Pardon me as I crack open a beer, because this story starts out like a country song. Don’t worry, no dogs die. A credit card did. Along the way there is a troublesome truck, dancing, and some impressive efforts from some islanders. By the end there are high-fives (that only some can appreciate). It actually starts a week or two ago.
I was hacked. Not me, my credit card was. Someone stole my credit card information. Nods to Chase Credit for catching it. Their response was to cut off the card and issue me a new one. That was unfortunately because credit card numbers as so integral to so many subscription services and online purchases that for the next year I’ll be replying to dozens of requests to update my account information. The cost of identity theft is more than the amount they charge, it is also the time involved in correcting the situation. The new card will be in the mail!, they assured me.
Have you heard that the US Postal Service has been undermined? Chase promised (with appropriate caveats and waffle words) that I’d have the new card in 3-5 business days. Sigh. I tend not to use my credit card, but had been doing so for a short while as I waited to sell some stock. Real estate sales have been great for sellers, but I’m representing buyers. (Required Disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.) So, while waiting for sales to come in and as I’ve been waiting for MVIS to rise I’ve been using the credit card a bit more. So much for that. Every day goes by, and nothing.
Five business days go by and no card. Late on Saturday it is apparent that the credit card won’t be available until Monday afternoon at the earliest. Oh well, that’s okay. It was only a buffer, not a lifeline.
It’s Saturday, time to go to the (free) street dance in downtown Langley. Hundreds of people, a good local band, a closed street, and the end of a work week. That’s all great, but I’m basically shy when it comes to asking someone to dance. If I know them, great, but otherwise I don’t want to look like some guy trying to – do something other than dance for the fun of it. Alas, and oh well, going home and relaxing isn’t so bad. I get in the truck to head home, still with my dancing shoes on. At the top of one of Langley’s bigger streets I turn the wheel at the intersection and the engine dies. I’ll skip the diagnostics, because the more important issue was that my truck was completely blocking one lane on one street and nosed into a lane of the intersection. Say yay for small towns and not much traffic. Also say yay for smartphones.
Hello, 911. I’m blocking a lane of traffic. Yes, it is blocking. Yes, I am going to call AAA. No, I can’t move it because it might roll back down the hill into town. OK, glad to hear that you’ll have someone come by soon.
Hello, AAA. Hello, voice menu. For six and a half minutes AAA’s system repeatedly asks if I want to use the automated system, or go online. I’m holding the phone while directing traffic! I’m not in a position to squint at a small screen in glaring sunlight while also directing traffic! That’s not safe! Harumph. I was frustrated.
AAA finally answers at the same time that the local officer (it’s a small town, there’s only one on duty at a time on Saturday nights, evidently) arrives. I walk up to the officer, tell him it is AAA finally on the line, and let the two of them decide who I should talk to first. Officer Don smiles and waves me towards AAA while he takes over waving traffic around my truck. For the next several minutes I answer questions that are more appropriate to an office environment when there is no urgency. The questions get so detailed with little relevance to towing a truck with a tow truck that it takes longer to answer the questions than it would for the tow truck to drive to the scene and get their own answers. Officer Don only hears my patient yet increasingly terse answers and starts shaking his head and grinning with each of my responses.
Everything is finally answered. The tow truck, which is only ten stoplight-less miles away will be there in two hours. Now, I know they can get called out to greater distances and have to respond, but I digress.
The Officer, Don wasn’t sure that his cruiser’s push bars were tall enough to reach the bumper of my truck, but he expertly connected and got the truck out of the intersection and off the road – and into a No Parking Zone. Thank you, Don, for patience and humor – and recognizing the circumstances by not ticketing me.
Welcome now to the nature of small towns. While I didn’t see any of my friends at the dance, I did have three different visits while sitting beside the road. It was a very social event. I even arranged an interview for a podcast I co-produce (WritingOnWhidbeyIsland.com).
Recall: AAA said the tow truck would take about two hours to get to me. Reality: Here he comes about ten minutes later.
