April 4, 2012
I'm still not quite sure how it happened. One minute, I was cruising up Colorado Boulevard, on my way to King Soopers to fetch a sandwich for Sabrina after getting off work. The next, the Ford Escape was stopped at the light at Amherst in front of me. I jammed the brakes to the floor, but not even the anti-lock braking system could keep me from striking the Escape.
The Saturn jerked to a stop; I could see the hood folded up and in on itself, but no other damage was apparent from where I sat, and the air bags, significantly, had not fired. I wasn't injured...but the car certainly was.
The first thoughts that went through my head were, "No, no, no, no, no..." Little did I know that, a week later, I would wind up, perhaps, better than I deserved to.
After flipping the ignition off, I got out and walked forward to see what had happened.
The Escape's driver, a white-haired lady, didn't appear injured, and she was busy with a cellphone. The back of her vehicle, a compact SUV that rode higher than mine, didn't appear damaged. The Saturn, on the other hand, was a mess. The front bumper was punched in and cracked, missing chunks of plastic and Styrofoam in the middle. The left headlight was destroyed, knocked completely out and shattered; the right was spalled and cracked, with pieces missing. Components in the engine compartment seemed to be bent in, and the large dark puddle on the ground, not to mention the reek of ethylene glycol, seemed to indicate that the radiator had been mortally wounded. Even the air filter housing was partly splintered. The damage, however, seemed confined to forward of the front wheel wells...and, significantly, the Gorilla Tape on the front fenders that had been helping hold the front bumper in place was still intact. (I might just have to send the company a testimonial, I thought.)
I spoke to the woman in the Escape; she wasn't hurt and she let me know she'd just called 911. We stood there and commiserated for a bit before a Denver PD cruiser pulled up behind me. They evaluated the situation and told us to pull into the adjacent parking lot, to get out of the road. Surprisingly, the Saturn engine started up, and I was able to drive it off Colorado onto Amherst, then into the indicated parking lot, into a slot next to where the Escape had parked ahead of me. By the time I did so, however, the coolant warning light had lit up red on the dashboard; it was obvious the Saturn wasn't going anywhere further under its own power.
The officers coordinated the ritual exchange of information, writing our information down onto separate forms. They also wrote me a ticket for "following too closely," $160 and 4 points, discounted to 2 if I paid within 20 days. (I haven't had that many traffic offenses here; I think the last one was a speeding ticket in Lakewood while Pamela was still here.) I looked at the Escape again; all I could see was that the bumper had been pushed in just enough to pull away from the vehicle body on the right hand side...the sort of damage I'd previously slapped Gorilla Tape on and kept driving. She and I both expressed our gratitude that neither of us was hurt, shook hands, and she got into the Escape and drove off.
The police summoned a flatbed tow truck to remove the Saturn. I agreed to let the tow company move it to their lot on West Evans, while I tried to coordinate a way home somehow. I called Sabrina to let her know what happened, then I grabbed my computer bag out of the trunk and walked over to the nearby Rite Aid, for a quiet place to use my phone. Unfortunately, Enterprise Rent-A-Car was closed, and trying to call a taxi would have resulted in an expenditure I didn't think I wanted just then. I ended up walking home, about 4 miles or so. I managed it all right, though I stopped for brief rest breaks three times along the way.
Sabrina was just glad I was home all right and alive. I felt like a heel for letting her down like this, and wouldn't have blamed her if she'd walked out on me. She assured me she wasn't about to do that.
I still felt like dirt, though. The Saturn had been Pamela's car; she might be distressed to learn of its demise. And what was I going to do in the meantime? I retained enough presence of mind to open up a claim with Allstate via their Web site, though.
April 5, 2012
After getting ready to go to work, I called up Enterprise, and they picked me up, just like the ads say, taking me to the branch at Havana and Jewell. After a bit of a wait, I received my car--or, rather, truck, a black GMC Canyon crew cab pickup with New Mexico plates, as it was all they had. They gave me a break on the rate, though, and I climbed into the "Urban Cowboy Special" and headed for the office.
Surprisingly, it handled pretty well, though it drank fuel like an eight-armed alcoholic. I snapped a photo of it and sent it to Sabrina, who later put it in a post on her blog. I also got calls from Allstate and from National Farmers Union (the other lady's insurance company), as the respective claims began wending their way through the system. E-mails informed me that an insurance adjuster would have a look at my car within the next few days.
April 6, 2012
Allstate called me again, this time quizzing me about the condition of various parts of the car before the accident. The Saturn had been in reasonably good shape, other than the tape needed at the fenders and a chip that had been broken off one of the door panels by Cousin Rikki's enthusiastic kick. And I'd just put new tires on it in January. I took my phone into the Attitude conferencing room and told them all I could. They got back to me with the news: the Saturn was being deemed a total loss.
