“Al, at the wheel, his face purposeful, his whole body listening to the car, his restless eyes jumping from the road to the instrument panel. Al was one with his engine, every nerve listening for weaknesses, for the thumps or squeals, hums and chattering that indicate a change that may cause a breakdown. He had become the soul of the car. ”
-John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Driving an antique car is often an act of faith. Unless one is an ASE certified mechanic, every mile put on a historic vehicle is a leap into the unknown, carrying one further away from help and closer to an expensive problem. It forces one to become intimately familiar with all of the complicated moving parts that make things work, if for no other reason than to be able to tell a mechanic what to look at first.
Peer Pressure has spent the majority of the winter slumbering like a bear in her cave, waiting out fierce December winds and wet March snows. Winters are always hard when starting carbureted engines. I don’t have a trickle charger yet, which means I’ve got about five good tries in the battery before I have to bust out jumper cables. Usually I pour a little gas in the carburetor to get the fuel system moving, and that does the trick. Whenever the roads are dry and salt-free, I let her idle in the driveway for ten minutes, then get her out for a trip around the block to spin the tires and get fluids moving through everything. Then she goes right back in the garage.
Meanwhile, I’ve been driving modern, fuel injected vehicles which start instantly and glide over the road at lightning speeds. They have clean carpeting, clear glass, warm heat, and soundproofing. I’m removed from all of the smelly mechanical bits that make things work; modern cars have been engineered to make me forget there’s even an engine attached to the vehicle: This vehicle is powered by unicorn farts. They are appliances, and we take their very existence for granted. And we become ignorant of the clanking, whirring, gnashing machinery that makes it all possible.
When spring comes, I pull the Scout out onto the road, wind up the engine on longer trips and listen intently to multiple different noises. That tapping–are those lifters starving for oil? I gauge the familiar droning of Mud Terrains on pavement. I parse squeaks from the rear of the chassis. Is the exhaust sounding a newer, deeper note this year?
Other cues I pick up from the vibrations through my feet and hands. How does the clutch feel? Is that wobble a flat spot in the tire, or is that just an oscillation at speed? Is the engine straining above 50mph? The brakes are wearing unevenly. Does the shift point feel different this year? It feels like the steering is wandering more today.
All of these reactions change my relationship with the road. Every trip I take in the Scout at the beginning of the year is carefully considered. Do I have enough gas to make it there and back? Do I have a backup plan if I break down? What’s the number for towing and recovery? All of these questions make me appreciate the ride a lot more; I’m in tune with the machine and the road, instead of just gliding over it, there and back.
I bought my first Scout used, 20 years after it was built, and drove it 75+ miles home the same day, on faith that the seller was honest (he was) and the truck was in good shape (it was). One month later I drove it 2 miles down an empty beach at Assateague, an empty corner of the earth where AAA does not make house calls. It got me home. Ten years later I put even more faith in an older truck bought at auction with absolutely no provenance, using the 5-50-100 rule to shake out the kinks (500 miles is a long trip on those tires), and it’s run strongly ever since. I’ve had my issues, and it’s given me problems, but most of those were due to my own stupidity, and I’ve been able to make it home without calling in a tow truck.
I don’t know if Steinbeck had it right or not. Rarely do I feel like I’m the soul of the machine; more often I feel like my truck helps me rediscover my sense of adventure. Will I make it there and back? Maybe not, but it’ll sure be an interesting story.
Some kind of crazy front is blowing through this evening, sending the temperatures down from an agreeable 65˚to somewhere in the low 30s. What the hell, man? Just when I was thinking I could leave my winter coat on the rack. We went from having the windows open to shutting the storms down to keep the heat inside. Oh, well.
Grandma and Renie are coming down this weekend to visit, which has us running around cleaning the house in preparation. It will be great to see them for the first time since Christmas, and I know Grandma is probably levitating off the floor with excitement. Hopefully the weather will warm back up so they don’t have to suffer a wet March weekend in Maryland.
The CR-V is at the shop with new ceramic brake pads waiting to be picked up tomorrow morning; I bought rotors and pads last weekend with the intention of changing them, but when I got the grindy side up on the jack, I couldn’t get the caliper to release the rotor. Instead of bashing it with a BFH, I wisely decided on calling in the pros, and they got it done today, no muss, no fuss. Certain things I’m willing to take on myself, but any monkey business with important systems like brakes I’ll happily farm out.
I kegged my latest batch of IPA, called Sinistral Warrior, on Sunday, and it’s carbing in the cooler this week. I’ve pulled two glasses from it so far, and it’s tasty–and strong. I have to remember to throttle back my intake because it tends to hit me rather quickly. Next up is getting some time to bottle the pumpkin, which has been sitting patiently since the end of December, and ordering a session IPA from Northern Brewer for the next batch. I also cut my 4″ shank down to 3″ last weekend. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be–maybe 5 seconds with a metal blade on the miter saw, and 2 minutes with a file to clean up the threads. Now, when I install tap handles in the front of the kegerator, the tubing and inlets won’t be in the way. Half the fun of owning a kegerator seems to be hose management.
