Saturday, December 3, 2016

Quarters

It was my freshman year in college when, forced to do laundry on my own for the first time, I started making change for quarters.  What good will two dimes and a few pennies do when your weekly budget is somewhere around eight dollars and your bank balance is just under forty?  You need quarters and so you make change for them. 

Fast forward a few years to living on my own in Denver and the challenge was the same: things were tight; I needed quarters.  Whenever I bought something at the local Safeway, I'd pay in cash and add in the extra 13 cents in order to get quarters back.

Along the way, I developed a habit of checking the quarters I received.  In 1976 they coined a bicentennial quarter and they were conspicuous by their difference from all the others.  Easy enough to do: take the quarters in your hand, flip them over and glace at the back-sides.  Drummer-Patriot image?  Fantastic!  A smile on your face.

Over the last decade or so, whenever I've come across one, I've set it aside in a drawer, doing my little part to deflate the currency by slowly take them out of circulation.  I come across one or two a year.  2016 has been a bumper crop.  I've probably received five of them in change. 

Some habits are hard to break.  I still find myself making change for quarters.  It's a satisfying little obsessive-compulsive thing to do.  There's something proper about getting three quarters back from a purchase.  But these days I drop the quarters from my pocket into a big old jar.  Who knows what we'll do with that?  Or when? 

Mrs. Toadroller's mother was diligent about putting quarters into her own (rather large!) piggy bank every week, regularly, for years.  One for each child and maybe one for the coffee pot as well.  As we went through her things, we all had fun stacking, sorting, counting, and finding the occasional rare pre-1965 quarter.  And that fun may have been worth more than the monetary value of the collection.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Charging ahead

If one were optimistic, they'd look at the third alternator in 256,000 miles and 19 years and say, "wow, 123,000 miles per alternator, not bad!"  or "wow, 9.5 years per alternator, not bad!"  The sad truth is I got 252,000 miles and 19 years on the first alternator and 4000 miles and 6 months on the second.

Regardless, it's in.  I may have tweaked my back.  Tomorrow and the weekend will tell.  I did snap a bolt on re-assembly,* and let out an "ahhhh, shit" worthy of Grandpa Toadroller.**   All told, four hours of labor and a quart of lost antifreeze later, she's back where she was a week ago.   She does great shifting gears!  It's still risky to take her out of state, but I'm stupid that way.  I'll keep her local until she proves seaworthy.

Oh, and I just remembered which bolt I didn't tighten.  Dang it.  I think I should be able to drive her up on the ramps and get to it without too much disassembly to access the guilty bolt. 

Is it time, is it a hobby, or is it a lifetime car?

* Because I just knew I was going to snap it but didn't stop.
**You've been given a title!  It was one of those moments when you hear your father's voice in your own.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Here we go again

When last I drove the Thousand Dollar Car, I noted that it was shifting... reluctantly... and ...confusedly...

Well.

There are two possibilities.  Firstly, the transmission could be going.  If so, so be it.  The second, and easy to rectify, is that its adaptive learning software has worked itself into a frazzled state.  I searched the internet for the definitive manual reset process, which involves putting the ignition key into the "run" position but not starting the car, holding the gas pedal (not a fancy "accelerator" like the Merc, no; a real, genuine cable driving a throttle body) to the floor for ten seconds as it holds a "full throttle" switch, then a strange combination of turning the key off, letting go, turning the key on, putting your left foot in, pulling it out, and performing the rest of the Hokey Pokey.  Anyway, I did all this and started it up and marveled at how nicely it up and down-shifted to my whims.  Hooray!

Except the battery light was on the whole time.  Deja vu.  In May.  Six months ago. 

I brought her into the garage and accessed the battery compartment in the trunk.  Yup, filled with cold water, easily half-way up the battery.  Batteries don't like cold, and a cold water is happy to sap energy quickly.  I wrestled the battery out of there and scooped/siphoned/sponged the water out of the plastic compartment.  How is it getting in there?  The only place I can think of is the sunroof, but its drains go forward and empty on the front door A pillars.  I ran some water through them to verify they're not blocked.  Back in the compartment, I noticed a small, flat circle stamped into the bottom of the tray.  Could this be a drainage hole, blocked by accumulated soot  through the years?  I grabbed an awl and started scratching.  It wasn't looking promising until I got a little to come up, then a little more.  I was in 3/8ths of an inch when I grabbed a drill bit.  Spin, grab, spin grab and then a breakthrough.  I grabbed a gallon of water and started pouring it in and sure enough, it evacuated down and out by the back wheel.  So there is a drain!

