Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Minor Car Repairs

A few weeks ago, I shared the story of my car and how it was falling apart. Then, I did nothing about it whatsoever.

Yesterday I decided that just because the car was crumbling to bits didn't mean that it also had to be filthy, so I went to get it washed. Typically, I'd drive a block from my office to the Presidential Car Wash, where I'd pay for the most basic package --express value something or other.  But because of the broken rearview mirror, I was hesitant to send it through the car wash tunnel with all its spinning brushes and aggressive water streams.

Instead, I went to one of those do-it-yourself car wash places that I've never seen the point of and still don't. Like, for the same price as the express value whatever, you can do all the work yourself and come back from your lunch break redfaced and sweaty, with soaking wet soapy shoes.

But okay. After bumbling my way through the 8-step, 3 brush car-washing process, swiping my credit card for extra time twice, my car was cleanish and I drove into the vacuuming/detailing section.

While leaning over the backseat, shoving the vacuuming wand under the driver's seat and debating if throwing out spare change was bad for one's financial karma, I found myself face to face with the broken center console.

Upon closer examination, I realized that all I really needed to do was click it back into place and attach the round cap to the side and... perfection!

There was only one "extra" piece that I didn't include.

That was surprisingly easy. It begged the question: Was my car's bad condition partially a result of my own neglect? I know, it seems far fetched...

I turned my attention to the dislodged rear view mirror.  After my initial roadside repair with the help of a nearby contractor, I was driving this around:

It held up for about 3 days, until I was driving on the freeway and the tape began to unstick, little by little, until pieces of it were flapping in the breeze as I zoomed along at 70 mph. Afraid the whole thing would come undone and cause a series of catastrophic events ending in a 20-car pile up, I drove for several miles with the window down and my left hand securing the mirror.

As soon as I exited the freeway I found a Walgreens and stopped in to buy some duct tape. They only had black, not the regular gray that's the shade of pencil lead. That's weird, right? I bought it and added another layer of tape in critical areas.

The mirror looked really really stupid by this point. Even worse than before, which I didn't think was possible considering where we began.

At any rate, while at the DIY car wash place, I ripped off all of the tape and started fresh. And, call me crazy, but if you squint a little and don't look directly at it, you don't even notice the tape.

Now on a roll, I worked on the seatbelt holder thingy, which was a little tricky to click back into place, but was once again in working order.

And in a final act of car-loving desperation, I sprung for the Armor All kit ($3.00 in quarters at the vending machine) and wiped down the dashboard.

Using the phrase, "good as new" would be an overstatement here, but the car's looking better than it has in years.

From a distance.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

3 Tips For An Easy Move, 2 of Which Didn't Occur To Me Until After The Fact

Over July 4th weekend, exactly 9 years after I landed in Los Angeles, we moved into our very own house. It was the eighteenth time I've moved in my "adult" life, counting every instance since leaving home for college. You'd think I'd be an expert by now.

But instead, I still found myself in the chaotic trappings of my typical move. I threw my belongings into reusable grocery bags while the Uhaul sat in the driveway because when the TV remote, one sock, and crystal light packets are all in one container, everybody wins. I took a sharpie and wrote "shoes" across an untied garbage bag obviously containing shoes, while sealed cardboard boxes of all sizes and weights went unmarked. I could argue that this tactic makes unpacking kind of like unwrapping Christmas gifts, if on Christmas you were to receive all of your same old shit, covered in dust and dog hair, and nestled in a mass of HDMI cables.

Hindsight being the useless blessing that it is, I think that I've finally learned my lesson. It's almost unfortunate that this move was meant to be permanent (at least, for the foreseeable future) because I believe I'd definitely get it right on the next one.

Oh! For example, here's a little gem I heard some better version of myself reciting in my head. TIP #1 "When you move, pack yourself a suitcase like you would for a short vacation. Fill it with essentials like your toothbrush, toiletries, changes of clothes and underwear. That way, even while you're drowning in clutter, you still have everything you need to be comfortable." This came to me as I wore the same filthy clothes for the third day in a row because I hadn't actually managed to transport my wardrobe from the old apartment...yet.

This brings me to my next grievance. On moving day, we enlisted the help of Ryan and Katie, and the 4 of us carried out the task like we were a team on a house-moving game show from the producers of Super Market Sweep. As we raced against the clock (what clock?), we filled the truck not once, but twice. The second truck-load was where things got really dicey. With the furniture out of the way, framed pictures, desk lamps, coasters --whatever we got our hands on-- were just tossed loosely into the truck. At some point, I couldn't stand it any more and announced that I would come back and get everything else out of the apartment at a later time. We still had a week left on our lease. Smart thinking, right?