I haven’t looked at Facebook in about two weeks. I popped on there this evening to answer a question (I get alerts in my mailbox, but rarely respond to them) and lost a half an hour; nothing much has changed. I talked about creating more and consuming less at the beginning of this year, and haven’t done much to change that yet. I could come up with lots of reasons why, but the truth is I just haven’t.
I have a lot of things to work on this spring; that is only one of them, and the least important.
This morning we woke to a coat of ice over everything in sight. School was canceled, but I had a ton of things to do and meetings at work, so we bundled up, braved the slick steps, and made it down to an empty train station. While we were gone one of the trees in the backyard snapped a branch and took out a power line, so we’re dark but not cold. No word on when we’ll get power back yet. Jen took a bunch of pictures of our overgrown treeline in the hopes that BGE will finally come out and chop it back, but I’m not holding my breath.
I took an early train into work today to make sure I’d get a parking spot close to the platform, and got into work by 8:15. By noon Jen texted me to say snow was drifting on the front steps and that Frederick Road wasn’t plowed, so I ran to catch the 12:20 before MARC shut everything down. I’m now sitting at my desk with a warm heater by my feet, enjoying a liberal work policy, the convenience of telecommuting, and a low stress level. What a difference a year makes.
I haven’t updated much here lately, due to the fact that there hasn’t been much time. Last weekend Finn and I made the Christmas pilgrimage to upstate New York, leaving Mama behind to try and catch up on a backlog of work and proposals. The girl and I had a great time, but we were both exhausted upon our return. I think it’s taken up until today for me to get caught up on sleep. The girls were able to deconstruct the christmas tree and haul the carcass out to the curb the other day, so this may mark the first time the county will have hauled it away as opposed to me throwing it next to the garage and dragging it to the dump in March. This weekend is earmarked for grocery shopping, cleaning, catching up on house maintenance, and two playoff games on Sunday.
I read up on some reviews of the new Mac Pro the other day, and an alternative solution to our storage problem presented itself: a Drobo is basically a 5-bay networked carriage for hard drives, which comes in at a much lower price point than a used Mac Pro on Craigslist. I’m ready to ditch the G5 in our basement, which has been balky and only offers two drive bays; Drobo offers Plex and FireFly compatibility so we can share our media to the AppleTV and to my shiny new Christmas present, a Roku3. Sometime in the spring, I’m going to pull the trigger and consolidate everything.
Life with the iPad has been tricky but workable; I’ve left my laptop home for the last week and a half, and there doesn’t seem to be too much I can’t accomplish on the iPad. Reading books is much nicer than the first gen Kindle. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are slick; the fact that Spotify is now streaming to mobile devices for free is awesome. I’ve got a great VNC client for remoting to client machines, and Mint’s app is a bit oblique but usable. My big beef is with Yahoo for not offering a full-size Flickr app for the iPad, which feels like I’m still looking at tintypes by candlelight. WTF, Yahoo?
The biggest issue I have now is what my new photo workflow should be. I’m not taking a ton of pictures, but I’d like to take and post more as the weather warms up. With my laptop at home, there’s no easy way to edit and post DSLR pictures until I get home unless I do it on a work machine, which I’m trying to avoid.
I’ve had The Bones of What You Believe by CVRCHES and Days Are Gone by Haim on infinite repeat the last three weeks; obviously my tastes are changing again, in the absence of any good new rock or ambient albums.
- More creating. Less documenting, less consuming.
- Spend less time filling time, and more time enjoying it.
- Commit 100% to each effort.
- Spend more time on the plan, less time on the scramble.
- Organize. Then find a way to organize the organization.
What better way to start the day than to be woken by breakfast in bed? Finn and Mama surprised me with a tray of warm food to kick off a day outside amongst the leaves and sun and wind. Even though we raked the front yard last weekend, the incessant wind has covered it back over, and the backyard was beginning to collect great mountains of maple, oak, and sycamore leaves. I got to work building Finn a great twig-free pile and she jumped in it while I kept moving.
We made a brief trip to the store to collect more bags, and stopped at the dump to drop off some old electronics. While we were there I spied a Polk subwoofer sitting in the recycle bin. Now, I work for a good company and I get paid a great salary, but when I see something I can repair (and that I’ve been mulling the purchase of for years), I’m grabbing it. So in the back of the Scout it went. Then we stopped for a photo op on the way home.
Then I treated her to lunch down the street, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. She talked me into a double-chocolate cupcake for dessert, because I’m a sucker.
Then we got back to work. By this time the sun was behind a low layer of gray clouds, so I brought out the firepit and loaded it with some dry elm. With a pile of recently collected twigs, I had a blazing fire going in minutes.
After filling about 20 bags, it was getting colder and Finn was bored, so Mama and I enjoyed the fire for a few minutes before loading up some forks with hot dogs so that Finn and I could roast them for dinner. Then we hit the den for movie night: Monsters University was funny and scary and just what we all needed.
And, guess what: The subwoofer works!