My truck is a rather large white Chevy pickup. AAA sent the tow truck driver directions to a Honda sedan. Well, that wasn’t me, but at least he knew where to find me. We worked out his probably destination and I sat back to waiting again.
Only ten minutes later he’s back having solved their much simpler problem. My truck’s problem could be simple, too. Out of gas? Fuse blown? Loose wire? Regardless, it was Saturday night. I asked him to take it back to the garage beside their shop. He knew the way. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions meant the tow truck driver couldn’t take me home. My truck had a ride home. I had to find my own.
Fortunately, I knew a friend was in town because I saw them at the grocery, earlier. They’re on their way! In the meantime, I had so many offers of rides home that they could’ve set up a relay race with me as the baton. Cavalry Run #1 (Let’s see if we can keep track.)
One treat for the night: sitting with my saviors on my front deck watching the Sun set. A nice, yet stranded way to end the week.
About an hour after AAA’s two hour deadline AAA gave me a call to assure me they are doing everything they can to get the tow truck to me. They were surprised to hear that we’d all resolved the issue already. (Oh yeah, and I won’t get into the fiasco of them not understanding local places names which confused them when they tried to give directions. And then there was the AAA representative’s venting about their system, an emotion they thought would resonate with me. Different issue. It took several minutes for them to realize that.)
Oh, no problem. The next day I’d just go rent a car. Hmm. Sunday. Maybe not. Or maybe, but I needed a credit card to rent a car. I only have the one, and I didn’t have it. Doubly stranded.
Well, Monday will resolve everything.
Monday resolves almost nothing. Every shop on the south half of the island was so booked with work that they couldn’t even tell me if it was out of gas until a week later. As for when they’d fix it, well, that was a mystery because they hadn’t diagnosed it, and if it involved spare parts they might not be available.
I’m a real estate broker. That’s hard to do by bicycle. Finally I found a shop on the north half of the island, about 45 miles away, that would at least diagnose it the next day, and was within AAA’s system so the towing was free. Whew.
Prepare for a dramatic shift, at least within my life.
Later Monday the truck ends up at the shop. I implore them to fix my truck because my business, my main source of income relies on it. They’ll see what they can do.
And then, there’s dancing. Monday night is a very informal dance practice. It’s couple’s social dancing, things like waltz, swing, latin. If you’re doing it right, but you’re not smiling you’re doing it wrong. If you’re smiling even though you’re doing it ‘wrong’, you’re doing it right. A fellow dancer had been having a very tough time lately. They wanted to dance. I wanted to dance. They could drive. I couldn’t. They could drive me to the shop and get a direct prognosis for my truck, just before closing. (Cavalry #2) The truck had something serious, something much more than a fuse. They’d look at it next week. Next week again? Aargh! Whatever. Dance it off.
I dance, I smile. Whew.
Another bit of good news: The new credit card arrived. Ah.
Tuesday, the shop assures me there’s nothing they can do for a week. Sigh. It might just be time to get a different vehicle, something more appropriate, something with four doors, a turning radius that doesn’t require 15-point turns in narrow driveways, but that still has good ground clearance for driving across lots that had just been logged. And, it better not cost much because I suspect my episode with nearly being foreclosed must have ruined my credit rating. Decades of frugality evaporated during the Great Recession. Well, the dealership beside the garage is a Jeep dealership. Hey, miracles could happen.
Ironically, I almost bought a used Jeep just before car prices spiked. About $12K could’ve gotten me a ten-year-old Jeep, and at the time I had about that much cash. (Thanks, MVIS.) But, I held onto that money in case my home buyer customers couldn’t buy a home, which also meant me not getting a commission. And so it was.
Instead, the Jeeps and SUVs were about double that price. Part of that must also be the luck of what’s on the lot. Oh well. Let’s take a look.
After preliminary research, and after many, many, many questions to Emma, the ever-patient, pleasant, and capable salesperson, we find two Jeep Renegades that might suffice. Suffice? Duh. A twenty-year old ailing truck versus a new Jeep. Yeah. Suffice.
