Getting There is Half the Fun

fairplay

Image credit: flickr.com

A trip to my mother-in-law’s place is always a little dicey, at least during the winter months. It’s a three-hour trek on a perfect day – an hour of freeway driving down to and around Denver, then an hour of winding mountain road to the top of 10,000 foot Kenosha Pass, and then another hour across the beautiful desolation of South Park, a thousand square-miles of high, flat grassland tucked amongst the peaks.

That three hours doesn’t account for accident or construction cock-ups on the interstate, getting caught behind slow-moving trucks on the two-lane stretches or, this time of year, snow. The mountain passes are routinely shut down when blizzards roll through, and the relentless winds in South Park can whip even the slightest amount of powdery precip into whiteout conditions pretty quickly. We’ve had many a white-knuckle trip, and even been shut down completely due to the weather.

But this time, everything was going great. It was a mild, sunny day, with highs expected to hit sixty degrees, and we blew through Denver without me ever having to take my foot off the gas (which never happens). Should have known better. There in the vastness of South Park the car started to puke, sputtering and coughing, barely able to maintain school-zone speeds, to the delight of those behind us.

We limped into Fairplay, with 700 residents the largest metroplex in a fifty-mile radius. For some context, the main attraction in Fairplay is the gold-rush era mine tailings piled on the outskirts of town. Fairplay is where old pickup trucks and construction equipment go to die, rusting in forlorn splendor in back yards and vacant lots. It was here we coasted to a stop at the local Sinclair station.

This being a Saturday, the lone auto repair facility was closed, of course. Now the dilemma – logistically, it made more sense to try and get the car to Buena Vista, our original destination, where there were not only more mechanics available, but also a vehicle we could borrow from the MIL for the ride home. I have road service. How much could it be for a 35-mile tow?

Well, $345 to be precise, with only a hundred of that covered by my insurance policy. Was I okay with eating the balance, the Allstate customer service rep in Bangladesh wanted to know. No, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life at the Sinclair station in Fairplay, either – the bathrooms lack a certain hygienic quality, and I’m not sure how long one’s colon could hold out when confronted with a diet of only Doritos and those hot dogs forever spinning on that heated roller thing.

One of these days I’ll learn that sarcasm doesn’t translate well with those for whom English is not their first language.

Also, the Allstate app I used to summon a tow truck kept referring to the driver as my ‘rescuer,’ as if I was dangling from the seat belt in my overturned vehicle while bleeding from a head wound, or slowly sinking into an icy lake. Good thing neither of those scenarios were in play, as the nearest rescuer still took three hours to arrive on scene.

But all’s well that ends well. We had no problems with the loaner on the drive home. And only a week earlier we sold some used furniture for $250, so I guess it’s a case of ‘Easy come, easy go.’ Hell, I’m actually five bucks to the good. At least until the repair bill rolls in.

Anyone want to buy a couch?

Moving Forward, Looking Back

goodbye beetle

Image credit: Volkswagen/Johannes Leonardo

It looks like I will start the new year, the new decade, with a goodbye. Not to a bad habit or a few extra pounds, but rather a transportation icon. The German automaker Volkswagen ended production on the Beetle recently, and is giving its venerable classic a loving send-off with a new commercial – perhaps you saw it on New Year’s Eve. So I thought it might be time to dust off my tribute to that bulbous symbol of the sixties (no, you’re not having a drug flashback – some of this appeared in my Cherished Blogfest post from 2015).

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The “new” Beetle was first released in 1998 to much anticipation and little acclaim, with a redesign in 2011 that still didn’t capture the humble mystique of the originals. Which might explain why the company finally threw in the towel a few months ago. As for the old-school bugs, they’ve been gone for nearly two decades now. Volkswagen pulled the plug on the best-selling car ever when it closed the last remaining factory in Mexico back in 2003. I still haven’t decided if it was the end of an era, or just the end of an error.

You see, I’m a recovering vintage vee-dub addict. If you don’t count my toy car collection, I have been clean now for more than 25 years. That means no VW association newsletters, no parts catalogs, no fall color tour auto rallies. Conversely, it’s also meant no pools of oil collecting on the garage floor, no bloody knuckles and no spontaneous cursing jags.

