Thursday, January 28, 2010

Road Trip: Stennis-Pike #1, part 3

(the final part of my Dec. 8, 2006 drive to Stennis Space Center and forts Pike and Macomb).

The setting sun lit my rear view mirrors in orange and pink as I bumped and juddered eastward on US-90. I was hoping at first to take it all the way to Biloxi, potholes or no, but I didn't make it far past the Mississippi line: it stopped at St. Louis Bay, where Hurricane Katrina's surge had toppled the US-90 bridge.

Oh, well. I found a little barbeque joint, had a damn good dinner, then went to K-Mart to look for something to close up the Tracker's rear window. Remember in part one, when I described how I was using fish hooks and bungee cord to hold the window up? Here's where that's important.

Remember that it was in the upper 20's when I left Pensacola, wind chill around zero, winds out of the west. That was daytime. Now the temperature was dropping and that wind was coming from behind. There were sizable gaps between the window and the rest of the Tracker's convertible top. Before I was even over the Mississippi line, I had my coat zipped up to my chin and was wearing my gloves. The truck's heater was full-on, but the heat wasn't going very far out of the vents before its own ass got cold.

So I went shopping. My inner MacGyver led me to get a map, some cheap shoelaces, and a pair of yellow terrycloth towels (the Tracker's yellow, that's why). I rolled the towels into long cylinders, bound them, and then tied them to the bungee cords so that they blocked the gaps as much as possible. Worked pretty well! [look in the Pike-Macomb group] Still cold as hell.

The map? Duh. Used it to find a way to I-10.

I made a short stop in Biloxi. Wanted to see the lighthouse. It's not very tall, but it's right in the middle of US-90, a short distance from the casinos and clubs. By now it was 9 p.m., but Biloxi was still working to recover from the enormous damage wrought by Katrina a year before. In the short distance along Highway 90 between the lighthouse and the wrecked bay bridge, I could see blocks and blocks of damaged or demolished homes and businesses. But right up on the waterfront, there were some open casinos with their attendant nightlife.

I headed back up to I-10, stopped briefly at Mobile's Battleship Park, took a few more pictures, and headed home.

Some Biloxi and Battleship pics are in the "Nighttime" group at my Flickr page.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Road Trip: Stennis-Pike #1, Part 2

Yup. I missed the last bus out to Stennis. Shrug. I hopped back in the Tracker after getting some pictures of the LEM display. Time to go to Fort Pike.

The Stennis exit from I-10 is only a few miles from the Louisiana border. A little further on, it bends southward...left on 190...wrecked boats, wrecked homes, a boat sitting upside down in a field...happy-looking homes to my right, families seemingly untouched by the hurricane a year past...dead-end into US-90, go right. At the time, there was an old, narrow steel bridge across the Rigolets (the southeast pass into Lake Pontchartrain) and a slowly-growing concrete flyover bridge that has since been completed. I was about halfway across the span when I spotted Fort Pike.

Pike's a small pie-slice of a fort--much smaller than Fort Pickens, but it's really all about location. If you look at this Fort Wiki page, you can see that there's no room for a larger structure on the tip of St. Catherine Island. Pike was intended to block the channel to the east between Lake Borgne (and the Gulf of Mexico) and Lake Pontchartrain.

It was in pretty bad shape. Hurricane Katrina's eye (2005) had rolled almost directly over the fort (just slightly east of it--but Mississippi and Alabama caught the worst of the storm in the teeth). There was a wide section of wall near the north corner that looked ready to fall out, plainly-visible damage to the bricks facing on the water (from boat wakes?), stagnant water in the landward moat. The place was still closed, pending repairs and cleaning. It reopened some 2-1/2 years after Katrina, only to be closed again by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. It re-reopened in 2009, and since I've never been inside, it's time for another road trip!

I spent maybe an hour walking around outside, exploring and taking pictures (look for Pike & Macomb group). Aside from the sound of occasional cars, it was quiet and peaceful--one of the main things I like about these old buildings. A single pelican watched me from the water, which was calm despite the brisk wind. There was hardly a reminder of Katrina's violence, if I stood in the right place.

