I really had intended to rant about my car last week, but...well, you know.
As I drove home from work last Wednesday (in my super-sweet ride, a 1992 Saturn SL1), something very, very bad happened. A new message lit up on the dashboard's warning console: "Shift to D2." I'm about as mechanically-adept as a tree stump, but even I could recognize the warning for what it was: transmission problems.
I pulled the car off the freeway and parked it for about fifteen minutes (wishfully thinking that it wasn't a real problem and hoping it would just go away on it's own). I returned to the car, started it up and was relieved when I started driving and the warning light didn't immediately come back on. I made my way to the freeway entrance and merged without any warning lights (well, any that hadn't been there before the transmission problem appeared), but after driving a few miles, the warning reappeared so I made my way for the nearest exit.
Oh yeah, I should mention that I realized my wallet was back at the office sitting on my desk when I parked the car for its first breather. So I not only had no money or a driver's license - I also didn't have the roadside assistance card for my insurance company with me. And there had been a few computers stolen from the office in the semi-recent past, so I was worried that my wallet might go missing. I dreaded having to report all my credit cards, driver's license, etc. stolen and having to get them replaced.
After parking for the second time, I called the wife (who I needed to bring me home after the car was taken to whatever repair shop it would eventually go to) and then realized - only after grumping at her about not having the roadside assistance information handy - that there was an insurance card in the glovebox that would at least get me to someone who could connect me to roadside assistance. Duh! So while waiting for the wife, I arranged for towing.
It took the tow truck over 90 minutes to arrive (it was rush hour and apparently he was stuck in traffic), but the car did eventually make it to the local Aamco (an hour after they were closed). I had called the manager, named "Bart" funnily enough, while waiting for the towtruck to let him know I was coming and he had filled me in on the night-drop process.
Oh, another fact that's worth mentioning here: the "Shift to D2" light wasn't the only warning light I had been seeing on the dashboard. The "Service Engine Soon" light had been on for a few years (despite having been serviced repeatedly) and the battery light had been active for about two days prior to all this fun.
This car is 16 years old, is creeping up on 1000,000 miles (pretty low mileage for a car that old, actually) and has a variety of other problems - the odometer stopped working in late July, the driver's window won't roll up/down, the passenger-side windshield wiper doesn't work and the windshield squirter doesn't work - but there aren't really any problems that are very major. Paying for the transmission to be rebuilt was definitely more than I was willing to spend on the car, though, so I started looking into getting either a new car or a semi-new used car. I haven't had to make a car payment in about four years (the Jetta had been paid off since 2004) and the financial gymnastics to squeeze a $300-$400 car payment into the monthly budget were giving me some serious anxiety.
When I arrived at the office the next morning, I found my wallet just where I had left it and nothing appeared to be missing, so that was one load off my mind. And then I heard from the Aamco guys later that morning and received better news than I had expected: the battery light had been telling me that my alternator was failing, which meant that the electrical systems had been running mainly from battery power for the past few days. And when the battery had dropped past 12% of capacity, bad things had begun to happen (it was at 9% by the time I took it in). The transmission is controlled by an onboard computer that fails when there's not enough power, so this gave the appearance of transmission problems when there really weren't any.
The alternator was replaced, the battery recharged, and I drove away from Aamco a much happier guy than I'd been the day before.
So the moral of the story is to not ignore the warning lights on your dashboard. In my case, I blame the "Service Engine Soon" light that had been on forever despite the car having been serviced repeatedly. On the bright side, even that light is off now. Oh, and I found a mechanic that I think I can trust. So that's another bright side.
The end of Opus
The recent Opus strips have been hinting pretty strongly of the coming demise of Opus - much as Berke did with Bloom County so many years before. November 2 will be the last strip. Forever.
Here's an example of why Berke's Opus strip was great (even if it wasn't always "great," it was really, really good often enough).
With about a minute left before Apple's iPhone went on sale, Matt Robell threw his three-month-old Verizon Chocolate music phone onto the Fashion Valley sidewalk. Several times. Then he ground it into the concrete with his shoe.
The crowd around him cheered.
Loyal Apple customers have long been called the iCult. Yesterday's gathering - a 13-hour wait for Robell and the others at the front of the line - was complete with a sacrificial altar.
"I don't need this $&!% anymore," he said, stepping on his phone one more time.
Are people really this easily manipulated, this stupid and - most frighteningly - this impulsive? Yes, Margaret, apparently they are. And Bereke, left-leaning fella that he is, is sensible enough that he recognizes it.
The comic pages are going to become a less interesting place.
On the bright side, he's going to be focusing on writing children's books like Mars Needs Moms and Edward Fubwupper Fibbed Big, so that's good news. I love those books - the stories and the art are so well-done. I thought I had rambled on about them both here, but I can't find them now...so they must have been written about and then never posted. Maybe I'll do it later.
A Terry Pratchett update
I can't believe that I haven't mentioned here is Terry Pratchett's battle with Alzheimer's here yet. I found out almost a year ago that he had been diagnosed and have been following the progression of his condition since then, but just never got around to mentioning it to anyone else. My bad.
I actually did have, in my copious unused rant-notes, several items relating to Terry, I just...you know the rest.
In December 2007, at the age of 59, Terry announced that he had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. I was concerned that I'd find myself talking to a Terry who was less sharp, less smart, than the friend I'd known for quarter of a century, and was relieved to find him as bright as ever. I asked about the Alzheimer's. 'If I look at the table to see if my mobile is there, the chances are I won't see it even if it is actually there. But if I know it is there, I will see it. Sometimes the brain will overrule the eye and say that something isn't there, even though it is. And because that something could be the little girl in the pink dress on the zebra crossing, I don't drive a car any more.
I have posterior cortical atrophy or PCA. They say, rather ingenuously, that if you have Alzheimer's it's the best form of Alzheimer's to have. This is a moot point, but what it does do, while gradually robbing you of memory, visual acuity and other things you didn't know you had until you miss them, is leave you more or less as fluent and coherent as you always have been.
I spoke to a fellow sufferer recently (or as I prefer to say, "a person who is thoroughly annoyed with the fact they have dementia") who talked in the tones of a university lecturer and in every respect was quite capable of taking part in an animated conversation.
Nevertheless, he could not see the teacup in front of him. His eyes knew that the cup was there; his brain was not passing along the information. This disease slips you away a little bit at a time and lets you watch it happen.
When I look back now, I suspect there may be some truth in the speculation that dementia (of which Alzheimer's is the most common form) may be present in the body for quite some time before it can be diagnosed.
For me, things came to a head in the late summer of 2007. My typing had been getting progressively worse and my spelling had become erratic. I grew to recognise what I came to call Clapham Junction days when the demands of the office grew too much to deal with.
And here's a video interview I found, but never posted, with Terry talking about his trials with Alzheimer's.
It's all just so sad.
I've got Terry's new book, Nation, on hold at Mysterious Galaxy right now (as well as a new illustrated collection of old Robert E Howard stories and The Graveyard Book). It's only a couple of miles from the office, but I just haven't found the motivation to drive over there yet.