I'd half expected it--I'd given it about a 50-50 shot of survival--but it was still a bit of a blow. The car that Pamela had so proudly driven off the dealer lot, new, in 2001, that had served her for years and then served me after she left for Finland, that had carried me on the Grand Adventure to bring Sabrina home, that had covered thousands of miles in good health, had now met its final end. I was directed to go over to the towing company's lot to sign the release form, at which time I would be able to remove any personal effects from the car, and then it would be transported to an Allstate salvage yard. Perhaps parts from it would be used to keep other Saturns running...this might be important, since the S-series was discontinued in 2003 and the Saturn make itself had been dropped by GM in 2010.
I drove the truck over to the lot on West Evans, signed the form, and then was let into the yard, where I parked the truck almost directly in front of the Saturn. Carefully, I started removing gear from it: the emergency equipment and carrying basket from the trunk, the snow brush and scraper from the back seat floor, the stuff from the glove compartment. I removed the XM radio from the console vents, its magnetic antenna from the roof, the parking stickers and E-470 transponder from the windshield, the Colorado Talking Book Library sunglass clips from the visors. I combed the vehicle one last time for anything of value, then, before I left, carefully switched off all the switches on the climate-control unit and the rest of the dashboard, made sure it was properly secured with the transmission in Park and the parking brake set, left the doors unlocked, and stood by it a minute.
"Farewell, Lady Jane," I said. "You deserved a better end than this...but your work here is done."
Loading the gear into the truck's back seat, I left, dropping off the key at the tow yard's office. I returned to work, with a quick stop by home to look up some receipts for Allstate and offload the salvaged gear. Later that afternoon, they called back...after subtracting my deductible, they would give me around $4,100 for the car once I signed over the title. It was a fair offer, I thought, for an 11-year-old car that was clearly not in tip-top shape prior to the crash, and from an orphaned make at that.
That night, my old high school friend Andrew and his wife Suzanne, being in town for a couple of days, joined us for dinner; I drove all of us from downtown to Dave and Busters, in the truck. We commiserated over the loss of the Saturn and a bunch of other things from over the years. That was a bright spot in this otherwise worrisome week.
April 7 & 8, 2012
Over the weekend, we ran some errands in the truck, and Sabrina started pestering me about looking for another car. She knew what she favored, of course: Ford Taurus. It seemed like I'd heard about nothing else from her on the subject of cars for months on end. Her father had been a Taurus owner, and she found them very comfortable. Nothing else would do; not a GM or Chrysler automobile (which I was opposed to anyway, on the grounds that I wasn't doing business with a company that took government bailouts); not a foreign make like Honda or Toyota (never mind that many of those cars are actually built in the USA); not even a different Ford model, like a Focus or a Fusion. It was a Ford Taurus or nothing with her.
I sent in an application for a loan pre-approval with Star-Tech Federal Credit Union, the credit union where I'd deposited a bunch of money last year, and told her it was useless to think about what car to get until we knew what kind of price range I could handle. I could certainly put up a nice chunk of money down, like $5,000 or so. But how much would I get? No telling.
April 9, 2012
I took the title along with me to work, intending to deal with Allstate that day. First, though, I stopped at Enterprise, where they swapped me from the big truck into a smaller, more efficient vehicle, a Chevrolet HHR. (Not too bad, though Sabrina called it fugly.) Meanwhile, Mystic, the president of the credit union, had E-mailed me back asking for a copy of my pay stub. We don't get physical pay stubs at IQNavigator, but I pulled my most recent pay statement out of the ADT portal as a PDF and passed it to her. A couple of hours later, I got my preapproval certificate: enough to get a good car, at an interest rate that was better than I thought I was going to get.
The Allstate claims office wasn't too far from my office; I stopped in there, presented the signed-over title, and received my check. From there, I drove up to Star-Tech's little office suite in the Tech Center, to deposit the check to my share draft account...and finally met Mystic face-to-face. She assured me that the loan amount had a little "wiggle room" on it if I needed to go slightly over; I didn't plan to, though I thanked her for that. I cleared up some questions I had, and called Sabrina from the parking lot, giving her the figures and the parameters for a search.
Sabrina exceeded expectations; by the time I got home, she had already located five dealerships in the area with used Ford Tauruses for sale, of various vintages, colors, trim levels, and mileages. One had caught her eye, at O'Meara Ford in Northglenn...a silver 2011 Taurus with about 42,000 miles on it, and she'd even spoken to their Internet sales manager on the phone. The listed price was downright workable, given the loan preapproval certificate still sitting in my inbox. We elected to forego watching Dancing With The Stars, and, as she got dressed for the trip up there, I signed in to print my preapproval certificate and do some fast research on the Kelley Blue Book site: the listed price was at least $600 under Blue Book value for the car.
