This day in history…

Oh, Facebook memories, you never fail to disappoint.

Back in 2013, I got divorced. An odd thing happened. From December 2013, through the finalization in March of 2014 where my alimony was paid, and all of my ex’s belongings were removed… I couldn’t get drunk or even buzzed.

There I was, at a point in my life where it’s almost expected to go on a bender – and no matter what I drank, beer, wine, or bourbon – I couldn’t get drunk. Now me being me, I didn’t take this as a sign that maybe something else was up, I increased my intake.

For that near 4 month period, I can’t tell you how many bottles of wine I cleared, but I went through a minimum of 3 750ml bottles of bourbon a week. Generally on Friday and/or Saturday night, I’d have at least on of those bottles in a sitting.

“Do I seem drunk?” I’d ask a friend and get the response “no, you seem sober to me.”

I’d blow in a portable breathalyzer, the alcohol was there – but there was zero effect.

I made it a goal to see how many different varieties of bourbon I could try from the liquor store down the street. I can’t say I managed to try every variety, but even at a minimum I cleared 12 per month, not including beer and wine. Nope, nope, wasn’t an alcoholic at all.

Even today, a little voice in my head says “no, not an alcoholic, you just drank a lot.” Maybe that’s true. This day on Facebook, I actually posted in celebration that I had finally gotten a buzz. My intake slowed as I was finally able to hit that sweet spot and ride it…

6 years later? I’m at 265 days without a drink. By the grace of God and with the support of a few good friends, alcohol just is not a priority in my life anymore. Still, I remember nearly everything from that time and to this day wonder why I couldn’t feel a thing.

Maybe so I’d remember?

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Day 6? 7? What day is it?

Since all of this began, I’ve done my best to maintain a level mind. I lean into any anxiety with scripture and prayer, but for the most part I’ve been handling it no differently than say… how I’d handle taking out the trash. It’s a new variable to the equation, but since I’ve lived alone for 7+ years now, how much of a change – to me – would it really be?

Facebook on a good day, is a few minutes of distraction from the grind. Lately though? It’s an awful lot of people masking fear with humor. It was nice the first day or two. Now it’s the stand-up comedian bombing so hard it’s almost become a Michael Richards shouting slurs at the audience type of performance.

Everyone’s handling this their own way, attempting to stick to the guidance given by the government, from health experts. Some folks – like me – are blessed with the capability to work from home. Others ran off to the market and bought enough toilet paper that in order to use it all they’d need to poop 47 times a day for 10 years to use it up.

Most days I’ll go out in the car for a drive, or stop at one of the local supermarkets for a few small items, or just take a walk to get out of the house and out of my head for a few. Last night I realized though that my level head was teetering on a very fine point. The scales so closely balanced that when the tipping point came, it really put me on my back.

My folks are in their 80’s. My dad, recovering from lung cancer surgery. Since this started, my Mom has been going out for supplies with my dad locked inside. Yesterday they asked me to pick up some supplies for them, so I happily obliged. Honestly – the folks at the store, both patron and employee – have all been in good spirits.

So I get everything together, spray it all with lysol, and head over to drop it off. I arrived and both my mom and dad were waiting at the door. My mom looked concerned, my dad had an ear to ear grin just to see me. I handed her the box of stuff, they closed the door, and we waved goodbye.

One thing I cherish more than anything, one worldly desire I posses and have been unable to let go of as it has been the thing that keeps the balance, keeps my head straight – is a hug. A simple hug. Hugging a friend, hugging a loved one, hugging my mom and dad. Now because of this bug, because of the guidelines, because of a panic driven survival instinct…

I couldn’t hug my folks. I know its selfish of me. Honestly, I get it – I don’t want to get them sick, I want them to stay safe and well… but as the day carried on past that drop off my brain began to spiral. Balance revoked. Finally realizing that the one aspect of human contact I cherished most, from the people who I cherished most, was forbidden… hurt.

I can’t imagine how they’re handling it… but I am grateful I saw smiling faces on people I love, and that I was still able to help them in any way I could despite everything else going on in the world right now. A good friend helped to correct my course, and I thank God that through the trials they’ve endured, they were able to say the right things at the right time.

Not quite sure how long this is going on to carry on for, or what the world is going to look at after the seas have calmed, but I am grateful. I am grateful to have good people in my life, and a great God above who will continue to make our paths straight as long as we listen for Him, believe in Him, hope in Him, and follow Him.

There’s this Bible app I use on my phone, YouVersion. Beyond being able to read nearly every version of The Holy Bible, it also has various plans to offer guidance through scripture. For the past 15 days I’ve been working through a 60 day plan, reading the New Testament to completion and absorbing its Truth.

As I read through the book of Luke, already completing Mark and Matthew, I noticed some patterns. In these books, I read of the miracles performed by Jesus. The healing. I also saw how he would regularly go off by himself into solitude to pray to His Father and be with God. He’d return to the crowds, where they would beg Him to be saved.

I’m sitting there wondering what I’d say to Him, or ask of Him and “Would you pray with me?” was what immediately dawned on my heart. Immediately I feel Him ask me “and what would you pray for?” So I prayed for the health of my family and friends, the ones I love, the strangers whom I do not know… and I prayed for the people who I dislike as well.

