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“He made a different choice,” I told the 5-year-old.  The boy I had been working with in this particular church basement in North Philadelphia was using his pencil to color in some “educational” worksheet that alleged to teach about Jesus, apples, or the letter M.  This particular daycare center had a culture of tattling, and all the teachers were called, “Teacher”, so there was a constant refrain of, “Teacher, he goin’ up the slide!”  or “Teacher, he bite me!” On this day, coloring in a worksheet with pencil set off alarms of propriety in the sometimes rigid preschool mind, which knew that crayons were the only thing allowed for coloring.  This was not a far-flung assumption in a center which passed out only one crayon per child, and only red crayons for apples, despite that fact that apples come in myriad colors.  Away from the distracted gaze of the daycare providers, I assured the tattler (“Teacher, he colorin’ scribble scrabble!  He usin’ a pencil!”) that using a pencil to color however he wished was simply a different choice.

At the beginning of my parenting journey, I, too, was like the inflexible preschooler.  I had read all the books, absorbed all the literature, and while I acknowledged that there were different approaches to parenting infants (e.g., no-cry vs. Ferber for sleep-training), I knew certain truths:  babies must sleep on their backs, in their own bed/crib/bassinette.  They may not have covers other than swaddling blankets and/or sleep sacks.  They must sleep in tight-fitting flame-retardant pajamas. Thou shalt not take a baby to bed with you.  Otherwise, the SIDS monster was lurking outside the nursery door, certain to attack in its mysterious, not completely understood way.

Then, I became a parent.  Despite sleep-deprived hallucinations that my husband’s flannel pajama pants (and the leg inside) were actually a swaddled baby we had brought to bed, I clung to certain knowledge of what was the “right” thing to do.  At an early breastfeeding support group meeting, the first time I heard a parent talk about co-sleeping (and not in a co-sleeper/sidecar, but actually sharing a bed with a baby), I silently tsked at the parent, who was asking for advice on how to get her 18-month-old out of the parental bed, and into his own crib to sleep.  I tsked not only because it went against American Academy of Pediatrics (gospel itself) guidelines to co-sleep, but because it basically proved to me the ill consequences of her own, wrong decision 18 months ago, to bring her child to bed.  Well, now look what you’ve done, I concluded.  You made your bed (pun intended), now lie in it.

My children are now 5 ½ months old.  In the past 5 ½ months, I will admit I have let my children sleep on my chest, in my bed, in my arms, in a sling, on their tummies, and under a blanket.  I have nursed them to sleep, despite warnings about sleep-association problems.  I have put two children in equipment made only for one, and I have exceeded weight limits on the bassinet of the pack n’ play.  I don’t change them into pajamas when they nap, and they’ve even fallen asleep (and been left to do so) on Boppies, despite their huge “NO SLEEP” warning tags.

Am I a bad parent? Am I engaging in reckless behavior?  Or am I merely making a choice that I can live with, a choice that enhances my sanity (by gaining precious minutes of baby or adult sleep), and thus, my parenting skills overall?  In all of these choices, I had to weigh the risk of SIDS, sleep-association problems, and countless other fears with my own choices, and the benefits I saw in my children being comfortable, being happy, being fed, and being well rested.  I made a different choice.

Making different choices is a theme that comes up often these days, as I struggle to allow myself to be human, to make mistakes, and to be flexible in understanding how people do things differently.  It has become a constant refrain as I seek to understand the actions of my spouse, my parents, and my in-laws.  For as ridiculous as it seems to me that my father-in-law and sister-in-law would choose to lease Buicks solely on the fact that they are one of the only companies to offer 24-month leases, or as absurd as it is that my mother-in-law drives her car ¼ mile to work regardless of the weather, those are their choices.  Despite even research that driving cars such short distances is harmful for the vehicle, it’s her choice, and it’s different than one I would have made.  In my own family, my mother’s slavish devotion to her constantly breaking down Jaguar wagon and countless expenditures on rebuilding it make me cringe, but keeping that car, and pouring money into its upkeep, are her choices, too.  The way I began to understand others’ choices was, oddly enough, through cars.  My car, a Honda Fit, has consistently earned top honors in comparison tests for compact cars in numerous automotive publications, in both point-to-point contests as well as anecdotal reviews.  My car is objectively the best, based on actual research.  Yet not everyone who needs a compact car drives a Honda Fit.  It’s not only because it costs more than a comparable Toyota Yaris, or a Nissan Versa, nor it is because they were somewhat hard to come by when I was in the market for one.  It might be because they like the way the other cars look, or drive, or the pretty Toyota blue the Yaris comes in.  Maybe they hate the awesome functionality of a hatch, and wanted the ugly sedan version instead.  Regardless of the research that shows (I might say proves) my car is superior (even superlative), the other cars are made, and purchased, and driven, because people make different choices.