It will take me some time to sell off a significant portion of my retirement account. That’s what money is for. Saving it for some time down the road is best, but this pothole was here and now. I now feel at least somewhat committed to buying a replacement.
About an hour later the garage calls. They felt sorry for me, so they think they can get it done by Monday at the latest. That will make two vehicles – ah, but if I trade the truck in…
Call Emma at the car dealership again. Was it Emma or me that decided to consider a loan. What can it hurt? Let’s see what my credit rating will allow… How about being pre-qualified for about $35,000? Wha? Huh? No. Yes? OK. Evidently I’ve been frugal enough for long enough that, as the dealership’s finance manager mentioned, I have the highest credit score they can remember seeing, only six points shy of the maximum.
I think that’s called good news.
Another call from the shop comes in. They think they can get it done this week. OK with that, too.
I segue back to the credit card company because with a credit rating like that maybe they can adjust my credit limit and interest rate back to what it was the last time I had that credit rating, a decade ago. Nope. No? No. They, the credit card company, Chase Credit, doesn’t care about credit ratings. Really? Oh, well. I foresee shopping for a different credit card company soon.
Another call from the shop. They might get it done by Friday, or Thursday, but they hesitate to say Wednesday.
But, there’s a dance on Wednesday. Ah, but that would only be bonus points.
Wednesday starts with marketing meetings, of course; and I research deeper into my vehicle and financing options. With a credit rating like this, maybe I can pay for the car in cash by accessing the equity in the house. Ah, but that is a 3-6 week process. I’ll save it for later. But, it also means that I don’t have to take anything out of my retirement account; and, within two months I might have enough cash to get out of car debt and credit card debt, and pay off some generous folks who’ve helped me through these tough times.
Other good news: I thought my Social Security application might be reviewed in August, with the first check either then or within four months. Or. The first payment was directly deposited last week. Surprise! It isn’t enough for retirement, but it is enough for a mortgage payment and a car payment.
Almost shyly, the garage calls back and hints that they might be done late Wednesday afternoon. They close at 5:30. It is a one-hour bus ride to them, and a fifteen-minute drive from my house to the bus stop. All I have is a bicycle that’s missing about half of its shifts. I moan about it on Facebook, and another member of the cavalry (#3) offers to help – if the garage calls in enough time to get me to the bus. Two bites into their lunch the call comes in, they leap into action, I read while I ride, get there with about fifteen minutes to spare, and find them to be helpful, fun, and also better to understand in person than over the phone. The truck needed a new fuel pump, a fuel pump that broke about five years ago. This time the cost sounded like twice the earlier (and possibly too-cheap) repair, at about $1,500. In person, $1,005. Whew. Yay. Ah.
Thanks all around for Pioneer Automotive in Oak Harbor for working so hard on the truck, their schedule, and also understanding that my original urgency was replaced by the realization that a truck with 200,000 miles on it might need to be replaced.
With a few minutes to spare I thank them, drive to the dealership (Oak Harbor Motors), which is the lot next door, and finally meet the salesperson (Emma) who has been so helpful, and at least sit in the cars to see if they fit. For me, it would be too much to handle the repair and the purchase in the same day, so I tell her I’ll be back on Thursday.
The dance was on the way home. It was another free street dance with hundreds of people. I was tired but I wanted to visit a bit. That’s where I met friends who are even more frugal than me. That’s where the news about a high credit score scores high-fives as if some sports team had won their division. That’s also where I disappointed some of them because there are more frugal transportation choices, but it has been a long time since I had a major indulgence.
And yet, I pull back from calling a fixed truck and a potential replacement vehicle an indulgence. My stress load has been significant enough that it is a major topic with my doctor. She’s a climber. I am, or was, an avid hiker. She recognizes the benefits of being in nature, and for some like me, in nature at altitude. Alpine is serene. She only half-jokingly said she’d like to prescribe a Jeep for me so I can get to the really good trailheads, spend time up there decompressing, and get healthier, again. An indulgence? Maybe. How indulgent is it to want good health?