I took the battery over to Autozone and their tester said it was down to 45%; they'd keep it and see if it would take a charge.  Two hours later, they called that it was ready.  Next step: alternator?  Everything hooked back up, 12.6 volts off; 12.1 while running.  Crap! Could a cold, wet battery that won't charge take down an alternator?  Apparently it had.  After 6 months.  Ah well, Autozone was happy to cover it under warranty and put in the order.  I'm sure It will show up in a few days.

In the meantime, she's back in the garage, up on blocks, drying out from the overnight rain (but with a dry battery compartment!), waiting for  me to begin the long sequence of removing the front end to gain enough clearance to relieve the serpentine belt's tensioner enough to slide it off a pully so I can pull the alternator itself.  Probably about two hours of work, maybe a little less now that I've done it... a few times.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Chrome Wheels, Fuel Injected

...and stepping out over the line!

So says Bruce Springsteen in Born to Run.

I swerved down into Harpswell, ME, on the way home from Boston Logan airport and another business trip, and checked out a 2010 Audi S5.  As sexy as coupes come, and pretty much as quick as they do as well.  350 horse, same with torque, and all wheel drive combine to get you to 60 in 4.9.  After driving it, I don't doubt it.

I spent last night and half of today trying to convince myself I want it.

But then I took an hour and put the replacement fuel injector into old blue, the A8, hooked up all the plumbing and wiring and crossed my fingers as I turned the key.  Stumble, stumble, rumble, rumble and then the fuel rails pressurized and the familiar sweet swell and steady, smooth idle of this old soldier of an engine settled in.  Yap, that's what she's supposed to do.  I backed her out of the garage and up onto the road, honked the horn, and gave her some heavy footage.  She just ran away, smooth, refined, competent, quick.

Now that's what I like in a car!  Sorry S5; you're unrefined like a mustang.  And you're not as much fun as this old girl.

I picked up the Mercedes with her new accelerator (not a gas pedal, nay-nay; an accelerator) and pointed her towards home.  After the hour of driving I'd put into the A8, the Merc was simply sterile and boring.  And she'll be headed out the door.

I'll bide my time and wait for the right 2011 A8 to come along.
Keep in mind that the exterior is even more beautiful.
The back seat is pretty nice, too.

It's taken a lot of dates for me to realize that what I want was waiting for me at home all along.  Of course, Mrs. Toadroller was quick to say she'd told me so, and she was right.  Again.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Thousand Dollar Car! Thousand Dollar Car! Thousand Dollar Car!

I am a fool.  I know this; I understand this; I admit this; I share this.

For I own not one but four German cars.  Three of the four-ringed variety and one of the one-ringed, tri-starred variant.  It is a given that, at best, three will be road-worthy at any given time.  There are days like yesterday when that number is reduced to one, and that one not the newest and shiniest of the collection.

Two weeks ago, I embarked on an airport run to Boston in old blue, my thousand dollar car, my precious A8.  I'd been of the "why am I keeping this?" persuasion and felt it was time to give her one last run.   Before I left I swapped on the spare set of snow-tires/wheels I have to test how much of her rumbling is alignment and how much is balance.  Driving down the road at 50 mph showed that alignment is bad; the wheels droned against each other even on fresh pavement.  But as I gathered up momentum to 80mph on the interstate headed south, I was amazed at the smoothness of the ride. Tires in balance, what a concept.  To be perfectly honest, I enjoyed the shit out of that drive to the airport and fell in love with old blue all over again.  Yes, I promised her, I'll spend $100 and get you properly aligned.  I'll get the hole in your exhaust pipe patched.  Together we'll make this journey many times through the winter and let the newer Merc just sit warm and cozy in the garage!  257,000 miles is merely your youth!

I returned from my travels and fetched her from the 6th floor of Boston Logan's parking garage.  Navigating the lefts and rights that hinder your attempts to flee the airport and head north, she started to stumble.  One moment perfect, the next as running on 7 cylinders.  Or as running out of gas.  Shit.  I'd been here before.  She's temperamental about gas - do not let her go low- and when she does, it takes at least 5 gallons down her throat to get her running properly again.  See previous tribulations on this site for more information.  I pulled into the first gas station and loaded her up to the top, simultaneously ruling out one possible cause and raising her retail value a solid 10% 

No dice.  Stumble, rumble. I searched my memory banks and recalled the times it had previously behaved this way.  An Ignition Control Module the first time; ignition coils on the plugs the second.  Screw it.  I kept her in low gears through Revere and Saugus, and held her in 4th for the 150 highway miles to home.  Seven cylinders of insanity.  Not wise, but the car is disposable.  Made it home, parked her at the bottom of the driveway and went to bed.  The problem would be reviewed in the morning.