As near as I can figure, this all goes back to my first sexual encounter, which took place in the backseat of a yellow Volkswagen squareback sedan. Parked in one of the scenic turnouts along Trail Ridge Road high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, it was a magical convergence of nature, libido and machine. The moonlight reflecting off the snow-capped peaks, the lights of Estes Park twinkling below and the bold yet unassuming lines of the minimalist interior combined to leave an indelible imprint on my psyche. The scenario may also have involved a woman, but that seems almost inconsequential now.

My particular obsession focused on the vans, having owned a total of four, although my short-lived “playboy” phase included a Beetle convertible and a Karmann Ghia convertible. That last one was never officially road-worthy (I suppose none of them were, really) seeing as how, at the time of purchase, many of its internal organs were sitting in a jumbled pile where the back seat should have been. But this is standard practice when it comes to bartering in these relics of the Third Reich. That the vehicle can’t move under its own power is rarely a hindrance to closing the deal.

“Project cars,” like the cryogenically frozen, exist in a kind of limbo, waiting for the day when someone will find the means necessary to resurrect them. Until that time they simply go from one owner to the next, leprous members of the automotive undead kept hidden under a blue tarp at the back of the garage or out in the barn, along with an ever-growing collection of uninstalled parts. Some even come with their own tow bar.

Just a short step above that is what the die-hards refer to, with great optimism, as the “daily driver.” Typically the term is held to a pretty loose interpretation. So long as the car can be started (pushing is allowed), attain a speed that keeps you from being run over by traffic coming up from behind (a stiff tailwind is the vintage Volkswagen driver’s best friend), and then brought to a stop, the basic criteria have been met. Things like functional heat, windshield wipers and turn signals are looked on as fortunate happenstance.

My initiation came behind the wheel of a two-tone microbus – the quintessential “hippie” van – hand painted by its previous owner. To the man’s credit, he did use an exterior latex and a short-napped roller. One of my early attempts to tune up the engine resulted in a minor fuel leak. The ensuing fireball was quickly extinguished and my eyebrows grew back in only a few months, but the vehicle was known from that time forward as “The Hindenburg.”

The interior was designed to accommodate the outdoorsman but could just as easily provide haven for the recently evicted, a trait that endeared the Westphalia campers to countless under-achievers like myself in the post-Haight Ashbury era. Along with a fold-out bed there was a galley area neatly fitted with a stove, sink and small refrigerator, as well as several cubbyholes for stashing gear (or drugs, of course), all shoe-horned into a space no bigger than a phone booth. Add an engine in back that produced roughly the same horsepower as a ceiling fan, and the package was complete.

These vintage models – defined as anything Before Radiators – are not for the timid. Handling and maneuverability are on par with your basic soap-box derby entry, and often times the road is visible beneath your feet due to a tendency of the floors to rot away like vampire flesh caught in a shaft of sunlight. Every trip requires a stockpile of spare parts, along with the ability to install them at a moment’s notice.

And, yes, it pays to keep things such as chewing gum, panty hose and a bag of marbles on hand for when you have to pull a “MacGyver,” like the day you look in the rearview mirror and see sundry pieces of smoldering metal strewn across the road as you’re coasting to a stop somewhere between Barstow and Needles. It’s been said that, to fully appreciate the air-cooled driving experience, one must develop a Zen-like acceptance of breakdowns as part of the journey. That and a knack for reaching your “happy place” while your flesh is being seared by red hot engine parts. Peace, love and pass the metric tools, dude.

Thanks to therapy and an intervention where friends forced me to watch Little Miss Sunshine for 3 days straight, all that remains of my addiction is that old oil stain on the garage floor. I can now say with certainty that I am happy to be driving a vehicle that doesn’t require scraping the inside of the windshield during the winter months. But sanity, like sobriety, can be a tenuous thing. If my eyes start to glaze over the next time I pass an old Beetle broken down on the side of the road, just punch me as hard as you can while shouting “Slug Bug” at the top of your lungs. That usually does the trick.

Road Maps and Rubber Tomahawks

vacation

“Vacation is when you go somewhere…and you don’t ever come back.”

