Thursday, August 29, 2013

Get Better Photographing Cars

As a photo industry person, I find the worlds of cars and camera collides very often. Some of my fondest memories are trackside, and I really do have to get around to doing my ride's 100K portrait for posterity.

Photographer Joe Farace has a great article on his blog today about shooting your own car for practice and fun.

Check it out here:

Monday, August 19, 2013

OK GPS, now you're just mocking me

This shot is the Inbound approach to the GWB, slowed to a bumper to bumper crawl Thursday. Apparently my GPS thought it was an opportune time to develop a sense of sarcasm. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Buying My Wife a new SUV: A Retrospective

Lets get something straight: I know how to buy a new car.

It takes months of exhaustive research, tests drives, bargaining, more research, and the unavoidable emotional turmoil of falling in and out of love, as your heart is broken repeatedly whilst searching for the  perfect auto to complement a lifestyle in comfort and convenience.

My wife says, “I like that one” and picks a color.

Act I – the CR-V Conundrum
Recently, we came to the realization that my wife’s aging 2006 Honda CR-V was an inadequate size for a 4 year old, an infant, me and all of our crap. Therefore, we decided to get something a bit bigger and newer.

Now don’t get me wrong, the CR-V treated us well. It was roomy enough, safe, had AWD, and got the job done with minimal hassle. The only issues it gave us was when the transfer case suffered some internal shearing and needed to be serviced (found a TSB ),  and the awesome time when the condenser drain hose clogged, and I literally had to cut out the entire interior of the car to dry it. Fun times. My other complaints were that it had the acceleration of a well-fed, beached basking shark. In addition, we never did have a use for the picnic table that came in the back as a standard feature.

So she liked her Honda and we started looking at the Pilot. It looked nice, was a very popular three row SUV, and got great reviews. It was indeed the logical choice. Me, being the instinctual haggler said “OK, now that you know what we want, we have to see what else is out there to make sure we get the best deal.” In retrospect, that wasn't the best use of our time.

We debated a few cars, including the new Dodge Durango, Jeep Cherokee, Suby Tribeca and Nissan Pathfinder. My attempt to talk her into a bad-ass, used late model Tahoe flopped when she saw the 2 MPG mileage on the monster V8. We even dabbled on a nice used Escalade for a minute, but I shot that one down citing we weren't a livery cab service, nor a bored NJ housewife. We finally narrowed it down to leasing one of two cars, either the Honda Pilot of the Toyota Highlander. Both have a sweet lease deal going on, have a 3.5 L V6 option and third row seating, and were not minivans, our prime requisites.  After a night of searching inventories online and securing appointments, we scheduled a babysitter, and set off for the harrowing day of buying a new car.

Our first stop was the Toyota dealership down on Sunrise Highway. Let me get this out of the way: for the most part, I really don’t like Toyotas. It is of my personal  opinion that with the exception of a few shining spots, (FR-S, 4-Runner)  I view the majority of the line as lacking a soul whose only function is to create extremely reliable, cost effective transportation. Sure, their designs have got much more inspired in the last few years, they just aren't for me. if you want a no-frills transportation that will last forever, a Toyota is good for you. 

But had I known what we were about to endure in this dealership, we would have never waked through those doors, directly into the vipers nest.

"I'll Swallow Your Soul"- Jan
Lets talk about Jan for a second. She is the super helpful, often quirky and lovable Toyota spokesperson that works the reception desk in the Toyota TV ads. This is in no way an accurate representation of the staff of a dealership.

First off, let me ask this logical question: I’m dropping more than $30K on a new car. I hate to have my time wasted and I hate to be BS’d. I make that pretty apparent in my words and body language when I go into negotiations. So we meet the salesperson, and I am very brief. We shake hands and make nice. I am going to refer to her as “Maria” from here on out, because I honestly forgot her name. I like to think I project  “please don’t BS me” non-verbally. Maria fails to catch on to this. I tell her what we are looking for. Toyotas website is affering a V6 model AWD highlander for a decent $249 month, 36K mile lease. It’s at this point I realize that this is in no way an accurate advertisement, and is actually bait to get you into the dealer. But I’m trapped.

