Barbarella
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Driving a brand-new car feels like driving around in an open billfold with the dollars flapping by your ears as they fly out the window. — Grey Livingston

I led the uniformed man around the hood to the front tire on the passenger side of my Mini Cooper. “See?” I said, pointing to the golf-ball-sized lump in the tread. “It just appeared out of nowhere. Is this something that happens regularly to this kind of tire?”

I’d Twittered the question the night before, so I knew if he said no he’d be lying. Most people who’d responded to my tweet explained how they’d suffered so much frustration with their “run-flat” tires that they eventually replaced them all with the cheaper “stop-flat” kind. After this guy — Brian was his name — said yes, I was going to push the warranty angle. But he didn’t exactly say yes.

“When did you run into the curb?”

My look of surprise was genuine. I wondered if I could use that to my advantage and act like I didn’t know what he was talking about. Me? Never, that strange bump just happened. By the way, isn’t this under warranty? But his question had given rise to a blistering memory that percolated into my brain like acid reflux: three months earlier, downtown, when I’d spun the car around to snag a prime parking spot right in front of the Civic Theatre; you’d think the turning radius would be tighter on such a small car.

I looked up from the deformed tire to Brian and smiled weakly. I’ve never been good at lying (a defect I attribute to having been born with a puny prefrontal cortex). But that didn’t mean I was incapable of working the facts to my advantage.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve brushed the curb a few times while trying to park. I wonder if that might have caused this,” I said.

“This was a huge hit; you’d remember it,” said Brian.

I squinted at him, as if tightening my eyes could somehow ward off his imposing psychic powers. “Okay, yes, I remember,” I said, copping to the fact. “I tried to flip a bitch to grab a parking spot downtown. But then the light changed and another car was coming, so I hit the accelerator and sort of rammed the curb.”

“Yup, that would do it.”

“But that was months ago,” I argued. “This bump only appeared last week. Wouldn’t I have noticed something before now? You sure the tire’s not a lemon?”

I hadn’t actually noticed the bump, not on my own. I have a catlike ability to ignore things that do not interest me…things like tires. It was David who’d shown it to me.

“See, right here, that’s where the curb hit the rim,” said Brian. I had a flashback of David pointing to the same nick on the metal right after I’d parked that night, like a dog owner pointing to a mess on the carpet. Brian continued, “You’re lucky you had these run-flat tires, or else you’d need a new rim as well, and those run around $600.”

“And how much is this going to run me?” I already knew the answer. David had done the research and crunched the numbers: two new run-flat tires (you can’t get just one, makes the car drive crooked or something), $587; fancy, full-weighted alignment (the only kind they do), $380; taxes, $44; the bittersweet satisfaction David would get from doling out a colossal I Told You So: priceless.

In his never-ending bid to fortify his daughters against the advantages an unscrupulous man might take, Dad had passed along some techniques to help us avoid being finagled, one of which was the old wince routine. “No matter what they say, regardless of whether I think it’s reasonable or not, my first reaction to hearing a number is to wince and suck air in through my teeth,” he told me, scrunching up his face and inhaling sharply to demonstrate. “It’s a New York thing, baby. I know they’re trying to screw me, and it kills me to be played. When I react like that, they go, ‘Oh, no, okay,’ and they drop it down a little bit.”

It was hard for me to refrain from balking at the numbers. But this wasn’t the corner-store mechanic; it was the dealership at which I’d bought my car. The fees were nonnegotiable. At least I could rest assured that doing a sub-par job wasn’t in their best interest.

The Mini is the first new car I’ve ever bought — I got it in the beginning of 2008, right before another kind of bubble popped and left my bank account in shambles. I chose to cut back in other areas so I could keep the car. David drives a 1992 Saab with a busted electrical system — he has to manually attach and detach the battery each time he starts or stops. Because the Mini is the primary source of transportation for both of us, it only makes sense to keep it in good shape. Even when fixing the Mini means breaking the bank.

After a few hours of sitting in the lounge, surfing the ’net on our laptops, and doing my best to ignore the blathering soap opera that is CNN, I looked up to see Brian, offering me a telltale “Your car is ready” smile. At the counter, I tried not to groan when handing over my credit card. A young woman with a sympathetic expression on her face passed me a purple pen, with which I signed over $985.86.

“At least the wash was complimentary,” I said to David as I slid into the driver’s seat, a pained expression on my face.

“I know what you need,” David said. Too defeated to muster a brow-lift, I stared at him to continue. “A Hacienda Margarita.” That coaxed a small ghost of a smile from me. Hacienda de Vega is our oasis in Escondido, just a few miles from our Mini dealer on Auto Park Way. My eyes brightened as I pictured the vibrant purple bouganvillea, the waterfall and all the little birds it attracts, the exotic southern Mexico fare, and my favorite margarita — a tasty, easy-drinking, intoxicating blend that includes tamarind and chili powder. Already I was beginning to feel soothed, but it was David’s next two words that turned my wispy smile into a grin: “I’ll buy.”

