Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Year Three

And so begins year three of my life here in Austin.

I know it's been a LONG time since I've updated here, but blame Facebook, not me.

Trees sure do grow. When I started this blog the trees barely covered the left side of my home, but now thanks to tree spikes, there is not much to see from the left side. So, I threw in a picture of the right side this time. It's satisfying to watch the trees grow and mark the passage of time.

I'm very happy to be here in Austin. A beautiful home, two very silly dogs and wonderful friends make this a place to settle down for the long haul.

I may not post much these days, but you at least know to check back in twelve months.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

No Id

I've been quiet the past week regarding the events in Cambridge, the President probably should have taken my lead. He learned a valuable lesson about "two sides to every story", and I'm a bit surprised he has not learned this a while ago.

When I moved to Texas in December 2006 the Travis County Sheriff paid me a visit one afternoon. It happened to the day I surrendered my California driver's license to Texas so they could issue me one from this state. I had a slip of paper but nothing with my picture on it. Contents from the prior owner of my home had been dumped in a field and the Sheriff and the landowner showed up at my home to find the prior owner. There was a pending charge for illegal dumping.

I was in the garage and we met in the driveway. I had no ID on me at all. A nice wallet full of credit cards but little else to say who I was. No, I was not the person they were looking for but I had to prove it, standing in the driveway of the person who's last known address was now mine.

Needless to say I was a bit freaked out. But no I did not yell and scream, cause a fuss, stomp my feet, etc. I was not indignant. I explained that this was my home now and asked for a moment to go to my office to pick up the closing papers. The officer agreed and I went back into my house. Down I came with the closing papers to show the house recently changed hands and I provided him with the prior owner's new address.

It was over. Just as I was taught it would be. My parents were very clear growing up that when a law enforcement officer stops you, be polite and courteous. Here I was having to prove who I was and I followed that protocol. And it all worked out as I expected it would.

If someone saw me breaking into my own home and the police were called, I don't think I'd be surprised. I would expect they would ask for my ID as some evidence I did actually live there. Law Enforcement is not fun when you're doing 70 mph in a 55 mph zone. However when your car is stolen, who do you call?

If you're asked for ID, don't freak out. It happened to me, it can happen to you.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Not A Bad Ride

The Mazda is finally in the process of being repaired from the hail storm last March. On Monday I was tossed to keys to a 2009 Nissan Alitma 2.5S. It's a fairly basic four-cylinder model Altima, cloth interior, but all the power options. The transmission is a six-speed automatic with a manual mode. This is my first ride in this generation of Altima and I was pretty impressed.

Push button start is the latest gee-wiz feature on cars these days and it's standard on Altima. When the remote is in the car, you put your foot on the brake and press the start button and the car comes to life. It doesn't take long to get used to, but there was one time I left the engine on when I exited the car. There's a gentile chime from the exterior of the car that reminds you what you've done. You can leave the car with the remote and it will stay running.

Coming from my Mazda6 with the six-cylinder engine I was surprised when I caught myself hitting the gas and not missing the extra horsepower. The Altima held it's own in suburban traffic. I'm not a hypermiler but it was fun to shift up to sixth gear as soon as possible for the best gas mileage. Below the speedometer there is a gauge that can tell you how you are doing. It's a fun bar graph to watch as it fill up the better gas mileage you're getting at the moment.

The mid-size, four-door sedan market is pretty crowded. The Altima remains competitively priced with the standard players. Reliability is not as high as offerings from Toyota, Ford and Honda, but you won't see yourself coming and going as much in the Altima as you would the others.

Push button start and not accidentally getting into someone else's car in the parking lot are not bad virtues.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

I Am Debbie Downer

Sigh, why the long face. GM went into bankruptcy and could not have asked for a better news day then when an Air France jet disappears in the Atlantic. It was a media miracle for GM, the stuff their PR team dreamed about. A headliner that trumpted GM's bankruptcy story. Obama had a press conference at noon on Monday to put a positive face on the whole thing. Gee, bankruptcy is not that bad after all. We should all do it.

There are a few things that will not work and I want to point them out well ahead of time. I like to take credit. GMC Truck needs to go along with Pontiac, Saturn, Saab and Hummer. Buick has value but needs to be folded with Chevrolet dealers. Buick only has three vehicles in their lineup. Unfortunately GM decided to merge the distribution channel of Buick, GMC and Pontiac years ago to consolidate roof tops. They did not plan on going under then. Chevy/Buick dual stores make since. Their price points do not collide on product. Cadillac will go it alone, but it's going to be tough. Those dealers barely sell more then Lincoln which is dueled with Mercury.