Home after the dance, another opportunity to sit on the deck and consider options. Yes, the truck was back home. But, it’s value to the dealership was only about $1,000. That was the price of the fuel pump. The truck’s replacement value, however, is several thousand higher. It might not be the right truck for real estate, but it is designed to haul stuff. It’s a work truck. I can keep it, see if I use it as such, and when I am done, find someone else who can make best use of it. And, I have a backup that’s faster than my bicycle.
Thursday morning, get to the bus, again; but this time with my truck. Get to the dealership with forms, papers, and checkbooks. Pester patient Emma with more comparison questions about the two (and congratulate her on my unspoken third choice which she was able to sell the previous day), test drive them both on local sedate roads and a bit of gravel, and find myself buying a Red Renegade Jeep. Red has to be capitalized because this is not a subtle red. This is Red, which can be handy if Search And Rescue is on the hunt. Hey, I think of such things after accidentally assisting in a couple other episodes.
Emma must have stories to tell as she watched me adjust to 2021. My first Jeep was a Cherokee in 1987. The term SUV was new. Nav was maps on paper. No cruise control. Manual everything except steering and braking – and I was glad. My second Jeep was a 2000 Cherokee (note: not a Grand or anything fancy) with the exotic touches of cruise control, power windows, a rear window wiper, oh yeah, and a CD player. This is a 2016 Renegade and oh dear, please tell me how to turn off almost all of these features – except the backup camera, and, that’s about it. Goodbye, CDs.
Throughout, my criteria have been reliability, ruggedness (check out my books about hiking and skiing in the Cascades to get a hint of what I ask of a vehicle), good ground clearance, goor maneuverability (turning radius), and enough storage (Cherokee = yes, Renegade = TBD). All the other stuff, whatever.
The drive home was a learning experience. For a while the windshield wipers were on intermittent, and I left them there until there was no traffic. Before she encouraged this fledgling out of the nest, Emma connected my phone to the car, something I would’ve left for weeks. I got a call from one of my best friends, someone who has actually met all of the vehicles; then from another dear friend and dancer I’ve been trying to connect with, and even a business call. I took the calls because it was easier and safer than trying to figure out how to send them to voicemail.
Now the paperwork (insurance, et al.) begins. The more physical bits are emergency kits for both vehicles, copies of said paperwork, and adjusting seats and mirrors and such. There’s also a lot of reading to do, far more than the earlier versions, and for far less important systems. (But $300 for a spare key? Ouch!)
There are times when life’s threads intersect without warning. After these two weeks I now know that I have Social Security, a recovered credit rating, a relatively new vehicle and a practical backup vehicle, options for accessing the equity in my house rather than relying and hoping for stocks to rise, etc., etc., etc. I’ve mentioned stress relief in this post. More frequent readers may recall I’ve had several anxiety-relieving initiatives, recently. My stress level really has been that high, and I know so many for whom it is significantly higher.
It is good and responsible to exercise virtues and follow advice, but it is possible to take such actions to extremes. If I hadn’t been so focussed on limiting my expenses, I might have been able to leverage my credit score earlier. That would’ve begun stress reduction months or years ago. By waiting so long and basically being forced into the option of borrowing, I lost the opportunity to have saved about $10,000 in the cost of a replacement vehicle, I spent about an extra $2,000 in truck maintenance, and missed that much time doing things that reduce my stress whether by not worrying as much about whether the truck would fail and by not spending time in healthier environments like the nature I best appreciate.
These two weeks will represent a shift in many aspects of my life. It started with elements of a country music song, flowed through a period that proves the value of being adaptable, included dancing and high-fives, and a reminder that taking things to extremes can be an expensive direction.
Now, about that credit card, that user’s manual, that trail pass that must be bought, finding the times to use it, and maybe, and not just maybe but definitely finding time, energy, and resources to do something beside work and worry.