IMR: 1998: April: 11 -- Saturday, 11:40 p.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i
[ Walk ]The weather has been totally bizarre lately. Wildly shifting from bright and blue to gloomy grey and pouring a dozen times in a day, the wind all the while whipping in every which direction.

On Thursday -- as hapless students scurried from building to building clutching their schoolbags to their fashionable but tragically mischosen white tops -- I was quite pleased with myself for having kept my huge golf umbrella in the trunk.

That mood quickly vanished, however, when the wind repeatedly threatened to carry me halfway across town. Trying to keep a reign on that huge canopy was about as easy as herding cats. By the time I got back to my car, I was still drenched and exhausted to boot.

Another problem is that the wind tries very hard to dart back and forth through our apartment. The curtains billow in and out like monstrous fabric lungs, but that's not a problem save for the spooky shadows.

Our bathroom door, however, is a little loose, and thus clunks back and forth with each shift in the wind's direction. It's loud enough to startle me out of sleep, with a momentary rush of panic as I wonder if someone just burst into the place. The continued knocking also makes it harder to go back to sleep.

Speaking of sleep.

Jen and Katie are sound asleep on the bed. I'm on my way there myself, having finally finished a major report for Hawaiian class that was due this past Friday.

Yep, it's late, but even if I do say so myself, it kicks ass. All the new sentence structures, and a great story to boot.

It's the history of the place known today as Mililani, originally named Punalu`u after the same chief Punalu`u for which the Big Island town is named. Except this Punalu`u is so named because it's where Punalu`u was killed. 'Twas the first time O`ahu was victorious over forces from Hawai`i.

We went out to Mililani today, in fact, for the first birthday party for Trevor, cousin Jennifer's son. It was huge -- well over a hundred guests, with the required off-duty police officer and everything.

A good seventy percent of the people there were members of Jennifer's new-age Buddhist church, and thus totally unfamiliar to family. There were also lots of noisy kids, ranging in age from one month to twelve years, giving me the second biggest headache I've had all year.

Katie didn't care for all the activity, either. When the pinata popped open and all the children started yelling, she started screaming and didn't stop 'til we'd gone home and walked her for half an hour.

Mom, who helped set up and clean up, came home a bit later but only stayed a few seconds before taking off again to see a movie with a friend. Disappointed that we didn't see much of each other, she insisted we come up again tomorrow. After church.

That's right. We're going to church. Catholic Easter Mass. I'm so impressed by Jen's serious interest in getting back in touch with her spiritual side I've temporarily forgotten how little I like organized religion.

We've even invited William, who like Jen was raised Catholic.

It would be great for Jen to be there with someone else who knows all the rituals and secret handshakes and stuff. When she and I went to a regular Sunday service a few weeks ago, I kept standing when everyone sat down and kneeling when everyone stood.

And when we were instructed to turn to total strangers, shake their hands and solemnly inform them of god's blessing, I was ready to bolt.

Unfortunately, we didn't have any cash for the collection plate (or rather, the collection wicker baskets). I was fascinated that they had a special song to sing while the attendants went around taking everyone's money, though. Must take away some of the pain or something.

Um. Though I can sit here and get wise about the whole church thing, I do take it seriously. It's important to Jen, so it's important to me. And though I'm not sure if it should or will be Catholicism, I do want Katie to have some spiritual awareness in her formative years.

Whoa. Am I developing a case of family values?

As I mentioned, Trevor's first birthday gave me the second worst headache I've had all year. The very worst headache, though, overwhelmed me only yesterday. When I argued with a salesman for two and a half hours before ultimately coming home in a "new" car.

My god.

What have I done.

Actually, sudden as it may seem, it's the culmination of two months of brain-twisting consideration and research.

The basic plan was to trade in my semi-new but hideously small, non-family friendly Ford Escort for something -- anything -- older, but a bit bigger and with four doors. Roll your eyes all you want, but just try and maneuver a car seat into the back of a two-door compact. Both Jen and I have black-and-blue skulls.

Unfortunately, things looked bleak. The Escort was the absolute bare-bones model. Standard, manual everything. It was functional and surprisingly problem free, but it was no Honda Prelude. Blue Book just above $1,200, and that was in "excellent condition." I didn't mistreat it, mind you, but even if it was "excellent" when I got it last summer it sure as hell wasn't now.

Thus, cars in our price range were pretty much Ford Grenadas and other beige tanks from the late 70s.

Maybe, I thought, I'd be able to find a decent '77 Nova like my first car (Jen's all time favorite)... but frankly I did not inherit my father's uncanny ability to spot a classic in a lot full of rustbuckets.

Discouraged but not ready to quit, I committed this Easter weekend to touring the assorted used car lots. First the ones along Nimitz Highway near the airport, then along Kamehameha Highway in `Aiea. William agreed to go along in case the unavoidable swarms of sharks got too intense.

We visited some nice lots, which had no cars priced below $5,000 and where one salesman seemed on the verge of laughing in my face. The folks at Mike Salta were beyond ferocious, prodding us toward getting a brand new car with "financing," and even hauling in reinforcements when we tried to leave.

Then we visited some crappy lots, where there were some antiques in my price range (and several in the $200 range). But the outfits were all too creepy for me. If the "sales office" is a trailer...