There were plenty of reminders, though, once I got back in the Tracker and rolled west along US-90 toward my next stop, Fort Macomb, just a few miles away at the other end of St. Catherine Island. Just a few hundred feet from the fort's parking lot, there were concrete slabs where houses had been...Maucle, Chagnard, Touche, Jacobs, Hassler, the streets were there, and the private boat slips, branches from a canal running south from the fort; we have a snapshot in Google Maps at Pike's Fort Wiki of the days and months after those houses were wiped and scraped and crushed into kindling. The entire length of the island looked like this...a standing house here, pilings sticking up like a convention of phone poles there...a burned-up excavator...portable toilets standing or seemingly parked on the side of the road, boats upturned or smashed in yards...downed trees...another narrow steel bridge ahead: Chef Menteur Pass. Across this is Fort Macomb.

This is another pie-slice-shaped fort, built along the same lines as Fort Pike, but it hasn't weathered the decades since its abandonment nearly as well. I couldn't get close enough to see much of its condition; there's a parking area between US-90 and the fort, but it was fenced off and I'm too much of a conformist to just hop or climb and go (maybe next time!). There used to be a marina along the south front; you can see the roof of it in the Google Map embedded in the fort's Wiki page. The entire ground-level of the building was torn out and half the slips contained sunken or half sunken boats hanging from their moorings. The marina lot had bits and pieces of other boats and--weirdest of all--the roof of a car. I still wonder if there was a car buried there and (this being Louisiana) who was in it.

I wandered around and took more pictures (remember--Pike & Macomb group)...and then there was the long drive home, coming in Part 3!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Road Trip: Stennis Space Center & Fort Pike, #1, part 1

This was the second-coldest day I've spent (second only to that bicycle ride to work) on the road as far as temperature, but this one seemed colder at times.

It was December of 2006; I'd been hoping to drive down to Kennedy Space Center to see the night-time shuttle launch sceduled for early that month. But things fell through with the other 3 guys who were supposed to be going, and I was the only one able to go--assuming I was willing to drive my '92 Tracker and camp in the damn thing.

If it were a hardtop, maybe. But it's a ragtop--and that zip-up rear window never zipped back after the one time I was able to get the zipper loose. I tried several things to at least make the window close up, if only to keep the neighbor's cats from shedding hair all over my seats. I ended up sewing bungee cords around the three free sides (the bottom is held to the tailgate by clips), then sewing fish-hooks with the barbs cut off to places around the opening.

Cats can't get in...but the weather isn't bothered. I have a tarp for that, but I can't drive the thing with the tarp up. That's an important detail.

Kennedy was out. I decided that I was going somewhere, but I didn't want to go to Fort Gaines or Fort Morgan. Had to be something new and reasonably close, so I picked Fort Pike in Louisiana and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, just because it was on the way.

Dec. 8th dawned freaking cold, something like 27F with a wind chill below zero and 15-20 mile per hour winds gusting to 25 to 30 out of the west. I loaded up the Tracker, hit the highway, and cranked that heater all the way up.

Good thing I had a coat and gloves. The heat felt good right at the vent, but from where I was sitting it might as well have been off. At least I was driving into the wind--but every time an 18-wheeler passed me, covering me in shadow, the temperature in the Tracker went down 20 degrees.

Interstate 10 is dead boring, an endless double-ribbon stretched between metropoli (or what passes for them in Florida), with little to catch the eye. The most interesting sight is probably the approach to Mobile, Alabama, as you're coming across the bay. This was a year and change after Hurricane Katrina sent a sizable storm surge up Mobile Bay. There used to be restaurants, gas stations, and such at the mid-bay interchange between I-10 and Highway 90, but most of those were reduced to skeletal steel or pilings and loose planks. The battleship USS Alabama had been rocked a noticeable amount, and one of the interchange ramps was knocked off its pilings. Through the Wallace Tunnel, through Mobile, past the I-65 interchange, and I-10 settles back down to its boring gray sleep-inducing self. Across the line into Mississippi, remembering a bumper sticker--"Paddle faster! I hear banjos!"...over the Pascagula River...amusement at the ever-present casino billboards: "Welcome to GAMBLE! GAMBLE! G A M B L E!!!!! Are you gambling yet?!"...interesting whisps of cloud, high up, catching my eye, and I try to get pictures, only to later realize that the camera was more interested in the Tracker's dirty window glass...Stennis is 11 miles away, now a mile...exit, a left, a right, winding access road to rest area.

Stennis Space Center's welcome center is part of the rest area. Not much there, aside from an impressive Apollo Lunar Module display, complete with the boot prints and signature of Apollo 13's Fred Haise.

The LEM looks pretty big when it's mounted several feet above your head. But it looks pretty small for something that took men down to the surface of an unfriendly moon much colder than I was feeling that day.