No? What do you mean no? Ah, right. I probably would never want to go back there ever again and do a second mini move. God damn it, you're a genius. Where were you when I needed you?

Yes, so a week later, we were back in the old apartment gathering even MORE crap that we probably could've just left there for our landlord to toss in the dumpster. I guess this would bring me to TIP #2 for any of you who might be moving soon. "Don't leave anything behind to get later. Just don't."

To conclude on a positive note, there was one successful aspect of the experience: I took time off work to unpack and get settled. It was amazing to see how much I could get done when I'm home alone with Oscar in daycare. All of this time I thought it took months to settle in to a new place. It turns out it takes roughly three days. Never mind that much of this progress was undone by the second wave of moving the following weekend. Let's focus on the good stuff. TIP #3 "Take time off work."

And now that everything we own is under one roof, we can sit back, relax and enjoy our new home. (Haha, just kidding! There's so much more to do that I've actually given myself a stress-induced rash on my arms. Seriously I think I have home-repair hives.) Yes, it's all smooth sailing from here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Time We Bought A House

Okay, devoted readers, if you were underwhelmed by my home decor diatribes on things like curtains, pillows, Ikea and more curtains, then you are really in trouble now. Get ready for the impending onslaught of over-thought heading your way as I chronicle my adventures as a first time homeowner. Yes, it's true, we bought a house!

It's a hot little number, a 3 bedroom, 2 bath ranch in the Valley. I say hot because it was about 100 degrees when we started some work on it this past weekend. That work, unfortunately, did not include air conditioning repair (still pending).

While we'd been shopping for a home in fits and starts since the beginning of the year, we got really serious about it one particular Friday when my friend Hayley was visiting from New York. My houseguest probably thought she'd spend time at the beach or sightseeing in Hollywood. But I knew what she really wanted to do was take a driving tour of modest neighborhoods in the vicinity of the Van Nuys airport. You're welcome, Hayley. I am, if nothing else, a devoted hostess.

First we saw a house that Devin really liked, but which struck me as possibly pre-fab and definitely adjacent to a creepy vacant lot with a pigeon coop and a sign that boasted (deceptively, I assume) "No cat traps." Then we saw a recently flipped house with nothing special about it other than the peacock living in the yard across the street.

We very nearly skipped the next house our list, but for whatever reason decided to stick with it. I led the group in through the front door. I hadn't even made it through the hallway before I turned around to gauge Devin and Hayley's reactions. They mirrored mine: This was our house. It just had to be.

I can't say exactly what about it spoke to me. The layout was cool, for one thing. It felt like there were lots of places to go, rooms to pass through on your way to other rooms. Many of the homes we saw were set up with a conglomerate living room/kitchen/dining room thing, and then bedrooms separately down the hall. This floorplan bothers me because it gives me the same feeling I have in my apartment: when you stand up, there's nothing to do but sit back down again.

We also liked the high ceiling in the living room, the ample wood paneling in both (yes, both) living rooms, and the two (yes, two) fireplaces. It was cozy, like a cabin, but at the same time felt distinctly Californian.

Immediately we put in an offer, then waited until Monday for a response. Along with our offer we included a letter to the sellers about how much we loved the property and how, unlike so many investors who were snatching up homes like theirs, we wouldn't change a thing about it. We loved the house just the way it was. (Except for the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter shade of yellow slathered on half the walls... and even the baseboards. The baseboards!)

The real estate market in the area is out of control these days and crazed buyers get in bidding wars over total dumps. So I'd already made peace with the fact that we were never going to get this house when our realtor called on Monday afternoon and told us our offer was accepted, no counter offer or anything. I was relieved. I think he wanted me to sound more excited, but I had trouble checking back in with reality. We chatted about next steps. I asked dumb questions, poorly phrased on account of my shock-induced stupor. Then I hung up the phone and immediately began to wonder, "Wait... does this mean we offered too much money?"

From that phone call until we closed escrow this past Friday, a mere 25 days total, I was in hyper-alert, panicky state. I'll spare you the details of what paperwork and events happened when and why (mostly because I will get everything wrong), but suffice to say I was certain that at any moment, some unforeseen factor would derail the whole operation and we'd be homeless. I was so paranoid that I refused to tell most people the house was even a thing.  When we finally went public with the news, the general reaction was, "Congrats!...What?"

At last, we're over the hard part. We've leveled an acre of forest to produce all of the paperwork we signed. Our bank accounts and credit scores are no longer up for inspection. And our mortgage has already long since been sold to China.

Now the fun begins! The instant I walked into the house as the actual owner, I took one look at the place and concluded I had to change everything about it.  I know I promised I wouldn't. But now I must. You know, over time. Everyone needs a hobby. And blog fodder.