Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Domino Effect

In my driveway sits a shrine to my former life.  Sad, dormant, neglected.  My 2004 Toyota Sienna sits idle and forlorn, gathering dust, leaves, bird droppings, and wandering trails of cat foot prints.

Heated leather seats, quad captain's chairs, side curtain air bags (the whole reason I bought the car in the first place), kickin' stereo, CD player, tinted windows, digital compass, outside thermometer, double lighted vanity mirrors, SEVENTEEN DRINK HOLDERS (the other reason I bought the car)!  I'm sure there are amenities that I don't even remember.  OOH!  POWER DOORS!  How I adore the power doors!  I have completely failed to teach my kids how to operate car doors themselves because I always hit the button on the key fob before they even get to the car!  We are SO spoiled!  After seven years with my Sienna, the thrill of the power doors has still not worn off!  I remain completely tickled by them.

As I write this, I realize that today is "Sierra Sienna's" 7th birthday. 

It was snowy and dark on the evening of January 4th, 2004 when I first met her in a frigid parking lot where the transport company unloaded her onto the icy pavement on the evening of her trip from Arizona (had to order from Arizona to get that beautiful dark blue color!). 

Over the next few days I spent an arguably unhealthy amount of time sitting in the car in front of the house listening to music on the stereo and reading the owner's manual to learn how to use all the bells and whistles.  My daughters would wander out to visit me periodically, stay awhile, and then wander back inside -- probably wondering if mom was out in the car looking for the screw she had lost!

I ran out and bought rubber floor mats to protect the pristine carpeting (putting the carpet mats away for safekeeping).  I bought organizers for the backs of the seats, an organizer for the jumper cables and other stuff like that that needs to ride around in the back, an organizer for CD's, a case for the registration and insurance verification papers, and a turbo ice scraper.  I stocked my beautiful new car with kits: a first aid kit, an road emergency kit, an office kit, a sewing kit, a care-care kit, and the most important thing to carry around in you car because you'll use it daily: a pair of scissors!  I had everything I needed!  I was good to go!

The smell of the leather, the bells and whistles, the seventeen drink holders, the CLEAN! It was well-equipped heaven on wheels!  Ahhhhh....

That was seven years ago.  Today.  And today is a very different reality. 

"What happened?," you ask?  Let me tell you a very sad story.

My ex-husband and I owed $385 in personal property taxes.  The deadline came and went.  We didn't have the money.  Neither of us.  So they put our name in the newspaper as delinquent tax payers.  Big whoop!  I wasn't too worried about the public shaming.  I only know one person who reads those notices and she likes me anyway!

Last January (2010), my license plate came due for renewal.  At the time, I didn't even have the $25 for the renewal stickers.  When I finally came up with that money, I found out that I had to pay the personal property taxes before I could renew the tags.  $385.  Didn't have it. 

But one must still go to work and one must still take the kids to school.  So I drove with expired plates. 

I'm a mom in a mini-van.   I drive safely.  I always wear my seatbelt.   I don't attract too much law enforcement attention. I didn't get my first ticket for the expired plates until May.  In June I got a second one -- even though I cried and told my whole sad sob story and the officer felt really bad about giving it to me.  I think he would have let me off if he hadn't already typed my offense into his in-car computer and had Big Brother watching over his shoulder. 

After that, I parked my car and started driving Mark's mini van -- a very nice black 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan.  Not my car, but still nice wheels.  I felt very cared for driving Mark's car.  He drove the work truck.  We were good.

In August, I had Mark's van stuffed full of staging furniture and needed to transport children so I took my van for a drive.  Until suddenly it wouldn't drive.  The transmission had gone out.  Dead. Kaput. Broken. 

There are only 130,000 miles on the Sienna but I will admit to neglecting the maintenance.  The last time I took it in for service, it cost $1100.00 (WHEN did I have $1100 sitting around to put into my car?  THAT was a very different life!).  I'd been ignoring idiot lights for a very long time (what could they know after all -- they're "idiot" lights!).  There was nothing I could do.  Car repairs were beyond my means.  I didn't have money for even an oil change.  I prayed the tires would last.  I knew a breakdown would be catastrophic.  Maybe I made the mistake of saying that out loud where demons and evil spirits could hear me and get ideas! 

So I limped Sierra Sienna home (she still had first and second gears, barely) and parked her and went back to driving Mark's van.  Until his van quit on me too.  TWO transmissions in one month!  And transmissions are expensive, in case you didn't know.  My rotten, rotten luck!

So then my dear Mark put me in his mother's little 1995 Ford Aspire, "Bonnie", which has great gas mileage but that's about it in terms of perks -- other than that it GOES!  (See my piece on "The Tin Can Peddle Car" for an elaboration on Bonnie!)  I've been driving Bonnie since August and I am very, very grateful to have Bonnie and her 47 miles per gallon and her just plain simple mobility.  But I'm terrified that Bonnie will die beneath me and my mother-in-law will never forgive me!

I still can't afford to replace the transmission in my Sienna.  Even with my ex-husband willing to find a used transmission and put it in for free, there has not been $375 available.  And, even then, I know owe another year's personal property taxes on tope of that original $385. 

But Bonnie HAS gotten a new fuel pump, two new alternator belts, and a new tire out of the deal -- just to keep her running!

To add injury to injury, while the Sienna was sitting idle in the driveway, a gallon jug of water that I had left in "the way back", sprang a leak and drained onto the carpet and under the rubber mat in the rear cargo area.  In the summer heat.  In a closed-up car.  With all those mold spores taking their summer travels on humidity vectors.  The result is a very nasty, noxious mold that makes me deathly ill in five minutes and seems impervious to bleach, borax, and vinegar. 

So now there's a new transmission, personal property taxes, license plate renewal fees, the expense of renewing the insurance, AND the cost of replacement carpet between me and getting my old mode of transportation back.  And, even then, the mold may just be everywhere and impossible to eradicate.  But that's a nightmare for another day...!

So, that's the whole long sad story of how one thing after another after another that have convened to leave Sierra Sienna sitting in the driveway (where, by the way, the basketball goal, the metal rose arbor, and a cabinet have all been blown over by stong winds right onto my once-beautiful, but now somewhat dented car!)

As for those traffic fines, I requested community service and will be working 24 hours ($10 per hour) at a local thrift store to work off my $240 in fines.  Little do they know that thrift stores are my heaven!  Maybe there is some mercy in the universe after all!

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