End of the Year Relief

Christmas has come and gone. The things that revolved around keeping secrets (which is hard work!) are done.  I, no--we--can relax. The proverbial cat has been let out of the bag. A gift I had bought and stashed for Sarah, as well as the (somewhat) surprise trip Sue and I had been looking to share with her: All out in the open and common knowledge.

Okay, let's back up. There is a lot of ground to cover.

Sarah is graduating from college this spring. I have been wondering what I could buy her for a graduation gift. It had crossed my mind several times over the last year or so. Some time several months back I had an idea and brought up the possibility of buying her a trip. Not just a trip, but a trip that we could take her on. I get twangs of guilt when I buy gifts for her. I don't spoil my daughter, but still--I only have one, so the things I do buy for her are sometimes a notch or two higher on the scale of gift-giving. Yes, guilty as charged. This year will signify a transition in her life though. A transition from child to adult. While I will still help her when she's in a bind like any parent would, no longer will I be buying any extravagant gifts. This is her send-off year. Her last hurrah so to speak.

Anyway, back to the beginning.

The Christmas gift I had bought and stashed for Sarah: An iPad. Being the practical man I am (or try to be anyway) I did not buy her a new one. Truth is, I broached the subject with some trepidation when I first mentioned it to Sue. I mean, we had already agreed to spend all this money on a trip for the three of us in June ($$$), then we bought my parents a new computer($$). Now I have thoughts about buying an iPad for Sarah!?  Well, I did not just venture forth and spend--nay, that would not be good. Instead I talked it over with Suz. I basically told her I wanted to see if I could find a nice, used one and asked how she felt about that. She agreed with my reasoning.  I had no intention of buying a new one because they were just too much money. After all, we both know how techies get these flaming cases of "trade-upmanship" when new versions come out.  I was pretty sure I'd find a decent deal out there.  The deal I found was way better than I had even hoped. I ended up buying her a beautiful iPad 2 with 32 gigs of storage. It literally looked new. When I brought it home the first day, I charged it up to 100% and powered it completely off before i went to bed. Imagine my surprise--no, alarm--when I turned it back on the following morning and found the battery to be at a gut-wrenching, apprehension-riddled, buyer's remorseful 28%. I was almost sick. I started researching the web on any information I could find.  Fixes, battery prices, and anything else I could come up with as an avenue to save my ass.  I was grasping for any firm hold I could find.  Lo & behold, I found a website where so many others like me were bemoaning their battery-munching plight.  The fix, as recommended by the guy running the Q&A forum, was to do a restart using a specific pattern of keystrokes, then leave it to recharge fully overnight. Could it be that simple? Although I was extremely skeptical, I had nothing to lose.  Guess what?  Success!  Apparently, it's pretty common to have that happen when people upgrade their iPhones and iPads with the newest operating system when such upgraded OS's come out. The fix, in the guy's words, "re-syncs" the battery.  Whatever.  All I know is I breathed a giant sigh of relief.  The gal I bought the iPad from said she sold it because she never used it (which may also be true), but I think she sold it because the battery wouldn't hold a charge.  We won.  I put a Merry Christmas 'wallpaper' on it and boxed and wrapped it up.  Since she opened it up on Christmas morning she's been inseparable from it.  We also put a cute wallpaper on it that showed up on its desktop screens (pictured up on the right). Sue added the specific dates of our trip to Ireland in June to it.

What? I didn't tell you our destination is Ireland? It's true!

We gave Sarah the basic surprise/news of our wish to bestow a trip upon her a few months ago.  The only requirement was that she had to take us with her of course.  At that time we didn't give her a destination, but rather, several choices or potentials for a trip.  For obvious reasons we wanted a trip that would give us the maximum enjoyment/expense ratio.  We told her to get back to us with a list if multiple selections for us to go on if she could.  She was more than happy to do so (for obvious reasons), and when she did we kicked a few of them around and settled on Ireland.  We had to keep that under wraps along with the iPad.  Christmas morning brought an end to our secretive plotting, and now plans are being finalized with everyone collaborating.

Today brought an end to the saga of my parents' new computer. Who knew it was so much trouble to buy your parents a new computer?

The setup (the part where it lived in our house for a week or so while we loaded things on it and set it up for the both of them) went fine.  When Suzie and I proudly delivered it to them on their anniversary the problems began.  The saga was underway.  No, the computer worked fine.   Their DSL however: Not so much.  After playing with their modem (resetting, contacting tech support, etc) for a while we managed to get it up and running.  Then is wasn't.  Then it was.  More often than not, it wasn't.  When we left their house, I was disgruntled for obvious reasons.  I started looking for a replacement modem.  Word got out and we found that Sue's son Denny had one up the street he'd let us have.  Cool!  It was working great when he unhooked it and switched to cable Internet a year or so ago.  We went down to the folks' house again--all pumped up and full of good tidings and confidence.  I plugged it all in and surprise--it worked even worse than the original one.   This one wouldn't connect at all!  Once again I headed home with my shoulders drooping.  This time there was only one answer that we were willing to accept: Buy a new modem.  We both wanted closure.  This gift that we both wanted so badly to give my parents had turned into a can of worms.  We wanted it over with, with no ifs, ands, or buts.   I ordered a new one from Amazon.com a few days ago--this one with wireless.  The good news is that it cost nothing because I used Amazon "points" from my Visa card.  The bad news: More waiting.  Well, it showed up this morning, and I didn't waste any time getting down to their house and hooking it up.  It works fantastic!  Plus, any of us that visit can now connect to their wireless network!  The name of their new network: TheOldManOnThePorch.  Really.  Isn't that great?

Whew.  Let's see if the next few months give us a break.

Home Sweet Desk

I'm back. After a two-week training hiatus from my new job, I'm back.

I seem to have come back with a different mindset. I don't know why. It had nothing to do with the classes I took. As a matter-of-fact, the classes I require as part of my new position aren't even finished yet. I've still got two others to attend before I'm "complete" as it were.

No, I came in this morning carrying stuff.

You know how when you see someone leaving a job on a TV show or movie they are always carrying a box containing their possessions? The box always seems to have a plant poking out of the top of the box too. I've joked with Sue about it recently, asking her if she had taken a plant to work yet. Last week when she got the word that her "temporary" job was going to be coming to a close I told her, "Don't forget to bring your plant home."

I have a few stupid things that were with me at my previous job. Actually, one of them from even before that.

This morning I carried a bag in to work. It contained food items (of a snacking nature) as well as desktop "toys" that are a requirement when you have a cubicle desk job like I have. So when I got to work this morning, I sat down in my brand-new ergonomic Cadillac of an office chair that showed up while I was gone (after unwrapping the plastic off it of course) and carefully placed my old familiar desktop toys around my desk.  Among them:
  • A Silly Slammer - Given to me by Sarah many years ago during my previous stint at Boeing.  You smack it down against a hard surface and it says, "Yada, yada, yada" or "whatever" each time.  It only has those two sayings.
  • A "cow call" thing - At my previous job I put a plain white wrapper around it and labeled it "this side up".  However I purposefully labeled it upside down so people would see it with the arrows facing down and want to turn it over.  Cheap trick to get a moo.
  • A fiber optic Christmas tree - Sarah gave it to me this year, and it plugs into a computer USB port and changes color.  Perfect for an office.  I like it!
  • A giant bag of peanut butter M&M's - No explanation necessary.  Well, except the size.  It's huge.
In addition to the aforementioned chair, I also had another Boeing t-shirt (promo) and a Hostess Zinger (apparently someone handed them out to everyone one day) waiting for me in my cubicle.

Don't you just love stuff like that?