Less hysteria, more prayer. I think we could all use a moment to answer that question… “and what would you pray for?” if you had the opportunity to pray with Jesus. Every moment of every day, we have the opportunity to pray. We need that right now more than ever.

Last weekend I got to spend time with my step son. At the end of the weekend, after returning him home, I started to wonder what impact sharing my time would have, if it was enough… I opened my trusty Bible app and was greeted with the words of Hebrews 13:16…

Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Thank you God. Thank you Jesus. Love your family. Love your friends. Love your neighbors. Love your enemies. Do good and share what you have. God help us all transcend this current situation as one people, worship, and give thanks to you.

Amen.

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Convicted.

For more than a year now, the good people of Grace Community Church have been by my side in my walk with Christ. The past few months have been challenging to say the least.

On the advice of wise counsel from a friend, I downloaded a podcast application to my phone (Podcast Addict) and began to explore the 10 years of messages spoken by the senior pastor and others.

So. Much. Conviction. Forgiveness. Rest. Guilt. Hiding sin. Believing. Obeying.

I can only imagine how different my 30s may have been had I been subject to the conviction of God… Had I believed, truly believed in Jesus. What mistakes could I have not made with the wise counsel of God? What could I have accomplished with Jesus by my side?

I know that even then, in my feigning faith, He was with me. Even as I embraced my own Messiah complex, He pursued me. As I blindly drove my life off the cliff with a proud smile on my face, He tried to steer me away from the precipice. Free will, right?

Folks, even today I thought I was good with God! I thought I was facing Him, close to Him, in reality there I was again, foot to the floor like Thelma and Louise. I let that old sin back in. I let that old guilt push me back down. I let myself backslide the whole time as the solution was a mere repentance away.

I know that through Jesus I can always find my way back home. I just need to pray, daily. Read scripture and breathe it in daily. I need to remind myself of where I came from, where I am, and be open to the joy, peace, and love that Jesus brings me, every single minute of every single day.

These convictions are red flags in my life, things I need to turn away from and give to the Almighty God. Thank you Jesus for being here for me, sacrificing yourself for me, and always being present to lead me back home.

Amen.

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Pressing Onward.

I think George Carlin had a skit where he discussed words and phrases that didn’t make sense… things like “near miss” to describe two objects almost hitting each other, it sounds like they nearly missed – but in my head, they hit. Another phrase that’s been on my heart lately was “meteoric rise.” That phrase has never made sense to me. Meteors don’t rise, they “blaze briefly in the sky and as quickly disappear.”

2019 was a transformational year for me. By the traditional definition – I experienced a “meteoric rise” in my faith. I documented much of my experience here on this blog, so if you’ve been following along you’re aware of how I was saved by Jesus, how my family was restored, how I was baptized and born again, and how I reach out to God in prayer to provide for all my needs. The power of prayer exploded in my life. I turned from sin, abandoning alcohol and pornography. Every night before bed I took 20-30 minutes to pray to God, to make my requests known, to thank Him, and to study His word.

At the tail end of 2019, I was riding high on life, I was riding high in faith. The change was noticed by my peers and my pastor. On December 22nd, he highlighted my transformation, my obedience to the Lord in a sermon where he discussed our responsibility as Christians to share Jesus with others. My main goal of sharing my story, of sharing my experiences with Jesus, is that it might help others. As my pastor stated… I’m one of those folks who never shuts up about Jesus.

I haven’t written of my walk with the Lord since 2019. I may have shared some scripture that spoke to my heart, but overall – I really shared nothing. Truth be told, I’ve been under spiritual assault for months now, and I have been enduring a chain of trials as a result. It feels like after that sermon, the enemy popped up and said “Oh, Sam likes to talk about Jesus? Hold my beer and watch this.”

It started when I stopped praying out loud. Growing up Catholic, I prayed along with the Lord’s prayer, the Apostles Creed, and all the other responses that were required during attendance. I did it with my mouth shut. I prayed in my head. My voice was the first thing I found while being saved, and it was the first thing I lost in this assault.

I spent less time with the Lord each night. I spent less and less time praying. I sped through scripture. My good habits were eroding. I was staying up later. I was sleeping less. Old sin started creeping back into my life. I started to become bitter, angry, depressed, and negative again. My loneliness really started to hit me. I wasn’t angry at God for the trials but I was definitely angry again.

January 26th it hit a peak. The thought of having a drink, the very thing I’d abandoned in July of 2019, the thing that I have not touched in 236 days, the thing I have considered since as my “canary in the coal mine” in my turn from sin… That thought became comforting, instead of terrifying. That comfort, in fact, was terrifying.

I immediately went back to praying out loud, meditating, repenting, and taking time reading scripture. I had let myself be infected by sin, infected by doubt, to be slowly and gradually turned away from my God so subtly I didn’t even notice until the idea of having a drink ceased to bother me. Even as the Lord continued to answer my prayers boldly, I kept slipping.

Thing is, even right now I am fighting to stay on my path. I am fighting to seek God’s face. I am struggling to remain turned from sin. What came so easily and naturally mere months ago, I find myself resisting like cardio after making it a New Years resolution. I fight that resistance daily. I’m still not doing cardio, but I am praying my head off.

Another phrase that never sounded right in my head? Steering into the skid. I’m in my car, I’m losing control, it’s skidding, and you want me to WHAT? My wordly mind says steer against the skid. The reality of physics says steering into the skid will allow me to regain control and keep my cars tires on the road and not wrapped around an immovable object or worse.

