But How Do You Wrap It?

Despite my reputation as the Anti-Santy, I must have landed on the nice list. I got a new car for Christmas.

Nobody actually gifted me the car. My decreased bank balance and the fact that I now have a car payment for the first time in about 10 years testify to the fact that I paid for this vehicle myself. However, the circumstances surrounding its acquisition are magical enough to qualify as a gift.

When Max and I planned our move from California to Florida, we discussed what to do about our cars. We had no intention of driving across the country, so the choices seemed to be to either hiring a car transport company or selling our cars in California and buying new ones in Florida. Max’s car was fairly new, so it clearly made sense to invest in a car carrier for his. My car was in a bit of a twilight zone. It was a long way from being new, with about 75,000 miles rolling through the odometer. On the other hand, I would not have considered replacing the car if I were staying in California. Finally, I decided to go ahead and transport the car. I took a chance on longevity because the idea of selling a car as we prepared to make a life-changing move and then trying to buy a new car while simultaneously settling into a whole new world kinda sucked. The car carrier guy loaded two Hyundai sonatas on the truck in California and set off across the country to meet us in our local Florida Lowe’s parking lot to deliver our California cars.

Everything was fine for the first ten months we were in Florida. My car was in good condition and showed no signs of needing major repair or replacement. I was feeling pretty spiffy about my decision to transport it.

Then, I went into the dealer for a routine oil change service. They found a couple of things that needed fixing and the whole bill was about $400. Not great, but no big deal for a car with over 90,000 miles on it. However, what happened after the service guy gave me the news about the repairs was a big deal. Another guy asked me to come to his desk to chat. I did not realize it at the time, but he was a salesman. His job was to convince me to buy a new car rather than repair the old one. He told me that it was important to trade my old car in now while it still had less than 100,000 miles. In retrospect, I am not sure that having 92,000 miles on a car rather than 100,000 miles was going to make an enormous difference to anyone. I told the guy I was not in the market yet… that I was targeting another six months or so on that sonata. He argued that, if I were going to make a change in six months anyway, why wait when I could avoid paying for the necessary repairs on the sonata and could get a higher trade-in price. I kept saying no- I was not ready to give up my old sonata and I was not prepared to decide on a car in that moment. The sales guy kept pressuring and I finally caved. I agreed to buy a new sonata.

After the sales agreement, of course, came an equally high-pressure pitch from the accessories guy. I ended up spending even more money on extras that I was not convinced I needed. By this point, I was feeling aggravated and hangry. I had been at the dealership all morning and it was long past time for a snack. Instead of feeling happy and excited about getting a new car, I felt a hot, seething resentment over a sense I was getting duped.

But wait… there’s more. After all that, they sent me to the finance guy. I balked at this because I was paying cash for the vehicle. I did not understand why I had to see the finance guy. Turns out the finance guy is also the warranty guy. One aspect of the whole experience was the salespeople trying to “blind me with numbers.” They produced inexplicable numbers that would demonstrate why I should buy what they were selling. I could not back into these numbers, no matter how I worked my calculator. The warranty guy was the worst of a bad bunch. He kept trying to tell me how much money I would save by purchasing different warranty packages. I could not, for the life of me, understand where he was getting his figures.

By that time, I was digging my heels in and kept saying “no” to every option he produced. He became increasingly belligerent and demeaning. I kept telling him that I was going to leave, but that was an empty threat because the service department still had my old car. He kept coming back with how illogical and short-sighted I was for not agreeing to “protect my investment.” He kept saying that I must not understand because if I understood the benefits, I would absolutely agree to add a few thousand dollars to my rapidly expanding total. I kept saying that, if the cars at this dealership were so unreliable that I was going to truly need the extent of repairs he was proposing, then maybe I should not be buying one. I could not get him to just shut up and stop badgering me. The phrase “held against my will” occurred to me more than once. My blood sugar was low, this guy was belittling me, I could not easily escape, and I knew I was being bamboozled.

Still, I finally succumbed and bought the cheapest package he was pushing because I could not stand the pressure anymore. I was almost in tears and saw no other way out of that little room except to sign on the dotted line. I left with a new red sonata, but also with a heavy load of resentment. I could never quite warm up to that car. It was a fine car and served me well, but I just never enjoyed it because of the sour experience I had purchasing it.

