Farewell to a Friend: Mazda 3

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The Super Mazda Brothers!

When I was a senior in high school, I bought my first car: a little yellow 2003 Mazda Protegé5. It had a 2.0L inline four engine, four-speed automatic transmission, and just under 200,000 miles on it. I paid cash for it (probably more than I should have due to the number of repairs that had to be done to it), and the man I bought it from was the original owner. In fact, just before we drove off with the car, Mom found a Polaroid-style photo of the man and his family in the glovebox, taken by the dealer on the day he bought it brand-new. (He didn’t knock the price down for that find, though.)

After a new radiator, an EGR (engine gas recirculation) valve clean (which took three days for Dad and I to do), a brand-new front end and hood from when I rear-ended someone, and I-can’t-remember-how-many other repairs, I decided to upgrade to a car I thought would (more) reliably get me to college and work every day. One year after I bought the Protegé5, I bought a 2005 Mazda 3 hatchback from a guy in Dallas. When I bought it, it had just over 110,000 miles on the engine and had just had the clutch replaced. That’s right: it was a five-speed.

It took me several hours spread over the course of three days to really learn how to drive stick, and then a month or so to really master it, including idiosyncrasies like hill starts, rev matching, and heel-toe braking (not something I used every day, but taught myself anyway). After that, though, I melded with that car.

Compared to the Protegé5 that soon became my brother’s car, my Mazda 3 was a step up in almost every way. It was quieter, it rode smoother, and you could actually drive over sixty miles per hour in it at lower RPMs. The dark interior, though cloth and plastic, looked and felt more luxurious than the drab gray of the P5. Being a five-speed, it got great gas mileage: I averaged 28 mpg combined over the course of my ownership. And, while the P5 would take off like a go kart, the 3 would actually keep going.

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Undoubtedly the best picture I’ve ever taken with my phone: Daniel and the Mazda 3 at Smithville Lake, Smithville, MO. We traveled over 600 miles that day, and traveled over 600 miles back home two days later.

Was it reliable? Yes, it was. I don’t recall a day when I didn’t drive it to school. It started up every time, had a hot heater and a cold A/C (important in Texas!), and always stopped when I needed to. Aside from replacing the MAF (mass air flow) sensor and cleaning carbon deposits off the intake manifold (I think Mazda engines, at least from this era, tend to run rich and leave such deposits), the car required no engine work. In fact, I would wager the engine to last at least 200,000 miles, if not more.

However, it did require work elsewhere. The headlights were so oxidized that I had to take the front end of the car apart and replace both assemblies. The suspension grew squeakier and squeakier throughout my ownership. I had to replace both front struts, and needed to replace both rear suspension assemblies (but didn’t). A motor mount caused a rough ride, so I had it replaced as well. These are things that do wear out over the normal life cycle of a car, and yet even as I replaced parts, things continued to squeak, creak, and groan.

Despite all this, I really bonded with the 3. In a way, I developed what some call “machine empathy” with it. I could feel when to shift gears without looking at the tachometer and isolate new rattles and squeaks from the existing harmless ones. It wasn’t the fastest or flashiest car on the road, but I felt like I operated it as an extension of my arms and legs, and that’s what mattered to me.

We had some great experiences together, too. It got me safely home during a surprise snowfall one afternoon (a rarity in Texas). It got me and my brother safely to Kansas City and back for the Great American Eclipse of 2017, and more recently to Austin and back. For whatever reason, rain is the car’s perfect weather. Everything just tightens up and smoothes out, and it’s one reason I enjoy driving in the rain.

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The Mazda parked on Baylor St. in Austin, viewed from atop the HOPE Outdoor Gallery.

It’s been a great commuter, get-around-town car for me. However, it has to stretch as a road-trip or travel vehicle. It’s fairly loud on the highway, it channels bumps abruptly into the frame, and it’s hard to pack out when camping. As I find myself traveling greater distances by road, whether in the Metroplex or on vacation, it’s sadly less and less pleasurable to drive. Though I’m torn, and I wanted to “drive it until the wheels fall off,” I’ve decided it’s time to acquire another vehicle.

So, this write-up is in honor of my intrepid little Mazda 3, which I have put through the paces during my ownership. It ain’t the young car it once was, but it’s still got a lot of life in it. It’s not a Honda or a Toyota, but I’m impressed that it runs and rides as well as it does at its age. It’s served me well, and I know it’ll serve its next owner well too.

Three Principles of Preparedness

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This guy looks pretty prepared for whatever might come his way. Photo by abhishek gaurav on Pexels.com

I’ll admit it: I’m not a hunter or prepper. I’m not much of an outdoorsman or a survivalist, either. I spend most of my time in urban or suburban areas (though outdoors, when possible). However, I find the study of preparedness, regardless of location or circumstance, very interesting. When most people think of prepping, they think of guys carrying around bug-out bags in the middle of nowhere up in Idaho or Montana. However, prepping is not exclusive to the worst-case scenario of an EMP attack or nuclear fallout from World War III. While those are things to consider, we should all first consider our preparedness for everyday events.

