Happy New Year 2020

Here we are at the beginning of 2020, a number I surely gave no thought to whatsoever a few decades back. But then I never expected to end up in Texas when I was growing up in Wisconsin and Florida, and I’ve been here since 1976.

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In 2019, alas, I read less, wrote no fiction, gained a few pounds, and my house is still cluttered. On the other hand, I spent a lot of fun time with a group of friends known as the Lunch Bunch (and we also like to shop), I made it to three writing retreat weekends with friends Gerry Bartlett, Jo Anne Banker, and Nina Bangs (we talked plot and writing, judged contest entries, and read, but there were also restaurants and shopping on the agenda) and took a wonderful trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Wine and Chile Fiesta (talk about restaurants and shops!).

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Back home, I replaced my faithful but disintegrating (at 252,400 miles) 2004 Corolla with a 2020 Corolla XLE, with all sorts of bells, whistles, and modern technology that I’m still getting used to (how did I ever drive without a back up camera and blind spot monitors?) I still find it amazing to start my car by pushing a button.

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Buying a car made the cost of replacing my almost-ten-year-old computer seem negligible, so I finally took that plunge. Well, I had to—the old one simply died. (Back up your files, friends, back up your files. I knew that computer was failing, and my flash drive was up to date.) True to my buying habits, I replaced my old HP (my second—the first one lasted about seven years) with a new HP, but this time I bought an all-in-one computer with wireless mouse and keyboard, and a new wireless printer/scanner. The lack of cables is a wonderful thing. I bought a couple of books (surprise!) on Windows 10 and Office 365, but I’ve rarely needed to look at them. Both programs have some odd quirks, coming as I did from Windows 7 and Office 2007, but we’ve been using the newer software at work for about a year and a half. (Yes, I’m still working at the Scorekeeper, but only three days a week.)

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Reading in 2019: Fewer books and, according to Goodreads, fewer pages. My original Goodreads Challenge target was 60 books, but a few weeks ago I felt stressed and lowered it to 52. One book a week! There was a time, long ago, when I read a book a day, but I wasn’t doing much else back then. As it happened, I did hit 60 books (finishing the last one on New Year’s Eve) and 14,387 pages. Also according to Goodreads, the most popular book I read was The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (and it was terrific). (Feel free to join me on Goodreads—I’m the Kay Hudson in Seabrook, TX.)

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I have, at last count, 710 books in my Amazon cloud. In 2019 I actually read 48 of them, along with 12 paper books (six of those in series I have been reading on paper for years). That brings my ever-increasing ebook reading up to 80 percent. That does not explain the stack of unread paper books on the coffee table or the shelf over my bed (but I did recently buy a new bedroom lamp that makes reading on paper in bed a lot more comfortable). And I wouldn’t even guess at the number of books, read or not, around my house. (A few trips to Half Price Books are probably in order.)

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In 2019 I read ten romances by seven authors (including two each by Gerry Bartlett, Cheryl Bolen, and AE Jones), 26 mysteries (more than one each by Waverly Curtis, Robert Goldsborough, David Handler, Diane Kelly, and Kate Parker), only two science fiction novels (both old, neither living up to their reputations), six mainstream (or otherwise out of the box) novels, and sixteen nonfiction books (ranging from books on words and writing, through true crime and memoirs by Leah Remini and Kate Mulgrew, to 19th century female balloonists and the history of air conditioning).

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I haven’t bought any books today, but it’s still early afternoon, and the Amazon Prime first reads email is waiting for me. I don’t think I’ll run out of reading material any time soon.

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Happy New Year, and Happy Reading.

A Visit to the DPS, or Really, I’m a Citizen!

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from the Texas Department of Public Safety reminding me that my driver’s license will expire on my birthday next month. And that I would have to renew in person, since I renewed on line in 2013. And that I would have to provide my birth certificate.

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Really? I’ve been a licensed driver and registered voter in Texas for more than forty years (and in Louisiana and Florida before that). Surely the state of Texas knows I’m a citizen. But apparently the TSA doesn’t, and Texas is bringing its driver’s license policy in line with TSA to give us the ID we’ll need to get on an airplane in the future.

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When I mentioned this on Facebook, I heard from lots of friends who’d renewed recently. Some had showed up without a birth certificate and been sent away to find one. Someone was asked for her car title (complete nonsense—you don’t need to own a car to get a driver’s license). The letter also asked for proof of social security number, or of “lawful presence” if not a citizen.

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So I went on line to see the list of acceptable documents. I don’t have a passport (I had one, never used it, and it expired long ago), but I do have my birth certificate, a social security card showing my maiden and married names, and of course my current driver’s license.

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But just in case, I stuffed an envelope with everything I could think of: proof of insurance, car title, voter registration, etc., to take with me. I filled out the application on line and printed it—not only saves time, but it’s a whole lot easier to read. I looked up the nearest DPS office, which has moved since the last time I needed to go there. I read some of the hundreds of on line reviews of the facility.

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The reviews that were good emphasized two things: make an “get in line on line” appointment, and allow time to find a parking space. So this morning about 8:15 I went to the appointment web page, gave it my cell phone number, and it gave me a “approximate service time” of 10:41 AM.

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The office (the Southeast Houston MegaCenter) is about half an hour from my house, so I left about 9:40, got there about 10:10, and spent almost ten minutes cruising the parking lot. When I spotted two women who appeared to be headed for a car, I followed them and snagged their parking space. Apparently when the DPS built the MegaCenter (which truly is mega in its dimensions) they forgot that most of the people wanting to apply for or renew a driver’s license would be arriving in cars.

