Columns

Feeling Deflated, Ruby Sue Got New Shoes

Pride goes before a fall, or in my case before a pothole.

I should have known better than to extol the virtues of my Ford Escape, Ruby Sue. The day after my column ran, Ruby Sue and I had an inescapable encounter with one of Spokane’s meanest potholes.

The small strip of Lincoln Road that runs between Crestline and Market streets is notorious for potholes and I usually avoid it. But that Friday I was leaving later than I planned and thought I could just drive down the center of the street avoiding the worst of the potholes. But traffic turned out to be heavy that morning and with a sickening jolt, I hit a crater that’s likely visible from the moon.

Immediately, my tire pressure light flashed. I called my husband and asked his advice. He thought I could probably continue to my destination and check for damage when I arrived. While on the phone with him, Ruby Sue started pulling to the right. I was just minutes away from Derek’s office, so I drove straight there.

Good thing I did. Ruby Sue’s right front tire was flatter than the Seahawks’ hope for the playoffs next fall. Derek hauled out our spare. Guess what? It was flat, too!

Car ownership can be a pain, but in response to my previous column readers shared the joys of a sweet ride.

Mike Storms didn’t learn to drive until he was 22.

“When I was in Vietnam the Army couldn’t believe an American my age didn’t know how to drive, so they had me take a test in a deuce and a half,” he wrote. “Pretty big truck, but it had an automatic transmission.”

Turns out his bike-riding skills didn’t transfer to a big rig. He ran into a Vietnamese garbage truck in front of the motor pool.

Back in the states, he took a AAA course while in college and earned his license. His first car was a $25 1950 Chevy. He’s driven a long way in a lot of vehicles since then.

“My most recent car is a 2014 Honda Insight hybrid. I’ve had it almost a year and love it,” he said.

Lynda Gorman Parry’s 1967 GTO got her in trouble at intersections.

“How many times have I been unable to resist the urge to show some teenage guy that this ’67 GTO could still move?” she wrote.

She and her husband purchased the car right off the showroom floor in 1966 when they were fresh out of college.

But 14 years later, when she was a 35-year-old mother of three, she realized the car no longer fit her image.

Gorman said she knew it was time to get a new ride when she got tired of explaining to her daughter’s classmates on field trips that, “Yes, this GTO can reach 80 in a few seconds, but no, I’m not going to prove it on the way to the museum!

“We’ve since purchased several more practical cars, but none as memorable.”

Mary Hunter’s first car was her favorite – A 1971 Volkswagen 411. She bought it from her mom and named it Heinrich.

Heinrich took her on her first road trip, from Caspar, Wyoming, to Laramie, Wyoming.

“A beautiful sunny summer day, I will never forget that first real taste of freedom,” she recalled. “I now drive a VW Passat, which I also love, but that little 411 is still in my heart.”

Reader Jim Perez came of age in the 1950s and ’60s and developed a lifelong love of hot rods. He had a very specific car in mind for his first purchase.

“The gleam in my eye always seemed to have a reflection of a Sierra Gold and Adobe Beige, two-door hardtop 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, complete with a 283 cubic inch V-8 engine and, hopefully, a four-speed, manual transmission,” he wrote.

His plans changed when he spotted a 1956 Chevy for sale.

“For some reason, it captivated me and I wound up buying it, forgetting all about the ’57 Bel Air,” Perez said.

He and his brothers worked on the Chevy, replacing the upholstery, installing a bigger, faster engine, and some shiny chrome wheels.

“It became my pride and joy,” he said.

Perez sold the beauty for $700 when he joined the military, even though his dad had offered to store it for him, telling him he’d regret parting with it.

“It was much later in life that I came to realize that the older I got, the smarter my dad was,” Perez said.

He pined after that car for decades.

“Amongst other things, I’ve learned not to give up on dreams,” he said. “About the time I retired, I found the exact same model of ’56 Chevy as the one I had in high school.”

Perez lovingly restored it to close to its original glory.