Despite all my research to find the best baby products, to learn the best methods for calming and feeding and caring for my offspring, there still remain others who don’t agree.  Beyond the individual variability of babies themselves, parents do make different choices, whether it’s about cloth vs. disposable diapering, baby-led solids vs. baby food purees, cosleeping vs. AAP guidelines, or even which stroller to buy.  And as long as it works for them, who am I to judge?  I used to feel rather smug when a choice I had made was working well for me, as if I had truly made the right choice, and if only others would emulate me, they, too, could feel awesome and superior.

Then, my children stopped going down to bed so easily, started taking an hour-and-a-half to fall asleep, and it turned out maybe it was just a developmental stage, or pure chance, not some awesome parenting trick I had discovered.

Back at the church basement daycare center, the children continued to color in their worksheets.  Yet another child noticed the graphite gray of the worksheet my student was coloring in.  She began the all-too-familiar chorus, “Teacher, he using a pencil!”  My heart sang as I heard the object of my earlier correction turn to the girl and tell her, “He made a different choice.”

Lest I judge my fellow humans too harshly, I try to remember that they, too make different choices. 

Every time I see a Kia Soul on the road, I think of hamsters.  I wait for the car to round the corner, craning my neck for a glimpse of the driver and passengers, because I clearly expect to see a furry rodent at the wheel.  This is either a colossal success in advertising, or a full-out failure.  I understand the point of the commercial — stand out, move beyond your boring “hamster wheel” of a Cobalt, or a Civic.  Instead of just spinning your (hamster) wheel, burn some rubber.  Well, that last point is a bit ambitious, given the 122 horsepower, but I understand their mission.  Stand out, with your weird ! and + trim lines.  Set yourself apart with “alien” colored body paint.  Define yourself with a houndstooth interior.  Express your angst with a USB jack hooked up to a raging iPod. 

I understand all this, but I didn’t think of originality when I saw the Soul turn a corner out of the school’s parking lot this afternoon;  I thought of hamsters.  When I think of hamsters, my stream of consciousness goes thusly — Habitrail plastic tunnels, Zhu Zhu pets, mice, mouse poop, snap traps — and then all the nightmares of that year we spent living among the filth and stench of being infested by mice.  The year we spent throwing out ruined clothing, checking traps every time we came home, falling asleep listening to skittering little feet, and drowning mice in Finley’s water bowl. 

I’d rather drive my Honda Fit, which,  for its meager 117 hp, at least manages 39 mpg highway, to the Soul’s 31 mpg, and doesn’t ever remind me of hamsters or mouse poop.  How many car companies can make that claim?

My new car, my 2009 Honda Fit, is the cutest car on the road today.  I still feel like the luckiest girl on earth because I got to choose my next car, and I didn’t even have to wait for my old car to die.  To top it all off, Mr. Apron let me use our new home buyer refund as adown-payment, and all I had to do was give him my old car.  So my car pretty much rocks.  Last week at rehearsal, we were all sauntering out of the Unitarian church (where all great theatre groups are made), and one of my fellow actors remarked, quite spontaneously, “Whose awesome little car is that?”  and I got to reply, “Mine!”  I love my little car.

