29 July 2009

Hello, You're On Car Talk!

About ten weeks ago (Saturday, 16 May 2009), for the first time ever, I purchased a new new car (verses new-to-me used car). My last car was a 1999 Toyota Camry and was, save for a few hiccups, a great car.

Given the current state of affairs with "American Cars", which seem to be mostly a product of Mexico, I decided to stick with the Camry a "Foreign Car", made in Kentucky. I ended up purchasing a 2009 Camry Hybrid.

It is certainly more than I'd originally planned to purchase, but one option lead to another, one feature lead to another, and one excuse lead to another. But in the end, I was very pleased with my decision. And thus far, I still am.

Buckingham Palace

Brett, my partner, lives in Rochester MN, and purchased his Camry from Rochester Toyota a few years ago. I was so impressed by the dealership, I decided to accept the distance challenges just to stick with that dealership. They're that good! (Or perhaps Wilson Toyota of Ames is just that bad.)

First and foremost, Rochester Toyota is a No Haggle dealership. The term they use is up-front "Best Pricing" on every vehicle. In other words, they put the manufacturer's sticker on the window and their discounted final price right next to it. There's no bargaining, haggling, wheeling or dealing; they lay out their hand and say "here's what we've got, take it or leave it". It isn't for some, but for me it is awesome.

The salesman I worked with was Brandon Buckingham. He was absolutely fantastic. For a guy who doesn't get any direct commission on sales, he really goes the extra mile. He put up with all of my emails, phone calls, and random visits. He knew when to offer assistance and, perhaps more importantly, he knew when to just leave me alone. Never once did he use the Wilson Toyota's cliché line, "What would I need to do to get you to drive this car off the lot tonight?"

7 - 10 Split

The day I drove the car off the lot, Brett and I went to Minneapolis to visit some friends of ours. On the trip home that evening, approximately 12 hours after signing my name on the purchase agreement, I came over a hill...

I don't recall the exact expletives Brett used, but as I looked over to his side, a large deer, eyes aglow, flashed by the passenger side... no contact. Looking forward again, almost in slow motion, I saw another deer zip past my driver's side... luckily, once again, no contact. I had just driven between two deer less than 5 feet from either side of my car going 70+ miles an hour.

I remember thinking, "Oh God, dear Lord, I was really hoping to make it more than one day without fucking up this car." God listened... and laughed.

You're Driving Like a Bat Out of Hades!

On the fourth day, God said, Let there be an old woman of 86 years: and there was an old woman. And God saw the woman, that she was apparently blind and deaf: and God laughed and gave her a large 2005 Chevy TrailBlazer. And God directed this woman: Yea of little sight and hearing, go to Target and wait that I might smote the sinner. And the woman obeyed the Lord and parked in a handicap space across from his new vehicle.

And when the sinner left the store, and began to back out of the stall, with his 4 day old, freshly washed vehicle, with his three coworkers by his side... she too began to back out. And though the sinner stopped barely two feet out of his stall and honked wildly, the blind and deaf old woman ignored him and widened her arch so that through her, the Lord might smote him.

And as the sinner wept at the crunched bumper of his 4-day-old 2009 Camry Hybrid, the Lord giggled.

But by the Grace of God (and four witnesses) the sinner repented his vanity and the Lord blessed him with a favorable settlement so that the car could be repaired at no expense to him.

On the plus side, while my car was getting repaired, I was given a 2003 Mercury Cougar, manual transmission. And aside from killing it a few times on untimely hills, it was a lot of fun. The last time I drove a stick-shift was when I was dating my last girlfriend. It also gave me the opportunity to teach Brett how to drive a stick.

Check Check One Two Three Four

It won't take effect for another 3 years when the Standard Warrantee expires... but I am already feeling comforted that I purchased the Extended Warrantee. About a month after the accident, the five week old car's Check Engine light came on.

I took it to the dealer once again. The diagnostic code indicated a problem with the " Fuel Evaporator". But other than the code, they couldn't find anything wrong. It was possible, they said, that the gas cap wasn't on tight after refueling. That seems odd to me, but whatever. They reset the computer and said to wait to see if it happens again... it hasn't.

While I was there for a few hours waiting on the car, I had the opportunity to see Brandon, my salesman, again. While chatting idly, and laughing at my misfortune, he slowly guided me to the very center of the showroom... where my old 1999 Camry was situated?! Wait... WTF???

It turns out that my old car was selected for their annual Great Car Give Away! Wouldn't it be killer ironic if I won my old car back? After they spent the time fixing the dent, the window, and the catalytic converter? Unfortunately, as Brett pointed out, I am ineligible since I don't live within the requisite distance. Maybe he'll win it back for me.

Long Day

As I drove away from the dealership, I was dismayed to find a 4" blue pen mark on my dashboard, just above the steering wheel. My guess is one of the mechanics inspecting my car accidently swiped it. Nothing I tried was able to remove the mark, so I went BACK to the dealer. Three hours, and an interior specialist later, it was as good as new.

But all things considered, I still love the dealership. So if you're looking for a new Toyota, and are willing to drive the distance, I highly recommend Rochester Toyota. Talk to Brandon; and tell him I sent you. We'll each get $50 out of the deal.


10 July 2009

Food So FAT You'll Freak!!!

Your Mom Wants You to Eat at Jimmy John's!

I love Jimmy John's, and it is a frequent default lunch when I decide to stay in the office and work over the noon hour. But for various reasons, I haven't ordered in the past few weeks; nothing to do with Weight Watchers and my effort to lose weight, I just haven't.

