July 5th, 2006

#111: Looks Like I Need a New Cell Phone

My Nokia got wet. It's been wet before. The thing that annoys me the most is that I made a call on it, thinking it was dry, and it worked fine. But that was the last call I think that phone will ever make.

In November of 2002, I was preparing for a trip to, well, here, in order to have Thanksgiving dinner with my parents.

I didn't want my parents to know I had the '85 Fiero, yet. I'd bought it in May, and it was paid for. My purchase had been fueled, in part, by my belief that I ought to have a backup vehicle. In May of 2002, I had been laid off from my relatively high-paying technical writing job for seven months and was expecting to find a new job very soon. Well, that optimism had turned out to be overly optimistic; by the week of Thanksgiving in November, 2002, I had been unemployed for 13 months.

The Escort (the green one) had not had several maintenance items done for some time, so that Monday I took it to the shop to have them done--an alignment, tires rotated and balanced, etc--and the shop showed me that the rear springs were broken. They offered to replace springs and struts for some sum of money, but I decided to do the replacing myself. I had all of Tuesday to accomplish the task, and then I could get the alignment done Wednesday morning before leaving for Illinois.

Tuesday I went and bought the parts--new springs, new struts--and took advantage of AutoZone's tool loan program to borrow a strut spring compressor. I started with the left side, and it took just about forever. I had never replaced a spring or a Macpherson strut before, so I had to follow the manual and learn as I went. That wasn't a problem for me--about 90% of my mechanical skills are self-taught--but it takes longer that way.

I got the needed parts off the old assembly, and reassembled the whole thing, and got the upper mount bolted into the car...but I simply could not get the lower bolt holes to line up; the assembly was about 3/4 inch too long.

It was very late, I was tired, and couldn't think straight. The first strut had taken me at least two hours to do; how long would the second take? I had to get the left side put together before I could take the right side apart.

As an aside, let me add that I was working off the floor of my garage. I didn't have any kind of workbench, and when you do strut work you really need to have a vise and a workbench to bolt it to. I had neither.

So, I gave up. Wednesday morning I prepped the Fiero for the trip, and then went to Best Buy for a "pay as you go" cell phone. I had only had the Fiero for six months; I had no idea if it could make a 250-mile trip--but the Escort was currently undrivable and if I wanted to be there for Thanksgiving, I'd have to drive the Fiero.

That was how I got my Nokia. I've had it for almost four years and it's been perfectly acceptable; I'm one of those people who buys a cell phone to make the occasional phone call with. I don't buy it to take pictures, send e-mail, play music, play games, or use as a walkie-talkie. If I have a choice between the fanciest cell phone costing hundreds of dollars with a "required service commitment", or a $30 phone which is two or three technology generations old, I'll take the latter. I don't buy a phone for its coolness or its ability to serve as a fashion accessory. I don't care if its display is color or if I can download ringtones to it. I buy it for its efficiency as a communications device.

My TracFone cost $70 to buy, and then I bought an airtime card. From that point onward I had to spend on the order of $15 per month in airtime cards to keep the phone active. I never used all the minutes I accumulated, and they roll over, so I don't think I ever had less than two hours of talk time on that phone, even when I was using it a lot. The per-minute cost was rather high (on the order of $0.41 per minute) but on a month-to-month basis it was costing me around $0.50 per day to have a phone which would work anywhere in the United States.

That is cost-efficiency.

As for the Escort, it turned out that I had a jack stand in the wrong place. When I got back to work on the car the next week, I jacked the car up, moved the jack stand towards the center of the car about 2 inches, and was then able to move the control arm far down enough to slide the bolts in. And the right side took about 1/3 the time that the left side had taken.