That’s what I’m doing right now with my faith. I feel like I’m skidding. I feel like I’m losing control. I pray for my father’s health and recovery from cancer surgery. I thank the Lord for the time I have with him. I pray for my stepdaughter’s continued discovery of Jesus which has spectacularly ruined her atheism. I thank the Lord for putting her where she is so she can grow in faith with the Lord and continue to rise above. Every prayer is me steering into this skid.

I volunteer and serve at my church after months of making excuses. I’m helping people. I’m steering into the skid. I’m regaining control of my faith. I’m diving into scripture. I’m turning from sin and poison. Cigarettes, Porn, Booze. I’m steering into the skid. I thank Jesus for my blessings. For all he has provided me in this life. I am still in a skid, but I am gripping tightly on that wheel of faith, I’m steering into this skid, and I have faith that when this latest assault has ceased, I will still be facing God, averse to the draw of sin, and I will be stronger for it.

I know He is with me. I feel His presence always, through this struggle and whatever comes next. Phillipians 3:13-14 has one of my favorite verses: Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

I’m pressing on, each and every day, in faith, love, and hope in Christ. Thank you Jesus.

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Cars – 2019 Honda Civic Type-R

I was speaking to my mother this past weekend after I helped repair a broken fence in the yard, and started to talk about this series I’d been writing about all the cars I’ve gone through. Now growing up, I was always told I took after my grandfather who was also named Samuel. When she told me that he used to buy a new car every 2 years, it started to make sense.

A few years back when I picked up that Golf R, I wasn’t exactly ready for it. I wasn’t mature enough for it. It was the first real toy I’d had, a daily driver that could absolutely rip when I pushed it. The possibility of overestimating my abilities, overestimating the cars capabilities was real, and it scared me. After a confluence of events convinced me to get something more reasonable, I did. I needed a break.

I was never going to be the guy who had just a truck. I can tell you that GMC I had, when driven properly, took corners well enough to scare the snot out of anyone trying to keep up… but it wasn’t sporty. It wasn’t fun in the same way my old GTI was. Getting that Civic Si was testing the waters. Was I ready for a fast car again? Would I respect its capabilities and my abilities? The Si was fun, but reasonable fun.

After a year and a half of driving it, I felt like being a little unreasonable. I felt I was ready to have a little fun. Heck, I’m a bachelor in midlife crisis territory, I was almost obligated to push my limits again. The funny thing here is, as I think I stated in an earlier post, when these 10th generation Civics came out I thought they were completely ridiculous.

As it turns out, I was 100% correct.

Initially I’d considered a Tesla Model 3… but after hearing the various complaints of my peers about their higher end models – I decided to play it safe and wait it out. I don’t doubt at some point in the future I will have an electric car in my driveway, but not yet. I will admit, the 3 is a very well reviewed car, and it seems to have avoided much of what has plagued its older siblings… but I wasn’t ready to be a beta tester.

The thing with the Type-R, it’s a popular car. It’s in demand. As a result, dealerships added markups to them. One dealer in Sussex, NJ had a $5k markup. Middletown Honda had a $1k markup on the car. In the end – both dealers removed the markup to try and get my business. As I didn’t really like the gray, I bet on black, and took a ride up to Middletown on a Tuesday after work.

The black definitely made the car look more subdued…. still ridiculous, but it wasn’t quite as gaudy as the other color options which made all the various details (vents, spoilers, ground effects, etc…) stand out. Looking at it doesn’t do it justice. The moment I sat in that car the dopamine and serotonin spiked in my brain. All my caution went out the window. I flat out wanted this car. I wasn’t hitting my head on the roof, and there were actual BUTTONS on the infotainment screen. I don’t know why but I was really excited by the buttons.

Walk away, Sam. Walk away!

I got a quick quote on my trade-in, then told the salesperson I’d have a decision for them by Friday… and I walked away. In the mean time, as I cooled back down, I made sure I could afford the car. I decided what I would accept for my trade in. I reached out to my insurer to see what it would do to my rates. I planned, I mulled it over, and by the next day I was 83% sure of my decision.

Did I call the dealer? No. Did I rush in the moment I decided? No. I said Friday, and I meant it. The only out at this point was whether they’d give me what I wanted for my trade-in. I did the research, in the condition and with the mileage my car had – the dealership offered me $2k less than what it was worth. So when I came in to buy it, I made it clear that if they gave me what I wanted on my trade, I’d buy the Type-R right there.

So far I’d made sure I could afford the car. I got my OTD quote where they removed the markup and would sell it to me for MSRP plus tax/tags/registration. When I got overly excited at the thought of having it, I walked away. I went in to the dealer knowing exactly what I wanted and settled for nothing less. I negotiated my trade-in and held my ground. I rejected all the add-ons (in this case I made it clear before hand I wasn’t interested) – the only thing they tried was the service contract. Lastly, I made sure to get the best rate possible for financing. I followed each and every one of my rules, and I got my car.

Now there are some caviats to buying a performance car in the winter, in this case it was that the car came with 20″ wheels and high performance summer tires. In warm weather, without copious potholes, I’m sure that combination would be fantastic. Still, I’ve got at least 3 more months of unpredictable winter weather. Winter tires on the 20’s were out of the question. $495 a tire. That tiny sidewall on my roads? Forget it.