We got up there to find that the man Sabrina had talked to had left, but another salesman brought out the car...a silver vehicle as solid and assured as any I'd ever seen, the blue Ford oval prominent on its nose and tail. Sabrina got into the passenger seat as I took a look around. The interior was charcoal gray in various shades, the sloped dashboard trimmed in chrome and textured aluminum. I slipped into the driver's seat for a moment, checking the feel of it; the seat was more comfortable than I'd been in the Saturn, that's for sure. The sight lines reminded me of my old Oldsmobile Alero, as did the feel of the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The climate-control system included separate temperature controls for the passenger (Sabrina squealed with delight); the stereo system included Sirius satellite radio and an auxiliary input jack for an iPhone or other MP3 player. I walked around the car, checking the finish, popping the trunk to look inside (it was positively cavernous compared to the Saturn), lifting the hood to look over the Duratec 3.5-liter V6 engine (again, very close to the 3.4 liter V6 in my Alero). Finally, the salesman and I joined Sabrina in the car, and I took it out for the first time, taking it one exit south on I-25 and returning via surface streets. The vehicle had a gentle touch, responding easily to my control inputs, its power readily available when I toed in the gas, but most of the time feeling like it was hardly even ticking over.
We entered the dealer office and quickly covered a table in paper, working out the framework of the deal. I had to call Allstate to get a quick proof of insurance faxed over, and there were many documents to be read through, initialed, and signed. We were then hustled to a finance office in the back for more paperwork; by bringing my own financing, I had saved a great deal of interest and a fair bit on my monthly payments. He also ran my Star-Tech debit card for the largest single charge I'd ever made...the down payment, five large. Meanwhile, somewhere, the Taurus was being cleaned and readied for departure, its temporary registration affixed in the rear window.
I had owned three cars in my life: the Mazda 323, which came from Santa Barbara to Denver and succumbed to serious engine trouble; the Alero, which had fallen into disuse after Pamela left and that had eventually been towed off; and the Saturn, now deceased. And now...I was a Ford owner, of a car bigger and posher than anything I'd ever driven.
We left the HHR parked in the dealer lot and drove the Taurus home, after stopping at Sheila's house to show it off and driving up to Idaho Springs to check the feel of it as it climbed Mount Vernon Canyon. It took the hill without even straining...again, just like the Alero.
April 10, 2012
I had a doctor's appointment that morning, and then drove back to the Ford dealer to pick up the HHR and return it to the Havana and Jewell Enterprise office. Unfortunately, they couldn't drive me back all that way...but they could rent me another car for about $18 to drive up and drop off at the Enterprise office there, which was, coincidentally, inside O'Meara Ford. So, soon enough, I was on my way in a Toyota Camry, the fifth vehicle I'd driven in the span of a week. When I parked at the Ford dealership, I met our salesperson, who guided me to the Enterprise desk, where I dropped off the rental agreement and keys and reclaimed the Taurus, heading for work. Fortunately, I'd reattached the parking stickers from the Saturn to the Taurus' windshield.
My Reminders list was jammed with items related to the new car, and I worked through a bunch of them, switching the insurance coverage, letting the apartment complex know what my car was, and switching the satellite radio service. (That turned out to be more of a pain than I thought; Sirius XM may be one company now, but their accounting system doesn't allow Sirius radios and XM radios on the same account. I had to effectively close the XM account and open a new Sirius account.) The actual plates would have to wait for the title work to be completed and Arapahoe County to send me a notification, and fixing my E-470 account would have to wait for the plates. (And I can't pay the ticket online yet...not till 10 days after the accident.)
I did show off the car to a couple of my coworkers...Nathan had an OBD-II reader device, and Natraj wanted to borrow it to check his car for diagnostic codes. On our way up, we stopped at my car, and Nathan plugged the reader into the diagnostic port located at the bottom edge of my dashboard below the steering wheel. He found no diagnostic codes, as I would expect. Natraj's car showed one, having to do with the fuel evaporation recovery system...maybe a loose gas cap.
That night, I looked up the VIN of the Taurus on a couple of different sites, one decoding all the code letters (my new Taurus was originally manufactured in Chicago, Illinois) and one showing me the original window sticker (SEL trim, no options except for front license plate bracket and California emissions, both "no charge" ). And then I registered with fordowner.com...because, after all, I am a Ford owner now.
Epilogue: April 11, 2012
I drove up Colorado Boulevard, today, past the scene of the accident. Over on the sidewalk, I actually spotted what looked like most of the Saturn's former left headlamp housing; I must have left it behind that day, and someone dragged it from the street onto the sidewalk. I wondered how long it would sit there, in memory of the car that met its end that day.
Earlier Sabrina had blogged about the new car, and I'd finally broken the news to Pamela, that her "Lady Jane" was off to the great salvage yard in the sky. She took it better than I thought she would, and commended me on my choice of new car. Fords are popular in Finland...not Tauruses, but certainly Focuses and Mondeos (like the American Contour), and a few Fusions. She and Arto may get a good car of their own one day, like a Skoda Octavia or some such.
I had considered what the name of this car would be...perhaps "Serenity"? After all, it is shiny. But I haven't made up my mind yet. There's no hurry.
Carefully, I drove the big silver Taurus north, headed for King Soopers. Sabrina wanted a sandwich.