The Open Road Ahead

My new car!

I bought my brand new magnetic grey 2008 Prius today from Fairfield Toyota, and immediately went for a joyride to Napa Valley with my visiting aunt, uncle and god daughter. In less than the ten hours, I logged close to 200 miles on my new ride, and words can hardly express how totally sweet it is to drive. It’s the most high tech toy a boy could want!

Me getting a lesson on all of my new car's sweet featuresTita Badette & Bea at the Toyota Dealership

Left: I’m getting a lesson on how to drive the new Prius and some of its cool features, like bluetooth phone capabilities. Right: Tita Badette and Bea check out the back seat at the dealership.

So much in love with my new car... it's unnaturalTito Bong & Tita Badette and Trefethen Vineyard

Left: That’s me… so much in love with my shiny new vehicle… it’s unnatural. Right: Tito Bong and Tita Badette grab a seat at Trefethen Vineyard.

Bea & King at Dolores ParkBea, Tito Bong, and Tita Badette at Dolores Park

Left & Right: After Napa, we drive back to San Francisco and stop by my favorite spot in the city, Dolores Park.

The Open Road

I feel pretty good about what lies ahead, despite the recent down from the accident. Things look great from this new perspective, and I’m extremely excited to see where the road and my new car take me.

Six Car Dealerships and Four Test Drives Later

It would be really fun to write a play-by-play rundown of all of the characters I encountered today during my hybrid hunting jaunt, but let me just say that my overall experience today with car salesmen was quite positive and not as scary as I had experienced before. One of my friends at the chorus (he just so happens to be a car fanatic and pretty much an expert on cars) volunteered to join me on my test drives, and I am sure that helped immensely. It was not as intimidating walking into six dealerships with knowledgeable Henry by my side telling me every aspect and tidbit about every car that was on my list. It was like having my own little wikipedia right next to me.

Anyway, I visited Ford, Saturn, Pontiac, Toyota, Mercedes, and Honda, and test drove the Ford Escape Hybrid, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Prius, and the Honda Civic Hybrid today. I wanted to test drive the Saturn Vue Hybrid and the Smart Fortwo, but the Vue Hybrid wasn’t in stock, and the Smart… well those Mercedes folks are pretty freakin hoighty-toighty. I had to sign up for an appointment, and the next available one is a month away! I have an appointment to test drive it on April 25, 2008.

Test Drive First Impressions

Ford Escape Hybrid Escape Hybrid: I like the spaciousness and the SUV aspect. I like that the gas mileage was good for an SUV of that size (it’s 34 city/30 hwy). At a base price of $26,000, though, it’s not that affordable (although they still are offering about $3,000 for a tax credit if I buy soon). The test drive was pretty good, smooth, but the braking felt really forced and unnatural. I can see how I would get used to it, but it just felt weird. Because of the price point, I’m going to rank this the 3rd choice.

Pontiac VibePontiac Vibe: Every year I take my students to NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Company), which is car manufacturing plant in Fremont and is a joint venture between GM and Toyota. For the past three years, I’ve gone on this tour and watched the workers assemble Toyota Tacomas, Corollas and Pontiac Vibes. I just found out today that the Toyota Matrix is pretty much the same thing as a Vibe, so I test drove it just for fun because the Saturn Vue Hybrid wasn’t next door. It handled just like a sporty little car, but it’s too small and not what I’m looking for.

Toyota PriusToyota Prius: Besides all of the confusing options, packages, hybrid technology levels, and other ridiculousness that the salesman from New Jersey was trying to explain to me (not quite as successfully as Henry), I actually really enjoyed driving the Prius. It felt like driving a spaceship with all of the cool tech gadgets and gizmos, and unlike the Escape Hybrid, it was easier to drive and accelerated like magic. And how can you beat fuel economy like 44 mpg? This was easily my #1 by the end of the day. The salesman kept hawking a price of about $24-$25,000 at me, which is still far above what I want to pay.

