It was mid-September, 2001, and a psychiatrist on the PT Cruiser’s radio was saying that the 9/11 terrorist attacks could prompt people to make their lives more meaningful while they still had the time.
It would cause some people thinking about getting married to get married, and it would cause some people thinking about getting divorced to get divorced.
My wife was in the latter case.
It could be called the most amicable divorce in NJ history, maybe the whole USA. It could also be called the most drawn out divorce in NJ history, maybe the whole USA.
After announcing she wanted a divorce, TIP moved upstairs to the spare room next to our son Will’s room. I remained in the ground floor master bedroom on the pine wood four poster we had bought on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village just before moving to the “country” in 1990.
We sat down with Will in the living room and told him his parents were getting divorced. “OK”, he said looking at me, “where are you going to live?” “Pretty close” I answered, “not sure yet.” Will thought for a short second or two and said “cool, I’ll have two homes.”
Lots of his friends were from divorce-split homes, some of them divorce-split-twice. If it bothered him, he wasn’t showing it.
A friend of ours who was a real estate agent was picking up Will along with her two boys of similar age in her Sebring convertible. TIP and I walked down to the car as Will hopped into the back seat without using the door and clicked on his seat belt. We told her I wanted to buy a nearby local condo and asked if she would like to help.
“Sure.” She showed no surprised; it turned out most of the people we knew were not surprised.
Sometimes, the things you think are being kept private, are not so private after all.
In a few weeks I bought a two bedroom condo shown above; it was two miles from the marital abode.
This is the back view of the condo showing my neighbor Alice’s blooming white wisteria. So far, I have rescued Alice three times from a dead battery at various locations using either jumpers or my JNC-660 battery booster. Next year Alice, who is still an active artist, will be 90 years old. I am blessed with great neighbors.
It was an easy walk or bike ride for Will if he wanted to pop over. I moved into the unit in January 2002 and have been here ever since. With a re-fi or two since then, I’ll be 99 years old when the mortgage is paid off. That should be one quiet mortgage burning party.
Meanwhile Compaq, the company that bought DEC in 1998, was itself bought out by HP. So now I worked for HP.
Industry analysts were not overjoyed with this latest takeover/merger (HP buys Compaq) any more than they were with the first one (Compaq buys DEC) three years earlier. One media guru call the HP/Compaq “merger” like two drunks holding each other up.
Our new CEO was Carly Fiorina. As a resident of NJ, I was already familiar with Ms Fiorina who earlier had been a Lucent group president. Ms Fiorina oversaw so many management mis-steps at Lucent, which included NJ’s pride and joy Bell Labs, that Lucent ultimately disappeared from the corporate landscape in a series of failed mergers and at least one major accounting scandal. Many former Bell Labs/Lucent people blamed Ms Fiorina for the events leading to that sad affair.
In January 2003 the NYC DOC got a new Commissioner under the relatively new mayor Bloomberg and sweeping changes were made to DOC management and vendors. I was called into the office of my new DOC manager/customer and told “…you’re the DEC team project manager; I don’t need a DEC team project manager; I have my own project managers and my own way of doing things, we’ll run this team from now on; your services are no longer needed.”
It was just business; that’s how things sometimes go in business. Actually, from a business perspective, it was a good, long, and very profitable run.
I scrambled to find a revenue job within DEC Compaq HP asap because CEO Fiorina was conducting a blood bath of right-sizings. I found a position managing a small team working on a forensic e-mail retrieval project for a large bank responding to a court order. Because the e-mail server backups were made with outdated DEC hardware and software and stored on compact digital tapes, we used two old resurrected DEC systems to re-process the backup tapes and load them onto a bank of PCs in Microsoft Outlook format.
This was a revenue generating team, but still we lost a team member in the middle of the project to lay-offs due to the massive numbers of people being cut to make the HP/Compaq merger look better than it was.
Note-1: I suspect you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. Never put anything into an e-mail that you would not want to see printed in the NY Times, the National Inquirer, or discussed on MSNBC, CNN, or FOX. How many times do people have to hear this clear and unambiguous warning before they learn? Unless you completely control the e-mail server (and most people do not), you do not control the e-mail backups.