“I still get that carefree feeling when I drive it,” he said.

I love happy endings, so I’m glad to say that Ruby Sue’s tale has one, too – an expensive ending, albeit a happy one. Thankfully, the pothole incident didn’t damage the wheel or the front end and Ruby Sue ended up getting new shoes–four of them.

Derek shrugged.

“She was going to need new tires this fall, anyway,” he said.

My ride has been restored. Now, I just need to work on my evasive driving skills until pothole season gives way to street repair season on Spokane’s mean streets.

Columns

Car Ride Down Memory Lane

Frustrated, I sorted through the jumble of keys looking for a fob.

“How am I supposed to unlock the door?” I muttered.

Ruby Sue (my Ford Escape) had to spend the night at the dealer for a part recall issue and I was driving my youngest son’s car (formerly mine). That’s when I discovered how thoroughly I’d been spoiled.

We didn’t have an electronic key fob for the 2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue. I had to unlock the door with the actual key.

I’d forgotten how low the Intrigue sits, and instead of smoothly sliding into the driver’s seat, I sat down hard and looked for the push-button ignition. Nope. Once upon a time, you had to insert a key to start a car.

The gray cloth interior has held up well, but our frigid weather had me longing for Ruby Sue’s seat warmers.

Times have changed since my dad bought me my first car, a 1970s model two-door Toyota Corolla. He bought it from a guy at Fairchild AFB and paid $900 for the rather battered navy blue car.

“I gotcha a car,” he announced. “Here’s the keys, let’s take her for a spin.”

We went out to the driveway and I slid behind the wheel.

“What’s this other pedal for?” I asked.

Dad raised his brows.

“That’s the clutch. Forgot to tell you, it’s a manual transmission.”

I’d never driven a stick shift, but Dad said it was super easy. He gave me a quick rundown on how to shift, and we lurched out of the driveway and immediately stalled mid-street. After an agonizingly jolting trip around the neighborhood, my father pronounced my skills “good enough.”

The Corolla didn’t last long enough to get a name. A few months later, I drove through an unmarked intersection on my way home from work at Pioneer Pies and was T-boned by a kid driving a big pickup.

I got a trip to the hospital from the EMTs I’d just served pie to and the totaled Toyota got a trip to the junkyard.

No more stick shifts for this girl. Instead, Dad gave me his white Chevy Nova. Fun fact, those Novas looked just like Spokane police cars at the time. On the rare occasion I ventured somewhere I probably shouldn’t have, the gatherings broke up quickly as teenagers fled muttering “cops.”

That Nova earned me another trip to the ER when a driver crashed into me after speeding through a light.

Dad decided for safety’s sake I needed to drive a tank, but tanks weren’t street legal. He settled for a 1978 Pontiac LeMans.

He thumped the hood.

“I think this beast is made of solid steel,” he said. “But I still want you to wear a helmet when you drive.”

Me and Loretta circa 1984 in downtown Davenport, Washington

Loretta was my only red car until the advent of Ruby Sue. Her white vinyl interior was cracking, but she drove like a dream. She took my best friend and me on our first road trip, to Davenport, Washington. Loretta took Derek and me on our honeymoon. A couple of years later we drove her all the way to Disneyland for our final BC (Before Children) fling.

Sure, she didn’t have air conditioning and we roasted on our way through Oregon. Yes, we found out what vapor lock is on the side of a California freeway, but by golly, that car body didn’t ding, dent or crumple.

When we started our family, Loretta made way for a boring Ford Taurus, followed by a succession of necessary minivans. As our nest began to empty, we adopted Golda MyDear (the Oldsmobile) before Derek bought sparkling red Ruby Sue.

It’s impossible to count the hours I’ve spent on the road hauling kids to school, sports practices or jobs, and journalists spend a lot of time in their cars. That’s why I’m so thankful my minivan mama days are in the rearview mirror and I finally have a car that I can boss around. I can pull up maps, adjust the temperature, make calls and change radio stations all by voice command.

