The Dark World of Debt Collection

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Despite my continuing time-management problem of too much to do and too little time in which to do it, I do make time to read the small selection of magazines I get at the public library on a weekly basis. Since I don’t watch TV and I spend very little time online, this helps me keep up with current events. It is better than scanning the headlines of the tabloids in the grocery checkout line. Since I am thrifty (the goal of financial independence is never far from my mind), I get the magazines for free at the library rather than buying them. That does mean that I am always two, three, or even four to six weeks behind everyone else who bought fresh magazines at the newsstand. This doesn’t seem to matter that much.

debt collectorsWhat does this have to do with debt management? Well, I save money on magazine subscriptions. I also don’t have them lying around the house, waiting to be recycled at the doctor’s office. And, as I blow through them, looking for something that I HAVE to pay attention to because it meets my interests and goals, I run across stories like this one.

The New York Times publishes a magazine in its Sunday edition. Most of the time, other than the 7 by 7 KenKen grid, there isn’t much in it of value to me. But the cover story for the 17AUG2014 issue was different. Hugely different. I knew that debt collection agencies existed. I always knew to avoid going into debt. Try not to borrow money you can’t pay back and keep the fattest emergency savings account you can, even if it means you never eat out and only watch movies when the library buys the DVD and in general you live cheap, cheap, cheap. You know the drill. I knew that those payday loan places can destroy you financially. But I had no idea that the debt collection business was so big. So unregulated. So likely to come after you years after you thought you had left a debt behind. So Dickensian, in fact.

I should have known. A year or two after Bill and I got married, we got a call from a collection agency with regards to his ex-wife. Someone was looking for her to get money on an unpaid, years-old bill and ours was the phone number that popped. I told the nice collection agent that we didn’t know where she was either, the last we heard she had run off to Oregon with a glass-blower, and if they found her to call us, as she owed money to us too! (She didn’t, but it helped the guy to think that we were on his side and not protecting her.) He laughed and that was the end of that. Now I wonder, going on twenty years later, if that really was the end of that.

Apparently, if you default, your debts will never go away! The bank or the credit card issuer takes a write-off when you default in bankruptcy court. If you don’t save ALL the paperwork, proving that the debt was legally discharged, the fun begins. Your bad, uncollected debt gets bundled with other folk’s bad debt (it is called “paper”) and is sold, for pennies on the dollar to debt collection agencies. If they can collect only ten cents of each dollar owed, they make a pile of money. So these agencies try really hard to get you to pay back money you thought you discharged years ago.

Really hard. Harassment, threats of law-suits, constant calls, every way possible to get you to cough up a few bucks. Your debts can be sold and resold, sometimes fraudulently, until you pay up or end up in court. It is even possible, in this maze of fraud, poor regulation, and identity theft, to be harassed for bills you did pay off.

debt collection game New York Times MagazineCheck out the New York Times Sunday Magazine for 17AUG2014 and read the article. Many libraries carry it. The magazine has a very nice flow chart showing many possible outcomes (nearly all of them bad, for you) or you can play their online collection agency game.

Clearly, the only way to win this game is to never play it in the first place. Otherwise, save ALL your paperwork related to bills, debts, bankruptcy, and repayment plans. The way the law is set up, a collection agency doesn’t have to prove your guilt. You have to prove your innocence. Think about that the next time you decide to charge another piece of clothing when you have a closetful at home.

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Publisher Revives Missing Dog Mystery

Sleeping Dog. By Dick Lochte. Brash Books.

The success of self-publishing meant that books no longer have an expiration date. Authors have a chance of rescuing their out-of-print books and giving them a chance to find a new audience. But should they? In the case of Dick Lochte’s missing dog mystery “Sleeping Dog” (Brash Books), the answer is definitely yes. The slightly skewed story of a world-weary Los Angeles P.I. helping a precocious girl find her missing dog reads as fresh as when it was released in 1985.

In the pantheon of L.A. detectives, put Leo Bloodworth down alongside Sam Spade, only older and more broken-down ? with a dickey ticker and not much of a fighter. Late in his life, the former LAPD cop is only interested in doing his job with a minimum of damage. When his ex-partner on the force sends the girl to Leo on her rollerblades ? this is 1985, remember ? the last thing he wants is a clever boots and a small-change case, and he sends her along to the guy he shares to office with.

Then that guy gets himself killed. Someone thinks Bloodworth knew about the dodgy stuff he was up to. His home and office are tossed, and he gets beaten up. Somehow, the missing dog is part of the mystery. Leo has to get on the case, if only to keep what’s left of his health.

At 14, Serendipity Dahlquist is smart enough to be believable and so adorable you want to protect her. Her missing-dog case is complicated by her straying mother, her soap-opera actress grandmother, and a TV comic gunning to be the next Bob Hope. There is also an encounter with organized dog fights that might upset some animal lovers.

“Sleeping Dog” is also worth reading for its clever backstory. After the blood dried, both Leo and Serendipity wrote tell-all books which an unscrupulous publisher combined into one over their objections. The result is a story told in two distinctive voices, with some events retold Rashomon-style.

“Sleeping Dog” comes from Brash Books, a new publishing house dedicated to bringing back the best mysteries and thrillers of the past. It was a notable debut for Lochte, winning the Nero Wolfe Award and shortlisted for the Edgar, Shamus and Anthony. The New York Times made it one of their books of the year. Three decades later, their judgments are still on the money.

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Protecting Your Personal Security

You can enhance your own personal security by doing a few things. They are simple, but not easy. The first is: PAY ATTENTION! That means knowing where you are. Who is around you. Listening to the sounds around you and not your MP3 player. People have actually been hit by trains (trains!) because they were so focused on their tunes blasting that they stepped right in front of an oncoming freight train. People step in front of cars and trucks for the same reason. Do you really think that your ear buds give you a force field of protection as well as your sound screen? They don’t.

If you simply must wear ear buds while driving, walking, bicycling, etc, then at least turn down the sound enough so you can hear the blare of emergency vehicles, horns of trucks, whistles of trains, barking of dogs, whatever is happening around you that you need to be aware of.

The same goes for cell phones. If you are paying close attention to your conversation, then you aren’t really paying attention to your surroundings. We like to think we can multitask but what really happens is we are switching our attention rapidly from one thing to the next. This can lead to indifferent performances on several areas instead of one job well done.