So we go for a test drive. My wife drives, and I take shotgun. Maria seems nice. She points out all of the features. Airbags. Seatbelts, floor mats, steering wheel controls. Apparently, she is under the impression that we expect every new car to come as well equipped as a cold-war era Yugo. I tell my wife to "punch it", and the tach climbs past 4K, but the car lugs. “Is this theV 6?” I ask. “Yes it is, it has a lot of power!,” squeals Maria with the delight of a schoolgirl. I glance over at the sticker. It was a 4 banger. “It’s also got VVT-i, which makes a lot of power!” I smile and nod, feigning approval.

Newer Toyota Highlander

ACT II -  "Let me go check with my manager"
So my wife likes it. Then we go to the table. I say “We want that car. This trim, in this color, this advertised price. I’m thinking to myself “Would Maria possibly walk away from such an easy open and shut deal?” But of course she would.

What do you have available?” I ask. And then it happens, the first major red flag that makes me want to walk. She takes out a piece of paper and started to draw “The Box”. For those unfamiliar with the box, it’s a tactic shady used car salesmen use to visualize a car purchase for people with no common sense. Also known as the “Four Square System", It consists of 4 quadrants. These quadrants are filled with features, total price, loan terms and monthly payments. The focus is on the monthly payments to draw your attention and make you think you got a good deal. But Maria has us right where she wants us – we are sitting at the table, and she feels like she is about to close a deal.

In the top of the she she starts writing. At this point I’m getting angry and impatient, and she writes sooooo sloooow. It’s like she is carving me a tablet with the terms. I kid you not, she scratches out, “This car has power windows, A/C and power door locks.” WHAT THE HELL. Its 2013, and these are standard features on a toaster now a days. my time is being wasted, and I'm getting heated.

 She then says she is going to go check with her manager for inventory. (I really hate it when they do this) A while later, she comes back and then informs us that the color we want the car in is not available, nor is the trim level. How convenient. So she says, “Here, I have something close.” And proceeds to shows us our second choice color we want in a car with a few more options. It’s the demo model, so it’s got a few thousand miles on it, and it looks like they have a 14-year old Xzibit installing their accessories. It’s got DVD players, a faux spoiler, it's Donked with spinners, and has an excess of those black plastic window vent shades. Don’t get me wrong, I like Vent Shades, they are a nice, useful additions to windows. However, the whole set is installed on this Highlander, including a bug deflector, all windows, even one over the rear window. If the ozone layer were to disappear tomorrow, and bathe the earth in scorching UV light, this might be a sensible option. Seeing as how that is not happening, it looked ridiculous.

So then Maria says, “let me check with my manager on the price.” 

Six hours pass, she comes back, and says "OK, you can lease this one for $440 a month with $5k down". Right about now I am very confused. I just walked in here looking for a $249 a month lease. How did she honestly think nearly doubling the monthly payment on an option package I did not want, on a demo model was a solid negotiation tactic? If she was a hostage negotiator and I was holding people against their will, I would have just burned down the compound on that one. 

I say calmly, “no, that’s way more than we are looking to spend. If you don’t have the color, feel free to check your partners, and give us a call later on.” She says “let me go check with my manager”.

3 hours and 30 minutes later, she comes back to us, and this time the manager is in tow. Up front, this guy is Shady with a capitol “S”.  He has a greasy mustache and speaks in some sort of accent I can’t place. His suit is tan and off the rack, and I’m pretty sure we just interrupted him from sending out blast emails posing as a prince, notifying people they just won the Nigerian lottery.

He starts out by saying, “Look, you will only have this car for three years, so why does the color really matter?” to that I reply “because I’m paying for it.” he doesn't like this answer one bit. The manager then realizes I am obviously a master negotiator, and he raises the stakes. “400 dollars a month -  this is what I pay for my cell phones for my family.” This is an expert tactic on his end which is made to subconsciously apply two things. First, he is trying to make this sound like an everyday purchase like a cell phone plan, and also letting me know he has some devil spawn of his own. Secondly, I think “wow, did you try these awesome negotiation tactics with the guy at the cell phone store to get that awesome rate?” I didn't say that.

Then my next move horrified everyone at the table; Gasps were gasped, eyes were widened and I could see the scream caught in the back of Maria’s throat. I stood up from the table. To me, this was over. The manager actually raised his voices and told me to sit down, in a manner that tried to sound like pleading. Holy crap, no that didn't just happen, but it did.  