Despite what Forrest Gump’s mom might tell you, most people do return from vacation. In fact, we just rolled back into town after a week in southern Utah. Mainly because all our stuff is here. Even though we now have an RV that could comfortably accommodate us for an indefinite period of time (it’s the backup plan should we both lose our jobs and no longer be able to make the mortgage payment, or the zombie apocalypse comes to pass), we haven’t yet figured out how to squeeze a life’s worth of crap into it. I’m talking about the really important things: my Hot Wheels collection; a 60” flat-screen TV; the tin goat that stands guard in the front flower bed and its counterpart, the Heckle and Jeckle water fountain that lives on the patio; the various mid-mod lamps and vases that adorn every flat surface in our house (quid pro quo for the Hot Wheels); the washer and dryer. I’m coming to realize that, in the recreational vehicle world, size matters.birdbath

(If you hear the sound of ‘Taps’ being played gently, it’s for the person I once was, that hippie who drove, and loved, many a Volkswagen camper van.)

Vacation used to be nothing more than a break from the neighbor kids, two weeks out of the summer that you were forced to spend in the car with your family, visiting places about which you didn’t give the slightest shit. On the plus side, these trips offered the irresistible lure of road maps and rubber tomahawks. Nowadays it might be recalcitrant backup battery solenoids and impromptu grey water discharges. Progress.

Back when station wagons roamed the earth, there was also that sense of being out of touch, of wondering how the Tigers fared in that four-game home stand while you were staring blankly at Sacagawea’s grave. Of having to get caught up on all the world events when you walked in the door after days without reading a paper or watching a newscast. Now Big Brother’s omniscient tracking device in my pocket assails me with every detail of every story from every corner of the globe, no matter where I might be, no matter whether I want it or not. Again, progress.

So yes, we’re back from vacation. We’ve unloaded all the food we loaded up a week ago but didn’t eat (despite having a complete kitchen at our disposal) because, well, who wants to cook when you’re on vacation? And unclogged a week’s worth of junk fliers and invitations to ‘investment opportunity luncheons’ from the mailbox. And the laundry is going. I’ll wait until tomorrow to cut the knee-high grass that now sways lazily in the yard. All that’s left to do is scrape the bug viscera off the front of the camper before taking it to my RV guy to have the latest equipment malfunctions addressed (to the tune of a hundred bucks an hour for labor and whatever the hell the suppliers feel like charging for the parts) and then tucking it away for the winter in the pricey storage lot in town.

On the plus side, I found a great rubber tomahawk in this little gift shop in Moab.

A Breath of Fresh Air

coal

The United Nations, better known as the New Axis of Evil, is giving us 12 years to alter our fossil-fuel burning ways before, they claim, we’ll achieve complete FUBAR status in regards to climate change. Alarmist science lovers.

Apparently no one there has heard the news that we here in the US have switched to clean coal, which is vastly less harmful for the environment and those who find it necessary to breathe air. We can rest assured of this because someone with a very large brain says so. And his conclusions are echoed by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a guy who, as a former lobbyist for the coal industry, surely must know of what he speaks.

We’ve been able to make this transition thanks to a pair of fortunate happenstances. The mining companies, in their never-ending quest to protect the planet, appear to have come across vast deposits of previously undiscovered, pristine burning ore. This comes in conjunction with word that scientists have developed a process that miraculously removes the bad stuff from the old, polluting coal they’ve been digging up for decades. It’s reported that this process involves repeating the phrase “there’s no dirty coal” over and over while clicking one’s heels together three times.

But frankly, we Americans find all this concern over the future of our planet tiresome and more than a little amusing. Warming oceans? Stronger hurricanes? Rising sea levels? Let those hand-wringing sissies in Paris worry about it – in this country we have businesses to run and profits to turn. I mean, even if the world were truly at such a crossroads, economic prosperity remains sacrosanct. Which explains why said large-brained individual is proposing to weaken automotive standards where greenhouse gas emissions are concerned. Better the Big Three should breathe easy than granny with COPD.car boat

Besides, I imagine the car companies are hedging their bets and will invest those extra profits in an updated version of the amphibious vehicle – could be a hot seller in about 20 years.

