing tomorrow would want one too. I was very lucky to get in for one 24 hours later, at 6pm this evening.

I HATE having an MRI done!  OK, that is too strong, but if you are even mildly claustrophobic it is not a fun experience. Fortunately, I was able to have it with a “semi open” machine, so you are not totally encased in the tube. However, the roof is about an inch from your nose, so you close your eyes and think about other things.

Any other things.  

They offer you a choice of music to listen to, which is pretty silly. The machine makes so much noise you can’t hear the music.  Every few minutes it stops for 30 seconds and you can hear a song, but the interludes are spaced out far enough that it is a different song each time.

For the MRI I needed to remove the Cyborg device from my chest, and then replace it later.   Hope the glue holds. I may have screwed up this test, but the MRI had far higher priority.

Also at the Doc’s office he advised an “ANSAR” test, which I had never heard of.  You get wired up with various electrodes and then sit for ten minutes and stand for a final five.  This test has three parts.   The first thing is does is measure how hard your heart has to work at a minimum.  How much energy does it take just to pump the blood if you are sitting still?  In my case, very little, which is very good. The second test is when you stand up.  How quickly does the heart respond to a demand for more service?  In my case, very quickly, which is also very good. The final test is to see how the heart reacts and gets back to normal, and I aced that as well.  It’s a small test, but any good news is very welcome.

I had a question. I know that Oxycotone is an addictive opiate. The explanation for its use is that first we will find what is causing the back pain, and fix it, and then later I will go through detox from the Oxycotone.

Thus my question. The Oxcy causes no discernible reaction in me that I can tell. The pain is reduced to a mild ache, but there is no euphoria or giddiness or supreme confidence or anything else that would be “fun.”  I have never smoked marijuana (which my students would never believe back in the day), so I have no “getting high” experiences to relate to, but I have experienced drunkenness to various degrees.  Oxycotone to me is nothing like even two glasses of Scotch, which would put me on the floor. It is – nothing.

In addition, I have no cravings for it. Only a close watch on the clock to make sure I take it every 6 hours keeps me on schedule. I am tempted to skip one here or there, but I have been given expert advice that you want to stay on top of the pain by staying ahead of it, so there you have it.  Experimenting is certainly not worth the risk of the pain I experienced last week!

Worst of all, you are not to drive while taking it, which means Susan is getting a lot of experience driving our new VW Tiguan, and I am getting more and more impatient with not driving, not to mention motorcycle riding.   Plus being the most significant time suck in Susan’s life. Where do we need to go now?  She does not complain about this, but I complain about being the cause.

So I asked. Why can’t I drive?  Answer – it slows down your reaction time and mental capacity. In fact, if you get in an accident and have Oxy in your blood stream, you are considered to be at fault. Period.

Oh.

I replied that I had not noticed any diminution in reflexes or mental acuity, and Susan piped up to say she had. She felt I was not as mentally sharp while on the Oxy.

So as we prepare for an 8am visit to the spine specialist, I have the best husband excuse ever.  When I forget to do something or say something irrevocably stupid, I can say “I’m on Oxy.  Give me a break.”

How long after I’m weaned from it can I continue to use this wonderful excuse?  We’ll see.

 

Cheers!

 

 

Copyright 2017     David Preston

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Adventures in Pain and Suffering

Adventures in Pain and Suffering

Well, THIS has been interesting.  I have been dealing for a few months with issues with my right leg, knee, and lower back. Various MRI and other procedures revealed significant arthritis in the knee as well as two damaged discs in my lower back.  Two months of one or two a week therapy sessions at MTI in Totem Lake revealed that these problems have been there for years, and I had been compensating for them in various subconscious ways, resulting in poor posture and overall exacerbation of the issues.

As an aside, I’ve been incredibly lucky for over half a century with my health.  I went in for a physical every two or three years for decades, and passed all of them with flying colors. I rarely took a sick day.  At least I knew I was fortunate, and wondered when my luck would run out.  Turns out that would be right about… now.

The therapists at MTI did wonders for both my knee and back. In two months I went from being able to bend my right knee to 105 degrees, while prone on a table, to 135 degrees. Anything over 125 is very good.  Various exercises strengthened my back and especially my knee to where I could walk up the stairs normally, most of the time. Things were looking good.

Then we went to Tahoe for a few days before Christmas for a family and friends gathering of 12 people.  Since I do not ski or “board,” and walking any distance is still a challenge, my activities were limited.  I could have joined the others for ice skating, since I am skilled at that, but I did not want to risk further damage to the knee. As a result, I spent a lot of time either watching football games on TV or joining the clan for hilarious good times around the fire, etc., at all times sitting in a puffy couch or chair.

Bad move.

That plus two plane rides meant that by the time we got home my lower back was in a bad state.   One of the treatments for that had been icing my lower back for 20-25 minutes at a time, and on the 10th I tried that. With disastrous results.

When I tried to get up I was in agony. There was no posture than did not bring with it incredible pain.  I knew I was going to pass out or throw up, or both. With Susan’s help, we got me into a recliner chair, and she gave me an Oxycontin pill left over from when this all started back in September. Then things got worse.

I evidently passed out from the pain.  Never done that before. Susan reports that my eyes rolled back in my head, my breathing was raspy, I was pale as a white turnip, and there was some foaming at the mouth while I emitted unintelligible sounds.  I am so sorry Susan had to witness this, as it must have been horrifying.

When I came to Susan was in my face and words were coming through, but what she was saying made no sense for quite some time. She was on the phone to 911, trying to describe my condition. Eventually she apologized to the operator because she felt she was yelling.  She left me to go open the front door for the EMTs who were en route.

