Why is it that the massive disasters strike just when it's most inconvenient? And is there any way I can blame Isabel the Ghost for this?

Look, we don't have huge amounts of money. We manage to keep our heads above water by dogpaddling really really fast. We put a bit of our paychecks aside each week into two funds: one for Christmas, and one for "vacation."

Now, "vacation" is a malleable concept. This year, "vacation" meant the Fourth of July in Memphis, which allowed Boy to see his father and allowed us to pick up Stepson for his summer visit. That put two teenage boys in the house (milk count: nine gallons in six days) and the costs of two outings: a day at the St. Louis Science Center for Jim to do the male bonding thing over the robots exhibit - pout, I had to work - and our annual sojourn to Six Flags. This is why we are both sunburned within an inch of our lives.

It was a crazy, loud, fun week, and that our savings were pretty well depleted. Because that's what happens on "vacation." That's why we saved up for it.

Maybe that's why she did it. Isabel doesn't like it when things get a little rowdy in the house. The number of things that mysteriously busted or went missing during the wedding shenanigans was significant. Maybe that's why we came home after all four of us were gone at Six Flags on Saturday and found all the cereal boxes spilled onto the floor.

But Isabel has left the car alone for quite some time. Sure, she liked to break the old Toyota. And she mercilessly busted the inner workings of Jim's Suzuki. I mean, making it blow up two months after we paid it off? She's lucky I didn't call the Exorcist right then.

Why not mess with Ariane the Honda Fit? Well, Ariane is only 18 months old, and she's under warranty. Why break something that won't be expensive to fix, right? Even if we weren't a one-car family?

Damn ghost.

On Sunday, Boy departed for a week at Scout Camp, and Jim and I went on a nine-hour round-trip drive to Blytheville, Ark. to return Stepson to his mother. Our schedule was very tight; we had exactly enough time to drive from Edwardsville to Blytheville and back before Jim had to be at work. But shortly before we reached Blytheville, we heard a weird rattling sound on the passenger side of the car.

At first we imagined we'd picked up a plastic bag or something. Twice we stopped to investigate, to figure out what it was. It wasn't until we actually reached Blytheville and took another look that we found the long, thin rope of rubber unspooling off the front passenger tire.

Well, that's not good.

I drive a lot, but I take care of my car. I've taken it in for regular maintenance. When the dealership changed the oil in January, the tires were checked at 6/32, which is well within limits. Who has tires go bald in 18 months? Me and Dale Earnhart Jr., it seems.

We were 200 miles from home, and the spare in the trunk is your typical 50-mile doughnut. I walked over to the Blytheville Wal-mart, but they told me they did not carry tires for the Honda Fit. (This turned out to be surprisingly common. Apparently I will always have to special-order my tires. What the hell, tire industry, this isn't a Delorean. It's an itty bitty Honda.)

After much nail-biting, Jim and I decided to risk driving home on the bad tire. We bought a pair of snippers at the Wal-mart and cut off the rubber rope. It's not a good sign when a tire starts shedding, but the car wasn't giving us a low-pressure warning. I kept it under 65 and stayed in the right lane as much as possible, so I'd have somewhere to go if the tire went. Jim still managed to sleep most of the way home.

The next day, I called the dealership, which up until now had been getting incredibly high marks from me. They informed me that the tires were not covered under bumper to bumper (um, aren't they within the bumpers?) and I needed to contact the manufacturer. Well, that's funny, because the warranty info in my glove compartment was for Goodyear tires, but the tires themselves say Dunlap. Wait, does Goodyear make Dunlap? Well, they have different phone numbers and websites, but whatever.

Dunlap instructed me to have them inspected at a Dunlap tire dealership, of which I had two choices: one where I'd had a bad experience in the past and one I'd never used. I went to the latter on my lunch break. Inspection said there was no tread left on the tires. Thanks, I knew that. But it happened at less than half the mileage supposedly guaranteed by the manufacturer - wait, but if the tread is gone, there's nothing they can do? Even if they were supposedly guaranteed to 60k miles?

Tire Place No. 1 gave me a quote that made my heart stop. I determined to hit Firestone after work. A very dear friend once gave me a full set of Firestone tires with a full warranty and lifelong alignment as a gift, and I was very pleased with them. Besides, the alternative was Sam's Club, and I've seen what they call warranties.