Buick/GMC is targeting an upscale customer. GMC trucks command a price premium, but they are the same vehicle as a Chevrolet. GMC has offered the upscale Denali series on it's truck and Chevrolet does not. But Cadillac sells upscale trucks in the GM stable. Give it up GM, it's time to put the kiss of death on GMC too. Best to do this now then go through another reorganization to kill off a division. By then no one will have any confidence in your company. Now is your chance. You can always sell upscale Chevy trucks, Ford does that with the King Ranch series. And they did not need a separate brand to do so. The day of the uber-luxury SUV/truck is limited with new CAFE regulations.

I warn you about the government taking over your new car warranty. Yes the government has pledged to back it. But warranty items can be gray. Concessions are made to please the customer, something the government is not likely to do. The government does not want your future car business.

It was kinda silly this week that when Ford announced it was upping production 10%, it had to apologize for doing so. The press asked if they were being opportunistic in the wake of the GM/Chrysler bankruptcy filings. Well hell yes they are taking advantage of the situation. They are not getting bailed out by the government and they need to make that up. In our new wave of socialism, we have forgotten this is still a free-market economy. You gain your market share where and when you can. We need to be empathic to distressed industries and companies, but this is not a first grade soccer game where everyone gets a trophy.

A Chinese firm bought Hummer today. They will close the deal in the fourth quarter of this year. The Chinese are coming and they are brutal competitors. We owe them so much money we cannot shut out their product policy wise. We can only not buy it. I'd like to think we have a social conscience in this country but then again we can't stay out of Walmart to save our lives. We ignore the safety issues with Chinese made products, but will we continue that thought process with our cars?

On the bright side, Lincoln sales are up 2% over May of last year. You say Huh? It's the return of the Lincoln Town Car to the line up. Town Car rules!

I'm happy again.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Change Is A Constant

Last Friday at 4:30 pm,cst. I sat in front of my computer and I felt very sad. Change is a constant I keep telling myself, but as someone who likes traditional things, this event was a bit hard to swallow. May 29th was the last full trading day for General Motors stock. It had fallen to $.75 a share, with a market value of $500 million dollars. Clearly, there was no more General Motors as we know it.

There will be books, documentaries, columns, etc.. for months and years to come about what caused this once barometer of our economy to collapse. It all comes down to management, but what decisions will be a lightning rod for critics is well beyond me. When Alan Mullaly took over the helm at Ford, he told senior management the company had been having a going out of business sale for the last 30 years. Apparently no one told GM that in time.

Rick Wagoner did not bring down General Motors, but he did not do much to save it. GM's terminal illness was too many brands and in China copied GM American's broken model. In China you can buy a Buick, Chevrolet, Vauxhall, Opel, Cadillac and Daihatsu and they are all made by GM. In contrast Toyota will let the Chinese buy a Lexus or a Toyota. Sound familiar?

Will GM be successful post bankruptcy? Any one's guess, but I have my doubts. First, management is not being replaced and that is unusual. In bankruptcy, the first thing to go is present upper management, the people who put you there. Second, the government will be the primary owner of the company. Historically we have not done this in the United States, but Britain tried this back in the 1970's with the disaster that was called British Leyland. They no longer make cars and Britain no longer has any domestically owned manufacturers. We consolidated the railroad under a government organization called Amtrak, and we still are subsidizing that decision.

There are those who are cheering the downfall of GM. And I can't blame them. Former customers who bought poorly designed vehicles and paid for repairs that they should never have had to. GM knew they would still sell cars, so why make customers happy. Despite the enormous engineering talent at GM, they have some legendary engineering failures on their hands. You knew the Pontiac Aztek was a looser when you looked at in the showroom. When your transmission went out or your diesel engine blew up after a few years that was a complete surprise.

Should you buy a GM product? I keep getting that question. In comparison to Chrysler, GM builds a better quality product. So the repair issue is less of a consideration. But since Chrysler went into bankruptcy, their products have been harder to finance as compared to Toyota, Ford, etc.. Several large lenders are now requiring larger down payments and higher interest rates. If you are a cash buyer or can secure good financing, you may be able to get a great deal if you have your heart set on a new vehicle.

But this is America. We live on a free market system. GM went into bankruptcy for a reason. Whey would you buy a product from a company that was so poorly managed? What cost cutting did they do the the product over the last year to save money? There are SO many vehicle options out there, why would you buy from a company that went bankrupt and possibly will not be there in the long term? What overwhelmingly compelling reason do you have to buy a GM product?

If you have to buy an American branded product, Ford makes a wonderful line of vehicles with the highest quality ranking for an American name plate. Some are higher then the imports. Ford outranks Nissan in quality as a company, but you don't hear that much. So go buy a Ford if you need a American branded product.