This is one of those times when you have to be grateful for the medical assistance that is so close at hand in our area. Next thing I knew I was surrounded by about 5 people. A couple of EMTs began running a battery of tests while quizzing me as to my condition.

They wanted to see if I had suffered a heart attack or a stroke or some other horror. Susan gave them better information than I did.  There were also two techs from the ambulance service, as well as a high school student on a ride-along.

I was now fully awake again, and sweating like I’ve never experienced.  Perspiration was shooting out of all the pores on my head, and in a minute or so my tee-shirt was literally wringing wet.

It’s a stereotype, but even in dire straits I was struck by the good looking EMT working on me.  Dark hair, a muscular build, and bright blue eyes, he looked like a central casting call for the role of the EMT in the movie.  In a way it did not seem real.

One of the positive things that happened here was that I relaxed. I was obviously surrounded by highly competent pros that did not seem to think there was anything serious going on. Or at least they were able to convey that impression, whether true or not. My job was to sit back and relax and let them do their job.  Which I did, with gratitude.

I needed to be transported to Evergreen Hospital, and the next thing we discovered was that I could not stand up.  If I tried, the pain was excruciating. I was asked for the pain level on a scale of 1 -10, and I replied “8.”   Susan gaped at me, but I was recalling the time I tore my knee up in a basketball game.  That was worse, but only lasted a minute or two, so I probably should have upped my answer.  But the Oxy had begun to take effect, and the mind tries to forget extreme pain as soon as possible.

If I could not walk, they would carry me.  First they had to lift my 225 pounds of dead weight (almost literally dead weight) from the recliner into a chair.  I was strapped in and wheeled backwards down the hall, and then carried down our stairs, out the front door, more stairs, and to the driveway.

That was when I noticed they had arrived in a full on big ass firetruck, the kind that has a rear steer cab.   Turns out it was a busy night, and they were out of more usual vehicles. Also, it was the Woodinville fire department, as Bothell was busy with other emergencies.

As we wheeled down the sidewalk past the fire truck to the waiting ambulance, I said “Darn. I wanted to ride in the big one.”

“Me too,” answered one of the ambulance crew.

I had now accepted my condition, and relaxing was probably a good thing. On the way to Evergreen I attempted to keep track of the route being used, for no other reason than idle curiosity.

Into Evergreen’s Emergency Center, and here again the breadth and depth or modern medical care is astonishing. I think I was seen by about 10 different doctors and nurses in less than 10 minutes. Susan and I repeated what we thought had happened to several people, over and over again, while various tests were being run.   Eventually I was trundled off for a chest scan, looking for blood clots.

Then back to the room to wait for results.  Eventually the doctor came in and said “You’re normal.”  

I replied “Nobody has ever said that to me.”

He continued with “I can’t find anything seriously wrong with you, and believe me I tried.”   Of course he had to go on from there and state that obviously I had trauma in my lower back, and I might also have some hardening of the arteries in my chest, but nothing likely to be fatal.  At least not yet.

And so we were sent home, with a referral for a spine specialist, another for a cardiac specialist, and a prescription for Oxycodone.  We stopped on the way home at a Burger King, as it was now 11pm and I had not eaten for many hours. Worst burgers ever.

Alas, the appointment for the spine doc could not be made until Thursday the 19th, so I was now to take a Percocet every 6 hours 24 hours a day – and wait.  For nine days.

This was not all bad, as it would give my back a rest, and over the next few days I learned just how much of my energy reserves I used during this small medical crisis. I emulated our two cats – sleeping an amazing number of hours a day.  The pain would vary from a dull ache to quite acute, and it was difficult to predict what would lead to trauma. At times it seemed I I’d forgotten to take an Oxycodone, but we were very careful to stick to the every 6 hours. When it was bad it felt like my lower back was in spasms, although I know that is not accurate, and I could not find any posture that was not painful.  Last night I hit on the idea of using a heating pad when things were bad, and that has made a world of difference.

One of the minor difficulties in all of this is that I hate to accept the need for help from anyone. Now I was totally dependent on Susan, and she got tired of my continual apologies for all of the chores that are “mine” in normal life.  Imagine how many things you can do around the house if you are to avoid “exposing” your lower back – which means don’t bend over.  Another is the need to accept the need for forced sloth.  Fortunately, I love car auctions on TV, and this window of time happens to coincide with first a Mecum auction and then Barrett-Jackson.

And where would I be if I were alone in life?  When I pondered this I easily drifted into a state of near panic. Susan has essentially stopped her entire life to attend to all of my needs.  She is supportive, positive, and encouraging at all times.  At times I get tears in my eyes just looking at her. By myself I don’t know what I would do, and imagining outcomes was not comfortable. At all.

We did get out of the house on Friday to go to breakfast with a few of our friends, and that was extremely helpful. Their good natured joshing just barely slid over their evident concern, and really gave me a boost.

Now we head into a new week, with a couple of appointments I need to get to. It might be painful, and I will walk slowly, but the need to get out of the house and do something will offset this.

Then there is the constipation brought on by the pain killers. I’m going to guess you would rather not hear the details.

Like I said, it’s been interesting.  And really, I would rather go through this at this time of the year. I would be in dire psychological stress if the sun was out and the temperatures inviting!

Another thought – you will never appreciate the heated seats in your new car as much as when you have a sore lower back.

More when I hear from the spine doc.  And the cardiologist. And…

Cheers!

 

Copyright 2017                                David Preston

 

 

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Purchasing a new 2017 SUV – Part Two

Purchasing  a New 2017 SUV – Part Two

Moving on from Part One (see earlier post), at the end of the day it came down to two candidates – the Kia Sportage and the VW Tiguan.

We’d been considering the vast array of offerings in the mid-size SUV market for a few months.  For sure I was spending most of the research time, but Susan went with me to the Seattle Auto Show and listened patiently while I discussed my constantly shifting opinions. She also has keen insights about cars and about what she wants.

