The First of Many


By Louise Ure


Welcome back from your long holiday weekend, ‘Rati. (Well, the long holiday weekend for you American ‘Rati, anyway.) I hope your weather was as gorgeously lazy and blue as it was here in San Francisco. I did nothing particularly patriotic or unusual … dinner out with several friends, a remarkable barbeque on Monday, a day weeding on the roofdeck-garden which has left my muscles in a state of contrition … but it was good.

Oh, and I bought a car.

I’ve been on a car selling-binge for the last year, auctioning off Bruce’s racecars, the tow vehicle and trailer, but I still had two cars to go.


The first was a 1971 Mercedes 280SL that I bought back in the 80’s. I’ve loved that car for over a quarter of a century, using it as a daily driver, a Sunday treat, or a long haul Thelma and Louise touring car riding from Montana to Arizona and back again. That car has seen me at more cowboy bars and roadside motels than it has grocery stores and libraries.

But she’s aged better than I have, and my knees no longer make it easy or graceful to get in and out of that plush leather bucket seat. It was time to say goodbye.

I had a collector over to look at it a couple of months ago and he low-balled an offer I wasn’t interested in. “For that price, I’ll just use it as a Barcalounger in the garage.”

He kept calling back, notching the offer up a couple of thousand every few weeks. Finally, when he reached a price that was three times what I’d paid for it 28 years ago, I said yes.



The second car, a 2000 Mercedes SUV, reflected the wife, business owner, middle aged woman and dog transporter I’ve become in the last quarter of a century. It’s another car I’ve loved and I could happily keep driving it for another twenty years without a second thought.

With this car, it wasn’t my knees that betrayed me, but technology. As wonderful as that Mercedes was – navigation unit and all – it was still twelve years old and technology has outpaced car design by a long stretch.

I was tired of wearing a Bluetooth headset as my only means of answering a phone call while driving. I wanted easy access to my whole iPod music library and not just a lousy 6-CD changer in the trunk. I wanted a rear view camera to keep me from scraping my bumper on that stubby concrete post at the grocery store. Oh, and a little better gas mileage wouldn’t go astray, either.

So this weekend, I did a little research, found something I liked coming off a lease, and went north to a Marin county dealership and bought myself a car.

I make that sound easy, and it probably would be for most of you. But let me put this in perspective.

I am sixty years old and I have never shopped for and purchased a car by myself before. I inherited my first car through a death in the family. My mother went with me to buy the next car, and my brother fulfilled that function for the third.

By the fourth or fifth car in my auto-resume, Bruce was there, asking mechanical questions I didn’t even understand the answer to, and negotiating deals I thought we had no chance of winning. And I certainly didn’t have a clue about how to value or negotiate a trade in.

So I got internet smart, reading Kelley Bluebook quotes and checking out used car prices at lots all over town. I investigated recommended negotiating techniques and used car dealer tricks. (As my brother Jim reminded me on the phone yesterday, when he and his wife last went in to by a car, the saleman left them alone in his office and then listened in on their negotiation conversation through an open intercom.) I read Edmunds and Car and Driver reviews of various years’ performance. Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?

The upshot, after a full five hours of negotiation (“Don’t worry about me, take your time, I’ve got my iPad to keep me busy, you take just as long as you need to figure out how to get to this number.”) they came down a few thousand on price, they came up a few thousand on the trade in, they threw in a bunch of extras like an extended warranty and handed me a few hundred bucks more I found lying in the weeds, and I got my car.

I think I’m going to like it. It’s a different brand than I’ve ever tried before and it will take some time to get to know all these flashy new hi tech toys, but it looks good in the garage and I smile when I drive it. (Forgive me for not picturing it here, but author/police officer Robin Burcell told me years ago about the dangers of showing our actual houses, cars or license plates online. I have enough stalkers in my life, thanks.)

And I think that what I’m really smiling about is that it’s yet another first. Another thing I’ve successfully done by myself. Many of my other “firsts” this year have been sad ones. The first Christmas without Bruce. The first road trip alone to Seattle to take care of his father.

Here’s to more happy “firsts” ahead. 

And how about you guys? What is your most recent “first”? Or what “first” would you like to accomplish? It doesn’t have to be a Bucket List kind of thing. It can be tiny. 

I think I’d like to make my first ever squirrel pot pie.





21 thoughts on “The First of Many

  1. MJ

    Alright! Competence at a new skill is good. I had my first car-totaling accident last year, and then bought my first car (others were hand me downs from family and one that my parents forced on me, convinced that it was safe (actually, it was a nightmare to drive in northern snowy states, which is WHERE WE LIVE)).