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I checked in at 10:18. There was a vast area filled with people sitting in chairs, waiting, but I was given a numbered slip of paper and directed to a short row of seats along one wall. A few minutes later one of the nearby clerks (there are a huge number of stations) called my number and I was on my way.

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I handed my application and my current license to the clerk, who was friendly and professional, and she asked for my birth certificate, which she carefully put in a plastic sleeve before running it through her scanner. She didn’t ask for any other papers, just my signature (on one of those electronic gizmos that produce a signature I hope my bank would never accept), my thumb prints, a quick eye test (with glasses on, read row 4), and a photo (with glasses off, no one would ever recognize me, but glasses throw off the facial recognition software we’ve been hearing so much about lately).

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I paid with my debit card, collected my temporary license, receipt, and birth certificate, and got my current license back with one corner snipped off (like a feral cat neutered and returned to the street!), and I was out of there at 10:34, before my actual appointment time.

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Moral of this story, in Texas or, I suspect, anywhere else: bring everything you need, fill out the paperwork on line if you can, and if the location offers it, “get in line on line” before you go.

Changing Cars

About three weeks ago, the check engine light in my car came on. Again. My faithful 2004 Corolla was going downhill, and I knew it. Over the last few months I’d had to replace the starter and the oxygen sensor and clean the gas tank. The rear fender was scraped, the windshield was cracked, and another wheel cover had disappeared (number nine, I think). In February I had to buy a set of new tires.

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So when the check engine light popped on again as I drove home on I69 on Friday afternoon, I wasn’t terribly surprised. Annoyed, but not surprised. It wasn’t blinking, so I wasn’t panicking. The next Monday I stopped by Mac Haik Toyota (an adventure in itself, given the condition of the I45 access road in League City) and told a service rep about my problem. They were backed up, so I made an appointment to bring the car in on Friday morning.

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The check engine light stayed on, and by Thursday the oil light was blinking now and then when I hit the brake, so I was happy to make it back to the dealership. Not so happy when Janie Elizondo, my favorite service advisor, gave me the diagnosis. The engine light was signaling that the fuel injectors were failing. And the excessive oil burning gave rise to talk about engine block replacement.

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Nope. No fuel injectors, no engine block. It was time for that new car I’ve been planning for over the last couple of years. Even a Corolla won’t last forever.

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So Janie called her favorite salesperson, Dawn Riddle, and I headed over to the sales floor, a place I hadn’t been since I bought my old car there fifteen years ago (it was Star Toyota back then; the name has changed, but most of the staff remains).

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It never occurred to me to buy anything but another Corolla. When you have a car that serves you well for fifteen years and 252,408 miles, there’s really not much reason to change brands. But, my goodness, how much the cars have changed!

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Dawn showed me around, gave me a brochure, and gave me some idea of what I was looking at. Back in 2004, there were two, maybe three “trims” of Corollas, and I headed straight for the lowest price; I had no money to speak of and wasn’t even sure I could get a car loan, having only recently gone back to work. But my Ford was dying under me (after a mere 80,000 miles), and I needed a car.

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Now there are six “trims” for 2020 Corollas (plus a hybrid version—and who knew the 2020 models would be out in June?), so the decision required a bit more thought (and a lot more money). I left with my head spinning and joined my friend Gerry Bartlett for lunch. Gerry, who drives a newish Nissan Rogue, has been telling me for over a year that I need a new car with all the modern safety features, including the Blind Spot Monitor. And I wanted wheels that didn’t have removable wheel covers.

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After lunch and a couple of errands, Gerry drove me back to Toyota, and we took a test drive. And of course I fell in love. More looking at features finally narrowed the choice down to the XLE—everything I wanted and then some (the S series has more horsepower, larger wheels, and a sportier interior, none of which matter to me).

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So when I got home I phoned Dawn and told her I wanted an XLE, but not one of the pearl white ones they had on the lot. After driving a silver sedan for fifteen years, I wanted something different. I wanted the blue-gray color Toyota calls celestite. And Dawn said she’d find me one.

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I didn’t hear from her over the weekend, but on Monday morning, just in case, I took my car title and my checkbook along when I went to have lunch with Gerry. And while we were eating, Dawn texted me: We’ve got your car.

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Even without financing I spent three hours at the dealership, and I must have signed about 43 pieces of paper. I had removed most of the contents from my old car over the weekend, and what was left was easily transfered to the new one. Then Dawn gave me a quick tour of the current state of automotive controls. Before I really knew what I was doing, I was giving Gerry a ride in my new car.

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Driving the car is no problem. The next morning I was on the freeway on my way to work. It’s getting used to all the modern conveniences. Keyless entry, pushbutton ignition. Finding the controls to adjust the mirrors (and figuring out that the rear view mirror adjusts by hand, the old fashioned way). It took me two days to figure out how to program the radio (wonderful HD radio for the local stations, and a three month trial of SiriusXM). Figuring out the door locks. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t lock the trunk until I realized it was sensing the fob in my purse. All those controls on the steering wheel. A whole new set of dashboard symbols. No mechanical parking brake. The back up camera (wait a minute, which way do I turn the wheel?). Tinted windows. And I love the Blind Spot Monitors.

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The main manual (there are several, including a quick reference guide) is over 550 pages long—the collection (in its own plastic tote) looks like what used to come with a computer, back in the 1980s.

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In fact I feel like I’m driving a computer, and I still have a few things to figure out, but I love it. I hope we have another fifteen years together. Maybe by the next time I need a car, all the cars will be driving themselves.

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