Sunday, March 18, 2018

Brackets schmackets

I probably shouldn't admit to this, being the old sports writer that I am/was, but for the first time in memory (well, in my memory), I didn't participate in an NCAA brackets pool.

At least, not voluntarily.

As the tournament approached, I received the usual requests for my pool participation. I'd been playing NCAA pools for probably the entire 40 years I've lived in Lexington, and in all those years, I only won once.

That was in 1983. It happened like this: We had the usual brackets pool at The Dispatch, where I worked, but then we had a Sweet 16 pool, where you drew the name of a team out of a hat at $5 a pop. I wasn't there for the drawing (I think I was actually out on assignment), but a colleague of mine drew for me, pulling N.C. State.

Oh, great, I thought, thinking that's $5 I'll never see again. Until N.C. State won. Oh, great! I thought, and promptly bought myself a Members Only jacket with my $80 in winnings.

But every year since then, I've been a poor loser. It usually cost me $5 to fill out three brackets, but even with my supposedly sports writer insider knowledge, I'd only occasionally get tantalizingly close to winning the $120 pots. Usually, the winner was someone who picked their teams based on school colors or how they liked the team nicknames. Very prescient of them, but probably as good a system as any.

So this year, I just said the hell with it. I just didn't want to play any more. It was a dead-end street. Money out the window. And with that decision not to fill out my brackets, I felt decidedly liberated. No longer did I have to suffer agonizing bracket-buster upsets. I could just sit back and enjoy the games. In fact, I didn't even have to watch the games, if I didn't want to. I was free. Free to change the channel. Free to go outside in the middle of a game. Free.

Until Thursday morning, when my wife called. There was an ESPN pool her office was participating in. One of her colleagues would fill out our bracket if I just picked the Final Four teams. Sigh. OK. Easy enough. And it didn't cost anything to enter. So I picked Virginia, Xavier, Villanova and Michigan State, with Villanova to win the title (Villanova is a Philadelphia school. I might still have to ride those Super Bowl coattails).

But I didn't have to fill out a bracket. Somebody else in Kim's office volunteered to do that based on my final four teams.

I kind of like this surrogate selector idea. Going into today's games, our bracket is currently tied for first place, even surviving Virginia's stunning upset to the UM-Baltimore County Retrievers (a great team nickname, I think, right up there with the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs).

I'm still not clear what happens if we win the pool. Not sure if money is involved or not. Could end up being a pat on the back. Suits me. I'm still free.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Auto correct

I wasn't really in the market for a new car (well, actually a used car, but new to me), because the one I had was still doing OK. Yes, the one I had was 10 years old and it was approaching 100,000 miles, which is kind of like a demarcation line for trade-ins. Everybody's antennae seems to go up at 100,000 miles.

But the power train on my daily driver was still in excellent condition. There had never been an issue with the engine or the transmission. And after 10 years of faithful service, stuff was deteriorating. We don't have a garage, so there was some sun damage on anything that was plastic. And because cars are essentially computers on wheels (even 10-year-old cars), there were some annoying electronic problems with remote door locks and express windows.

Even my sound system was getting a little staticky, and foam padding from the driver's seat was slipping out of the seams.

So while I wasn't really in need of a new(er) vehicle, that didn't stop me from looking. Sometimes, over the past year or so, we'd go to car lots on Sundays just to see what's what.

Then Kim, playing on the MacBook a month or so ago, found a one-year-old car with just 700 miles on it at a dealership in Burlington. I wasn't nuts about the idea of going to Burlington to look at a car, but then, we'd gone to Aiken, SC, two years ago to buy Kim's car – which she happened to find on the Internet.

So why not?

Anyway, we went to check out the car yesterday. One of the things I dread in life is buying a car, but this particular experience turned out to be doable. Our sales person was laid back and friendly, and we never felt pressured to buy. My ace card was that I didn't need a car and could walk away at any time. We'd already done that once at another dealership. They just didn't have to know that I might want a new car.

We did learn the car had only 700 miles on it because the original buyer, a woman, bought the car, kept it for like 14 days, then traded it in for an SUV because she felt the sedan was too small.

OK. That makes sense. Lucky me.

To make a long story short, the dealership had already knocked $4,500 off its asking price. After test driving the car, we decided to bite the bullet and buy it. After a round or two of negotiating, we'd gotten another $1,000 knocked off. We also got a reasonable interest rate. And there's still about 95 per cent of the factory warranty remaining.

The car is also loaded with more bells and whistles than a traveling circus, so there's more to driving it than just hitting the start button with the remote in your pocket. I figure there's a ton of reading to do and maybe watching a couple of YouTube tutorials about this car before I accidentally press the ejection seat button.

The only real stress of the day was that the whole experience, from first arriving on the lot to signing the final plethora of papers, took about five hours.

So, even today, I'm exhausted.

It's a nice day. Maybe we'll go for a nice, relaxing drive somewhere...