Literary Immersion

I used to be an avid reader.  I loved it when a story grabbed me and held me spellbound in its grip.  A good story held me with its magic, and I devoured its words with earnest.  When I was into a good book I never wanted to put it down, and I'd be completely immersed in it until I finished the very last sentence.  I lived a book while I was reading it.  Many a night I was caught by annoyed parents and admonished for reading late into the night with the help of a flashlight.  When I would close the book I was reading for the final time it was usually with a sigh of completion and disappointment both.  Finishing a good book was bittersweet.

A good story held my interest throughout the day--even when I was not reading.  It's not that it consumes all my thoughts, but I do find myself thinking about events from the story at various times during the day.  I might find myself daydreaming at school or any number of places, re-living the story in my mind.  I would analyze pieces of it--pondering questions of why, how, or if.  I would find myself marveling at the events that took place in the story, and would find myself equally entranced with the author's imagination.  I would sometimes belittle myself for not being able to conjure up such artful works of literary achievement as the authors did, and yet at the same time would thank them for what they had shown me.  Many times I followed a completed story by learning about the author and what kind of a person he or she was.  I think that's where I also got my love for biographies.

Like I said, when I've finished a book I find it hard to let it go from my mind.  Movies do that to me too.  Sometimes a good, creative,  thought-provoking movie will keep me pondering its story line for a week or longer after I have seen it.  Sometimes when I wake at night I find it hard to return to sleep if my mind has switched on and is reliving events from a movie I watched before going to bed.  It's not just any movie either.  I only get that reaction from movies that are creative--whether by the visuals or the story itself.  Because I apparently lack the creative gene, I love to have my mind "switched on" by someone creative.

What got me thinking about this topic?  I dunno... I was just wondering to myself the other day if we humans are the only creatures on our planet that actually wonder about things.  Are we the only creatures that have the capacity to dream?  To wish?  To re-live past events?  To assume so would be a bold assumption to make in my opinion, given the staggering variety of life there is around us.  We like to think that we are superior, and in most ways (that we can comprehend) we are.  I dunno--I just wonder about stuff sometimes.

I've found myself reading again these days.  Maybe I've been rediscovering a lost friend.  Maybe it's because it's so easy.  I can carry lots of books with me on my iPad and read any time I want.  Maybe its because I dumped my time-wasting Facebook account and have more time to think and do things within my own life.  More time to blog is one thing that has definitely become apparent.  Or maybe it's just more of a desire to blog.

Back to the Tooth Doc

It's been a long time since I went to the dentist. I'll blame my insurance.  It couldn't be my fault.

See, the way my previous employer worked, the employee benefits were in a constant state of flux. Every year, without fail, the medical and dental benefits were reevaluated to see if a dollar or a nickel could be saved. I never knew, from year to year, what changes were in store for us the following year.

Case in point: I had finally found a dentist (that's him above) I really liked and he was reasonably close  here in the Covington area.  I think I was able to visit them twice before the end of the year came, and wouldn't you know it? My insurance changed and that dentist office was no longer on the 'approved' list. Sure, I could have gone in regardless but what I really needed was sure to be something spendy like a new crown or repair, and I wasn't about to do a crown unless it was maximum benefit so my outlay was minimum.

Now I'm at Boeing and I get to go back!  Good thing--I needed it.  The previous visit was a long time ago.

I came out of there last night with a pretty good overall score.  They could tell I had been flossing (for a change), and that's good.  While nothing has rotted on me, there is definitely some work to be done.  I guess I'm pretty much past getting cavities... Now my teeth just basically break, chip, crack, and other varieties of structural integrity failure.

That dentist is as good now as I remember them all being two years ago (or however long it's been), which is a very good thing.  Besides, doesn't that picture give you the warm fuzzies?  Don't you want to go to the dentist now too?

Black Bart: Part 2

First of all, read the previous post if you haven't already.  It introduces you to Black Bart and chronicles my drive to Oklahoma City.

Unfortunately, due to my neglect and recklessness, Oklahoma City turned out to be Black Bart final resting place.

Like many people that join the military, I was feeling my oats and I was aching to get out on my own.  I was tired of being under the rule of my parents.  I longed for the day when I could do anything I wanted to do with no grow ups watching over me.  I was longing for some 'get into trouble' time I guess. You know--teenage boy time.  Sometimes I'm surprised I survived.

It seems like I have had always gotten into trouble with cars.  In my first two years of driving I got stopped by police quite often.  I never seemed to get a ticket though.  It may have had a little to do with the size of the town, or maybe it was because whichever cop that pulled me over happened to know my dad.  I don't know.  My job at Karl's Chevron in Auburn may have helped too because they had the contract to service the Auburn police cars.  Whatever the reason, that luck didn't follow me when I left town.  Within the first month of my arrival at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City I had gotten one ticket for speeding and one for reckless driving--both on base.  Those two tickets totaled 9 points, putting me 3 points over the line and placing me into mandatory remedial driving class.  The reckless driving ticket was kind of funny really because I got it while stopped.  I was cruising through a housing area on base (20 mph speed limit) and for whatever reason a little puddle of water in an intersection caught my eye.  I must have been really bored.  I stopped with my rear tires in it and started doing a power-brake burnout.  The tires had just started smoking good when I heard woop woop.  I looked in the rear-view mirror and there was a cop--sitting right behind me with his lights on.  I was busted at that point, so I just let off the brake and finished the burnout, rolling to a stop a little ways ahead.  I must have been a pretty oblivious kid back then.  He was probably behind me the whole time.

There is something about driving that always clicked with me. I have always been one of those guys that, when behind the wheel of a car, almost had a sort of symbiosis with it.  When I am driving a car, it's like I feel the car. I notice the way it feels when I corner or brake or accelerate.  I feel the little things about the road surface and the car both.  Some of the moves I make tend to seem reckless to other people.  When I was younger my driving skills were constantly being tweaked and improved. I wasn't content to take a corner fast and call it good--I wanted to know how fast I could take the corner.  I wanted to know my limits, and I wanted to know my car's limits.  I was learning laws of physics (inertia, momentum, gravity, etc) by the seat of my pants.  Trial and error.  I had my share of spin outs and other boo-boos but they just added to my experience.  I like to think I might have had enough ability to have been good at racing, but I know I lacked the focus and determination that such a thing requires.  Oh, and money--there was none of that either.  I was in it for fun.  Most of what I learned about aggressive driving was learned while driving Black Bart.

The car was powerful, it was fast, and for a big car handled great. After all, it was a cop car, right? Sure, it didn't handle as well as something newer and designed for handling would have, but I think it's safe to say that it probably handled better than most cars did in its 1961 model year. It was a cop car. It had to.  I learned to do 4-wheel drifts through corners. I learned how to do a reverse turn (when you go fast backward and spin the car around without stopping).  Black Bart taught me how to steer with the gas pedal.  I pushed the car far enough into (and past) its limitations that I learned what I could and could not get away with. I did things with that car that many young men (okay--boys) only dream of doing. Many of the things I did were not very conducive to keeping the car healthy either. Slightly airborne while racing on dirt roads for instance.  (By the way, the picture above shows the left rear damage that was caused when I lost the wheel on the freeway in Part 1.)  I managed to blow yet another rear end out of it during my time in Oklahoma, but that might have more to do with the first replacement being an unknown junkyard item.

I didn't have a huge circle of friends there at Tinker Air Force Base, but the ones I did have were pretty good ones. Not many were good drivers though. Tom had a white 65 Mustang. It was a quick enough car all right, but Tom was no driver. He eventually ended up buying a screaming fast Plymouth Duster and sold his Mustang to me, but that's another story.  Wendell had a 67 Corvair with a 327 V8 in the back seat. While it was seriously fast (it hardly weighed anything), it was fraught with problems and treated a little more respectfully. In other words, it was not a "daily driver".  I believe it was Wendell who first coined the name 'Black Bart'.  There were plenty of guys with fast cars but not many that really put them through the paces like I did. The only one of my friends that ever gave me any serious competition was Ken Shelly in his 68 Pontiac GTO. He had a lot more muscle in his car than I did, but my low-slung cop car could easily out-maneuver him. He was also a good driver.

