Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Recalls, Rentals, and Repairs: A Tale of Two Cars

A couple months ago, my noble steed (a 2007 Chevy Cobalt that shall henceforth be referred to as "Cobie" or "the Cobie") was part of a massive recall issued by General Motors due to a fault in the ignition that could cause the car to shut off at any given time and thus potentially cause things like death and disfigurement. Aside from the fact that they were aware of this little glitch as far back as 2001 (NBD, right?), when they finally were forced to send out recall notices, they didn't even have parts available for the dealers. So it was pretty  much a situation of "your car is a potential death trap and it's so fragile that you shouldn't put anything on your key ring except the actual ignition key - not even the remote-entry keyfob - because the extra weight could trigger it, buuuuuuuut there's not much that can be done about it yet, so sit tight."

At the insistence of my worrisome mother, I finally called the local Chevrolet dealership since there was a rumor that parts were going to start becoming available on April 7. (This was, like, April 3rd.) The rumor was in fact a rumor and they had no idea when parts were going to be available, but they did confirm the other rumor that if you were concerned about the safety of your vehicle, you could get a loaner car until it could be fixed. Given that I had prior weirdness with my ignition and that softball was going to be starting soon and there was the potential for chauffeuring around my players, I decided to go for it. I mean, my own safety is one thing, but I'm not going to put someone else's kids in danger just because GM was being shady and cheap about their manufacturing process. (One day, my key randomly didn't turn all the way off in the ignition, and after a day or two of frantic Googling and facebook-polling, I learned that the workaround for this was a tiny little white button somewhere up in the steering column that I could push to release the key. Unfortunately, in this window, I learned that if you take the key out even when it isn't all the way "off", the car doesn't actually shut off either, so I ran my battery down. From then on, though, it became an automatic process. Put the car in park, turn the key, reach into the steering column, push the button, finish turning key, remove key from ignition. Yes, it was a pain in the ass... however, it became so second nature that I stopped thinking about it, except for when I'd take my car in to get an oil change or something, and had to inform them of the proper way to turn my car off. It was about a 50/50 chance of them listening/remembering.)

Anyway, I dropped off the Cobie and was escorted over to Enterprise to select a rental car to use for an indeterminate period of time. I went with the Chevy Cruze as it was the most similar to my car, and I figured the lower the learning curve, the better. (Somewhere I think I heard that the Cruze had their own set of safety issues, but I opted to not look into it that closely.) It was a 2014 model, thereby making it the newest car I have ever driven, and still smelled newish, and it had fancy gadgets and features on the dashboard that I will miss. It also had Florida plates, which kind of made me feel like I had a target on my back, because everyone is suspicious of out of state plates.

After about a day, I decided to take things to the next level, and I programmed in all the radio presets. The following weekend, I got to take it on a spin out of town, and could not figure out how to set the damn cruise control... and when I googled it, I found exactly one helpful answer and a lot of answers to the effect of "READ THE MANUAL." HI, THANKS, I TRIED, BUT THERE WAS NO MANUAL, EFF OFF. Anyway, the newness and my paranoia about driving a car that did not belong to me eventually wore off, and I rather enjoyed driving it around.

All good things must come to an end, however, and I had to give back the loaner car today. I was a little sad to see it go. It was fun driving something new and shiny with features I didn't know existed and ample trunk space to haul softball equipment. (I will not miss the weird cruise control.)

It was especially sad when I got into my car, which I haven't driven since I dropped it off 25 days ago, and it felt all foreign and weird and tiny. And disgusting. I'd forgotten how dirty it had gotten.

Since the dealership had my vehicle anyway, I had them look into that weird thing where it doesn't release my key unless I feel up my steering column. Turns out there was a short in the shifter that had been causing that (a "solenoid" which is a thing I have never heard of), and the entire shifter had to be replaced. Oh, and the battery decided to go kaput somewhere in there too. I had a discussion with the service manager to make sure the battery died of natural causes and not, you know, the techs being negligent of the fact that my key doesn't shut off all the way and then just letting it sit there with the battery dying for almost a month. I think he was a bit confused at first and therefore wasn't quite answering my question, so he tried to explain the situation from their end, but as soon as he said that they had made sure the power was completely off when they weren't working on it, that was exactly what I needed to know so I wasn't having to pay for a new battery when it was their fault the old one went bad. Once we finally got back on the same page, it kind of just sounded like it might have been its time - it may have been the original battery to the car, who knows. I haven't replaced it in the 3 years that I've had that car so it was probably kind of a senior citizen battery anyway, and I'm sure being unused for 25 days didn't help. As long as it was OFF-off and not just half-off, then I really can't fault the dealership for that. Whatever, dead batteries happen. It's just annoying when they happen alongside something else.

