This post is one in a series based on a format at another website; like music albums, I can measure periods in my adult life with the cars I’ve driven.
By about 1998 or so, my trusty CRX was getting long in the tooth. It was beginning to blow lots of oil through the tailpipe, to the point where whenever I got on the gas I left blue haze in my wake. The A/C was inoperable, and it began to overheat in traffic, which made it unusable in the city (which was where I lived at the time). I was dealing with two vehicles that needed constant mechanical attention: I had a ’78 Scout that started up and ran whenever I asked it to, but was really only meant as a semi-occasional driver and not a full-time commuter (14mpg and a 4-speed stick in Beltway traffic kind of sucks). Something had to give.
By chance, my mother was shopping for a new vehicle, and we came up with a plan. She was planning on trading in her Taurus for a new Subaru, but knew I was looking, and graciously offered it to me.
She had an LX model with a 3.0L V6, which was a nice upgrade from my wheezy but thrifty 1.3L 4-banger. This was the second generation, the one that sold like hotcakes before they redesigned it with the fishbowl windows. As the luxury model, it came with electric windows and locks. It had a bench seat (technically a split 60/40 with armrests, but a bench seat). It was a dull shade of gray with a gray interior, which made it invisible to the naked eye, but it was easy to park in the city and got decent gas mileage. Sadly, it was a column-shift automatic.
I sold the CRX to a guy who had plans to autocross it and took delivery of the Taurus, driving it home from Upstate New York in the fall. Over the next five years, it served me (and my future wife) well, if not anonymously. Even though it was almost double the curb weight of the Honda, it would move when I got on the gas. It was a decent highway cruiser, but lacked any kind of lumbar support for drives over 2 hours in length. The interior fittings were typical of that era: Ford’s idiot-sized buttons were laughably larger than the Honda controls I was used to. And even though it was a 4-door, I found that it was surprisingly less accommodating than the CRX’s hatchback for things like bikes, oversized furniture, or drywall. Having a trunk was nice, though, even though there was no passthrough.
The year I bought the car, I’d been laid off from my job, so I set about finding a new one and keeping busy. I rehabbed the bathroom in my rowhome, which required several loads of drywall. I picked up an inexpensive crossbar rack from somewhere and became skilled at driving sheets of plywood home strapped to the roof. Then I heard about a warehouse close by in my neighborhood that was being knocked down. I stopped over and asked if I could reclaim some of the brick they were hauling away, and they let me take as much as I wanted. I made several trips with the trunk loaded down to the alley behind my house where I could drop it off. This saved me a lot of money on raw materials but blew out both rear shocks. I never replaced them.
I had few problems with it in the first few years, but as it reached the 10-year-mark, expensive things started breaking down. It began to have overheating issues, something I thought I’d sold off with the CRX, that manifested the exact same way: Sitting in traffic, the temp gauge would begin to creep upward, then suddenly zoom into the redline. My mechanic looked things over but found nothing wrong with the cooling system; even after leaving the car running by itself for an hour, he couldn’t replicate the issue. This seemed to be an issue with the Vulcan V6.
I continued to have inconsistent, nagging problems with overheating, negating use of the A/C, and then the transmission began slipping. It would suddenly clunk out of gear completely, usually as I was cornering at speed, which got tricky when I was on the Beltway. Or, it just plain refused to shift upwards out of second, leaving me screaming at 5,000RPM in the slow lane trying to make it to the next offramp.
The last straw came as I was driving to pick up the catering for our rehearsal dinner. At this point the Scout was out of commission–the exhaust was missing behind the headers–so the Tortoise it was. With delicious barbecue for 30 loaded in the trunk, I started back to the house but got bogged down in Beltway traffic, and the temp gauge started climbing. I pulled over to the shoulder and let it cool down for a half an hour, and then continued down the road–for a half a mile. This on-again, off-again voyage continued for three more hours until I was able to get it home, where I parked it, unloaded it, and probably kicked it.
After we returned from our honeymoon, I spied a For Sale sign on a car in our neighborhood, and gave the owner a call. Once that deal was done, I called up and donated the Tortoise to our local NPR station for a tax writeoff.