Ok, so I decided to go down a size. The last time I did this was on my GTI. I went 2 sizes down with Bridgestone Blizzaks. The soft, squishy sidewalls greatly contributed to me wrecking the thing. I did the research and saw that other Type-R owners ran 18’s, some ran 19’s… I was more comfortable with going down to 19. Prices on the snow tires I liked – Pirelli’s – were decent, but I also have a truck that’s great in the snow.

In the end, I chose 19″ wheels and tires with Continental DWS all seasons. What I lost in grip was gained in lessening the likelihood of ruining the wheels on my car with a pothole… not to mention the new wheel and tire combo was 10lbs less than stock, a performance increase. Of course, the day after I installed them, I nailed a pothole on the way to work and bent one of my brand new wheels.

The tire held pressure, there was no noticable impact on road feel or performance, so I didn’t actually see the bend until I took the car to the car wash. Once the weather warms up enough, and the potholes have been patched, I’ll reinstall my 20’s and get the 19″ wheel repaired. So, what about the car???

The owners manual recommended a 600 mile brake in period, no full throttle acceleration, no heavy braking. No problem. Where with the Golf R, I started having fun early, and even with the Si… I knew to respect the 306 HP here. I fully intend to keep this car for the long haul. I haven’t researched it, but it almost feels like this car was limited up until I hit 600 miles. I mean it was quick, but after the break in period? Ridiculous!

Handling is exquisite. I don’t know what the skid-pad numbers are, but I’m fairly certain this could literally run circles around the Golf R. Very sharp and firm handling, minimal body roll. The suspension firmness, throttle response, and steering / road feel is all adjustable by a switch near the gear shift. To be perfectly honest? Comfort mode is my favorite. How messed up is that?

In comfort mode, throttle response is reduced, suspension is softer, and steering is easy with a more subtle road feel. For general driving around, in comfort mode, this thing is as docile as your plain old ordinary Civic hatchback. By default, it’s in Sport mode which is the happy medium between Comfort and R mode. If I want the firmest suspension, the sharpest steering, and the quickest throttle response, one more flip of that magical switch to R mode, and this docile hatchback turns into an unrepentant beast of a car.

Now one of my favorite websites, Jalopnik.com, had an editor named Doug Demuro. He’s a car guy, does tons of reviews on Youtube. He’s a fairly quirky bloke whom after I viewed his scathing review of the Type-R, I refer to as the “Great Value Jay Leno.” His biggest complaints? The spoiler wobbled when the trunk is closed, and the exhaust had 3 tips. It went downhill from there, even his complements came off as back-handed. This was before I even pondered the idea of getting one of these.

Great Value Jay Leno at work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Jay Leno, I just throw on the Great Value title because IMHO, Demuro in this video comes off as the Walmart store brand of an actual car review. I get it, the design isn’t for everyone – heck, it wasn’t even for me when they first came out, but as much as I hated on it – this was just… Show us where the bad car touched you, Doug!

Back to the car. It is perfectly balanced. Any curve I throw this car into, it hunkers down and pulls me through it. If I need a little more kick, that accelerator is at the ready and the turbocharged 2.0l engine is dumping out peak torque between 2500 and 4500rpm, plant my foot and it will happily launch forward. The acceleration is taking some getting used to. I know how much gas I had to give in my Si to get onto the highway for instance. Same amount of gas in this car, and I’m in “car is going to the impound lot” territory. Respect the accelerator!

Without the moon roof, there’s plenty of headroom up front. No more smacking my head over small bumps. With the front seat set for my well-fed 6’1″ tall frame, I can easily sit in the back seat and have plenty of room. The trunk is massive, and the seats folding down only add to the cavernous amount of space. The seats themselves have more bolstering than the Si, and really hug me every time I get in.

Surfaces are plastic, carbon fiber (can’t tell if its real or plastic), alcantara (think synthetic suede that’s easy to clean), and cloth. Everything is very well put together, and the infotainment is leaps and bounds better than what was offered in 2018. Previously there was no volume knob. Simple climate control options required pressing a button to go to a custom menu. The interface was laggy. All of that has been corrected.

The lighting is fantastic, front and rear LED’s, including the fogs. In my Si, the halogens were simply inadequate for night driving even if the weather was perfectly clear. The LED’s used in this car apparently still get poor reviews from the IIHS, but IMHO – they’re more than adequate. I do miss the way the lamps turned with the steering in my Golf R, but that’s a nice to have more than a necessity.

What else… ah yes, no heated seats. This is the first car I’ve had since my GTI that has not had heated seats. Again – a nice to have, not a necessity. Also gone is the passenger side camera that would activate during right turns – I didn’t really depend on that to begin with. Overall though – this is the best Honda Civic that a driver can get. Docile in Comfort mode, rip snorting front wheel drive demon in R mode. Gas mileage has been between 27 and 29mpg so far which isn’t bad at all.

Every time I look at it, I smile. Even despite the scratches and swirls that I hope to resolve with a detail ones spring arrives. It’s fun to drive, whether I’m commuting, going to the supermarket, or paying my respects to the great driving roads in this area I’m blessed to live in. I’ve said it before – that I hope this will be the car I finally hold on to, and it checks off enough boxes that it just may be.

