LOS ANGELES - Those of you who have read the blog in recent months know a few facts about me, such as I am slim, I love to cycle, I pretend to be scholarly and thoughtful, I am somewhat unlucky in love, and now you have the pleasure of discovering I can be cheap - excuse me, frugal. (You didn't really believe I was ordering up Happy Meals simply because they contain fewer calories, do you?)
Being frugal does have its merits. Why pay full price for something when it can be had for less? Behaviors such as shopping on the Internet have transformed being thrifty into something one can gloat about - from how much one was able to save on a new car purchase to buying books, to booking travel at a discount, the Internet can be a bargain hunter's paradise.
Of course being frugal also has its downside since it can make you look somewhat idiotic and trifling instead of sharp or clever. Which brings us back to where we left off in part one as I described some of what happened on my best-worst trip ever.
As I explained when describing my car rental experience in our previous chat, I figured I would be able to pull my magic once again. Unfortunately companies such as Hotwire.com (I always use them for my vehicle rentals) have wised up to smart asses like me through the enforcement of restrictions such as you must pick up and return your vehicle at the same location. Since these limitations make it more difficult to find loopholes, it would mean I would have a harder time (though not impossible) shuttling back and forth between Midway and O'Hare airports.
Of course all my plans were thwarted once I discovered I would not be saving any money at all (due to my own prior hesitation). And I was left with the task of kicking myself for my own blunder. Time to move on. And so I did. No sense in crying over spilled milk. I was on vacation after all, dammit.
So, how is this my best-worst trip ever? Well, if you look closely, a pattern emerges. My miscalculations are adding up to real dollar amounts. Thus I am already brooding about my extra travel expenses when I get hit with what is perhaps the least favorite of any expense one can incur while on vacation. The dreaded speeding ticket.
Here I am, driving along in my nice little rental, minding my own business as I cruise down the Indiana Toll Road. Cars around me are moving at a nice steady pace and I am moderately exceeding the speed limit, it's nothing to be concerned about. Unfortunately for me, the toll road is only four lanes wide - two in either direction. I think of this as an all or nothing at all highway because you're often forced to drive like a snail in the right lane or drive as though you were at Daytona if you're in the left lane. I decided on the left lane.
I am cruising and making great time as I make my way back to Chicago. Suddenly I feel the pressure of another car getting too close to my rear. I should have you know that my driving mirrors my life. I am very kind and courteous behind the wheel as well, meaning I usually slide over a lane and allow the more aggressive driver pass. But remember, we are on one of these all-or-nothing highways and unfortunately for me an oversized, wide-load labeled tractor-trailer was just ahead. I had to make a decision. Which choice would be more efficacious?
I could feel my heart begin to beat for fiercely and sweat began to form at my brow. OK, maybe not. But I did have to do something. So I gunned it. I could feel the rental's tranny downshift as I floored it. Seventy-five, 80, 85, 90. Within seconds there was plenty of space between me and the car that was behind me as well as the large tractor-trailer that was attempting to pass. I scooted over to the right lane, took my foot off the gas and let my car decelerate back to a more moderate speed.
Things seemed good - for about 30 seconds - or should I say until an Indiana state trooper decided to hog the scenery in my rear view mirror.
"Crap!" (or possibly some other four letter word) was my initial reaction as the trooper's bright blue and red lights began to direct me to the shoulder. I came to a stop and rolled down the passenger window as he approached.
"Do you know how fast you were going?" he asked me. He spoke out of the side of his mouth like a drill sergeant. His dark brown, pocked marked face was a less than refreshing vision.
"About 85," I answered. He looked at me and said that is what he thought too, but that the radar pegged me going 89 (obviously he caught me as I was decelerating). I handed him my license. While I never denied the fact I had exceeded the posted speed, I tried to plead my case that I was merely trying to pass a much slower moving vehicle. Ironically, he acknowledged that fact and then proceeded to hand me a citation worth $150 and I realized I had made yet another error in judgment.
But like a long-running soap opera, my saga continued. When I arrived back in SoCal, I was hit with yet another financial surprise when I realized I had somehow parked in the $17 a day parking rather than the $8 a day lot (I swear I followed the signs). Having to spend more than twice as much for parking - especially when I loathe paying anything for parking at all - is almost enough to push me over the edge. Unfortunately I had no one but myself to blame as I painfully signed the receipt for $85 worth of parking. Ouch. Double ouch.
But I really shouldn't complain. Financial miscues aside, I had a fantastic time. While in Chicago, I was able to spend time with Tom and Beth (Tom and I have known each other since seventh grade). I was also able to reconnect with family, such as my cousin Bonnie and my uncle Norman (in fact I was able to reunite them after more than 35 year even though they live less than 10 miles apart, go figure). While in Michigan I got to spend time with my Aunt Myrna and her family and I even attended a family reunion for the very first time.
But somehow, I can't seem to forget about the lost opportunities. I guess I shouldn't dwell, but as I reflect on my trip, what life lesson have I learned? When you pinch pennies, sometimes they actually pinch back. And boy does it hurt.
Well, I gotta scoot...