Honda Civic HybridHonda Civic Hybrid: Walking into the Honda dealership made me instantly nostalgic and kind of sad about not having my Element. She was just a really good and reliable car with no frills. This is exactly how I would describe the Civic Hybrid as well. It looked as plain and boring as a Civic, but with some space-age looking hybrid technology, which was neat. There were no frills about it at all. The backseats didn’t even fold down. It’s gas mileage is the closest to the Prius with 40 city / 45 hwy, and it handles pretty well on the road, except for the slow acceleration. Another good adjective to describe this hybrid would be spartan. After being treated to some neat standard features on the Prius and even the Escape Hybrid, I was expecting a little bit more from the Civic Hybrid… but no. It’s just like a regular Civic, which happens to have a hybrid motor. At a base of about $23,000, though, the price was getting closer to what I would actually want to pay, so this is my 2nd choice.

Smart FortwoSmart Fortwo: Oh and about this “smart” car. This one is totally off the list already. Not only is my scheduled test drive a month away, which for practical reasons will not work because my rental car is due in a week, but apparently in order to get your hands on one of these cars, you have to make a reservation online at the website for $99. And then they have to build the car in France, which for some reason takes six months, and then it takes another few months for shipping. All in all, even if I really wanted it, I wouldn’t get it for at least another year. Too bad, Smart. The $11,500 initial base price was appealing.

Related Post: Hybrid Hunting – Vote for my next car!

Hybrid Hunting – Vote for my next car!

Because I live 35 miles from my place of work, East Palo Alto, having a car is a necessity. I have about a week left before my insurance replacement is done, thus, I have a week to shop for a new car.

My top two priorities in looking for a new car are:

  1. Safety
  2. Good fuel economy
  3. My secret third requirement is space! I can’t be cramped.

With all of that said, I’ve set up a poll to ask people what kind of car I should buy next. Let me know what you think by voting! Vote

What car should I buy?

Toyota Prius

Honda Civic Hybrid

Ford Escape Hybrid

Honda Insight (Used. 2000-2006 only)

Smart Fortwo

View Results

Poll powered by Free Polls

The Surprising End of Utada

Don’t be alarmed. I realize that most of the people I work with (whether it’s adults or kids) know that I was in car accident on Sunday, March 23, 2008. I failed, however, to really let anyone else know, and instead became kind of a hermit about it, which is my tendency.

Without going into too many details, here’s what happened: Some guy ran a red light and caused our cars to collide. I hit him with my front end, which collapsed like an accordion. His Mercedes SUV was barely dented on the drivers side (apparently these luxury vehicles are tanks).

Miraculously, all those involved walked out of their cars. Save for some bumps, bruises, burns and back/neck pain, I walked away relatively unscathed–especially in comparison to the fateful March 6, 2002 accident in LA. No doubt I have angels watching over and protecting me, and I have a lot to be thankful for.

I’m currently still processing the whole event as a myriad of emotions have been swelling inside my head including but not limited to anger, gratitude, fear, and shock. I want to thank everyone who has called, texted, emailed, stopped by, hugged, dropped off wine/chocolate/brownies/flowers, or simply just asked how I was feeling. Again, my tendency is to be a hermit (I took the days off on Monday and Tuesday and watched the entire season of Firefly on, but that’s another story), but it helps to process the event with people.

Regarding my beloved Honda Element, Utada, word from the garage is that she’s a total wreck, but I’m still waiting to hear back from AAA’s damage appraiser. Sad. She definitely had a good run.

Thanks, everyone.

UPDATE (3/28/2008): Got word from Paul, the AAA appraiser, this morning that she’s a total wreck. Will commence car hunting this weekend. Feelings are bittersweet.

Related Post: The Horrible Fall and the Triumphant Return of Utada

Efficient Travelling

Years ago, a fortune teller told me that spring is my best season, and I have no reason to not believe that because who would not love the blooming flora and the renewed sun of the season? But spring also marks the beginning of my favorite activity: traveling.