I was looking forward to seeing more and went to ask about the next bus to the Space Center itself.

Would you believe I missed the last farking bus? Yup. It left for the Center at 2:30 p.m. I probably passed it on the way into the rest area parking lot.

To Be Continued...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

One Year! (part 5)--The Homewrecker Tour!

Finally, after months of tweaking and poking, adjusting and sleeping late on weekends, I got to takemy little critter out for her first proper road trip. That's the Big Thing for me, since there's a lot out there on the road I want to explore. I've got that '92 Tracker, yeah, but it doesn't really work well on the highway--the engine howls above 55 mph or so, it's loud as hell in the cabin, and crosswinds are white-knuckle events. But that little yellow bugger has been along I-10 from New Orleans to Jacksonville, and it's never been unreliable. Even after it sits for a few months (because I'm driving the X-11), I can hop in, turn the key, and it starts immediately.

35 mpg on the highway doesn't hurt, either.

On Jan. 10th, I decided to celebrate the X-11's first year by taking her up on the highway and winding it out. Acceleration is smooth and effortless from a dead stop all the way up to 80; the engine growls, the transaxle whines, and there's only the light vibration from the front tires to mar that smoothness. The cockpit is comfortable and quiet.

The first leg of the trip: Fort Gaines, on Dauphin Island in Alabama. It's about 90 miles and I'm looking at less than a quarter tank--about 28 mpg highway! Considering that this is a carbureted motor, nearly 30 years old, neglected for 4 or 5 years (I'm assuming the previous owner didn't run it much after 2004, the last time it was registered--and given the stuff I had to fix to get it to run, it's a safe assumption), and running with the "High Output" cam and heads, that's pretty damn good.

There was only one snag on the way. Just over the Alabama line, some guy in a big Ford pickup went roaring by in the inside lane (I was cruising at about 70 in the outside). He had one of those plastic playhouses and some other junk in the bed. A pair of smaller trucks are behind him and there's a car a few hundred feet ahead of me. As Truck Guy is getting close to side by side with that car, a gust of wind blows over all of us...and picks the playhouse out of his truck like Dorothy's tornado. The thing flies apart as soon as it clears his roof, four walls and two roof sections blossoming outward. Two walls and a roof panel fall straight behind his truck, knocked down by turbulence, and they land flat on the road to be rolled over by the two followers. There's an impressive shower of splintered plastic and a loud "Cruh-CRUNCH!" from each truck.

But I'm busy.

One of the remaining wall panels spun off to the right, did a lazy roll and a flip, and settled down in my lane, spinning like a sawblade, leading me like a hunter sighting down on a duck. I hit the brakes and aim for the emergency lane...and it follows suit, spinning, spinning, and there's nowhere else to go. Another spray of splinters and my own "Cruh-CRUNCH!!" I didn't feel the big jounce I was expecting, or hear any expensive grinding noises. The only gauge that twitched was the speedometer, needle going lower. I sped up, passed Truck Guy (now pulled over in the median), and pulled over at the rest area to look over the car. No new dents, no leaks, no problem!

On to the fort. It guards the west side of the channel into Mobile Bay. Nice place, hadn't been there since 2007. I'll write about it sometime. I looked around for maybe 30 minutes, making a circuit of the place, then I saw the ferry coming.

Every 90 minutes, the ferry completes a round trip from Fort Gaines to Fort Morgan and back (or vice versa). It'd been a few years since the last time I took the ride either way. Why not?

It was cold and windy, but I had a blast, weaving from one part of the deck to another with a camera, trying for dramatic shots of the seagulls that swarmed the ferry's rear ramp. The other passengers were boring and safe: they stayed in their cars, missed out on the sea smell, the cries of the gulls...that's what the ride's supposed to be about! Cold and windy, yes, but that's what a jacket's for. I got my 16 bucks worth. All they got was a ride.

Fort Morgan sits at the east side of the channel into Mobile Bay at the end of a long finger of criminally overdeveloped rich peoples' land that gets redistributed whenever a hurricane comes sailing through. It's a nice place, too. Hadn't been there since 2006, either. I'll write about it, etc. etc.

Taking the ferry cut about 40 miles off my trip home. Mileage wasn't as good, though, since much of the trip has traffic lights. Call it 24 mpg. But the car handled the whole trip without falling apart, and I think we can call that the crowning achievement of the car's first year.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Movie: Back to the Future (trilogy)

1. BTTF (1985)
Rating: 5/5
Watch again? YES.
This past weekend, I went to a "Back to the Future" trilogy marathon at a friend's house. I'd been looking forward to seeing the first one, if only to see if it still held up to my memories of it.