Today is one of those days I'm working over the lunch hour. My other three full-time staff people all decided to take today off. So I thought it would be good to stick around. Well, as I have been doing for the past few weeks, I've been trying to do a little investigation into what I eat, preferably BEFORE I eat it. So I hoped on everyone's favorite search engine, Google, and found exactly what I was looking for: Jimmy John's Nutrition

Hoooooooly Fucking Moses!

I've always assumed sandwiches were generally healthy, so I haven't ever given a second thought to Jimmy John's. That is, until today. First, let me say kudos and thank you to Jimmy John's. They have one of the most open, honest, complete, easy to use, and useful nutrition interface I've yet to see.

But now the bad news... The " #1 Pepe", Jimmy John's most popular sandwich, has 683 calories, 37 grams of fat, and 1 gram of fiber. That's 17 Points!!! That is BAD, like "Oh My God" bad, like worse than McDonald's Big Mac bad! The Big Mac "only" has 540 calories, 29g fat, 3g fiber (13 points).

The Culprit

Not believing my eyes, and thanks to JJ's awesome interface, I was quickly able to diagnose the primary cause of the excessive calories and fat... Hellmann's Mayonnaise. It accounts for 228 cal, 25g fat, and no fiber. The Ham and Provolone contribute the remainder of the fat, but only a third of the problem. And the French Bread contributes a lot of the calories through the carbohydrates.

The Solution

My solution was to switch to the "#4 Turkey Tom", hold the Mayonnaise, but add the Provolone. Had I gone without the Provolone, the sandwich would have been a Weight Watcher's delight, but I just couldn't do it. Final total was 448 calories, 11g fat, 1g fiber, which works out to 10 points.

In retrospect, I should have forgone the cheese and added Italian Vinaigrette sauce. That would have added a nice zing to the sandwich and yielded only 7 points. Oh well, next time.


07 July 2009

Wafer Thin Mint

Weight Watchers Logo I joined Weight Watchers three weeks ago, 15 Jun 2009. At my initial weigh-in, I pushed a comfortable 291.8 pounds. Being 6 feet tall, this give me a BMI of 39.5, putting me solidly in the "Obese" category. Although I've never seen myself as Monty Python's Mr. Creosote, I really haven't been comfortable with my weight since I left the swim team my Junior year of High School.

So far the program is going alright. I've lost 6.4 pounds; I haven't really felt very deprived; I still eat most of the things I enjoy; and I am still as social as I used to be. The changes have mostly been in terms of the choices I make and the portion sizes. I've also started eating breakfast.

I'll be at my (personal) target weight of 200 pounds by Feb 2011 if I can maintain an average of 1 pound/week; July 2010 if I can maintain 1.5 pounds/week. My first Weight Watchers goal is to lose 10% by the end of the year.

Weight Watchers Summary

The core concept of Weight Watchers (and most weight-loss systems) is to take in fewer calories than you burn. To help track this, to encourage foods lower in fat and higher in fiber, to encourage exercise, and (most importantly to me) to permit the consumption of any food desired... they developed a point system.

An individual is assigned a number of Points. Daily Points are determined based upon current weight (28 points), gender (8 points), height (2 points), age (2 points), and occupation (0 points). I get a total of 40 Daily Points. There are also Weekly Points (35 points) that can be spent any day the participant goes over their allotted Daily Points. Extra points are also earned through exercise.

Formula P=(c/50)+(f/12)-(min(r,4)/5) These points are then spent on the foods eaten. A participant can eat whatever they like so long as they stay within their allotted point total. The point value of the food is determined by three factors: Calories, Fat, and Fiber; the more calories and/or fat, the higher the point value; the more fiber, the lower.

Stay within your allotted points and you should lose weight.

Portion Awareness

The first realization I made with Weight Watchers was that my concept of a portion was way out of line. A bowl of cereal should include one cup of cereal and one cup of milk. A portion of almonds is 23 nuts. A portion of ice cream is a half-cup (oye). A portion of peanut butter is 1 tablespoon. The portion size of most sliced bread is 1 slice not 2. And finally, 17 Rold Gold Tiny Twists Pretzels is one portion (not the entire 1 pound bag, John; that's 16 servings). And these are not Weight Watchers' definition of a portion, these are the suggested portion sizes listed on the foods themselves.

And when dine out at a sit-down restaurant, which I do frequently, you are usually given a double portion for your meal. My goal is to simply be aware of this first and foremost. I've been trying to save half of my meal to-go and disregarding the guilt of rarely eating my leftovers.


I tend to snack a lot. Be it an oral fixation or some other excuse, I find it difficult not to eat something while watching TV. But what I've learned is that I care less about what I eat and more about the act of eating. So I've tried to stock up on "free foods" that I can grab as snacks and abandoned the ice cream, mixed nuts, and pretzels.
  • Carrot Chips with Pace Chunky Hot Salsa
  • Sugar Free Jell-O with extra gelatin ( Knox)
  • Fat-Free Sugar-Free Jell-O Pudding
  • Pickles


I've always been terrible about eating breakfast. And by lunch I am famished. This triggers your metabolism to slow down as well as causes you to gorge over lunch; neither of which help you lose weight. So I've tried to learn to eat breakfast. I'm still working at it, but I'm doing much better.


I was on Nutrisystem for a couple of months two years ago. And although it may be right for many, it just wasn't right for me. I did lose some weight, but I often felt really deprived. But the reason I eventually gave up was that I realized that food is so central to my social life, that having to eat the Nutrisystem food regularly interfered with my social life.

The food itself wasn't bad. On the other hand it wasn't all that good either. But most importantly it felt like for it to work, you'd have to stay on the system forever. I didn't feel like I was actually learning any new behaviors. You lost weight because you ate their food. Stop eating their food and the weight would come back. And it did.

So... now I'm trying Weight Watchers.