Pay attention when you walk through a parking lot or down the street. If you are leaving the mall late at night and you don’t want to walk through the dark parking lot with a few strangers hanging around, ask mall security for an escort. They do it all the time. Which thing concerns you more? Your perceived toughness (I don’t need an escort!) or not being mugged?

Pay attention when you exit a 10,000-person performance. Pay attention when you get in and out of your car. Pay attention when you unload groceries and other purchases from your car. Who is watching you?

If a situation doesn’t feel right or safe, maybe that is because it isn’t safe. We get bad vibes for a reason. Sometimes, sure, it may just be paranoia. Sometimes, it isn’t. An excellent book on this subject is Gavin DeBecker’s “The Gift of Fear”. The premise is that millions of years of evolution determined that people who noticed their surroundings were less likely to be eaten by tigers and more likely to reproduce. There are still plenty of tigers around, but now they are often two-legged.

Don’t Do Stupid Stuff

Yes, yes, yes, I know you should be able to get so drunk you are on the verge of blacking out and then stagger to the automatic teller, nude, at three AM to get cash for that skeevy all night diner and be perfectly safe at all times from predators. You know what? You are asking for it. Losing control of your body and senses invites someone else to control them for you. Is that sad? wrong? unfortunate? criminal? Sure. Get over it. This is what your mother meant when she said stop asking for trouble. Ask for trouble and the universe is quite capable of delivering it to you. Predators look for the weakest, most easily captured prey in the herd. This is true of two legged wolves just like it is true of four legged wolves. Predators don’t care about your political correctness. They look for easy victims. Don’t make it easy to be victimized.

Does this mean you shouldn’t have a good time? Well, let’s see. If you are only capable of having a good time if you are drunk or stoned, you have a problem. The more high you have to be to have a good time, the bigger the problem you have. If you are realio and trulio serious about a scary and difficult future, you need to address this issue right away. Addictions are not going to make your life easier.

Stupid stuff includes uncontrollable gambling too. If people named Guido are coming to break your legs because of the money you owe them, your personal security (and that of your household) will be adversely affected.

Driving recklessly? Not wearing a seatbelt? On the motorcycle without a helmet and leathers? Mountain climbing with no water or food, in shorts and a t-shirt? Climbing over the fence into the tiger’s cage at the zoo? Throwing a rock from the overpass into the traffic below? Think for thirty seconds about the consequences before you act! Don’t do stupid stuff.

Stop handing out personal information

So there you are, in the park, yapping away at top volume into your cellie about how you are going to be out of town for two weeks. Who is listening to you? Which bystander is going to follow you to your car, write down your license plate number, find out where you live and then rob your house while you are away? It sounds farfetched, but people do get robbed for this reason. Telling all about your upcoming vacation on-line? Who sees this information? Do you really know? You should always assume that everything you put onto the internet is public access. If you don’t want to read about your activities on the front page of the Washington Post, then you shouldn’t be putting it on-line. Do not assume privacy, ever.

This goes double for loudly revealing, to all and sundry, your address, your credit card and banking information, your SSN, anything you don’t want public. You even reveal information about yourself and your household via your trash. Did you buy a new 60inch flat screen TV? You don’t know who sees the now empty box waiting for trash pickup at the end of the driveway. If you don’t want other people to know what you bought, then flatten those shipping boxes and recycle them more discreetly.

Your trash is a goldmine of personal information for possible thieves and, worse, for identity theft. Putting paperwork into the recycling bin does not make it disappear in a secure manner. I have actually picked up people’s pay stubs in the street, complete with name, address, job data, and SSN. If you don’t want someone to see it, shred it. Use a crosscut shredder; strip shredded documents can be pieced back together. When the shredder bag fills up, compost the paper. No-one will ever be able to read your documents after that. Shred your documents yourself. The minion shredding your documents is perfectly capable of reading them as they go into the shredder. Think people don’t go through your trash looking for personal data? They do: both thieves and law enforcement agencies know that trash bins tell everything there is to know about their owners. So, thieves and lawmen both pull on their latex gloves and sort through trash to get the personal data they need on you.

Just like your trash, your online presence can tell plenty about your household and your lifestyle to anyone who comes along. As noted above, absolutely nothing you post on the internet is private. And, the internet remembers forever. Those fun drunken pictures you posted of you and the gang skinny dipping in the public fountain at 4 a.m.? Your future employers are quite likely to see those pictures as are your future in-laws. Never, ever assume anything you post on-line is private. If you are really serious about your privacy (and that of your children), then don’t use social media. I don’t have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, or any of the host of other sharing media whose names I don’t know. I don’t want to do this and so I don’t. This also frees up a lot of time for other, more productive activities.

Even something as simple as looking at a book on-line at Amazon or doing a search for how to sell a junk car will get you tracked. I recently had to sell a junker car and did some very basic online research. For weeks afterwards, I got targeted ads when I looked at Weather.com for selling junk cars. I didn’t post. I didn’t send emails. I just looked, and I got tracked. And yes, my DH does practice safe computing and cookie removal and don’t track me and all those other stay private whilst online things you can do. We still get tracked, traced, and recorded.

hk47You can safely assume that if you don’t know how an online site is making its money, it is making money by data mining you. Your buying habits reveal a lot: buy a mouse shaped laser pointer? You might have a cat. Buy EverClean kitty litter in bulk at Amazon? You definitely have a cat; probably more than one. Pregnancy test kits? Birthday party supplies? Books on blacksmithing? Hair dye by the case? Insulation by the pallet? That custom AK-47 with the Hello Kitty design? Complete collection of Ayn Rand? Every one of these individual searches says something about you. Taken in aggregate, they say a lot more. Do you want to say these things to total strangers who may not have your best interests at heart?

Shopping in the real world with cash doesn’t just save you money (studies and real life experience repeatedly show that you spend less when you have to part with real money as opposed to checks, debit cards, or credit cards); it is also harder for someone to find out what you bought. Your credit card receipts tell where you were, when you were there, and what you bought. Think about your life being on display every time you use your magic plastic card. Be careful and don’t let those receipts escape into someone elses pockets. Paying cash means never having to get caught by hackers like all those Target customers did last Christmas.

You may want to seriously consider having two separate credit cards, say a Visa and a MasterCard; a Discover and an American Express. Use one exclusively in the real world and use the other one exclusively in the virtual world. If suspicious charges show up ($8,000 in airline tickets to Jakarta!), it might be easier to figure out how the card got compromised. Remember that when your credit card marches off with the waiter in the restaurant, you don’t really know who else sees it. If nothing else, this can make it a bit harder for someone to know everything about you. They will only see half of your life.