Did it ever! Of course there's the DeLorean, and I was digging the mid-'80s ILM special effects. Back before all this computer-graphics stuff, the ILM guys were working with film to get the signature blue glow of the car's transition into time. It looks marvelous.

The story is straight forward: Marty McFly goes back to 1955 and has to find his friend "Doc" Emmett "GREAT SCOTT!!" Brown for help. In the meantime he meets his own parents and messes up their meeting. While Doc gets the DeLorean ready for its trip back to 1985, Marty has to bring his parents together--or he'll never exist!

Best acting of the three flicks, for the simple reason that everyone plays it straight. The humor just happens naturally, mostly hinging on Marty's fish-out-of-water status.

2. BTTF II (1989)
Rating: 2/5
See again? Nope.

I hate this movie. It's easily as bad as the book. The acting is all over-the-top and WHY THE HELL IS EVERYONE YELLING THEIR FREAKING LINES?! Everyone. Even the car is yelling, but in her case it's understandable--she's yelling at her stupid agent for getting her such a crappy gig. The humor is forced and much less smart than that of the original. I get the feeling that the director's entire pep talk to the cast was: "Remember, this is a comedy! Act funny! ACTION!"

This movie's bad enough that I'm surprised George "Your acting sucks, but we'll fix it in Post" Lucas wasn't involved.

The special effects suffer. The time-transfer effects on the DeLorean are much the same as in the first movie, but this one has some bad or awkward transitions from effects shots to real-world shots, or clumsy-looking real-world effects (the flying cars "landing" look like they're coming in nose-low and bouncing, but the miniature effects shots show the cars flying level and smooth).

Sadly, the book is faithful to the movie: it sucks, too. Just not as loud. And they both drag.

Marty and Doc go to the year 2015 to save Marty's kids from jail. Marty finds a sports almanac (1950 to 2000), hoping to make a few bucks--but Doc takes it and throws it away. Biff (the bully from the first movie, now an old man) grabs it, steals the DeLorean and goes back to 1955 to give himself a present that'll make him filthy rich. Doc & Marty have to go back to fix that...and then the DeLorean gets hit by lightning. Doc and the car 1885!

I'm adding two points because the movie's got a DeLorean in it.

3. BTTF III (1990)
Rating: 2
See again? Maybe.
Much more tolerable than its predecessor, but still not as good as the original. Marty--still in 1955--gets a letter from Doc, from 1885. The DeLorean's waiting in a mine outside of town, waiting for 1955 Doc and Marty to get it and repair the time circuits so Marty can go home to 1985. Doc tells him to destroy the time machine as soon as he's safely home, to keep from damaging the space-time continuum any further.

Marty finds Doc's 1885 tomb--just a few days after writing that letter, Doc dies! Of course Marty goes back to 1855 to save his friend. Biff the Bully's great-great-something-Grandfather is there, still a bully, but much more tolerable than that 2015 yelling moron. Like in the first flick, the supporting cast plays it straight and the humor's kind of there. But this movie just doesn't have the chemistry of the first, even though most of the same actors are in all three flicks. It's good enough to be a "4"...

BUT...this movie also commits an evil that has me knocking 2 more points off its score: the DeLorean is demolished at the end. Even if it's just a movie car, a wrecked replica, I don't care. I'm a Car Guy and DeLoreans are the holiest of holies in my top-ten list of cars. I can watch douchemobiles like BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche being crushed into cubes. Hell, I'd recommend it, since there are plenty of douchemobiles to go around. There aren't many DeLoreans left.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why I Hate Country, 2: Enough with the religion already.

As I've mentioned before, where I work, I don't own either of the radios in the shop. The two guys who do listen to the same country station, so there's nowhere to hide from it.


Shoveled in with the other unlistenable crap in the pile are...the religious songs. Maybe it's a one-shot line like "Jesus is my friend" or an utterly incorrect and manly assertion telling us that this is "one nation under gooooood--that's Americuh!"

But then there's the kind of sweet-sounding verse melody in Lee Ann Womack's cover of the laughable "There is a God."