We had a few absolutes, which would probably not apply to most people.  From Susan, the color had to be black. I could envision other colors, but it would be churlish to insist on any of them, as she has been so accommodating and even eager to embrace my wilder automotive and motorcycle plans for the past 44 years.  We both prefer a windshield that is fairly close to the driver, which does not seem to be a concern for many of my friends. We both insist on a sunroof, and it needs to be placed as close to the windshield as possible.  Susan wanted the car to be as small as possible, for her ease of mind in wheeling it around, and of course price was a consideration.

Those four requirements eliminated almost all of the worthy candidates, and subjective opinions about appearance eliminated the rest.  I love the Audi Q3 – too expensive. The Mazda model wins almost all of the road tests, but I was not enamored of the styling, and the sun roof started too far back. The Ford Escape, the early favorite, was a skoche too big, and the instrument panel looked like a prop from a Star Wars movie. The Toyota Rav4 is undoubtedly a fine vehicle, but it just did not move me at all.  Nor did the Hyundai. All the Subarus and the Honda CR-V were eliminated because they have CVT transmissions, which I hate!

The VW Tiguan was one we did not look at when attending the show, because the appearance seemed a bit boring. Later I realized that I was thinking of the previous model. The 2017 looks much different, and it was added back into the mix.  We did look at the Kia Sportage at the show, and it was mightily impressive.

We visited Totem Lake VW and looked at a 2017 Tiguan loaded to the gills.  The top spec model, and in lustrous black. Salesman Bob Hansen impressed us with his calm demeanor, and was not put off when I told him we would not be purchasing for another two weeks, as I was aiming for the week after Christmas.  I really liked the car, although it was causing our financial window to bulge just a bit.

Of course, buying any VW today has to include consideration of the elephant in the room, that being the recent worldwide scandal over VW cheating emissions regs by having their diesel engine cars only meet the standards while in the test mode.  There are two ways to look at this.

My oldest brother has a PhD in chemical engineering. He spent a long and successful career working on energy production and conservation for a think tank in California. As an engineer and someone passionate about the environment, the VW hit him right at the core of his existence. As such, he has sworn never to have anything to do with VW products for as long as he lives.

I certainly respect his position, but I choose a different course. First of all, there are rumors that VW was not the only manufacturer who cheated.  They may occupy the lonely position of being merely the first to be caught. This story has not ended. Secondly, we are not purchasing a diesel engine car.  Third, the crimes against nature were committed by a small fraction of the employees, and especially by members of the high command. Have you ever worked in a situation where members of the upper echelons of the organization took actions that caused you to determine that they were corrupt? I have. It gave me a profound disrespect for them as people, but it did not alter the way I chose to do my job, and their various acts of misfeasance and malfeasance did not intrude on my job performance or expectations. Surely that is true for 99% of VW employees across the world.

Last, it seems to me that VW dealers are currently REALLY eager to sell their cars, and will work very hard to make and retain loyal customers.  Advantage me.

When we got home from a short family adventure to Tahoe just before Christmas it was time to put boots on the showroom floor and try a test drive or two.  By now I had done more research on these two cars, both in print and on various web sites.  I had also checked a used car site to get an idea of what our 2005 Honda CR-V would be worth.  There is a big difference between the trade-in value of a used car and the retail price, of course. Dealers refer to this as “profit.” On the other hand, we would be paying sales tax on the new car minus the amount of the trade-in, which is not an amount to be sniffed at. Selling our Honda on my own was a potential headache, or much worse, that I did not want to deal with.

We also paid a visit to the teachers’ credit union I have done business with for 47 years (!), and were quickly approved for pretty much anything we wanted.

My “plan” was to try the Kia first, thinking that Susan might not like it, increasing the odds of purchasing the VW Tiguan, which I preferred. Of course that did not work out very well.

I also strove mightily to bear in mind that we did not have to purchase a car that week, or at all for that matter.  Our Honda CR-V was still a fine vehicle.  We wanted a new car and could afford it, but there was no sensible argument to be made that a purchase of a new car was mandatory.  Buyer’s lust get thee hence!

We went to Lee Johnson to check out the Kia Sportage, and they had just what we wanted. The top of the line loaded model, and in black. Black cherry metallic, to be precise, although you would only notice the cherry metallic in strong sunlight at the right angle.

Susan really liked the car, although I was a bit put off by the seats. The center sections were black, but the side bolsters were a gray. Attractive now, but in a few years there would be dust and dirt outlining stress creases.

It’s always interesting to see what “angle” a sales person will use.  In rare cases, there is no angle, of course, and those people are always more successful, at least with me. 

Susan’s technique is to smile and agree with everything the sales person recommends. I keep my mouth shut and frown a lot. Besides, Susan is a beautiful woman that men love to talk to. She chatted years ago with an eager young man who talked a Nissan Pathfinder from 18k up to 28k before he was done, even suggesting we replace the stock leather interior with a much better one from his friend down the street. Susan nodded and smiled at him as it got more and more ridiculous. We did not purchase a car from him.

At Lee Johnson the fellow trotted out his favorite angles. When he first came to work there he was allowed to drive all of the products from Chevrolet and Mazda and Kia before picking the one he wanted to sell, and according to him Kia was “no-brainer.”  In addition, the SX model we wanted was the top-shelf SX model, and they were rare, according to him. The one we test drove was the only one on the lot in black, and he had one more on the way but it was already spoken for.  Of course, if we wanted to purchase that car before the person who had requested it…  I did mention under my breath to Susan that there are other Kia dealers, but other than that I managed to keep my mouth shut.