I do predict we will be without Buick (domestically) and GMC Truck eventually. Ford will outsell GM in 2009 and possibly 2010. If GM does fail in the next few year or so, it will be a HUGE black eye on the Obama administration and damage his presidency. You need revenue to exit bankruptcy, and if consumers shun GM products liquidation will be the next step as the revenue dries up.

You may gamble on a GM product if you like. President Obama has gambled on the entire company. Let's hope we're all winners.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Don't Buy It

Failed clock spring from my Grand Cherokee

They say the Irish never forget.

Well it's true. But then there are times I don't need to be reminded of what's left a bad taste in my mouth. It comes back at me screaming. Case-in-point, recent Chrysler products. Regular readers may remember the Grand Cherokee that I sold off last year. I was annoyed with the electrical problems that came from parts that should have NEVER failed on the car.

I won't bother to explain what the clock spring is on a steering column. Unless you own a Chrysler product, you won't need to know what it does. Well mine failed on the Grand Cherokee I owned and I replaced it. Not a fun job but not a hard one. The toughest part of the job is that it should never have needed to be done in the first place. I had hoped that Chrysler learned it's lesson with the part, but sure enough they did not. Automobile Magazine just wrapped up it's long-term test of the 2008 Chrysler Town and Country. At 31,691 miles the clock spring failed. There were a total of four warranty claims for their vehicle in 32,880 miles.

Today Chrysler announced incentives up to $6000.00 so consumers would purchase one of their vehicles during their bankruptcy reorganization. Rightfully consumers are shunning the brand and were doing so over the past several years. Consumer Reports consistently ranks them at the bottom for quality. I do not recommend a single product they produce to anyone and steer buyers to other vehicles that may suit their needs while providing a better product.

Yes I'm taking responsibility for assisting Chrysler into bankruptcy. Somehow they missed the quality bandwagon that everyone has been on for years. They make domestic cars look horrible with their underdeveloped products that are built with lower quality parts.

My beef with all of this is the bailouts that they will never be paid back. Everyone knows the merger/purchase with Fiat is going to be a disaster. The merger of Chrysler and Fiat will be truly a merger of equals as they are both known for abysmal quality vehicles. Chrysler will limp around for a while, it's dealer network (what's left) will be used to sell Fiats until the Italian's retreat again as they did in 1984.

If you're a fan of scratching your head wondering how/why that part of your car managed to fail, head to your Chrysler dealer for a great deal. There's no mystery why their product is so cheap.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Happy Trails To You

I think it's the longest I've ever owned an individual car. My Mustang is saying goodbye after four years in my stable. It was time to go though.

With so many cars that have come and gone over the last 24 years of driving, I can't keep up with them all. Some I don't even have pictures of, which I find hard to believe too. This is probably the most photographed car I've ever owned. While I've always worked on my cars, this is the first car I've "restored". I've clearly cut my teeth on this car with engine work and interior finishing. Along the way I've cut my fingers so many times that there's probably at least a pint of my dried blood throughout the car. I have a nice scar on my thumb from cutting the new carpet one day.

I took one last joy ride yesterday up to Hewitt, Texas to visit Latemodel Restoration Supply. There were some finishing touches I needed to apply before delivering the car. While I could have taken one of the other two rides up there, I thought one last ride to the place where I bought most of my restoration parts was fitting. With 113,000 miles on the odometer, the Mustang rode like a champ after two years of garage time. That 5.0L engine just goes and goes.

In the showroom was one of the first Mustang's I've ever really coveted. Back in 1978, when I was nine, Ford launched the Fox body 'stang. During it's introduction model year, it was named the Official Pace Car of the Indy 500. It was a real looker then, and it still is. Wow. I wanted to buy it...

But the reality set in. With work, a house to myself, two very energetic dogs, a social life and other hobbies, there was no time for two cars to keep up. A classic car is perpetual restoration project and this one had been put on hold for over two years now. I was not going to take it any farther then I had, and it was time to let it go. In truth, the BMW 635CSi is in better shape and requires less to maintain. It still needs work, but not nearly as much.

I'll own another Mustang at some point. It's most likely going to be something new though. Maybe one I can buy and maintain. The kinda car you don't drive on rainy days or let sit in the driveway. One that looks like new twenty years after you bought it.

Or I'll give in and get the '79 Indy Pace Car. You can count on one thing.

I'll have another car next year.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Pontiac

I'm not going to drabble on much here about the passing of Pontiac. I just want to say good bye and make a brief posting as I have some history with the brand. Out of college it was the first car I bought, a 1984 Pontiac 6000STE. Nothing against the car as I really enjoyed it, but I never bought another Pontiac or GM branded vehicle after that. There was never a true successor to the 6000STE, which at one time was one of Car and Driver's Ten Best Cars. The craptacular GM-10 series Grand Prix STE tried to succeed it but failed.

