Crashing the party

We had a mid-afternoon doctor’s appointment in Oakland the other day and were finished at, of course, 5:00 p.m. — rush hour. Not a fun thing. So we decided to take full advantage of our validated parking garage ticket to stick around and have dinner and try to miss the rush.

If you’re not from these parts, Oakland is a section of Pittsburgh where the University of Pittsburgh (the largest employer in the city) and its Medical Center (a behemoth in its own right) are located, along with Carnegie Museum, nearby Carnegie Mellon University, and lots more, so it’s a hoppin’ place. Students, profs, administrators, medical folks, commuters…you get the idea.

I went to Pitt, and worked in Oakland for 5 years after graduation, so being there is kind of like coming home. But it’s like going to a slightly foreign place, too. I graduated more than 25 years ago, and haven’t spend any time at all in Oakland for many years. Tons of new buildings on campus. So when it came to picking a place for dinner, I didn’t even know what was around anymore.

We set off down Lothrop Street (which I remembered vividly — it was always known as Cardiac Hill — Pitt Stadium was situated at the top of it, and the tens of thousands of fans trudging up the hill on game day know it well. I used to have to hand-carry endless documents around campus for my student job, and a trip to Lothrop Hall was always a whine-inducer).  Anyway, we started off going DOWN the hill, but in the light rain, wind, and increasing cold, I was eager to just find a place already and get inside.

We ended up making a big loop and then walking several blocks through the heart of South Oakland (major student area) to Mad Mex — a hometown favorite. But I’d never been to that location, and when we walked in around 5:30, we were slammed by loud music and louder talking in the long, narrow room with a bar on most of one side and tiny tables on the other. Man, it was crowded. I didn’t think there would be a spot for us, but we were shown to an itty bitty table about 1 foot from the people on either side of us (long bench seat against the wall on one side; row of small chairs on the other). I realized then that they were having Happy Hour specials for Day of the Dead, which may have explained some of the crowd.

We were the oldest people in the place by at least 25 years. I kept thinking they were all thinking, “What are mom & dad’s friends doing here?” and, “Aren’t those two old people sweet.” The food was great, as Mad Mex food always is, and we enjoyed our half-off drafts (2 kinds of pumpkin ale!), but I couldn’t shake that feeling of standing out like a sore thumb amid the glow of all the phones that were ever in hand and the talk of classes and such. And I thought, again, how times had changed since I was in school.

We just didn’t have the money kids have these days. I don’t think we ever went out to happy hour at a bar, let alone eating dinner there. We didn’t buy $4 coffees every day (or ever), and brought our lunches with us in paper bags. We didn’t have phones (except the one in the apartment.) When we did go out (way after happy hour — usually around 10:00), trying (usually successfully) to get into bars even though we were underage, I don’t remember drinking when we got there — just dancing. I do remember that you could have a large pizza delivered for $3.99, which was our big Friday night treat (before going out).

I always marvel at the high school kids you see in Starbucks — seriously, where do they get the money? And who drinks coffee in high school?

Is this the part where I throw in a “whippersnappers” and talk about trudging to class in 4 feet of snow?

Anyway, it was kind of a sad foray into my past with a jolt of present-day reality. I’m OLD, even though I don’t FEEL old.


We pushed our way through the crowd to leave, ears ringing a bit, and made it back up Cardiac Hill without needing CPR. We paid our $5 parking fee (validation only covered $3), and made our way home — still dealing with some congestion after all. On the roads, and in our memories, as we thought about the kids we used to be, and wondered where the past 25+ years had gone. And when bars had gotten so loud.

We are always the same age inside.
~ Gertrude Stein

Actually, it was a direct hit

Remember that last post about how I “almost” bought a car.


Meet Signora Bianco Perla Avorio (Perla for short). Isn’t she bella? (OK — silly name, but it makes me smile. It’s her colors, Pearl White outside and Ivory inside. Ms. Pearl White Ivory — so Southern or WASPy in English, but lovely and lilting in Italian. Go ahead, roll those Rs.)

It’s amazing what telling a car dealer “Thanks but no thanks” will accomplish. The unavailable Maryland car we originally put a deposit on suddenly became available (due to some wrangling between the two dealers). My dealer sent someone to pick it up yesterday, and here it is in our driveway today.

And my fear about the universe looking unfavorably on the purchase? It evaporated when we went in last night to pick up Perla and found out the $500 manufacturer’s rebate we had expected had suddenly been raised to $2,000, starting yesterday and only through next Tuesday! We were speechless with delight — things like that NEVER happen to us. (But now we can’t say that, can we?) Typically, we are the poor saps in the “Oh, that deal just ended yesterday” or “Oh, unbeknownst to you, that [fabulous perk] doesn’t begin until tomorrow” camp.

So, I’m relishing all things “new car” (first time since 1998), looking forward to getting great mileage (though wishing we won’t have to put too many miles on), and practicing my Italian accent.

Ciao, baby!

Anyone driving slower than you is an idiot,
and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.