Don’t forget that your phone calls, particularly cell phones get tracked too. The NSA could be listening to you right now. Or reading this post right now. I, you we, have no way of knowing one way or the other.

Get In Shape

I don’t mean that you need to be able to run a marathon. But you should be in good enough shape to walk briskly for a mile or two. As your fitness improves, you may, eventually, be able to jog that mile or two. Your physical condition serves multiple purposes. When you are in the office on the 42nd floor and the fire alarms go off, the elevators will stop working. Can you run down 42 flights of stairs? In the dark? If that is going to be a problem, it is time to start walking.

Being in better shape will let you evacuate a building more easily and quickly, you will be able to help other people get out, you can stay out of the way of rescue personnel, and you won’t be the unfortunate soul who has to be carried down 42 flights of stairs by firemen who could be putting out the fire. While you are having a heart attack from the stress and extreme exercise.

I also don’t mean that you need to get training in mixed martial arts. This is a good way to get in better condition, you will meet all kinds of people, improve your confidence, learn a new fun skill. All great stuff. But the best fight is the one you avoid by paying attention to your surroundings and not getting into trouble in the first place. Use your Nike-fu and run away rather than trying to take on that mugger. If you see the riot coming, walk (or run!) the other way. You don’t HAVE to participate in the bar fight. In fact, you should be looking for and using the exits.

If you saw the movie “Zombieland,” then you know the first rule of zombie defense is “cardiovascular fitness”. You don’t have to be able to run a five minute mile. You just need to be faster than the other guy.

Once you start your fitness program, keep at it. Better fitness leads to better overall health. Your security can only be improved by being able to walk farther, with less pain and stress. When you can walk a mile, then start walking two miles. Get stronger, faster, tougher. Being physically fit helps mental toughness; you may be less inclined to panic if you know your body won’t fail you.

Be Prepared

If you work in an office and wear impractical footwear, then keep a pair of sneakers and socks in your drawer. Before you run down those 42 staircases, change out of those high heels. Keep a jacket, a bottle of water, and some granola bars in the same drawer along with some cash. If you have to get out in a hurry, you now have some weather protection, water, food, and money. Keep this stuff in a small tote bag and grab it, along with your purse or wallet, when you run out the door.

Whenever you set foot outside of your house, consider where you are going and who will be there. Do other members of your household know where you will be and the approximate time of return? Do you know where they are? Are there alternate routes in case of accident? Do you need gas for your car? Is the weather going to be bad? If you are going to be gone for hours, do you have water and snackies for you and the kids? Winter coats? Sun hats? Something that will make the wait because of that ten car pile-up on the interstate a little more bearable.

Wherever you are, pay attention to the exits, the fire alarms, the emergency stairwells. If you are on a plane, actually listen to the safety briefing and look for where the exits are. If you are on a boat, pay attention to the life boat drills (if they have them). If they don’t have life boat drills, as on a ferry, then at least know where the life boats and life preservers are. If you can’t find them, ask a crew member. They will be glad to help. Better prepared passengers make their lives easier. Certainly the first time you go into a new building, check out the exits from the facility. Every public building is required to have fire escape maps on the walls. Take a look at it so you know how to get out if you have to.

Do your children know where the exits are in their school? On their own, without a teacher? Kindergarteners may not be able to do this, but by the time your kids are in middle school, they should be able to read the “you are here” map and find a way out. We live in a small town, and although my kids ride the bus in the mornings, they are perfectly capable of walking home in the afternoon. If they miss the bus, they can still get home.

KNOW WHERE YOU ARE! Every time you go someplace, as the driver, a passenger, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian, read the street signs. Know what street you are on, what direction you are headed, what your destination is. Travel different routes whenever you go anywhere rather than always going the same old way. Build up a big mental map of your area, both walking and driving. You don’t know when you will have to avoid a fire scene and a bigger, more complete mental map will make it less stressful if you have to change your routine. In addition, knowing where you are means that you can tell 911 that the chemical truck overturned in front of you just past mile marker 125 on US30 West near the Salunga exit. If you don’t know where you are, you get to say duh, duh, duh, while Rescue personnel waste precious time trying to locate your signal from cell phone tower triangulation. Make it easier for them and you won’t have to wait as long.

bellcurveIf all of this strikes you as basic common sense, you are right! And yet, basic commonsense is pretty rare. Why is this? Well, mathematically speaking, half the population is below the median for intelligence. The bulk of the population is clustered around the median and the numbers become less and less as you head towards imbecile and genius status. I would say that more than half the population is below the median for commonsense except that is mathematically impossible.

So what is the problem? All of these suggestions require that you pay attention. It is hard to pay attention all the time. The solution is to set good habits, such as always locking your doors or never letting your car gas tank go below one half, that keep you safer while you are paying attention to the harder things. Being mindful of your surroundings takes effort and who has the mental capacity to spare? It only takes a second to have an accident that will disable you. Be more mindful. Pay more attention. Be safer.

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After the Hershey Crafts Show

On Saturday we spent the day handselling books at the Hershey Winter Arts and Crafts Show. Four days later, I’m still feeling the effects. Or maybe it’s the change in the weather, in which autumn decided it had enough and moved out.

It was two months of anticipation, racing to get the Punch book finished and ready for production, designing the posters, banners and flyers, getting the table set up, fretting over the details, much earnest discussions over the placement of Teresa’s bags versus Bill’s books and where to fit the promotional cards and bookmarks. Then, there was the day before the show, setting up the booth in the living room, a last-minute purchase of the cash box, and loading the SUV so that we can get up at 6 a.m., get out the door by 7, and set up by 9.

Setting up for the Hershey Winter Arts and Crafts Show. Children make wonderful minions.

Setting up for the Hershey Winter Arts and Crafts Show. Children make wonderful minions.

And we did it. No terrible stories that we can tell and retell. Rather boring, actually.

Six hours later, we had distributed a lot of cookies and flyers, talked to a lot of people, and sold $115 in books and bags, enough to cover the cost of the table and most of our other expenses. And we learned quite a lot.

* There is a subculture of dealers who travel the craft-show circuit. They get to know each other, know their products and prices, and trade information about the quality of the shows, their customers, and the tricks of the trade.

* That some craft dealers don’t make all their products. Some hire Mennonite girls to do most of the sewing. Others get away with buying crafts from China, finishing it themselves, and calling it “handmade.”

