The New Jeep

Well it was two and a half years ago I made a post about our 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee and how we didn’t know what we were going to do.  It was dropping oil pressure and the transmission was slipping.  The decision ended up being, keep driving it.  It’s either going to explode, or… it will keep going.  28 months later, it’s still going!

All the while though we’ve been saving up in the event it does explode.  I mean that in the parts of engine blowing through cylinder walls sort of way.  Not the fireball in the sky sort of way.  Every couple of months Andrea and I would casually look around local classifieds for vehicles that were up our alley.  But we never were in dire NEED of a vehicle, so it was easy to look at stuff and say, “nah”.

I was leaning more towards a Tahoe or Yukon, but Andrea has caught this Jeep bug somehow.  So I figured, maybe a Commander.  But the third row seat was really unnecessary.  And Andrea kept coming back to Grand Cherokees.  She found this one for sale in Hutchinson, so one day took off early to go look at it.

It wasn’t perfect, what 10+ year old vehicle is?  Needed some steering work, tires and some other misc things.  Nothing that seemed too daunting though.  So we made an offer, they took it.  We drove the Jeep home.

Been going through that stage of “getting to know” a vehicle now.  Every car seems to have a thought process behind it’s construction.  Reverse engineering that and getting to know your way around is kind of like moving to a new town and finding where everything is.

But the good news is that (for now) this thing is just about as darn close to a new vehicle as I’ll ever get.  And it’s classy!  Andrea and Luke like it, and I have to admit, the body style has been growing on me.  I love the chrome wheels and all shined up, a black car just looks slick!  And the 330HP Hemi is pretty addicting too.  Hehe.

 

Meeting Famous People

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One of my favorite questions to ask somebody is, “If you could have a sandwich and a conversation with anyone on earth… but you couldn’t tell anyone else about it, who would you pick?”  I like that question because I think it gets right to the heart about what it means to have a meaningful moment with someone you admire.  Is that moment about them, or you?  Are you excited to learn more about that person, or are you excited about how much more interesting you’ll seem to everyone else?

I got the opportunity to interview Melissa Joan Hart last week.  The timing was so odd.  Not long ago here I confessed my secret that I’d been binge watching Clarissa Explains it All on Hulu.  I had just wrapped up watching the last episode on Tuesday, Thursday an e-mail shows up at work in my Inbox. “Interview Melissa Joan Hart”.  Well that’s… weird.  There’s a lot of long odds from the beginning to the end of this scenario.  Whoever is doing publicity for Melissa Joan Hart has stumbled onto some sort of fifth dimensional wavelength that apparently I was tuned into.

mjh email

I was pretty excited at the opportunity.  Surely nothing would come of it.  But what if it did?  What would I ask her?  What would she be like?  How weird would it be to hear her voice and know that she’s talking to me?  All of a sudden that sandwich question was the furthest thing from my mind.

It was a busy day that day.  I had a live broadcast to do and plenty of work around the station.  The interview opportunity was for the next morning and with every refresh of my e-mail inbox, and every hour that passed by, the chances of getting to talk to her at all were fading away.

Then as I was pulling back into the radio station that afternoon my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize.  It was from California, and usually I just let numbers like that go to voice mail… but this was the kind of day I answered calls from the farthest possible strangers.  2 minutes later, I had 10 minutes reserved for the interview.  Weird how you go from metered disappointment, to throttled jubilation.

mjh calendar

As the reality started to set in about what was happening, the REAL REALITY really started to set in about what was happening.  First thing I wanted to do was I wanted to be respectful.  Why is this happening in the first place?  An alarm didn’t go off on MJH Headquarters saying, “Matt just finished watching Clarissa!”… she’s promoting her new movie.  Gotta talk about that.  Gotta make sure I AM ABLE talk about that.  Then you start to put yourself in their shoes.  I’m the first of probably at least 10 radio interviews she has to knock out in 2 hours where everyone is going to ask her the same questions.  And having been known for her TV shows dating back 20 years, probably asked the same questions she’s been asked for the last 20 years.  Suddenly this sounds like one of the most dreadful things I can possibly imagine.  Now I was less excited about how cool it was going to be to talk to Melissa Joan Hart, but more thinking about how I can get through my interview without making her want to blow her brains out.  I decided I wasn’t even going to bring up Clarissa or Sabrina unless she did.  Spoiler alert: she didn’t.