A question for the ages. I’ve got an entire truck that needs rust prevention, so what best to use? I watched a friend use Eastwood products on his Sprite (English sportscars of the 60’s rival US vehicles of the 70’s for their ability to spontaneously dissolve), and thought they worked pretty well. After some basic research, my original thought was to use Encapsulator in an aerosol can, but as I dug into the online materials a little more, I came to understand that Converter was better suited to my needs. Converter is a two-part acidic paint that converts rust to an inert oxide, while Encapsulator seals rust off and keeps it from spreading. Yes, I need to seal it off, but Eastwood says Converter is better for heavy rust, which is what I’ve got. Then, as I hovered over the Add To Cart button, I saw that they offer a quart bottle for only $6 more than a 12oz. aerosol can. Such a bargain!
I kegged the Conundrum IPA about a week and a half ago, and I’m very happy with the way it came out. It’s got a lot of flavor (with 5 oz. of hops, it had better) but it still finishes light–the perfect session beer. I think I’m going to have to brew this one again. In the meantime, though, I’ve got a Hefeweizen kit to brew next, in preparation for spring weather and sunshine. I figure by the time it’s ready to go I’ll have killed the IPA.
Work is going full steam ahead, and I’ve got a new designer starting on Monday. We’re doing some shifting around of computers, and we’re going to have to sort out some kind of workflow to make things run smoother day-to-day. We’ve played with Flow a bit, and we’ve used Basecamp, but neither really stuck. Slack looks cool but might be overkill for our needs.
Work is progressing on Scout seats, but I’m at a stopping point until I get some rust encapsulator delivered. In the process of cutting the seats off my old bases last weekend, my angle grinder crapped out so I had to buy a new one. Once that happened, I got the passenger side base cleaned up and ready for paint. Now I just need to wait for some warmer weather to pull the drivers’ side seat out and cut that apart.
Other than that, we’ve been keeping our heads down and trying to stay warm. This winter can’t be over fast enough.
When I was an innocent freshman at MICA, I was lucky enough to have a teacher who cared enough to blow my little mind. We had a class called Fundamentals of 2-D Design, or something like that, which was supposed to be about concepts and methods of using space and color and form to express ourselves. In actuality it was a calculated mindfuck. We’d all been programmed by our public and private high schools how to use pencils and markers and oil paint (well, not my public high school, we made do with tempera paints) and the fundamentals of what art was supposed to look like. So, we applied that to the first assignment we were given.
Our teacher, a vibrant, boisterous woman named Mary, had us put our stuff up on the wall and present it, and we did, in halting sentences amid shuffling feet. Then, she stood up and started ripping parts of our designs up. Literally ripping sections off and moving them around. “How about doing this?”
I think the first student she did this to almost started crying. The second got mad. The third might actually have cried. And on and on. We had worked hard on this shit, and here she was, tearing bits and pieces off, moving things around, questioning us. I was shocked–and intrigued. Because she was right. Her suggestions were spot-on, of course. She was fearless. And she scared the shit out of all of us.
Next week, we got into the gouache. Gouache is a painting medium somewhere between tempera, watercolor and Satan’s ballsweat, deviously simple and devilish to control. It mixes quickly and dries out in seconds, so skill and patience is required to work with it. We had to color-match squares of specially-purchased colored paper, a package of which was expensive and irreplaceable. We had to cut out squares of the colored paper, glue them to bristol board, and then draw a square next to it the same size and shape. Then we had to mix gouache to match the size and color exactly. Points were given for accuracy of color, execution, and cleanliness. Doing this exercise perfectly was next to impossible because the fucking gouache was, well, gouache. It was like smearing poop around on the wall: it’s only ever going to look like poop. We all tried, lord above, did we try.
More assignments like this followed, and students began dropping out. Not because they weren’t doing the work, but because they didn’t get it. They argued with her, they reasoned with her, they spent hours after class trying to make her happy. And she tried to get them to open their minds. They didn’t understand.
The first lesson taught us: Nothing is precious. Everything is game, and be prepared to give it up for something better. The second lesson was that sloppy work wasn’t acceptable. We needed to strive for perfection. Further projects taught us that it wasn’t about what the finished products looked like, really; it was about how we approached the solutions and what we learned getting there. The dropouts had been conditioned to do the assignments but not to question the ideas or develop a concept or think about what any of it meant. They couldn’t process this, and gave up.
For those of us that got it, it was like a door had been kicked open, and we started thinking with our own brains. It led me to consider unconventional ways to solve problems that I still use to this day. None of the assignments we completed were portfolio pieces, but they made the few of us that understood better artists, designers, and communicators.