~ Author Unknown (but isn’t it so true?)

That was close

I only narrowly escaped purchasing a car this week. I’m still recovering.

Blame it on the sunshine. It was so beautiful on Saturday, and after running a couple errands and grabbing breakfast at McDonald’s and iced coffee at Starbucks, we didn’t feel like heading back home to toil endlessly and accomplish little. So Mike suggested driving to the nearest Fiat dealer to check out the cute little Fiat 500s we’d been eyeing for a while. My car is getting tired, and we had talked about keeping it for winter and getting something small with great mileage to tool around in the rest of the time. A “commuter car,” even though I don’t commute.

“Let’s just check it out.” he said.

“Just for fun,” he said.

“You might not even like it,” he said.

Twenty-five minutes later, we were perusing the cars on the lot — practically the only customers. Salesman Jeff was very accommodating. “Let’s take a test drive,” he said. And so we did. Twice. (Just to compare the Sport model to the Lounge model).

It’s a fun little car. Surprisingly roomy in front. Minuscule back seat that feels like you’re sitting on a board. (But what do I care about that?) Teeny trunk, but the seats fold down to give the illusion of space. I wouldn’t be hauling many bags of topsoil or mushroom manure, but it’d be fine for groceries. Fun little extras — nice radio, Bluetooth, USB to plug in a player. A glass top on the Lounge. Lots of colors and combos. Adorable.

It was the car in the showroom that did me in. The Mocha Latte Lounge convertible. Sort of the color of coffee yogurt. With the Avorio interior. And the Avorio-Nero upholstery — a tiny ivory and black check, sort of like houndstooth, and a perfect match for the mocha latte and ivory dash. It was just so darn sweet. I wanted to lick it. I was ready to buy it on the spot. Me who never wanted a convertible — or even a sunroof — in her life.

Thank God it had an automatic transmission. Deal breaker. I love driving a stick.

So I asked them to search. Could they find me the same color combo with a stick? I’d even take a convertible if I had to.

Nope, couldn’t find one. They did, however, find one in Virginia that had everything I wanted, but in Bianco Perla (Pearl White — a $500 upgrade). I thought and hemmed and hawed. They priced it for us, along with trying to sell us on a Rame (copper) convertible we had test-driven. Obviously they want to sell us a car on their lot, not one on somebody else’s.

I wasn’t into the convertible, but they made us a decent deal for the Bianco one. With zero percent financing if we wanted it. I thought and thought. Went back and forth. Finally, at least 3 hours after we walked in the place, I said “yes” and gave them a deposit. We got in our sweltering car, finished our now warm iced coffees, and came home. Then I had a nervous breakdown.

Why the hell did I just buy a car? I didn’t need a car. My car is fine. It’s paid off. It’s a little worn, but I still love it. LOVE my Subaru. I love that it’s a stick and has heated seats and hauls every darn thing I need it to haul. Who needs all these vehicles? Four vehicles! For two people. It’s crazy I tell you. Crazy! I didn’t get up this morning thinking I would buy a car. I’ve never bought a car with this little planning and forethought and research. What the hell did I just do?

Mike managed to talk me down. Reminded me of the practicality of the little car, that we had the money, that it would be OK, that he could also drive it to save mileage on his car, that we could get rid of our truck eventually when the major house projects were done, that we had had a shitty year and life is short and buying a car isn’t that big a deal. I calmed down, and gradually started to get excited about my new car to-be.

I read some owners’ forums online to feel the love (no, wait, that’s Subaru’s tagline). I downloaded and read the brochure. Mike found the product manual online and I read it all. Mike checked with our insurance agent, and it would be less than we’re spending on his car or my car.

Late Monday, the bubble burst. The car in Virginia had been sold. They had another one in Grigio (gray) — did I want that? Gray? GRAY? Ummm, about as much as I want black or silver, which is not at all.

Mike and I went into massive Internet search mode. We found a Perla Bianco in Maryland (turns out that was actually the original “Virginia” car and already sold). We found a Mocha Latte in Florida (but they just had a hurricane, and it’s 1,000 miles away) and another in Kansas (also 1000 miles away and with a useless $450 upgrade). The dealer found a Perla Bianco in New Jersey, but it had a sunroof — another $850.

In the end, when push came to shove yesterday, I walked away. It felt too forced. Like the universe was trying to tell me this wasn’t the right time to drain our savings and buy a car we don’t absolutely need and I’m not 100% sure of. If the deal hinged on finding the right colors…not really a great reason to buy a car.

I’m sad to lose that vision of bopping around town with a cute little Italian. Sad to see 30/38 mpg evaporate into thin air. But I’m relieved, too, which says a lot. Maybe I’ll revisit it when Fiat comes out with its crossover version in a year or so. Maybe I’ll change my mind next week and go back and get one off the lot, for less, in another model or color.

But in the meantime, I’m shaking off my close call and planning to get future mocha latte fixes in the usual way. I can have 5,000 of them.

Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
~ Kurt Vonnegut

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