Saturday, August 15, 2015

Another $30 won't hurt

Especially after the $400 I sunk into the fuel pump assembly last month.

Here's that long story short:

I replaced the fuel pump, with the expensive gasket set, got it all back together and... it runs the same.  Smooth, stumble. Smooth, stumble. Dang.

A little more:

  1. When you have to fix something automotive, remember that someone else has fixed the same exact thing before and documented it.
  2. You could search the internet for the forums and the discussions but, you're better off if you simply...
  3. Start your search on YouTube.  You're going to end up there anyway.  Save some time.
  4. My thanks to George in Texas, whoever you may be, for your humor, sound shade-tree mechanic's methods, excellent use of old comforters, some good classic rock, and some well placed expletives.  I owe you a beer.

I spent the weekend sitting cross-legged in my trunk doing the chinese puzzle that is sliding and twising the fuel-pump assembly back into place.  I even bought a $20 usb, led-lit, powered camera "boroscope,"** and watched myself slide the male and female bits in the tank into position and then... mate.  I felt kinda dirty.

Along the way I built a tool, helping finish the job and separating me from the monkeys.  There's nothing like fashioning your own tool.  In this case, it was a 1x6 ripped into a 1x2, with two bolts drilled through it to grasp and turn a large lid on the fuel pump assembly.

All put back together, I still couldn't start the damned car or manually prime the pump.  It was a very strange experience, largely due to a very strange design.  It turns out that the fuel pump assembly gets primed by adding fuel in from the filler cap.  Once I dumped in a a couple of gallons of fuel, I was able to get it moving from the pump to the filter in line.  From there it was a set of stages; through the filter, and up the line to the engine high-pressure line.

Once I had that going for me, I had a leaking line-in to the filter issue to deal with, but was able to sand the original crush washers which bookend the fuel filter and snug it up.

Varoooooom, quiet, steady idle.  I cleaned up shop, put tools away, and took her for a quick test drive.

It is a joy to fix something.

The engine still misses, so the fuel filter and pump was a $400 excursion to nowhere.  Except that I'll probably never need to do that again.  And if I do, I have the spare, original pump handy.


And so,

On our way to church this afternoon, another of our fine vehicles, the steadfast 2000 Chevy Venture, developed a stumble.  Very much a misfire.  Could it be the original plugs or wires that I've never changed in its fifteen-year life?*  Might it be an electronics box? 

Best to hook up an OBD2 cable and pull some codes.  Or go to Autozone and have them do it.  But I'm both cheap and curious, and I have an OBD2 usb cable somewhere around here and the internet's gotta have free software...

Which led to internet searches and a couple of freeware obd2 downloads.  Neither could connect to the Chevy's computer, but both hooked right up on the A8.  Go figure.  One even had real-time readouts of engine RPM, coolant temperature, and vehicle speed.  This in the freeware version!  The other was the same software I've been saving my old PC for all these years.  I guess I can wipe its drive like C3PO and give it away now.  I've gained a cubic foot in the basement!  It told me that I had an intermittent misfire in cylinder 5.

Huh.

Sounds like the problem I had back in February, when I had a very non-intermittent misfire in cylinder 4.  The fix for that was a $40 Ignition Control Module from Amazon.  This time around, they're down to $30.

Another $30 into the A8 won't hurt.  Maybe it'll fix it. 

Which would give me time to save up for something newer.  This is striking my fancy this week:


Because I like weird cars.  And this is a beautiful weird car.

I'd better get that Venture fixed, though.  I'll probably buy myself a hand-held OBD2 tool on the way home and verify that it is the plugs and wires, and start the process of rotating my engine forward.  That car only has to last... oh, a few years more.  I just bought new tires for it.  And waxed it.

* What?  It's a transverse mounted V6.  You change 'em!  Getting to those rear plugs involves removing engine mounts and rotating (I prefer the term tilting) the engine forward with a ratchet strap.  Looking up the procedure (on YouTube. See item 3 above), I had to laugh at the first commentator's quip, "I've come to the conclusion that my mechanic lied when he said he changed all the spark plugs."
** For looking into piston bores and such.  The kids laughed when I stuck it in my mouth, nose, ears.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tyranny of the Fuel Pump

I had a financial epiphany a few months ago.

Perusing the local craigslist with a martini in hand, I came across an 04 Audi S4 for sale locally.  Red. Single owner, professional, female, all maintained.  New tires.  Reasonable price.  Pull-me-over-red. I mentioned it to Mrs. Toadroller and she was game.  Excited, even. It's red. We had the cash, so...

A week later it was ours and it is what a 350 hp, 6 speed manual, all wheel drive sport sedan should be.  Wicked-pissah fast and fun.  The financial epiphany was recognizing it for what it is: a toy.  The kind that gets taken out on Sundays, is maintained well, and is just a neat thing to have.  It's not core transportation.  It's nice to have a toy car, and it's a financial luxury to be able to look on it that way.