So I was not all that impressed.  We asked him to write up his best offer, that we were off to look at the Tiguan, and that we would purchase one or the other.  After the sales manager drove our Honda, they made a very reasonable offer.  They offered $500 more for the Honda than I had guessed, pointing out that it was in excellent condition. 

Susan loved the car and was ready to buy it on the spot, but this is not her first rodeo and she knew a visit to the VW dealer would not hurt.

We developed a system of sorts for this sort of thing years ago when I explained that the salesman would say some things that were mostly but not entirely true, and that I would respond in the same fashion.  She is very good at smiling at the salesman and not saying anything if what I say sounds a bit bent.

And so, off to Totem Lake VW. On the way there I told Susan that I would opt for the VW if they could get to within about a $1000 of the Kia price, as I felt the VW was a much more substantial and refined vehicle. As we walked in we were greeted by Bob, and he welcomed us by name and asked how our trip had gone. Ten points and a gold star to Bob!   I could not have done that.

The more we looked at the VW the better it got, and the test drive impressed.  The panoramic sunroof extended for most of the length of the roof.  The leather seats were all black.  The 2 liter turbo engine has sufficient power for our needs, and a sport setting for the shift pepped things up a bit. It did not have the paddle shifters of the Kia, but I think those are kind of silly in an SUV.

It had more gizmos and techie do dads by far than any car we have ever owned, and probably more than all the cars we have owned added together.  Which is fine if they do not break… All in all it just seemed more complete than the Kia, and of a much higher quality of fit and finish. 

We got down to numbers in a timely fashion.  Although they offered about $900 less for the trade, Bob also decided to not charge us for some of the little add-ons dealers install so they have more haggling room.  We did not really need the tinted windows, but they would be nice. The 3M paint protection on forward facing surfaces would be nice as well.  There was also a pulse gizmo that flashes the 3rd brake light when you first step on the brake. 

The end result was just a hair over $1000 more than the Kia, and we opted to purchase.

The after-sale paperwork was pleasantly devoid of the usual boiler room pressure to add on this and that, possibly because this model is so loaded there is little to add.  While this was done a lot assistant took the car away to fill the fuel tank to the brim and make sure everything on this clean car was spotless. The General Manager spent some time thanking us for our business, which was nice.  Bob gave us a tour of the dealership, which is supposed to happen in every dealership and often does not take place, and threw in a VW hat for good measure.

I am sure we could have saved some money if I wanted to play the “bad cop” game and spend a lot more time, but he had done his job and reached the price I was willing to pay. I would much rather be a nice guy if I can afford it, as that can pay dividends further down the road if something goes awry.

In this case, that happened right away. As Bob was synching Susan’s phone to the car (we chose to skip my flip phone for this!) he also showed us how some of the dash controls worked. Oops. Something was wrong with the sun roof.  Rather than asking us to bring the car back, which would have been OK (how often will we use the sunroof this month?), he insisted that we wait in the comfy showroom while he took the car back and had a technician figure out the glitch and fix it.

Since then I have been happily returning time and again to the 372 page (!) owner’s manual.  Bob also sent us an e-mail with a link to a Tiguan web page, where entering the VIN will get you to a menu of videos to show you pretty much everything that is in the owner’s manual. A nice touch, as some are more visual learners than readers. He also responded by e-mail to a couple of minor questions I had.

All in all, we’re ecstatic with our new car, and if you want to purchase a new Tiguan or other VW I can recommend Bob Hansen and Totem Lake VW to you.

 

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

 

Posted in Cars, Equipment, Marketing, Rants and Raves | 4 Comments

The Most Astonishing Motorcycle Show on TV

The Most Astonishing Motorcycle Show on TV

Motorcycles have a not so fabulous history on network TV.  A few years ago you could watch national level road racing, dirt oval racing, motocross, plus world Superbike and MotoGP racing – all on major networks. Alas, the motorcycle demographic is so small that all have retreated to special access channels available at extra cost. About the only racing on TV today are a few Supercross events plus the annual Dakar Rally, if even that survives.

Motorcycles as a major plot element of fictional shows is a history even more troubled.  What do we have today? “Sons of Anarchy”?  Please.

Remember “Then Came Bronson”?  This debuted in 1969 and was must see TV for me.  Then in my first year of teaching, I had two colleagues (also first year teachers) who shared an apartment and went out and spent their new found wealth ($7200 a year with coaching stipends!) on a pair of Honda 350 street scramblers. In their shared apartment they would turn two dining room chairs around backwards and sit on them to watch the show, with their helmets on!  As an “experienced” rider of two years, I was too sophisticated for such nonsense. Of course.

And who can forget “CHiPs”?  I can still hum the theme song.

Over the ensuing years a motorcycle would occasionally roll across the screen, usually a lone title role character on a Harley with virtually no luggage who roamed the country doing good deeds. Sigh.

But now – oh my. I’ve just discovered the most remarkable show, and it is now going into its 5th season.  Ironically, I almost did not watch it at all after an initial visceral reaction to the image of the star.  My error.

The show is called “American Ride,” and it runs on the BYU channel.  A motorcycle show sponsored by the Mormons?  Curious.  The main character at first glance is a cartoon caricature of the “biker” image. A very large man with a jeans vest minus sleeves, the fingerless gloves I have never understood,  sufficiently torn jeans, black engineer boots, an open face helmet, dark glasses, and the obligatory Harley.  And of course long hair and a beard and a very impressive mustache. Probably just another poser! What can this show possibly have to offer? As it turns out, a great deal.

First of all, I need to be more careful about poser assumptions.  After all, almost every motorcyclist is a poser to one degree or another. Including me. Back when I rode sport bikes, I would venture out with my full leathers, including sliders on the knees, full face expensive helmet, racing gloves and road race boots. I looked like I was ready for the road race to begin.  At one point I owned a Muzzy Raptor, one of 53 super rare custom sport bikes that were essentially race bikes with license plates.