The part that really makes me laugh:

Science says it's all just circumstance
Like this whole world's just an accident
But if you want to shoot that theory down,
Look around

Guess she told us. "Look around." Science does look around. Has been for a few centuries, now, and it's got a damn good track record compared to the knee-crawlers when it comes to answering some big questions, like why birds fly, why the sky is blue, how old the Earth is, what our ape ancestors might have looked like, how close a supernova needs to be before it's able to kill us all, and how we're related to all the other life on this rock. There's more, so much more, and Womack wants us to just go for the simple-minded "Gawd did it" and leave it at that.

The "zinger" in the chorus: "How much proof do you need?"

How much? Seriously? See if you can convince this being to come to me personally and talk to me. No middle-men. If he's all-knowing, he'll know what to say. Should be simple, for an "all-powerful" being.

It's amazing to me how much airplay this stuff gets. If a bridge or building needed the kind of shoring up that peoples' faith apparently needs, those structures would be condemned.

One Year! (pt. 4)

After the "no-code" conversion, I had to go back to the basics of engine operation, tuning and tuning, getting closer and closer to the combination of good idle, cruising power, and gas mileage I needed.

There were a few snags.

The most aggravating was an intermittant power loss: the engine would idle just fine, but as soon as I added a little gas it would bog down and die. The last time it did that, I was right near that damn cemetary where the car stalled juat weeks before. I had to crawl the car the rest of the way to work--foot off the gas, first gear, for maybe 3 miles. Going uphill was fun. It's a stick. Turns out the ignition timing was way off.

The other Big Snag came 28 days after I got the thing running. Hopped in to go to start.

Gas? Got gas in the tank.
Spark? yup.
Gas in the carb? Nope.

Fuel pump? Poured a little gas in the carb...started up fine, ran a minute...dead. Crap.

The engineering geniuses who built my car buried the fuel pump behind the lower radiator hose and a Y-shaped exhaust pipe. Oh, and the oil filter. No room to get a wrench on the fuel lines, no room to get my hands in there. Bastards.

Fine...looks like pulling the exhaust Y-pipe out will--SNAP! Crap. Broke one of the bolts, rusted soli--SNAP!! Crap, there went the other one. SNAP! ...and a third, on the back side of the engine.

Pipe's out of the way. Getting it back in...a little more work. Got the fuel pump out and replaced in 30 minutes. But this was about 4 weeks after I got started. In all, it took about 6 weeks (MUCH longer than it really should have, but my lazy ass didn't want to work on the car after work) to get the entire project done--fuel pump swapped, exhaust fasteners all replaced. Key's in the ignition....

Nope. I primed the carb, pouring a few ounces of gas into it...starts right up, runs a minute...dies.

Sounded great while it ran, by the way. But if it's not the fuel pump...I poked at the fuel hoses, which had been replaced in January. One of them seemed loose. When I tried tightening the clamp, gas went from dripping to pouring out. The more I tightened (not being gorilla-armed with it), the worse it got.

Not only was the fuel hose I was working on too big, but both hoses run right under the power steering pump. Pump's leaky. Steering fluid all over the lines, so they're kind of soft and spongy.

Swapped in new hoses. 160 days later, she's still cruising!

Good thing she can't laugh at me. All that work...and all it was was a couple of bucks' worth of hose.

Coming in Part 5: Road Trip!!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

One Year! (part 3)

So I found myself with a nearly-30-year-old car with fuel-delivery troubles. Running rich, rough idle, smooth idle but crappy cruise, stalling if my foot was off the pedal, fouling out the spark plugs, flooding, runaway engine, coughing soot on the would run beautifully to a restaurant, then take 35 minutes to get started. Stranded me three times.

That third time was the final straw. I was on the way to work. I stopped for my morning Sobe, got back in the car and back on the road. Within a quarter-mile, the engine starts to bog down--no power, black smoke, less and less response to the throttle, and then *clunk* it shuts down. Good thing it was at the top of a hill. I let it roll down, trying to start it, getting nothing. Coasted to a stop right in front of a little cemetary, cussing the car up one side and down the other.

Long story short: the constant flooding burned out the ignition module, which had been replaced a few days before (after the FIRST time I got stranded--and cussed the car). I replaced that one and it got me home, but oh man was I pissed off. I knew what the trouble was. There's this little piece of crap O-ring in the carburetor. If it's damaged, fuel can leak past it uncontrolled into the main fuel passage. I'd replaced the damn thing several times by this time, but the replacements could easily have been decades old or deteriorated from sitting in a hot warehouse.