While people were being laid off, including my revenue generating team member, Ms Fiorina bought or leased five new corporate planes, including one 30 million dollar Gulfstream IV deemed to be exclusively for her use. This created a stir within HP and as a result we all had to attend meetings where local management explained to us the importance of having modern aircraft when HP is competing in the lofty and complicated business arena occupied by CEOs.
Meanwhile, TIP and I each got lawyers and told them to do nothing until they heard from us. If they were going to work billable hours, it would be work we wanted them to do.
I told TIP I would write the divorce agreement, get her OK, and then give it to my lawyer to codify, and then he would give it to her lawyer for his approval. Minimum legal billing hours and a fair agreement were my objectives. TIP agreed. She knew she would get a better net deal working with me than from an expensive lawyer-to-lawyer, high billing hours battle.
She wanted to keep the Passat. I suggested the PT Cruiser might be a better car, less expensive to run on regular gas, and probably cheaper to maintain, but her mind was set.
TIP discovered a few things in her new found separated-and-soon-to-be-divorced state.
- Bathrooms get dirty and they’re a pain to clean.
- Cars get dirty, inside and out.
- Car inspections are easy to forget.
- Car registrations renewals are easy to forget.
- Out of warranty Passats are not trouble free and they are expensive to fix.
- Lawn mowing is hard work and is needed weekly from early spring to late autumn.
- Leaf raking is hard work and happens every autumn.
- Snow doesn’t shovel itself.
- Household electrical, plumbing, hardware related repairs are needed quite often.
There’s more but you get the idea.
I helped her with the last five of these tasks for the first few years but it was still a revelation to her to reflect on the easy life she had earlier, and how it might have had something to do with her husband’s hard work and boring behavior at home.
At church, the priest told the congregation that TIP was caught by local police with an inspection sticker on the Passat that was 18 months out-of-date. “She got a D-W-B”, he said, meaning driving-while-blonde. A few people laughed.
The Passat’s clutch went, not with a slipping wimper, but in a screaming smoking fit. All of my efforts to say the clutch never seemed right were rebuffed. In the end, the clutch AND the flywheel had to be replaced. Why, I never found out. It made the Eagle Vision repairs look cheap.
One of the two engine cooling fans started vibrating so badly the dealer disconnected it and told TIP it needed to be replaced. There were other issues, always expensive to fix, but TIP tended to ignore them unless they became serious.
I paid for these repairs because she was working locally at a senior housing development and I was trying to not have too many things overwhelm her.
TIP kept putting off the activities needed to get the divorce settled. I pushed and prodded as much as I dared, but the delays went from 2002 into early 2006. Finally, she moved on the paper work (*), the settlement was codified, a court date was set, and suddenly it was done.
(*) I think the fact that she had a serious boy friend may have motivated her.
TIP also used that court appearance to change back to her maiden name.
She got the marital abode, free and clear. That’s two fully paid homes I have given away.
As the great musical sage and philosopher Willie Nelson once said: “I’m not going to get married again, I think I’ll just find a woman that hates me, then buy her a house.”
It was a few months later that I realized I had not had an ulcer attack in a long time.
I offered to pay the expenses for TIP to get a MSW (Masters in Social Work) so that in the future she could support herself and always be able to get a decent paying job. She took me up on that offer.
One cold snowy morning in 2007 I was working from home on HP storage array project planning, happy to not be driving anywhere in the miserable weather, when I got a call from an unknown number. It was TIP.
“Can you pick me up? I’m on 287 south and I just had an accident. I think the car is totaled.”
I thought of asking why she doesn’t call her damn boyfriend, but I did not, I just said OK and asked where exactly she was. “Just come south from Basking Ridge, you can’t miss it, three of four cop cars, three or four tow trucks, all with flashing lights.” Three or four tow trucks?
I cleaned the snow off the PT Cruiser and gently headed out to the rescue. As is my nature, I felt for and noted how well the new Michelin Hydro-Edge tires were working in the 4 to 6 inches of powdery snow.
The scene of the accident was a mess.
There were three or four cars deep into the trees that bordered the highway, all badly mangled. When I got there, the white Passat was being dragged out of the woods by a cable attached to a big wreaker/carrier. There wasn’t a straight panel on the car and none of the wheels were turning as the car was dragged through the now deepening snow and mud. Every airbag in the car had gone off. The front, right, back, left, and roof were all mangled.