Busy week here. We took Finn to some friends’ for a Halloween straight from a greeting card: well-lit streets full of happy children, friendly houses, and great costumes. It made me proud to see my girl walk down the street holding hands with one of her best friends.
Leaves are in full swing here in the ‘Ville, and the streets are beautiful. It’ll take a week or so for all of them to drop and collect on our front lawn, clogging up the downspouts and rustling underfoot.
I got my final paycheck from idfive with an added quarterly bonus, so I splurged a little on some kegging equipment; a new gas block has replaced the two-way brass splitter I inherited, and now I’ve got a dedicated third line for carbonation installed with a one-way valve to prevent any backflow. The valve body is bolted to the edge of the surround and the gas lines are all cleaned up and out of the way.
I also picked up three sheets of 3/4 MDF board in preparation for building new speaker enclosures. I’ve run my woofer specs through some new online tools (I was using a poorly printed graph in a book in 1991) and it looks like my original calculations were pretty close. The tweeter I used in one of the two speakers seems to be on the fritz, so I’ve got to track down the issue and see if it needs to be replaced. The new speakers will also get different porting tubes and hookups, but the next big thing to source is a way to cut a clean circle for the woofers.
One of the items I inherited with the new job is a GoPro Hero 3, essentially a tiny HD videocam with a wide-angle lens and a waterproof housing, bolted to a giant suction cup. I tried it out on Sunday in some different situations, outside and inside the Scout as I drove out into Ellicott City and back. The built-in editing software is intuitive and powerful, but it’s going to take some more time to sort out how to get the best possible footage encoded in the right way.
Working in D.C. again is much different without the lousy commute. We’re only on our second day, and the scheduling hasn’t been sorted out yet, but I’ll gladly take 45 minutes on the train vs. 2 hours each way. And I haven’t sorted out the best way to take advantage of the train time yet, but getting through a back-issue pile of New Yorkers isn’t a bad way to start.
Everyone at my new office is so ridiculously nice. I got into Union Station on Monday at 8:45, stopped for a muffin, and walked into the office at 9:01. I was greeted by the Communications Coordinator, who gave me a tour, got me hooked up with email, oriented me with the basic office layout, and left me a welcome card on my desk. I met everyone else as they came in and they couldn’t have been more welcoming and friendly. My office is cozy and warm, a welcome break from the meat-locker warehouse I was in before, although I miss my old office chair very much.
There’s a program staff to meet, 20 years of materials to review, a handful of ongoing projects to catch up on, a stack of HR paperwork to complete, a workflow to set up, and an entire shelf full of gear to be inventoried. I can’t wait to get started.
I’ve been spending the last two weeks on eggshells, because a huge decision has been made and the wheels are in motion but I wasn’t allowed to say anything until now. I gave my notice at idfive a week and a half ago, and my last day of employment there will fall one week shy of five full years, the longest I’ve ever served one company.
It’s been a very industrious, educational, and rewarding five years. In that time, I’ve seen friends come and go, survived a round of layoffs, watched the design and printing industry contract around me, watched as my production skills were eclipsed by two and three generations of new technology, and seen the whole web industry turned on its head by mobile-centered design. There was a time when, during the recession in 2009, I was certain I would be out on the bricks looking for work as a day laborer. Luckily, the company dug in its heels and consistently found challenging work to keep the lights on, and as I depart, they are hiring new staff to keep up with incoming work.
I’m stepping into a new role as Visual Communications Manager for the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C. My purpose is to help WRI’s External Relations team develop the brand through online and print design, storytelling, infographics, and data visualization (that last bit is almost verbatim from the job description). What it means for the day to day is that I’ll be coordinating all manner of projects with development teams locally and globally, managing in-house staff and freelancers, scripting video production, and possibly even shooting some photography. WRI’s mission is to find ways to sustain the world’s natural resources, focusing on six main issues: climate, energy, food, forests, water, and cities and transport. It’s privately funded, so every time Congress decides to shut the country down it won’t impact me directly. It’s an organization and a mission I can definitely get behind–instead of selling dish soap, I’ll be selling important ideas, and that feels good.
It’s going to be a huge challenge, and I’ll admit I’m very nervous. Nervous but excited. Jen and I hit the Columbus Day sales to stock up on new work clothing, which has been a long time coming (no more cargo shorts for the Idiotking) and we got one of just about everything, minus a pair of casual black dress shoes. I even found another suit that fits me, which is about as rare as hen’s teeth.
I’ve repeatedly said I would never commute to D.C. again since I worked for Supon, but I think this experience will be different. In 2000, I was driving a car to Savage from Canton, taking the train to Union Station, taking the Metro to the closest stop, and then walking six blocks to the office, which took an hour and a half each way. WRI’s office is within spitting distance of Union Station, so the total trip should be about 40 minutes plus a little platform time. Given that I currently drive 30 minutes each way through the West Side of Baltimore, I’d much rather have that time to work, read, or decompress, instead of avoiding potholes and traffic.
I’ve been dreading the change and the feeling of uncertainty for the last month–leaving my comfort zone and taking a leap of faith–but the simple exercise of writing this post has me excited for the future.