The sadness I have over the passing of Pontiac is for the many fans the brand had. Pontiac did HAVE a performance heritage and today we honor that. When Oldsmobile faded away, it was just remembered for being "old" as it was one of the very original car manufacturers and was in fact older then GM itself. Pontiac will be remembered for the GTO. The innovative Fiero (it's build structure and mid-engine design). And how can I not mention the screaming chicken Trans-Am's of the 70's. Yee Haw! Now Pontiac is a bargain hunter brand for customers with low FICO scores.

Goodbye Pontiac. The consumers have decided your fate.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Four Oh!

Some birthdays are better then others. This was one of the best. Many thanks to all my friends for making it out last night. It was a school night after all. A few shout outs to Jim and Mike for driving me around last night. Tom supplied the camera for party pictures, such as the one above. And a big huge Texas sized thank you to my buddies Gary and Kurt for putting it all together. The cake was amazing.

We headed to Salk Lick where it takes about an hour or so to seat a party of twenty. But the food was worth it. An all-you-can-eat beef fest. We all went family style last night. I'm still full.

Just a few notes and shout outs. Thank you to my now favorite sibling Lisa who pulled off a Jordan sibling miracle and had my birthday gift to my house BEFORE my birthday. Jennifer did get points for a voice mail of Happy Birthday with charming children singing, but Jen, you gotta deliver the goods... Feel free to try and spend your way to number one sibling, I know how you like to win.

Of course, thank you Mom and Dad for the gas grill.

And a card I will keep for the rest of my life.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Black and Blue Ember

The other day I received an e-mail about a car repair I had done to my Grand Cherokee. I was thrilled to find my blog was searchable and someone had actually found it useful when fixing their car. I've made the world a better place, one posting at a time.

So I have a head's up for all of you searching for a Blue Ember gas grill. Yes it was rated number one by Consumer Reports last year in their test of mid-sized gas grills. And in the article it refers you to Home Depot. So I headed to the big orange box to buy one. They no longer carry them, but you can get the left-over's on line.

So I wonder why Home Depot would not carry Consumer Report's number one rated grill. Well it's shipped from China wrapped in Kleenex on a Donkey. When you open the box, it looks like that's how it made it here. The grill pictured here was one of the casualties. It was dropped and the front control panel was crushed. Lowes of Round Rock had six other in stock with the front "crush" feature. Lowes of Austin on I-35 North had three with damaged handles.

Never fear, I don't give up. Easily. With a very red face, the Service Manager of Round Rock Lowes let me have the floor model at a nice 20% off. He was very nice and I can't complain about the service at all. I have a great new grill and the best one in the store was the one on display and they knocked $100.00 off the price for my troubles.

I can imagine that Home Depot may have had the same issue and that's why it's no longer carried there. When you shell out good $$ for a grill, you expect it to be in good shape. Thankfully my buddy Mike with his F-150 felt the same way and the four trips to Lowes were not too hard to coax out of him.

My last grill I've had for nine years, it's a Weber. It's served well, but the paint on the inside is now coming off on the food. Time for a change. Weber came in number two in the test, and I felt guilty not buying another one. But the Blue Ember had more features I liked and looked easier to clean.

The moral of the story. Before you leave Lowes with your Blue Ember, pull it ALL out of the box for inspection.

The more you know....

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Crawford, Texas

No bother in getting all worked up. This is not a tribute to our last President, even if you did like him. Sorry.

This is a road trip to a place etched into history. Washington had Mount Vernon, Bush has Crawford. A place to go to get away from Washington, D.C. Today was an unbelievably nice day here in Central Texas. Nearly 80 degrees and sunny with pillowy clouds dotting the sky. After a nice walk around Town Lake with the pups, I could not stay indoors. With gas being relatively cheap, two words came to mind. Road Trip.

Crawford is roughly two hours from my home and made the perfect afternoon getaway. An easy drive, Interstate 35 to Texas 317, and you're there. Once you leave the highway Texas 317 takes you through some very small towns and is mostly two lane. Old abandoned Main Streets mark what was once the town center.

When you make it to Crawford, George and Laura are there to greet you. The sign is faded and the "W'04" indicate that this is not a place where things are updated. There is no great town center, no rows of interesting shops or restaurants. Not even a Post Office. I wanted to find something interesting or meaningful to explain why the former President built a ranch here.

Of all the little burbs I drove though on my way, Crawford had some of the nicest and largest homes. So there may be something here I did not find. The big general store was closed, but I did manage to find another one to buy a few postcards. I didn't ask where the Bush ranch was, I was not really inclined to go there anyhow.

Crawford is not much, and Washington, D.C. is everything. It's one extreme to another.

Just like our Presidents.