I have never raced.  I have attended a couple of cornering schools held at race tracks where I could ride as fast as I wanted to, but riding as fast as I wish or as fast as I think the motorcycle wants to go is a very long way from racing against other people, and I know it.  I decided long ago that I did not want to race, for several reasons, but I did not mind looking the part.  The sliders on my knee have never scraped the asphalt, and probably won’t unless I suffer a crash.

A lot of dual sport or adventure bike riders get all dressed up so they are ready to tackle the far reaches of China or perhaps the Sahara desert, and yet rarely venture off the pavement. These are occasionally referred to as “Starbuck’s Adventure Riders,” a phrase I did not invent but wish I had.

I spent several years riding with a HOG group, and many of the members looked exactly like the star of this show. At the same time, most of them were fine people, and some were excellent riders.

Not to put them down, please understand.  One of the lessons learned in 15 years of leading customer rides is that some people are riding a motorcycle, and some are sitting on a motorcycle that is moving. The latter have little idea of what to do when something untoward occurs, and disaster may ensue. Sport bike posers have a higher rate of disaster than others because they are usually traveling at a higher rate of speed, and things go from bad to disaster much more quickly.

With all that in mind, I watched the first show, and my jaw dropped. Often.  The star is Stan Ellsworth, whose background includes stints as a major college football coach, and years as a teacher. And a lot more. Each show hones in on a region or era of America with a lot of important history, and Mr. Ellsworth is a fantastic teacher.  He has a mesmerizing voice, and each show features an obviously high level of research into the theme of the show.  It might be the history of the Pacific Coast Highway, how Nashville became “Music City,” political corruption in the 19th century, the history of race relations, the flood of immigration in the latter half of the 19th century – the topics are all over the place. You will learn an enormous amount, even if you think you are a history buff, as Susan and I both claim to be.

I treasure the interviews. Mr. Ellsworth is usually seeking depth of background from a historian, the curator of an art gallery, the director of a historically significant choir from an African American university, or some such. These people are scholars, usually dressed very conservatively, and are obviously used to spending time in quiet and scholarly environments.  At the beginning of each interview, their faces betray traces of a fight or flight response – leaning heavily on the latter. Here they sit across from a mountain of a man in full biker gear, and you can tell they are pretty sure they’ve agreed to something that will turn out to be a very bad idea.

As the interview progresses and they come to understand Mr. Ellsworth’s passion for the subject and his obvious depth of knowledge, they begin to notice that he is extremely polite and respectful of both his interviewee and the topic, and his vocabulary stuns them.  It is amazing to watch.

About the vocabulary. As a career English teacher, I tend to pay attention to that. In this case there is a fascinating mix of good ‘ol boy lingo, biker talk, and academic terms that flow together.  In one sentence he will offer “Let’s hike a leg over and take a ride.”  In the next paragraph he will be explaining corruption in the Presidential elections from 1872-1890, or why Tesla and Edison had such disagreements. When was the last time you heard a biker use the term “acumen,” for only one example.

Some aspects are left out due to time constraints, but I guarantee you will learn a great deal, even about topics where you thought you were well-versed.

And sponsored by BYU?  Obviously, I have to alter my perceptions of the Mormon infrastructure as well.

Imagine a “motorcycle show” that Susan wants to watch with me.

I highly recommend “American Ride.”  Whether or not you ride a motorcycle is not important.

 

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

 

 

Posted in Education, Motorcycles | Leave a comment

Motorcycle Trends for 2017

Motorcycle Trends for 2017

For a motorcycle enthusiast this is an exciting time of year. Actually, any time of the year is exciting, come to think of it. At this time the thrills come from all of the manufacturers trotting out their latest great ideas for the year to come.  It’s fun to see where they’re choosing to invest their manufacturing and marketing dollars, as over time their choices change.

This is by no means a complete review, as I lack the sources and work ethic to do a lot of deep research.  Thus, the following may be superficial, but I hope it is interesting. In any case, you’re not paying for it.

From 2001 to 2003 I had a call-in radio show, and every year at about this time I would invite my friend Harvey Gilkerson to be the guest. Unlike me, Harvey did spend the time to research and learn, and he always offered a wealth of fun detail on what was to come on two wheels in the year ahead. He was better informed than anyone I knew in the industry. I learned in 14 years in the motorcycle business that customers almost always know more about what is coming than dealer personnel do. Some customers go to great lengths to hear the latest, while people in the dealership are more focused on what is in the store today. They may expend some interest on what is coming, but only for the brands they sell.

Here are some things I’d like to point out as we rush toward 2017.

Best New Trend: Small displacement motorcycles.  Been waiting for this for what seems forever. When I got into motorcycles, it was possible for a young man (and most motorcyclists were man back then) to get into motorcycles at a very low cost. Particularly Japanese bikes of a sporty persuasion. You could purchase a Honda 250 Scrambler with the carefully stashed proceeds from a summer of mowing lawns, and all of the cool guys in my high school did.  I was not a cool guy, but I can still recall waiting to board the bus after school and looking out at the parking lot at the rows of new and used motorcycles being readied for escape.

      By the early 2000s a small sport bike was 600cc, and the price had zoomed past $6,000.  Performance had long ago surpassed anything that was available at any price or displacement when I started, but $6,000 plus gear plus insurance plus, plus, plus, pretty much eliminated most young people. Kawasaki soldiered on with a 250 Ninja that was less expensive, but it was beyond long in the tooth and the styling left a lot to be desired. Like style.