I recently hopped into Mrs. Toadroller's recently rejuvenated S4 to take one of the elder Toadrollers to work.  As we headed out of the driveway, I thought I heard a scrape.  Three doors down, Mrs. Toadroller phoned to let us know the exhaust system was drooping low, low, low.  Ah, sweet chariot, back to the garage with you.  Sit next to the A8 where she rests with her hood open, engine shrouding and wires spread about the shop.

Yesterday I hopped into the Merc to head to the chiropractor.  I started her up and got a christmas tree of warnings on the dashboard, along with the fairly useless message "Electronic Stability Control system is inoperable.  Consult Owner's Manual."  What?  Shut her off, started her again, same.  Put her into gear and could barely get out of the driveway.  Turned her back into the other side of the driveway and let her sit.

I took the car the boy drives. 

I'm flabbergasted.  The Internet says this Merc issue happens and then goes away.  It doesn't for me.  Battery disconnect/reconnect, fuses; no matter- the ESC is damned well inoperable and no, you won't be able to drive this thing to the shop.  Fine.  You're confined to the corner.  It might be the accelerator, as it is German and wouldn't deign to have a gas pedal.  I'm sure it's fly-by-wire rather than a throttle cable.  Which means a few hundred bucks plus tow.  She is not the car of the decade.  She will not last a year.  There's a feller down in Harpswell with a new enough S5 with appreciable miles, but priced accordingly.  It's got that 4.2 liter V8 I love so much in the A8 and S4.  Are you listening, Mercedes? 

Meanwhile I have an A8 to fix and a droopy tail-piped S4. 

I jacked up the S4 and saw that the metal bracket hanger had rusted off where it was welded to the exhaust.  I jacked the exhaust back up into position and wound her around five times with steel cable.  That will last the ten miles to get her to a shop for a repair.

On to old blue.

It wasn't Ignition Control Modules.  They are cheap through Amazon, however, so I replaced the pair of them and kept the others in my spare parts box.  It wasn't the ignition coils.  That was an adventure in its own way, where the replacement coils were shorter than the originals.  I mean originals.  19 years, 257,000 miles.  They are forgiven and retired now, in the parts box, ready for the dump or for further experimental testing at some future date. 

Computers, codes, internet, thinking.  A martini.  I figured it had to be a fuel injector (also original) or the wiring to it.  Please let it be the injector, as tracing and re-setting that wiring is a fool's errand.  Yes, I am a fool, but I'm not insane.

It took an hour of careful disassembly of fuel lines, fuel rails, fuel injector connectors, vacuum hoses and clips to get a pair of the fuel injectors out.  It is amazing to think those were simply squeezed into place on an assembly line in Germany and haven't been touched since.  Wiggle, wiggle, tug tug and out they came.  Friction and o-rings and retaining clips.  It had been my intent to swap the offending cylinder's fuel injector with another cylinder's and see if the engine warning codes switched to that new cylinder.  I checked the resistance on all the wiring leads to the fuel injectors.  They were all the same.  Good.  Promising.  It then it occurred to me that a fuel injector is basically a solenoid that gets triggered to open a valve.  Why swap them when I can test hem manually?  I took the known good injector and a pair of alligator clips and tapped it to the battery.  Click, click, click.  I took the bad one.  Nada, nada, nada.

It is at times like these that fools break out into a shit eating grin.  Grinning thus, I placed my order for a replacement ($40, Amazon Prime, will be here on Tuesday even if I won't) and took a shower.

The score is two on, two out, and Mercedes is at the bat.  Will she strike out?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Propaganda

I haven't read newspapers for about a decade.

I turned off the television news many years before that.

Earlier this year, I unplugged from Twitter, my main news feed, because it had become ridiculous.  I knew more about what was going on than most, but the alarming descent from argument with a hint of debate to simply positional propaganda, regardless of topic, was too steep and too much.

A few months ago, I added the FoxNews feed to a web home page, just to at least know what some of the current headlines were with, perhaps, the least liberal of propaganda perspectives. 