On the bright side, my ignition is no longer in danger of randomly stalling in the middle of operation (probably, assuming GM doesn't have more faults hidden somewhere) and my key (of which I now have a spare!) comes out properly when I shut my car off.

Twenty bucks says I'm still going to reach up for the little button for a while until I remember that it's fixed.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Holding Back & Owning Up

It's been a while since I've dedicated an entire post to raving about an entirely different post, but I command you to drop everything you are doing RIGHT NOW and go read this post by Nicole if you haven't already.

Stop Playing Small

BAM, right in the heart. It's about how we don't always own up to what our goals actually are because we are afraid of the feeling of failure and inadequacy that follows if we don't meet them. I love her philosophy about redefining failure - instead of falling short, it should mean that you didn't try. We're not inspired by people who always achieve all their goals, all the time - we're inspired by the people that are honest about it, who struggle, who may or may not achieve what they were after but dammit they gave it their best shot.

"You don't want to fail? Neither do I. But it's time to redefine 'failure.' Why does failure have to mean not reaching your goal? Why can't failure instead be marked by not giving your best?"

Whatever, go read it, RIGHT NOW, and tell me it isn't the kick in the face you needed today. It's not often that I experience such a profound perspective shift, but... man. All the love for this post. All of it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

There was a riot at my alma mater last night. Why? Absolutely no good reason whatsoever, unless you count bored, drunken college students being idiots as a good reason. (One of my friends joked that it was a delayed reaction to winning the Big 12 basketball championship last month. I'll admit it: that gave me a quick laugh.) There's nothing to riot about here. Compared to most of the world, we're practically living in a damn utopia. The most prevalent crime in this town is illegal parking.

It's not the first time this has happened.

Ten years ago, I was a freshman at Iowa State. (Yes, just typing that makes me feel old.) It was my first VEISHEA, my first experience with the wonderful and strange traditions at the university that had instantly felt like home, like the place I belonged. If you can be soulmates with a place, I was soulmates with Iowa State University. From the moment I stepped on campus, I knew that that was where I was supposed to be. I felt like crying when I graduated. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the friends and life that I'd had there. 

But I digress.

For the uninitiated, VEISHEA is the largest student-run college event in the country. It's (supposed to be) a celebration of the history, traditions, and educational excellence at Iowa State University. The acronym (which is why it's supposed to appear in all caps, though it often doesn't) stands for the original colleges that made up the university: (V)et Med, (E)ngineering, (I)ndustrial (S)cience, (H)ome (E)conomics, and (A)griculture. This marks the 92nd year (91st if you don't count the Year Without a VEISHEA in 2005, but we'll get to that.) It's a time for students to showcase the best of the university. There's a parade on Saturday. The Life Sciences college (what would have originally been the Home Ec college) mass-produces tiny little cherry pies that you can buy for $1, an endeavor that's organized and executed by the hotel/restaurant management majors. It's quite impressive, the way they make so many pies so quickly. (I'll admit - the pies are one of my favorite traditions. From a purely objective standpoint, they're really nothing special... but dammit, they are magical. Magical and tiny and awesome.)

 No but seriously. The cherry pies, man.

There are student demonstrations (the chemistry club demo is hands-down the best, they perform a clever skit while showing off science experiments, and it's always, always packed), displays and exhibits on central campus, and food. Lots of food. There are concerts by big names and small names; there is a battle of the bands, there are theater performances and the spring football scrimmage. It's not just for current students; alumni return every year and bring their kids and share their pride for the university with their families. It's a big deal, and it sounds corny as hell, but I always loved it. I was in the parade twice with my residence hall government group, carrying a giant inflatable dragon balloon (we even made the ISU homepage, and there is a photo of us hanging in our local Applebee's, though of course it's one from the other side, so you can't see me); we didn't get cherry pies before they sold out my junior year and nobody heard the end of it. We got sunburned and were exhausted, but it was amazing. We didn't have to drink to enjoy it.

I don't know who to credit this image to, but it was the one from the ISU homepage.
I am the girl in the very center holding one of the strings.

Unfortunately, that's not the case for most. Over the past twenty years or so, VEISHEA has been rapidly declining from what it once was. It has somehow become sort of beacon for debauchery, and people show up from all over to party. (We're not really even a party school - we leave that to our in-state rival, the University of Iowa, who was ranked the #1 party school in the country in 2013.) Most of the incidents (including a fatal stabbing in the 90s) were instigated by out of towners that had nothing to do with Iowa State.

