Sunday, July 13, 2008

Screw You, Horace Greeley

"Go west, young man" my ass!

Okay, okay. Maybe old Horace was onto something there. I sure hope so, because here I am: gone west to Texas in search of fortune and fame. Well, fortune, anyway. I suspect the most I can ever hope to achieve in the fame department is notoriety. Which, on the whole, I think I'd rather not.

It's funny how lightly you can take a decision like this. When I realized that, my best efforts notwithstanding, college was not in fact going to last forever, I started searching for a job. Being single and unattached, I figured that I had the freedom to go anywhere, do anything. Lots of places came to mind - I went through a Wyoming phase, a New Mexico phase, a return-to-DC phase, and probably a few others. And there was the Texas phase. I'd spent some time in Texas and liked it - no snow, friendly people, no snow, low taxes, no snow, low cost of living, no snow, growing economy, no snow (did I mention no snow?) - so why not look for a job out there?

Well, lo and behold, my Uncle Pete decided that I was just the ticket and hired me for a job out here in the Coastal Bend of Texas. So off I went - leaving behind the friends and family who I belatedly realized really were my attachment, no matter how single I might be.

Call that a colossal "d'oh!" moment. Not to mention a realization that I'd been pretty (okay, entirely) self-centered during this process. Got to get a job, got to do what I want, go to go go go go go. All me, all the time.

D'oh!

I've had the wanderlust on and off for a while. It's not that it wasn't time to leave Norfolk - it was - but I didn't have to go west. Could I have found a job on the East Coast, one that would have left me closer to friends and family? I'm sure I could have. That I didn't...there are a lot of things that went into that. A rejection here, a poor interview there, and pretty soon you're watching the movers load up your stuff for Texas.

Don't get me wrong: it's not that I'm not excited about the job. I am. I think I'm going to enjoy the work, I think it's a good company to work for, and I think I'm going to enjoy living in Texas. But not as much as I would have enjoyed being closer to the people I love.

If I were more Calvinist, I'd accept that this is my Manifest Destiny and move on. But I'm not. My life has had too many twists and turns for me ever to believe in predestination. Sometimes it seems like I can't even go to the grocery store without getting lost along the way. God may have a plan for our lives, but I believe that we're free to screw it up. Fortunately, He also has a Plan B. And a Plan C. And a Plan D. And a...well, you get the idea.

Today I fly to Omaha to start my training, during the course of which the company will transform me from a completely useless college graduate into a marginally useful management type. It's going to be a good experience. It's going to be a tremendous adventure. It's going to work out.

But if I ever meet Horace Greeley, I'm going to kick his ass.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Kia Sedona

If you're thinking of buying a Kia Sedona, here's a word of advice:

Don't.

Oh, it would be easy to be seduced by a short test drive. The zippy 250hp V6, the five-speed automatic with manumatic control (look! it's sporty! or not), the comfortable seating for seven passengers, the low-speed maneuverability, the flat cornering and minimal body roll (you can even turn off the electronic stability control, although why you'd want to do this in a minivan is beyond me), the 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, the mid-20s sticker price - such a deal! Right?

But it doesn't take long for the seductress to turn into a hag. Spend a little more time with the Sedona - as I did last week, driving one for four days and 870 miles - and the shine begins to come off. Oh, the engine is still plenty zippy - but the throttle is so touchy that every stoplight becomes a drag race. Meanwhile, the five-speed automatic transmission to which the engine is coupled never met a downshift it didn't like, eagerly kicking down a gear - or two - every time you poke the throttle. That's fine in passing situations, but it becomes annoying in city traffic when every increase in speed is accompanied by a lurching downshift and a 3000rpm scream from the engine. That, along with the van's two-ton bulk, no doubt contributed to the 20mpg average I returned in mostly highway driving.

Newton's Third Law says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Sir Isaac never drove a Sedona. The powertrain is eager to run, but when it comes time to stop, the 4387-pound minivan is considerably less cooperative. The brakes have all the firmness of pudding, and as for stopping power...well, let's just say the French did a better job of stopping the Germans in 1940. Panic stops are a) not recommended, and b) accompanied by a porpoising motion as the nose pitches down and up and the rest of the van shimmies like a hula dancer on speed. And this was with a brand-new tester. The brakes don't wear in, either: a quick search turns up many owner complaints about warped rotors and other problems.

And that's why you should stay far away from the Kia Sedona. In most departments, it's an eminently competent vehicle. But it's not enough for a minivan to haul seven passengers in comfort and go like stink - the thing has to be able to stop. And the Sedona can't - at least not well enough for me to be comfortable putting my family in one. That's especially unfortunate because Kia engineered the rest of the van well enough to earn the highest safety ratings from both the NHTSA and the IIHS. But with those brakes, the Sedona and its five-star ratings have to come with an asterisk: the safest crash is still the one you avoid.