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Comments

verminjerky June 11, 2010 @ 5:30 a.m.

I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude, but I find myself again frustrated by your choice of subject and I have to ask a question.

Why does your husband drive a car made of fail when you're always talking about the fancy food you eat and the cool places you go? I guess driving a safe, reliable car is pretty far down the priority list when he would rather hook and unhook his battery for every trip rather than give up shopping at Trader Joe's and celebrating (so to speak) spending nearly a thousand dollars by buying pricey blended drinks. (I checked the price on those Hacienda margaritas, too, just out of curiosity. Not completely ridiculous, but also not a drink someone who has actual money problems considers after dropping an unexpected grand.)

I shop at Food 4 Less and I think twice (or thrice) before a burger at Boll Weevil, which always involves a coupon. But, while it could really use some paint and body work, my 1991 Honda Civic runs a treat and comes with no excessive risk of electrocution.

As a regular reader, Barbarella, I am seriously begging you not to complain about spending money on something necessary when you constantly talk about the incredible amounts of money you and David spend unnecessarily and earn from your, sarcasm alert, labor-intensive and highly necessary jobs as a columnist and a photographer, respectively. (That is, cushy jobs others would kill to have.) Don't pretend. Life is good at the Fokos homestead and if you were just slightly less discerning, you'd seriously have nothing to complain about.

Your column is getting less and less fun and I protest because I used to really enjoy it. It's disheartening to feel something you really like slipping away.

Bottom line, a diva who complains about money troubles, while still living the diva lifestyle? Jaw drop. Barbarella, meet Reality. Reality, this is Barbarella. She really needs to get in touch with you.

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bohemianopus June 12, 2010 @ 6:26 a.m.

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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a2zresource June 12, 2010 @ 11:10 a.m.

"My advice to you, dear, is don’t drink and post, get a life, and get another avatar—this one is creeping me out."

Sociologically, blogs and our comments on them function as third-person substitutes in a metaphor for something as vulgar as riding along on public transit, where one has no clue as to seatmates until one climbs aboard.

This comment doesn't really mean anything. As a former English tutor, I've just wanted to make that metaphorical comparison for quite some time now. As for "Don't Drink and Post", it IS good sound advice, but some of us will go on and continue to type out anything while doing the mouse-over thang on the submit button, kind of like the intimate little games other people might play with partially-loaded handguns.

Click!... Darn it... Click!...

I think this is how I got started on my "Encanto Gas Holder" blogs...

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CuddleFish June 12, 2010 @ 12:31 p.m.

Well I must say (and will duck afterwards) that I was sort of thrown by the column myself: For someone who enjoys pricey food, continually attending pricey events, pricey nights out with friends, pricey vacations, etc., seems odd that they would own a hoopedy and complain about spending 1K on repairs to the other. Either they are well off and poor-mouthing, or they are poor and frontin'. Even if there is a logical explanation, it struck me as strange ...

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Barbarella Fokos June 12, 2010 @ 1:09 p.m.

Regarding the whole money thing, everyone, let me put it this way: I would rather spend $1000 on things I enjoy, like Hacienda margaritas, than on car tires I destroyed by being stupid. I can't see any lack of logic in that, regardless of how big one's bank account is. And David drives a jalopy not only because we both work from home and mainly share the Mini but also, as I've written before, David has said, "I would rather buy a piece of original art than a new car" (as quoted in my Gold Diggers column). It all comes down to a matter of priorities. And I know what mine are.

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Grasca June 12, 2010 @ 3:56 p.m.

How does one define "socialite" as it relates to this columnist ? Is "socialite" somehow connected to "debutante?" I don't think Jackie Kennedy, a true socialite and debutant, would give a hoot about how much tires or margaritas cost so I question the term "socialite" in this particular context.

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Barbarella Fokos June 12, 2010 @ 4:01 p.m.

Merriam-Webster defines "socialite" as "a socially prominent person." On a side note, if I had the money Jackie had, I wouldn't worry about how much tires cost either. ;)

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Grasca June 12, 2010 @ 4:10 p.m.

Drink wise Jackie's purported favorite was a daiquiri which may be a dated choice. A lady's tires should be nobody's business but her own. The dreaded Smog Check would right up there with pricey wheels in my book. It could require a Kir Royale if I were a drinking sort.

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David Dodd June 13, 2010 @ 2:23 p.m.

Write a story about run-flat tires, and there will always be someone who accuses you of being financially duplicit, let that be a lesson to you ;)

I don't know how I'm going to handle life when I have to purchase an automobile again. I've become so accustomed to the carefree luxury of cheap taxis and not having to worry about getting my car stolen, the last decade has been wonderful. The very concept of a run-flat tire frankly scares me, on the same level as does fuel injection and electronic distributors and little computers that run diagnostics. I'll probably wind up buying an old piece of junk; at least I'll understand how it works. And, you know, old-fashioned tires with a spare in the trunk.