On Falling Apart

What’s that saying? The road to Hell is paved with good intentions? Sounds about right. Case in point, my treadmill. Bereft of purpose, it has languished in the corner of my soon-to-be ex-office, waiting diligently for someone to put it through its paces.treadmill

And a long wait it has been. One that can be measured in years. Then just the other day comes an online article that claims exercise equipment is one of the most commonly regretted purchases. No argument here. I’m pretty sure the most exercise this beast provided me has been dragging it down from the attic at the previous house and onto the moving truck, then up to what was at the time a spare bedroom at this house, then down two flights of stairs to the basement when that spare bedroom became my office, then back up those stairs to the office again when number two son claimed the subterranean domain.

So, yeah, it looks like Hell’s highway has received a fresh coat of asphalt, compliments of yours truly.

But as I transition the space to my wife’s office, the treadmill’s days appear to be numbered. A couple we know has agreed to haul it away, so they can take over dusting duties. Via con Dios. While it sat in the corner, though, it was able to shame me, if ever so slightly, by its mere presence. Which begs the question, once gone, who (or what) will goad me into exercising? For the record, this is our second treadmill, and we’ve gone through a couple of stationary bikes as well. None were ever at risk of wearing out. Oh, and let us not forget the Total Gym, a snarl of cables and pulleys that was supposed to make me look like Chuck Norris and my wife like Christie Brinkley. I should have suspected when, in my rear-view mirror, I saw the guy I bought it from doing a little dance in his garage as I drove away. We gave it the bum’s rush after spending 45 minutes trying, unsuccessfully, to assemble the contraption.

Still, I need to find something that will keep me moderately fit, at least until they plug me into the Matrix. Because, as with many things in this world, we have it backwards when it comes to exercise. The gyms are full of twenty, thirty and forty-somethings pedaling and pumping their way to health and happiness. I salute every one of them. In my younger days, I got all the exercise I needed from pushing old, dead Volkswagens around.

ewan vw2

Actor Ewan McGregor demonstrating the ‘Volkswagen Workout’

But when we truly need to get off our asses is as we approach the ‘golden years.’ Back in college my wife took an African Lit class and one of the books she read was a novel by Chinua Achebe called Things Fall Apart. Though it chronicled life in Nigeria in the late nineteenth century, the title is quite fitting for those of us careening through late middle-age. This is when ‘use it or lose it’ becomes more than just a mantra, it should be treated as scripture.

Here, then, is the rub – I don’t jog (please refer to The Long Run for context), so that’s out, and the new dog is averse to taking walks. He’s a rescue, and I think he suffers from some deep-seated trauma that occurred prior to our adopting him…whenever we get more than a few doors from home, he balks every 20 feet or so and looks back at the house as if to say “I think you left the coffee pot on…we should really go back and check.” There’s lots of stopping and starting – not much benefit from a cardio standpoint. I enjoy riding my non-stationary bike, but getting it down from the ceiling hooks in the garage is sometimes more effort than it’s worth. It’s also a bad sign when it’s been hanging so long that the tires have, like me, gone as soft as bread dough.

Living in the lee of the Rocky Mountains was expected to be a bonus, too. Colorado has innumerable peaks to climb, 58 of which top fourteen thousand feet (for those who require challenges based on non-metric standards). I’ve bested five of them in the 10 years we’ve lived here, which doesn’t really count as ‘regular’ exercise in my book. So what to do…

And then it struck me – for what I’ll spend on the latest tread/stair/bike/climber machine, I could just buy another old Volkswagen to push around the neighborhood.

On the Road Again

I have always been something of a nomad, as the title of my blog might suggest. For all the turmoil his alcoholism inflicted on the family, my stepfather did manage to instill in me a love of travel and the out-of-doors at an early age. A German immigrant, he fancied himself a modern-day French voyageur, and was determined to live that lifestyle on what few vacation days he earned while working at a small tool and die shop on the outskirts of Detroit. So we bought a canoe and traveled north to the boreal forests of Ontario most summers, to paddle and camp on the shores of cold, sparkling lakes. Maybe I remember these outings more fondly because, oddly, he never drank on vacation, but they seemed almost idyllic.