…and if it’s not, I can always blame my genetic predisposition to loving new cars. πŸ™‚

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Cars – 2008 Chevy Silverado 1500

I tend to repeat myself at times, so I’ve started this post with what I originally wrote back in September of 2019. Since then, this truck has served me well.

With the original repairs out of the way, I buckled down and started to fix the little things that were left to fall apart over its brief, but very busy life.

Door window switches, the turn signal stalk, the airbag sensors, cruise control, shorted headlights, license plate lights, the non functional tailgate latches, climate control, center console latch, door latch linkage… Until a couple weeks ago, the only remaining problems were the missing tire pressure sensors and a chip in the windshield.

Then while I headed over to my parents house for the holidays, the check engine light returned. I swung it around, brought it home, and did a quick diagnosis. Oil pressure sensor signal, and O2 sensor signal. On the chance there was an oil pressure issue I let the truck rest until I had time to take a closer look.

Oil pressure was fine, so all that’s left is the O2 sensor, otherwise it’s running fine. Once the weather gets into the 50’s I’ll swap out the defective sensor in my driveway. I still take it out at least once a week… old trucks need love too. But like I said, it has served me quite well the past several months.

Numerous round trips to Albany to help my friend move back to Warwick, it hummed along on the highway without complaint getting a respectable 20mpg. Not bad for near 200k miles. When another friend’s son needed medication to beat an illness, this truck got me to Warwick, to my friend, and back through one of the worst snow storms in years.

It’s paid off, it’s reliable, and should I need a 4×4, should I need a truck, it’s ready and waiting in my driveway. I’m looking forward to digging into and repairing its faults again when Spring arrives, turning a wrench – especially if its not on my daily driver – always brings both challenge and joy to my day. πŸ™‚

Of course, we’re nearing the end of this series, earlier this month I traded in my 2018 Honda Civic Si for it’s younger, bolder, meaner, beast of a sibling… my 2019 Honda Civic Type-R.

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Cars – 2018 Honda Civic Si

Just kidding. This is a 2015 model.

So my commute changed. I wanted something small and efficient, but fun. The contenders were the Volkswagen GTI, Subaru WRX, Ford Focus ST, or the Honda Civic Si. Now out of all those options, the first 3 were all very similar in size, efficiency, power, and refinement. The Si was my last option, the last to try. At 205 horsepower, the other cars seemed to offer more, and I wasn’t entirely certain i wanted to try a manual transmission again.

I test drove every car in the list. The GTI was great, but the price was a bit higher than I was comfortable spending. The WRX was also an excellent ride, but its automatic was a CVT. For the options I wanted? The price was too high. The Focus ST? Probably the strongest of the 3 as far as power and pricing, but Ford had just decided to discontinue all of its passenger cars in favor of trucks and SUV’s. That left the Si.

I visited Mahwah Honda and got an OTD quote. I also test drove the sedan model. When these 8th generation Civics came out, I openly mocked them. They all looked like what the boy racers drove, and I regularly trounced, when I was younger. Big fake plastic vents. Sharp angles. They looked silly to me. But on that rainy day in September, it really caught my eye. The shifts were smooth. Gating was tight. Power delivery was steady and smooth. Heated seats. Premium stereo. It was the first car in years that honestly reminded me of my old 2005 GTI.

I took the quote and left. I called a dealer closer to home and asked for an OTD cost on a silver coupe (Mahwah only had red sedans). OTD cost was the same, all the options were ticked. No dopamine this time around. No serotonin at play. I had saved enough to put a large down payment on the car so my payments were reasonable (important since I was also paying for the GMC). Middletown Honda hooked me up.

If I had any complaint about this car, it was that I was too tall for it. Unless I adjusted the seat just right, certain bumps would slam my head into the ceiling. Eventually I figured out exactly how to contort so that wasn’t an issue. Plenty of power here. Enough to chirp the tires in 1st and 2nd gear. Average mpg? 40. Heated seats. Plenty of thump from the factory stereo and sub-woofer. Actually one other complaint – the infotainment system was crap.

Both my Golf R and Sierra had a very responsive infotainment screen, volume and climate control knobs and buttons. The Civic Si had a laggy infotainment screen, climate control (besides temperature) was dependant on it, and required pressing a large CLIMATE button to open that screen. Controls on the steering wheel were adequate for audio, but the climate controls were near infuriating. Tack on not being able to disable turn-by-turn directions on the dashboard… that was all very annoying.

But the shifting, oh the shifting. At this point I’d owned 3 manual cars which ranged from functional to absolute CRAP. None of them were joy. Shifting this car? Absolute, unadulterated, pure, blissful joy. Every gear selection was smooth and solid with a satisfying “kathunk” at the climax of each motion. I have never driven a car with a finer transmission. Ever.

The ride, steering, and throttle response could be sharpened by pressing the “sport” button near the shifter. Normally you had a firm – but smooth ride, with perfectly adequate acceleration and control. Put it into sport? The entire dash cluster would turn red. Shock dampers would firm up significantly (still not uncomfortable, but the road feel was glorious). Steering would stiffen. Throttle response increased drastically.

Throwing this car through corners was an absolute pleasure. Power was always on tap, the turbo lag was minimal, and the 1.5 l engine was eager for every single challenge. This car single-handedly restored my joy of driving for the pleasure of driving. Tack on the MPG? It was a perfectly balanced car.

