Tuesday, December 29, 2009

All Things Must Pass...

We've all had favorite possessions. Things that we enjoyed, perhaps even treasured. Things whose value to us outweighed their cost. For me, and for many men, one of the things we often treasure is a vehicle.

Ben Sollee wrote a song about this fascination, comparing Americans to ancient cultures and their burial habits. The main lyric is "In America, they'll bury us with our cars." And I find a lot of truth in it. I've had my fair share of vehicles over the years, some of which were just transportation, a few of which I really enjoyed and two of which I considered special. Not just possessions, but friends. I traded the first for the second, a little less than ten years ago.

That first was a Chevy S10 pickup that I bought with just under ten thousand miles on it. It is the closest I've ever come to owning a new vehicle. I loved that truck and it was my clear favorite, but when I became a father I knew its two-passenger days were numbered. When my son was an infant, it worked for a while, the car seat pushing my wife against me, but not uncomfortably so. But when my daughters arrival was drawing near, I began to look. I hung on for awhile, having acquired a second car and keeping my truck for when it was just me...but I knew it was a temporary solution.

So I traded my S10 for a Nissan Pathfinder. I figured here was a way I could still have "my truck" and yet also carry all the needs of a two kid family. And I did. My Pathfinder carried us to Padre and Charger games, to little league practice, to fencing, to Disneyland. It had hot chocolate stains in the back seat, and melted crayon that never completely went away, and memories of laughter and even fighting. It was the truck that had "Go PVLL!" painted on the back window when my son made his first All Star team.

And it had memories of all the friends and loved ones that have surrounded me for the last ten years. Sitting in the drivers seat, I could glance to my right or over my shoulder and remember people I love and care about sitting there. It crossed a country with me.

Over the last couple years, its been showing its age. The repairs began to mount and the creaks and leaks grew. But I still loved to drive it. I loved the power, loved the way I could feel the road. And it proved itself capable of handling the snow and rain of my new home.

Sunday, its time ended. Ironically, it wasn't because of recklessness on the part of the driver (I've been known to enjoy speed too much) or a mechanical failure. It was just blind and dumb bad luck. Turning a corner with a slight bank on a cold morning, there was a bit of invisible ice. The road is narrow, the kind of road where you hold your breath when a big vehicle passes and your mirrors almost trade high fives. I turned into the skid and my faithful friend kicked herself back. But just as it seemed that we had escaped, disaster.

Reconstructing it with photos and memory, I figure my right rear tire slipped off the pavement. And there just happened to be a depression there. The tire spun and when it hit the blacktop at an angle, over we went.

We skidded about a hundred feet, maybe a hundred fifty, with the disconcerting and surreal experience of riding with my head at three o'clock instead of twelve. The pavement of the road grinding the passenger side mirror down, the window unbroken.

If not for the trees, I might have just ended up with a need for some pounding, paint and a new mirror. Or maybe the frame twisted when we went sideways. I'll never know. Because we did hit the trees, wedging in beneath one, the branches crunching the drivers side fender and bumper into the engine compartment. I hung there in my lateral perch for a moment, marveling at the unusual angle, thanking the seat belt and cursing chance.

I crawled out, just in case the liquid dripping was more than water (it wasn't.) Then I lamented having only brought one glove. Like I said, the morning was cold. I called Alessia, let her know what had happened and that I was alright. Called work and told them I wasn't gonna make it in. Then I had to watch my faithful friend suffer the indignity of having a tow truck winch her out and back to her feet.

She was cranky in her old age, nineteen ninety-four having been awhile ago in truck years. She was closer to two hundred thousand miles than one hundred. And the truth of the matter is that we were going to part ways soon no matter what. I couldn't afford to keep fixing the same things again and again.

But she went out protecting me. I don't have a scratch, or even a bruise. None of the windows broke, the seat belt did it's job and none of the interior panels bent. I'll enjoy having a newer, more reliable, quieter vehicle. One with less of an appetite for gas and repairs.

But I'm gonna miss my old friend.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Costly Victory - And Perhaps A Useless One

As someone who has consistently advocated the reform of the health care system and as a voice that was far from silent on this issue in the past, I find the fact that the Senate has managed to pass a bill on health care insurance reform encouraging.

I also recognize that the failure to pass it would have been trumpeted by that portion of this country which continues to contest things simply because of the political party that presented them, ignoring the greater question of whether or not something is actually beneficial to their constituents.

Yet I am not happy about this vote that took place at dawn on Christmas Eve. Primarily because of the word before reform in my first paragraph. Insurance.

I am an unashamed advocate of universal health care. This is not that. Is this a victory for the Obama faction and it's supporters, including me? Yes, in that it was shown that things could be passed despite the full onslaught of the ridiculous opponents who cried about death panels and socialistic medicine.

But this legislation is far short of what we actually need in this country. It is only a first step and I fear that politicians tired of defending themselves from the histrionic antics of a vocal and ill-informed minority will now abandon this fight in favor of ones that don't get them called names. They can claim victory and that will be enough.

It's a silly position for two reasons.

First, you are leaving a job unfinished and half-assed is not good enough. Yes, it is better than nothing. But although this is a victory for reform, it is also a victory for the insurance companies. They still exist and they still are able to place profits over public good. A European friend of mine explained his view of the problems of health care in America very simply... "Of course your health care is too expensive and not good enough - you spend more than half the money on insurance companies and administration." That fact does not change with this bill.

We are still protecting the insurance companies. We shouldn't be. Free market economics, right my Republican friends? The insurance companies, who are essentially abacus salesmen in an age of calculators and computers, are left hale and healthy by this bill. A mistake, possibly an epic one.

Second, you are completely blind to the world view of your opposition. They could care less what legislation you propose. As long as the primary sponsor of the bill has a D next to their name rather than an R, the legislation must be evil.

If a Democrat proposes a bill saying that bunnies are cute and furry and a legitimate symbol of Easter, Fox News would run a story saying that representative hates baby chicks.

You can not meet their hate halfway. Until they quit looking at who supports legislation and start looking at who would benefit from it, compromise is entirely useless.

So yes, this is a victory. The democratic leadership has shown they can get something done despite the vitriol and propaganda of the right. But this is a starting point, not an ending one. Ted Kennedy's legacy is not fulfilled and if you honor his memory and if the democrats are truly concerned for their constituents instead of what people that already hate them say about them across their dinner tables, this will remain only a beginning.

We shall see. Actions speak louder than words.