Nature, however, doesn't like a man to own five road-going vehicles* and therefore punishes him by making sure something is wrong with at least one of them at all times.  I call it carma.

Cue the  A8, she of oil cooler and ignition control module fame, to have a sporadic stumble in her engine.  It's been there since January, letting me know that something-will-be-wrong and I'll-reveal-myself-when-the-time-is-right.  In the mean time, I've continued my long drives around northern New England for business and pleasure.  In last week's heat and heavy traffic,** she got a little more insistent that bad-news-is-coming and I turned my thoughts to what it could be.

Friday night into Saturday morning, I woke up at 4:00 AM and it was clear that my brain wanted me to work on things.  I wasn't going to get back to sleep.  Ah, well, the British Open was on, so I went downstairs to watch.  Howling winds meant no golfing coverage, so I researched fuel delivery problems on the various Audi fan clubs on the interwebs and saw a few posts referring to replacing the fuel filter every 30k miles or so.  Shit, I've had this car for 170k of its 245k and I know I've never replaced the fuel filter.  Worth a shot.  Youtube videos of the procedure? Check!  Available to buy on line, pick up in store from Autozone in the morning? Check!  Half an hour job? Check!

Four days later...

The fuel filter was simple.  Simply remove a protective cover near the rear passenger wheel, unbolt supply and egress lines, slip in new filter, re-bolt supply and egress lines with new crush washers and... nuthin.  Crankety-crank-crank-crank, no start.  This car has had its problems, but starting has always been crankety-crank, vroooOOOOOoooommmmmm.  No fuel at engine.  Diagnose the fuel line as good to the engine (yum, the taste of gasoline; won't be the last time for me).  Direct wire the fuel pump, which is located in the gas tank and accessed from the trunk to discover that it spins and gurgles, but doesn't spit.  It might be sucking some air in the tank instead of fuel given the angle I had the car jacked to, but I jacked it back up on the other side to "drain the sinuses" back to the pump and still no go-juice flowing through the fuel lines.

So a fuel pump problem?

I had the fuel pump on this car replaced by a local garage about two years ago.  Expensive Audis have expensive parts, and the whole fuel pump assembly can be had new for just over a thousand dollars.  Being frugal at the time,*** I found a used fuel pump assembly from a scrapper for something like $600 and paid the local garage labor to put it in... $1000 job.  It's a weird, unique assembly, and apparently it's tricky to do.

Guess who gets to do it again?

Fortunately, it turns out that it's a fuel pump assembly, which means parts are assembled together, which means it can be disassembled and these parts can be individually replaced.  $171 for the fuel pump motor, which is the source of all this trouble, and *gasp* $184 for the gasket kit comprised of two o-rings, a few crush washers, and one uniquely shaped gasket.  Ouch, but not $1000-for-the-assembly ouch.

Well, if you put a thousand dollars into a thousand dollar car and all you have when you're done is a thousand dollar car, you might be stupid.  Or you might have a new hobby.  If you put $400 at a time into a $1000 car, you're probably just trying to get the most out of a pretty decent set of tires with a lot of tread left.  I'm all three. I also happen to love the car.


Stay tuned as I document the R&R. Half of the parts have arrived already, and I've been spending an hour or two at a time in the garage during the evening, methodically extracting the assembly from the trunk.  No rush.  We have a toy car to get around in.


*The S4, an A4 that the eldest Toadroller kind of took over as his primary transportation, an aging Chevy Venture for hauling all the Toadrollers to church on Sundays, my Suzuki 2-wheeled fun, and of course, my thousand dollar car, the A8, who has been documented in these pages before.  And will be again.
** I495 north around Boston, 95 degrees, 1:30pm, an hour and a half to go twenty miles. I don't know how people live in urban, populous ares.  I really don't.

*** Mrs. Toadroller insists that the proper term is cheap

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Long Goodbye

It was probably summer 1998, but it was specifically in Colorado Springs, coming down Vindicator to turn left onto Rockrimmon in my aging 88 Audi 90, when the first first-generation Audi A8 I ever saw, an Emerald Pearl,* crossed my path.

Woah.

I knew of them, and had even seen pictures on the then new-fangled word-wide-web thingy, thanks to Nestcape Navigator; but in the flesh?  Stunning.  Top of the line. Expensive.  I desired one and entertained the thought that some day, who knows how far into the future, this would be the car that I would have.

It was likely summer of 1999, but it was specifically in Mahwah, NJ, outside the Macaroni Grille on Route 17 North, that I had occasion to walk around a Brilliant Black** one, peering in the driver's window and admiring everything on that gorgeous instrument panel, even the fonts on the speedometer that read up to 160 mph.