My Fit is my 3rd car.  My first was a 1987 Cadillac Sedan DeVille, and yes it was my grandmother’s car, why do you ask?  It was powder blue with matching crushed velvet seats.  The front bench seat did not split, so when I scooted my driving position all the way up, my front passenger(s) ended up with their knees in their armpits.  Yes, all my friends are tall, and teased me mercilessly.  I loved my car.  However, when at long last I received my mother’s cast-off 2001 PT Cruiser upon graduating college, and it was still a relatively new car, I jumped at the opportunity for such modern conveniences as leather seats, remote locking and unlocking, cup-holders, junk bins, defrosters, fog-lights, intermittent windshield wipers, four functioning doors and four functioning windows (the doors and windows on the Cad had grown, um, temperamental in their old age, and, by the time we donated the Boat to Muscular Dystrophy or the Shriner’s, only 2 doors and 2 windows were functioning).  I loved the fact that everything worked, and I didn’t have to worry about the cracking upholstery, the alternator, the why-won’t-you-unlock gas tank, and other annoyances.  I was sad to see my first car go, but oh-so-happy to upgrade. 

Yet again, I appreciate all the new gadgetry they’re cramming into modern cars.  The poor PT Cruiser (which my mechanic calls PT Loser, because he’s compassionate) is looking a little like it’s headed towards its autumn years.  It’s now been in 2 “incidents” involving other cars, leaving it with a cheese-grater mark on the front bumper, and a gouge in the rear quarter panel.  The seats aren’t as accommodating as they once were, and it’s developed some idiosyncracies having nothing to do with the recall notices.  We’ve lived through a dead battery, shocks, struts, brakes, fuses, a new radio, scratches to the headliner, and fading paint.  Poor old girl.  That’s why Mr. Apron got it for the bargain price of whatever AAA charged to transfer the title.  And, given the depreciation of Chryslers, it was almost worth exactly that.

In 8 years, they’ve definitely upgraded, even in economy cars.  I miss the leather seats, but I have a leather-wrapped steering wheel.  I have a mp3 jack in the glove box for hooking up the ipod which my parents bought for us as a car accessory.  No kidding.  My father even asked if black or white would match the interior better.  The radio controls mimic the controls of an ipod, so I can scroll through my ipod’s playlists from my dashboard.  It’s truly the coolest thing I didn’t need in my car.  My car calculates its average fuel economy (it’s funny; the Cad did the same thing, but I guess luxury in 1987 has arrived in today’s econobox), and has 10 cup holders, two for each human being.  So we can double-fist our frappaccinos.  I have magic folding rear seats, which not only flip down to make a flat loading bed, but also flip up, to create a deep cavernous backseat perfect for bicycles, houseplants, or the Dog.  Other technical advances I’m discovering as I go along.  By this I mean the idiot lights. 

A few weeks ago, a new icon lit up as I motored to work on the first cold day of the year.  I panicked, and read through the owner’s manual at stop lights.  No, I didn’t have time to pull over; I don’t allow for broken down new cars in calculating my commuting time.  I finally located the icon, a circle shape, with an exclamation line in the middle, and a squiggly line at the bottom — low tire pressure.  Which is another way of saying, watch out, lady, you’ve got a flat.  Now I did pull over, I inspected each tire, saw no flat, and went to work.  I pulled into our regular repair shop on the way home from work, and asked Jack to look at my tires. 

Jack is Chinese, and presumably speaks English, but has never been heard to speak loud enough to be understood.  I pieced together something from his mumblings:

“Jack my tire pressure’s low!  My tire pressure light lit up!”

“Up?  You mean down” (jokes don’t go so well when you can’t hear them)

“Huh?  Sure.  Down.  Can you take a look?”

“Yeah, happens every year…cold day…everybody in here…stupid lights.”

Turns out, every year on the first cold day, all the modern cars pull into the stop with panicking women.  The air hasn’t gone anywhere, it just is, um, smaller because of the temperature, which makes the tire pressure lower, and all the idiot lights go on.  Jack put another 2psi in each tire, I thanked him, and went home. 

This week, as Mr. Apron moved my car from the street to the driveway, he noticed the same idiot light emblazoned in orange on my dashboard.  He told me about it, and I figured, as the entire country has entered a cold snap, that it was just the air pressure giving a false low reading again.  Finally today, on a whim, I pulled into the repair shop on the way home from work, and met Jack as he was moving a car from the garage.  Telling him my light was on again, he fetched the air hose and began to top off my tires. 

“See?  You get a new car, you in here more often!”

I heard that.  He moved around from the left front, to the right front, to the right rear, and finally to the left rear. 

“Oh, you need a repair.  Your tire need a repair.”

“What?  I need to get it fixed?”

