COAL: 1993 Buick Century – The Edge of Night

Ever make an impulsive automotive purchase that filled an emergent need?  That’s how this Buick came to be.

Let’s start about six months prior, back in mid-2011.

I had been privy to partial information about, plus provided input for, some monumental changes where I work.  The situation was so secretive it was almost like what you might see in spy movies when messages will self-destruct after so many seconds.

The most secretive, and initially undisclosed, element was staff being cut by 20%.

I work in the public sector where many seem to think downsizing supposedly never happens.  That notion is a fallacy.  Downsizing does occur but is generally undertaken with more subtlety.  To what extent was the downsizing?  Three of ten regional offices were being closed as well as countless field facilities.

Was the process used to shrink staff unique?  Beats me; I had never experienced such a thing.  Simply put, everyone except non-supervisory field staff was fired and had to compete for a position.  Job fills would start at the higher pay grades and trickle down from there.  Anyone not landing a job in their old salary grade could compete for a job at a lower grade.

Adding to the overall merriment was being in a region that was now seriously overpopulated.  The odds weren’t looking good for staying put.

This restructuring is what prompted our unplanned and unsought move to Jefferson City.  While it was a lateral move I figured there had been some realization of success in the job lottery given the numbers of people who were either demoted or evaporated.

My job offer in Jefferson City came at noon on a Thursday while I was sitting in Hannibal.  It was requested I start the following Monday.  Mrs. Jason and I were both on the fence about moving as we had settled into Hannibal and really liked it.  Given where I was in both life and career the prospect of starting over somewhere else, be it location or employer, did not excite me.  It was quite a dilemma.

Having made my choice, I began commuting the 110 miles from Hannibal to Jefferson City (and back) every Monday and Friday.  The hotel staff grew to know me so well they invited me to an employee dinner.

After three months of commuting, we officially moved to Jefferson City.  Our real estate buyer’s agent in Jefferson City had found us a house to rent until our Hannibal house was sold.  The whole proposition was weird and awkward as the owner was getting a divorce and needed money.  Adding a layer of bizarre to this was our agent had grown up in this very house.

We were also needing to change our vehicle situation.  The 2000 Econoline (covered in a prior COAL) was our better vehicle at that time.  I still had my 2001 Crown Victoria, but rust had set into the rocker panels and it needed to go.  The 1963 Galaxie was inert in my garage in Hannibal and the 1987 Dodge pickup had been sold several months prior.

We had test driven a new Dodge Charger right before the move.  Mentioning this in passing, our buying agent heavily discouraged any automotive purchases.

By the time we moved to the rental house in Jefferson City we were already on Selling Agent #2 in Hannibal.  Selling Agent #1 had presented herself well initially but soon after the house went on the market a real estate flyer in the Hannibal newspaper featured the house with an asking price that was 20% above actuality.  We called Agent #1 to ask what had happened.  Agent #1 laughed it off and merrily blamed the office secretary with no apology or offer to rectify the situation.

In turn, we merrily fired that agent.

While Selling Agent #2 started off okay, she quickly earned the nickname of Bobblehead…

While unable to quantify why, I knew we were at a figurative edge of night.  Everything gave the impression this shit show was not going to be a short one.  There are times when I really want to be wrong and this was one of those times.  Sadly, I wasn’t wrong.

Sometime between acquiring the rental house and moving to Jefferson City, Mrs. Jason had a realization.  The van would not fit in the rental house’s garage, so she suggested we buy a cheap, smaller car for the interim.  This would give us the Crown Vic and an undefined car for our time in the rental house.

Enter one 1993 Buick Century, a one-owner car with merely 41,000 miles.  The original owner was going to assisted living and I dealt with the son for its purchase.  That Buick had had all sorts of carnauba wax love slathered all over it.  There were signs of car wax in most crevices, even on the wiper arms.  As a bonus the original window sticker was still in the glove compartment.

We paid $2100 for a Buick equipped with the 3.3 liter V6 and three-speed automatic transmission.  The Buick had a salvage title due to a minor mishap in 2006, but it had been repaired quite well and drove great.


The Buick needed two new tires.  Otherwise, I did nothing to it and we quickly put a bunch of miles on it.