That resentment kicked up a notch when the next model year rolled around. That year, Hyundai introduced the Kona- a compact SUV that came in many vibrant colors. It was a cute, kicky little vehicle that appealed to me. What appealed to me the most was that the highest “trim” level of the Kona (read, most expensive, extra-loaded version) came in a lime green color that radiated Tinker Bell vibes. I have never bought a car that was anything but a stripped-down base model. I would have ponied up the extra money and bought this “limited edition” trim model just to get that color. However, I wasn’t getting anything because that sales guy pushed me into buying a car before I was ready. With a sonata that was eight months old, I was certainly not in the market for a new vehicle.

I lived in hope that, by the time I was ready to buy a new car, Hyundai would still be offering that Tinker Bell green Kona. Every time I saw one on the road or in a parking lot, I would make a mental note. I planned to buy a new car in 2022, so I kept my fingers crossed.

Alas, when the 2021 model year arrived, Hyundai discontinued my Tinker Bell green color. I began mourning the death of my dream. I consoled myself with a reminder that I had never actually driven the Kona. Maybe I would have hated it. Maybe not.

When 2022 arrived, the world looked vastly different than it had in 2015. We had survived a worldwide pandemic. Russia and Ukraine were at war. Supply chains which had functioned effectively for years suddenly fell apart. Car prices, both new and used, escalated. I decided it was not the best time to buy a car, especially since the car color of my dreams was no longer available. I thought I’d wait at least for the 2023s to come out before I took the plunge. I believed that, if I clapped hard enough, Tinker Bell green might come back to life.

When the 2023s came in, there were still no green Konas. To pile on the disappointments, the problematic supply chain issues had prompted Hyundai to limit the number of color choices on the sonatas to boring black, lackluster white, ghostly grey, and rerun red. The car I purchased (uh… had forced upon me) was still going strong and I decided I’d keep waiting.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, as I was driving past the dealership, I noticed a lime green Kona on the lot. I felt wistful but dismissed the idea of purchasing it because I knew it could not be newer than a 2020 model and I didn’t life the idea of taking on the potential pitfalls of a used car. A couple of days later, I saw it again. After spotting it several times, I finally decided to check the dealer’s inventory to see what was up.

It was a 2020 model…. BUT… it had only 3200 miles on it. Yes, thirty-two HUNDRED. Suddenly, a door opened in my mind, and it was a Tinker Bell green door. I called John, the sales guy who sold Max his last car, which was a much better experience than mine. I explained my story to him, and he felt this car would be a good fit for me. Not wanting to waste my time (well, that’s refreshing!), he told me he would check with the lot manager just to make sure the car had not sold yet. He called me back a little bit later to tell me that, sadly, the Tinker Bell green Kona had sold. He even walked the lot himself to make sure. I was sad, but we agreed to keep in touch as I would eventually have to buy a car, even if it was a car the color of doldrums.

The next day, Max and I passed the car dealership again. There, in the second row from the street, was a Tinker Bell green car. I knew it might not be the same car. Still, I could not get it out of my head. When we finished running our errand, I stopped at the dealership and pulled up behind the car. It was the 2020 Kona. I looked at the invoice in the window and it showed 3200 miles! I called John and explained I was standing right behind the Tinker Bell green Kona.

John came out to meet us. He was extremely apologetic and embarrassed that he had missed the car. He had walked the back lot but had not thought about the cars right in full view. I drove the Kona. I loved it. There was a bonus. The interior was black leather, with TINKER BELL GREEN TRIM! It was all extremely exciting. I did not get a greatly reduced price compared to a new sonata or basic Kona, even though it was technically a used car, because it was that extra-laden special limited trim. Although the practical part of me (and I do have one) objected, I have to say I didn’t even mind. I decided that I get to be extra-laden this time. There are people who say I am pretty extra most of the time.

I went home with my dream car. I get happy every time I walk out into the garage and see it in all its shiny greenness. There was definitely some pixie dusting going on to get me that car.

Sometimes, a gift is not a thing. Sometimes, the gift is just an opportunity.

What was your favorite gift this holiday? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.


The Tinkmobile exterior

Welcome Home

This is what we heard from everyone as we walked towards our destination.  People waved.  People smiled.  People cried out, “we missed you!”  You would have thought we were heroes returning from some war instead of crazed Disney fans returning to our happy place in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. 

Yes, despite the fact the COVID-19 infection is still plucking away at our world, Max and I trotted ourselves out to the Magic Kingdom for a special, limited capacity passholder preview event before the park officially reopened.  It was not so much that we couldn’t stand to go another season without a Disney fix that prompted this act of recklessness.  It was more that it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see and feel what an uncrowded Disney park is like.  As Disney reopened, they were severely limiting the number of people in the park.  They did not publicize the number, but experts estimated the park would be operating at only about 25% of capacity. I have lived in the shadow of Disney parks all my life.  Even with this wealth of experience and wisdom under my belt, I could not conceive of what 25% capacity would feel like.  Short of having to fight an army of fire-breathing and vomit-spewing dragons to get in, there was not much that was going to stop me from experiencing a desolate Disney ghost town.

To further convince me that I should risk a potentially fatal disease or lifelong lung damage to go to Disney for this soft reopening, the fates decreed I should go.  I have been a Disney passholder for nearly five years.  In all that time, I have NEVER attended any of the special passholder events.  I have never been one of the chosen few to receive the email invitation and respond within the first few minutes before the event reaches capacity. It is sort of like having to be the fourteenth caller when a radio station is giving away concert tickets.  Odds are, it is never going to happen.  A couple of weeks before this event, I was sitting at the car dealership waiting for an oil change.  Bored, I was checking my phone lethargically.  Coincidentally, I saw an email inviting me to register for the passholder preview event.  I did not believe for a minute that I was going to be able to claim a space for Max and I because prior experience has taught me that, if you take an breath between the time the email goes out and the time you try to book a reservation, you are going to miss out.   Just for giggles and because I had nothing else to do, I followed the link to register.  To my utter amazement, I was able to sign us up for a day of Disney with a side of hand sanitizer. 

We did think about whether going was an acceptable risk.  There is so much drama in the media telling us that the Florida coronavirus numbers are climbing out of control.  As I have said in prior posts, I have not felt particularly scared during this pandemic.  On the other hand, I absolutely want to be responsible. I do not want to do anything that will put other people at risk, especially as I am doing volunteer work which does put me in brief contact with older, immune-compromised individuals.  I decided to take a deeper dive into the numbers to analyze whether things are getting worse, better, or staying about the same.  I looked at the Florida coronavirus infection rate for the middle of April.  At that time, approximately 1% off the population had tested positive for the coronavirus.  Today, the percentage is 1.92%, so there has been an increase.  On the other hand, the percentage is still low, despite more testing and several months of reopened commerce in Florida.   It has been around the 1.9% rate for several weeks.  Less than 1/10th of 1% of Floridians have been sick enough to be hospitalized. In Orange County, where most of Disney is located, the percentage infected is about the same, but the daily infection rate amongst those being tested has been declining.  For several weeks, the percentage of positive results of people tested has been below 10%. Additionally, ½ of 1% of all Orange County residents have been hospitalized. 

Now, numbers are one thing.  Depending upon what you look at and how you look at it, they can often tell you whatever you want to hear.  I will not say that the virus is not a safety consideration.  However, it did seem that the risk was reasonable for me.

Then, there is another factor… the pixie dust prescription.  Disney has a whole lot to lose if they contribute to the spread of death and destruction.  Disney also has a corporate culture that is about excellence and innovation.  Disney also has a staff that is well-trained and resilient.  Frankly, one of my motivating factors for wanting to go was to see the creative ways Disney employed to manage the risk while still spinning the magic. 

So we decided to go, evaluate what we saw, and leave the second we felt uncomfortable.

We approached the entrance to the parking lot, excited and wary.  The line to get into the parking lot was a bit of a struggle.  I am not completely sure what was causing the delay, but I think it was due to the additional time it took to park the cars socially distant from each other.  What was kind of interesting about the socially distant parking is that Disney came up with a way to do the social distancing without having people park further away than they would need to if the cars were traditionally spaced.  I noticed when we left that the attendants must have shifted the flow of traffic to fill in the spots left between the earlier guests’ cars. 