When I picked up Ruby Sue after our 24-hour separation, I sat for a moment reveling in the warmth of the heated leather seat, and then I planted a big kiss on the steering wheel.

“I’ve missed you, girl,” I said.

And I like to think she missed me, too.

All Write, TV

Remnants of boy-life linger

IMG_20180806_171716Here’s a link to my most recent Front Porch television segment, in which my husband discovers the remains of a previous civilization while constructing a retaining wall in our backyard.

The spots air at the end of the Spokane Talks show, each Sunday night at 6 PM on Fox28 Spokane.

You find previous Front Porch segments here.

Columns

Boys and Backyard Buried Treasure

Lightning McQueen has definitely seen better days.

His front wheels are missing, as are both headlights. His rear tires are packed with dirt and his big eyes on the windshield peer through a layer of dust. His red paint job has faded into orange, and his plastic body is cracked in places. Years of exposure to sun and snow will do that to a car.

My husband is building a retaining wall at the back edge of our property, and his shovel had unearthed the abandoned toy.

“Look what I found,” Derek said, cradling the car in his hands.

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Like an archeologist on a dig, he’s discovered the remains of a previous civilization. He’s been working hard to eradicate the evidence that small boys once roamed wild in our backyard, but this is something he’d missed.

When we moved into our home in 1993, both the front and back yards were a mess of weeds and clover.

Derek focused his attention on the front first, so our boys took possession of the back. That summer, my dad bought them a swing set, and we installed the first of many plastic wading pools.

Very little swinging happened on that swing set. Instead, the slide was used as a launching point for cars, toys and boys. The tandem swing made it easier for them to scale to the top of the set, the better to terrify their mother.

The boys grew. The grass came back. The swing set fell apart. And a series of bigger pools kept them occupied during the summer.

Squirt guns, bicycles, skateboards and toys littered the yard making navigation perilous for parents.

When our four boys grew bored with toys and things with wheels, they took up digging in the barren patch of ground where the previous owner had attempted to garden. Bordered by railroad ties, the spot offered ample space for industrious boys to play in the dirt.

I worried about the holes they dug with plastic shovels getting too deep, the tunnels getting too long, but Derek just said, “Boys gotta dig.”

However, even he was surprised to find they’d used a few of his two-by-fours to shore up a gaping gash in the ground.

The boys grew. They mowed the grass. They stopped playing in the dirt. And Derek built a beautiful cedar shed where the swing set once stood.

Our two oldest sons moved out and their dad built a beautiful deck, and we added a gazebo, and raised bed gardens. The retaining wall is just another step in the beautification of our kids’ former playground, and it seems Derek had stumbled upon a toy graveyard while constructing it.

“I’ve been finding a lot of green army men,” he said. “I rebury them with full honors.”

But it didn’t seem right to leave Lightning in an unmarked grave, especially since it looks like he’d been the victim of violent crime. Someone had used permanent marker to print “Help Me…” on his hood, leading us to conclude the toy had been carjacked and possibly held for ransom.

The printing looks exactly like our second son’s writing, and our youngest son, Sam, was a huge fan of the movie “Cars.” He was 6 when the first movie was released, and he went “Cars” crazy.

He had a Radiator Springs play set and the full fleet of cars from the film. But Lightning was always his favorite. In fact, if I venture into his teenage lair, I know I’ll still find at least two versions of Lightning McQueen that he’s not ready to part with.

Derek went back to work on the wall, leaving the dirt-encrusted car on the deck railing. Weeks later, it’s still there, parked facing our outdoor dining area, where Lightning can watch the boy who loved him come and go.

Last night, I swear I saw his eyes shining through their dusty coating when Sam sat down to dinner.

And then old Lightning smiled.

IMG_20180806_171716

Columns

Low-Tech Cindy Meets High-Tech Ruby Sue

The newest member of our family arrived just in time for Mother’s Day. Her name is Ruby Sue, and I’m absolutely in love.