Some of my fondest experiences where playing "cat & mouse" with friends. All it took was for someone to decide (for whatever reason) that we were collectively going somewhere else. It didn't matter where we currently were or where we were going--we just loved to turn it into a competition.  It was one of those 'last one is a rotten egg' things. You know, "Race ya!" To the cars we'd run. Most times there were at least two of us in each car. That's just the way things always seemed to be.  I remember one time when I was getting off a highway cloverleaf, going from the upper roadway down to the lower one. Ken was behind me, and as usual we were playing.  To aid in my eluding him I cranked the wheel hard and took the car off the road and down the grassy slope--seriously cutting the curve and putting me inside the loop of the cloverleaf. I knew he would never take his car off the road and into the grass like that.  I was wrong.  To my surprise he didn't bat an eye and stuck behind me the whole way.  Sometimes nothing but driving skill or luck would lose him.

Actually, one of the funnest experiences I ever had in that car had nothing whatsoever to do with speed or recklessness.

There were four of us out this one particular day. We had left the base to go out to John's place and catch a little buzz after lunch. Afterwards, we were headed back towards Oklahoma City when one of the guys in the back seat started whipping his upper body forward and backward in a straight line as far as he could. Then the guy next to him joined in--both in perfect unison. They got the two of us in the front seat to join in, and pretty soon the four of us were in perfect sync, bobbing our upper bodies forward and backward wildly as we drove down the road. The street was a 35mph main drag that consisted of two lanes going in either direction with a turn lane in the center. I was driving, so that made it a little harder because of the steering wheel. Actually, the very act of driving while all this was taking place was hard.  Imagine the looks we got. Here were four guys wearing matching Air Force fatigues and hats, doing this wild, forward & back motion while going down the road in a resurrected 15 year-old cop car with huge windows. All the while we wore expressionless, deadpan looks on our faces and stared straight ahead. We could see the stares out of the corner of our eyes though, and there were plenty of them. We even kept it going when we were stopped at traffic lights. Great fun! That was one of Black Bart's best moments.  I wish we had YouTube then!

One time four of us were headed out to the northeast corner of the state for a weekend canoeing trip and we got pulled over for speeding. (Imagine that!)  I was sitting in the front seat of the state trooper's car while he wrote me a ticket. He was making comments about my beloved black cop car as he wrote.
"Is that thing even safe to be on the road?" he asked as he looked up at it momentarily then looked back down and continued writing in the ticket book.
"It'll probably outrun this Plymouth." I said, not caring what he thought about it.  I was already in trouble.

Another example of blatant vehicle abuse came one day when me and Ken decided to have a pushing contest with our cars out in the middle of the barracks parking lot. I carefully eased Black Bart up against the rubberized nose of Ken's GTO. When we got the signal from whoever it was that was there with us, we both floored it. Amid screaming engines and smoking tires, Black Bart steadily pushed Ken's car backward. When we let off the gas I found my throttle to be stuck and had to shut the key off to stop it. Ken parked his car and got out laughing his ass off.  When I got out and opened the hood to unstick the throttle I was surprised to find the engine sitting at a slant! Obviously, my antics caused the motor mounts, already weakened from age, to break completely apart.  With nothing to hold the engine in place, the torque took over and tried to spin it.  I'll bet it would have been interesting to see while it was happening.  After I freed up the throttle linkage the best I could I started the engine back up. With me gently playing the gas pedal while in reverse and a friend prying with a 2x4, we got the engine popped back into position.

I started to neglect Bart and it slowly spiraled downhill.  The wheel covers were probably the earliest casualties.  Over time they ended up coming off during driving stunts, and at some point I removed the remaining ones.  Although that made the car start to look a little more like a beater, it also had a kind of a stealth car look to it.  It had an almost evil "Get out of my way... I've got nothing to lose" look to it.  The paint ended up getting touched up with spray cans here and there, and wherever that happened the gloss was gone.  The fact that I lived in a barracks building didn't help either because there were limited places anyone could wash a car.  Over time I ended up adding to the cars that I owned, and that caused Bart to get more idle time and sit in the parking lot collecting road dust from passing traffic.

One day I came back to the barracks after being out partying with friends.  At that time I had four cars, and the three that weren't being driven were always parked on the outermost row of the parking lot, facing the street so they were out of the way.  I don't remember if I went to swap cars or went to get something out of one of the other cars, but I saw something was in the windshield of Black Bart.  I got in the car and across the whole top of the dash was a long piece of cardboard with a scrawled message across it that read, "Why not stick around?"  Apparently, my parents had dropped in during a vacation trip.  Remember, that was before cell phones.  I had no idea they were there.  I contacted the motel they were staying at, but they had already checked out and gone the day before.  That was strange to think that my parents had driven there from Washington state to visit me in Oklahoma City and never saw them.

One night I had driven Black Bart to a party at someone's house off-base.  I don't know what exactly (or how much of it) clouded my judgement, but Tom asked to borrow my car to go get some beer or something and I mistakenly let him take it.  Someone else went with him, but who it was isn't important.  A couple hours went by.  Tom finally showed up--without my car.  He said he got stuck or something out at Draper Lake.  I was mad obviously, because he was going to a store.  Draper Lake was a man-made reservoir that was surrounded by miles of fun, curvy dirt roads.  We liked to race and have fun on them and we all knew them well.  The next day a couple of us went out to retrieve my car.  When Tom led us to it, I found it straddling a 3-foot deep ditch with its oil pan bashed in.  It started right up, but sounded bad for obvious reasons.  After all, the crankshaft was spinning against the oil pan.  It also had no oil pressure--again no surprise.  In retrospect, I should have towed it.  I could have taken off the oil pan and fixed it right where it was.  No, I was stupid.  I jockeyed it off the ditch and drove it all the way back to the base.  I don't remember how far it actually was, but 'm surprised it made it.  It was sounding pretty bad and starting to overheat.  When I shut it off it stopped turning instantly.  No wind-down.  I basically killed my beloved Black Bart by stupidity on multiple levels.  Yes, I could have fixed it, but I had other cars to drive.  Instead, I called a roll-truck to come and get it.

I argued with the guy that picked it up and managed to get $35 cash out of him.  Regretfully, I watched my poor car go down the road.  I had let him down.

Black Bart had personality.  Black Bart was one-of-a-kind.  And his spot light even still worked.

Black Bart: Part 1

I have had a lot of vehicles in my life.  This is the story of one of them.

Just Bought
It was 1975 when I first saw Black Bart, although he had yet to be named.  May or June I think it was.  I had just completed my 8 months of Air Force electronics training in Biloxi, Mississippi and was home in Auburn for a visit before going to my first real assignment at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City.  I was sitting on the front steps of my parents' house, drinking a beer and pretending to look cool.  Because Auburn High School is practically across the street from their house there is constant activity to keep your attention.  Anyway, I was watching people and cars go by, when all of a sudden a beautiful older black & white Ford Galaxie drove by with a 'For Sale' sign in its window.  I raced into action, grabbing the keys to whichever of the cars I had nearby at my disposal, and raced after it.  Maybe it was the 20mph school zone or maybe it was the heavy traffic in general, but whatever the reason I did manage to get a glimpse of it while it was still visible way up the road.  It was one of those things like you see on TV where every time I turned the corner I could just see my prey turning a corner onto another street way up ahead of me.  After playing that game for several turns I gained on it enough to see which alley it drove into, and I drove up behind it just as the guy was getting out of the car behind his house.  It turns out it was only $150!  What?!  SOLD!