At the time, we owned a van that had a large metal box between the front seats, under which lived the engine. Being as these were the days before car restraints became all the rage, I would crawl down onto the floor and cozy up at the back of that box, where it was always warm from the heat of internal combustion, and the hum of the engine only inches away was like a lullaby. It may have been the best sleep I’ve ever attained in my life.

Books by Colin Fletcher, a footloose Welshman who hiked long before hiking was a thing, watered the seed that had been planted in the Canadian woods. The summer between my junior and senior years in high school was spent on the Appalachian Trail, and after graduation I opted to see where my thumb could take me. With everything I owned stuffed in a backpack, I visited places like the Boundary Waters, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. And I found that, like those trips curled up behind the engine compartment, I enjoyed the going as much as the destination, though for other reasons – the greasy spoons, the peculiar roadside attractions, the vast sweep of prairie and sky. Eventually, I scraped together enough cash to buy a Volkswagen van and truly live the dream.

microbus

In all, I owned a string of four VW campers before the madness passed. The interior was designed to accommodate the outdoorsman but could just as easily provide haven for the recently evicted, a trait that endeared the Westfalias to countless under-achievers like myself in the post-Haight Ashbury era. Along with a fold-out bed there was a galley area neatly fitted with a stove, sink and small refrigerator, as well as several cubbyholes for stashing gear (or drugs, as the case may be), all shoe-horned into a space no bigger than a phone booth. Two featured the iconic pop-top, allowing the tenant to actually stand upright inside the vehicle, which meant no slithering around on one’s back attempting to pull on a pair of pants from a prone position or cooking while bent ninety degrees at the waist. And of course, they all featured an engine in back that produced roughly the same horsepower as a ceiling fan.

Though I crisscrossed the country in them on several occasions, they were loud, completely lacking of any climate control, and not a particularly smooth ride. Nor were they the most reliable of steeds. They had at various times left me stranded on top of Palomar Mountain without brakes, on the side of the freeway without a gas pedal and in the dark without headlights. Spare parts – lots of them – were essential, along with the ability to install them under the most trying of conditions. To fully appreciate the air-cooled driving experience, it was necessary to develop a Zen-like acceptance of breakdowns as part of the journey. That and a knack for reaching your “happy place” while your flesh was being seared by red-hot engine parts.

Married life brought an upgrade, whether I wanted it or not. My wife quickly tired of the German-engineered “dream,” and before long we had moved on to a pop-up camper. Adequate for two growing boys, but once they no longer wanted to camp with their parents (which occurred as soon as the older one discovered girls in early high school, whereupon the younger one realized in short order that being alone in a camper with mom and dad was more quality time than he bargained for), even that seemed to be too much work – cranking it up, pulling out beds, lashing down canvas, assembling poles, arranging cushions, then doing it all again in reverse. Who could be bothered with that? Renewing the circle of life, we sold it to a young couple and put our wanderlust on hold. Retirement loomed, and there were nickels to squeeze.

Or so we thought. Falling under the heading of ‘Never underestimate the power of a wild hair,’ we recently decided to get back in the game.

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Modest by old white people recreational vehicle standards to be sure (as a stay in any RV park will make evident), but an abundantly adequate mobile habitat just the same. I doubt Kerouac would approve, but then again he died of cirrhosis of the liver in a nondescript ranch in Florida at the age of 47, so…

And while newer technology may provide the illusion of comfort, in truth there are simply more things to go wrong. I haven’t lost the brakes yet, but other challenges abound. Still, they are but minor glitches – not only am I already something of a Zen Master, but I’m also able to afford road service these days. To borrow from John Muir, “The road is calling, and I must go.”

My Motorcycle – Ride the (not so) Wild Wind

gs1100

While the rest of the blogging world tackles the A to Z challenge, Almost Iowa has thrown down one of his own. Here, then, is my entry in his My Stuff Challenge… 

Spring has arrived on the Front Range, and with temps in the 70s it’s time to pull the cover off my motorcycle and see if I can still shift gears and chew gum at the same time.

Yeah, that’s right, I’m another old guy with a crotch-rocket. Don’t look now, but it appears the Hell’s Angels were the victims of a hostile takeover by the AARP. These days Bike Week in Sturgis more closely resembles an episode of the Golden Girls than it does Sons of Anarchy. You know it’s bad when the biggest drug problem at the event is trafficking in unprescribed Flomax.