However now that the truck was sold, I had some more options in regard to feeding my automotive demons. I wasn’t about to replace the Si, not yet at least. At this point I’d taken back every bad thing I’d ever said about Honda and the folks who drive them, and decided to start tuning the car. I recall seeing a video online of a guy getting upwards of 400hp out of this little 1.5l motor. I had zero desire to pull that much power out of it, but a little extra kick would be nice.

My first purchase? A Ktuner. The base tune added a significant power bump. The turbo spooled faster, the car launched quicker, the increase in power was undeniable and I hated it. Prior to the tune, it was a perfectly balanced car. After the tune, I just wasn’t enjoying it. I tried adjusting things, lowering the tune, but no – I simply didn’t like that car with a tune on it. It was fine as is… and not to mention, the mpg dropped from about 40 to around 32-34. The tune came off and I put the tuner on a shelf.

Maybe something more subtle. I went online and bought the K&N intake. Now I’d run K&N for years, never had any complaint (even when it revealed the engine issues on my 2000 Intrepid)… Apparently this intake + a tune was a bad combo, but bone stock I hadn’t heard any complaints. I ordered it on Amazon and had it in my greedy little hands the next day.

Yes – I know I forgot to add a strip of insulation to the intake box, I fixed that after I took this photo. After installing the intake, I could hear the turbo pulling air in, I could hear the PSSHT of the recirc valve when I lifted, and boy it woke up that little engine without ruining the balance of the car. My MPG dropped from 40mpg on average to 37mpg. Acceptable. It provided just that little bit of boost (pun intended) that I felt the car was lacking.

Up next, I had to fix one more thing on the car. My final complaint about the 8th gen Honda Civic. The headlights were absolute garbage. Dangerous garbage. My first time driving in the rain, I pulled over and waited for the deluge to clear. My previous two cars had HID headlamps. Bright. White. Illuminating. Going back to halogen was a massive downgrade. I did some research online and wound up replacing both the headlamps and foglamps with LED.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01H6NZ7D8/ – Headlights

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07FVFS328/ – Foglights

Much better.

I’d heard that making this change would blind other drivers. I checked – the stock housings on this car were adequate for this simple mod. Nearly every night I pass at least one person who has installed LED bulbs in a headlamp not designed for them, it might look great for that driver, but I’m either blind or staring at the white line on the shoulder to avoid it. These worked great. Finally I was comfortable driving at night, in the rain, etc… The stock lights were the lowest rating possible from the IIHS, and they weren’t wrong.

Now I only owned this car a year and a half before I upgraded. It wasn’t a fault of the car, life just made things a little more interesting than I had expected. My friends had kids, my ex was back in the picture, and my folks would occasionally need rides. Where my GMC had plenty of room, side rails, and handles to easily haul people around – the Chevy I picked up (in my next post) wasn’t as multi-passenger friendly in less than ideal situations. Squeezing my parents (in their 80s) into the back of the Civic, or my friends and their kids… just didn’t work.

I started looking again. Subaru STI? Golf R with a DSG? Tesla Model 3? Nope, none cut it…. then I sat in a Civic Type R.

But first, I’ve gotta mention my rust bucket!

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Cars – 2017 GMC Sierra 1500

That’s how I remember this truck. Man it was great. Every single option box checked.

You’ll recall how the first new vehicle I ever wanted to buy was a Chevy S10 back in 1998. That truck was also fully loaded and $20k. Things have come a long way in 22 years. That same truck would probably run near $40k today. The price of trucks is ridiculous, isn’t it? These things are where the major automakers rake in the most profit after all. Trucks fund R&D. Trucks allow them to approach other market segments at tighter margins. Trucks allow them to build the efficient cars that lower their average fuel efficiency ratings and build bigger trucks. They market trucks as the American dream.

I’ve always liked trucks, I’ve always wanted a truck, and when I needed a break from the raw performance and horrendous transmission of my Golf R, there was only one route to take. What to pick though? I had absolutely zero brand loyalty. My only restriction? No Dodges. Ram’s looked great, but after my experiences with Dodge vehicles, and seeing enough of them rotting away out from under their owners… I took a hard pass on Dodge.

So I figured I would check Chevy and Ford first. I visited Leo Kaytes in Warwick (Yes, same dealer my Dad sued) and walked the lot for a good 45 minutes. I looked at every truck in my price range, noting the ones that met my requirements – 4×4, heated seats, premium stereo. After 45 minutes of going from truck to truck and not a single salesperson walked out to greet me – I left.

Next stop? Healey Chevrolet. After Country was forced to close (YAY!) it was my only local option. I’d always been partial to Chevy, so I was already leaning in that direction. Again – a solid 45 minutes in the lot. Spotted trucks with the colors and options I wanted, decided which I’d like to try out… Not a single salesperson could be bothered to come outside. Were they all busy making sales? Who knows.

By this point, I had nearly given up but there was one more American option – GMC. I took a ride down to Royal GMC in Sussex, NJ and walked the lot. Within 15 minutes, a salesman came out to offer his help. I test drove a Silverado (same model I have today), test drove a Sierra (not the one I bought), and while it wasn’t a color I was super kean on, I decided to head into the dealership to crunch numbers. I wanted the truck, but I didn’t WANT the truck yet.

