The $25 car repair

What is it about cars? From used car salesmen, to shady repair shops, they just seem to attract unsavory characters. I have a couple of horror stories (some even documented on this blog), and I’m sure you do too. Quite frankly, the negative experiences FAR, FAR out-weigh the positive experiences.

So when I do get a positive experience, I am more than happy to crow about it.

Turns out I had just such an experience with Aspen Auto Body. Remember that enormous scratch I put down the side of my car the other day? They fixed it. For TWENTY FIVE BUCKS.

I had some vague notions of buying the paint and trying to touch it up myself. The paint was about $10, and from what I read online people were saying like $700 for a shop to fix something like that (apparently they just replace the whole panel these days rather than repair them, and this was across both doors). So it seemed like I had little to lose. However, the car has to be warm for the paint to take which was a bit of a problem (I don’t have a garage), and after watching a few tutorials on youtube, I was worried it was going to be a bit more painstaking than I was willing to spend. Most recommend dabbing the paint on with a toothpick. Did I mention this was an enormous scratch?

Worse, while I dithered around trying to make a decision, it started to rust (in about a week…yay Chicago winter!). So now I would need to sand it, etc.

I decided to get an estimate, just to make see where I was at. Fortunately, I don’t have a “usual” body shop, so Aspen was referred to me. It was very close by work, tucked away on a little access road where you would never find it. I ran it over for an estimate.

“If there’s a cheap way to fix it and an expensive way, I’d go for the cheap way,” I ventured.
“Oh, in that case, we could just touch it up,” he said. “Maybe $30?”
“Thirty?” I repeated in disbelief, thinking maybe I’d misheard. “Thirty dollars?”

I honestly thought he’d laugh at me and say, “Thirty THOUSAND you idiot.” Repair shops around here usually charge something like $90 an hour. I can’t even get an estimate for $30. I’m lucky to get a haircut for $30.

The place was very low key, but by god if they didn’t fix it for $25. I paid cash. And it looks great! You can see the paint if you get close, but from a distance it’s pretty unnoticable. It’s *certainly* a lot better than I would have done, and the paint itself was $10, so they only charged me $15 in labor. $15!

Fast, cheap, and high quality to boot. Best $15 I ever spent.

The Distant Architect

A fellow writer and Chicagoan (and *most* importantly, reader of this blog) Clara Alcott, is currently running a Kickstarter to fund her “Science Fiction Noir” film, The Distant Architect.

The Distant Architect centers on a young architect named Karen who begins to question what she knows about herself and her body. Are there parts of her that are cybernetic? Does it matter? Can she still be considered a “normal woman”?

If you watch the preview, you’ll see Chicago all over this thing.

The real reason I think you should back this, however, is because they have the cutest reward ever: at the $35 level, Clara’s dad will bake you a cake. This is not just any cake, however. This is his special white chocolate cake he makes for special occasions. How cute is that? Not to mention the fact that $35 for a cake, a DVD of the movie, and a pass to the screening (if you live in Chicago) is a pretty sweet deal (no pun intended).

They only have until Saturday to reach their goal, so if you like Indie cinema, Science Fiction/Noir, or helping artists, drop them a dime over at Kickstarter, or help spread the word.

Football Panic!

Football season is upon us (as in, tomorrow!), and I totally forgot that I have no way to watch football this year!

My football watching has slowly been declining for years. With the kids, I don’t have time to watch football just to watch football, so my viewership was already down to basically just watching Packers games after the kids were in bed.

As if that weren’t enough, we got rid of cable, which meant I was missing a significant number of games. For example, I couldn’t watch any Packers games on Monday night, Thursday night, or any time they were playing at the same time as the Bears. We also downgraded to a tiny tv that was too small to see the scoreboard or time left on the clock.

As if THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH, if you recall, we lost our Tivo last year. At that point, we just got rid of our tv altogether. The experience was getting pretty shoddy to begin with, and who arranges their lives around the tv schedule anymore? If I can’t watch it when I want to, then I probably just won’t watch it. These days, we mostly watch Netflix on the tablet if we’re going to watch anything.

But what about football? I mean sure, I was missing a lot of games and all, but to not watch any at all?

