The Actual Spelling is FU

Here’s a frat house near Kansas University:

I failed, with my wee phone camera on a day where sweat was my main wardrobe accent, to capture just how much this place screams MONEY. This is the place rich assholes send their asshole kids to learn to be better assholes.

In this frat, the residents will have a chef to cook their meals, maids to clean up after them, and will learn nothing of independent life.

But we know that Harvard does not produce the best lawyers, it produces lawyers that know other Harvard lawyers. This is the system. The building you live in during your college years matters more than the education you get.


Silicon Valley’s Heartbeat

Today on the way to work I saw three brand-new Teslas, and an Audi R8 (Audi’s V-10 powered street-legal race car) with temporary plates. On the way home I saw another new R8, and a bright yellow McLaren fresh from the dealership. Did you know that Maserati has an SUV (SuV)? I didn’t until this afternoon. And of course there were more new Teslas.

At one point on the way to work I was peering through the windows of the Tesla Model M in front of me to see if the Tesla Model X in front of it was also brand-new.

The sales team up the highway at Tesla Central must salivate over April 16th.

In mid-April and in mid-October, employee stock grants at Apple vest. I assume Google has a similar schedule, along with all the other large tech companies in the area. Including, I imagine, Tesla. (Note: I couldn’t come up with the right Facebook wisecrack to put here.)

Twice a year, there is a gush of cash from the tech companies, and with it a surge in spending on real estate and fancy cars. It’s probably good to be in sales here; you can go on vacation during the months of May, June, November, and December, and still be around to glut when that mighty money heart pumps once more.

I am now part of this heartbeat as well, but not to the frivolous-quarter-million-dollar-car level. For me the stock vesting is a windfall to invest, so that I might one day not have to work at all. This year the investment also helps family members, which makes it double-cool. Alas, for me there will be no Audi R8 Spyder. It’s a mid-engine convertible that can do 150 as easily as I can sneeze, but it looks a little butt-heavy to me anyway.


A Particularly Shitty Couple of Weeks

A couple years ago, we lost out entire kitchen to a plumbing problem. Since then, we’ve had two near misses. The laundry room under-floor will never be the same, but we can pretend all is well. Then there’s the leak that’s been going on long enough it has been supporting its own ecosystem. Our plumbing is crap.

It came down to this: we would never sleep well at night until we tore out the horrible plumbing in our home and replaced it with not-horrible plumbing. Money has been tight, but we agreed that it was worth spending some cash to end the ongoing risk of catastrophic and expensive plumbing failures. It took all our immediate savings and some sale of fruit-flavored stock, but after a week of what might otherwise have been a relaxing time off work, the plumbing crew was mostly finished. A stressful week, but one that promised peace of mind on the other side.

There were a couple of hitches, so on Tuesday the plumbing company sent a guy out to fix them. Our wee doggie has not dealt well with any of the plumbing intruders, but as I got into the car Tuesday morning I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. We had better pipes. The endless worries about losing months of our lives to home repair were soon to end.

It was raining Tuesday; that’s why I drove. That’s why the roads were slick. That’s why the kid in the Corolla slammed into me.

I’m not hurt. Roxy, the 2001 Ford Escort, is mortally wounded. Roxy has only 40,412 miles on her, which means There are simply no comparable vehicles out there. And there’s the bitch of the thing. The actuarial tables State Farm uses will not yield a number that comes remotely close to the replacement value. We could have ridden that car for another decade easily. The thing just plain did its job.

So now the showdown begins. State Farm will offer us money for our car. That money won’t be enough. Our position: make it like it never happened. Put a car in our garage that fills the same role. It’s not about money. Their position: We’re buying your wrecked car for a fair amount.

Meanwhile, we just gave all our spare cash (and a little more) to plumbers. We’re not ready to take on car payments.

I know, as I bitch about the ill fortune that has beset me, that a lot of people have it worse than I do. Most of planet Earth, in fact. People in camps near where I live would scoff at my problems. But a twenty-year-old kid driving like twenty-year-old kids do has put us in a serious financial bind, and honestly I don’t see the right answer.

The Cost of Driving

One of the justifications for my new bike was that in the long run it would save us money. But how much? How long will it take to recoup the large wad of cash I just jettisoned at the neighborhood bike store?

I spent a few minutes last weekend poking around on the Internet for help calculating the cost per mile I drive in the Miata. I found some sites that were helpful, and some that were disingenuous at best. They all come to a false conclusion after they do the math.

Let’s start with this site: The True Cost of Driving, which undertakes to find a per-mile cost that considers everything, including the economic impact of paving over stuff to accommodate cars. While I applaud the effort, let’s face it the numbers they use vary tremendously by where you live and are worthless without showing the math. Societal cost is really foggy. Important, but foggy. Apparently every mile I drive costs us all about a nickel for cleaning up accidents. And am I to take it seriously when it says that every mile I drive costs pedestrians and cyclists 1.4¢ for “barrier effects”?