* Some craft shows are turning to a juried model to keep out the China-made craft dealers.

We also learned something about Peschel Press and its products. Six hours of describing our books succinctly will do that. We learned just how niches our books are, even among people who like to read books. I can see us being more successful selling books at mystery conventions, and with the 223B Casebook series coming, at Sherlockian gatherings such as the 221B Con in Atlanta, or the Scintillation of Scions gathering in Maryland (although even there, it would be a subset of people who a) like Sherlock the fictional character and b) like historical parodies and pastiches).

At least we have the Christie and Sayers’ novels, and even a true-crime entry in the Palmer books. Given a few years’ work, this could be the foundation of a line of books.

But we really need to get our own works out there, and that’s under way as we speak. In the meantime, I need to pop some more ibuprofen and get back to work.

Ready to sell books.

Ready to sell books.

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Home Security Begins With Your Neighbors

The next easiest step in home security is getting to know your neighbors. If there is any kind of disaster, the people right around you are the most likely ones to come to your aid. The bigger the disaster, the longer it will take for the outside cavalry in the form of FEMA and the Red Cross to arrive. This doesn’t mean that you need to — or should — make all your neighbors into your nearest and dearest friends. It does mean that you should recognize them and they recognize you as living in your house in your neighborhood. That is, you are not some stranger squatting in one of the foreclosed homes. You belong.

As you get to know your neighbors, opportunities may arise to talk about disaster preparedness.

As you get to know your neighbors, opportunities may arise to talk about disaster preparedness.

Walking Muffy regularly and at all different times of day means that I now can recognize many of my neighbors on sight. And certainly, they can recognize me. They may not know my name, but they all know that we have a dog. I always smile, say hello, and make basic conversation about the weather or gardening. That’s all. But it means that I am not a stranger.

If your neighborhood has regular get-togethers, then start attending them. Meet people. Be part of the group. It will be that crotchety retiree with the big vegetable garden who calls the fire department when your house starts smoking while everyone is away at school or work. It will be that nosy dog walker who calls the police when she sees that something isn’t right at a house where all the lights are on and the mail is piling up and the grass isn’t being mowed.

Be civil, be polite, ask questions about how someone’s’ tomatoes are growing. If you are starting a garden yourself, most of the longtime gardeners on your street will be happy to tell you all about the soil, and which plant nursery they use. If you hear of a break-in, pass along the word! If your car gets its side mirrors broken by the trash truck, tell your neighbors! It shows that you care and you may find out that someone else has been having the same issues as you. This kind of contact can lead, eventually, to neighborhood watch organizations.

If you have a neighborhood watch group, then join it. If you don’t have a group for your street, and petty crime seems to be rising, then you may want to see about starting a group of your own. What neighborhood watch groups are supposed to do, is watch. Not guard. Not defend. Instead, they are extra eyes and ears to see what is happening on a day to day basis. If there is an issue, such as seeing someone walk down the street trying house doors or car doors, then call the police. Since you are paying attention to your surroundings, get a description of the offender and any vehicle associated with him. Be the security you want to see.

Beer bottles strewn along the roadside? The guts of a deer left in the grass? Stolen stop signs and street signs? All of these should be noted by the neighborhood watch (or you, if you don’t work with such a group) and reported to the police. It never harms the security of a neighborhood to have a patrol car drive down it a little more. Again, word gets around that there are eyes on the street and criminal activity will be noticed.

As you get to know your neighbors, opportunities may arise to talk about disaster preparedness. The better prepared each house is, with some stored food, water, etc, the safer the overall neighborhood will be. Hurricanes and ice-storms and the like are great opportunities to talk about the importance of flashlights, batteries, and sleeping bags.

You certainly don’t need to go into detail about your year’s supply of rice or your gold coins or your arsenal. That’s nobody’s business but your own. You do want to be seen as a reliable, upstanding, law abiding citizen and not that kook in the tin foil beanie. Clued in neighbors are more likely to be told about potential problems (the house down the street is turning into a drug den!). Helpful and reliable neighbors are more likely to be listened to when they suggest basic disaster preparedness such as what FEMA and the Red Cross recommend.

If you seem like you don’t care about anyone else, then why should anyone around you help you after the tornado comes? They will have plenty of problems of their own. But if you are a valued part of your neighborhood, then you will be far more likely to get the help you need, when you really need it.

The best possible outcome in dealing with your neighbors is that they begin strengthening their lives too. And then, you may find households, close by your own, with the same concerns about the future as your own. People you can work with and rely on during a disaster. The more likely outcome? That you are perceived as a solid citizen and that your neighborhood is a little safer and that more households around you keep at least the Red Cross minimums for disaster preparedness. Still a pretty good outcome and one that you can help make happen.

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Peschel Press at Hershey Winter Arts Show

The Winter Arts and Crafts Show is coming up Saturday at Hershey High School, and this marks a milestone for the Peschel Press.

I haven’t talked much about what I’ve been doing since The Patriot-News let me go at the end of 2012. I’ll cover that in a later post, as it’s been an interesting two years, with lots of ups and down.

But Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., we’ll be in the high school along with about 130 other dealers, selling our line of six books, plus book/grocery bags that Teresa spent the last few months sewing up.

Here’s where you can find us, at table 91. Go in through the main entrance by the office, head straight down the hall, turn left, and we’ll be the first table on the right.

Peschel Press will be at Booth 91. Avoid the letters.

Peschel Press will be at Booth 91. Avoid the letters.

Books will be $15 each, signed, and if you buy three books, we’ll throw in the fourth one for free! Book bags will be $10 each, and if you buy three, you get the fourth for free!

We’ll also be serving Teresa’s famous (at least in our house) butterscotch crunchie cookies, and offering the recipe free for every book purchase.

While this is not our first show, there’s a different feel about it. For the first time, we bought banners and posters, and printed flyers to display and give away.

Rehearsal space for the show. Click on the photo to embiggen.

Rehearsal space for the show. Click on the photo to embiggen.

It’s one thing to get books printed and sit behind a card table talking to readers. It’s another to see your company’s name and products reflected in something that wasn’t hand-drawn using Sharpies. It’s not just a banner, it’s a mirror, telling you “this is real. Don’t blow it.”

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We may not sell a thing. I tend to be pessimistic about these things, and I’ve found that any kind of success becomes that much sweeter for it. If nothing else, it’ll be nice to talk to the shoppers and see what they’re looking for, and walk around and feel like part of Hershey for a bit.