Once we got into the parking lot, everything was smooth and comfortable.  Directed by smiling, waving, and welcoming cast members, we boarded the ferry to go over to the park.  There were clear social distancing markers on the floor of the boat to indicate where to stand.  Everyone was wearing masks.  The cast members had masks AND face shields.  When we disembarked, we stood in a fast-moving line so that only one party at a time could exit the ferry.  Later, when we were going back to the parking lot on the monorail, cast members permitted only one party on each monorail car. 

The first thing we noticed at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom was that there was no line.  For any of you who have been to the MK, you know that it is a bit of an ordeal.  Wait to get entry to the parking lot, park your car, take a tram to the transportation center, wait in line for bag check, wait in line for either ferry or monorail, wait in line to get into the park.  Even though there are always multiple turnstiles available to enter the park, there are lines at every one of them if you get there anywhere near park opening time.  On passholder preview day, THERE WAS NO WAIT. 

And no people.  At least, that is the way it seemed when we stepped foot on Main Street.  It was almost spooky.  There was almost no sign of life.  Max really, really likes getting Starbucks when we go anywhere for a day trip.  He is happily content to do pretty much anything I want for the rest of the day, but he really does want that latte first thing in the morning when we are on an adventure.  He will forgo it if we have something critical that we must get to first, but the morning Starbucks truly is important to him.  He does not ask for much, so I suck it up and factor waiting in the huge lines at Disney Starbucks locations as part of my plan for the day.  On passholder preview day, there was no line.  I think there were two people in the coffee shop.  By the time I recovered from the shock and awe of this phenomenon, he had his coffee and we were on our way.

Such was the order of the day.  We walked on to virtually every ride.  I rode the Seven Dwarves Mine Train for the first time, with a 20-minute wait. The wait for Splash Mountain was similar.  The queues on the other rides… oh wait, there were no queues.

From a safety point of view, it was amazing.  Except for a few cast members and Max, I doubt I got closer than 10 feet to anyone the entire day.  I think they expanded the space between social distancing markers to allow for antsy children and for large parties.  There were a couple of times when I had to inch forward off my spot to peek ahead to see if I was supposed to move.  The people in front of me were so far away, I could not see where they were!  There was hand sanitizer at the entrance and exit of each ride.  The cast members employed huge industrial containers of disinfectant attached to their backs to periodically spray all the ride cars.  With ride vehicles designed for more than one party, they sometimes had one party in the first row and one in the back row if there were several rows in between.  Usually, it was just one party for vehicle.

From a magic point of view, my reaction was a little more mixed.  To be completely honest, there was an initial sense of weirdness and forced gaiety.  Having so few fellow revelers did result in a slightly less festive atmosphere.  Many of the eating and shopping dining venues were still closed.  There were no Mickey-shaped pretzels to be had.  The absence of shows and parades did seem sort of “less than.”  On the other hand, having such short waits was uber magical.  The seemingly genuine and extremely vocal welcomes from the cast members made me feel “especially special.” 

As the day wore on, I found the magic.  Every now and again, there was a pop-up presentation- a group of dancers, huge parade float carrying a character, or streetcar of singers.  I cannot call them “parades,” because the very nature of a “parade” suggests more than one exhibit, one following behind another.  These were more like parade snapshots- one band, one drill team, one float.  The most magical moment of the day was when we ran across Tinker Bell riding atop a giant treasure chest around the circle at the end of Main Street. Because there were so few people, she could identify individuals standing below, smiling at her.  She noticed my quarantined Tink shirt and pointed at me.  She laughed, waved, and blew kisses to me.  I walked beside the float all around the circle.  It was like Tink and I had our very own parade.

It may not have been a personal, side-by-side visit with my Pixie Princess, but it was a new and different kind of magic. 

Have you done anything wild and unpredictable as the world starts to reopen?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a magical day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Quarantinking! Before anyone asks, I was wearing a mask. It was permissible to lower them for brief photo ops. Notice I have a Mickey nose showing beneath my chin. That is my mask, which I pulled back up over my mouth and nose immediately after Max took this pic.
No trip to Magic Kingdom, even a quaran-truncated one, is complete without Tinky!