TIP was calm, maybe in shock. I asked the cop whose cell phone she had used to call me (she forgot to take hers when she left home) if she was good to go and he just nodded. It looked like he had a lot of paperwork to do. I leaned into the Passat, checked for any personal valuables, and removed my Easy-Pass from the windshield.
“I want to go home” she said. At the house I could still see the vague tire marks she had left just a little while earlier.
TIP, on her way to a MSW class, and a few other cars were going about 75 mph in the heavily falling snow when they encountered an icy spot. One or more hit their brakes and all went spinning into the woods. 75 mph, in heavy snow, on icy roads, with poor visibility. Makes sense to some people.
She was lucky. The vault-like Passat did one important thing very well. That’s why I did not name the prior VW COAL “From The Chrysler Frying Pan Into The VW Fire.” I did not like the troublesome and expensive to repair Passat, but must admit it was a solid and safe car.
Back in 2002, I settled into the newest phase of my life and tried to be a not-too-distant father to Will. I joined the vestry of the church we had been attending as a family and took on the worst of all vestry jobs, stewardship chairman.
Will often came to the 8 A.M. church service (no choir and no music – my kind of service) with me and attended the after church men’s breakfast club, which usually included a few women, but was still called the men’s breakfast club. Will loved that inconsistent title and enjoyed the topical subjects of discussions at those genial gatherings, some politics, some social commentary, and lots of friendly humor.
One of the regular topics was his father’s dating life, which all attendees knew was non-existent. A standard question to Will was, did your father come home with any hot dates this week? Will’s smiling reply was always the same: “My dad? Are you kidding?” Everyone laughed, including me.
TIP’s boy friend was a nice enough fellow and he considered himself a car guy, but the cars he drove were all flashy, expensive, and fast. Most were S model V8 Audis, including one rare 2003 RS6. That may be a car guy of sorts, but not my sort of a car guy. I once had to jump start the RS6 (he had gotten a ride and left the dead RS6 for TIP to resolve) which had the battery in a box located in the trunk.
I appreciated his efforts to maintain a cordial relationship with me, but I respectively declined to attend their wedding when they were married a few years later. I told them “I don’t go to weddings; they give me stomach pains.” I thought that was funny.
In July 2009, two months after my 65th birthday, I got a call from my manager early on a Monday morning. The world was in the early stages of the “great sub-prime mortgage recession” of 2008 and I knew what he was going to say before he said it.
I was right-sized .
I wondered what younger people were being included in this lay-off because corporations always salted the layoffs of older workers with a few younger workers of both sexes and varying races so as to prevent any litigious hint of ageism, racial, or gender bias.
Frankly I was OK with it. Work at HP/Compaq/DEC had stopped being interesting and enjoyable as soon as I was no longer working directly on site for customers who appreciated and valued my efforts.
I feel bad for people today who have to deal with greedy and sycophant filled corporations.
From late 2001 to mid 2005 I had lived like a monk. I was working hard and worrying about how Will was doing, and enjoying the fact that I was alive, healthy (no more ulcer), employed (until mid-2009), and that all the people I loved were healthy.
I walked a lot for exercise and to clear my mind. I started doing a variety of floor and weight exercises and they made me feel even better.
In mid 2005, I first saw Debbie.
I was at a loss for words one day when I found myself walking past a beautiful woman I had never seen before. All I could do was smile. I reasoned she must be a visitor that I’d never see again.
I saw her again about a week later and again did not know how to say anything. Maybe she wasn’t a visitor.
A few days later I saw her coming from a distance and prepared myself. I stumbled out an awkward hello and started a brief and polite conversation. Her name was Debbie; her late mother had owned a unit in my condo complex, and she was preparing to rent it out. She had been walking from her nearby home to the condo when I had seen her. She told me her last name, and later I tried to look it up so I could call her. Her name was not listed.
After that I didn’t see her for weeks. I walked even more than normal hoping to meet Debbie again, but no luck. Weeks went by.
Then Debbie saw me in the supermarket and said hello. I did not immediately recognize her without the sunglasses she always wore outdoors. I wrote her phone number on the brown paper bag holding the whole wheat French bread I was going to use to make Will’s favorite brie, lettuce and tomato with honey mustard sandwich.