Chalk it up to brilliant marketing. They tell us the cure for a spreading paunch and receding hairline is sixteen-hundred cubic centimeters of thundering metal between our legs. And judging by the number of sixty-somethings walking around in ass-less chaps and American flag dew-rags, we believe them. Once stricken by what is referred to as ‘Peter Fonda syndrome,’ former bankers and insurance salesmen are transformed into geriatric rebels without a cause, straddling twenty-thousand dollar cruisers, their silver locks fluttering in the wind. If you buy into the Harley-Davidson mystique, an overpriced motorcycle (along with thousands of dollars worth of logo-splashed accessories) is nothing short of the modern-day fountain of youth, making it so that even dentally-challenged guys with moobs and hairy backs can get laid. A couple of dagger tattoos, a leather vest, and you’re ready to roll. Don’t get too excited, though – it turns out having your taint in such close proximity to all that pulsating horsepower still may not be enough to raise the dead so don’t forget to pack the Viagra.

Now, I’m not simply jumping on the bandwagon here…I’ve actually done this before. I owned a Honda 350 back in the days before designer saddle-bags and fairings with 6-speaker sound systems, but it may as well have been a Moped compared to these modern-day behemoths. Bikers used to travel in packs for the protection that came with having a few buddies around who knew how to swing a crow bar when things got dicey, but now it’s more for road service…if one of them drops their bike, it will take five grown men and a gorilla to get it upright again.

And, no, I don’t own a Harley…I figure the extra money I’m saving will come in handy when my next of kin are picking out a casket for me, after I lose control of my “steed” on a mountain road because of my reduced eye-to-hand coordination and go sailing off a switchback into oblivion.

At the moment I ride an old-school Suzuki…very old school, as in circa 1984. As a point of reference, they were assembling this bike while listening to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and Wham’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ (at least the Japanese versions of those tunes). It still has plenty of pep but admittedly lacks a little in the ‘cool’ department. Still, if I’m ever in the market for a new bike, I plan to avoid anything that looks like the space shuttle or, say, a praying mantis. I’m simply having a mid-life crisis, okay, not auditioning for a role in the next Batman movie.

No, it should be tastefully low-key…just a few flames painted on the gas tank. On second thought, maybe a pair of muscle-laden women – draped only in bandoleers and chains – throwing lightning bolts from their freakishly large breasts, standing on either side of a giant human skull that has a bloody snake emerging from either eye socket. But that’s all.

The thing is, it’s really not about the bike. Hell, Marlon Brando could have been riding a Big Wheel in The Wild One – it didn’t matter. He was a bad-ass, even with that “Captain and Tennille” sailor hat. But your grandpa gliding along on his chrome-bedecked hog replete with pavement lights, a luggage trailer and Garth Brooks blaring from the stereo, not so much.

Of course, there’s an easy fix for the problem – just get the manufacturers to stop including electric starters as standard equipment. There’s no way grandpa will be able to kick-start that GoldWing after his hip-replacement surgery.

The Case for Autonomous Cars – a Rant

merge

Image credit: whyyourmemeiswrong.com

To the morons my fellow motorists in the left lane:

How is it you haven’t noticed those signs for the last three miles, warning you that your lane is about to end? Benefit of the doubt – maybe some of you are visiting from another country and don’t understand the language. But all the license plates on the cars trying to squeeze past me herald from the good ol’ US of A. Surely not every one of these lane crashers is a stranger in a strange land. So that means there’s a good chance the rest of you are illiterate. Why else would you keep racing along right up to the construction barrels before standing on the brakes and forcing your way into the line here in the right lane?

If not illiterate, then you must be, like Forrest Gump, just plain stupid. Somehow, you are still unable to grasp the physics behind a traffic jam. Controlled merging while our cars are still moving, say, about a mile back, allows for everyone to keep rolling along in a continuous flow. But when you (and an endless stream of your butt-wipe friends) insist on driving down to the last inch of pavement, even as the giant flashing arrows and orange Department of Transportation signs implore you to get the hell over, you diddle us all. Don’t expect to be welcomed into the fold, and most certainly don’t offer a friendly wave as you wedge in front of me – I’m calling you every name in the book behind my tinted windows.