I’m worried my friends will tire of hearing me extol her virtues, but she just has so darn many! She’s helpful, easygoing, and so far has been remarkably patient with me as we get to know each other.

What’s odd is I’ve never found black leather and tinted shades particularly attractive. Until now.

Ruby Sue is a 2015 Ford Escape Titanium.

Our youngest has been driving the 1995 Dodge Caravan that his three older brothers drove. The slider door doesn’t open. The passenger door opens from the inside only. There’s no radio. No air-conditioning. It’s been wrecked at least once by each driver, but the Green Monster seems impossible to kill.

Still my husband said the beast won’t live forever, and it was time to pass Golda MyDear, my 2011 Oldsmobile Intrigue, down to Sam.

“It isn’t manly,” Sam protested.

Who knew aging minivans with peeling paint were manly?

Anyway, Derek diligently searched the internet and found the Ford Escape at a local Subaru dealership.

He showed me the photo and the specs.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Shall we take her for a drive?”

I smiled, already enthralled by her sparkly red paint job and sporty trim.

Ruby Sue drove like a dream, but the back-up camera proved disconcerting. Both Derek and I swiveled our heads and peered at the side mirrors while ignoring the screen in front of us.

The salesman left us to discuss the purchase. Taking a car for a test drive is like going to a shelter to “look” at cats or dogs. You’d better be prepared to shell out some cash and take one home because chances are you will fall in love.

Our discussion was brief thanks to the research Derek had already done. All he needed to know was would low-tech Cindy be happy driving high-tech Ruby Sue.

I nodded.

“I’ll read the manual,” I said.

After a sheaf of paperwork completed the adoption, Derek asked if I wanted to drive her home while he drove Golda back to work.

“Of course!” I said, as I kissed him goodbye and approached my new red ride.

The salesman had already explained the keyless ignition meant I just had to be within a few feet of the door and when I touched the handle it would unlock, which it did. What he failed to demonstrate was how to start the car.

Sliding behind the wheel, I adjusted the mirrors and the lumbar support on the smooth leather seat. Then I pushed the start button. Nothing happened. I fiddled with some things and tried again. The radio came on. I pushed more things on the touch screen. The air conditioner came on.

Finally, I read the screen. “Push brake to start car.”

“Thank you, Ruby Sue,” I said.

It’s been two weeks since I drove her home, and I must admit the learning curve is a bit steeper than I anticipated. I did scan the manual, but I’ve always been a learn-by-doing person.

This rig comes not so much with bells and whistles, but with beeps and bleeps, that I’m still deciphering.

For example, when I pulled into a parking space, Ruby Sue started beeping. I slammed the brake and looked around. No lights were flashing. Auto self-destruct mode hadn’t been activated. It took a few more trips for me to realize the car was just alerting me to the proximity of the curb.

Ruby Sue is quite chatty. Bluetooth technology enabled her to sync with my phone automatically. No more ear pieces or headsets to lose! I can receive and send calls and texts using the buttons on the steering wheel. In fact, everything in the Escape Titanium operates through voice command – the radio, the climate control, even the built-in navigation system.

So far, Ruby and I haven’t had any arguments about the best way to get somewhere.

But we’re still working out a few glitches – mine, not her’s. The trunk is supposed to open and close when I swipe my foot under the tailgate – no more juggling grocery bags and fiddling with keys. Alas, only Derek has figured out how to activate the sensor with one swipe of his foot.

And frankly, the self-parking option freaks us both out. Last night we decided to try it for the first time in the safety of our neighborhood.

We pushed the parking assist button and watched, stunned, as Ruby Sue ably parallel parked herself between our son’s car and our garbage cans.

It’s a surreal experience to sit in the driver’s seat and watch the steering wheel spin as your car parks itself, but I have to say this could be a game-changer and a solution for my frequent downtown parking dilemmas.

My least favorite part of my job used to be all the driving. But now, I take the long way everywhere just to spend more time with Ruby Sue.

