practical decisions.

It has been approximately eight billion years since a strong wind came through town and pushed a pine tree onto my husband's car. We had an insurance settlement within the week. I've been paying for insurance for a decade or so, and yet I was surprised to see it in action. I have to confess, I think of it more as money you pay to prevent bad things, because it is a rule of the universe that bad things are more likely to happen when you are unprepared. This is the kind of irrational impression that makes me a square.

However, the tree did not ask for proof of insurance before TIMBERing on down, so I learned how the other part of insurance works. It was quick and painless. I called our agent, they sent a tow truck to get the car, the mechanic said it was totaled, and we picked up the check. I was certain that at any second, masked men would descend on ropes from the ceiling, demanding the money back. Particularly unsettling to me was the fact that we had bought the car from my parents at a generous price, in fact about a third of what we received from the insurance company. Sometimes bad things happen to those who are prepared, but they come out a few grand ahead in the end?

Since then, the money has stayed in the bank, earning interest at a very poor rate.

We, as a couple, are terrible at buying cars. We proved that the first time a tree destroyed a vehicle by waiting seventeen months to buy another one. I have no good explanation. It's even worse this time, because we had that pile of cash for the very purpose. Neither of us like dealing with it. Josh has a hard time getting excited about practical decisions in the first place. I was scared of buying a used car, picturing in my head a guy with a greasy combover and a checked suit. Not that balding men with poor fashion sense are necessarily swindlers, but that is the popular image. So we both just ignored the problem and continued to share my Honda Fit. We were united in our denial.

A month or two ago, Josh registered to go to choir camp at the beach for a weekend. We decided that by then, we definitely needed to have this car thing taken care of so he could drive to camp. I made a list of cars that were acceptable in terms of reliability, gas mileage, and cargo space.

Let's talk about one of those specs, namely the cargo space. Josh requires a fair amount of room to haul his musical gear to practice and gigs. However, when this fact came up in discussions, it seemed to me that he was greatly exaggerating his needs. For example, two fallen trees ago, he was managing just fine with a Toyota Corolla. The Corolla is a fine car, but it is compact. Big enough to fit a bass amp, though. He was talking about gear for several people, plus room for those people. He was talking about a touring vehicle, which was surprising to me, seeing as his band had not toured as of yet and was unlikely to anytime in the near future. In case he ever found himself in a touring rock band again, I was of the opinion that he and his band mates could figure out the transportation then, rather than us buying the biggest beast on the road for a daily commute.

Our compromise was a minivan. Room for gear, room for people, acceptable for daily driving. It wouldn't get as good gas mileage as some of the other vehicles on my list, but I could live with it. I started doing regular searches on CraigsList and AutoTrader for a Toyota Sienna, which according to Consumer Reports, was the way to go for minivans. Being a larger vehicle, the amount of miles on the Siennas in our price range was a little discouraging. Also, it got about twenty-three miles to the gallon.

I have to admit that we are spoiled in terms of gas mileage. I think I've raved about this before, but if saving at the pump is your prime consideration, the Honda Fit may be the car for you. It does not have quite the get-up-and-go as some cars, but if you don't mind that, you'll get forty-two miles to the gallon. It is not a hybrid, just awesome.

With that in mind, I tentatively suggested maybe we could get another Honda Fit - cheaper vehicle overall, better gas mileage, and you can still shove a lot of crap in it. No, he insisted. He needed the minivan. Okay, then.

One drizzly Saturday morning, armed with a list of two used car lots that were currently selling Siennas in our budget, we set out to go car shopping. At the first lot, we couldn't find the van we'd seen on the website. I suggested asking for assistance, but discovered that Josh must have the same impression of used car salesmen that I do, as he wanted to avoid them at all costs. So we moved on to the second lot, which did have the Sienna we sought. It was an awful gold color, but looked to be in okay shape. I went inside to ask about a test drive.

The salesman was a young, fully-maned Hispanic man in a lavender button-down shirt and white pants. He made a copy of Josh's license, slapped a dealer tag on the van, and sent us on our way. Josh drove around while I pushed buttons and poked around at all the little compartments. He said it accelerated nicely, and we agreed that the stereo was capable of rocking. I was upbeat and positive - hey, this is nice, look at all the space, temperature controls in the back, neat. Josh was not impressed, and no amount of my new-found minivan enthusiasm could help. I began to suspect that I was just going to have to come home with a car one day and leave him out of it.

We got back to the car lot. I returned the keys and the tag and asked the salesguy a few questions. He answered politely, but didn't seem to care one way or the other whether we were going to buy anything. Josh walked around the lot, admiring a few incredibly unpractical choices. Finally, we got back in the Fit to go home.

"That seemed okay. And he said we could take it to a mechanic to have it checked out," I said, encouragingly.

"I guess."

"You didn't like it?"

"It doesn't get very good gas mileage. You know, I don't really need that much room. I think I'd rather get another Fit."

You have got to be kidding me. I felt mostly frustrated and only slightly vindicated. In the interest of marital harmony, I focused on the latter. And then I dug out my phone and started searching for Fits.


personal questions.

There were coupons for a free dessert in the break room. Kyle was walking around asking who wanted to go over to the newly-opened restaurant down the street and redeem them. I don't know what kind of crazy people I work with, but none of them did. Do you know what the best kind of food is? FREE food.

I hopped in the passenger seat, and we agreed that those other people were out of their minds.

"So, any big announcements?"

Ugh. His question was vague, but I knew what he meant, because he'd asked something similar before. I'm a youngish woman, recently married: he's asking whether I'm pregnant yet. This is kind of a personal question, right? Kyle has been my coworker for seven years, but I think we've exchanged fewer than a couple hundred words. I'm gonna need a few thousand words between us before that line of questioning doesn't seem inappropriate. But then again, I'm a private person.

Being a private person has made me a master of deflection. Jokes are my favorite way to go, but I also employ questions and general vaguery.

"No, nothing to announce." See, this is a bit vague. This just means I have nothing to tell random people, and is silent on whether anything is going on.

"Well, has it been discussed?"

"We are open to the possibility." More vaguery. Since I have gone off birth control, this has been my official answer. It's pretty effective, because it really gives the conversation nowhere to go. Time for me to use a question to get the spotlight off my reproductive plans. "What about you, any big announcements?"

"Me? Oh, no, no." A pause, but luckily no silence is too awkward for me. "Well, I guess it'll get out eventually. I'm getting divorced."

ABORT ABORT ABORT. While talking about an acquaintance's personal issues is much preferred over discussing my own, I felt unprepared. But it's cool, I can do this.

"Ah, that sucks, man. I'm sorry to hear that."

Phew! The rest of the trip did not require much from me. He talked about lawyers, online dating, meetup groups for single parents, when they were going to break it to the kids. I responded enough to show that I was listening. I have no idea if he felt better or worse having unloaded on me a bit, but I feel okay about my part.

And that is kind of the secret to Stephen Ministry. People in general are really uncomfortable with other people's pain. They have that same reaction that I had: look for an exit, change the subject, make a joke, offer a platitude. So for someone to just give an ear for a while can be hard to find. The fact that he came out and told me reveals that this is something very close to the surface. When you're thinking about something all the time, all it may take is an innocent question for it to burst out of you. Or maybe he's just the opposite of a private person, I don't know him very well at all.

Oh, and the restaurant was closed until dinner time, so there wasn't even any dessert.