It was late December, 2002, when my relatively-recently purchased 94 Audi 100 CS was turned into by, well, an idiot.  My insurance company inexplicably found me at fault and I found myself, recently off of a decent commission check, at a dealership looking at a five year old Ming Blue*** with some 73k some odd miles on it for $18,900.

This had been a $65,000 car five years earlier.  It was my dream. Smoothly accelerating to 60 in mere moments out of a traffic light in Golden, CO, the decision was made.

She was mine.

Leather, summer and winter packages, heated seats all around, all the modern conveniences of what is, ironically, a modern pre-turn-of-the-millenium executive sedan.

We commuted. We went skiing. Months of nights were spent in airport parking garages awaiting my return. Highway cruises. Canyon runs. Winter drives over snow-pack.  Quattro, quattro, quattro.  The occasional drag race with the unsuspecting (and shocked!) Mustang or similar. Many a long drive home, late at night, after a long week of business.  Idling in rest areas for quick naps. Negative 17 fahrenheit in the deep cold of winter. Pulled over a time or three. And ever the joy of her 300 horses and 300 torque, pulling, pulling, pulling.  "Scotty, I need more power!" "She's giving you all she can, captain!"

Wash, clay-bar, rub, glaze, wax, buff, amaze.

It will probably be fall of 2015, but it will specifically be a love affair of 175,000 miles, twelve and a half (and more) years, across the country and around the northeast, through transmissions, drive-shafts, fuels pumps, tires innumerable, brake-pads and rotors, and a lot of oil, brought crushingly to an end when she dies.

The symptoms are shudders and gasps, hesitations and asthmatic idles; windshield squirters that don't, turn signals that no longer cancel when the turn is done, arm-rests gone missing, and a radio whose antennae was decapitated in the automatic car wash more than a decade past.

She's old.  She's tired. Her niece and nephew, an A4 and an S4, have taken over her home in the garage but are still chided for their brashness and lack of refinement by comparison with this regal grand dame of German engineering.

Merc, Beemer, you know she caused you to up your game. She is a D2 A8; her vanity plate says QUA8RO; she is my car.

Her time grows short.  When, how will we say goodbye?

* Paint code LZ6U M6, Emerald pearl effect, it turns out.
** Paint codeY9B A2, Brilliant Black.  I was in Mahwah, doing consulting work for Becton Dickinson on a prototype insulin injection pen, where one of the people I worked with there mentioned his father had purchased one.
*** Paint code LZ5L Q5 Ming blue pearl effect.  It's black, but really it's blue, but really it's metal-flak purple-hued blue when all gussied up.

Monday, June 1, 2015

"Unfettered capitalism"

Nothing frustrates me more than lamentations about "the evils of unfettered capitalism."

It's an uninformed, misguided perspective, used either naively to surrender or with malice to coerce.

Ponder these questions.  If you can answer the first one, you can answer the rest:

  • What is capitalism?
  • Is capitalism immoral?
  • Is capitalism amoral?
  • What is the opposite of capitalism?
    • Is that immoral?
    • Is that amoral?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Justification for homeschooling


From our local Superintendent of Schools:

Developing educational programming that supports the learning and success of all students remains a major focus.  Teachers are developing and improving instructional strategies, while alternative education programs provide students a variety of ways to meet standards. District principals and math and literacy coaches are facilitating instructional rounds in which teachers study teaching practices to fine-tune their work.  Coaches are helping implement workshop models of instruction in which teachers meet with small groups of students to work on specific topics while others practice new skills.
What a load of crap.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Escalator Ride

Living through debt is like walking up the down escalator.
Living without debt is walking up the up escalator.

What happens on your escalator ride when you stand still?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Fundamentals

At the core of human liberty is the right to property. 

Social/economic systems can be easily judged by their recognition of human dignity through the respect of personal property.  What is yours may not be taken from you.

At the root of human salvation is the concept of a higher power: God.

In reconciling these concepts of human liberty and human salvation, the individual must recognize stewardship.  All belongs to God, yet the individual has a responsibility for it.

The State is not God.  The State is not a higher power. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Single Bypass Surgery: Closing her up

Oil cooler in.  Alternator back on.  Air box and new air filter in.  All spark plugs replaced (first time ever??).  New serpentine belt.  New oil filter.

Front end reattached.  Fender reattached.  All the plumbing in place.  Oil added. Some coolant added as a test.

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

WTF?

I went underneath, looked at my oil cooler and there it is:

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

Coolant.

I went upstairs, sat down and talked with Mrs. Toadroller.  "This might be the end of it. I mean, it might be the water pump; the oil cooler might have a crack, I don't know."  Plans for another car.  Plans for next week when I need to go to the airport and leave the family with only one car and two people with places to go.

I took a break, ate some lunch, and determined to look around one more time.  Flashlight, mirror, poking around all the places that are impossible to reach.  Nuthin.  Back underneath and it's all coming from somewhere up there and accumulating on that lowest bolt and dripping.

That lowest bolt.

Wait.

That's the bolt for draining the coolant out of the oil cooler in the first place.  Is it tight?  I doubt it.  It's a chance.  10mm socket, ratchet. fingers crossed.  Turn. Yep, it's loose.  Snug, wipe, watch.

As Tortelvis* says, "Hot damn tamales Charlie!"  I got it.

Back to the checklist.  More coolant in.  Battery connected.  Pray the new spark plugs work.  Turn key.

Familiar and reassuring Audi V8 catch, engine swell, and settle into a surprisingly quiet idle.

She's back, baby!  Gentle ride up the road and back, then further around and about, adding coolant as it needs, consuming and getting it pulsing through its veins.

The engine loves the new plugs, belt, and air filter.  Drop from fourth to second and 300 German horses call upon 300 German lb-feet of torque and they combine to achieve warp speed.

reader-engagement-make-it-so.jpg

My renewed man card arrived in the postthe next week.

Thousand dollar car repaired for roughly $90 and, oh, 14 hours of personal labor; hopefully happy for the next year.  We'll see what 2015 brings.

*Gosh I love those first two Dred Zeppelin albums

SIngle Bypass Surgery: Exploratory

Post two in the series about removing and replacing a small plastic tube between the engine and the oil cooler in the beast that is my 1997 Audi A8:

Step one, Remove.

A healthy dose of patience paid off on this one.  After removing the front end of the car, I methodically got the serpentine belt off, then took another session and got the alternator out of the way, then drained all the oil out of the bottom of the engine and the oil cooler itself.

The next step was to get the oil cooler itself out, which involved loosening an engine mount, jacking up the engine just a few inches to get me access to three allen-headed bolts at the top of the thing, hidden under the exhaust manifold and holding the oil cooler onto the engine block.  The first bolt was the bastard.  You need a hex-head socket plus a three inch extension pus a universal plus a breaker bar plus some contortionist leverage to turn it.

Hex-Head-Sockets-Metric-Standard-Length.

Trouble was, in trying to get the hex socket into the bolt head, I never felt like I had a good connection.  And if I screwed this bolt up, I might as well throw the car away.  It's not worth paying to fix; I could buy another.  It's a thousand dollar car.  Anyway, with my mirror and flashlight I could tell the bolt looked a little mangled.

I gave it time.  I sprayed it with liquid wrench.  I tool an awl and poked around, trying to clear maybe some sand from the inside of the bolt head.  I tapped it as best I could in the small space I had to work.  All the usual bolt-freeing techniques.  Until I remembered heat.  How in the heck am I going to get any heat way down in there?  And without setting fire to all the oil on the engine?  Can't use a propane torch.  Can't imagine a soldering iron convecting enough heat back there.  Convection!  That's it! Cue Mrs. Toadroller's manly heat gun:

PC299427_zpsce734514.jpg

I got the socket and extension onto the bolt, then blasted away at the extension for about five minutes, letting the socket and extension conduct the heat up into the bolt.  I got what felt to be a good grip on the bolt and slowly, steadily applied pressure until ping! It gave way.  Good or bad, I was committed.  I ratcheted it up a few more times and it felt like a bolt turning.  My mirror sure seemed to indicate it was.  And so it came free.  Bolts two and three were in view and much easier to access and remove.  Down below for bolts four and five.  Ten minutes of wiggly-wiggly and voila, the cooler and the culprit:

PC299428_zpsd385a39f.jpg

PC299432_zps06ddd4a2.jpg


She found her spark

It's still February and it's still friggin' cold.  My garage, which has a heat blower in it, isn't warm.  The heater keeps it mid thirties, which is good enough for the cars and melts the snow off of them.  To work on the car, though, I put on an old pair of snow-pants, an old ski-jacket, a pair of boots and a winter hat, and then putter around with work-gloves and tools.  Good times indeed.

In diagnosing what feels like an engine problem on a big old Audi, the internet proves be a scary place.  All sorts of crazy theories about engine breather hoses and pumps, oxygen sensors sending bad data, throttle body sensors messing up transmission control modules; it's frightening out there.  But then there's the "what's the simplest possible explanation?" approach.  The simplest possible explanation was that it was mis-firing, hitting on seven of the eight. 

So in I went.

The very old computer I keep around for the sole purpose of plugging into this car once a year as it’s the only computer I have with a serial port for my cable to connect to the car’s diagnostic port, this very old computer which will boot once out of every three tries and whose password is written in sharpie on its side so I don’t forget it, this very old computer for which I don't have a PS2 mouse but  do have a PS2 keyboard, this very old computer without a working internet card, this one, well, I managed to get her talking to the car and to dump all her fault-codes into a text file and onto a usb stick to print upstairs on the newer computers.  Without a mouse, windows is a prestidigitous combination of alt-tabs, shift-tabs and tab-tabs to fire through menus.  Difficult.

Among the numerous codes warning of low voltage here, bad sensors there, was listed "misfire in cylinder 4."  Ooh, I liked the sound of that.  So off I went swapping out coil packs and plugs from cylinder 4 with cylinder 3 to test but then, lo and behold, the battery died.

I mean died.

I couldn't even jump the car, it was so dead.  Sure, the battery was eight years old, but come on, it had to choose this exact moment in time to give up?  Was the problem the alternator not giving enough juice to spark well?  If there's something sinister broken in the engine, is it worth it to risk $160 for a new battery to find out?  Back to the internet, back to work for a week.  Back to crazy theories.  Could there be bad compression in a cylinder?  How do I do a leak down test anyway?  Do I need to buy a compression testing kit?  Will AutoZone lend me one?

Mrs. Toadroller knows how to cut through the crap.  "Buy the battery.  If the car's gone, it's only $160 bucks.  If the car can be fixed, you'll need it anyway."  I headed off to Auto Zone.  And came back with the battery and a borrowed compression tester. After forty-five minutes I'd wrestled the battery into its snug little compartment, cursing some German engineers along the way.  I fired her up.  The alternator was putting out as it should.  The car was still mis-firing.  Back to diagnostics.  It's only cylinder 4.  Swap out the coils and plugs and it's always cylinder 4.  So my problem was upstream of the coil packs.  Could it be the wiring harness? Internet, what's the deal?

I found a thread on one of the Audi fan forums where someone had the same issue as me.*  Solution: Ignition Control Module (ICM), which seems to act as a modern-day electronic distributor from the engine control module to each cylinder's coil.  $150 from Auto Zone or $42 no-name with positive reviews from Amazon Prime.  Diagnosis requires a digital multi-meter.  The analog Radio Shack ohm-meter I've had for the last 25 years just couldn't handle the range.  Fortunately, Radio Shack was having a going-out-of-business-sale and I got their mac-daddy digital multi-meter for $40.  Sweet.  The thing even has a temperature sender, a decibel meter, and will plug into your USB port with software to operate like an o-scope.  I have no need for an o-scope, and I've never used one (shame on me), so I should learn to do that. 

I pulled the ICM and tested it with the new digital multi-meter.  One of the prongs read open when it should have read 2.5M ohms.  Okay Amazon, send me the new part, let's take the chance.  Two days later a brown truck stopped at the house.  I ripped open the package, took a cold look at the replacement ICM, dressed up for the garage, opened the hood, screwed it down, plugged it in, and had one of the little Toadrollers turn the engine over while I checked for spark by laying the plug against the block while holding it into the spring-loaded coil pack with thick rubber gloves. 

Boy, it’s quite the journey for a V8 to cycle through all of its cylinders twice before you get to the spark on the ignition-stroke.  “Wheedidee, wheediddee, wheedidde, PING!”  Yep, that’s a spark where before there was none.  Thrilled, I put everything else back together, plugged the fuel-pump relay back into place, and opened the garage. After a quick prayer I turned the key, Vroom! I placed her into reverse, scuttled up the ice covered driveway and, with horn-a-honkin’, took her up and down the street for a test ride.

She's back and should be good for another year. 

* I almost never start a new thread anywhere about anything when trying to solve a problem.  Someone has very likely been there, done that before me and documented the fix.  Usually on YouTube.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Single Bypass Surgery


The next few posts document an adventure I went on to get my Audi running in December 2014, only to have her develop the shakes and shudders in February, a problem still under diagnosis.

Enjoy.

Since aught-two* my main drive has been a 97 Audi A8. I had a 94 Audi 100 before that,** but some bitch hit me and that was that.  I picked up the A8, a $65K sticker car, five years old and a spry 73k miles on the clock, for $18,900.  It was either that or a new 4-banger Accord with cloth interior.

Having enjoyed $(KGrHqEOKpwE1q0Fg0g7BNlUnHe63w~~_35.JPGsince my 83 GTI, I went with the Audi.

It's further depreciated in the last twelve years, to the point where it's worth a whopping $1000.00.  To make the impact of its throw-away status more visceral, I recently stopped to check out a snow-mobile for sale by the side of the road.  It too was a '97.  They wanted $1500.00 for it.

Ouch.

A few weeks back, the low-coolant indicator played its little animated dance for me and I topped up.  a week later, low again.  By a lot.  Huh.  Well, that explains the puddle under the car.  I guess it wasn't melting snow.

So here we sit with 239K miles on the beast, good tires, all major systems functioning, new tie rods and drive shafts, new brake pads and rotors all around,*** and a weepy cooling system in a thousand dollar car.

Shit.