Firestone Guy told me my dealership really should've owned up to some of their responsibility. The tires disintegrated off the car in 18 months, and even with my heavy driving, that's way too fast. What were they made of, Play-doh?

He gave me a bunch of discounts on my quote. Then I got to use the age-old escape clause: "Thanks, I'll be in touch after I discuss it with my husband." It's so much easier than the fallback for the single woman, "I'll have to think about that." That always seems to be an invitation for the hard sell. No one ever questions that I need to talk it over with The Man first.

(That bothered Jim, by the way. I told him I actually wasn't just using him to avoid a high-pressure sales pitch. When you start talking triple-digit purchases, we had best discuss it. We are a team, and it's his money too.)

The vote was to get the good tires, with the warranty, and spring for the lifetime alignment. It's the only car we have, and we're paying on it until 2019 kicks over to 2020. No skimping.

However, Memphis followed by feeding two 16-year-old boys followed by the Science Center and Six Flags means the savings account has less than half the cost of four new tires. Thus the emergency well of the 401(k) comes in, which I swore we wouldn't do again, but we're kind of up the creek. That tire's going to blow any moment now, and I am allergic to crashes.

Dear Isabel: Next time, could you save the Stupidly Expensive Thing for when we've just gotten our tax return and it won't hurt as much? Thanks.

So I'm tired, not just from recovering from a very long, exhausting week of travel-work-wrangle teens-work-theme park-travel, but from having to write a very nasty check tomorrow* when my tires come in. (Seriously: Still not a Delorean.)

If you're so inclined, this would be an amazing time to buy Gethsemane or Infinity. Or, y'know, any of my books. I was thinking about writing a quick short story about a possessed car, but then I remembered that Infinity already has a car for a character.

Because in two weeks, it's time to register Boy for his junior (!!) year of high school ($250) and shortly thereafter it's time for the ACT class ($125) and driver's ed ($250!!) and this is, of course, the month to renew the car registration ($101). The electric company tripled our bill last month, and once Boy finishes driver's ed, he gets his full license and my car insurance doubles.

We seriously need to sell more books.

Um, yesterday.

* Read: Today. Standard disclaimer for those who still don't get it: I write these at night and time them for when sane people are online. Yawn.


  1. How does a public school charge for registration? ACT prep can be done online for free. And don't get him licensed while he lives at home. Only one of our kids had a license before she moved out, and dear bird I swore never again.

  2. $100 textbook fee. $100 fine arts participation fee. Thank Zod he doesn't play sports. As far as the rest... no, he needs an actual prep class, his ADHD requires one-on-one assistance. And Illinois only lets you spend two years with a learner's permit before you have to move forward; he's already had it a year.

  3. Woops, I left off the mandatory fees for gym uniform, etc.... Yeah, I thought it was free, too.

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  5. Just because the boy is 16 doesn't mean he needs to be licensed. I didn't license any of my kids until 18 because I didn't want them to have the hassle of a graduated license, and because they didn't need to be driving, and because, I couldn't afford the insurance. Make him wait. You only have one car, you don't need three drivers.

    Also, I'm wondering if you still didn't get ripped off on the tires...you don't say how much you paid, but the fat-ass tires for my Corolla are about $240 for a set of four, and my husband's even smaller tires are even cheaper. The Fit has a 13 inch tire, so it should be cheap.

  6. I went through about 20 learner permits between age 15.5 and age 18 (when i finally managed my license) Missouri was in a phase where they were only good for 30 or 60 or 90 days, (I forget) sometimes six months, if you got them on the right phase of the moon at 12:37 on a Tuesday. Mine expired more times than I can count.

    And wow...
    We pay a $10 locker fee. Of course, we have to cover all the graduation stuff this year. AUGH!

  7. Yeah Illinois school sound really expensive and it's public school! My kids were all almost 18 when they go their license too and they pay their part of the insurance. They also pay for their own entertianment and gas! My husband tells me I am soft on my kids but I do try to help when and where I can but like you - don't have a lot of extra cash just laying around. It may be tough on him but he can get a job to pay for some of his own stuff now. 15 with parental permission is allowed.
    I'm glad you didn't go with the Wally World tires - they have recently come out with the fact that they don't honor their warrenties either. It does sound like you got screwed on the tires by the dealership.


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