Can spending help us all save the boom?
I look out in my driveway and I know how owners of HP 3000s must feel. Underneath the racy purple blooms of a springtime redbud tree sits our minivan, a Voyager purchased six years ago. We call it our Miracle Van for reasons Ill get to, and we love it as much as you love your HP 3000s of the same vintage. And this month, like you, we are wondering what to do about its future.
This vehicle makes our lives work. Its carried every issue of the NewsWire for five and a half years, the draught horse pulling our goods to mail house and post office. Its the best bad-weather car we own, riding high in the sometimes surprising downpours of Texas rain. We use it for vacations, too, logging thousands of miles to Canada, the Mexican border, the Delaware shore. Its first long trip was to the 1995 Interex show in Toronto, where it carried a four-page pilot of the NewsWire and its owners moxie.
Abby dubbed it the Miracle Van because getting it seemed like a miracle. We were only in the organizing phase of starting the NewsWire when we went looking for a vehicle. As independent consultants in communications and PR, we didnt have pay stubs to prove our financial mettle anymore. We expected that getting the van financed would be tricky. But we went looking anyway, just to look, on the last day of the month in the last month of the quarter. The salesman wouldnt let us leave the dealership without the van. A fellas got to make his month, he said, shorthand for getting past your quota on the final day.
The Miracle Van was our first surprise in how easy it is to walk away with a car, provided youve paid your bills all your life. And so we loved it in a way I hadnt bonded with a car at least not since I bought my battered VW Beetle, just out of the Army, back in college, short on cash and long on dreams. It was scarred, but beautiful.
I look at our van today and I see its scars from the years of labor, success and fun. Out in the Big Bend country a swift gust from a black boiling thunderstorm whipped the door open, bending its hinge a little. That side of it now whistles as we speed down I-10 toward the Davis Mountains. The hood is shedding its outer coat of paint, leaving only the primer as defense against the blistering Texas sun. A mishap at the ever-more-crowded intersections of Austin left us with a dent in a fender. And then last month we had to replace a transmission, the first repair that ever went into four figures for us. Clearly, the Miracle Van is getting on.
We love it, and it still runs great. But its not as fuel efficient as the newer models. We sometimes go to national forests where a four-wheel drive vehicle would be a better choice for dirt roads. We recognize its paid for, and aside from the repairs, its cheaper to own than anything new. But its hard to decide if stretching its life is the best thing for us.
Does this sound like an HP 3000 not far from you? We surveyed owners of the equivalent of our minivan, 9x7 sites running systems between three and eight years old. When we bought our Miracle Van, the 9x7 was in its heyday. Now HP is telling these customers its time to trade up, move up to a better deal. Like us, more than a few of you are wondering and waiting.
In fact, much of the world is waiting. Durable goods orders were at a low ebb during February, a sign that the big-ticket items of cars and houses, and yes, computers, were being postponed. The reasons are complex, but many experts agree that everyone is being cautious all at once. Its like brake lights on the freeway: Spot a few, and many more follow.
All that following has got the economy slowing, but nobody knows for how long. As managers of some of the most durable goods out there an HP 3000 investment can easily last 15 years, something only a house can outlive you have your feet poised over the brake pedals. Postpone a purchase of an e3000 for just six months, and it triggers a chain of slowdowns in software, services and training. This is not good for a community whose ecosystem is as closed as the 3000s. Sure, its not easy to stay off the brake when all the traffic around you is slowing. Fortunately, being in business isnt the gridlock affair that driving has become in Austin and elsewhere. You can make your own route.
We are on the bubble about our Miracle Van this month. One night we talked about going to Lemonbusters, the used car inspectors, and having our own van checked for what was ready to break. Budget for it, we figured, and it would still be less than a new vehicle payment.
On the other hand, the automakers are wooing us as best they can: with discounts. Chrysler, which announced layoffs like many other firms, sent us a 0.9-percent finance offer. When you can borrow for a purchase at nearly no interest, it becomes a matter of how big a payment you can afford to handle, we figure.
The advantages of buying new versus rejuvenating old are highly scrutinized in the 3000 community. You are a customer base known for taking the reliable, conservative view, stretching a dollar, using resources wisely. There is a conservationist element among you, too; it makes your lives simpler to conserve than to purchase. Simple and 3000 pretty much mean the same thing.
But there are times when youve got to get involved again, just to feel the wind in your hair and stay alive. One of the worries we have about the 3000 community is that its too stable. Thousands of systems sit out there every day just working, and nobody notices them at all. Then one day when the 3000 gets forgotten during an IT budget session, or overlooked during application planning. Nobody worries about it, because its become as exciting as the plumbing, but it is just as essential.
Everything has its season, even things we love. Bypassing change to huddle in the familiar might be at the start of the economic braking we see today. Saying so long to our Miracle Van wont be easy. Were not supposed to care so much for objects, but when I think of all that vehicle has brought to our lives a thriving business, loved ones who were long too far away, the astonishing beauty of a rainbow deep in the Big Bend desert I know Ill shed a tear when we trade it in.
We dont yet know when that day is. Nor do a lot of you 3000 owners know when youll turn your 9x7s in. But I know when we take our leap of faith well be part of something bigger than just a new purchase. Intel said the only way out of a recessionary economy is to spend your way out, so its investing heavier in R&D than ever. Those who buy will be helping find faith in the future again, something that was so thick last spring we had to wipe it off us. I believe that faith hasnt gone anywhere. Weve just got to awaken our awareness of it. Maybe ringing discounts will help. Heres hoping an alarm goes off soon for you. Well keep you posted on our next Miracle.