Run the equator: February 2007

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Long-term storage for cars

My previous post about selling the car was long and contorted, so I thought I should write something more to the point.

Simple: if you own one or more cars and and you want to travel for a long time, you will have to either find storage space for them or put them up for sale. We had three cars and chose to sell one and keep the other two. Angela's mother will take care of the Jeep and keep it at her place, and maybe drive it around once in a while. A friend of mine who owns a house with a three-space garage (these are hard to find!) will keep the BMW. Hopefully his offer is still valid - if I clean the junk in his garage he'll allow me to store the car at his place. I'm still considering selling the Jeep; Grand Cherokees year model 2000 seem to sell for between $7,000 and $10,000 on Craigslist, and the gas money I spend on this monster is about to make a hole in the wallet, but on the other hand I really wouldn't want to deal with the hassle of having to look for a car when we come back from the trip.

If you choose to keep your car at a storage facility you'll have to pay the big bucks. It's cheaper to lease an an open-air parking spot ($70+ per month); you may end up paying more than $200 for a secure indoors space. And good luck finding price quotes on the Internet - you'll find phone numbers, but most of those facilities don't have web sites. You will however find many sites that would give you "quotes" if you only give them your email and phone number. Ridiculous!

Once you decide to store a car, you should do it the right way and take all the necessary precautions to make sure it will run when you take it out of "hibernation". Here and here are a few tips on how to do this right.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sell your "other" car while you still can

How many cars does the average American family own? Two? Three? I don't know the statistics and I didn't bother to look for them, but just based on common sense I would say two cars is the minimum number of garage tenants per couple (unless one or both partners are hippies and refuse to pollute the atmosphere with fossil fuel gases). There's his car and there's her car - their individual possessions from before marriage, and sometimes there's the car they bought together (ah! the unavoidable and horrendous family minivan), or that he bought for her as a ridiculous token of his undying love - a Mini or a VW Beetle, these seem to be the brands that trigger the "I want!" syndrome in most chicks nowadays.

So anyway, we had three vehicles, I shamefully admit - my Jeep, her old, battered, Ford Escort, and my 1988 BMW 3-series, which - of course - belongs to the generation of coolest cars ever made on Earth so I had to get one.

After we moved together, Angela started to drive my Jeep, I soon bought the BMW, and the Ford started to feel a little unloved. Since we only had two garage spaces at our building I had to find a suitable place for it, and that turned out to be... the Microsoft garage. I kept the car there from November 2005 until last week, although storing cars it's against parking policy. As long as they didn't figure it out, I'd be OK, I had the parking registration.

As we drew near our final stages of preparation for the trip, it became clear that we had to get rid of that car fast, because there wouldn't be a place for it once I quit my job and we didn't want to abandon it either. Last week, on top of all my worries, I received an email from parking security that started with "It appears that you're storing this vehicle in the garage... blah, blah... it is covered with a thick layer of dust...". Just in case you were wondering how they found out... By that time however I had found a buyer (Angela's sister's roommate) willing to pay $500 for it, so I knew there was a way to get out of this. One minor thing was in my way though: the car had expired tabs. Fortunately the DMV offers short-term trip permits, which cost $24 and are valid for three days.

So now I had the permit, but the car didn't start - no wonder, since I hadn't driven it in a few months (I used to move it around in the garage every now and then for fear they would discover it if it sat in one place for too long). That meant that I had to jump it off the battery of my other car, which ended up with lots of smoke and molten cables, because I had hooked the polarities wrong. New cables, new jumping attempt; it worked fine the second time, one just has to pay attention: red to positive, black goes to negative, etc. After that, it all went smooth - I washed the car, cleaned it, took out and threw away most of Angela's forgotten junk, changed the oil, prepared a few sale documents and closed the deal with the buyer. No more green Ford Escort!

Now we're down to two cars like everybody else. I feel normal again. The 500 bucks that I made on this sale I had to spend again because a few days later something broke on the Jeep. The repairs were $700...

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Before the road

Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty used to be able to jump off the couch at a moment's whim, leave their jobs on the spot - if they had any - and sometimes their wives as well, pack up some underwear and a couple of shirts, and without worrying too much about money, comfort and other necessities, they would hit the road. They crisscrossed the country for months at a time in their battered jalopies - if they happened to have enough money saved for a down payment on a piece of junk that could meet its earthly demise anywhere and anytime - but mostly they would hitch rides and only when exhaustion brought them down, they would telegraph to their relatives and beg for just enough money to pay for the bus fare home. That was 1950. Cheap hotels were a couple of bucks a night, beer was 10c, food was almost free and life was much easier.

But what about now? Sadly, fifty years later, things don't work that way anymore. Hotels in America are rarely under $50 a night (bedbugs included), you can only find beer under $3 at happy hour, nobody picks hitch-hikers anymore and a greyhound ticket costs as much as a budget air fare. Besides, without two forms of identification and a credit card you couldn't get too far even if you tried.

So how easy is it nowadays to be a wandering hobo, without being a forlorn bum that has hit rock-bottom? In the age of Internet and instant credit checks, how could Dean Moriarty survive?

International long-time travel for the common man, far from being the glamorous adventure seen in movies, and not at all reflected in those wonderful pictures you show your friends when you get back, has a very drab and exhausting side: planning for it. Looking for the best air fare deals, picking the good hotels from the bad, international payments to potentially shady businesses in Ecuador that only accept money orders, inoculations, visas, special permits, making sure you get to every place in the right season, oh my!

Angela has been taking care of most of the hotel-air-reservation stuff, and that has been a lot of work so far and has cost her many a weekend spent on the couch with the laptop. Dull as it is, it had to be done. Looking at ads and ratings for fifteen agencies that take people to the Galapagos islands is no walk in the park. How did these things work before the Internet? It's hard to even imagine. You really had to trust your travel agent...

There are so many things to take care of before we leave, that I have decided to dedicate a separate post to enumerate them all. Here's a taste of what we're mulling over: When to quit our jobs? Do we have enough empty pages in our passports for all those visas (that's mostly a problem for me, not so much for Angela)? What do do with all the stuff we own? Who's going to take care of the cars? How are we going to do online banking while travelling? What to take with us for a whole year? How are we going to receive stuff we may need from home? How much money do we need?

Many difficulties besiege the modern traveler in his quest for the coveted view from the top of the sacred mountain, as the sun light hits the opposing ridge at a miraculous angle and splits into a myriad of incandescent dragonflies who live for no more than a few rapturous seconds. Those seconds would not be possible without the dull effort spent tackling very unglamorous problems with very unglamorous solutions. But... the journey is the destination, isn't it?

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Sunday, February 4, 2007

Blogger technical ramblings

One thing that's missing in Blogger is the ability to track comments and to respond to them. I've left quite a few comments on other bloggers' pages and the only way to figure out if they responded to them is to visit those pages again - if I still remember the URL... As a receiver of a comment, I have the reverse problem - when somebody leaves a comment and I respond to it, I would like the commentator to receive some sort of notification, preferably in an email. Instead, the only thing I can do is leave a comment to my own post, not knowing if the other person would come back to my page and check if I said anything in response. I don't know if Google is working on this issue, but I very much wish they did so.

In this respect, is the uncontested winner.

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