The 2004 riot was a series of unfortunate events. Student-police relations weren't great (are they ever?), and when the police broke up a huge house party, the partygoers were essentially herded into our Campustown area - the street with all of the bars. Disgruntled drunk people + more drunk people = not a great situation. Crowds gathered, vandalism broke out. Cars were flipped, windows were broken, lightpoles were uprooted. There's a pretty infamous picture of a kid pushing a flaming dumpster down the street. We were in the den area of our residence hall, hanging out and probably working on art projects because that's what you do when you're a first-year design student, and people were starting to trickle in and it was clear that something was Happening. Being young, stupid, and curious, we ran across the parking lot to the next dorm over to see what was going on - just in time to see a lightpole come crashing down. The police set off tear gas to disperse the crowd, we scampered back to our dorm and stayed there, wanting no part of this mess that was unfolding. (The residence hall we ran to was right along the main road and got the brunt of the gas; it was doubly unfortunate because that was the section of the building with no air-conditioning, and having been a really warm day, most of them had their windows open. People that were innocently sleeping or hanging out in their dorm room became collateral damage.)

 Remember when there were actual paper newspapers? 
And people saved them? Me too!
Found this while cleaning a couple months ago.
Should have known it was a bad sign.

This was before social media existed. Facebook had barely been invented, and wasn't widely available. Twitter and Instagram were made-up words that nobody knew yet. My roommate and I stayed up in our room waiting to see when it would make the news. It hit CNN around 3am that morning.

The university promptly suspended VEISHEA for the following year and put together a task force to examine what they could do to eliminate "disturbances" like this from happening again in the future. The event had been "dry" since the stabbing incident; mostly that meant that everyone was pushed off campus into house parties like the one that had triggered the chaos. More events were moved on campus, away from the booze-soaked scene of Campustown. Concerts were held in parking lots and underneath the Campanile on central campus; the food vendors were lined up along our lake instead of along Welch Avenue. For my part, we lobbied to permit of-age students living on-campus to be able to consume alcohol in their room - four people drinking and being silly in a room is a lot less dangerous than 500 people crammed into a house that will eventually spill out into the street. Our measure passed.

All the measures taken seem to have worked; when VEISHEA came back in 2006, everyone was on their best behavior. Partygoers from out of town still arrived, but things were calm. We spent the day on central campus and the night at a concert. My senior year was the same, probably my favorite VEISHEA aside from pre-riot 2004. It was bright and sunny, I walked in the parade, we got cherry pies, we went to the chemistry show, we got hella sunburned, we went to concerts in the evening. Saturday night we came back to our residence hall and ended up playing Cranium in our den, because we were too exhausted to do anything else.

But every time I could hear hints of a crowd, anything that sounded like a louder roar than usual, I panicked. I had flashbacks to the mob that was a little to close to our dorm for comfort. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was always holding my breath, always listening for the sound of a riot. They had warned us: you screw up again, and it's gone forever. Nobody wanted to see that happen. Everything was kept in check.

This is probably one of my favorite pictures, both of VEISHEA and of ever.
My friend ran literally into the parade while we were stopped and we took this picture.

Fast forward ten years. I attended VEISHEA a few more times, more parades, more cherry pies. There was a rainy year and there was a snowy year. There were sunny years and years I didn't go. Things seemed to be fine. Which is why I was totally blindsided this morning when I logged on to facebook and saw an alarming trend in my feed.

Splashed all over social media (and national news headlines) were pictures and videos of an encore performance of 2004. There was one kid who had to be airlifted to a hospital down in Des Moines when a lightpost fell on him and hit him in the back of the head. Sources say that when the ambulance came, the crowd wouldn't even move. More windows smashed, more cars flipped, more businesses damaged, more things thrown at the police. On a Tuesday night, no less. It makes it a lot harder to blame out of towners this time, because most of those don't arrive until the weekend. That means it was ISU students. To quote the university president,"This time it was us."

I was stunned at first, and then I was sad, and then I was angry.

It was pointless and idiotic in 2004, and it's pointless and idiotic in 2014.

It's funny, in a not-funny way, how ISU can do such a 180 on the national spotlight scene. Our basketball team was setting records right and left this year; we went to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament, losing to the eventual national champions. A video of our basketball coach doing a silly white-man dance in the locker room went viral. The entire "Cyclone Nation" was bursting with pride. 

And then this.

It's so sad that we continually erase any positivity that ISU gets in the press, and instead become known as a cesspool of entitlement, violence, and immature behavior. The resounding sentiment in my newsfeed today was embarrassment and disgust. Most of us were there for the last one. Some people I know were there for the one before that. 

The university held a press conference today, and the new university president is not fucking around. At a press conference this afternoon, he promptly cancelled the remainder of the VEISHEA activities for the week. Another task force has been appointed to examine the future of VEISHEA. At this point, I feel like it could go either way. I hope they find a solution, one that doesn't involve canceling it forever. I wouldn't blame them if they did, though.