“No, you fine.  Your tire.”

Huh?  I rolled back 18 inches, as he guided me, and Jack showed me a nail, sunk completely into the tread.  We, of course, blamed it on Mr. Apron, as he was the one driving when the light came back on.  Jack pulled the nail out, lying on the frigid tarmac, and stuffed some gunk in the hole.  He filled it up, and $12 later, I was on my way home. 

I had it all chalked up to the modern car, its idiot lights, and modern car makers’ disregard for Boyle’s Law.  Turns out it actually picked up the nail in my tire before it went flat, saving me a tire change in some unsavory neighborhood at 15F.  That makes me the idiot, I guess, for ignoring it!  Bravo, little car.  Bravo.  Have I mentioned how much I love my car?

It’s a car!!

At the helm

At the helm

And not just any car; it’s a Honda Fit.  And not just any Honda Fit; it’s an orange Fit Sport! 

Coolest Car Ever

Coolest Car Ever

This is a car I have had a crush on since it first came to this country in April 2006 after having been enjoyed in other countries since 2001.  It’s funny actually, because right before this car came out, I went to the Honda dealer just to browse.  I was disappointed to learn they’d redesigned their Civic Si so it was no longer a hatchback.  Unlike the rest of the car-buying American public, I like hatchbacks for their style and their cargo-gobbling ability.  The salesman tried to sell me a regular Civic (fail) on the spot rather than tease me by telling me a new hatchback was due in a few months.  Well, as Mr. Apron said, he probably didn’t know, and he’d rather make a sale that day than hope I’d come back later for a Fit.  I’m amazed how many times the car dealers just don’t know their cars.  I was told by a Toyota dealer that the 5-door (Canadian) Yaris I saw (before we got that body style in this country) must have been an Aveo or I was just mistakenly looking at a 3-door.  They don’t know, they don’t care. 

But I digress.  I have lusted after the Fit since day 1, and my crush has only intensified as other meh cars have come and gone, and as, time after time, Car and Driver has sung the praises of the Fit.  Review after review, test after test — they’ve all lauded the Fit’s styling, handling, safety, and cargo-holding prowess.  Yet I had to wait.  I was but a grad student in 2006, when I first went to a dealer to ogle the car.  The vulture salesman approached me at the lot, and asked if I was interested in the car.  “Yes,” I admitted, “but not for another 5 years.”  He left me alone.  It was my most effective car dealer rebuff to date.

I told myself that after grad school, when I landed my first real (professional) job, I’d go buy a Fit.  Of course, I graduated last August, and shortly thereafter, as the housing market was tanking, we started looking for homes to buy.  When we closed in February, leaving a large chunk of our savings behind, I closed the door on my Fit dreams.   

Then, earlier this summer, as I lamented to my mother how awful it was driving Mr. Apron’s boring black Ford Focus in the heat, and how we were getting itchy to trade it in for something less mundane, and less heat-absorbing, she advised us to wait.  Wait for our tax rebate, that is.  Wait — what?  Oh, the $8000 from the government because we bought our first home in 2009?  That’s the one.  We hadn’t really investigated this rebate yet, seeing as we were waiting for our accountant man to tell us what to do when we filed our taxes next year.  We didn’t even realize what it mean.  I thought it meant we got a refund on $8,000 of the house, or something.  Mr. Apron called our CPA, and he said we could file an amendment this year, and get the money, and use it as a downpayment on the car this year. 

Well, boys and girls, the check arrived on Tuesday of this week, and we rushed to the bank before it could get buried under a pile of paper, used as a bookmark, slobbered on by Finley, or forgotten in a wallet.  And then Mr. Apron did what he does best — he looked for cars. 

Mr. Apron gets whims.  I mean, unlike my 3-year long devotion to the little Honda, he falls in love with a new car each month, or week, or daily.  A testament to this fact is that he is now owning his 9th car, and I have just acquired my 3rd.  I drove my first car from age 15 (Minnesota law = awesome) until I left home after college when I was about to turn 21, when my 1987 Cadillac Sedan deVille was a mere 15 years old.  My sister drove it after that until it finally dragged itself off to be donated to public radio, kidney disease, war orphans relief, or Esperanto awareness.  At that point in its life, only 2 doors opened, only 3 windows rolled up and down convincingly, and the radio had to be switched off separately or else the battery would die.  My family drives cars into the ground.  Mr. Apron’s family leases.  ‘Nuff said.