We drove the Buick to Hannibal many times to check on our house.  It was driven to Chicago.  Going south, it took us to visit family near Cape Girardeau.  This Buick consistently returned fuel mileage in the mid- to high-20s which made that Taurus look even worse as the Buick was eight years older with one less gear.

My quickly pressing the Buick into daily use did have a drawback.  On Thanksgiving Day we were delivering meals to the homebound when the transmission started to slip.  I had the fluid changed the next day.  In retrospect I should have changed all the fluids upon purchasing it, but was a bit distracted during that time.  Such is life sometimes.

In a prior entry I disclosed we were in the initial rental house for 59 days when the owner decided he wanted his house back.  This necessitated moving to an apartment across town.

We were no longer on the edge of night, but well into it.  The pleasantries in life were getting difficult to find.

During this time Agent Bobblehead was getting zero showings (we would sometimes go up to two months or more between showings) and was unresponsive to phone calls.  If she did bother responding it was a text a day or so later that answered a question we hadn’t asked.  Mrs. Jason and I are not difficult people yet seem to have this ability to bring out the worst in others.  Having no indication why the house was gaining no traction, and highly concerned it was becoming a fixture on the market, it was time to change course.

So we fired Agent Bobblehead.

Also during this time our buyer’s agent in Jefferson City was again missing in action.  We learned this when we found (yes, we had to find it, which was typical) a house we were curious about.  To cover this absence her partner said she would meet us at the house.  When we arrived, the secretary was waiting for us.  The secretary showing us a house, and not being licensed to do so, was a gleefully flagrant violation of Missouri real estate law.

This behavior caused us to wonder if this was a reflection of their ethics.  So after careful consideration we fired them.  We did not want to be associated with such behavior.

As an aside, I am not disparaging any professions.  Rather, I am disparaging people who earned disparagement.  It is unfair to say the people with whom we dealt during this relocation are indicative of an entire profession as all professions have people who are duds.  We were just lucky enough to encounter an abnormal number of them.

We quickly grew sick of being in that apartment.  Mrs. Jason and I also grew tired of smelling the smoke emanating from the downstairs closet.  It seemed this closet was the air vent for the marijuana connoisseurs directly below us.  When either of us got aggravated, we joked about standing in the closet for a few minutes to help ease our mind and soothe our nerves.

Soon thereafter, we found a farmhouse for rent west of town.  It was a two-story house that had been built in the late 1890s with the surrounding subdivision being part of the original homestead.  The house and property had been bought by a family of investors and they had developed it into McMansions.

A few months after moving in, the family representative we had been working with was clearing out the pole barn adjacent to the house.  We asked if we could rent a bay to put the van in.  Instead, we were given access to the whole building and given the combination to open the door.  The man then got emotional.

We discovered the bank had foreclosed on everything, including the house we were living in.  Thus we were now tenants of the bank. Banks aren’t known for being landlords, they simply want to sell their property.

(Cue foreboding soap opera organ music…)

Was there any escaping the drama?  Would a path to happiness ever be found?  Might better luck with real estate agents be a possibility?

Tune in again next week for our next episode because the shit doesn’t end here.

In all but two instances the Buick was generally quite reliable during its time playing a supporting role in this soap opera.  In addition to the transmission issue, it seems when I changed the plugs and wires, I had a wire that kissed something which caused an electrical spike that fried the computer.  Those were the only real issues we ever had with the car and both were self-inflicted.

The Buick had 68,000 miles when sold.  Twenty-seven thousand miles isn’t too bad for two and one-half years of use.  We sold it for $1900, so one could argue it was nearly a free car.

The only demerit the Buick earned was it consumed front brakes.  If memory serves, it required front brakes three times and we are gentle on the brake pedal.  It would not surprise me if the brakes were undersized for the car, leading to their premature demise.

These A-bodies were popular for a very long time and it’s not hard to see why.  Supremely comfortable, peppy (with the V6), and giving highly reliable service, there is a lot to like.  I am very glad to have had the opportunity to enjoy all its goodness.

(Author’s Note:  The Edge of Night aired on CBS from April 2, 1956, to November 28, 1975; it then moved to ABC where it ran from December 1, 1975, to December 28, 1984.)