         A couple of years ago Honda and Kawasaki dipped a toe into the younger (and physically smaller) market with 250cc sport bikes that went fast enough and looked terrific. Now everyone is in on the act, and the future looks bright for the young buyer.  This is spreading now to include smaller displacement (and physical size) cruisers and dual sport bikes, and even sport tourers.   May this wave of sanity continue.

The End of a Trend:   Performance. In the 1960’s all motorcyclists wanted more. More power, better brakes, better handling, and especially – more power.  My first three bikes had less than 50hp, and yet I was able to complete several multi-state rides of 3,000 miles or more.  With the inevitable march of technology, motorcycles of a performance bent have now outstripped the riding ability of anyone who is not a professional racer.  Even worse, they’ve grown too fast for an increasingly decrepit surface transportation infrastructure.

        Between roads that are falling into disrepair and rapidly worsening traffic volumes, there is literally nowhere you can exercise a modern large displacement motorcycle to the point where it is using even 75% of its capability.   Where on a public road can you unleash a 200hp motorcycle that can reach 100mph with at least three gears left to use?

Response Trend:  Many purchasers of high performance motorcycles are now reserving their use to track days only, not ever using them on the street. I think this is a disastrous trend in terms of sales, which is why you see manufacturers spending less and less time and energy on new technology or even more performance. I suspect that most high performance and high price sport bikes are now used as “halo” bikes.  Their purpose is to draw people into showrooms on their way to purchasing something more reasonable. Some of them are now made different each year by the application of what a long term industry pro termed “BNG.”  Bold New Graphics!

The Stagnation of Big Tourers and Sport Tourers:  To a lesser extent, this segment parallels what is happening with sport bikes.   The Yamaha FJR, Kawasaki Concours, BMW R1200GT, and a slew of others are nigh on perfect for their intended use.  Is there any meat left on the technology bone to entice increased market share?   I don’t know. And large tourers?  Where is the noise over the latest Goldwing? I have not seen one mentioned in print in a very long time. Lots of ink spilled over Harley’s new engine, which harnesses most of the technology others were using twenty years ago, but the riding experience will be about the same.

Trend I like The Most:  Retro.  It is now possible to produce a motorcycle that looks almost exactly like one built back in the boom times of the 1960s and 1970s.  Triumph perhaps leads the way here. If you park my 2016 Triumph Bonneville next to a 1968 Bonneville the resemblance is absolutely eerie. And yet, mine has fuel injection,  an engine of almost twice the displacement but virtually identical exterior size, ABS brakes, heated grips, traction control and modes, and on and on. It is amazing.  BMW is now offering three of four models in a similar vein. I have seen mock up pictures of prototypes that might make it to production, such as a reborn Kawasaki Z1000, that are drool worthy.  I looked at a new Norton the other day, which looks appropriately retro and yet actually functions reliably.  Save the letters – I once owned a 1982 Norton.

There are several advantages to manufacturers in this niche. For one, because bikes back in the day were so much simpler, a lot of expensive stuff can be left off a retro. No bodywork, simpler suspension, simpler and lower horsepower engines than your leading stuff, and a demographic that is probably older and more able to purchase. And as a double bonus, they tend to be cheaper.  My Bonneville was the “loaded” version, and had a list price of $12,500.  And this leads me to my favorite trend:

The Return of Beauty:  For twenty years the emphasis has been on function.  A glaring exception has been Harley.  Harley invested a ton of money almost twenty years ago in a just beyond state of the art painting facility, and Harleys have had the best paint jobs of anyone for a very long time. Ever year Harley comes out with new models with just a tick or two of new innovations in function, but the paint – oh my.  Gorgeous.  Now that is spreading. 

Every time I park the Bonneville someone comments about how beautiful it is. This applies to both motorcyclists and to people who do not know what it is.  And I mean “every time” to be taken literally.  Closer inspection reveals the pin stripes on the tank are hand painted, and the initials of the person who did it are under the seat.   You have to love that.  People in cars cruise parallel to me to get a better look, not that I am all that happy about that.  In short, motorcycles that are beautiful more than they are hugely functional are now “in.”

The Trend That Will Not Die:  But I hope the preceding may kill it. Somewhere in Japan, in my imagination, there’s a giant tank that is 100 yards tall and 300 yards in circumference.   That tank holds flat black paint, and the Japanese siphon off hundreds of gallons of the stuff to spray on frames, tanks, fenders, fairings, etc. When will that blasted tank run dry?  The effect of all the black paint is to lose the details of the design and create a black blob. There was a time when flat black was the new cool thing.  That was 1998.  It’s time for colors to return to motorcycles.  Harley has had their own way with a wild and creative color palette for long enough.

       Speaking or Harley and retro together, some might argue that all Harleys are retro, but I think the reality much more complex than that.  If your core company religion is an air-cooled V-twin, and yet you want to stay competitive with modern performance standards for power, braking, and fuel economy, plus requirements to control both noise and emissions, you face a very tall task.  Harley has stirred multiple solutions into this cocktail of engineering challenges.  Partial water cooling has snuck into some of their larger designs. Very hard brake pads help with stopping, at the expense of requiring some break-in miles.  Sophisticated electrics, which they do not talk about much, control many engine functions.  Harleys had cruise control that was simple and effective long before most others did. The addition of a small light on the instrument panel that lit up only when in 6th gear was a brilliant solution, to my mind. In short, Harley has successfully marketed “old school” while using a lot of leading edge technology.  They just do not talk about it much.  Coca Cola may have invented marketing, but Harley surely holds the crown in motorcycles.

       In 2000 or so Harley did introduce the VRod, with a water cooled and very sophisticated V-twin engine, most of which they designed. It is a brilliant engine, albeit heavy, but Harley lacks the desire, expertise, or corporate will to use the engine in the many forms it should have taken.  A lost opportunity, to my way of thinking.