We head inside, run some numbers, everything looks good. I head back out with the salesman to check something on it, then on my way back in I see this…

Now the truck I first looked at checked every box. Up until then, I was following my own advice. That truck even had a solid $10k in discounts applied to it. Then I saw this one. Silver. Oof. Dopamine and Serotonin flooded my brain. Halfway through our conversation on the black Sierra, “What about that silver one we just walked past?” Well, no discounts. Extra accessories. Price was $10k higher than the other one.

Sitting down? Monthly payment with my trade-in was $780. Folks, if you aren’t comfortable with the payment you have 2 options. Pay more down, or walk away. Unless you are brand faithful and want a new ride every 2-3 years, don’t lease it. I wanted the truck, I didn’t like the payment, so I leased it. 12k miles a year for a 36 month lease. Payment was now $580, a tick higher than the Golf R. Dopamine. I paid for GAP insurance. Serotonin. I agreed to pay $450 if I didn’t buy the truck or lease a new GMC at the end.

All in all, I could afford it, and planned on buying it at the end of the lease, but this is my 3rd vehicle in 3 years. My current commute involved a 10 minute drive to and from the park and ride, so mileage wasn’t an issue. The parking sensors made it a breeze to park anywhere. Gas mileage was about 23mpg on average. I could control it from my phone. It was great. Honestly, I have absolutely zero complaints about this truck. Had my commute not changed, I’d likely still have it. That’s what happened though. I got a new job, and my two main options were a public parking lot 45 minutes away, or a parking garage the same distance where it was a royal pain to park such a large vehicle.

I decided to get a commuter (that’ll be the next post) and just drive the truck on the weekends. But wait, there’s more. Instead of staying on the lease and getting a commuter, I terminated the lease, and bought the truck (because my mileage was increasing faster than my allotment). When I terminated the lease on my first VW, I called VW, they refinanced the car over the phone and I was good. When I did the same with the GMC, I got a crappy interest rate, paid for gap insurance AGAIN, and oh yeah – had to pay tax on it again. I should have just kept the lease and returned the truck.

Instead, I was now making double payments on the GMC, and driving a new Honda most of the time. I found myself paying upwards of $1500/m on the truck and only adding 300 miles to the odometer per month. Finally one day I had a moment of God given clarity and decided to sell it. Within a week it was gone to a new home, and I was only left with paying for my 2018 Civic Si.

Now while I made decisions I regretted in purchasing the truck, and leasing the truck, and breaking the lease on the truck – that thing was great. Comfortable, great mpg for a truck, plenty of power, plenty of utility – it wouldn’t be my last truck that’s for sure. I simply couldn’t justify spending what I was spending on something I didn’t use enough. I’m glad I made the mistakes I did though, because after 22 years of driving I finally saw the light.

I finally took my own advice… and I bought my first Honda (that didn’t have a cutting deck).

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Cars – 2016 Volkswagen Golf R

I’d mentioned earlier in this series how my favorite car to date was my 2005 Volkswagen GTI. The car was just plain fun, I had a lot of great memories with it, and of all the vehicles I’ve owned in the past 24 years, It stayed in my driveway the longest – 6 years.

My job situation changed. After fighting the idea of working in New York City for YEARS, I finally caved and took a great job in midtown with a great team of people. I was learning again, I was earning again, and for the first time in 6 years – I was completely and utterly debt free.

What ever was I to do?

Buy another Volkswagen, of course!

I absolutely loved this thing from the first moment I sat in it. As the glow of my Subaru’s check engine light began to fade, I sauntered into Jack Daniels Volkswagen. Originally, I had planned on a white Golf R with the DSG (dual-clutch automatic transmission) and a few other fancy features. Again – I ignored my own advice as I laid out in my post about car buying.

What I wound up with was the base model Golf R. All wheel drive, 292 HP, 6-speed manual, leather interior, heated seats, etc… etc… etc… The only options I didn’t have were the parking sensors, adjustable suspension, DSG, and premium stereo. Otherwise, it clicked off every box. Had I heeded my own advice though and walked away, or waited for another DSG model, I’d probably still be driving it.

I loved this thing. LOVED IT. I’d never driven anything with such handling, such power. It took everything I loved about my 2005 GTI and turned it up to 11. Heck, one of the coolest things about it was that turning the steering wheel turned the headlights. I’d never seen things like this before in a car.

Every curve I came to, I threw the car into it faster and faster. There was no end to the available grip and traction. Turns were flat and firm. Acceleration was explosive with minimal lag. Tack on it being a roomy 4-door that got decent gas mileage, this car was nothing but win.

The only problem the car had from my POV was a programming defect. It had a backup camera that intermittently worked. On cars that had the parking sensors, it worked every time, but without them – half the time I put the car in reverse it wouldn’t start. Not a huge deal, a minor annoyance really.

The thing is… I’d never driven anything like this before. My primitive teenage driver mind returned. Where I’d mellowed over years of driving that Subaru and Chrysler, a switch got flipped. Every corner? Full speed. Every red light challenge? Adios! I felt like a kid again. It was great…until.

I was headed to work one morning, and somebody came flying up the onramp. I went to give it some gas so they would have room to merge behind me… Not enough acceleration in 5th gear. I went to shift from 5th to 4th when it happened. I lifted the clutch, the transmission and the engine synced up, the RPM’s rapidly climbed, and the car began to rapidly slow.