I had some half-baked, cockamimi plan to get the tiny tv up and then buy a VCR from Goodwill and set that up to record. That used to be a thing, right? We used to do that? (Make sure you use SLP mode if you want to fit the whole game on one tape, kids!)

The advantage is that I think it would be a relatively cheap solution. I can’t justify getting cable (much less paying $250 for NFL Sunday Ticket) just for a couple of football games. Even so, this wasn’t the best solution in the world, since I would still have my tiny tv, and still miss all of those games (not to mention having to program a VCR every week).

Well, I think I have found my solution.

It turns out that the NFL offers something called Game Rewind, which allows you to watch every game after it is played. The cheapest package allows you to pick just one team (so you’d pick the Packers, natch) for only $30 for a whole year.

So not only does that allow me to see every game, even the Monday and Thursday games, commercial free (!) for only $30, it also allows me to watch them in HD on the tablet. Furthermore, they offer “condensed games”, that only show the part of the game from “snap to whistle”, cutting out all the commercials and commentary and reducing the game down to 30 minutes.

This has got to be the best value for your $30 ever.

The downside, of course, is that you can’t watch the games live. However, I already basically gave that up a long time ago. So this doesn’t seem like as big of a downside to me as it would have a few years ago, before I had kids.

Now I just have to decide if I’m going to continue trying to stay in a cone of silence until I watch the game, or if I’m just going to bite the bullet and see who won, knowing that it’s nearly impossible to prevent myself from knowing the outcome anyway.

Welcome to Night Vale

I listen to a lot of audio fiction, and there is no podcast bigger right now than Welcome to Night Vale. Clearly the rest of the world doesn’t need me to tell them about Night Vale (since they’re, yanno, more downloaded than This American Life). But too bad, I’m going to tell you about them anyway.

Welcome to Night Vale is the greatest thing of all time, ever. FACT.

I actually learned about Night Vale first by following them on twitter. They would just send these random, awesomely strange tweets, such as:


Most of the fiction podcasts I listen to follow the same formula: host intro, short story, host outtro. Night Vale is…something different. It’s more like an old radio show, where each episode builds into the next one. The writing is stellar. Anything mentioned in an episode is highly likely to show up again and again in subsequent episodes.

Night Vale is an interesting place. It’s sort of like every episode of the X-Files were true, and everybody knew it, so it wasn’t even worth remarking upon. It’s Orwell meets Lovecraft, and your host Cecil just reports on the daily ins and outs, traffic reports, weather reports, and community calendar. There are Vague, Yet Menacing, Government Agencies, secret police, Lovecraftian hooded figures on the city council, angels, a literal five headed dragon running for mayor, and sentient glowing clouds.

In their own words:

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.

Turn on your radio and hide.

Thank god for Night Vale community radio. How else would we know the dangers of the summer reading program? Who else would inform us on the awful goings on in Desert Bluffs? Remind us not to go to (or think about) the dog park?  How would we know where to hide on street cleaning day?

My favorite parts are the ads. Just to give you a taste:

You cannot see.
You grope around wildly as your footing is also unstable.
You feel a thin liquid filling in your shoes.
It is not water, you can tell.
A pungent smell of brine or anxiety. Your hand strikes something solid – a wall, you think. It is soft, leathery, but also wet. You keep your hands to the surface and it’s moving in and out, like it is breathing. No. More like spasms.
You hear a dull rumble from above, a gurgle from below, you still see nothing. The walls jerk back quickly, you lose your balance and slide down to the floor which is the same surface, but now the liquid is sloshing past you, something grabs your leg. Something is grabbing your leg, you are being pulled down you cannot see which way madness. Which way madness. You scream but no sound comes from your stubborn lips, your impudent throat. You reach. For what, you do not know, only that you reach. A blinding flash. A moment of understanding. You are in an empty store room, tied to a chair.
There are others, but they are hooded and limp. You recall this living nightmare, you take comfort in its familiar pain. You smell fermentation and can hear a dull unending beeping. Someone shouts in a language you do not know.You love your family. You. Love. Them.
Welcome to Red Lobster.
Come see what’s fresh today!

And, one for Subway:

A thousand ways in, no way out. Eat fresh. Eat so terribly, terribly fresh. Terribly, awesomely, gruesomely, terrifyingly fresh.