Exploded Differential
It was beautiful.  It was a 1961 Ford Police Interceptor--exactly like the one they used in The Andy Griffith Show in 1961 (their show was sponsored by Ford so every year they got a new model).  The car had no dents or problems of any kind.  It had a 390 engine and 3-speed automatic and ran smooth as silk.  The spotlight even still worked!  The doors were not as shiny as the rest of the car.  They were originally white and had been painted black to match the rest of the car when it was sold to the public and they had oxidized somewhat.  It had a slightly stained area on the roof where the red "gumball" cop light spent its useful life too.  True to form (for me anyway) I broke the car right away.  I blew the rear end out of it not two hours after I bought it.  It may have had something to do with me doing a burnout at the gas station I used to work at (being a guy = showing off).  I put a junkyard replacement in it the next day and a few days later headed down the road for Oklahoma.

Rest Stop
I've always loved driving, but I really didn't know what to expect when I hit the pavement on my first ever solo road trip.  I took freeways when I had to, but for the most part I stuck to the old concrete highways of yesteryear.  I still love those roads!  At one point on my trip (somewhere in remote Colorado I think) I ran out of gas.  I was young and hadn't yet learned the 'when the gas gauge hits the 1/4 point start looking for a gas station' rule.  I ran out just shy (maybe a quarter mile) of the top of a mountain pass.  I remember that because I was high enough that the road was enveloped by clouds.  I immediately shut it off and coasted to a stop.  I let it sit for about a half hour, knowing that usually you can get an engine to fire back up after it sits like that.  When I decided enough time had passed I put it in neutral, turned the key, and slapped it into drive the instant the engine caught.  I think I just managed to clear the top before it died, and I coasted.  And coasted.  And coasted.  It was a long, long downhill, and believe it or not I finally coasted to a stop several miles later on the turnoff to a gas station, stopping about 100 yards from it.  Can you say lucky?

I wasn't so lucky the next day when I lost a wheel.

The old cop car had a "poor man's cruise control" under the dash, consisting of a t-handle that was hooked to the throttle linkage.  When you were going the speed you wanted, you simply pulled it out to take up the slack then turned it to lock it.  I was on a freeway heading east outside of Amarillo, Texas.  I had the "cruise" pulled out and was running about 85.  I was sitting with both feet across the seat like you would lay sideways on a couch and was leaning against the door, steering with one hand.  Suddenly, I felt an odd wobble.  I quickly swung my feet back to the floor and released the throttle lock, taking full control back.  I had no sooner did that when it wobbled hard and--BANG--the left rear wheel went flying past me, bouncing and rolling at 70+ mph.  The jolting bang was instantly followed by a nasty grinding noise as the part of the car that was previously filled with left rear wheel only a moment before tried to cut a groove into the asphalt.  When I tried to stop, the brake pedal went all the way to the floor.  I knew at that point that the brake drum was still attached to the wheel.  With no brake drum for shoes to contact they just expanded all the way out when I pressed the brake pedal.    Nothing to do but let it come to a stop all by itself.  When it finally did stop and I could survey the damage I was a little upset.  Not that the wheel had come off, but that in doing so it bent the whole left rear quarter panel of an otherwise pristine car outward while it was making its exit.  What had actually happened?  The axle literally broke off flush with the housing, and the wheel and brake drum were propelled forward like a slingshot by the weight of the car rolling over it.  Like I said--the wheel actually passed me when it launched.

It took me a while to find the wheel.  The freeway was two-lanes in each direction, with wide shoulders, a wide grassy median, and no guardrails of any kind.  I was lucky the wheel didn't hit anybody, but traffic was pretty sparse if I remember correctly, so the odds were in my favor.  The car had gone quite a ways with nothing to slow it down but steel digging into roadway.  By the time it finally came to a grinding stop there was about an inch of steel gone from the bottom of the brake backing plate that the shoes are attached to.  The shoes were shot (more like half missing) also.  Not much to do but hitchhike.  A guy gave me a ride and I had him drop me about 2 miles up the road when a gas station came into view.  This was before the days of mini-marts--it was a real service station.  I went inside and explained my situation, throwing my usual humorous slant on things.

"This may sound funny, but do you know where I might find an axle for a 61 Ford?" I asked, fully expecting laughter.  After all, we were out in the middle of nowhere.  I don't think I got laughter though.  Instead, he pointed across the freeway.

"You might try [whatever his name was] place over there.  I think he's got an old Ford around there somewhere."

The gas station was on the corner of an actual intersection on the freeway--not an on-ramp.  Right across freeway, equally in the 'middle of nowhere' was some sort of repair garage.  Believe me, these two businesses were the only things for miles in any direction.

I made my way across the freeway.  I can't remember much about the place, but the guy had a tow truck and there were vehicles scattered here and there in various stages of repair and/or dis-assembly.  I walked up to the only guy I saw there, and hit him with pretty much the same thing as I did across the street.

"The guy across the way said you might know where a person might find an axle for a 61 Ford." I said, trying to sound both hopeful and sure of myself simultaneously.

"I think I got a 62 around back," he said, "Let's go take a look."

He was probably chewing on a piece of hay and wearing overalls (okay, probably not really--I can't remember that much).  We walked around back and it was literally a mini-junkyard.  Tall grass and nothing much had moved in or out in a long time.  When I saw that 62 sitting there in the weeds I was ecstatic.  I gave it a look over and told him it was indeed what I needed.  I explained my predicament to the good ol' boy.  He went out and fired up the tow truck.

"The inside dually on one side won't hold air no more, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem." he said.

I was fine with that... After all--I was already way ahead in the good luck department.  We hopped in and drove it up the freeway.  Because it was a freeway we had to go past it to circle back, and I remember seeing how forlorn it looked sitting there on the side of the road at a strange angle.  He hooked up to my car and towed it back to his shop--driving reasonably slow because of only having three of his four rear tires with air in them.  When we got back, he dropped it in front of his shop then went around back and lifted up the old 62.  Imagine his surprise when I popped the trunk of my car and I donned my personalized white coveralls!  On the back, in neon orange and outlined in black, I had airbrushed 'Willy', my nickname in high school auto shop.  I had all the tools I needed to do the job and got right to it.  I was able to remove all the parts I needed--both small and large.  When I was finished, he dropped it and drove back around front and picked my car back up.  Because the axle had broken off flush I couldn't get it out, but that's okay:  He knew just what do do.  He fired up his arc welder, got a good welding arc going on the broken end of the axle, then just stuffed the electrode (that's the stick that arc welders use that deposits the metal as it melts) right into it--extinguishing the arc.  For folks that don't know, what that does is basically fuse the electrode right into what ever you stuck it to.  He just casually unhooked the electrode holder from the end of the electrode that was stuck to my axle and turned off his welder.  He then bent the electrode and gave it a good yank.  The axle shaft popped right out.  Nice!  I installed all the transplanted parts from the 62 Ford (which were absolutely identical to the 61) and he set it down and unhooked me.  I asked him what I owed him--expecting the worst.  He was amused.  He made some comments about me having those custom coveralls and my own tools, and doing my own work.  He charged me $30!  I couldn't believe it.  I still can't--even now.  That was one nice guy.  In retrospect, I should have given him more, or at the very least, taken down his name and address.

The rest of my trip was uneventful.  Even given the time I lost running out of gas, the 6-hour breakdown when I lost my wheel, and two nights of sleep, I arrived at Tinker Air Force Base in record time.  I left Auburn, Washington, at 9am on Wednesday, and was in Oklahoma City somewhere around 11pm Friday night.

I must have not paid much attention to the speed limit signs...

Next:  Black Bart: Part 2

The Man Outdoors

I was sitting in a nice, warm cafeteria on the second floor, eating my sandwich. It was stormy outside, and i was glad to be indoors. I had just finished reading a story (Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck if it matters) on my iPad. I leaned back and looked around. Next to me, rivulets of rainwater caught my eye, cascading unnaturally fast down the outside of the window glass. The windows must have been treated or cleaned with something that made water bead off them like silicone. It made the water speed downward quickly.