I'm still playing around with ideas for eliminating that O-ring altogether. One was to make a lead casting that would fill the "well" this O-ring sits in, with a small passage through it for the bottom end of the mixture-control solenoid. Lead's got a low melting point, it's easy to work with, and it's easy to get from a tire shop: wheel balancing weights are made from it.

The down side? Well, it combines with combustion byproducts in the engine and kills ("poisons") the catalytic converter, rendering it unable to clean some of the pollution crud out of your car's exhaust. That's why tetraethyl lead was removed from gasoline in the States back in the '70s and '80s. Lead's out. Maybe aluminum or pot-metal. That's on the back-burner, because...

There's that last straw thing. The O-ring meant I couldn't get the engine settings where they needed to be, and without that, the engine computer was useless. So I went to my local U-Pull-It yard and grabbed the distributor and carb from an '85 Chevy S-10 Blazer, tore them both down and rebuilt them, and dropped them into the car. Her original parts are in storage, her computer unplugged: the S-10 items don't need a computer.

From stranding to parts yard to VROOM!! took about a month--and baby, she was allllright. There were hiccups (big one in Part 4), and it took about 6 months to get it all dialed in, since the big old Internet doesn't have a lot about setting up the non-computer carb or working out ignition timing for a non-computer distributor.

I do want to solve the O-ring problem, if only so that other folks with early-'80s A-, X-, and J-cars (Celebrity, Citation and Cavalier and their GM equivalents) can keep them running. That damn piece of rubber is what led me to park my '83...and what led to me having to sell the car for scrap when the County pricks nosed around. Rust or not, I would still be driving that one if I'd done the same S-10 carb swap.

That being said, I do like the non-computer setup. I've got more power and better mileage than I was getting under computer control.

Friday, January 8, 2010

One Year! (part 2)

Today (Jan. 8th, 2010) marks the anniversary of my '81 Citation X-11 being delivered. When I left off, I was releasing the delivery driver from the clutches of his remaining vehicle, a monstrous Ford Excursion or whatever the biggest of their SUV's is called.

I took a few minutes to look under the hood and get some pictures, and quickly found troubles. No headlights. No radiator cap, just a rag stuffed in the neck, and plenty of brown rust stains on the underside of the hood and down the sides of the radiator. No battery hold-down. No cowl-air induction "air box" (this diverts air from the hood scoop opening down to the second air cleaner snorkel; the denser, cooler air gives the engine a little more ooomph). Leak at the back of the brake master cylinder. Most of the vacuum lines missing, blocked off, or cracked and worn out. EGR valve disconnected. No AIR (smog) pump. The whole AIR system was missing. Gas cap broken.

As a plus, it was a legitimate X-11 and there was a K&N air filter in the air cleaner. Those are pricey.

By Saturday the 10th, I'd made up a list 4 pages long--stuff to fix, other stuff to check, and of course the list grew from there. A year later, I'm on the 4th revision of the list, which is maybe 3 pages, and there's a second one with the stuff that got done.

I've been pleased with how little of that second list required money, just some cleaning or adjustment.

By Jan. 23, I was still working on getting the engine to run. It was still doing the crank/catch/run a few seconds/quit thing, and it wasn't until I unplugged what was left of the vacuum lines and blocked the ports off that the problem went away. A little adjusting, and the offending part was working properly...and the engine caught and stayed running. Still sounded like hell, rough idle, shaking, smoking.

For the first time, I drove her. It was just out of the yard, out to the street, so I could turn the car around and park her properly nose-in (the delivery guy has backed the car into place). A small thing, but a success.

By the end of the month, the car had insurance and a tag; on Feb. 6, I drive it to work for the first time. Lots of fun--the little critter corners like a cat--but also some hassle. If I let off the gas while slowing down at a stoplight or to make a turn, the engine would die.

I fought the carburetor problem for another 3 months--I'd set it up, and within 2 days the problem was back. It would purr happily for a drive to lunch, then flood out to the point that the spark plugs were black with carbon. After being stranded three times--the last on Cinco de Mayo, on my way to work (car died in front of a cemetary)--I'd had enough.

Part 3, tomorrow.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

One year!

January 8th marks a year since the X-11 was delivered.

I first heard about the car for sale in early December, 2008, and immediately started working out how I was going to get it. Had to have it.

My cheapest plan involved me taking a Greyhound to Bradenton, Florida, then driving the beastie back to Pensacola. Then I was told that the car wasn't drivable--brakes, tires, and other problems.