It’s safe to say I’ve left Intrigue behind, and now that I’ve Escaped there’s no turning back.

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Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

Name that car!

My friend Sarah loves her car. Seriously loves it. So when a rogue deer did significant damage to it one dark February night, she was heartsick.

When she finally got it back from the body shop, she posted a photo of it on Instagram, rejoicing that her Honda Accord’s sleek midnight blue body had been restored.

A friend commented that she loved her car too, and asked Sarah if her car had a name.

Regular readers of this column won’t be surprised by her answer.

Some months ago I wrote about Sarah’s cat – a boy named Rose, with no middle name to give his feline status some dignity.

I suggested Rose Henry. Sarah’s husband balked.

“His name is Rose. Just Rose,” he insisted.

So, of course her beautiful blue car is currently nameless.

Our family vehicles have always had names. After all, sometimes I feel like I spend more time with my car than with my family. I can’t have that kind of intimate relationship with some nameless hunk of metal.

Currently, I drive a gold Oldsmobile Intrigue. Her name is Golda MyDear.

She wasn’t my idea.

When I was finally ready to downsize from the minivan mama life, I imagined my next car would be a ’65 cherry red Mustang convertible. Or a sporty SUV.

But my sister-in-law’s mother could no longer drive, and they wanted to get rid of her car, so as not to tempt her. It was in great condition, with very few miles, and it ended up in our driveway.

A four-door sedan formerly owned by a granny wasn’t what I’d planned, but after a few days behind the wheel, I began to appreciate her tight turn radius and easy ride.

Golda and I hit the road when my book, “War Bonds,” came out. She faithfully took me to bookstores across the state.

I thought everyone named their cars, and judging from the response to my social media post about Sarah’s nameless Honda, lots of people do christen their rides.

My friend, Annie, drives a Pilot named Pontius.

“When it was brand new, I became irritated with how concerned I was with it and to humble myself I named it Pontius,” she wrote.”I realize it’s not a Pilate, but Amelia Earhart seemed too long.”

Betsy has a Subaru named Ruby Sue.

Just reading that makes me happy.

The Curless rigs have more prosaic monikers. “Our truck is the Big Nasty, and the SUV is Grocery Getter,” wrote Gail.

Candy said her first car was a Ford Pinto named Bean.

Some folks give a nod to pop culture. Fans of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films will recognize the origin of Rob Brewer’s Sequoia. Its name is Groot.

His wife calls their Acadia, Katie.

Go ahead. Say it out loud.

My friend Denise said she calls her car Honey, because when it tries to go up a hill without slowing down, she just has to say, “Oh, honey. …”

Susie says her car is “Andretti, because I’m Mario!”

Steven drives “Vandola,” a cross between a van and a gondola, and Kris has Flo the Ford Flex, and Sven the Volvo V70.

Our family fleet included the Red Dragon, my ’75 Pontiac LeMans that one hot summer in our glorious BC (before children) years, took Derek and me all the way to Disneyland with frequent stops due to vapor lock.

The first minivan I drove was christened The Miracle.

With a third child’s birth imminent, we desperately needed a bigger, more reliable vehicle than my aging Ford Tempo.

We couldn’t afford a car payment, so each night during bedtime prayers, our oldest sons prayed for God to send us a minivan.

A few weeks before Zachary’s birth, Derek’s brother and sister surprised us with a used Dodge Caravan.

“We just felt God wanted you to have this car,” his sister said.

“It’s our miracle!” our firstborn said.

Miraculous or not, our cars get us where we need to go. They help us provide for our families. If that’s not deserving of a name, I don’t know what is.

Alas, Sarah’s beloved Honda is still nameless.

My husband suggested she call it The Deer Slayer, but I haven’t had the heart to mention that to her. She’s dealing with far more important issues at the moment.

“Seriously,” she said. “I’ve been too busy trying to think of a middle name for our cats.”

Well. You have to respect her priorities.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.