I looked across the way. Outside the next building over, three floors up, was a window-washer. I watched him for a while, watching and thinking about how nasty it was outside.

Just because it's raining cats and dogs outside doesn't mean outside jobs don't get done when they have to.

I don't have to tell that to the man standing in that little steel cage at the end of a boom lift. He held a long-handled window squeegee in his hands, methodically sweeping it up and down, side to side. No doubt wearing waterproof winter clothes, he's probably one of those guys that considers his glass as half full. Glad to be alive. He probably tosses little 'isms' around in his head as if to give credence to being on what many people would consider to be "the wrong side" of the wall. Maybe he's thinking such positive things as:
"It's pretty warm outside for this time of year."
"I love being outside on a day like this. It makes me feel alive."
"Mmm, the air smells good out here today--fresh from the rain."
"Look at those people inside that office--stuck sitting in their chairs all day long. Probably stressed out about some kind of report or deadline. Poor suckers."
He probably knows all the right things to wear and all the right ways to wear 'em. He probably has the art of layering down to a finely-tuned science. Wearing his brightly-colored safety vest, he was probably indifferent or uncaring to the additional layer of wind proofing that it affords him. Most likely a job requirement, he wears it because he has to.

Who knows, he may have aspired to be a window washer just so he could operate a boom lift. Looking through little boy's eyes, I can see him riding his bicycle down a cracked and uneven sidewalk, zig-zagging back and forth and doing wheelies off the broken edges of concrete. Occasionally he would loop way out to roll his tire over an empty can or some other crushable object. Suddenly, he rounds a corner and there it is: A brightly-colored boom lift with a man in the basket at the end of the long arm. It looked like he was a hundred feet up in the air. He was enthralled as he watched the man, rising and falling, sweeping back and forth as he pressure-washed the flaking paint off the dull yellow building, each time hearing the motor of the lift whine as he did so. The boy thought to himself, "Wow, that is the coolest job ever! I want to do that when I grow up!"

Or, I'm totally off the mark and he just got hired as a general laborer.
Boss:  "Hey Joe, take the boom truck over to that building and clean the windows. Don't give me any crap about the rain, just do it."

Whatever. I was just romancing the water running down the outside of the window.

Non-Events of Epic Proportions

A milestone of sorts went by uneventfully this week:  My first Boeing paycheck.  Well, sort of a paycheck.  Well, the first one since 2001 (when I got laid off from Boeing) anyway.

It went by uneventfully because physically it was a non-event.  There was no actual paycheck in my hand--it's directly deposited into the bank (hence, the 'sort of' paycheck remark).  There was no creditor waiting there behind me with an outstretched hand turned palm-up, waiting for me to place some cash onto it.  On Thursday there was not a single mention or acknowledgement by anyone around me at work that it was payday.  I guess when you get paid as much as they do and never actually hold a paycheck in your hand it becomes a non-event.  Still, I mentioned it.  "Hey, today is my first paycheck!" I said aloud to no one in particular.  I don't think anyone responded.  No, I may have gotten a murmur or two.

It was a great feeling to log onto the pay system at Boeing on Wednesday and see all of my pay info already up for me to peruse, even though payday was the following day.  They put a PDF file of the complete electronic 'pay stub' there for me to read, print, or save if I so desired.  Nice feature.

All this time I've been biding my time at work, earning money for doing not much of anything.  I have been getting things set up, and meeting some learning and access requirements, but not much of anything really constructive.  When I left them yesterday I bade them farewell until December.  I'll be going to classes in the South Seattle area for the rest of this month.

I'm getting more comfortable around everyone there.  Although I've been there for three weeks, the Two-Week Rule applied to me there just as I thought it would.  That was when I found myself becoming more tuned-in to the 'goings-on' there and found myself talking more to people.  I found myself being involved in conversations instead of just overhearing them.

I'm getting cubicle things in order too.  This week my phone was installed, so now I can order my Friday pizza from Papa Murphy's.  My name-plate showed up yesterday too, so now I actually have an identity of sorts.  I also got a visit from a gal from the Boeing Ergonomics department yesterday, and got myself a new chair, keyboard, and trackball ordered.

Like I told Suz a while back in a text message:  "Hear that?  That's the sound of things clicking into place."

Flushing Facebook

I've been a member of Facebook for what seems to be a long time.  I checked and the date I joined was August 17th, 2009.  At the time, Facebook was well on its way to super stardom.  Everybody was getting on board and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Early on, I was leery.  I resisted for quite a while.  I had been a member of MySpace in its heyday, and it turned to total crap in a very short time.  It ended up being riddled with a mass of blinky crap, and links that led you to viruses.  As I said--I resisted Facebook for a long time but I eventually got caught up in it.  It was different than MySpace because it was instant.  Everything you posted on Facebook was practically like you were there in the same room as the other people.  You would hit the enter button and BLAM--it was instantly on someone else's screen if they happened to be looking.  It was fun.

We didn't care that our personal space was in jeopardy because they knew what we were doing, and we could see what everybody else was doing.  It seemed to be justified somehow.  It didn't matter then that people knew when and how long you were online and that they could see what you were posting about other people.  It was entertainment, sharing, and even like having your own private detective that could track people down.  It was amazing!  Here you were--able to connect with people you hadn't communicated with since who knows when?  Wow!

Sometimes when I would connect with someone from my past, I'd feel all warm and fuzzy for a short time, then reality would hit me:  Why did I connect with them?  If we were really friends we would never have lost touch to begin with.  Other times I would request to be 'friends' with them and never hear a peep back.  I would wonder WTF?  I would be miffed for a short time then in no time I'd be over it.  What the hell--they weren't real friends anyway, right?  Coincidentally, it took about the same amount of time to get over that as it did for the new 'friendships' to become uninteresting.

I only reached out to touch them because I could.  Not because I wanted to.  I wanted to see what they would say.  Maybe I thought they would hold their arms wide open like a long lost relative.

I look at all my local friends that are on Facebook and do I share anything meaningful with them?  Hardly ever.  An email would be much more personal and to the point.

I watch other people that will post something just to cause trouble.  Antagonistic trolling seems to be their M.O.  If they can stir up some trouble within their circle of 'friends' then their meaningless lives are somehow more complete.  In the meantime I see the ripple effect that such crap causes and I hate it.  Why?  Because Facebook has just made it too easy for them.  If nobody was listening to the drivel and stupid comments that spew forth from their keyboards they wouldn't feel complete.  Because there are 'friends' in their Facebook circle, there is someone "listening" to them any time they log on.  People like this cause a lot of trouble, and everyone in their wake is constantly having to do damage control.

Then there are the times when something just plain goes wrong.  Someone means well but a voice inflection is not there to clarify their point.  People get upset and it spawns a whole new pile of grief and reactive communication while they're trying to sort the mess out.  When its all said and done, it should have never happened in the first place.  But it did.  Because Facebook made it too easy.  Again, damage control needed.

Then there is the Big Brother syndrome.  Does anyone really ever stop to think about how many people that are not even in their circle of 'friends' have access to their lives through Facebook?  It became more apparent to me when I was job searching.  Stories of people that lose their jobs because of a Facebook post, or those that were denied a potential job because of the overall "flavor" of their Facebook pages.

You know what else angers me about Facebook?  The way "Like" has taken over the internet.  Every single time I have to wait for a website to load you know what the last item to pop up is?  The item that the webpage was waiting for before you could actually scroll it around and use it?  It was the stupid little line that says, "Like us on Facebook".  Try watching for it sometime.  It's not always plain to see, but if you're scanning the page while waiting for the activity icon on your browser to stop turning, most likely you'll see that little Facebook addendum pop up to complete the page load.  Apparently, it has to get that line of code from the Facebook mother ship.