But I'm a sucker for a lost cause and, though I'm not cheap, I am frugal.  I floated the idea of selling the car for its $1000.00 value past Mrs. Toadroller who, before I could finish saying "...and buy something else," strongly suggested fix it.

And so over the next few weeks, an hour or two at a time, I dug into the front end of the car - bumper, radiator, engine-belt covers and more - on an epic journey to what I hoped was the broken $20 part (internet wisdom, experience, and guidance point this way) to remove, replace, and re-assemble in order to gain another year or two of service from this fine automobile who has given me warm buns, great winter traction, and an amazing driving experience over this last decade+two, from Colorado to Maine and around points throughout the northeast including NJ, upstate NY, NH, Montreal, CT, MA, NH and more...

Wish me luck, though I do tend to enjoy this sort of challenge.  It instills confidence and helps me tackle other deeds.  Experience is knowledge and all that.

Here she was after day one of my efforts. 
PC159117.JPG
























*man, I miss the aughties
** and a Subaru SVX before that, and an Audi 90 before that...So I like weird things.  What of it?  The SVX was fun. Fast, quiet, unique.  The brakes sucked.
*** guess what I did last year during Christmas season?  It's okay, I got a great car jack and some other good tools from the experience.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Well, that was an adventure

Of a Thursday afternoon I headed down to Portland on my way through to Trumbull, Connecticut, a 300 mile drive, to spend Friday with a customer.  Along the way I'd agreed to help a friend and stop in at Portland Percussion in pursuit of a rare Dean Soltero model electric guitar, USA-built, in korina. A Dean Soltero is an interesting spin on the classic Les Paul single-cut style.  I'd never heard of a Soltero myself, and as Dean guitars tend to have a pretty radical V shaped headstock to match their radical V-shaped models, I'd never much cared for them: 


But a Soltero is a different story:

That's pretty.


It was cold and snowy, for which Maine has a penchant in January and February.   ...And December and November and March and friggin' April too.  Sometimes October but rarely May.

I followed my GPS-phone's guidance to Portland Percussion and parked up against a snowbank, stepped out into the surface street's crawling evening traffic near the location my phone felt I should see my destination on the right, and was unable to find it.  Portland Percussion is back behind the buildings that front the road, down near water, and is hard to see.  I had difficulties finding it on my previous visit a few years back.  This time proved no different.  I eventually walked into a bar looking for help and the lady behind the counter looked up at me as she laid down her pack of Newport Lights.

Me: "can you tell me where in the world I'll find Portland Percussion?  I know it's here."
She: "Oh, he moved.  Got flooded out in August.  Now he's in the park near Riverside."
Me: "Where's that?"
She: "Oh, go through the big intersection, follow Warren Avenue,  past two, no, three sets of lights.  Then under the over-pass.  Then a right.  Just beyond the Harley dealership.  I think."
Me: "So they've moved?"
She: "Yeah.  Oh, you're parked the wrong way.  Saw you walk past a few times." 
Long Mainer story short,* they'd moved.

But I have a phone and, as has been mentioned before, it has a GPS.  I called, listened patiently as they explained about flooding in August, moves to new locations, underpasses and overpasses, right turns and Harley dealerships, asked finally asked for their new street address.  I punched it in.  It's 470 Riverside Street, Portland, Maine, in case you're ever up for a scavenger hunt.  Three miles and fifteen minutes of surface streets away.  I'd be getting in to Connecticut later than desired, but ah, well.

Along the way, as I waited at a traffic light, the last car not to make the previous red, my trusty old 1997 Audi A8, with 239,539 miles on it and a recent recipient of a serious operation over Christmas break, decided that she was unhappy with current events and the long drive ahead and started to shudder.  Significantly.  An "I'm misfiring on two cylinders" shudder.  Or perhaps a "my transmission, which you so kindly replaced 130,000 miles ago, is just effin' tired of life and I give up" kind of shudder.  Anyway, wizened and experienced fool (a German word meaning Audi owner) that I am, I tossed her into neutral to begin best-I-can-do-sitting-in-traffic diagnosis, turning off the radio, rolling down the windows, raising the revs, and listening hard.  She continued to shudder. "Not good.  Nope, not good, Mr. Toadroller."** So I continued on my short, extended and extensive journey to Portland Percussion's new location.  What choice did I have?
My phone and I couldn't find it to save our lives.

I'd twice passed the point where my phone blissfully announced that I'd arrived.  Back and forth, shudder, shudder.  In frustration I pulled into a long industrial park driveway to sit and sort it out, engine rumbling and shaking away to put Shakira to shame.

I called again.

Me: "Where are you?"
Them: "Where are you?"
Me: "On Riverside Street.  I can See Shrietner Construction and Mulberry Avenue."
Them: "Gosh, I don't know those places. Do you see the Harley Davidson dealership?"
Me: "I did see it, but that was half a mile back.  Which side of the street are you on?"
Them: "Well, I'm not sure which way you're coming."
Me: "??"
Them: "??"
Me: "Wait. are you at the end of a long industrial park driveway?"
Them: "Sorta."
Me: "Am I sitting in your parking lot flashing my headlights?"
Them "Let me look."
Me: *flashes headlights*
Them: "You're here."