Congratulations, though. You’re now seven cars ahead of where you would have been had you made that controlled merge I mentioned. The irony (something else you seem unable to grasp, so I’ll explain it to you) is that a little cooperation would have allowed us to sail through this lane closure and, even seven cars back, you would have made far better time. Instead, since your inability to act in a judicious fashion has brought the entire freeway to a screeching halt, we’ll just sit here and bask in the glow of the brotherly love this moment has produced.

Is there a solution? Well, we could, as a society, just stop repairing our infrastructure – that would alleviate the problem, at least temporarily. Or perhaps the DOT could go all Mad Max and begin installing spike strips in the last half-mile or so of the lane that’s about to close. Hey, just throwing out ideas, here.

No, I suppose the best we can hope for, barring some government-sponsored electroshock ‘re-education’ program, is that your next car will be a ‘self-driver,’ one that comprehends the subtleties of playing nicely and sharing the road, one that will take the decision out of your hands while offering a friendly reminder as you try to make that last-second merge, “I’m sorry Dave (or Tom or Brian or Jennifer), I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

And maybe, just maybe, it could slap you upside the head with the sun visor, for all of us over here in the right lane.

A Room of My Own

garageI’ve never been much for ‘man-caves.’ Maybe that’s because I never had one – with a couple of kids and a string of relatively modest homes, there really wasn’t a lot of extra space for a room I could fill with big-screen TVs, blow-up Hooters dolls, Corona-laden mini-fridges and display cases crowded with the many trophies and medals documenting my glorious high school band career. There have been a couple of ‘offices’ where I commandeered an extra bedroom, plopping down a desk to give me a place where I could do a little writing, though I stopped short of peeing in all the corners to mark it off as mine. I guess the closest I’ve come to having my very own testosterone lair would be, sadly, the garage.

For the record, can I just say that the garage is not a suitable man-cave. It’s not like I have furniture and appliances out there, allowing me to retreat to its welcoming confines when the world starts to close in or my fragile guy-ego gets bruised. It’s too small for that – just squeezing two cars in requires not only a shoe-horn but the deft maneuvering of a cruise ship captain coming into port. It’s like an oversized, 3-D Tetris game – bikes dangle from the rafters, yard tools and the lawn mower claim one corner, the trash bins nestle precisely under a set of shelves, extension ladders stand along one wall (and can only be accessed when the door is closed), assorted bricks and pavers (gifted to us by the previous owners and held on to because “they might come in handy one day,” in the words of my hoarder mother) lead a nomadic existence as they get moved from place to place to make way for more incoming flotsam, and the vehicles – when they can be pulled in – fit just so.

Another set of shelves curve around the back corner of the garage and stick out so far that I have to nudge them with the bumper of my car in order to get the door closed behind me. Shelves that are full of boxes that are full of things long ago forgotten but dragged along like the Bones of Joseph because, you know, those MC Hammer parachute pants just might come back into fashion some day. My dad’s ashes even sat out there for several years, his penance – and my passive-aggressive response – for having the bad form to leave his postmortem affairs in the hands of the sons he had little to do with during his premortem stay on this earth. We don’t need no stinking therapy!

And now that I’m back to the renovation project, I’m trashing my would-be sanctuary. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t have a proper workshop in this house so when the power tools come out, everyone parks in the street until the dust and the epithets clear.

I have a friend back in Indiana who claims that every time he leaves his garage door open for more than a few minutes, complete strangers begin to gather in the driveway, wanting to know how much he’s asking for various items. My garage doesn’t elicit that sort of response – instead, passers-by tend to recoil in horror and hurry their children along. It serves as the staging area for all the debris generated by my home improvement projects – flooring, carpet, padding, trim, doors, toilets, all have graced its cold concrete floor.