Are you prepared to fix or change a flat tire if you have one on the highway? What if someone breaks in to your home in the middle of the night? What will you do if a snowstorm knocks your power out for three days straight? (It’s happened to me and my family in Texas, believe it or not.)

In the spirit of thinking ahead, here are what I believe to be the three crucial principles of preparedness.

1. “Be prepared.”

This is the Boy Scouts’ motto. It’s simple and easy to remember. In any situation you can imagine yourself in, this is the starting point: just be prepared.

If you run the risk of being assaulted on the city streets or in a parking garage, be prepared. Carry some mace, a kubaton, or even a roll of quarters in your fist with you. Know how to use whatever you carry. (That means practice!) Mentally run yourself through the situation of assault so you can visualize how you will respond defensively.

If you’re going on a road trip and there’s a possibility you might break down in a remote area, be prepared. Have AAA or roadside assistance through your insurance provider. Consider a satellite phone if you find yourself outside of cell service. Bring some food and water along so you can survive while waiting for help if it takes a while.

2. “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

Many proponents of gun ownership and concealed carry argue their case with this phrase, and I think they’re right, regardless of what liberals think. This doesn’t just apply to firearms, though. Going back to the street assault example, the chance of being mugged might be very low, maybe even negligible. But, in the event that it happens to you, because it does happen, you want to have a defensive weapon of choice on-hand. The last thing you want in an adversarial situation is to pull out your keychain and realize that your kubaton isn’t attached to it because you left it at home.

In the roadside breakdown example, a can of Fix-A-Flat might be enough to get a flat tire inflated long enough to get to the nearest garage. A portable jump starter might keep you from having to wait on a kind motorist to pull over and give your dead battery a jump. A flashlight and a jacket are two great things to have after sundown, with the flashlight in the glovebox and the jacket in the backseat or the trunk.

3. “Two is one, and one is none.”

This comes from the Navy SEALs, and I’ve already written a little about this in one of my first posts, On Redundancy, but it’s worth mentioning again. (I’m actually applying this principle in writing this post!)

I look at this phrase in two ways. First, have two of the same item on-hand in the event that one doesn’t work, or is misplaced, or gets borrowed—you get the idea. Keep extra batteries near battery-powered lanterns. Have two flashlights readily available. Carry two water bottles.

The second way I look at this phrase is this: take two different items that accomplish the same thing. For example, when camping, carry two or three different means with which to start a fire: flint and steel, matches, magnesium, maybe even a magnifying glass or eyeglasses, if you have them. Carry two different ways to purify water, such as purifying tablets and a LifeStraw.

A more everyday example would be having a GPS and a map or atlas in the car. On a family vacation to Fredericksburg last year, I ditched Google Maps in favor of a trusty Texas state map because Google routed us along US-67, which was closed for construction outside Cleburne.

It could even be as simple as having both an electric can opener and a manual one at home, or carrying cash as a backup to a card. (Another tip: some hole-in-the-wall restaurants and small businesses might not accept plastic, so always have cash available just in case. Don’t be the guy who has to leave his date at the restaurant and walk to an ATM, as someone I know once had to do.)

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I’d make sure I could dig this SUV out of the snow before getting out in it. A collapsible shovel and traction mats would be great to have. That guy probably needs a license plate, too. Photo by Chris Peeters on Pexels.com

In summary: have it, have it even if you don’t think you’ll need it, and have two.

Apply these three principles of preparedness to your life and you will feel more confident should the stuff hit the fan, regardless of what that stuff is. As you prepare, you may find yourself, as I did, envisioning “What if?” situations that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of. If you believe Murphy’s Law holds true, and I tend to think it does, you can’t prepare for every possible contingency, but you can take steps to prepare for a worst-case scenario, whether that’s at home, on the job, on the road, in the air—anywhere.

On Rain

It’s been pretty rainy here in DFW these last few days. A lot of people gripe and complain about rain, but being that it’s Texas, I don’t. We usually need every drop we can get.

I have always enjoyed rainy days. I don’t always enjoy being out in them, but I do enjoy them. I like being inside when it rains, whether working in the garage on a project, reading a book by the window, or sleeping through a passing thunderstorm. Some people reflect the weather by feeling gloomy when it rains. Me, I get excited.

Strangely enough, I really enjoy driving in the rain. I’d drive every day in the rain if it rained every day. I attribute this to past bad-weather (is weather really bad?) outings with Dad in his 1999 Subaru Outback, an incredible all-weather vehicle. That station wagon made you feel safe regardless of what nature was doing outside. The radio could even tune into the weather band!

I also think back to the movie Le Mans with Steve McQueen, in which most of the racing takes place on a wet track in the rain. I think the rain excites the aspiring auto racer inside me somewhere. It also helps that my car seems to drive its best in rainy weather, strangely enough.

What I don’t like about driving in the rain are the other drivers, though. Then again, I don’t like them the rest of the time, either.