Alas, no.  Here's today's list of important news items:

So, let's review.
  • "We're not giving up!"  How's that for positioning?  I dislike Trump immensely, and hate Mrs. Clinton even more.  But that's quite the spin on a headline about a "path to victory."
  • Indecent Proposal.  See previous.
  • Historic Rape Ruling.  Is this in the top three of important happenings in the wolrd?  Why do we have to promote rape?
  • Bob Dylan Slammed.  I personally find this humorous.  If I were shunned like the Nobelers, I'd like to think that I would act Nobler.  Why should he be slammed?  He didn't ask for this and probably doesn't want it.  If I refuse to go to your party, don't talk bad about me on Facebook.
  • This Bribe's for you.  More titillation in the top ten.
  • Police fear missing teen.  Sad.  But again, why is this top ten news?
  • Photos: Loose emu.  This I gotta see.
  • Rolling Stone writer recalls the moment.  Wait.  Isn't this rewriting history?  Did not the author blatantly fabricate this story to an end?  Was not the author caught in this fabrication?  Didn't the world shrug a big "who cares?" because even the idea of rape was, to her, more important than the students whose lives were ruined by false allegations?  See Matthew Shepard, of whom Mrs. Toadroller's catholic alma mater put on a play in tribute.  Diversity trumps truth.
We live in a time of watching events be rewritten in real time.  Of Winston not even bothering to go back through the headlines and re-write them, as few care to check if the emotions provided are the emotions they need.  Those that recall correctly are wronged, ridiculed, and recommended for sensitivity training.

We've always been at war with East Asia.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Nanny, Nanny

  • At the checkout counter in the grocery store yesterday, the clerk told the customer in front of me that she could no longer sell the customer the bottle of wine in her cart because her child had touched it.  
    • "Really?  Why not?" 
    • "It's the law."
  • A list of business articles from LinkedIn found its way into my email inbox.  One had the headline "Natural Resource Management: The Great Public Land Heist Has Begun."  I was shocked to see an article that could possibly be warning people that the government was about to take more private property and so I clicked.  And of course the article wailed and gnashed its teeth about the exact opposite: that a proposal through congress would begin selling off "our" lands to private interests.  Cue the Woodie Guthrie.
  • Two of the younger Toadrollers are attending a Catholic youth conference this week.  A letter from the busybody diocesan organizer stated that all prescription medicines and medicine schedules would be turned in to a medical practitioner on check-in, to be disbursed at need.  Apparently, there was an issue last year with two kids sneaking off and smoking pot, so naturally confiscation of medical prescriptions was in order.
  • In polite conversation with a colleague I'd recently met, it came up that he lived near Cleveland.  
    • "Really?  Whereabouts?  I was born in Cleveland."  
    • "Oh, in Solon.  It has a really good school system.  That's the most important thing, isn't it?"
  • Independence Day is one helluva marketing campaign, isn't it?  I love the American Idea, but loathe propagandized nationalism.  Every country has its independence day these days.  It's the latest thing.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Well Struck

The well struck golf ball provides a glimpse of perfection.

I can tell on impact what the shot will do and how closely its flight will match my intentions.

When I strike it pretty well, I can finish my swing then look to a spot the sky where I know it will be.  I tapped it a little to the left, but cutting right.  It's on a high trajectory.  Yup, there it is.

But when I strike it really well; when my thoughts were only on my target and the swing was as automatic as tying shoes; well, then I can simply look back to my target point on the ground and wait for the ball to drop in.

Joy.





Friday, June 17, 2016

Slowly, Centered

My back, in this past month, has demanded that I slow down.

While this takes me away from my routines, forces me to abandon interests, and causes discomfort... there are lessons to be learned.

Proceed slowly.

I'm destination oriented.  I want to get to that destination as quickly and efficiently as possible, be the destination achieved by walking or working or thinking.  The simplest of these, walking, cannot, per my back's dictates, be rushed.  And so as I walk, I walk slowly.  I find myself having to force myself to slow down every ten to fifteen steps.  In other words, going slow requires a conscious effort, for it is not my habit.  But when you walk slowly, you have time to notice the sun, the birds, the smells; that it's June.  That the year is 2016.  All good things to be aware of; all important things which are lost to me when I'm focused on my destination. 

Stay centered. 

I cannot lean to one side.  I cannot bend over to pick up something dropped.  I must squat (slowly- see above) to retrieve.  My balance must be centered both left and right and fore and aft.  Within these constraints, however, I'm incredibly flexible.  The proper golf swing serendipitously required just these things: being and staying centered and balanced, within which you execute acrobatic feats of flexibility. So my bad back is great for understanding the golf swing.