He set out on his quest.  We ran some numbers into the financing calculator, and since we were determined not to drag out the car payments too much beyond our initial payment period for the Focus, we decided to try for a 36-month term.  Still, the payment was kind of scary when we put in my ideal Build-a-Fit from the Honda website.  Though the stated entry-level price is $14, 750, it’s not actually, unless I didn’t care if I could drive it (automatic transmissions adds $750) or be able to pick it up from a dealer (delivery adds another $710).  We don’t even have keyless entry, and it’s already over $16,000.  In typical Honda fashion (they used to do this with ABS on the Civic — not offering it unless you bought the LX), you can’t get stability control unless you buy the Fit Sport with Navigation (over $19,000).  Again, still no doormats. 

I decided to try to find a used car.  I figured it might be a couple of thousand less, and might have more features that they wouldn’t nickel-and-dime us for the way they do on a new car.  Unfortunately, as all the dealers had been telling us, used Fits are very hard to find.  And I only wanted one in orange or red.  And it had to be an automatic.  Mr. Apron got on the phone with dealers in the Delaware Valley.  He searched new dealers, he searched all 3 CarSense locations.  He looked on every virtual lot in the tri-state area.  Yes, even in New Jersey (where my brother and sister have both found their used Hondas).  He started to try to convince me to suck it up and buy a new one.  A nice base model in red. 

Finally, Thursday, in a last-ditch effort, he widened the net to include the Lehigh Valley and environs West of this part of the state.  Success in the state capital.  Harrisburg had one orange Fit Sport, 2009 model year, with 4,000 miles on it.  That’s right, folks.  A pre-owned car that was practically new.  Features I would never have asked or paid for (USB connection in the glove box for my non-existent iPod, tinted windows, fog lamps) were in this car.  We asked the dealer to  hold it for one day.  They said they couldn’t.  Friday went so quickly at work, I forgot to worry that someone had bought the car out from under us.  I vacuumed out the Focus during a break from work.  At 4:30, we set out for Harrisburg. 

They tried the usual bullshit on us, pretending the Focus’s air conditioning was broken, undervaluing it, handing me the keys prematurely, trying to buddy up to Mr. Apron, and then getting frustrated with him when he kept asking about fees left and right.  In the end though, I survived the car dealer, and drove home my brand-new used car.  I still can’t believe I get to keep it.  I still can’t believe it’s mine.  It’s the coolest car on the road.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look:

Cuteness!

As Mr. Apron just astutely observed, while checking his blog statistics, “People are not at home reading blogs today.”

No, siree, they are not.  In addition to shopping for huge amounts of meat and baby clothing at the outlet stores, they’re also out shopping for cars.  We went car-driving today, too.  I have been lusting after a Honda Fit (for non-US readers, Jazz) since they arrived on these shores in late 2006 (2007 model year).  Mr. Apron even went so far as to buy me a promise ring. The summer before we were engaged, he bought me a claddaugh ring with a tiny emerald in it — a promise ring.  This time, he bought me a different sort of ring — a keyring with the Fit logo emblazoned on it.  And so it went, throughout grad school.  I kept myself motivated, fooling myself into thinking that upon graduation, I’d land a job immediately, and go buy a Fit.  Wrong.  I got the job, but we bought a house instead.  So the car plans went on the back burner.  That, and I have an allergy to both large furniture (entertainment centers and wardrobes, chiefly) and having 2 car payments at the same time.  As my current 2001 P.T. Loser is paid off and runs great, and we’re still paying Mr. Apron’s Ford Focus, we sit for a while and wait for 1) his car to be paid off (April 2011!), or 2) my car to die.  While I’d rather the former, the latter would certainly give us a sense of necessity, as we agree it’s just not a priority right now.

But Mr. Apron gets bugs up his butt, spends hours on ebay motors, and becomes obsessed with a car or an idea (usually about selling, trading in, or unloading one of our cars).  This week it’s been the Fit.  Actually it’s pretty selfless of him.  He could instead have focused on his “next car” or some far off insane dream — the recurring one is a vintage 1967 VW Beetle — but this weekend it was my turn. 