In fact, one can follow the chronology of those projects through careful analysis of the various layers of dust and dirt that have accumulated on any stationary object. Digging down, you’ll first encounter the light-colored deposits from the most recent epoch when the atmosphere was dense with clouds of noxious spray-paint, then move into a thicker beige layer that marks a lengthy period when sanding and cutting of lumber dominated, finally reaching the oldest sediments of all, a dark band of grime and grit laid down in the earliest days of demolition. So I’m not messy, I’m simply preserving the historical record for future generations.

And for all the ‘necessary’ crap stored out there, the garage is still where things go to die (no pun intended, dad) – those items that have truly reached the end of their life-cycle but that I just don’t have the heart to toss on the scrap heap. For instance, styrofoam. I can’t find anyone nearby who recycles those huge white blocks of the stuff in which most everything comes packed. Yet I won’t throw any of it away because, well, what would Captain Planet do? A landfill is no place for styrofoam, which has roughly the same shelf-life as an uneaten McDonalds hamburger. So it appears I’m hanging on to it (in a growing collection of overstuffed garbage bags wedged into every spare corner) until someone around here does start to recycle it. Or maybe I can fashion it into furniture for the man-cave.foam table

Two birds with one stone, right?

The Cherished Blogfest 2015: Vee-dubs and Me

microbus
For the subject of this post, one need look no further than my profile picture. As a recovering vintage Volkswagen addict, these vehicles hold a special place in my heart. Exactly why, I cannot say.

Most likely, this all goes back to my first sexual encounter, which took place in the back of a yellow VW squareback sedan. Parked in one of the scenic turnouts along Trail Ridge Road high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, it was a magical convergence of nature, libido and machine. The moonlight reflecting off the snow-capped peaks, the lights of Estes Park twinkling below and the bold yet unassuming lines of the minimalist interior combined to leave an indelible imprint on me. If memory serves, a woman was also present, but that seems almost inconsequential now.

My short-lived “playboy” phase included a Beetle convertible and a Karmann Ghia convertible. That last one was never officially road-worthy seeing as how, at the time of purchase, many of its internal organs were sitting in a jumbled pile where the back seat should have been. But this is standard practice when it comes to bartering in these relics of the Third Reich. That the vehicle can’t move under its own power is rarely a hindrance to closing the deal. “Project cars,” like the cryogenically frozen, exist in a kind of limbo, waiting for the day when someone will find the means necessary to resurrect them. Until that time they simply go from one owner to the next, leprous members of the automotive undead kept hidden under a blue tarp at the back of the garage or out in the barn, along with an ever-growing collection of uninstalled parts. Some even come with their own tow bar.

I was particularly enamored of the microbus, having owned a total of four and – like Gollum caressing his ‘precious’ – I cherished them all. Despite many and varied mechanical quirks, they fell into a category that VW owners refer to, with great optimism, as “daily drivers.” Typically the term is held to a pretty loose interpretation. So long as the vehicle can be started (pushing is allowed), attain a speed that keeps you from being run over by traffic coming up from behind (a stiff tailwind is the vintage Volkswagen driver’s best friend, thanks to an engine that produces roughly the same torque as a ceiling fan), and then brought to a stop, the basic criteria have been met. Should things like the heat, windshield wipers and turn signals work, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

My first was a two-tone camper – the quintessential “hippie van” – hand painted by its previous owner. To the man’s credit, he did use an exterior latex and a short-napped roller. One of my early attempts to tune up the engine resulted in a minor fuel leak. The ensuing fireball was quickly extinguished and my eyebrows grew back in only a few months, but the vehicle was known from that time forward as “The Hindenburg.”

Defined as anything Before Radiators, these vintage models are not for the timid. Handling and maneuverability are on par with your basic soap-box derby entry, and often times the road is visible beneath your feet due to a tendency of the floors to rot away like vampire flesh caught in a shaft of sunlight. Every trip requires a stockpile of spare parts, along with the ability to install them at a moment’s notice. It’s been said that, to fully appreciate the air-cooled driving experience, one must develop a Zen-like acceptance of breakdowns as part of the journey. That and a knack for reaching your “happy place” while your flesh is being seared by red hot engine parts. Peace, love and pass the metric tools, dude.

Thanks to an intervention where friends forced me to watch Little Miss Sunshine for three days straight, all that remains of my addiction is an old oil stain on the garage floor. But even so, we still loves our precious.