Screw it.  I'm done with Facebook.  I downloaded my entire history of posts from them and my account of 3+ years is closed.  I encourage others to get a life and do the same.  I just feel it's time to get our lives back to the roots.  That means meeting face-to-face, calling on the phone, and sending an email when you need to.

It would cause their lives to be a lot less dramatic.

Twiddling for Now

It’s weird being employed at Boeing again. It’s been years since I was here last, and yet—it’s the same culture, the same friendliness, the same group mentality--the same place it was last time I worked here. And I’m only two buildings away from where I worked when I was laid off in 2001. It’s kinda weird how many familiar faces I've run into. When I walked into the place on my first day I knew both of the guys sitting there in the first couple of seats, and they remembered me too. I've since seen quite a few people I know from back in the day--a few of which even remember me.

I was telling Sue a few days ago, “Here I've only been working there a little over a week and I've already gotten a free backpack and two t-shirts.” Well, now I can add something else as of today: a free, full-course prime rib dinner with dessert. One of the guys here went over the 30-year mark, so Boeing bought he and his group a catered dinner. He also got to bring his wife. Apparently, you get to choose from a listing of meals, and he chose prime rib. Good choice, Bill.

It’s been weird sitting doing “not much of anything” for two solid weeks. It’s not that I don’t want to do anything--I do. Trouble is, I can’t until I've completed the required three training classes, and they don’t start for another week. They will take two weeks to complete, so I won’t even be able to even attempt to do my hired job until the first of December. Even then it’ll likely take me a good year to actually gain some measure of competency. The first day I was there they found me a spot to sit and handed me a bunch of boxes. My new computer system. Putting my new computer station together was a pretty fun way to start the day actually.

What have I been doing? I've been setting up the many software applications and shortcuts that I’ll need to do my job, and getting the required accesses that I’ll need to run them. I've been learning about and signing up for the savings plans, medical and dental plans, and all that kind of stuff. I've been watching Boeing videos, reading Boeing stuff, and basically web-surfing Boeing. Sure, I can surf outside of Boeing from there too but I’d rather keep things on the straight and narrow. After all, the Boeing web is huge in itself. There is lots to explore and learn. I've also been taking web-based courses here and there--some of which are required, and others not. They all go on my training record though, and they’re all legit and good resume’ material. There are also lots and lots of good videos to watch.

It took me a few days to get over this overwhelming feeling of guilt that I had for just sitting here at my desk in the middle of all these people that were doing their jobs, just twiddling my e-thumbs. After a week or so, I heard the same thing from enough people that I finally relaxed a bit. They all basically said, “Hey, you've got another two weeks of doing nothing, so get used to it.” It’s almost like punishment.  Maybe it’s my hazing ritual. No, it was just a matter of dates. I had to wait for the next class opening.  They all went through pretty much the same thing.

I was lucky I got in when I did. Hiring every year ends at the end of October. Nobody gets in again until the first of the year. I barely made it, as did a couple other newbies in our group. I feel lucky about the timing of the whole chain of events that led me here. I was telling Sue the other day: If any one thing had gone differently I probably would not be employed there right now. Believe me, it feels good to have full benefits for me, Sue, Sarah, and even Keith at no cost. Who can argue with that?

I wonder what free stuff I’ll get next week?

The 2-Week Rule

Suzie and I were sitting in the hot tub last night when this topic came up.  It's a thing that I've observed over the years.  I'm sure it's already noted by anyone that studies such things, but I'd like to think that I'm the one that really noticed it.  If nothing else, I'm the one that blogged it.  That makes it official.

What is it?  It's the 2-Week Rule.

When I count the things that have happened in my life that revolve around changes of one kind or another, they all have one thing in common:  They all seemed to take two weeks to become workable or come up to par.  Everything we do seems to have a learning curve or adjustment period.  Everything seems to have a hump that you need to overcome before things start clicking or start working correctly.  A certain amount of time has to pass before enough confidence, understanding, or ability trickles into our heads that it tips the scale in our favor.  Oddly enough, it seems to always be two weeks.

For example, anything we do that is physically strenuous but is also repetitive seems to be subject to the 2-Week Rule.  When I used to be a runner (that's right--I haven't always been just sitting here at my computer!) I noticed that it was a full two weeks before my body stopped complaining at my sudden overuse of previously inactive muscle groups.  After two weeks had elapsed things got much easier and more predictable.  I could run without stopping or collapsing.  I could breathe without worrying about dying from lack of oxygen.  I'm not saying it stopped being hard, I'm saying there was a definite point that things got easier and more predictable.

Any time I have gotten a new job or a new position I was again subjected to the 2-Week Rule.  For the first two weeks I muddled through--taking notes, listening to whoever was teaching me, reading instructions, or what have you.  It was never until two weeks had past that I ever felt that things finally started to "click".  It always seemed to take two weeks to learn the traffic patterns going to and from work, and the best place or area to park in.  It took two weeks before I felt like I could actually recall someone's name.  It took two weeks before I felt like I really learned the "lay of the land" as far as where things were, who did what, and what happened when.  As far as the job itself went, it was always the same amount of time before I really felt almost like I knew what I was doing.  How long?  You guessed it--two weeks.

Is it any coincidence then, that employers want you to give them two weeks notice when you're leaving a job?  Of course not.  They and everyone else that remain behind are on the receiving end of our job being passed on to someone else.  They are just as subject to the 2-Week Rule as we are.

Suz commented last night how she's starting to become pretty confident about things at her new job.  It's a temporary job, but she's had it longer than most temp jobs she's had.  She's had it long enough for the 2-Week Rule to come into play.  It's two-sided too:  She has had enough time to learn what needs to be done, how to do everything, how the others like it to be done, and it's been long enough that her coworkers know her capabilities.

I don't know about you, but even if I buy a used car it's also subject to the 2-Week Rule.  It takes me that long before I stop listening to every little noise, and evaluating every little thing it does.  It takes me that long to really learn the car and be comfortable with it.

Think about it.  Isn't everything that has ever changed in your life taken two weeks to notice results?

That Travelin' Bone

Sue saw this past weekend as sort of a 'last gasp' opportunity, so we just had to take it.

I'll be starting work this Friday, so who knows how my scheduling will go?  Plus, she had a green light to take Friday off.  Those two things together are a perfect excuse for a photography excursion.  The topic?  Fall colors.

The famous North Cascades Highway was our destination.  For traffic reasons (and the fact that I'm a contrarian) I opted to do the loop kind of backwards.  Most everyone (for whatever reason) always seems to do the loop clockwise.  Maybe it's because everyone seems to live along the I-5 corridor and they figure it's the logical choice.  Trouble is, for us to go up the freeways to our starting point on a Friday morning would have put us in pretty heavy traffic all the way up.  Instead we opted to go over Snoqualmie Pass and turn north.  In retrospect, it was a pretty good choice.  We had zero traffic issues at all anywhere we went.

The fall colors were rampant.  Our state isn't heavily into the red spectrum as far as tree varieties go but there were still quite a few of them among the yellow-colored ones that made up the majority.

Our 600+ mile trip took us on some pretty nice roads as well as some that were more suitable for a 4x4 truck.  It's not the first time and it won't be the last.  Some of the best photography roads are the least traveled ones after all.  We seemed a little more in tune this time than some during some of our other road trips.  Lots of times I get the "Never mind--it's too late now... You passed it" remark as as far as the repeated stopping for pictures.  This time we were both zeroing in on the same things for the most part.  Lots of stopping is our M.O. when we're out on these junkets.

Its kinda funny the things you see when you're out driving.  Like a giant, hand-scrawled sign next to the road inviting hunters to stop and remove the clothing from their deer.  Then, when you look down the road there's a nice vintage Ford truck repeating the message.

As per our usual experience when we're out on one of these photo trips, the "I wonder what's up this way?" roads we wander down turn out to be our favorites.  We find some of the most scenic stuff that way.  If nothing else, the roads are usually way less traveled, and in many cases, pristine.  This trip was no exception.  We really enjoy the "road less traveled" and we also look forward to those kind of pathways.

Sue always loves to make fun of me when we're in stores about how easily distracted I am.  "Ooo... Shiny things!" I'll say and wander off.  During one of our photo stops this weekend she wandered up the highway a little ways taking pictures.  I put on my long lens and managed to catch her having a 'shiny things' moment when she was on her way back.  Ha!

"Dum de dum..."
"Ooo... a piece of firewood!!"
"Oh shoot--he caught me."
Besides traveling well together, we also give each other the utmost respect when it comes to shooting.  I always give her lots of time to make the shot she's after, and if I see her shooting something really interesting, a lot of times I'll leave it be--sort of giving her an "exclusive" on the picture.  Likewise, she always gives me plenty of respect when I'm shooting too:

Not Dead Yet

"Are you finished blogging?"
"Don't you blog anymore?"
"We haven't seen a blog from you in a long time."

These are just a few of the things that have come from people that are used to seeing the awkward glimpses into my life and times.  Yes, plainly, they miss me.  They miss being able to compare my amazing life to their mundane meanderings.

The 27th of August I said goodbye to my previous job of over 10 years.  They hated to see me go, as did I.  After all--I was there over 10 years and had earned a fairly good reputation for jobs well done.  (When you get raises without asking for them there ought to be something to that, right?)  Anyway, it was a good run and they are a good reference in my work history.
What kind of idiot would jeopardize his family and his finances by leaving a job in this economic climate?  Me apparently.  It wasn't a great move, and guilt overwhelmed me.  I jumped into working here at home with gusto.  Guilt is a strong motivator.  I worked hard.  We got a lot of things done around here.  The 'honey-do' list got whacked down to nothing.

I also applied for lots of jobs and attended workshops at the Auburn Worksource place.  I learned a lot about interviews and resumes.  What to do and what not to do.  All sorts of things.

In the end, the bottom line is that I have accepted at offer at Boeing as a Manufacturing/Engineering Planner at their Auburn location.  It's the same job I did when they laid me off back in December of 2001.  The difference is that it's a lot more money.  More than I made at Boeing and more than I made at LaCroy (not the real spelling--I modified it for search engine reasons).  I start next week.

This whole thing has had way more positive than negative.  The negatives?  Leaving my job and having a negative cash flow.  The positives?  Several:
  1. Left the old job.  After wondering for a few years whether or not the company would actually last until I could retire, I can put that behind me now.  I hope for the sake of everyone else that works there still (which are lots of great people) that it continues to last a long time.
  2. The weather.  This has been an unbelievable streak of fantastic weather here in western Washington.  Record-setting weather.  What nice conditions to not have to get up to go to work.
  3. Chores completed.  This was a lot of stuff.  The weather played a major part in it as well.  We split wood, finalized the stump removal/tree planting that had stared at us since the winter storm that inundated us with ice.  We moved beauty bark, trimmed things, cleaned things, and built things.  Lots and lots of things got completed.  It was good.
  4. New, better job.  Obviously, this is a big one.  Will I like it?  I'm optimistic.  I'm really looking forward to it.  In the last 10 years, I've come to miss the team environment at Boeing.  Nothing at LaCroy went that way.  It was very fragmented.  It was a whole company with stand-alone people that were excellent at their jobs, but that not many other people knew how to do.  When you take a vacation from a job like that, the company is crippled while you're gone, then you're crippled when you get back and try to play catch-up.  This job and its benefits mean more opportunities for us to take the trips that we love to take.
  5. Count my blessings.  The whole process of losing my job caused me to do a lot of soul-searching.  When you go from provider to embarrassment it causes you take stock of your life.  I wanted to turn back time and undo the whole thing, but of course that is not possible.
When I left LaCroy, I clamped down on my interaction with people.  I killed almost all of my Facebook friends that weren't part of my immediate family.  As a matter-of-fact, I'm this close to killing my Facebook account completely.  It's just too public.  Anyway, I just had a real introspective look at myself.  Sue and I are both looking at this whole thing as a new beginning.

Keep an eye on me everybody--this is my last run until retirement.  Don't let me screw anything up.

This Thing Called Bonneville

Bonneville.  It's both a place and an experience.  To the car enthusiasts out there in the world, it means one thing:  SPEED.  It's one of only a few places on the face of the earth where it's possible to go several hundred miles an hour on wheels.  It's not a place for racing, it's a place where a person and their machine can test the limits of speed.  It's a place where records are broken every year during that one week in August called Speed Week.  Here is a video with some good camera footage from both the push vehicle and the race car.  It will give you and idea of what it's like to go airplane speeds on the ground.

Growing up around a dad that was so into cars and racing as mine was, I can't really ever remember not knowing about Bonneville.  It's like it has always been there.  There were always issues of Hot Rod, Car Craft, and Rod & Custom lying around our house, and it seems that every issue had something in it that referenced racing a car against the clock at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Everything from motorcycles to fenderless street rods to bullet-shaped streamliners--all hand-built with love and attention to detail with one purpose in mind:  To be the fastest person in the world in their class.  To get their name in the record books.  When I was about 12 or so our family made a brief stop at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  I think we were headed to my grandparents' house in Phoenix and purposefully had it coincide with Speed Week that year.  I remember we had no sooner gotten there when I watched a streamlined motorcycle lay down and tumble down the salt at speed.  Apparently, something went drastically wrong when he popped his parachute.  I remember thinking, "Wow, do they all do that?"  We didn't spend a lot of time there so I don't remember much else other than how seedy and rundown the town of Wendover was.

Suzie never knew anything about the Bonneville phenomenon until she watched a movie with me (which has turned out to be one of our favorites) called The World's Fastest Indian.  That movie really captured what it was like for a person to set their sights on seeing what their machine can do when there are no restrictions of any kind.  Then my brother, Denis, went there with a his employer and coworkers to run a car last year.  He posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook and she was immediately interested.  About six months ago I suggested we go to Bonneville this next year and she jumped at the chance.  "We're talking about Wendover, Utah in August.  That's bright white, desert, and it's hot."  Well, there was no long story to make short.  She wanted to go.  We were both imagining the photographic possibilities, and we both like hot weather so it was a no-brainer.  We also travel very well together.  As a matter-of-fact, it's probably when we get along the best together is when we're on a travel adventure.

I don't think Suz really knew what to expect when she saw the Bonneville Salt Flats.  It's hard to feel what it's like until you actually experience it.  When you drive on it and you hear the tires crunching on the crusty salt, you know you're in a strange and unique place.  The expanse of bright white stretches almost as far as the eye can see, and is ringed with jagged, pointed mountains that look like they were taken from the cover of a science-fiction novel.  She was taken by the uniqueness of it.  To stand in a place so unusual seems like it would just feel barren and empty, but in fact, there is a beauty to the place that is hard to convey until you experience it.

We got into town late in the afternoon on Sunday--the first weekend of Speed Week.  After checking into our overpriced motel room, we drove down to investigate the Salt Flats.  We wanted to get a feel for the place and to find out where to go, and when to be there.  Because it was so late in the day, they waved us through the entrance.  The entrance is probably a mile from the beginning of the racing area, and with very few rules or boundaries.  One rule that did make us chuckle were the "SPEED LIMIT 55" sandwich board signs that we saw along the drive toward the track.  The action was still in full swing and there were lots of cars in action.  There were plenty of spectators walking, and driving or riding all sorts of interesting modes of transportation.  After exploring the area by car in air-conditioned comfort, we stopped at the check-in line that marked the entrance to the pit area and I got out and talked to some of the officials.  Nice people!  They told me when would be the best time to get there in the morning.  "Don't miss the sunrise!" one woman told me emphatically, "it's been awesome!"  As I turned to leave, the guy I was talking to said, "If you have any questions, just ask anybody.  This is the friendliest place in the country!"