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Barbarella Fokos June 13, 2010 @ 3:42 p.m.

You want to know the most beautiful thing about all this, refried? Last night, a neighbor hit my parked Mini with his giant truck. The Barb-mobile has quite the boo-boo. Fortunately, the guy left a note, and is prepared to take care of everything. But I bet when I bring it back to the dealership to get it fixed, they're going to be like, "What are you DOING to this poor vehicle?" ;)

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David Dodd June 13, 2010 @ 3:51 p.m.

Oh, that's simply sublime, isn't it? They're going to imagine you using your Mini as a Rally Car! Some vehicles seem to be magnets for this sort of thing. People often give me the old raised eyebrow when I refer to cars as having their own personalities (humanizing a vehicle, imagine that), but I can't help but to find some truth in it. Your Mini seems to crave attention in the form of pity ("Look, Ma, some big bully just beat me up!") ;)

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Joe Poutous June 14, 2010 @ 11:08 a.m.

Wow... $1000 a tire. And I was choked up spending $225 a pop for the wide whites I run on my cars.

Too bad the Barb-Mobile (Barbi-Car?)was squished. At least the guy left a note. Make sure it's EXACTLY up to the way you want it when you get it back. Pay attention to any new squeaks or vibrations. It sucks, but sometimes you have to take a car back to the shop a few times once it's fixed to make sure it's right.

Oh, and this will be a great opportunity to rent something cool while it's in the shop!

  • Joe
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Barbarella Fokos June 14, 2010 @ 11:30 a.m.

Joe, read again: not $1000 per tire, but for two tires, full car alignment, labor, tax, etc. That was the total, thank goodness. If it was per tire, I would have been drinking that tequila straight and not in a margarita. ;) Thanks for the tips on the Squish fix!

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Visduh June 14, 2010 @ 12:49 p.m.

While recently car shopping, I was warned by the salesman at a competing make that the run-flat tires, used on the model BMW I was idly considering, were very costly to replace. (Idly considering the car, that is, UNTIL I saw the sticker price.) These wonderful new innovations often are very costly to maintain. Not too long ago, a headlamp failure could be cured with a screwdriver and a $5 replacement sealed beam, of which there were only about three kinds. Now they are harder to do and more costly. And if you get a break in the new style headlamp, well, get out your wallet. Bend over and brace yourself.

But with those tires, the Mini doesn't have to yield any of its very limited space for a spare tire, and it might actually be possible to take a trip somewhere that involves having a suitcase.

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Joe Poutous June 14, 2010 @ 1:29 p.m.

Reading with comprehension! Well I'm glad the world has not gone that crazy.

  • Joe
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MsGrant June 14, 2010 @ 4:48 p.m.

Sorry to hear about your wheels!! If you haven't already taken it in for repairs, Amato's dos the absolute best body work on BMWs, etc. in San Diego. If his insurance covers you, take it there. Nice of him to leave a note!!

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Robert Hagen June 15, 2010 @ 9:56 p.m.

The thing about tires is that they are truly crucial to everything your automobile does. On a Mini Cooper, a BMW design, just look at the vehicle, not much clearance, plenty of forward momentum and handling, panache in the extreme, and it does not surprise me that the tires cost a bundle.

When you go Euro, you pay the price, up front and at the shop, but when push comes to shove, you dont have to worry about the technology itself failing.

My philosophy is this' first car Asian, second car American, third car, go Euro, if thats what you want to do.

I had a 1978 Mazda GLC that would drive on a front flat, there wasn{t enough weight on top of the suspension and chassis to stop the little bugger. GLC means great little car, and it was. The Mazdas these days_ Forget about it, sensational.

Now, as for David driving a beater. People, get this message and get it once and for all, and Im going in caps here, even though thats a faux pas on blogs.

YOU PUT YOUR LADY IN THE FINE RIDE AND YOU DRIVE AROUND WHATEVER. YOU NEVER SPARE EXPENSE FOR YOUR LADIES RIDE. YOU MAKE UP THE DIFFERENCE ON YOURS. WHEN YOU ARE NOT WITH HER, SHES IN A GREAT, SAFE RIDE. ANY MAN WHO PREFERS TO DRIVE THE GOOD RIDE AND LEAVE HIS LADY IN SOMETHING LESS IS PATHETIC.

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aquarimary June 16, 2010 @ 11:12 a.m.

Dear Diva, I wish I was you. Can't help myself, everytime I read your colunm, it makes me hate my life even more. Even when someone criticizes you, all your friends come to your aid. Not to mention the great David. what a lucky lady.

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