Long happy story short, August 9, 2016 marked the 11th anniversary of our first date. Debbie is the love of my life.
Debbie is a vegetarian and treasures all forms of life, even insects. We walk together a lot, so much so that Google maps street view has a shot of us from August 2015.
This location is Saint James Church, zip 07920, first crosswalk heading north. Faces and license plates are blurred automatically by Google software.
I knew we were made for each other when on one of our first walks, she rescued a worm stranded on the sidewalk and gently placed it onto soft shaded ground.
Debbie has two miniature male dachshunds named Benny and Marcelo, and a fluffy white female havanese named Lucy.
The Tacoma, yes, I didn’t forget. That’s the main reason for this COAL.
With Debbie’s 3/4 acre of old growth trees and brush and TIP’s 2/3 acre of old growth trees and brush, the PT Cruiser was doing its best hauling brush, tree debris, and leaves to the dump. But 13 year old failing Chrysler parts, damage from falling branches, and the plethora of spider webs (and spiders) always found inside it after weekends of hauling brush (even after a through vacuuming) led me to Morristown Toyota one Tuesday morning in 2013.
I had always recommended Hondas and Toyotas to relatives and friends and yet, I had never had a Toyota. When I asked my RAM pickup driving mechanic what cars he recommended, he answered “Honda or Toyota.” When I told him I wanted a pickup truck, he said “Toyota.” A RAM driving man of few words.
This is a 2013 Tacoma double cab long bed in spruce mica (aka dark dark green). It is 18.5 feet long, has a 140.6 inch wheelbase, and a 44 foot turning radius. When I go to the supermarket, I usually take the Miata. It’s easier.
The Tacoma has a 4.0-liter DOHC EFI V6, 24-valve aluminum block, an aluminum alloy head with VVT-i. It develops 236 hp at 5,200 rpm, and 266 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. The differential is 3.727 and the automatic’s fifth gear ratio is .72. It weighs 4,220 pounds.
It has the trailer towing package which includes a class 4 hitch, a supplemental transmission cooler, a supplemental oil cooler (shown above), a 130 amp alternator, a heavy duty battery, and a 7-pin connector. The towing limit is 6,400 pounds. Maybe some day I’ll actually tow something. Payload for the V6 double cab long bed is 1,280 pounds.
MotorWeek says the V6 auto Tacoma 4X4 goes from 0 to 60 in 7.8 seconds, and does the quarter mile in 16.1 seconds at 86 mph.
This Tacoma is not the rough and ready TRD model, so it rides a bit softer on its long wheelbase, has four-season P245/75R16 road tires, and lots of dashboard blanks (above and below).
The rear brakes are drums. A lot of vitriolic internet posts have be written about this fact, but it doesn’t bother me too much. MotorWeek says that stops from 60 mph average an “OK” 130 feet.
I was interested to see that outside lights go off automatically when the engine is shut down, and come back on when the engine is restarted. If you want lights on with the engine off, just turn the light switch off and back on.
It rides like a limousine; is quiet and comfortable, and with the aforementioned 7.8 second 0-60 time, seems to have a lot of power.
The Tacoma and the Miata comprise my current two vehicle fleet, but those two units cover many bases. Of course it would also be nice to also have a clean Citroen DS, a type 1 VW Beetle, a Volvo P544, a lithium powered Prius, or a … … … well, you know how it is.
This COAL brings us up-to date; it has been an interesting retrospective journey.
When I sent a COAL proposal to Paul in late March of this year, I thought I’d write about the cars in my life, describe them to the best of my memory, and wax effusively about the good old days and good old cars.
It didn’t turn out that way, and was a bit harder than I expected. But it was also a fully enjoyable and cathartic endeavor.
I told Paul about half way through the series that “… I’ve never put these events into writing, and in doing so, has kind of straightened out the spaghetti-like tangle of memories trailing behind me over the last 55 years.”
Evan Reisner said it best in his recent COAL: “It isn’t the cars themselves, not the sheet metal, the engines, the buying and selling, or anything else that makes the Cars of Our Lifetimes important, it’s the experiences they give us, both good and bad, that is what gives cars meaning to us.”
The best part of writing these COALs have been your comments. Thank you for taking the time to write your thoughts about the various topics of these articles. I always look forward to them have enjoyed reading every single comment.