Archives For April 2016

Anxiety Attacked

April 24, 2016 — 5 Comments

Let me just start by saying I’m not the kind of guy who would have an anxiety attack. You know those quotes about how if you keep calm when the rest of the civilization is losing its minds, you’ll rule the world? I plan on ruling that world.

In fact, just last week one of my co-workers said I was like a swan, even if my feet were paddling like crazy below water, I was calm above. Or, maybe she said a duck, but either way, you get the point.

I’m able to leave a stressful day at work behind me as soon as I drive home or hang up from my last call. If that doesn’t take care of it, my regimented routine of dog walks with Lucy after work will get it. If all else fails, my regular yoga sessions will kick it. I punch anxiety in the face… until it punched me.

Two weeks ago my wife was out of town for work so I was managing the homestead. Although I don’t like when she’s gone, it’s not too challenging because I really only have to worry about the dog. She’s usually at home bored, but I try to make up for it by giving her an extra walk in the morning.

Unfortunately, my mornings have started earlier even though the evenings and nights are filled with more work calls. It’s fine though… remember the routine I mentioned above? It still worked, and hey, who doesn’t have a little stress in their life?

Tuesday night was different because my wife wasn’t around to listen to me vent, and I found my mind racing like a speeding bullet when I was trying to fall asleep. It was also pretty warm in the house because I’m too cheap to turn on the air conditioner, so that didn’t help. But usually I can fall asleep after a few minutes of purposeful mediation and breathing. This time was different.

My mind continued to race as the sleepless minutes dragged into sleepless hours. Work was still at the top of my mind as I was thinking through some pretty heavy things. Dang, I just couldn’t fall asleep. And then it even got more strange as I felt a little light headed.

The clock ticked away to 3:30am, and I sat up to take a drink. So weird – why do I feel like I’m hardly even breathing? Wait, never mind, I have work stuff to think about… but how can I think about work when I may not be around tomorrow! Holy crap, am I dying? I’m light headed, and I feel like I’m not even breathing right. What the heck is going on, I must be sick.

I got up and walked around a bit but the feeling didn’t go away and it seemed like it was getting worse. It was like I was here but I wasn’t… who had taken control of my mind? Maybe I should call 911? No one is here with me but my dog Lucy, and if I die no one would get here for a couple of days, and by that time she’d start gnawing on my arm because she’d be so hungry. Poor Lucy. Who’s going to take care of her when I’m not around and what about my wife? Oh man, let me pick up my phone just in case… maybe I should even dial 911 so it’s already on the screen and I can hit dial as I fall to the floor, dying of this.. uhh.. shortness of breath and light headedness? Or, maybe I’m having a heart attack – that seems much more plausible!

This actually happened. To me. The guy who wouldn’t think of letting anxiety attack him. I went and laid with my dog on her bed and hugged her a bit, letting her breathing and heart beat retrain mine. I finally calmed down a bit, knowing that I’m still alive and it’s my mind steering this ship directly into an iceberg. But Lucy took the wheel and steered it away. This actually happened. To me. You know… the guy who blah blah blah.

I briefly mentioned it to Jocelyn the next day but wanted mostly to not think of it again. She was too stressed and this wouldn’t help her. Also, it was just too weird and made me seem like a pretty big pansy. It couldn’t have been an anxiety attack anyway… until I read the description of an anxiety attack.

A panic (anxiety) attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

I checked the boxes on the test and realized that’s what happened. It was a pretty sobering moment.

Anxiety attacked me and I was doing everything I could to prevent it by following my de-stressing rituals. I thought I could manage through any situation, but now some tough times at work proved me wrong. I can’t imagine if I had other issues with family or money on top of it. We aren’t as tough in this life as we like to think. Well, at least I’m not.