In the class I’m teaching, I’ve been reaching for that same kind of impact. I’m winging it this first semester because I’m not familiar with the syllabus or the organization of the department or the grading standards, but I’m getting the hang of running the class and offering input and guidance without solving problems for the students–I’ve got to know exactly what to say to get them to think of things differently without giving them the answers. I’ve got students who do not understand conceptual thinking: They just want me to tell them what to do instead of thinking for themselves. I’ve also got students who are killing it, coming up with brilliant, elegant concepts and layouts that make me smile to myself. I can’t take credit for that, as the hard work was done by someone else before me, but I can at least help them get ready for the real world.
We made it through the storm pretty well on Saturday, although the house was fucking freezing. This month’s ~10˚ overnight temperatures have really illustrated just how poorly insulated the Lockardugan Estate is despite all my attempts to the contrary. The first floor becomes pretty much uninhabitable after 8PM, and the kitchen is like a meat locker (there is no heating in the kitchen; we removed it during the remodel in a desperate bid for cabinet space).
Sunday I spent the morning digging out. A freakish upswing in temperature meant I was out in a fleece and light gloves, sweating in the sunlight. After I got the sidewalks done, I came in and made bacon egg & cheeses for the family (NOM NOM NOM), and then went back out to finish the cars. The Accord is suffering from an old no-cranky battery so I jumped it and ran it for a while, but next weekend I’ll definitely pick up a new one. After that chore was done I took Finn over to the school for some sledding. Mama found a great Wham-O sled at the bargain store a while back and we put it to the test. Strangely, we had the whole hill to ourselves.
The afternoon was spent in the den, creating castles with Legos, while Mama put together venison steaks with duck-fat fried potatoes and fresh green beans for dinner. All in all, it was a great day.
It’s a pleasure to be able to call someone up on a Friday afternoon and offer them a job. I have a smile on my face.
I’m recovering from a head cold that had me snuffling into tissues since Monday. I’ve found that liquid DayQuil definitely trumps the power of huge horse-pill sized caplets. Finn is past her weird virus thing and back at school, which is good for the whole family.
It was a blistering 8˚ this morning, so Jen boiled some water and we filed onto the back porch in our PJs to make snow: throw it up in the air and watch it steam and descend as flakes. Some of the water splashed back onto my hand, so two of the knuckles on my right hand are angry and red today. Still, snow!
Class is going well, and I’m enjoying myself. They offered me another class in the fall last week, which I’m going to take contingent on the timing: they should be able to schedule it for 6 or 7PM instead of 4, which works much better for my commute.
This is the 4,001st entry here on Idiotking.org. Given my sporadic posting around here lately, I wasn’t expecting to hit it quite so quickly.
What shall I waste time writing about here? Well, we got hit last night with a blast of icy Arctic air and about 4″of snow. With wind chill, it’s about 5-10˚ out there right now, so we wisely decided to stay inside today. Finn has been battling some kind of flu that sends fluid out both ends, so she was mending quietly on the couch all day. I went down into the basement and finally wrangled piles of stuff strewn about the place, building a rack for our spare dining room chairs, a rack for our spare lumber, organizing the recycling, transferring the IPA to a secondary fermenter, and about 30 other small jobs. When I came back upstairs we heated dinner up and did a double-feature of How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Up before getting Finn in bed. Tomorrow is due to be as cold as today, and there’s snow in the forecast. I also have to teach tomorrow night, which means I’ll eventually have to go back outside.
This year, I was on it. Three weeks ago, I started contacting babysitters to see if anyone could watch Finn for us, and I struck out everywhere. I decided fuck it, I’d make dinner for my girls and we’d share Valentine’s Day together, and they seemed happy with that. I hit the store this morning and got caught up in the pre-Valentine/pre-snow rush, but made it out with the fixings for Shrimp Creole and some brownies. At home, I worked on the Scout a little bit, worked on cleaning up the basement a little bit, and took the dishwasher apart to clean out the drain. Then I got to cooking. Usually my attempts at cooking are panicky and uncoordinated. I have problems getting everything on the table at the same time in the correct order, and I leave chaos in the kitchen. Tonight went smoothly, and everything timed perfectly. After setting the table and uncorking some alcohol-free wine, I lit candles and served the ladies while gentle snow fell outside. Finn was excited to drink wine with us and even more when I brought out brownies decorated with hearts in red sparkly icing. I can’t remember a better Valentine’s Day.
This is an awesome bit of brand elevation: