Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Grad School and Lego Store

Saturday, Meredith, the kids and I went to College Station for the day to see our friends from grad school. Bruce, who lives in Cambridge, MA was in Houston for a conference he was speaking at. Bruce drove up to College Station to see everyone. Since it was graduation weekend, we assumed that the entirety of restaurants in the BCS area were going to be booked up, a fact confirmed as we drove in and saw people waiting to get into Cheddars lined up out the door. We ended up having a picnic in Hensel Park. The rain held off for two hours. We had the whole park to ourselves. The kids had access to a playground and had a great time playing together. We cooked hot dogs and sausages and roasted marshmallows.

After the rain came, we all packed up and drove to the mall to allow the kids to play on the play structure inside while we all sat around and talked. It was a great day. The kids slept on the drive home. We were able to get back around 8:30pm so it wasn't a late night.

Then on Sunday, after washing the cars, Alexander and I went to Dallas, then to Frisco to the newly opened Lego Store. We went to North Park Mall, because Daddy was mistaken about which store was open. You've never seen the disappointment in the face of a five year old after driving all the way to North Dallas and then finding a parking space in the garage and finally getting to the store to see it all boarded up with a big Lego logo plastered on it saying "Opening Summer 2009."

After calling Meredith and determining that the open store was in Frisco (about 20 miles away), Alex and I had an hour and 15 minutes to get there before it was closed. As we rushed through the traffic on US 75 heading north, Alex could tell my frustration and aggravation with myself. He told me:

"Daddy, its ok if we don't get there in time. I have enough Legos to play with."

Waiting for my internalized sobs to cease, I then told him thanks for saying such a nice thing.

We did get there in time. We say the 8' tall R2-D2 and the life-size Indiana Jones made out of Legos. We looked at all of the different models they had there including specialty models of the Eiffel Tower, a 1960s Volkswagen Beetle and a $400 Death Star with 16 characters.

We bought an Anakin Skywalker Jedi starfighter to match Daddy's Obi-Wan Jedi starfighter. We came home and made chili and had a great evening.

42 MPG - Good, but not the emphasis we need.

Today President Obama announced a new plan to force automakers to increase miles per gallon on new vehicles to levels of 42 MPG for passenger cars and 27 MPG for trucks by 2016. This is a good thing. Those who can afford the supercars won't be happy, but I think that they will make a new category for those rather than calling them "production" vehicles.

My concern is that the administration is still not concerned enough with finding alternatives for people to get out of the cars in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I love my new Honda Accord with its 27-31MPG and a peppy 4-cyl engine. I even like watching the adrenaline pumped, testosterone laced Top Gear.

But I also wish I lived within walking distance of a grocery store, and a bookstore. The closest grocery store is over 2.5 miles away. A bit far of a round trip carrying much more than one bag, plus the major highway separating me from it is deterrent enough not to do the walk.

We need to build more communities where public transportation is available. We need to build more communities where the choice of public transportation or bicycling or walking is an easier choice than the personal vehicle. I'm not for eliminating the personal car - far from it - what I'd like to have is the option on a more regular basis.

There are those who would then argue, why do you live in a State and community where lower suburbia causes these problems? Why don't you move? Truth is, that considering the housing market for those areas of appropriately designed density where I'd like to move my family, I either wouldn't be able to find an applicable job within commuting distance that would pay me enough to afford to live there. That's the frustrating thing. Well designed higher density just isn't affordable to government employees.

The fantastic Obama administration needs to look at how we are funding public transportation at a federal level and place more money emphasis on revitalizing infrastructure and housing to achieve a greater modal split, rather than focusing money on just expansion of the highway capacity.

That will achieve better savings of fuel over the long run.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Car

After 10 years and 147,000 miles I have retired the 1999 Mustang. I did feel bad about letting it go. It was my first brand new car and I really kept it nice. It had a few scrapes and bumps along the way - all of which I had repaired by my Dad. I only replaced one major component - the alternator. It once let loose the exhaust system from the manifold and sounded like a Harley for a little while until I could get it welded back on.

But, it had replaced a 1993 Taurus which became more miserable to drive with each succeeding month. I remember the final straw with the Taurus was when I had loaded it up with all of the meeting materials for a Comprehensive Plan meeting and it died in the parking lot adjacent to the mall. I had to call my boss to come get the stuff while I waited for the tow truck to pick up the car and take it to the shop.

The Mustang was an object of desire for several years previous and when I bought it, my sister was really impressed with it - she was only 16 at the time.

But in the later years, it had its electrical problems - the windshield wipers would come on by themselves occaisionally, the clutch started making noises which could lead to a $600 bill - almost half of the value of the car itself by that point. Plus, my wife wouldn't drive it as she didn't like the rear-wheel drive coupled with its habit of breaking loose every once in a while. I couldn't easily take the family anywhere in it. It was just too small.

So, last Saturday I took Meredith to Huggins Honda in North Richland Hills and we test drove a 2008 Accord EX-L (the "L" stands for leather). We liked the sales guy and the car. He quoted a price that was quite reasonable. We went back to the house and I looked up the car on the dealership's website which was quoted for $2,000 less than they had quoted me at the dealership. I also compared that price with the average sales prices of other used Accord EX-L.

After much agonizing (hey, its me!) I went back to the dealership by myself and asked for my sales guy. His name is Jeff Fisher (look for him in the new cars sales area). He had left the dealership to go get a burger, but they called him back since I was waiting there for him. That kind of made me feel for the guy a bit. We then started talking back and forth with the used car manager. It turns out that the online posting price had been intended for an Accord LX-P and not an EX-L. The LX-P has the lesser 4 cylinder engine (177HP as opposed to 190HP), no leather or any of the other electronic extras. They told me they would let me have the car for that advertised price - which was a full $4,000 less than the Edmunds.com dealership price. I only found one other 2008 Accord EX-L with less mileage and a better price in the Metroplex.

So I came home with the new car. My parents-in-law, visiting at the time, were very impressed with the car. It's sporty - without feeling loose, and I can get the whole family in it without feeling cramped inside.

I'll post photos when I get a sunny day to take them.