I mustache you a question

April 17, 2016 — 1 Comment

A little over three years ago my wife and I set off on our journey around the world. We prepared as much as we could by researching our travel route, avoiding the most dangerous places, and of course, growing a beard so I looked really tough. My previous attempts at growing facial hair ended in disappointment after being compared to the Joe Dirt facial hair one too many times.

joe dirt

However, thanks to either older age or growing it out more, it finally worked. So the combination of a beard and a tough face would save us. Luckily, I had previously had the same idea of looking tough when I took my passport photo almost ten years ago:

Dan Passport Photo

Okay so I didn’t look tough, but it did get me in trouble a few times – mainly in Vietnam where I almost missed my flight because the customs agent kept looking at the passport photo, putting it down, and looking at my much older and bearded face.

Anyway, the beard became a mask that hid my innocence and allowed me to convince myself that we were tough enough to do this around the world trip. It’s amazing how much you can convince yourself if you allow your mind to be open and new ideas to flourish even if it’s a totally ridiculous thought (e.g., Scientology). The tough beard worked in my own mind and looking back at some pictures, I even scared myself:

sick in myanmar

I didn’t always look this rough, only when suffering from food poisoning in the middle of the Bagan, Myanmar desert heat.

When we came back to the US and I started back at my job in 2014, the beard was the only remaining outward sign of the nine month adventure. Now I was back in my desk, back in the grind and back to reality. The beard transitioned from being my mask of toughness to now hiding the new person I had become after travel. I held onto it like I’d try to hold onto the freedom we once had.

I kept the beard until this weekend. It just seemed like the time to shave it off, like maybe the times could change again. I grabbed the trimmers and went for it. One swipe and my mask began to peel off as I wondered what my face under would look like without it. A few more swipes and I was left with a goatee. I walked in and surprised Jocelyn with my new look… and surprised she was.

Even though we’ve known each other for over ten years, the last three years of bearded Dan easily erased any memories of pre-beard. She was surprised but pretty okay with it. However, I wanted to go further. I went back and grabbed the clippers to finish it off… when I decided a mustache might be interesting.

I shaved off the rest of my goatee, only leaving the hair across my lip that signifies anything but normal in this era. If it was 30 years ago, I’d fit right in… but now, I could hardly even handle looking at myself! My chin looked too small and I swear I never had that double chin that now appears! My teeth looked too big as the balance of my face was all thrown off. And man, did I look creepy!

This time Jocelyn wasn’t prepared for the shock she was about to realize! I walked in and she shivered a little bit as she saw my new look. Her first instinct was to take a picture (maybe so her murderer could later be identified) and we got some dandies.

The on the left was a few minutes before I cut off my beard. The right... well, that was the creepy pose and result.

The on the left was a few minutes before I cut off my beard. The right… well, that was the creepy pose and result.

“Porn turtle” was the best description she came up with. I think it had something to do with my hair which hadn’t been cut in too long, combined with my stache which made me look like a porn star… and the turtle part… well, I guess she just thought I looked like a turtle now! Big confidence booster.

She had to send a picture to family and my brother-in-law said his daughter would no longer get to spend time with Uncle Dan. My friend Jason said Jocelyn would now be one of those ladies people pull aside in the grocery store to ask if she’s okay (and not getting kidnapped by the creepy mustached guy next to her). We had lots of good laughs at my expense.

I decided not to shave it off and see what it was like to keep it for the rest of the day. I wore it to Yoga that afternoon where I got some bewildered looks from classmates who were used to the beard. I could tell people wanted to say something, but instead bit their tongues.

Later that evening we went to Trader Joe’s to get our groceries for the week. Our check-out guy, a few years younger than me, quickly upped my confidence when he reassured me with, “nice stache”. He said he had one the last couple of years but returned to the full beard because his wife just couldn’t handle it anymore. As we left he lifted his hand for a high five. “Take it easy man”, my new stache pal exclaimed.

What was this… in three years, I hardly had a compliment on my beard, but now after only one night I already had one on my mustache?! The renewed confidence made Jocelyn nervous because she realized it probably added a couple of days onto my mustache life. And she was right.