Then it’ll be back down in the basement to work on the next book.

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Longmire’s Craig Johnson @ Mechanicsburg Mystery

After reviewing Craig Johnson’s new book of Longmire short stories, I attended his visit to the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore. He’s made bookstore appearances here for several years, and I had been told he’s excellent at it, so this was a great opportunity to see for myself.

Craig Johnson with Deb Beamer, owner of Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore.

Craig Johnson with Deb Beamer, owner of Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore.

And he was. After he was interviewed by the store’s owner, Deb Beamer, he charmed the mob of 80+ fans with stories about the TV show, actor Lou Diamond Phillips (who plays Henry Standing Bear in the series), his writing process, and the future of the Longmire book series. He told us about the future books in the series, and how far he thinks ahead. He’s finished the next book to be released in May 2015, and is working on the one after that. He also has some idea what’s going to happen in the three books after that.

(Note: He gave us details about the future books, including their titles, but swore that he only does this at Mechanicsburg. As a former journalist, I’d love to tell you, but — note the word former. He didn’t ask us not to tell, but I didn’t ask him if he’d mind, so I’ll just keep it on the QT here. If you want to know more, check out the tour dates at the bottom of this post and ask Craig yourself.)

He also mentioned that each book represents a season in Longmire’s life, and that he’ll shift a story idea around to take that into account. Calling himself a “blue-collar writer,” he appears to be a very focused writer. He’ll wake up on his farm, take care of the animals, brew a pot of coffee, head into his study and work. If he’s in the zone, he’ll work through lunch or dinner. And that’s how he gets his books written.

So what’s the secret to his stage presence? Here’s what I think:

1. His powerful voice. Both in volume and tone. You can tell he’s in the room, because he’s loud enough to cut through any conversation.

2. His fresh sense of humor. Authors on tour have a fund of stories to draw on that they tell at each stop. How they got into writing, what they plan to write next, if they’ve got a movie or TV show, something about that. Johnson laces these stories with extra humorous details. He also gives us something new. For example, he mentioned that, on his way here from Philadelphia (where his daughter lives, which explains what a Wyoming writer is doing in the middle of rural PA), he took a break at a ball field. When he started his rental car, he noticed that his speedometer pegged at 150 before returning to zero. He snapped a photo and sent it to his wife with the note “Pennsylvania turnpike” and joked that his smartphone is pinging with messages out in the car. He called back to this a couple times, a pro technique which leads me to believe that he could have a career as a standup comic.

3. His energy. Some people have it; some people don’t. That feeling like the Energizer Bunny is inside them and they have to let it out. Johnson’s bubbling with it.

4. Great storytelling chops. I suppose this can be a learned skill, but not in Craig’s case: “My father told me that I came from a family of bullshitters; I was the only one smart enough to write them down.”

5. Perfect alignment of image and product. One look at Craig, his beefy build, his cowboy hat, his call-the-cows-to-the-barn voice, and you can tell he was born to write minimalist flash fiction in Park Slope. And if you don’t know why that’s a joke, you might have a problem.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 2-minute clip should say it all. This is Craig talking about the first short story he wrote, “Old Indian Trick,” which lead to a meeting with Tony Hillerman. (Both stories are in “Wait for Signs,” so if I’m trespassing, it’s for a good cause.)



So if you want to learn how to do a public performance right, check out Craig Johnson. And look at his Longmire books, too. They’re excellent.

[UPDATE: 11/3/14: Deb Beamer reminds me that signed copies of all of Craig Johnson’s books are still available at the store.]

Craig Johnson “Wait for Signs” 2014 book tour

Oct. 26: Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas
Oct. 27: Books Inc. Alameda, San Francisco
Oct. 28: Once Upon a Time, Los Angeles
Oct. 29: Tattered Cover, Denver
Oct. 30: Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins
Nov. 1: Poisoned Pen, Phoenix
Nov. 1: Scottsdale Public Library, Phoenix
Nov. 2: Barnes & Noble, Billings, Mont.
Nov. 5: Barnes & Noble, Cheyenne, Wyo.
Nov. 7: New England Crime Bake, Boston
Nov. 10: Powell’s, Portland, Ore.
Nov. 11: Sunriver Books, Bend, Ore.

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Dogs as Passive Alarm Systems

Electricity is a wonderful thing and I really like it a lot. But I don’t like using more than I have to (I don’t want to pay for it) and I don’t like having vital systems depending on its constant presence. Electricity can and does go out due to bad weather, cars running into electrical poles, trouble at the sub-station, terrorists knocking out the grid (unlikely but it could happen).

My point here is that an alarm system is dependent on electricity. I suppose you could have your alarm system wired into your home generator but what if you don’t have a generator? What if you forget? Do you want to allocate scarce generator power to an alarm system instead of your refrigerator and lights? A small to medium size dog is far more useful in more situations than any alarm system.

Muffy's also effective against groundhogs and porcupines.

Muffy’s also effective against groundhogs and porcupines.

We have Muffy. She is a medium-sized German shepherd/terrier mix. Muffy has been a most valuable upgrade to our home security in a lot of ways. First of all, she is here. She barks to warn us if someone is coming into the house. She spends a lot of time roaming free in our fenced back yard. I have cowbells on each gate to make noise when someone enters. Muffy barks and races to the gate to see who is there.

I walk Muffy throughout my neighborhood, at various times of the day, meeting and greeting all my neighbors. This not only means that I get to know my neighbors as Muffy likes to say hello to everyone, it means they know me and they all know we have a dog.

Burglars hate dogs. Any dog. Even the tiniest yappy ankle-biter will bark — sometimes a lot! — when someone enters their territory. Word gets around. Many years ago, I had an acquaintance at church tell me that in her old neighborhood, they were the only people who never had their house broken into. They had a big Siberian Husky. Two weeks after the dog died, their house was robbed. Word got around.

You don’t have to have a hundred pound Rottweiler to improve your home security. In fact, unless you can handle, train, and work daily with an aggressive dog like that, you shouldn’t! Almost every dog, no matter what it’s size, will know its territory and bark and make a racket when someone enters the territory. That is what you want. A mobile, loyal, doesn’t need electricity alarm.

Having a dog ONLY works if the dog is with you. In your house. Especially at night. If you get a dog and keep it chained up in the far corner of your yard and only see it once every day or two to give it food and water, you should get an alarm. Don’t get a dog. This treatment is incredibly cruel and unfeeling towards the dog. Moreover, if your dog barks at a prowler, how will you even know? And why should the dog? Dogs show loyalty and love to the people who show loyalty and love to them. If you don’t want to care for another member of the family, and a dog IS a member of the family, then don’t do this. There are too many neglected, unwanted, abused dogs out there right now. Don’t add to the problem.

If you do get a dog, then learn not just how to feed your new family member but also basic doggy obedience. The vet, the humane society, the local kennel club, the pet supply store, and the groomer can all recommend someone who does dog training. The better trained you and your dog are, the happier everyone will be.

You don’t have to have a specific breed of dog to alert you. Almost every dog, purebred or mongrel, will be territorial enough to be a watch dog. By definition, a watch dog alerts you to a problem so you can deal with it. A Guard dog tries to handles the problem. If you can’t control the Guard dog, you lost control of both the dog AND the problem. Guard dogs and Attack dogs are usually certain specific breeds and absolutely require extensive dog handling experience and regular training to be safe around your family and effective in performing their duties. Unless you already know what you’re doing with aggressive dogs, don’t do this to yourself, your family, or the dog.

If you just want a dog, start with the local humane society. Every humane society has plenty of dogs that need good homes. Stop in regularly, get to know the staff, and meet the dogs currently in residence. Spend time with the dogs and see who seems to work well with you. Every family member should meet the dog prior to adoption. If the paperwork seems intrusive, it is because every dog at the SPCA was abandoned by someone. The staff wants a forever home for each dog and a good match means they don’t have to take the dog back, more traumatized than ever because worthless humans let the dog down. Again. Before you bring the dog home, have your house ready with dog food, leashes, beds, and a vet lined up.

If you want a specific breed, then you need to study up. A great book to start with is “Paws to Consider: Choosing the Right Dog for You and Your Family” by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson. After you read up on breeds, go to dog shows. Any veterinarian, pet supply store, and the local SPCA will know where to look for local ones. The reason is that it is very different reading about a dog breed and seeing the dog for real. The dog owners are generally quite happy to tell you all about their dog breed and why it is so wonderful.

I originally wanted a Newfoundland. They are great big dogs and extremely gentle around children. I liked everything that I read about them. The books did mention, in passing, that Newfies are big, shed and drool. Indeed, they do. You have to see the dog in action to appreciate that the dog is the size of a pony and looks like a black bear. Pictures don’t really convey that. Nor did I really understand what shedding and drooling meant until I saw that every single Newfie at the dog show left a trail of black hair (after they had been groomed to a fare thee well to be shown!) and each one was followed by an owner draped with towels to mop up the drool! They ate like horses and shat like elephants. There were demonstrations. We do not have a Newfoundland.

Don’t get a puppy mill dog. They tend to be the pedigreed breeds sold in pet shops. These dogs may have papers but that doesn’t mean that they have good, healthy genes. Many puppy mill dogs develop severe health and temperament problems. If you want a purebred, go with a breeder, local if you can, who cares enough about the dog to work with you. A reputable breeder will take the dog back if things don’t work out. They guarantee health and temperament (assuming you don’t abuse the dog). They can recommend local training and obedience schools. They let you see the parent dogs and inspect the kennel. Puppy mills don’t let you do any of this.

Another choice for a pure-bred dog is one of many breed specific rescue groups. There is one for practically every kind of dog there is. Like the humane society, rescue groups will want to do a pretty comprehensive investigation of you in order to assure a forever home for the dog. Rescue groups as a whole don’t care about your precious little feelings. They care a lot about a happy, permanent match for the dog. There will be fees of course, because like the SPCA, rescue groups spend plenty of money on dog food and vets.

Muffy has been a wonderful addition in our lives. She is always up for a long walk. Draw a one mile radius circle around your house and you, with your dog, can thoroughly explore your surroundings. My experience with Muffy is that, with a dog, I become effectively invisible, unless I choose differently by interacting with other pedestrians. I think that a man would also experience the same effect. That is, you become a harmless dog walker as opposed to a potential prowler casing the neighborhood for a future break-in. Knowing every street, alley, house, and business within walking distance to your house could be useful. You never know. It also means that if you see changes in your neighborhood for the worse, you might be able to do something about it.

Muffy has also proven her worth in the backyard. We do food gardening, both vegetable beds, fruit bushes, and future fruit trees and nut trees. Ground hogs and rabbits were becoming severe pests and eating everything in sight. Rabbits go under your fence and ground hogs can and will climb a four foot chain link fence to get to your beans. I have seen them do this and it is very peculiar to see. Rabbits and ground hogs are also pretty damn fast, so you will never catch one.

We no longer have a problem with rabbits or ground hogs. Muffy patrols faithfully, looking for varmints. She has killed or severely injured three ground hogs to date. The rabbits seem smarter and just stay out of the yard now. Muffy, of course, uses the yard to do her business. Her urine advertises to all sorts of critters that a predator lives here. Does this help keep raccoons, possums, and skunks out of the yard? It certainly doesn’t hurt.

A sign makes it easier to warn thieves when your pet's out of sight.

A sign makes it easier to warn thieves when your pet’s out of sight.

As part of letting everyone who sees your house know that you have a dog, put up a “Beware of Dog” sign on every gate. Get them down at the hardware store for a few bucks each. Make them last longer by laminating them with plastic or do-it-yourself with clear contact paper. Use good wire to hang them on your fence and they should last for years. Don’t use a cave canem sign (that is Latin for “beware of dog”) as thieves do not tend to have a Classical education. You want to be clear that you have a dog on patrol. The best dog sign I have seen had a silhouette of two Dobermans and the tag “We can reach the fence in 10 seconds. Can you?” Only put the signs up if you actually have a dog.

We installed a dog door in our Florida Room to make it easier for Muffy to get in and out. I suppose a really skinny teenage burglar could shimmy through it, but dog doors generally mean dogs. More than one prowler has gone through the big dog door and met the Rottweiler on the other side. If you do not have a dog and you do have a dog door, then close it off.

Who's a good dog? You're a good dog!

Who’s a good dog? You’re a good dog!

Your dog can also make it easier to hide a spare key on your property. You put it on a hook inside the dog house that your Great Dane sleeps in. He will let you reach your hand in, but not many other people will try this.

So if you like dogs and are willing to do the necessary work of keeping one, a small to medium size dog can be a terrific upgrade to your household security. Like any family member, dogs need to eat and they need regular medical care. Look into a dog for a host of reasons. Companionship, watchdog, garden patrol, deterrent, exercise machine, neighborhood exploration. Dogs do it all.

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Wait For Signs review: Short Longmires

wait for signs review Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson will appear at Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore, 6:30 p.m., Oct. 24, 2014, as part of his national tour for “Wait for Signs.”

There’s something to be said, as H.L. Mencken said, for competence in anything from adultery to zoology. It’s easy to appreciate brilliance and genius. But we have a hard time honoring works with more modest goals, such as entertaining the reader.

So it’s not meant to be snarky when I say that the dozen stories about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire in “Wait for Signs” are competent. This collection by Craig Johnson, beautifully designed and printed, make the perfect gift for his fans, even a welcome surprise coming so soon after publication of “Any Other Name.”

The stories are not just amusing in the telling. They dip into Longmire’s life, showing his capacity for patience and humor on the job, such as rescuing an old woman who’s waiting for Jesus to show up in a restaurant parking lot, or investigating the disappearance of a horse during a rodeo. Some are about moments in his life that reveal aspects of his character or his relationships. “Slick-Tongued Devil,” for example, tells the story of the death of his wife, paired with the visit of a Bible salesman, and how the events are intertwined.

For fans of the series, I can cut to the chase and say these stories go down as smooth as a shot of good whiskey. These stories are in turn mournful, elegiac, sweet on its characters and, in the case of “Messenger,” funny in that “oh-no-you-didn’t-go-there” way, involving a bear family, a ranger, an outhouse and Cheetoes).

For the rest of you, these stories are best described as episodes in a lawman’s life. There are small mysteries that mean a lot to the people involved, but no challenge is issued to solve them yourself. You’re just along for the ride, spending time with mostly good people and maybe being lured into staying awhile.

In fact, the only fault I have with the book is that the stories can be started on Christmas Day and finished long before New Years. But, then, that’s what the novels are for.

Craig Johnson “Wait for Signs” 2014 book tour

Oct. 26: Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas
Oct. 27: Books Inc. Alameda, San Francisco
Oct. 28: Once Upon a Time, Los Angeles
Oct. 29: Tattered Cover, Denver
Oct. 30: Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins
Nov. 1: Poisoned Pen, Phoenix
Nov. 1: Scottsdale Public Library, Phoenix
Nov. 2: Barnes & Noble, Billings, Mont.
Nov. 5: Barnes & Noble, Cheyenne, Wyo.
Nov. 7: New England Crime Bake, Boston
Nov. 10: Powell’s, Portland, Ore.
Nov. 11: Sunriver Books, Bend, Ore.

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Home Security part 3: Automotive Safety

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There are some easy security fixes for your car. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive: they work for any vehicle. First and foremost, is keep it locked! I don’t get out and about very much, yet I fairly often see a car, engine running, and left unattended. That driver is A) wasting gas and B) begging for someone to steal the car. If you simply must run the engine to thaw out the car, then either do it while scraping off the windshields or get a second set of keys and lock the vehicle back up while the engine is running.

Don’t leave your car unlocked, ever, unless you are loading and unloading. Not even in your driveway. Even if your car isn’t stolen out of your driveway, any casual thief can get in and steal change, phone chargers, gloves, anything movable they see, and most importantly: a wealth of personal identification from the glove box with your ownership papers, insurance papers, and registration. Don’t make it easier for someone to steal your identity. Just like with houses, car thieves have been known to walk down the street, testing doors to see which fool left their auto unlocked. Don’t be that fool.

Keep your doors locked while driving! Modern cars often will automatically lock themselves when you reach a certain speed. Get in the habit of locking the doors yourself as soon as everyone is in the vehicle. Don’t wait for the car to do it for you. That way, when you are still moving slowly in the parking lot, it will be that much harder for someone to open your door and rob you. Don’t make it easy for thieves or potential car jackers.

Don’t store anything in plain sight that you would mind being stolen. Keep your car interior empty and clean: this sends the message that there is nothing of interest and no reason to break into the vehicle. If you have a trunk, then use it to store your purchases. If you don’t have a trunk, you may have a built in panel that pulls across the back of the vehicle. If not, then a blanket will just have to do. If you have a separate GPS unit on your dashboard, cover it with a ball cap when not in use. No burglar will waste time on a dime store ball cap; the GPS is more inviting.

Back into the space when you park! This is a very worthwhile skill to learn. I was pretty terrible at this at first, but I have gotten better at it with practice. Why back in? It is easier and quicker to drive out as you can see exactly what you are doing and if anything or anyone is in the way. This is safer too, as you can assume that the parking space you are backing into is empty. That is why you choose it, after all. But you cannot assume that the lane behind you is empty as you back out into it while people and cars are using it to go about their own business. It takes a little bit longer to back into a parking space, but the ease, speed, and safety of exiting more than make up for the extra minute or two.

Pull through parking spaces work just as well, so always pull through even if it means being a few spots further away. Being further from the building means it is easier to park, easier to exit, and while you are still circling the lot looking for a space close to the door, I am already on my way into the building, having parked (in a pull through, natch) and locked my car.

When you park at home, you still want to back into the driveway. Same reasons apply: a few extra moments to back in save you time when you are leaving in a hurry for work or an appointment. This gives you a chance to check for bikes and other junk in the driveway too, before you park. When you pull into the space, your kids may leave stuff in the driveway behind your car. When it is time to leave, you will back right over those trikes, jump-ropes, and other car damaging junk. If you have backed into the space, you can see what is laying in wait in your driveway, ready to puncture your tires. This also means that you are much less likely to back over a toddler in the driveway. That can and does happen.

When you park, look for any identifying signs so you can find your car when you leave. This can be quite important in huge parking lots with thousands of cars. The anxiety of thinking your car was stolen makes you pay less attention to your surroundings and any possible threat, while looking up and down the rows takes time. Time that you could be using to get on the road and getting home.

When you park at a huge lot for some kind of event where everyone leaves at about the same time, don’t just back into any old space. Look where the parking lot exits are. Are you closer to an exit and farther from the building? You may have to walk a little more (good exercise!) but the farther you are from the building, the fewer pedestrians and cars you will have to maneuver around in order to leave. Take a moment before parking and think about how you will leave with the hordes of other cars.

Get a cell phone charger for your car and use it. Cell phones only work if they are charged, so you might as well use the time spent driving for this purpose.

Whenever your gas gauge goes below half way, fill up the gas tank. This prevents the emergency (power outage, weather, etc) where you cannot get gas from harming you as much. If you are running on fumes and can’t buy gas, you are stuck where you are. If something awful happens — terrorists flying airplanes into city buildings — you can leave more quickly if you don’t have to stop and refuel along with everyone else.

Every time you buy gas, wash your windshields. There is a little catch sort of a thing on the gas nozzle. It lets the gas flow into the tank while you clean all the windows. Dirty windows can be a safety hazard; they are harder to see through in general and just dreadful if you are driving into the sun. The glare is blinding. A clean windshield means a lot less glare. Take a moment and wash off your headlights and taillights too. Easier for you to see and easier for other people to see you.

Check all your vehicle fluids — windshield wiper fluid, oil, radiator, brakes, transmission — and the tire pressure on a regular basis, weekly if at all possible. You will catch any problems while they are still small and ensure you don’t run out of windshield wiper fluid when you really need it (that truck sprays your car down with mud and you can’t see through the windshield).

Have a complete set of road maps for your area and know how to read and use them. Yes, yes, yes, I know you have a GPS. Sometimes they don’t work. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes you need to find an alternate way because of accidents or unbelievable traffic jams as everyone in the city leaves at the same time to escape the overturned chlorine tanker car. A map can tell you alternate routes, allowing you to avoid skeevy neighborhoods you don’t want to drive through. It may be a longer trip, but also a safer one.

When you drive in your daily routine, take alternate routes. This makes your mental map of your driving area larger, more complete, and more flexible. If you have to go a different way, you can. You know where more gas stations and other services are. That could be useful.

Get a milk crate and carry some basic supplies in your trunk at all times. You should have a quart of oil, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, brake fluid, fix-a-flat in a can, dry gas, a tire gauge, powdered aluminum for the radiator, space blankets, a flashlight, a poncho, and some water and snackies. These are all items to help you get home. Carefully packed, they will fit into a standard milk crate. Make sure your spare tire is full of air and in operable condition. Do you know how to change a tire? Is the car manual in the glove box?

The powdered aluminum will fix tiny radiator leaks and it really works. If your radiator develops a slow leak, dump in the entire vial of powder, put in more antifreeze or water and you can manage to drive home. The powder works so well that it can fix radiator pinhole leaks for years. It gave our mini-van an extra fifteen years of life. The fix-a-flat can keep a tire going, without you having to change it. The tire will be ruined but you can get your car home or to the garage safely. The dry gas treatment will remove water condensation that may be in your gas lines. Sometimes, especially in the winter, that can make your car drive more poorly.

The poncho lets you change a tire or check fluids in the rain. The flashlight? The same things, only now it is dark and raining. The space blanket traps heat or repels heat depending on which side is out. If you have to stay in the car, in the winter, it can be a life-saver. A space blanket is the size of a deck of cards and is only a few dollars in the camping department. Get several, one for each person who routinely rides in your car.

Water and snackies are for that emergency that leaves you trapped on the road for hours. You can buy U.S. Coast Guard approved bags of water and emergency food bars. They are VERY expensive but they are made to be stored, without trouble, in all kinds of weather in the trunk of your car (or in your boat) for years. If you need them, you have them. If you don’t want to go this route, then store whatever granola bars and water bottles you like, BUT, you will have to rotate them as they get stale and the water bottles may freeze and break in the winter.

Faithfully follow the maintenance schedule for your car. Changing the oil regularly can add years to the life of your vehicle as can changing air filters, oil filters, and fuel filters. The maintenance schedule isn’t just to make money for the dealership. It really does help keep your car running better and longer. If you feel handy, you can get a Chilton’s guide for your car and do a great deal of this work yourself in your very own driveway.

Keep your car washed to keep corrosive road salts from damaging the finish and eventually causing rust. Your headlights will, overtime, become cloudy. There is a buffing compound available at any auto parts store that will let you polish out some of the scratches. This will help you see better at night. Doing the taillights means other people can see you better.

What does this have to do with security? A well maintained auto is far less likely to leave you stranded somewhere, at the mercy of strangers. Brakes are less likely to fail when you need them; timing belts get replaced when worn and not when they break. Clean, clearly visible signals might mean the difference between an accident and a near miss.

The final and most important piece of car security advice is to pay attention! If you drive on autopilot, yakking away on your cell phone, you may miss the accident that is about to happen. We all drive so much that it becomes easy to drive by rote. Carelessness is a big cause of accidents, just like fatigue, recklessness, and substance abuse. Not paying attention can lead to unlocked doors, and someone opening your door when you stop at the red light. Not paying attention means leaving out valuables in the back seat and then wondering why you got targeted for a smash and grab. It is hard to be mindful all the time and harder to train recalcitrant family members to do the same. But your safety and theirs can depend on you seeing that SUV blow through the red-light right in front of you.

You may think that talking to passengers would be just as distracting as talking on your cell. It isn’t, simply because your passenger will scream that a truck is headed right at you whereas your cell conversation partner has no idea that some pick-up truck just ran a stop sign and is about to t-bone you. And all those other things that distract your driving: texting (dear God, no), eating, reading, applying make-up, reaching around behind you to swat your mouthy kids, driving while drinking, getting high, or being blurry with fatigue. The less you do anything that takes your attention from the road, the less likely you are to have an accident. You either don’t cause it yourself, or, you see it coming and are able to avoid it. Oh, and wear your seatbelt, and buckle in all your passengers.

When you replace your car, before you spend any money, ask your insurance agent (or Consumer Reports) how likely your potential new car is to be stolen or vandalized. There are differences between makes and models; some types (and not necessarily the ones you expect) are far more valuable to car thieves than others. Check into the reliability of the car you are buying. How likely is it to fail unexpectedly and leave you on the side of the road? There are differences and Consumer Reports can tell you them.

If you have a choice, a light colored car is easier to see, particularly in poor visibility conditions. Dark matte finish cars disappear in the fog, the rain, dawn or dusk. Hot pink or safety yellow cars are far more visible, no matter what the conditions are. Visibility can mean the difference between an accident and a near miss.

Cars are transportation. They can be used to haul cargo and supplies. Once you get past reliability, safety, and gas mileage, they start becoming demonstrations of ego. When you look at the vehicle you are considering, how important is safety to you compared to how people admire you when you drive by? Think about your choice so you don’t have to pay more than you really want to, both upfront and over the years you drive it.

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