We did make it for sunrise the following morning, and you know what?  It truly was awesome!  It came up blood-red, no doubt enhanced by wildfires we drove through in parts of Nevada and Oregon that we had driven through on our way there.  We had our sun hats, our SPF-1000 sun block, and lots of water.  We walked around for a while taking pictures of all sorts of things as the sun rose, all of them bathed in a warm glow.  When it came time for breakfast I enjoyed a $5 plate of scrambled eggs, sausage, and hash browns right there trackside (Sue already ate at the motel).  There were several long tables with awnings over them for us to eat at sitting perpendicular to the track.  It was funny--when we would hear the unmistakable whine of a car with its engine screaming, every head under the food tents swiveled to watch the car as it screamed past.  We talked with a couple of guys at our table and one of them had a great assessment of the experience that is Bonneville.  While so many racing events have been ruined by commercialization, fees, crowds, and all sorts of things, Bonneville remains virtually unchanged.  It's the same laid-back, fun-loving, event that is riven with camaraderie that it has always been.  Why?  Because there is no prize money.  It's man against himself--racing the clock to better himself and put him and his machine into the record books.

There was huge presence of people there with machines that seemed to be built just for Bonneville.  Not for racing, but for personal transport back and forth on the salt.  It was like the idea was to see and be seen.  All day long we were struck by cool and unusual vehicles they people were riding on and in.  Rusty cars made from all manner of things, called Rat Rods, dominated the place.  They were cool!  There were two-wheel scooters, carts, buggies, and all sorts of things.  We saw a motorized bar stool, a couple of motorized skateboards, and even a Segway-looking thing that had something like tank tracks it ran on.  Bicycles, umbrellas, floppy hats, and sunglasses were everywhere.  Another thing that set this experience apart from any other automotive event I've been to was the t-shirts.  At most events, black t-shirts tend to dominate, punctuated with bright colors.  At Bonneville, the t-shirt color was 99% white.  Lots of interesting designs on them, but white was the dominant color by far--no doubt to help reflect the sun.  The only negative experience:  The porta-potties.  Not because of smell or cleanliness--because of heat.  They felt like they were 150° inside.  Whew.

One thing about experiencing the Bonneville Salt Flats:  Salt.  Salt sticks to everything.  It is picked up by every tire on every vehicle.  It's clammy and sprays as you drive--coating the wheel wells, bumpers, body panels, and all sorts of voids under our cars.  It also sticks to our shoes, which in turn infests our floor mats.  By the end of the day, every car and shoe is marked with the Bonneville Experience.

I wouldn't have traded it for anything!

New Car Time!

I'm a little late with this blog because things have been so busy lately.  It actually happened back on August 3rd.  Yep, I bought myself a new car. Okay, not actually new, but new to me. I will never buy another new car in my lifetime unless I win the lottery, and there's not much chance of that happening.   I don't play the lottery.

It was a Craigslist deal. I generally like Craigslist deals, but not when they involve lots of money. It makes me nervous.  A person can only do so much inspection of what they're buying. The rest is left up to trust of the person selling it and your level of acceptance. I haven't had it long enough for anything wrong to surface, nor have I had it long enough to find that something was hidden or covered up by the seller. I hope there is nothing of course, but it always takes time to get to a level of relaxation with a used car. At least it does for me.

It's a 2003 Honda Civic LX. It's fully equipped, LX-wise, and completely beautiful condition. 132,000 miles on the body, and 80,000 on the engine. I bought the car from a young guy (I'm guessing 23-25 years old) that works at the Honda dealership. He put a warranted used engine in it after giving it a new timing belt, water pump, and other assorted replacement parts ("all genuine Honda parts" he assured me). He said it was his girlfriend's car and she ran the original engine out of oil. He was not a very good liar though--I think he just got a sweet deal on a trade-in because it had a bad engine. The car is virtually like new everywhere. The only signs of wear at all are a few spots on the removable floor mats. Under the car, the trunk, the interior--all in fantastic shape.

I hate buying cars.

The deal came close to not going down. The car was in Bellingham, and that's a two-hour drive north of here.  After many texts and a few emails, we arranged to meet at the Lowe's store near his place because it appeared that by the time we got there it would be nearly dark.  I don't like buying a car from a private party when I can't see their home, but I pushed that aside this time.  I had been looking for a new car for quite a while and wanted this one to be 'the one'.  I told the guy we should be there about 9pm at the latest.  When we went through Everett at about 7:30 (still about an hour from him) I texted him and told him so.  He replied with something like, "Oh, I didn't think you would be here until 9."  Hmm.  He knows damn well what transpired because it was all on his phone in the form of text messages.  I reminded him of all that.  When we were near his area I again texted him.  He replied with something like, "Ok, um, I just wanted you to be aware that I've got another guy interested in the car and he may be there when you arrive."  What the hell?  It was like his story kept changing.  Both me and Suz fussed and fumed over that as we neared the meeting place.  When we got there he was nowhere to be seen.  I texted him.  "Oh, I'll be there in five minutes."  Again, he story changed.  We waited there over 20 minutes for him to show up.  We texted him multiple times, one of which was to the point, "Is this deal going to happen?"  No reply.  Sue had already told me a couple times up to that point, "We've driven a long way--give him some more time."  After another 10 minutes I said, "Screw it, let's go."  We had been waiting 30 minutes at that point.  We we were just about to the freeway we got a text from him apologizing.  "I was halfway there and had forgotten the title" he said.

I liked the car.  It looked as good in person as it did in the ad pictures.  The interior color turned out to be a tan when I expected to see light gray.  The pictures in his ad sort of threw me the wrong direction I guess.  Still, I wasn't put off by that detail.  Anyway, I liked the car and bought it.  I spent the drive home just "feeling" the car out--checking anything and everything.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the gas gauge had barely moved after filling it up in Bellingham before heading south for the 2-hour drive home.

After owning the car for only a week and a half, what do we do?  What else?  Road trip!  Kind of a bold move for sure--especially given the nature of the trip.  Driving an "untested and unknown" car to Wendover, Utah in the middle of August was ballsy.  So we've returned from our trip and have put the car through its paces.  The results?  The mileage:  Phenomenal.  We got a couple of tanks in the high 30's, and two tanks that were over 42mpg!  The AC worked great and kept us comfy.  The cruise was so nice to have too.  The stock Honda sound system sucks pretty bad and let us down, but that wasn't much of a surprise.  The engine seemed to develop a little noise that made me nervous for a while.  It never got worse.  I get the impression that nothing new happened, but rather, possibly an additive that might have been masking the sound up until that time finally wore off.  It's a theory.  I changed its oil yesterday and put in full synthetic oil.  I've never put that in a car before because it's so expensive (and it makes leaky cars leak even more because it's so slippery) but I thought I'd go for it and see how it does.  Time will tell.

Was the car a good deal?  No.  It as a fair deal.  It was a great car for the money, but it was still a lot of money.  To me, a good deal is when I practically steal something.  It's just that cars of this type and year are hard to find in good shape, and this was was what I was looking for.  I hope it will serve me well and translate into a good deal.

It's safe to say it's the fanciest car I've ever owned in terms of options.  Power everything, AC, cruise control, and all--it's way more than I've ever had.  My cynical nature tells me, "It's just more to go wrong" while my optimist side (it's a much smaller side) tells me, "Shut up and enjoy it."

One thing is for sure:  I am loving the 40+ mpg!

Here are pictures from the guy's Craigslist ad.  Even though you can click them and view them full size, they're not very big.  Still, you can get an idea what it looks like.  You can also see what I meant when I mentioned the interior color in the ad pictures.