On Sunday I went to my regular afternoon yoga class and had mostly forgotten the novelty now above my upper lip. I entered the campus from a new door and couldn’t find my way to the studio so I asked the security officer who was walking in front of me if he could point me in the right direction. An older man in his 50’s turned around to reveal a well formed mustache. “Right down the steps behind you, Sir”, he said with an extra twinkle in his eye and smile on his lips. That was a little strange, I thought.

After eight sun salutations, I once again forgot about the stache until I left the studio. As I was walking out the door, I encountered the same security guard who gave me a smile and a wave, and I wished him a great evening. I hadn’t seen him talk to anyone else both times I walked by.

It has become clear. I have joined a new band of brothers. Initiated into a club of older gentleman who never gave up the mustache they wore in the 1980s and young hipsters who want to be different. We’re a band of brothers… of mustached men… of Burt Reynolds renegades…

Oh Jocelyn, I’m not sure I can cut my mustache off now. Let’s see how work goes for a few days. So, here’s my question, what do you think of mustaches – an 80’s style that will make its way back, or something that should be left to the outer fringe of society?

The TransMission

April 10, 2016 — 7 Comments

A few weeks ago my wife and I headed to Tulsa for a family Easter weekend. We left after we got off work in the evening and estimated an 11:30pm arrival at my parent’s house after the four hour drive from Dallas.

All was going well until around 11pm when we got hungry and decided to pull over at McDonald’s for a late night breakfast (that’s how a lot of bad stories start). As we were leaving, we heard a grumbling sound coming from underneath. I’m used to these kind of sounds after McDonald’s but typically they come after I eat it (my parents referred to this as the golly woggles, which was a new, and pretty awesome term to me).

The noise sounded like metal grinding but returned to normal after getting over 20 mph. We made it home and hoped the car would repair itself overnight. We woke the next morning and took a quick drive before filling little plastic eggs with money and sweets and unfortunately, the 4Runner had not self-repaired yet. The noise still stopped after 20 mph, so we decided it was safe enough for the long drive back to Dallas the next day – and indeed, we made it safely.

Now it was time to start investigating the issue. I took it to our local mechanic and he gave me a pretty dire prognosis – there was a 90% chance it was the transmission. Oh no, that doesn’t sound good. He said he didn’t do transmissions but figured it could easily cost $4,000+ to get it replaced. My gosh, our 4Runner with 192k miles is hardly even worth that much!

I quickly went through the cycles of despair and anger and blame (or whatever that cycle is) and decided I’d better take it to the Toyota dealership and hope they’d give me some better news, as they’re the experts. They called later that afternoon and confirmed my worst fears – it’s going to need a new transmission. They could get me a used one for $4,700 or a new one for $5,700. I told them no thanks and picked the car up.

At this point, it becomes a question of value. Should we spend $5,000 to fix a car that’s only worth $5,000 in working condition? Of course not.

I didn’t give up yet and decided to take it to Eagle transmissions to get a third opinion. I dropped off the car and debated with Jocelyn if we should try and get it fixed or just buy a new(er) car. We decided our spending limit to get it fixed would be around $2,000.

In what became my weekly routine, I dropped the car off in the morning, waited for the call from them and then listened with disappoint as he confirmed what the other two had suspected. However, he threw in a new variable – the transfer case. He said  the transmission and transfer case are right next to each other and are both metal so it’s hard to tell where the noise was coming from. His only next step would be to drop the transmission, open it up and also check the transfer case. He’d charge $500 to drop it and check. I asked him if I decided not to do the work after their investigation if the $500 included reassembling. He said no.

What the heck, at that point I’m all in if I decided to “investigate”. That sounded like a pretty crappy way to investigate. I told him I’d think about it overnight and asked what he thought the minimum would be to fix it. He said it’s too hard to tell because they only replace what’s broken, but after enough pestering I finally got him to give me some numbers – very minimum $1,500, but more than likely between $2,500 – $3,500. Risky… just sounded too risky.