Plan B: transport company. They pick up the car and deliver it, and you pay the driver. Out of a dozen companies, I narrowed it down quickly to three, all cheap, but still with better credentials than the two cheapest ones.

I tried for a loan; bank said "no." Bastages. I ended up cashing in a CD, sent the $1500 to the seller, and arranged for the trucking company to bring it up.

The next few days were hell; I didn't get a call as expected on Tuesday the 6th...or on the 7th. I was wondering if I'd been scammed. Then my cellphone went off at 7:00 Thursday morning (woke me up) and a Hispanic guy told me he was in town, stopping for a quick breakfast, and would be driving up in a few minutes.

I was out of bed and out the door, and to hell with the 30-minute wait. I paced, I moved my Tracker out of the way (that spot's where I used to park my old Citation), and paced some more.

The guy finally pulled up, driving a big-ass duallie Ford with at least 30 feet of trailer. I got my first look at the X-11, nestled in ahead of a 4-door Expedition:

I inspected the car once he turned the rig around and got that monster Expedition out of the way. No headlights? Smelly upholstery from years of leaking sunroof...some ugly patches of rust...filthy...she looked pitiful sitting there.

The driver hopped up and loosened the tie-downs, then got in the car and did the exact freaking thing I didn't want ANYONE doing: he cranked it.

The car had been sitting for years. I didn't want to risk engine damage, and I had some things to do before it was cranked--making sure the piston rings were lubed so they wouldn't score the cylinders, pre-lubing the engine by running the oil pump so the crank and cam bearings wouldn't get fubar'd.

And here's this guy doing what I'd asked the company not to do. By that point, I figured it was too late--any damage had been done, either right then or in Bradenton when he drove it onto the trailer.

The starter whined, the engine cranked and caught...and died. It took the guy maybe 5 minutes of that--whine, crank, catch, die--to get the car to back 20 feet, then off the trailer, then into the driveway, then a little further, and finally--FINALLY!--into her spot. Holy crap, the engine sounded horrible, like a sick Diesel (knock, knock, knock, knock...pretty expensive sounds). Plenty of black smoke (old gas? Bad gas? Carb's out of adjustment?).

But I didn't care.

I paid the man and we parted ways. Well, I did. He still had to get that Expedition back onto the trailer. And I had to get ready for work.

My cellphone was ringing when I shut off the shower. It rang again while I was drying off, and again while I was dressing. I finally answered.

It was the driver: he'd gotten the Expedition up on the trailer...but he'd locked himself in.

See how little space there is between the doors and the trailer uprights? He couldn't open his door to get in or out, so he went in through the rear hatch, which snicked shut. Good thing he had his phone.

Too bad I didn't take my camera out there. [evil grin]

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why I Hate Country, 1: Pocahontas

I've hardly made it a secret that I seriously dislike country 'music'; I've been trying to get a post together to codify my reasoning, but today I realized that there's the one big reason and a few smaller ones.

Where I work, there are two radios, both tuned to the same horrendous country station, both turned up so that there's no escape from Carrie Underpants, Travis Trite, or the hideous nasal yowlings of the Sugarland Beast unless one goes outside (which I get to do for most of the day!). But they're not the big reason.

Let's call her "Pocahontas." She was my first girlfriend, my first first a lot of things. We met at a Halloween party in 1994 and quickly got into a long-distance relationship: me in Pensacola, she in Tallahassee, barely 200 miles away. Lots of letters, a few breathless phone calls (the first one cost me about a hundred bucks...after that we kept them short), and a total of two weeks in actual physical proximity, spread out over five and a half months. I didn't care. She was everything I'd ever dreamed of or wanted, and all that.

I didn't know enough to keep a hand on the brakes, never knew what being "in over my head" really meant, and was unprepared for what was coming.

She's not "the one who got away." She's the one who walked away, right into the arms of Mr. Perfect, her on-and-off-and-on-and-off high-school sweetheart who conveniently returned to town, fresh from a Moron--er, Mormon--soul-saving mission.

I got The Letter and The Phone Call in April of 1995. I didn't have enough sense to just make a clean break--"good bye, don't call." Nope. I bought into the "still be friends" horseshit and proceeded to make myself miserable and near-suicidal for another two years. She's going to get tired of him and come back...she's not REALLY going to marry him...she dumped him! but who's this other guy? she's mad at both of them....

I finally got some backbone and told her to either come back or stay away. Well, it was an email, but for me that's pretty direct.

So where does that noxious country racket come into this?