I have an issue with car dealers.  I have never been present at the purchase of a car.  We usually only prowl the lots to drool on new cars after hours so the sleazy sweaty men can’t hassle us.  The last time we ventured on a lot during business hours was when we were looking for a Civic Si (back when they were cute performance hatchbacks).  Of course, they stopped making them, shoved us in a regular Civic to test-drive, and then proceeded to send me weekly nagging letters in the mail for the next two months.  We weren’t in the market to buy; I just wanted to look and to test-drive it. 

See, I have specific needs, as outlined in the P.T. Loser post.  I needed to know if this Fit would fit, or if it would have the same issues with ratcheting seatbelts and pedals I can’t reach.  So I need to more than looking at it, more than sitting in it on the lot; I needed to drive it, or just let the dream go here and now.  So Mr. Apron began his campaign to get me into a Fit. 

1)  First we thought about the neighbor down the block who drives a red Fit, but it’s a stick.  I can technically drive a stick, but it’s a highly unenjoyable experience for me and my passengers, and you just can’t ask new neighbors to let you drive their car with the preface, “Yeah I can drive a stick, but I haven’t in 5 years because I really suck at it.  Can I drive your car now?”  So that didn’t work. 

2) Mr. Apron’s voicemail one day was infused with brilliance.  He’d thought of the perfect way to let me drive a Fit.  We’d join Philly Car Share, which has a fleet of Priuses (Prii?) and, among other cars, Fits.  I immediately set to work researching.  There’s a monthly or yearly fee, plus you have to go to an orientation.  Then you have to reserve it and pay the daily or hourly fee.  And the nearest Fit is parked back near our old neighborhood.  See, ‘cuz it’s Philly  Car Share, not Suburban Main Line We All Have Cars Anyway Share.  So that went to the chopping block.

3) Finally, we resigned ourselves to going to a dealer.  I tried to subdue my inherent defensiveness I feel whenever approached by a slimey salesman, we parked far away so they coudn’t judge us by our “trade-in” and Mr. Apron told me he’d take care of the talking lying. 

As it turned out, we were on the lot for a record amount of time before being approached.  The salesmen were so busy no one bothered us at all.  On an ordinary day of just drooling, that would have been fine, but we needed to drive today, and the sleaze-Os hold the keys.  We ventured inside, looked at all the brochurage, judged all the other customers, and lazily looked at the new Civics and Accords.  Finally.   “Are you being helped?”  No, not yet. 

John tried only once to upsell us, to distract us from our mission.  When I asked if the new Fits had a height-adjustable seat (knowing the old ones did not), he said the ’09s did not, but that the Civics did, would we like to see one?  Ah, no.  Nice try. When we turned down that easy segue, I think he got the picture.  We had a goal.  He showed us the pretty blue Fit flecked with May’s productive pollen.  This was a barebones model.  No armrest, no navigation system, no bun warmers.  But it had a CD player, ABS, and 6 + airbags.  Good enough.  The seating is not ideal.  If I’m close enough to reach the pedals, I either get wedged in the seat by the steering wheel, or I bang my knee on the overhanging accessory buttons on the left side of the dashboard.  (done, and done)  Still, the seat ranked high on the comfort level,  low-end acceleration was great, the aerodynamics meant the open windows delivered plenty of fresh air, and there was even a distracting digital graphic reflecting fuel economy, just like my 1987 Cadillac had!  How far we have come. 

No, I didn’t come home with one today, but it was still a success of sorts.  No one pressured us.  No one has us on a mailing list (my license that he photocoped still has out old address on it, so even if they harrass us the way the other dealership did, it’ll go to our old apartment!).  No one tried to low-ball our trade-in or calculate monthly payments.  They just let us drive the car.  John didn’t even come with us!  He let us go by ourselves.  Maybe this is because the backseat was covered in plastic.  Maybe he’s hiding the fact that it doesn’t humanely seat a full-sized adult male.  But maybe he just realized we were no fools.  We weren’t the types he could get into a Pilot or even make a sale on a Fit today.  And besides.  If we’d made off with their little car, the cops would have been all over our asses.  And then you’d see a different picture below — my booking mug:

Test-driving the 2009 Honda Fit

Test-driving the 2009 Honda Fit