I researched her movie and wrote down enough questions to fill 10 minutes on my own… just in case.  Right on time, the phone rang.  After the briefest of pleasantries with the interview coordinator, I said “Hi”.  She said “Hi”. And it was time to roll.

“What was it like?” everyone later asks.  This is the part where I’m supposed to be cool because Melissa Joan Hart talked to ME.  Here’s the truth.  I had fun.  It WAS cool.  But I am completely cognizant to the fact that she was just doing a job.  I would have loved to have gone deep on Clarissa questions and things that would satisfy my thirst for more information.  I guess at the end of the day to ask all the questions I really wanted to ask seemed selfish and rude.

So the sandwich question turns out to be an interesting thought experiment, but a real life impracticability.  We want to meet celebrities because we feel like we have a relationship from the stories they help tell, or what they share through social media.  But turn it around, and how many sandwiches do you want to have with complete strangers who know more about you than you know about them?  Most of us won’t even say “Hi, how ya doin’?” to a stranger.

I suppose we should worry less about how interesting our lives are and appreciate more the people who just genuinely enjoy our company for being normal boring old us.

Remember Malls?

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If you lived in a rural area, going to the mall, especially in a bigger city, was reason enough for a trip in and of itself.  I remember about once a year our family would load up in the 1988 Chevy Astro van and take a 3 hour drive to Wichita just to make a weekend out of going to the mall.

In the 90’s, malls were the pinnacle of the consumerism experience.  Climate controlled self contained eco systems, with something for everybody, and for every emotional or biological need.  From clothes, to electronics, food courts, and jewelry.  I would venture a guess that if you were a girl growing up in the 90’s you got your ears pierced at the mall.

So as were were walking around the Hays mall this weekend, it was an all too obvious reminder that those days are all but gone.  Most malls now are seen as dated, weathered old places that’s hardly “cool” any more.

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If it weren’t for the few workers in the stores that were open staggered between the long closed and forgotten shops, you could have mistaken this place for abandoned.  As far as shoppers, Andrea and I may have possibly brought the total mall patronage up to 20.  It was eerie, and weird.

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A few stores remained much as you would have remembered them 20 or so years ago.  And I suppose that really says the whole story about the mall doesn’t it?  We get bored.  Tired of the same old thing.  Eager for a new experience even if it’s not better it’s different.  Today malls have been replaced by mega outdoor shopping centers and Amazon.

Dotted between the legacy stores like JC Penny or Hallmark, what were once slick shops like GameStops, or Hot Topic.  Now either vacant, or replaced by flea markets, card shops or sad empty arcades.

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The experience just left me feeling old.  That society had really moved on from a world that was was once for me second nature.  This is why old people are so grumpy.  Life is just a steady stream of things you’re familiar and comfortable with being forgotten and taken away.

 

An Odd Juncture

The last few posts here on the blog, as sparse as they may be, make it pretty clear that I’ve been dwelling a bit on the past lately.  The distant past at that.  Maybe it’s because for the first time my history is starting to feel much more out of reach and even a bit alien relative to my current reality than it ever has before.  Much like the Voyager space probe steadily drifting away from our pale blue dot.  Looking back at the faint light that still shines of where I came from.  A speck that holds all my history, but grows more distant every moment, and a place in which will be impossible to ever return.

That’s a bit of a bleak and unfair metaphor of course, because it suggests that nothing worth talking about lies ahead, which is certainly not true.  Andrea and I both have hopes and dreams, things we are looking forward to and things we are working on every day to get closer to those dreams.  I have a lot of things in the future I look forward to.  So don’t think that I feel like my best days are behind me.  They’re just a lot easier to write about, and comforting to think about.