The face of a man who does not fuck around.

There are murmurs about "what if they riot again, in protest"? Well, maybe. If they're stupid enough. You can bet your ass that the iron fist of law enforcement is going to have campus in its grip. They already have both the city police and campus police at full-strength during this week, and borrow officers from neighboring towns. They're probably going to bring in some of the Des Moines metro area police, and whoever else they can get. They're going to come down hard on anything that looks remotely like a disturbance, if my friends who have friends working for ISU are to be believed (and trust me, they have taken this seriously for years, so I believe them.) Some say it was a knee-jerk reaction, but honestly? I'm not sure what else they could have done. The writing was on the wall for them. They couldn't not cancel it. They couldn't send the message that this was okay. They had to draw the line, and draw it hard and fast. It sucks, but I absolutely think it was the right thing to do. I hope the kids that ruined it for everyone feel adequately terrible, and to learn that their actions have consequences, and that everyone thinks they are assholes.

I feel so bad for all of the students that put in so much time planning and organizing VEISHEA. I knew a lot of the people that worked on VEISHEA when I was at ISU and I know how hard they work. It's pretty much a life-consuming endeavor. They start planning for the next VEISHEA the very day the current VEISHEA ends.

I feel bad for all the alumni that were going to bring their kids to the parade. I feel bad for the groups that had prepared their displays and their performances. I feel bad for the clubs that are going to miss out on their fundraising. I feel bad for all the cherry pies that are not going to get eaten. I hate that the fuckups once again ruin it for everyone.

The worst part of all of it, is that I'm willing to bet money that most of those students have no idea they did anything wrong. They don't believe they can get in trouble for it, they don't believe they can be held accountable for it. They are part of the generation that grew up without consequences, and if there is any justice in this world, they will start learning about it now. Mommy and Daddy can only protect you to a point. The Real World is not going to be so kind.

It's terrible. It's gotten terrible. I have friends that teach and they have students that will flat-out say things like "no one tells me no" and that they get want they want, period. I guess it's become common to see students bringing their parents to a career fair. (I was reading the comments on a LinkedIn article, and one hiring manager said that he interviewed a recent graduate who brought her mother along. To the interview. AND HER MOM ANSWERED THE QUESTIONS. WHAT the ACTUAL fuck is happening?). 

I have to believe that they are the minority. There are so many thoughtful and bright people out there. I wish they were louder.  I hope there is a way to amplify the voices of the good kids over the weeks ahead. I hope there is a way to erase the mentality and actions of the type that participate in the destructive behavior, a way to make it known that this is not what Iowa State is. Iowa State is more than that, it is better than that. 

I hope they track down the people that incited this riot, who participated in it. It shouldn't be hard. They've all helpfully taken photos and videos and selfies of the scene. I hope they expel all of them. They don't deserve to be a part of Iowa State or its community. I hope they slap as many of them with criminal charges as they can. Even the ones not actively destroying property should get charged with something. Because they're just as guilty, almost as much at fault as if they'd done it themselves. If people weren't in the crowd, there wouldn't have been a crowd, and no crowd = no riot. The crowd is what egged on the instigators, so frankly, I'd say they are deserving of some sort of punishment. You find yourself in a riot crowd, you leave, or you're just as guilty. You are an enabler, an accomplice.

Can VEISHEA go back to what it was originally intended to be? I don't know. Most of the students are good kids. There is always a large pocket that "gets" it. Those students are probably devastated right now, and I don't blame them. There is that stigma around the event now, though. Simply by it being VEISHEA, the troublemakers are going to roll into town and stir things up. What was supposed to be a positive event has become a codeword for a modern-day bacchanalia, and I don't know how anyone can stop that.

I obviously have a lot of (circular) thoughts on feelings on this. I'm not even sure I've expressed them. I'm frustrated by all of it, obviously. It's been so long since I've written that I'm flailing around and not succeeding. Apparently, this is what it takes to get me blogging again.

I'm going to leave you with a couple links to better-written thoughtpieces than this. One from my friend who is an incredibly intelligent radio personality who happens to be as nutso about our alma mater as I am, and the other is from a former ISU football player who absolutely nails it so much that I wish I'd written it. It's much more to the point (and much shorter) than what I've rambled about here. Perhaps I should have just asked for permission to repost it, instead.

Despite everything, I know my university is better than this. I know that there are more good people than bad people. I'm angry and frustrated and disappointed, but there is another thing that I will always be. I will always be part of the Iowa State family, and I will always fiercely love and defend it. Even now.

(source unknown, borrowed from a friend's facebook feed)