Retro Spin-Off Trends:        Retro has worked very well for Triumph and others, and now there is a new wave of bikes from the same sorts of marketing thinkers.  Street Scramblers.  These were huge back in the 1960s, led by the Honda 250, 300, and 450 Street Scramblers. These were pure street bikes with a smattering of ‘get tough’ dirt bike parts and pieces, and they were brilliant. I put 19,000 miles on a Honda 450 Street Scrambler, and all but about 300 yards of that distance was on pavement. There was that one rainy afternoon with a friend on his similar bike that featured a lot of mud and wet grass.  How I managed to not fall down is something I will never know, but I did not repeat it.

      Triumph made a Scrambler version of their bikes both back then and for the past twenty years, but it is probably the Ducati version that it leading the charge now.   A low seat height, relatively affordable (for a Ducati) and oozing cool, these bikes are the hot thing, and variations on that theme will be prominent in 2017.  And I heartily approve.

       Bobbing and Bagging along:  The latest trend seems to be “bobbers” and “baggers.” The terms go back to just after World War II when returning GIs (and others) purchased thousands of surplus motorcycles meant for the war effort and “bobbed” them, which meant taking off anything that did not make the bike go faster. Front fenders went away, rear passenger seat gone, and often the rear fender was removed or “bobbed.”   Of course this made the bike less utile, so some added saddlebags to the back, creating a “bagger.”

      Now both of these styles are back with a vengeance, with Ducati and Triumph and others offering the bobber look, and several going for the bagger ideal, even Moto Guzzi and Honda. Like the street scrambler niche trend, there is not much of any performance advantage to the bobber or bagger ilk, and in fact most of them are less capable than the bikes they are based on. It’s all about capturing a look or a mood or a style.  Not much wrong with that that I can see. Motorcycles, at least in this country, are still for the most part toys for adults, and if you can have the exact toy you want, more power to you.  Like retros and street scramblers, the bobber and bagger variants allow manufacturers to offer a wider range of models at little additional cost, and in many cases less cost, which may  (or may not) lower the purchase price. Most are based on cruisers, which have always sold well, and adding the requisite “look” is relatively easy.

The Trend That Never Was:          Women riders.  People have been excited about the coming “boom” in female motorcycle ownership for decades, but although many more women ride now than in the past, the tidal wave that has been predicted has never hit the shores of the dealerships.

       The predictions came about with the rise of participants in motorcycle safety classes, first of all because they were a very good idea, and secondly because insurance and licensing pressures gradually made them all but mandatory. People got excited when they saw that the percentage of women in these classes spiked upward, in some areas reaching almost 50%.  However, one factor was left out.

       I have long opined that one of the great benefits of such classes is that they allow people to give motorcycles a try.   Some of them find out that either A.) They actually do not enjoy riding motorcycles or 2.) Their motor skills and depth perception send them strong messages that they should not ride motorcycles. Either of these conclusions is of great value, and easily justifies the reasonable cost of the class.

      I think a hefty chunk of the people who opt out, for good reasons, are female. From my limited experience (never having been a female); it seems to be much harder for women to get into motorcycles.  In our sexist culture men are often ‘taught’ through movies and social interaction that they can do anything they want, particularly if it carries a whiff of danger.  In fact, it is almost that they should. Women have to slog through a lot of crap related to ‘girls don’t do that’ or simply ‘you can’t.’  There are women (like my mother, wife, and daughter) who don’t particularly give a fig newton about what others think. But not the majority. 

       I just noticed that I used the word “hefty” and “female” in the same sentence.  No slight intended

      In addition, women are often more sensible than men, and may choose to opt out of something when the going looks dicey, whereas men may allow the powerful forces of testosterone to lure them on to folly. Been there, done that.

      Yes, I simplify, but it is not all bad. It used to be that there was a used Sportster on the floor with almost no miles. Every day. Hubby had been so sure his wife would love riding that he bought her one as a surprise.  The wife wanted to show her appreciation, and perhaps took the class. But in reality, she may have enjoyed riding behind him as a passenger, but just did not like riding at all.  Eventually the bike would show up on the sales floor with less than 500 miles.  At a large cost in financial terms, and possibly marital bliss.

      Today women are faced, at last, with motorcycle gear that is designed for a female shape. It may take some looking, but it does exist. The safety classes provide a great start.  Most men in my experience are delighted to have a woman or three join a riding group.  And best of all, women of shorter stature now have a bevy of beautiful bikes to choose from. It used to be a Harley Sportster or a Ducati Monster and that was about it. Now their choices abound.

      So yes, more women than ever are riding, and we are all the better for it. But a massive increase ain’t gonna’ happen.

The Trend I Ignore:  There are probably things happening with dirt bikes. I lack curiosity about them and don’t particularly enjoy riding them, so I will pass on this enormous segment of the market, and with that I include dual sport bikes. Also electric bikes and scooters. Sorry. Just not my thing.

Clouds on the Horizon:  It bothers me that motorcycle racing is disappearing from the common TV screen.  Moto GP and World Superbike used to be available for free, along with AMA pro road racing, but now can be accessed only by the purchase of an additional package, if that.  The most likely place to see a motorcycle now is on a “bad boy” show or movie such as “Sons of Anarchy” or various spin offs, and that is a shame. There is so much more to motorcycles than cruising around being, or pretending to be, some sort of bad ass biker dude.

      The Isle of Man TT races are shown each year on a major cable channel, but I’d like more than one hedonistic week of binge viewing a year.  I’d like to see TT racing and flat track racing as well.  The new USA road racing body organized by Wayne Rainey shows promise, and the serious entry of Indian into AMA flat track racing does offer some silver lining to the clouds. I hope.