I said once again, this time much more sternly, looking the manager right in the eye, “If somehow you find the car we are looking for, feel free to give me a call. Thank you for your time.”

 The next part is a bit fuzzy due to my blinding rage, but I’ll recount it to the best of my ability:

I grabbed my wife’s hand and ran out. As we make a mad dash for the doors, we dodge a net that falls from the ceiling. I also pulled out a sweet move from my high school football days, and executed a rather impressive spin move/ stiff-arm to the poor junior salesperson who tried to get in our way to stop us. I really do hope his nose eventually heals.

The sunlight momentarily blinds us as we reached the outside of the dealership. I look at my watch, and realize two full days had actually passed in there while we were “waiting for the manager.” I unlock the CR-V from a distance, and now our dash is more like a sprint, as we run for our freedom. The dealership doors bust open behind us, and the manager is actually chasing us out the door (not kidding). He is yelling, “wait we can do 399 a month for this Highlander!!!” but it’s too little and too late. We jump in the CR-V, and I hammer the gas pedal: we rip out of the parking lot at what must have been 7 miles per hour.

I look over to my beautiful wife, thankful we made it out the there alive. It’s really after a dramatic situation like this, you realize what you have in life that you take for granted.  It’s unspoken but we both know that a similar horror might face us at the Honda dealership that is our next stop.

Act III – Showdown at HondaTown 
We drive to Levittown and the Honda Dealership on Rt. 24. We walk in and are greeted by Steve the salesperson. I say bluntly. “We want a Pilot, we want this advertised price, what can we do?” He gets it. He takes us out to the lot to see what he has, and then we come in and sit down. He asks us what deal we are referring. I show him on my phone. He says “O.K. ” and asks us what color we want. He says, “I’ll be right back”.

…And two minutes later, he was back. He said “this just came in” and held up the documentation for a brand new Pilot in the color she wanted.

I’m really confused right now. He hasn't gone to see his manager once. Instead, he comes over with a few papers, asks us to look them over and sign. He tells us what the down payment and all the costs are. Then he says, OK, “I’ll call you later today when you can come and pick it up.“

I’m dumbfounded. How can two car dealerships have such drastically different tactics? We were probably in there for 30 minutes, and another 30 minutes when we picked up a nicely detailed car. He even straightened out my wife’s tags, which were mangled in a rear end collision. After he showed us how to work the Bluetooth and a quick overview, we were off.
The whole experience was so pleasant, I even dabbled with the thought of leasing a 2013 V6 Accord for a moment. But only for a moment.

The Pilot which makes my wife happy. Photographed hanging out of our driveway that it doesn't fit in. 

Its now been two moths with the Pilot, and the wife loves it. We have taken a few road trips with it, and its comfortable and smooth. Thanks to the V6 it has adequate acceleration,  and handles surprisingly well for such a big truck. It has mass amounts of room for the kids and all our junk, and the gas mileage is decent. It also came nicely equipped with standard features such as Bluetooth and a backup camera. And yes, it came with power windows and A/C.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

NY Metro Tolls Infographic

I apologize that this is from May, but it’s too cool to not post. And since its only 3 months old, the odds are strong that the tolls have since tripled.  In addition, this doesn’t reflect the reduced EZ Pass rates, which are only in effect on non-peak hours, on days that begin with T while the planets are aligned in the southern sky.

Via @districtdrive via VerySmallAray (

Friday, August 9, 2013

GW Bridge Construction Alert, and How to Avoid It

As of August 5th, expect delays at the GW Bridge. 

The George Washington Bridge is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation project to repair the aging upper level. Nighttime work has most lanes of upper roadway completely closed. 

This week, Jersey bound lanes will be closed from 11 pm to 5 am, and starting next week inbound lanes will be closed at the same times. As usual, residual morning delays may occur until 6-7 am. They will adjust lane closures accordingly with Yankee games.

What does this mean? At night, the CBX Westbound / 95 N is going to be a nightmare . The Deegan will be slightly better. After next week, expect inbound delays of up to an hour. Lower level recommended if you have to take the bridge. Upper Manhattan is going to suck for the rest of the month.

My suggested night time route is to take one of the tunnels from in town, or the Verrazano / Goethells combo if coming from the south. For all other times of day, my advice remains to always default to the lower level unless you hear reports of massive Deegan delays or a Yankee game.