I did some more research that night and found three interesting things:

  1. Toyotas are known for having great transmissions that can easily last to 300k miles (Eagle transmission said the same)
  2. You can buy a “salvaged” transmission for $500 on eBay
  3. You can find a smaller shop to install them, and somebody in Dallas recommended Gonzalez Auto Services

I called Eagle transmission shop the next morning and asked him if he’d install a used transmission. He said he didn’t and warned me that it’s pretty risky because you never know what you’re going to get or how long it’d last. However, I still thought his proposal was even more risky so I called Gonzalez.

Gonzalez (the owner of the shop, Juan Gonzalez but goes by Gonzalez) said he could install the used transmission for $350. Okay, that number sounded a lot better – maybe $1,000 all in to install the used transmission. I was ready to order the new transmission, because I’m impatient and eBay seems to fully exploit it, like when I almost bought a city bus, but I waited.

The next day I started the routine again – picked up the 4Runner from Eagle transmission, took it to Gonzalez and waited for the call. Well, it was a bit different because Gonzalez wanted to take me for a drive so we could listen to it. He listed intently and said the transmission shifted good still. He said he’d check it out when we got back to the shop and drop the pan to see if there were any metal shavings in it.

After I left, I started researching transfer cases and wondering why the Toyota dealership didn’t catch it. eBay had one available but it was about $500 more than the transmission cost. Estimate went back up to $1,500 to fix, but still a lot better than $5,000. Gonzalez called later that evening with some interesting news. He said the transfer case was bone dry. How in the world did three other places miss that? All they had to do was check the fluid level in it.

That meant it was pretty much the transfer case. I asked him to fill it with fluid and maybe we’d have a little miracle and everything would turn out okay. He said he’d do it in the morning and give me a call. I continued my research on transfer cases and found another really interesting tidbit – apparently this model of 4Runner is notorious for having leaky seals around the transfer cases! Once again, what the hell, Toyota dealership??

The next morning I woke up with a little bit of optimism and hoped it’d be okay. Gonzalez hadn’t called by noon, so I decided to give him a ring. The rest must be narrated to fully appreciate. Ring, ring, answer:

Gonzalez: Gonzalez

Me: hey Gonzalez, it’s Dan with the 4Runner

Gonzalez: …

Intentionally blank

Me: So, did you get a chance to put fluid in the transfer case?

Gonzalez: Yes

Gonzalez is more of a man of action than words. I waited for a good 5 seconds to see if he’d continue

Me: Ok, how did it sound?

Gonzalez: No noise, it sounds fine now.

Me: No shit?! That’s incredible!!! I can’t believe the Toyota dealership didn’t check that!

Gonzalez: Ya

I was clearly more excited than him

Me: Okay, I guess I’ll come pick it up and drive it around for a while to see if it continues to sound alright

I picked it up later that afternoon and paid Gonzalez $100 for his investigation and re-fluiding. We went from a minimum $5k for a new transmission or buying a newer car for $20k, to a $100 charge to fill up some fluid. It still leaks, but I’ll just have to occasionally fill it up.

The quest for 200k miles on the 4Runner is back alive!!!!

I was impressed with Gonzalez’s knowledge and honesty, and he’s definitely made me a long term customer. Now the Toyota dealership on the other hand (Toyota of Richardson), I was very disappointed they not only misdiagnosed with what could’ve been a $6,000 repair bill, but they also somehow missed checking a very known issue with 4Runners… so much for being the experts. I don’t want to assume they did it on purpose… but dammit, it sure seems like it!