The glass is half-full, my friends.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Craftsmanship



Set aside seven minutes and experience Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered through Ella's voice.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Noise Reduction



Musicians who know their trade know to leave some pauses, space, between the notes they play.  Perhaps that’s what defines a musician; knowing when not to play.  Our lives are so full of noise that we rarely experience silence. Do we humans know when to turn things off?  Do we know when not to play?

For most of my life, music has been on.  Background music while doing chores.  Active listening.  Theme music for a road trip.  Something to dance to of an evening.  Always noise.

The movie Going in Style opens with George Burns, widower, waking and starting his day.  Calisthenics, coffee, toast, eggs, dishes, dressing.  Ten minutes of silence telling us more of loneliness and routine and boredom than any narrator or other exposition could.  Silence was sad.

In January or February of this year I turned of Twitter.  Of a weekday, I simply turned off the application and uninstalled it from my computer, phone, and tablet.  It wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution.  The noise had simply become strident and stressful.  Here I was, more aware of what was going on in the world than most people (people who watched the news, listened to NPR, read the newspaper) and yet… to what end?

The thing about Twitter (and Facebook, and Instagram, and… social media in general) is that it’s instantly available whenever you have a spare moment.  On your computer, on your phone.  While waiting in line, while waiting for a meeting to start, while trying to avoid going to bed.  Whip out the phone, tap-tap, and you’re fed an endless drip of sentiment, rage, and entertainment.  Endless.  Everyone has an opinion, everyone is an asshole.  Perhaps it’s better to shut it off and think better of humanity.

Withdrawal takes about a month.  If you make it that long, you can go forever.  It’s funny; when I pull out my phone these days, I can check email and that’s about it.  I still have that nicotine urge for something to occupy and entertain me, but I recognize the occasion of sin and I simply don’t light up.  This must be the life of an ex-smoker.

A high-powered and very successful sales rep I know shared the story of one of his more eccentric customers over dinner.  He described meeting the customer’s wife at a reception and she related more of the customer’s character.  She told of times on weekend mornings where she’d find him in his study, staring off into space.  “What are you doing?”  “Thinking.”  This so surprised the sales rep that he was sharing it with me; still in disbelief.  Why was he shocked?  Do people not think?

My new car has a six disc CD player.  A 10GB hard drive.  A media slot.  A connector in the glove compartment connected to an old iPod.  Bluetooth.  The ability to play satellite radio should I choose to subscribe.  I can, therefore, provide for myself.  On my recent two hour commute to the airport, I remembered the AM/FM radio and gave it a spin around the dial.  The journey took five minutes.  Thirteen channels of shit to choose from indeed.  I turned it off.  All of it.  Instead, I listened to the wind buffeting the car as I sped silently downstream, south, through the night.

I thought of nothing.  I thought of the sound of the wind.  It didn’t whistle; it sporadically sand blasted the car, nudging it slightly off course here and again.  It was a strong wind.  I thought of the day ahead.  Of the days behind.  I solved problems and prepared.  I debated key points with those who were not present to present their counterpoints.  Naturally I won those.

I travel often in my career.  Long drives, long flights, long weeks in hotels and customer conference rooms.  When I’m in a group, when I’m on stage, I’m capable of talking for hours (days even).  It’s my job: I help people understand the workings and value of complex solutions to complex problems. But in the hotel, on the plane.  In the comings and goings and waitings and movings, I like the silences between the notes.

Some of us can’t bear silence.  Some of us have never tried.  Entire lives are occupied from Good Morning America through the babble of shock-jocks and jock-talk into the evening news, through sitcoms and reality-show ejections from the tribe, into boy-wonder Jimmy Fallon’s goodnight schtick, turning on the sounds of surf, Mrs. Montag’s bees buzzing in her ear cans, rocking us gently to sleep.

But we can’t all need the noise.  I would guess (I’m being generous) that not even five percent of us need the noise.  The noise is for those who truly can’t deal.  But like a government program, it’s there, and it’s free, and it beats the hell out of thinking or doing for yourself.  And as a result, the 80/20 is reversed: those that don’t need are addicted anyway, and we’re left with mediocrity.

When faced with silence, embrace it.  Sit on a rock in the woods.  Look, listen.  Smell.  What month is it?  Which flowers are in bloom?  How many birds are there chattering back and forth at 5:00AM? 
The world is between the notes.  Become a musician.

Friday, June 10, 2016

When You're Gone

A poem of remembrance:



                                       To prepare myself for bed      Come the morning 
                           As I head upstairs                                            I will turn it out 
                 I will turn on the porch light                                       When I reach bottom 
         Of an evening                                                                                         To start my day
When you’re gone                                                                                                    And think of you