    I found successfully navigating the purchase process to be very good. It wasn't totally fun, but I'd do it again with no stress any day. Like buying a house and qualifying for a mortgage – good to know, wouldn't want to repeat too often.

    Now, I'm thinking of buying a new musical instrument in person instead of through much research and an internet order. I'm good but not great, and I'm a gal – always surrounded by guys – so I'm having a little agita at the thought of showing up to comparison shop and being the 1) nonexpert 2) girl. But then I think, those guitar dudes didn't survive law school and law practice, and I have, so in the words of Aretha Franklin,' who's zoomin' who here?? Talk to the hand, suckas.

  2. Fran

    Oh congratulations, my dear! Car buying is SUCH a pain in the patoot, and it sounds like you not only navigated those treacherous waters, but you bent them to your will! That is absolutely no small feat!

    Hmm, firsts? Okay, here's a little one. Lillian made us both hammocks, not just your usual lazing-in-the-sun type hammocks, but camping ones, with under-quilts and liners and all manner of fanciness. So I have been lounging in a hammock made specifically for me with an eye to camp sleeping in it at the end of the month. With my back and knees, it's a dicey endeavor, but she got it right and it's a delight. I never contemplated sleeping in a hammock when camping, so this is definitely a first for me.

  3. Louise Ure

    Fran, your Lillian is a gem! I would definitely add "sleeping under the stars in a handmade hammock" to a dandy list of "firsts."

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    LU, I think it's just amazing that you've had the focus and stamina to sell all those cars; I'm having a nervous breakdown just reading about it. I've been putting off buying a car for a while now, the whole idea gives me hives.

    I blogged about my "first" on Saturday – putting my first original e novel up for sale. A very big breakthrough and relief, for me.

  5. David Corbett

    Dear Sweet Louise:

    A pink Cadillac, right?

    Here's a little heads up: I mention you in my post for tomorrow (and Stephen and Cornelia and Alexandra). And what I admire about all of you is the simple stick-with-it-ness that often doesn't get the credit it deserves. We like our triumphs grand and splashy, but they're often accomplished by the inch. I know the firsts of which you speak, and I can't measure yours with certainty, but must rely on empathy and imagination — imperfect but not useless tools. It is not inconceivable that you could have curled up and hidden for a very long while. And boy, do I understand the impulse. But little by little, like photo-sensitive flowers, we react to the light. This is such a wonderful little tale of rebirth, renewal. Life, like the devil, is in the details. Sometimes the simplicity of the everyday lures us into thinking it's insignificant. But then there's a spanking new car in the garage. Wowza.

    Thanks for the big smile on my face.


  6. JT Ellison

    Well done, Louise! Car buying and selling is a pain,. My Dad is a car addict, and right now needs to sell a gorgeous silver t-top 1973 Corvette with a stroker engine, so if anyone out there is reading this….

    As the daugfhter of an automotive aficianado, I've watched a parade of vehicles march through our lives. I am always struck by the regret, two months later, when he wishes he hadn't sold that last car. Especially with his Porshes. He started with a 944 when I was 16 (After switching from Corvettes) and has been running through them for years. He is sans Porsche right now, and pining.

    On the other hand, I get mostly hand me down cars. I keep them for years – and cry when I'm finally forced to sell them. I attach to inanimate object. Sad.

    My first – I'm moderating a panel at Thrillerfest. Thankfully, I know all my panelmates, so they'll hold me up if I fail.

  7. Judy Wirzberger

    Well Congratulations! I remember post divorce owning my own car for the very first time. It was loverly. Pre-divorce (lo those eons ago) I drove to Santa Cruz from Fremont just to know that I could do it. Having come from flat Illinois and flatter Nebraska, it was a magnificent accomplishment.

    Wishing you a world of wonderful firsts. Judy

  8. Louise Ure

    Alex, your "first original e novel" beats a used car purchase hands down. My, how you manage to sally forth into these new worlds.

    David, my dear, "stick-with-it-ness"? More likely "stick-in-the-mud-ness." But I do so love the idea of showing up in a pink Cadillac. Alas, that's not what I bought. Can't wait to read your post tomorrow. I may have to "log in" and cheat and read it early.

    JT, your father is a man after my heart. I love his car passions. Hope I don't regret the sale of the '71 two months from now. And have a blast at the T-fest panel!

    Judy, I can picture you — hands gripping the wheel like handcuffs — on that Fremont-Santa Cruz trip. You have the strength of ten.