And finally:

Got a home improvement project? Need help?
Having feelings? Strange feelings? Feelings you’ve never felt?
Is your body filled with hot blood, waving curves of sinew, and skin? Can you feel all that blood? Is it even your blood? How can you be sure?
Are you dizzy from it all, all of this? What are your hands doing?
Where are your hands now? Where have they been? Where are they going? Where are you going?
Have you ever broken the surface of something with a hammer? Ever channeled sublime thought into sandpaper? Ever wanted to touch something because you feel things, because touch is the only sense you trust?
What is trust? Is making a thing proof that you exist? Is fixing a thing proof that you have transcended mortality? History?
Feel things? Feel things?
You can do it. We can help. The Home Depot.

Ollie and the Water Slide

We recently bought a Groupon for a night at one of the indoor waterparks in Wisconsin (Timber Ridge). We’ve been meaning to check one of these places out as a sort of reward to Evie for doing so well at swim class, and Timber Ridge was sort of the perfect place for us.

I would say it is definitely geared towards a younger audience, which was just perfect. It was small enough that it wasn’t overwhelming, but big enough that we didn’t get bored. Sara and I would split up with the kids quite a bit, and it was never difficult to find each other. You can go to the water park before you check in and after you check out, so one night was really the most we needed to do. Any more than that and maybe we would have gotten bored with it. The room was perfect too, because it had a separate bedroom (so we didn’t have to go to bed when the kids went to bed) and a kitchen (so we could bring all of our food and not eat out the whole time).

Our kids are just not the kind of kids who like to jump in the water and splash. They are both pretty adverse to getting their faces wet. Thanks to swim class Evie has come a long way, but it’s just time to admit that she’s never going to be a water rat like me. So I kind of figured they’d stay in the kiddie area, maybe just sort of sit around. Like I said, they’re pretty calm in the water, and they especially don’t like to be around people who are splashing. Evie mostly just likes the lazy river. (“It’s so much calmer over here,” she confided with a sigh.)

Almost as soon as we stepped in the door Ollie pointed to the big green slide up near the ceiling and said, “I want to go on that.”

(Hard to see, but it’s the one on the right)

On one hand, I was thrilled. There is nothing I love more than a good waterslide, and it didn’t much seem like the kids were ever going to want to go to Noah’s Ark with me. On the other hand, I was a little nervous for him. This is a pretty big slide. Ollie’s such an easy going, shy little guy; neither of the kids are really risk takers. But he insisted, so up we went.

When we got to the top and I could see the first steep hill, I was saying things like, “Now buddy, remember that this might be a little scary, but everything’s okay and daddy will be with you…” I needn’t have worried. “Let’s do that again!” he said as soon as we got to the bottom.

This boy was relentless. Up and down, as fast as he could climb the stairs. Sara and I alternated with him, and we counted that he went 15 times the first day. That’s over 1,000 stairs! And he would have kept going too, even though he was so tired he could hardly walk.

Evie, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the slide. Even Ollie having such a great time couldn’t convince her. Finally, Sara offered enough of a bribe to convince her (“You can stay up until 7:15 tonight!”) and she gave it a go.

She was shaking pretty bad when she got to the top of the slide but, to her credit, she didn’t say anything about it or try to back out at the last minute. And of course, after the first time she had the time of her life and insisted on going down as many times as Ollie after that. By the end she was even putting her hands up the whole time and asking the guy at the top to give us a push so we could go faster.

I only really have one complaint to level at Timber Ridge and that is there weren’t enough kiddie rafts. Some of the rafts had a seat in the front instead of a second hole, and with so many kids under 6 there, these rafts were worth more than gold. Ollie really couldn’t go down the slide without one, and sometimes we had to wait for a long, long time trying to get one of the few rafts with a seat. And once you did manage to land one you felt pretty bad since everybody kept asking you, “Are you still using that?” It all worked out in the end, but a significant portion of our day was spent in search of one of these rafts (we kept giving them up since so many people were trying to get one).

Anyway, we all had a great time. When we finally got ready to go home the next day, Ollie asked me, “Can we live here?”

I’ll call that a successful trip.