So in I went and admitted my consternation and frustration, told them, in fact, how recently I'd been disappointed to discover that they'd moved from what had been, to me, a difficult to find location into what was, to me, a significantly more difficult to find location, and proceeded to marvel openly at their ability to stay in business when customers couldn't actually get to their storefront (even with personal or blissfully happy GPS-phone assisted guidance ) in order to try their products and, were they so moved, give them money for their goods and services.  "Just how do you stay in business," I wanted to know.  "We got flooded in August," they said. "You might have heard."

I couldn't argue.  Truth to power and all that.

I told him I was on a quest.  A quest for a rare Dean Soltero a friend from outs of state had seen advertised and was checking it out for him.  So we went into their (temporary, it would seem) used guitar room filled with Deans, Ibanezes, G&Ls, and the like, and he pointed out to me two Dean Solteros, neither of which looked much at all like the one my friend had seen on Portland Percussion's their internet photos and advertisements.  I sat and plucked and we chatted about the Dean (Korean, $699, nice enough, but more of a $350 guitar by my estimation) and Ibby Firemen and Paul Gilbert and so conversation went;

He: "Ibby's your main guitar?"
Me: "Ibby? No.  Don't get me wrong, I love it. great Christmas gift from my wife, but I'm more of a Hamer USA man."
He: "Now you're talking my language!"

And so we proceeded to talk about the 4 digit Standard cherry-burst he'd once had, the Daytonas and T-51s and Specials and Artists I have, his 79 Sunburst and the Steve Stevens signature model he'd got the previous summer for a steal ($150, but a busted neck, well repaired and playable) and the Monaco III he and I both would love to have.

But I digress.  Mainers do that

Anyway, I expressed that the Dean Soltero I was after was supposedly made from korina, USA, you know- the one on your website. 
He: "No shit, bub? That's mine!  I bought too much stuff and need to move a few pieces.  I did put that up on Reverb, yeah!"
Me: "Driver McGyver!"
He: "That's a nice one.  Yeah.  But it's not here.  Don't want to leave too much personal stuff here in an industrial park,"
Me: "Why not? It's not like anyone can find it."
He: "??"
He: "It's wicked light, has a pretty serious v-shaped neck; not as serious as that import there, but it is a v."
Me: "Well, maybe I could play next time I'm on my way through."
He: "Sure thing, bub."

And so we exchanged names and numbers and I went out to my lame Audi to see if she'd forgiven me for whatever I'd done to her and decide if I wanted to continue the next 240 miles of my quest.  I started her up and she continued to rumble and shudder.  I was still in her doghouse.  So I pointed the compass north, back home, to surprise Mrs. Toadroller and our kids on our 21st anniversary*** by being home for a change.

The Audi may have seen her end.  Her problems, beyond mere temperament, appear to be ignition, engine management, fuel-system, vacuum, transmission, or simply age-related in nature.  I'm not sure which, but each of them means money.  More money, probably, than an eighteen year old car with 239,539 miles deserves.

Sigh.

It's still February and it's still friggin' cold.  12-24 inches of snow expected in the next 36 hours.


*I'm not a native, I'm "from away" as they say, but believe me when I tell you it's a long story.  Mainers do go on.  She might as well have just admitted "you can't get there from here."
** Her time may have come.  No!  I've had her for twelve years and 165k miles! This can't be the end!
*** and you thought this story couldn't get any more strange.  But 'tis true.  Married in Denver Colorado, January 29th, 1994.  Six kids later...

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Everything is Broken


Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken


          -Everything is Broken, Bob Dylan

Christmas break on the garage's frozen floor, seven hours in and seven hours out to replace a two-inch plastic pipe between the engine and oil cooler.

40 degree thaw and driving rain through the night in January floods the garage and seeps into the basement.  2:30 AM,  wading through flotsam, dragging hoses, plugging in pumps, praying.  Dash to catch a 7:00 am flight.

Cold kills the battery on the van.

Gray.
Broken bottles, broken plates
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken


Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground

Moving the plasma television from old room to new, it refuses to turn on again.  The internet explains this as a common issue with this model.  Superbowl Sunday.
Four feet of snow,  temperatures rarely above ten, more often below zero. Another foot on the way...  the oil tank sinks visibly and danerously close to empty.  Oil co will be here Monday.

Tweak the back shoveling.  Spend more time with the snow-blower than the motorcycle in summer.

February's first week of torture.  Three to go.

Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin'
Everything is broken

Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face

Idling in Portland traffic become a rough idle, then a full-on shudder.  Shit.  Business trip to Connecticut is scuttled and the the Audi limps home, shaking itself for fifty miles at sixty an hour.  Diagnosis?  Undetermined.  Prognosis? Uncertain.  Future? Bleak.

Snow on the roof becomes dangerous ice-dams and icicles.  Snow on the deck melts from the warmth of the house and drips through the shit-ass wooden windows in the basement.  Mold invades in the new roof sheathing from the great renovation of '08, because the ventilation didn't, doesn't do its eponymous duty.


Old dog can't walk, struggles to stand, deranged, and falls down.  Barks, goes out, shits, falls down, balances to a stand, barks, comes in.  Ten minutes later? Lather, rinse, repeat.
Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken


Customers bitch.  The message is wrong.  The products don't work.  Late nights, early mornings, full days on the phone.  Rude.  Unreasonable and unachievable expectations.

Lent around the corner.












Spring's renewal, where the hell are you?






Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tuesday

He didn't even notice.  He didn't notice much these days.  But then again, how much can you pay attention to? Between the infinite and ongoing parade of stimuli and the finite you can achieve you have to economize, rejecting some, and focusing on others.  There you are.

Simple, solid; out of his hands.

And so the wipers' squeak-and-thump cycle was lost on him.  The pine needle under the blade smeared the passenger's half of the windshield, happily drawing its intermittent arc throughout the journey.  The wind would spar and sometimes gain a small victory against the car's own steady momentum, knocking it ever so slightly off course, corrected, of course, on course again and continuing as one jostled on the subway.

He did notice the occasional opportunity to send a tidal wave breaking against the side of the road through the collected puddles deep enough to be ponds and long enough to slalom a curve on a water-ski.  Sending a parabolic flume to the front, side, and now behind, his thoughts and the the wheel in his hands seemed to nod briefly, tipping their hats in synchronicity as if to a lady en passant.

But even this small pleasure was brief, unconscious, a joy from a simple thing like the water draining back through the tub's spigot from the the shower head, a small child who smiles back at your own silly-face.  Yet the wave failed to carry him away from his focus on...

Nothing really.

He was simply driving home.  It had been a day at the office; it would be an evening at home.  Unremarkable in every way.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Leave in the dark, drive west through the rain complacently ignorant of the imposing mountain shadow to his right on the way in, return east in the evening with its fading shadow lost in the mist on his left, the day's tasks done, the page pulled from the desk calendar, the meetings attended, the small talk left to its own misplaced sense of wonder about this incessant weather, again, as emails slowly filled the tub of his inbox, waiting for the 'morrow to be attended to.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

October, November, December.

1998,  2005, 2014.


Monday, September 23, 2013

How 'bout you just pay for it yourself?

Grumpy curmudgeon Toadroller here.

I don't have enough webbed fingers and toes to count the number of examples that have passed through my experience in the last week alone where something a person or group of people wanted had a cost to and their initial (and only) reaction was to find a way to get others to pay for it, subsidize it, bankroll it, get it for free.

  • In the local kids recreational soccer league where, for $20, you get practice fields, a team bag of balls and cones, pinnies, a shirt, and the mandatory medal of mediocrity.  A parent complained that each player should have their own ball.
  • The local school wants to take one of their sixth grade group on a bus trip to Bar Harbor.  Car Wash!
  • A thespian group is putting on a play; they asked the parents to fund-raise through finding corporate sponsors at a pace of two each, $25 per.
  • Parents bitched that there weren't enough porta-potties at the athletic events.  Can every town contribute?  Emails, estimates, strong-arm tactics, guilt, high-fives.  Total price of a rental? $95.
  • Much hand-wringing locally, but the property taxes went up by $400 this year.  Co-incidentally, each schoolchild now has an iPad.
  • I'll be hosting a course on personal finance at my parish.  It has a $93 cost associated with it.  Well worth it; cheaper than dinner and a flick.  "Is there anyway we can help the people pay for it?"
  • Buy an energy-saving (insert appliance type here) and get a $50 rebate check from the government.
  • Let me subsidize that conspicuous consumption Prius for you in the form of tax deductions.
  • Would you give our special interest group tickets to your sporting event?  It's for the kids.

It's not the concept of fundraising that bothers me.  It's the mindset of having to get someone else to fund the endeavor, no matter how small it is.  Why do we need a car wash to gather funds of $30 a head?  Why would you expect the soccer league to provide a ball for every player?  They're $15 for the fancy ones. 

How about you just pay for it yourselves?

I've always joked with Mrs. Toadroller that we should set up a car wash or magazine drive for our own family's "Spain Trip!" and see how far we get.  I've had enough friends and family ask me to support their child's dream of touring haunted castles in Ireland; it's time for them to fund mine.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A little excitement

It's been a long time coming, but I'm excited about the newest internal-combustion-engine-based transportation at the Toadroller homestead.