[This is the sixth of eight or so blog entries on the cars and other vehicles I have driven. It may or may not be of interest. Enjoy. Or not. It’s your choice. – KM]
The Suzuki Sidekick was so underpowered that I called it my golf cart. All it needed was a rack on the back for golf bags and a plastic plate on the steering wheel to hold a score card!
Sure, it was a fairly dependable vehicle, but it was small, the doors sounded hollow when closed, and passengers did not sit high enough when going down the road. And I always had an uncomfortable feeling passing or meeting larger vehicles on the road and occasionally the Sidekick was moved by the gust of wind caused by the passing larger vehicle.
Anyway, I wanted something more. And bigger.
My friend Rick knew this, but he had known me long enough to know of my procrastinating nature – there are times when I put off making a decision to the point that a decision is made for me. Options are limited or eliminated with the passage of time. And I know this. It is not a great characteristic to have, but it is one of mine and I own it.
One weekend day, Rick called me from a local sports bar where his daughter worked and where we occasionally frequented after work. He called me on the ruse of buying me a beer and lunch.
After a couple of burgers and beers, he said something like: “Come on, let’s go get you a new car.”
There was another tent sale going on, this time in the parking lot of the sports bar.
But newspaper jobs, especially those at smaller newspapers, are notorious for paying poorly. The newspaper in Vacaville was no different, so I had little in the way of saved cash that I could use for a down payment and I knew there was not much value in the Sidekick to be used as a trade-in.
But Rick convinced me that we should at least take a look. We wandered around the parking lot for a bit and I kept coming back to a golden 2000 Isuzu Rodeo – the same vehicle as a Honda Passport, but with the Isuzu nameplates instead of Honda emblems. (Isuzu and Honda had made the vehicles in a joint venture, much as were the Suzuki Sidekick and Geo/Chevrolet Tracker.)
A salesman came around and told us that the Rodeo had been used as a commuter vehicle and had quite a few miles, but was in pretty good shape. It was a V-6, such a step up from the Suzuki that I was lured in. But in a pleasant way.
The Rodeo had a V-6, power windows, a nice stereo, AC, power ports in the dash and rear cargo area, and plenty of other features that I never had before in a vehicle.
But paying for it weighed heavily on my mind as we continued to wander around the lot.
Rick and the salesman were able to convince me to have my credit rating checked to see if I qualified for any breaks for financing the vehicle.
I suppose working in a low-paying profession has a way of forcing a person to be frugal and I had worked hard to pay credit card bills on time, even if I could not make much of a dent in the total balance.
Apparently, that diligence had nudged my credit rating up over the years.
“Dude! Do you know what your credit rating is?!” Rick asked me, as the figures started coming in from the major ranking agencies. I didn’t so he told me.
“Is that good?” I replied.
The sales manager and Rick both looked up smiling. Apparently, it was really, really good.
“Man, oh, yeah! It’s good!” Rick said with a bit of excitement.
So, I worked out a payment plan, traded in the Sidekick, and drove away in the Rodeo.
Going from a “golf cart” to a V-6 – the first V-6 I had owned since the Caprice Classic – was an enlightening and enjoyable experience. I no longer had to worry so much about merging into traffic or making it up hills. Driving in the Sierra was a pleasure!
I don’t recall having buyer’s remorse when I bought the Rodeo. If I did, it must have been short-lived and I enjoyed driving around for years in the Rodeo, especially with Hawaiian-print seat covers, as I had in the Suzuki. Driving with Hawaiian-print seat covers is always, always better than driving without them. (If you have to ask “why?” then you simply would not get it.)
Besides being much more comfortable and powerful and enjoyable to drive, the Rodeo also gave me quite a bit more safety. It was larger and heavier, of course, and there were more airbags and other safety gear. A gust of wind from a passing vehicle no longer moved the vehicle.
The Rodeo was my ride when I left The Reporter in Vacaville and started working for The Record in Stockton. I was the opinion page editor at The Reporter when I was hired at The Record to be one of three assistant city editors.
I did not move to Stockton right away; I commuted from Vacaville. I drove on state Highways 113 and 12, both roads notorious for the traffic wrecks – many of them fatal – and a short distance on Interstate 5. Initially, I worked a night shift at The Record, supervising reporters, monitoring the police scanner, dispatching reporters and photographers, and making sure stories were read and flowed to paginators – the people who design and put together the electronic versions of newspaper pages. It was a stressful job when things went hectically and boring otherwise.
Many times I left The Record, lighted a cigar, and drove up I-5 to the Lodi cutoff onto westbound Highway 12, turning off east of Fairfield and Suisun City to northbound Highway 113. The drive home at times was more stressful than the job. Driving on Highways 113 and 12 meant narrow lanes, undulating pavement, semi-blind curves, impatient motorists, and the occasional loose cattle.
After about six months or so, Rick and his wife, Michele, and another former Reporter coworker, James, helped me load a moving van and Rick and I headed eastward with the bulk of my belongings to the apartment I had rented in Stockton.
Stockton has a reputation for being a rough and tumble city. And rightfully so. It is on an inland port, the gateway of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and at the heart of the California Central Valley’s agricultural industry. Stockton is the county seat of San Joaquin County; county seats tend to draw a wide spectrum of people, some for the economic and political opportunities and others for county and state social services.
But I had not enjoyed commuting an hour each way from and to Vacaville. In late 2006, I found an apartment in central Stockton near the University of the Pacific. The apartment had an underground garage in which to park my ride, which made things more comfortable for me on several levels – I no longer needed to commute, which was putting wear and tear on me and the Rodeo, and I could park in a protected garage.
For the next couple of years working for The Record, I generally drove a couple of miles from the underground garage at my apartment to a fenced and patrolled parking lot across the street from The Record. It was a much better situation than commuting from Vacaville.
Along the way, the newspaper industry began to spiral out of control. In an effort to cut costs, there was a newsroom reorganization in which I was essentially demoted. (My feeling about this is not new or unknown; at the time, I told the managing editor that there was no other way to look at what was being done to me except that it was a demotion. He did not offer arguments to the contrary.)
Instead of working nights or days, which I also had done, I was working a modified shift in which I started at 6 a.m. updating the newspaper website content from overnight news, posted business, traffic and weather, went out on spot news, and help out inputting other information for the print and web versions of the newspaper. I also monitored comments left on stories posted on the website.
Driving to work one morning in 2008, I was stopped at a light at an intersection a half block from the parking lot I used when working at The Record. A Chevrolet Tahoe coming in the opposite direction did not stop at the red light, was T-boned by a vehicle that had the right-of-way, and the Tahoe was spun into my Rodeo.
I remember stiffening and yelling “No, no, no!” as the Tahoe spun around and into my vehicle.
The impact was not severe enough to cause me injury – other than a stiff back – or even to cause the airbags to deploy, but it was enough to destroy my front tire, front bumper, the radiator, and more. It was totaled.
The Tahoe’s driver, who was accompanied by a teen boy and teen girl who I presumed were his children, tried to say that the other vehicle had blown the red light, probably because the other vehicle was a beat up pickup with two passengers who appeared as they had lived a rough life. But I told him no, no, no, that he had blown the red light. He didn’t argue too hard and his insurance eventually more than paid off my Rodeo.
With a little help from a former Reporter coworker, I was able to get a lease on a 2008 Honda CRV, the first ever brand new vehicle I have ever owner/leased.
Rides of My Life … so far
Part 7: Isuzu Rodeo