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    As a fellow car enthusiast, I feel your pain at parting with that gorgeous SL. I'm afraid I would have been investigating new seats before I put the For Sale sign in the window … ;-]

    I sympathise, though, because on previous occasions when I've gone to buy a car on my own, the salesmen (and they were, invariably, men) just about patted me on the head and said, "There, there, dear, don't you worry your pretty little head about these things …" One car, as we were walking across the forecourt to have a test-drive, the salesman said, "It's a good woman's car, this." I looked at him for a moment, then asked, "Erm, why?" He seemed taken aback, then he said, "Well, it's a good colour!" I made no comment at the time, but during the test-drive I stuck said car – it was blue, by the way – into a roundabout in second gear and put my foot down to see if I could hang the tail out. The salesman held onto the bottom of his seat all the way back to the garage.

    Firsts for me recently? My first shaky footsteps onto Facebook!

  10. Shizuka

    Hi Louise,

    Just reading about the car buying thing (5 hours of negotiation!) makes me itchy.
    Two firsts: one recent past and one recent future.
    I pitched to an editor last week. She's interested.
    I hope my other first — a beginner's karate class — goes as well.

    You seem to be moving on with life so beautifully. I'm awed by you!


  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I HATE buying cars. I hate the whole negotiation thing. I'm like Richard Dreyfuss in TIN MEN – in the beginning he's buying a Cadillac and the salesman is asking him how much he wants to pay and Richard says, "One dollar. Listen, don't do this to me. I do this all day for a living, I don't want to go through it now."
    Car negotiations make my head spin. I see the salesman as the devil. I don't trust anyone. I'm thinking, "Cant we all just get along?"
    My cars…first car was a 1979 Mustang that I bought from a neighbor for $500. I was sixteen years old. The car was a piece of shit that broke down consistently every two weeks. I'd be on a date and the car would start thumping and I'd pull over to the side of the road and say to my date, "Do you have a friend to call that can pick us up?"
    Next car was a piece of shit hand-me-down from my mom. The first day I got it I turned the key in the ignition and it caught on fire. The catalitic converter backed up. I had to get a high school friend to put an entire new (old) engine in it as his class project. I ended up driving that thing from New Mexico to California – it took four days to do it. I broke down many times, ending up in Winslow, Arizona thinking I'd have to play sax in a country bar to survive. My mom wired me money every step of the way.
    I've had too many shitty cars. I finally had a couple great cars (leased) while I was working the big sales job I had, but it wasn't worth selling my soul – I hated the job.
    Now I have a seventeen year old Jeep with 150,000 miles on it. Another mess. Back to my high school days….

  12. Louise Ure

    Zoe, your post made me laugh. I can see you scaring the Bejeezus out of the salesman. And guess what? Things are no different here: the first thing the salesman asked me was what color I was looking for. I responded with questions about horsepower, torque ratio and 20" wheels.

    Shizuka, congratulations on your presentation to the editor! Fingers crossed. If she crosses you, use your new karate skills to kick her in the shins.

    I agree, Stephen, you would be a horrid negotiator. You're too nice. I hate it, too, but it's one of those things you're just "supposed to do." Like being polite (at arm's length) to that bastard Uncle Bob at Christmas, even though he pinches your breasts every time you see him.

  13. Sarah W

    You’ve inspired me!

    I love my venerable, battle-scarred Rocinante of a Honda Civic, but since my biggest future first thing is attending Bouchercon and my second biggest is traveling there by myself, I’m thinking I might want to drive something that won’t be jettisoning vital pieces of itself all the way to St. Louis.

    So my next first thing will be to do some research and scrape together a down payment for a new(er) vehicle-–maybe even a hybrid -– because while Rocinante is rich in history, he’s not worth much on paper . . .

  14. Louise Ure

    Go, Sarah! And consider using the trade in value of Rocinante as your down payment and just finance the rest. They're really offering cheap money right now.

  15. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    How did you know that Uncle Bob pinches my breasts, Louise? It kind of freaks me out that you have this knowledge. Are you having me followed?

  16. Reine

    :slugging on a cold one: To more happy firsts, Louise.

    I crave to have my first accessible van with special controls so I can drive – and to get my seizures back under control with a new med without freaky side effects. I just want to be independent again. Not exactly a first. Just important.

  17. Susan Shea

    Yeah, a lot of firsts for a long time, some that sneak up on you and some that are adventures with an ending – like your car search – that gives you a little boost. For me, the hardest part still is, I want to share it with Tim: "Guess what I did today…?" But over time, I admit reluctantly, those firsts are healing.

    A pink Cadillac would be cool, but I'm not even sure the car company's still in business. Maybe a fierce Range Rover would suit your personality because you are actually a pretty gutsy woman.

    Come back to Marin for lunch some day?

  18. Louise Ure

    Reine, that's a huge and important goal. I whisper you good wishes on this path.

    And oh yeah, Susan. I pulled into the garage and said, "How do you like it, Bruce?" No answer.

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