Not mentioned is the value of the time saved by driving compared to alternatives. That’s why we drive. This assumes my time has value; arguable considering the amount of time I spent on this little research project. But if the time lost by inconvenienced pedestrians has value, my time should have value as well, and should be factored as a reduction in the cost per mile.

Almost all the calculators I found include the fixed costs of owning a vehicle in the cost-per-mile calculation. Makes sense; the cost of getting my car insured should be amortized over the miles I drive.

So then we have a cost per mile that includes those fixed costs. I can’t find the calculator page for the more level-headed AAA cost-per-mile estimator, but here it says the average is around $.60 per mile.

But here’s the problem: those same people who guided you through the calculation will turn around and tell you that you will save sixty cents for every mile you don’t drive. That is false. Your fixed costs are, well, fixed. It costs the same to register your car no matter how many miles you drive. Drive fewer miles, and your cost per mile goes up.

So, while recognizing that driving less will benefit society as well by a difficult-to-measure amount, how much actual pocket money do I save for each mile I choose a bike over a car? (Note: all the bicycle folks out there apparently consider each mile on a bicycle to be absolutely free, even the advocates who have $10,000 bikes or who have had insurance-funded knee surgery.)

I found myself going back to the drawing board. I know that with my older, smaller car, my out-of-pocket cost per mile will be lower than average, but maintenance is the big variable. I’ve saved a few hundred bucks doing some repairs myself, so if you don’t count the intangible value of my time, maintenance costs are under control — for now. There’s a clutch out there with my name on it.

I had a long, rather tedious paragraph here showing my math, but to summarize: fuel, mile-based depreciation, tires, maintenance, and “other” comes out to about 25¢ per mile in savings that go straight to my bank account for each mile I don’t drive. That’s a little over six bucks per commute.

The answer to “how long will it take to recoup the investment?”: a long time.

If driving less extends the life of my car by a year, however, then all these calculations are moot; I end up saving a ton of money. The cost per mile of my next car will be MUCH higher — at least for the first few years. Delaying that uptick in expenses is also money in the bank, but harder to quantify without a time machine.

Remember, 25¢ per mile does not include the cost of repairing (or adapting to) the harm I do to our planet for each mile I drive. I may well save the world as a whole more money than I save for myself.

Finally, if all this riding extends the life of my heart for a year (a reasonably likely outcome, actually), the savings go off the chart. But that’s a different sort of calculation.


Publicly Funded Stadiums and Labor Stoppages

I’m happy that hockey is back. There are others much happier than I am, however. The guys who sell nachos and beers at the Shark Tank were hurting much more than I was. The restaurant employees in downtown San Jose weren’t getting as many hours; their bosses were just hoping to make ends meet.

Yet still, around the country, cities are bankrolling new stadiums for sports teams. The politicians justify using tax dollars for sports venues citing the same vendors and restaurant employees feeling the hurt now, saying the arena will be a financial stimulus. Which isn’t completely false. Disingenuous, maybe, but not an outright lie.

Except when the team doesn’t actually play. In that case the community has dumped a shit-ton of money to make a sports owner richer, and has got nothing in return.

So here’s my humble suggestion. Every publicly-funded sports facility that enriches a privately-owned team, must come with a caveat. If the team doesn’t play, the owners are on the hook for the loss of local revenue. If the politicians selling the stadium brag, “One hundred thousand into the economy every game!” then if the team doesn’t play the game, the owner is on the hook for the $100K. I’ll build you the stadium, but I’m not taking the hit if you decide not to play.

Under Gary Betteman, Hockey has lost 10% of its games. That’s a big deal to cities like Glendale, AZ. I would love to see Glendale sue the NHL for breach of contract. “We did all these things, and you didn’t play the games.” Had Glendale pressed a suit, might the lockout have ended sooner?

Because here’s the thing. Fans form unions and whatnot, hoping to influence the petty bickering between rich men over how to divide the fans’ money. The fans’ unions (my favorite: NHLFU) have no power. But there is one place where the regular joe can be heard: Voting for a new stadium. Joe’s not so enthusiastic about paying for a stadium anymore. Can you blame him? Turns out when the stadium is complete, he can’t afford a ticket.

And then the league has the nerve to not play, leaving Joe with a mortgage payment on a billion-dollar complex, and nothing to show for it.

There should not be a stadium deal anywhere in this country, for any sport, that does not include a performance clause. To the owners: you can stop play if you want, but we’re not paying for it. You want to shut things down, you owe every vendor, every waitress nearby, every bartender in the city. I’m a fan, and I’m voting NO on any new stadium in my neighborhood that doesn’t have that provision.