And I surely have been been traveling a lot over the last month–I went to Hawaii for a week and then Los Angeles with my students this past week–and it’s not ending soon! Here’s a quick list of where I’m headed this season:

  • April 9-13 – St. Louis, MO for College Summit Workshop Staff Training
  • Some weekend in April- Las Vegas, NV to visit the family
  • Last weekend in June – Miami, FL for a College Summit Workshop
  • Fourth of July weekend – Charleston, South Carolina for a College Summit Workshop
  • Second weekend in July – New York, NY to visit Tony
  • July 11- 20 – Back to Miami for a GALA Chorus Festival

And with all of this traveling (especially for month-long jaunt to the South in June and July), I am striving to travel as lightly and efficiently as possible. Here’s a neat blog post with 36 tips on efficient traveling:

  • Pack just a few clothes with only a couple complimentary, solid colors — no patterns. Black is a good idea if you need to be able to dress up and be casual.
  • Pack only what you can carry on to the flight.
  • Leave the laptop behind, as well as blackberry and any other tech gadget. For computer addicts, being away from the internet’s constant flow of data for a few days recharges and relaxes you in ways that you never experience at home.

And here are my own tips about passing through that sometimes dreadfully slow Security Checkpoint

  1. Put your shoes on the conveyor belt first – I usually only travel with a carry-on bag and backpack/”personal” item. This can sometimes get bulky, especially if I bring a laptop. By putting my shoes on the conveyor belt first, obviously it will come out first, and I can put my shoes on first as they scan my bags, laptop, toiletries, etc.
  2. Put all pocket items inside your jacket pockets – Generally, you will need to take off your jacket and place it on the conveyor belt as well. If you already have your wallet, cellphone, keys, etc. in your jacket, you save yourself some time and confusion.

Babies Are Resilient

Last Sunday night, I had a series of three dreams, two of which I want to share with you here. They’re actually kind of short so here goes:

Dream 1

I was taking care of a baby. My baby. (By the way, in real life I don’t have one.) The baby (he must’ve been less than a year old) and I were outside and going for a walk; he in his stroller, and I walking at a nice, calm pace. All of a sudden, the sky turns Raingrey, a harsh wind begins to blow, and huge drops of rain begin to pour down on us. I was completely unprepared! I didn’t know that there was a chance of rain, and I had no umbrella.

My first thought was to protect the baby because the stroller didn’t have a rain hood, and the baby was in danger of getting wet. So I pick up the baby from the stroller, and begin to place the baby underneath my shirt to shield the baby from the rain.

Now this is all well and good, and the baby is pretty dry, but as soon as I look down to see the baby, he starts to shrink! Yes, shrink! The normal baby-sized baby now is about the size of my hand or palm, which is convenient for my shielding efforts.

Dream 2

Dream 2 was more like my conscious self stepping out of Dream 1, realizing that it was a dream, and then analyzing that dream. Anyway, in Dream 2 I interpreted that Dream 1 was about a rebirth and a new beginning particularly because the baby was in that dream. I also interpreted that the baby was really a symbol of me–e.g. it was a symbol of MY rebirth and my new beginning.

Alex’s Interpretation

I was kind of excited to have this lucid dream (Dream 2). I don’t think I had ever had a dream where I knew that I was dreaming and that I was analyzing it critically. A few days later, I was sharing the dream with my friend Alex, who has this gift of enlightenment that many people are drawn to, and she gives me a different twist to the interpretation of my first dream. She explained that maybe the rain was a symbol of a challenge, and the baby, yes, the baby was still symbolic of me. Well, when I take the baby out of the stroller and shield him from the rain, what I am inadvertently doing is shielding the baby from the challenge, and so the baby shrinks… it doesn’t grow, it does the opposite.

What does this mean? Well clearly it shows that perhaps I should not shield myself from any impending challenges because it will thwart my opportunities for growth. I shouldn’t stifle my own growth and development. Yes, the baby symbolizes and is a harbinger for new beginnings, and perhaps I have some new beginnings to look forward to. I just hope that I have the sense to take make the right choices so that I can face these challenges head on.

Moral of the story: Babies are resilient!