Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sold in Ninety Minutes

My friend Gary, a guy with lots of experience in the car business, shared his approach to auto ownership: buy reliable used cars for cash and sell them when they reach 200,000 miles. Any car should be able to go that distance, he says, but beyond that, the cost of repairs will eat you alive.

We bought this 2002 Jeep Liberty in 2004 at Sewell in Dallas. It was a 40,000-mile cream puff. We drove it day-in, day-out, including trips to California and Tennessee, and frequent excursions with a 16-foot flatbed trailer on the back. During that time frame it needed an alternator, water pump, and A/C work, but all in all it was a very good car for us. We treated it right—meaning oil changes and car washes—and it paid us back in spades.

When the odometer clicked over 212,000, we decided to heed Gary's advice and let the Liberty go. I composed a Craigslist ad (this is one of the photos) and settled on the Kelly Blue Book "fair" private party value of $2495 as an asking price, even though I think the car qualified as "good." (Click here for KBB's used car site.) I did this hoping for a quick sale. "Quick" turned out to be an understatement.

The ad went live at 5:32pm. By six o'clock, I had 20 voice messages and a dozen texts asking for details about the Jeep. I spoke with buyers in English and Spanish, gave directions to five callers, told everyone to come take a look but I couldn't promise the car would still be there when they arrived. A caller needed directions from Arlington, Texas; she had started the day in Canton (90 minutes east of Dallas). I sat down for dinner at 6:30 and stopped answering the phone, which was ringing constantly.  At 6:45 I jumped online and edited my Craigslist ad title to read, "SOLD 2002 Jeep Liberty SOLD!" This was before a single prospect had actually seen the car. Then I got this series of text messages: "Coming cash in hand lol." "Directions from loop 820?" "Passing a church." "Im here." I grabbed the keys, my folder of maintenance records, and a flashlight, and headed out to the curb where the Jeep was parked.

There were four cars parked on the grass next to the Jeep, a young woman was doing a walk-around of the car, and several people were standing around talking into cell phones. Where did all these people come from? I wondered. I handed the keys to the walk-around woman and she started the car. "Any mechanical issues?" she queried. I reiterated the "known issues" from the ad (paint chips, bubbling window tint, passenger seat recline lever missing). "Sure, but are there any mechanical issues?" I told her the oil-low light illuminates on cold mornings even when the oil level is verified full. "That's it? I'll take it." She didn't even want a test drive.

I asked her to move the Jeep down the driveway and meet me at the house so we could sign the papers. One of the onlookers held a hand over his cell phone and said, "It's sold, right? For the asking price? Ok, thanks..." He relayed this news into his phone and everyone drove away. Ten minutes later the Jeep, its 'clear blue Texas title,' and its new owner were gone, and I stood at the kitchen table leafing through a two-inch stack of twenty dollar bills fresh out of some one's ATM.

Listed and sold in ninety minutes.

This is not the first time I've unleashed the Craigslist circus—stock panels, a sailboat, trailer pens, shelving, a home gym—we've sold all sorts of things on the site. I think Craigslist represents one of the highest and best uses of the Internet: bringing willing buyers and sellers together without a lick of government interference. But when I place an ad and the phone immediately goes berserk and the item in question is inspected, paid for and gone in minutes or hours, I always have that nagging feeling that I could have gotten more. But in this case I have no seller's remorse. We loved that car, it served us well for seven years, and the buyer got a great deal.

And there's something I forgot to mention about Gary's approach to auto ownership. He gets rid of his cars at 200,000 miles—and assumes they will be worth zero. Even if the only cash he gets is from a wrecking yard ($225 a ton for scrap), it's all gravy. We got $2495 in gravy.

Monday, February 7, 2011

New Route, New Horizons

Eighteen months ago I started flying a new route, from DFW International Airport to Honolulu. The non-stop flight time is about 8 hours westbound, 7 hours eastbound. We arrive on the island in the late afternoon, spend one night in a swank hotel on Waikiki Beach, and depart the following afternoon. This puts us on the ground for about 24 hours.

The hotel is right across the street from one of the best summer surfing beaches in the world. Oahu's South Shore receives uninterrupted swell energy from faraway Southern Hemisphere storms from June to September. The constant trade winds help shape the 2- to 4-foot waves into perfect lefts and rights at dozens of nearby surf spots with names like Pops, Cliffs, Publics, Canoes, Queens, Bowls, and Kaisers.

A great view of Diamond Head from my hotel on Waikiki.
Honolulu has a population of 900,000 people, and two-thirds of them surf, so the waves at the most accessible spots are always crowded. I routinely paddle into a lineup with a hundred other surfers, including Japanese tourists sitting on a surfboard for the first time, pasty-white haole's from the mainland (like me), and hot-tempered locals who still seem to think they're surfing some secret spot from the pre-contact days.

On quiet mornings in the summer I surf a spot called Publics, just offshore from the War Memorial. It's a longer paddle across a tricky reef, so the first-timers pass it up. The crowd rarely exceeds a half dozen locals, and I'm actually on a first-name basis with one or two of them. Publics is a left-hand break, which favors "goofy foot" surfers like myself. On small mornings, it's a gentle 50-yard glide along the shallow reef. On big days, when the waves reach 6- to 8-feet, Publics is a harrowing takeoff followed by a high-speed race that can stretch 300 yards towards the beach. The first time I surfed Publics on a big day, I caught and rode three waves in succession that were better than the best waves I ever surfed in 15 years in Southern California. And that, in a nutshell, is surfing in Hawaii.

Anyone Can Join

You've stumbled onto the official proceedings of the Fort Worth Surf Riders Club. My name is Bob, and I'm glad you're here. I'm the club president, treasurer, and ombudsman. As we go to press, I'm also the club's only member. Having only one member simplifies taking attendance at our monthly meetings, which we haven't had yet, and it also expedites the collection of dues. All motions pass without objection. It's a great club.

We don't have a mission statement, but we're working on it. Once ratified by the member(s) at large, it will probably sound something like this: "The Fort Worth Surf Riders Club promotes the sport of surfing on Texas lakes, rivers, and stock tanks in an environmentally sustainable way without regard to race, creed, or national origin." Like the club itself, the mission statement needs a little work.

We're well aware that small inland bodies of water rarely produce conditions suitable for surfing, so while we wait for waves we'll pursue a host of other activities, ranging from road cycling to small-plot gardening, from home improvement projects to vintage auto restoration, and anything else that suits our fancy.

For those of you who came here just for the surfing, don't despair. There will be waves—just not here in North Texas. Your president has a part-time job that takes him to Hawaii on a regular basis, and as you may have heard, they have waves out there.

You may apply for membership in our club by posting encouraging comments here. Anyone can join. Welcome to the club.