That’s what I think.  You?

Copyright 2016                      David Preston

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles | 2 Comments

Purchasing a Small 2017 SUV – Part I

Purchasing a Small 2017 SUV – Part I

I’m probably one of the very few people who enjoy the process of purchasing a new car. Not that I have a lot of practice. We purchased our first new car in 1997, and have purchased a whopping three cars since then.  I also do not have all that much experience with purchasing new motorcycles, which seems a bit odd since I’ve ridden more than 500 of them, most of them new.  Although I purchased several new motorcycles in the almost ten years I worked at Cycle Barn, all of them had some sort of delectable friend of the dealership or promotional consideration string tied to them. The rest of the new bikes were rental bikes, test bikes, demos, or those purchased by the dealership for my own use.

The first part is the research, which is the most important part of the process, and the most fun.  Once the decision has been made, or forced upon us, I dive into the amassing of a wealth of printed and on-line information, which is pored over and studied ad nauseum. In addition, we went to the Seattle auto show last month, and had a wonderful time looking and sitting in some of the contenders and discussing our individual preferences.

We’ve decided to replace our 2005 Honda CR-V. At 90,000 miles, it has a lot of life left in it, but there are various small mechanical and electrical issues to be addressed, and we can afford a new one – within reason.

The good news is that the small SUV niche of the market is currently the “hottest,” and virtually every manufacturer offers their iteration on the theme.  The bad news is that almost all of them follow the same formula, so gleaning the winner from a tidal wave of hopefuls can be confusing.  Prices range from about 25k to well over 100k.  We will be focusing more toward the lower end of that range.

To generalize, we’re looking at a 4 or 5 seat small SUV. It will have a 4 cylinder engine that may or may not be turbo charged. It will have either on demand four wheel drive or permanent AWD.

Since so many of them are so similar in spec, we can first toss out those that we do not find attractive.  On the one hand, the appearance of a utilitarian vehicle should not make that much difference, but if I am going to spend over 35k on a vehicle, it needs to be one I really like. Susan has her preferences as well – it needs to be black. 

(She also wants a car that is the size of our Fiat 500 and has the interior room of a Ford Expedition. Hmmmm.)

Due to the subjectivity of appearance the Mazda CX 5, which seems to win most of the published comparison tests, was ruled out.  I just don’t like how it looks. Same with the Hyundai Tucson, the Buick Envision, the Chevrolet Trax, the Mitsubishi Outlander, and even the Honda CR-V, although ours has served us well.  The field is getting smaller already!

Others were knocked off the list by price. I REALLY liked the Audi Q3, and argued that this might well be the last car we will ever purchase, but Susan is worried about what might happen to our IRA funds and Social Security under the reign of the idiot my peers have elected to be President, and her caution is warranted. So all the contenders likely to soar over 40k are gone.  Now we’re down to a manageable few.

As personal preference, I dislike CVT transmissions. Intensely. I’ve driven my daughter’s Subaru Forester, and the CVT drove me wild. It accelerates from 0 to 10mph in a jerk, and then falls on its face. I was pleased to see several printed references to the same problem.  It’s not just me! So all Subarus, great cars that they are, were summarily booted off the list.  I’ve read that CVT is some other brands are not as bad, but I’d prefer a good old automatic. Some of the contenders are still available with a manual transmission, but only in the “stripper” models.

Because we’re older and retired and no longer have to pinch all of our pennies, we’re looking for a top of the line model of whatever.  We both love a sunroof, for example, and opting for a sun roof in most of them shoots you to the top model in one step.  But wait, there’s more. Some cars have the sunroof set so far back it almost does not count, which weighed again the Mazda, for example.

We’re not that enamored of high end stereo systems, and nav would be nice but not really all that necessary.  However, most of the finalists have both at the options level we’re interested in. Oh well.

So the short list, after three months of research, comes down to three.  The Ford Escape, the Kia Sportage, and the VW Tiguan have made it to the finals.

Here’s where research pays off.  The Ford Escape was at the top of my list for a long time.  I think it looks sensational, and the reviews are positive.  We liked the one we sat in at the show as well.  Last week we stopped by Ford of Kirkland to look again, and it did not go well.

The salesman failed to impress. When we told him we were there just to sit in the car, he lost all interest in us, even though I told him we would be purchasing a car before the end of the year.  Maybe we looked poor.

Much worse, the one of the showroom floor was a loaded model, which comes with larger wheels. I had not realized how big this car is!  Not by most folk’s measurements, but by ours. Every time I’ve seen once since it seems to get larger.  This has to be an optical illusion, because by the numbers it is about the same size as the others. However, perception is so often reality.

In addition, the windshield is a LLOOONNNG way from the driver, which is a pet peeve of mine.  The further away the glass the more obstructive the bug guts are.  Evidently this is my personal bugaboo. I mentioned this to a friend and he said “Yes, and nobody gives a crap.” Probably true.

The Kia Sportage is saddled with a dumb name, but impressed us greatly at the show.  All the spec we want, and a decent price. We have yet to visit a dealership.

We were early for one of my PT appointments last week and chose to stop by the Totem Lake VW dealer to try on a Tiguan.  The example on the showroom floor aced every one of our criteria!  Leather interior, forward sun roof, windshield within reach, and on and on. A tad expensive, yes. The salesman was Bob Hansen, and he was very impressive. At my request he e-mailed me several PDF’s with enough data to keep my head spinning for a few days.

Up next is a visit to a KIA dealer, and then more pondering.  We will purchase the last week of the year, when dealers tend to want to pad their annual sales totals.

Who will win?  Stay tuned for Part II!

 

Copyright 2016                                                    David Preston

Posted in Cars, Equipment, Marketing | 1 Comment