Think about it: the wailing pedal steel, the crying-in-your-beer love songs, the burning-your-ex's-pictures break-up songs, the freaking mood it sets just puts me right back into that time, whether I want to be there or not. That one at the link is one I heard a lot in 1995. Bad, bad year.

I don't want to be reminded of her or Number Two all the time. I've finally reached a point--after more than a decade--where neither of them occupies my thoughts the way they used to. Yeah, every now and then I'll pop a name into Google to see if something shows up, or make a note for a Blog topic, or whatever, but those events are under my own control.

Monday, January 4, 2010

My coldest Winter.

As I sit in a nice, warm room, watching the thermometer drop into the 20's (F, not C), I'm reminded of the coldest bike ride I've ever taken.

But--as with most of my scribbles here, we need some back-story.

It was January, 1996. Tallahassee. About 5 months before, I'd moved to town and took up a room in an apartment. The main tenant--let's call him Roomie--seemed friendly enough, but I quickly learned that he had some sort of deal worked out with his landlord. The rent would stay low as long as Roomie didn't ask for many repairs--especially to the heating/air-conditioning unit.

The apartment was basically a cinder-block box. I was forbidden from opening windows or even the drapes, because Roomie didn't want people seeing (and 'liberating') his computer. The place was a freaking oven in August. In January, it became an icebox.

...And that's when my car died, leaving me to get around town on a 10-speed. I was working for a nationally-known inventory company at the time, and for any job site within 20 miles of town we were expected to drive ourselves. Fair enough.

On the Coldest Day, my team would be counting a clothing store in Governor's Square Mall, beginning at 6 a.m. I woke up at 4:30. Painfully cold. It was around 17F with a wind chill below 0F. Very quick shower. Long johns, work shirt, pants, sweater, heaviest coat, doubled gloves, and I'm on the road...pitch black outside, the sun still sleeping...uphill on Miccosukee Rd to Georgia St...right on Hillcrest, left on Alachua, still straining uphill (the apartment rests in a bowl--getting out is all uphill)...right on Magnolia, finally seeing some street lights, but feeling as though there's never been any heat in the world...south on Magnolia, left on Simpson and finally, the Mall...a cluster of cars near one entrance, lucky bastards with their heaters...a pair of Mall Cops, here, and my hands are hooks on the handlebars, my feet aren't answering the phone, and I have no ears anymore...dismounting is painful, walking more so as feet wake up and call me back, ranting abuse...walking into the Mall, pushing the bike, starting to feel other forgotten body parts...I find the store.

I was on that bike for about a month and a half before the car--a 1976 Impala wagon--got replaced by the '83 Citation. But I was never that cold again.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 was a Good Year.

For all the political crap from stupid teabaggers and spineless Democrats, for all the economic troubles and joblessness, for all the crappy Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Hannah Montana stuff, for all the "it's all about ME, ME, ME!!" crap from the brainless Wonder Twin beauty queen team of Prejean and Palin, there were some awesome things in 2009.

The fortieth anniversaries of four different Apollo missions. That's 12 badassess who have yet to be topped:
McDivitt, Scott, Schweickart (Apollo 9, 3/13/1969)
Stafford, Young, Cernan (Apollo 10, 5/18/1969)
Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin (Apollo 11, 7/16/1969)
Conrad, Gordon, Bean (Apollo 12, 11/14/1969)

USAirways 1549 took a swim in the Hudson River; no one died. A highly-trained pair of pilots brought that bird in after the engines were disabled by bird-strikes. Another couple of bad-asses.

We got our first Black president. No, he's not perfect, he's not a savior; he's just a man. I hope he doesn't turn out to be a complete scumbag. At least he's managed to get the Dems AND the Dirtbag Party pissed off at him. That's kind of bad-ass, isn't it? Oh, and there's that Nobel Peace Prize thing. That's bad-ass. Hope he earns it.

The other good side of the Obama coin: W--The Worst got his sorry ass out of the White House. Eight years of the back end of the horse finally ended. Unfortunately, his female soul mate from Alaska won't go away. Can't have silver linings on all the clouds, I guess.

The big thing for me: getting that X-11. In just a week, it'll be a year since I got that little car--and in that year I've seen it go from dirty and incapable of moving under its own power to 25 mpg in the city and a little less rust. She's got a long way to go--that leaky sunroof and windshield will lead to much worse if I don't get them fixed--but she's coming along a hell of a lot better than I had any reason to expect. I just fix one thing at a time.