If you made it this far, I commend you, I just had a full verbal vomit. I wrote it out in detail to remind me of the valuable lessons I learned:

  1. If something doesn’t seem right, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion
  2. If that doesn’t seem right, don’t be afraid to get a third opinion… or a fourth opinion!!
  3. Remember, just because someone is an “authority” like a mechanic, doesn’t mean they’re always right
  4. Patience grasshopper. Don’t buy a bus on eBay and don’t buy a transmission until you absolutely know that’s the issue

It was a real test of patience for me. Usually, I’ll make a decision with the knowledge I have on hand and go with it. However, this one just didn’t seem right… and of course I didn’t want to throw away $5,000!! The 4Runner is back in business and while it does drop gear oil on our driveway, I’m okay with refilling every couple of months to keep her going strong.

Dazed at the Wheel

April 3, 2016 — 4 Comments

The other day I was driving home from work on a regular Tuesday evening. It was about 6:15pm and I was taking the “back roads” because the Tollway I usually take would’ve been jammed with others like me trying to find the fastest path, but collectively making it even slower. And I say “back roads” but it’s actually a six lane Dallas road!

Although I’d rather not have to drive 35 minutes to get home after work, but it has proven to be somewhat therapeutic as I switch between country stations and NPR, looking forward to hearing the daily market update. Today’s routine was different though as my main goal was to call the Toyota dealership and inquire about a repair on our 4runner.

I asked Siri to call Toyota of Richardson, but in true Siri fashion, the first three times “She did not get that” and the fourth time the number she dialed was incorrect. So at the next stop light I used to the old school smartphone method and searched it on Google – this time connecting. As I was getting transferred to the service department, I realized I’d need the make and model so they could thoroughly answer my questions. So I reached for the glove box (this time not at a stoplight) and grabbed it (this is why I can’t wait for self-driving cars, because idiots like me).

We talked for a while about the issue – this will be a future post as I’m still too emotional to talk about it – and set up a time to bring the car in. I also gave a call to another repair shop to talk to them about the issue. By the time I hung up on the second call, I was nearly home and a little bit scared as I couldn’t really remember the last 20 minutes of driving. Sure, I was definitely the one behind the wheel, following basic traffic rules and staying within the lane, but what the hell just happened the last 20 minutes?

I guess I went on auto-pilot. My mind was occupied with things that were less important than what I should’ve been focused on, but at least I got done what I needed to get done.


Oliver Wendell Holmes said “Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out”. I love that quote as I’m obsessed with time, but I don’t think that we even consciously make the decision to delay living. Instead, we just go on auto-pilot.

We go into survival mode to get through the week. We feel the heaviness in our hearts on Sunday when the weekend went by too fast and the next five days we’re going back to battle. We’re going back to the same mundane work that even though is not new, still manages to take up our whole week and most of our energy. We go on auto-pilot for survival. Routine is a welcome option that helps us get through the hard things.

But what happens when auto-pilot is no longer the 20 innocent minutes driving home from work? What happens when auto-pilot was the entire year of 2015? Or 2005-2015? Or the next 30 years?

Somethings are good to put on auto-pilot, like saving and investing. However, some things are not so good. Like living.

Are you purposefully driving the outcomes of life you inspire to? Are you making decisions that are leading you down the path you want to take? Or are you going on auto-pilot and spending so much damn time keeping up with the Jones’ that you’ll have no option but to continue the cycle you’re in? Is your spending on auto-pilot to the point you’re not saving or investing?

You’re smart and powerful, and with enough focus, you can make auto-pilot work for you. Don’t fall for the same marketing tricks that try to get us to spend every dollar we have on crap we don’t need. Make some decisions and focus your life.

I may not be in my “dream job” right now, but my wife and I are making the right financial moves so we will have options. Our two cars have a combined 312k miles on them because we refuse to pay car payments and when you’re buying with cash, it’s a heck of a lot harder to buy a fancy new car. We cut cable, haven’t had an electric bill over $30 for the last five months because we minimize our electric use (ok, a mild winter helps) and we focus on cutting our grocery bills. We don’t know what our next steps will be yet, but we know we’ll be able to have them.

Your life is too valuable to put on auto-pilot. Don’t live life dazed at the wheel.