I missed a shift.

I’ve never missed a shift before. I’d driven several manual transmission cars over the years and this literally never happened before. I quickly depressed the clutch and shifted back to a higher gear. No lights. No noises. No smoke. The car seemed OK. All day at work I feared getting back to my car and seeing a puddle of oil underneath it… yet I got back to the car and it was fine.

One thing I will say, something I noticed, is that the gating on this car’s transmission was sloppy. Compared to my ’05 GTI, compared to my ’01 Neon, compared to my father’s 94 Ranger. While the car was in gear, that shifter could move around quite a bit. Going from gear to gear, I was no longer sure that it would quietly slide into the correct gear.

On my way home, weeks later, I was behind a slow moving BMW. They were doing 35 in a 55. I pulled out to pass, downshifting to 3rd. After the pass, I went to upshift from 3rd to 4th. I went from 3rd to 2nd. RPM’s climbed. The car slowed. I corrected the missed shift, but it was too late. Lights were blinking. The engine was running, but the power was gone.

I got it home, turned it off, sat for a minute, then started it. It started right up but it sounded different. All the lights were blinking. Was it limp home mode? That’s when a car will shut down certain systems in order to avoid a bigger problem. I cleared the computer and started it back up, same thing. Same errors. Crap. The money shift.

The money shift is a term nobody wants to use. You miss a shift, and spend money to fix it. Worst case scenario here, $7k to install a new engine. Best case, through some miracle, warranty covers it. I call up the dealer, report the problem, and they send a flatbed. I kept my mouth shut about the shift. All I said was the lights came on while I was passing.

The guys on the VWVortex board were relentless. Maybe 1 or 2 members felt bad for me, the rest decided I simply didn’t know how to shift properly, or drive a manual. I kept the details minimal as there was no secret that dealers would watch this message board for guys proudly voiding their warranty. There was even a specific error in the VW computer system for what I did. “MECHANICAL OVERREV – WARRANTY VOID”

Service advisor calls. The engine appears ok, but the rocker arms for the intake valves on cylinders 1 and 4 were no longer on the valves. They were going to have to strip the engine down, replace the broken parts, verify everything was back to OEM spec. He asks me “any chance you missed a shift here?”

I don’t like to lie. Ever. In my youth, my ability to lie well got me out of many tight situations. As an adult, lying requires that you remember the lie lest you be found out. Mark Twain apparently said it best: “If you tell truth you don’t have to remember anything.” I’ve done my best to live by those words.

I began to stutter. A split second before I admitted the truth, that miracle came through, as the service advisor said 2 words… “Say no.”

They had the car for a week. I didn’t bug them once. The repair was covered by the warranty. I went online and researched how to properly shift, how to avoid this. Aluminum shifter bushings. Check. Guide the shifter, don’t grip it and pull. Check.

When I got the car back, I babied it. It took a solid month before I chanced opening up the taps again. When I did, no missed shift. Everything worked. The relief washed over me like a flood… until two weeks later when even using my more relaxed and community approved shifting style, I missed the 3 to 4 shift again. This time I caught it RAPIDLY. The RPM’s never hit the danger zone, but something was definitely wrong.

I went back to babying it, and looked online for the shifter bushings… but by that time the joy of owning this car was gone. I was afraid that I’d either drive it off the road and kill myself with it, or that I’d money shift it again. One day I’m at the gas station, filling up, and checking the oil (which is a good habit to have in general, but these cars burn a quart every 2-3 thousand miles) when I saw it.

A slight glimmer of shiny metal on the dipstick. Sparkles are wonderful things. On a dipstick? Bad. On the dipstick of a car with 15k miles that you’ve money-shifted? Forget it. To this day I say it, had I taken my own advice and opted for the DSG, I’d still be driving that car. It was truly a feat of engineering and the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel.

I needed a break. I needed to take a step back from the speed demon in me and get something responsible. Something fun. A vehicle I was proud to own, proud to drive, and was most of all useful. That’s why I bought my 2017 GMC Sierra. It wasn’t my first choice though…

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Cars – 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser

Going to keep this short and sweet. Through a confluence of events I’ve hinted at through the ownership of my ’89 Chevy and ’09 Subaru… I wound up owning a 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser for a short time.

Don’t hate, you know you thought they were cool for 5 minutes like everyone else.

For all the grief this vehicle got, it was one of the best selling and most reliable Chrysler’s ever built. DaimlerChrysler milked this thing for all it was worth. It had plenty of storage space, adequate power, and handled like a Neon (read: not awful).

Even without regular maintenance until I took over caring for it, the thing started every time we turned the key. At around 120k, I installed a new timing belt, water pump, plugs, wires, valve cover gasket, etc… Oil changes, transmission services, regular maintenance the car just worked.

The only defects I hit towards the end of its life – the A/C condenser failed, the ABS failed due to some sort of ring falling off the CV joint, and one of the rear brake mounts snapped because someone (me) attempted a J-Turn.

More than once I found myself pulling all the seats out to stuff an obscene amount of cargo into it…. Would I have bought one on my own? Probably not. For a small family with limited funds though? You couldn’t ask for something better or more affordable at the time.

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