Totally disallusioned and feeling very, very dirty, we retreated back to the apartment in defeat. But somehow, I got a second wind, and after lunch we headed out again, this time to Pearlridge.

Since we didn't want to have to keep our backsides covered the whole time, we stuck to the larger lots. And overall, we found them far less aggressive than the Nimitz folk. After carefully checking out a '88 Chevy Celebrity station wagon -- faded paint in okay shape -- at Cutter Ford, we headed over to Tony Honda.

That was where I spotted the car that's now parked downstairs: a silver and grey '84 Nissan Maxima.

Okay, yes, that's 13 years old, yes, twice as old as the Ford. The first salesman, a shifty fellow named Abe, thought I was nuts. But I checked it out. And it was in awesome condition for its age. Great paint, straight body, good rubber and chrome, practically no rust (and none of it in the usual problem areas) and a near perfect interior. It had 91,000 miles, but that's actually low for an car that old.

And since the Maxima was Nissan's top-of-the-line luxury model back then, it had all the bells and whistles. My first thought was, "Well, of course none of it'll work now." But it did. Smoothly with little protest. Power windows, power locks, power mirrors, even a power antenna switch and a sunroof. Original cassette stereo, and it worked like new. All four speakers worked.

I took it for a test drive. It started clean, ran smooth, and even the automatic transmission shifted without a lurch or clank. It had a V-6, and didn't even notice hills -- the kinds of hills that made the poor Escort whine. And what's this? The air conditioner worked (the first working one all day) and was ice cold.

All that was the good news. The bad news was they were asking $3,999, and the salesman didn't look too impressed with the Escort.

Sure enough, they took it for a test drive and took issue with the clutch and the brakes. The first offer for the trade in was $800, and the price on the Maxima didn't even budge. The rationale was that they supposedly paid close to the asking price for the Maxima in the first place. Things didn't look much better after another "consultation."

Then the weirdest thing happened. I decided I wanted to go home.

I really wanted to go home. All the number crunching made my brains hurt, and I honestly thought it was a ridiculous idea anyway. I apologized and got up to leave. They thought, though, that I was just playing hard ball (my mom once told a similar story). I was asked to wait for one more offer.

They came up to $1,200 for the Ford.

"Sorry," I said. "It's just not possible."

They came up to $1,600.

The difference, though shrinking, was still more than we had in our account and in savings combined.

Back and forth it went. I was really starting to feel silly. This was just not going to happen. Not here, not for a car like that.

They came up to $2,300.

I think William's eyes almost popped out of his head. Mine too. After all, that was not too far from what the Ford cost in the first place. Twenty thousand miles and several dents later, and they were prepared to pay twice what the poor thing was worth?

Much as my dad insisted I could get a better price selling it on my own with an ad in the paper, I knew I would never find anyone to take it for anything even near $2,000.

The deal was done. The $1,500 difference is to be paid by the end of the month. I'm almost sure we can do it, too.

Insane as it sounds to lose a six-year-old car for one twice as old (and still pay a fair bit of cash), I'm confident it was a good choice.

The Maxima may not seem to have the longest lifespan ahead of it, but the Escort was drawing near to the point where it would've been a burden. The clutch was going, little things wouldn't work, and every little pebble made a ghastly dent in the thin metal. It would have started to get expensive to repair -- at least compared to what it was worth -- and I have no doubt it wasn't going to be worth that much that much longer.

(And while we were cleaning it out, the rear view mirror fell off.)

The Maxima's Blue Book is practically nil, but it's a solid car. And with the obviously good care it had with its one, longtime previous owner, I'm confident it's got many good years left.

And it is bigger. Much bigger. It's got four doors. It's a true-blue family car. And I love it.

Mom was impressed. Heck, the '84 Maxima has fewer miles on it than her '94 Buick. And when I told her I could open the trunk with a switch next to the seat -- the one missing Buick luxury that drives her nuts -- she jokingly offered to trade.

Grandma, meanwhile, was totally amazed. She was surprised by its good condition, and kept pounding on it and saying, "Solid." She said she had owned a Nissan wagon in Hilo, which followed her to San Antonio, and that it was still running great when she sold it.

"This is a family car," she said. "The other car served its purpose, but this is a safer car for Katie."

She fawned over it so long -- getting in and looking over all the buttons -- we were late for Trevor's party. As we headed over, she said, "I'm riding in style now."

Indeed. The Escort was so ubiquitous, every time Jen and William saw another one on the road or in a parking lot, they would say, "There oughtta be a law against white Ford Escorts." This Maxima, though boxy, is very distinctive. It has a diplomat's air about it. Throw a couple of flags on the front bumper, and I could probably get into a foreign embassy.

On a more personal level, it really is a big step. Jen, happy with the car, was more awed by what it seemed to symbolize: real, profound change.

After talking, I realized the Escort was kind of a crutch, a symbol of transition and recovery after a very, very rough time. It was the last artifact of our old lives.

This most recent step put this past year in a clearer, breathtaking light. Getting back together, getting married, having a child, moving to a new apartment, and now driving a new car... We really have come a long way.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 11 April 1998 · Last Modified: 15 April 1998