I feel like I had to get that out of the way… because for some reason I feel like I have to make a lot of excuses for what I’ve been doing recently.  It’s not immoral.  It’s not gross.  It’s just weird.  Weird in a way that I feel people would make an immediate judgement when I tell them what I’ve been spending my time doing.  So for the past week or so I’ve kinda kept it as a bit of a guilty pleasure.

Take a look around the game room and you’ll see a lot of old relics.  Nothing of particular value, but everything that at some point in the past was exciting and new.  Things you’d be excited to tell your friends about.  In my generation, it was the excitement of being the first one to tell a friend where to place a bomb to open a secret door in the Legend of Zelda.  Or who were the first people in your class to go see Jurassic Park, and who could remember the names of all the different kinds of dinosaurs.

As a young person, there’s always a struggle to maintain your level of “coolness”.  Coolness is the real functioning currency of the 7 to 13 year old.  It’s what powers the social economy of what is elementary school.  The more coolness you have, the more power you exert on the people around you.  Coolness is what allows the mean kids to be mean, and usually get away with it.  Not cool enough?  Get more cool points.  Sometimes if you’re starting to run low, you’ll do things you’re completely uncomfortable with in order to score a few cool points.  Because the worst thing you can do is run low on coolness.  Get too low… prepare for jokes, wedgies and getting ganged up on at the playground.

You don’t spend cool points like the rest of the world spends money.  Cool points have their value simply by possessing them.  Problem is they have an expiration date.  So you have to always be working on being more cool.  Lay low long enough, and eventually you won’t be cool at all!  You’ll be a weirdo.

How to obtain cool points for 5th graders in 1994:
Watch Beavis & Butthead ^^^^^^^^^^
Own a Super Nintendo:     ^^^^^^^^^
Have Ace of Base on CD:   ^^^^^^
Have facial hair (boys):     ^^^^^
Sweet Trapper Keeper:      ^^^^
Watch Clarissa (girls):       ^^^
Ace of Base on Cassette:   ^^
Have a bike:                          ^
Dirty Shoes:                          v
No Trapper Keeper:            vv
Can’t skate backwards:    vvvv
Plays Pokemon:                  vvvvvv
Watch Clarissa (boys):      vvvvvvvv
Have facial hair (girls):     vvvvvvvvvvv

My goal was never to be the coolest kid in my class.  That would have been nice, but my efforts were just to maintain a level above the wedgie and getting beat up level.

A long road… a long road to get here.  Maybe I’m still ashamed to admit it after all these years I’m scoring points that will make me “uncool” as a 5th grader in 1994, let alone a 33 year old in 2016.  So might as well get it out.

I’ve really been enjoying two things recently.  Pokemon and Clarissa Explains it All.

So it’s out in the open now.  Pokemon was a thing that was for “little kids” when I was growing up.  I know it wasn’t out in 1994 but it just made for a nice chart.  What I remember about Pokemon at the time was it was about little cartoon creatures.  How dumb… It had different trading cards with rules that I didn’t understand.  I had pretty much resigned myself that I’d never need to know anything about Pokemon.

Now after familiarizing myself with RPGs like Final Fantasy, and solidifying my love for Nintendo, Pokemon has grown to fascinate me.  They’re still making new ones, and there are plenty of people my age who love the series.  I started playing through one of the first games, “Pokemon Blue”.  It’s so far a pretty rudimentary RPG.  Not a super involved story, which is usually what draws me into these.  The hook on this one really is seeing and catching the new Pokemon.  At first I didn’t really care about that, but the more I play, the more I want to find new ones.

And Clarissa… this one is even harder to… well… explain… and even I don’t quite understand why I’ve been smitten with it.  It started as I was looking up old Nickelodeon shows that I remembered, like Nick Arcade, Double Dare and Guts.  I think I looked it up just looking for the theme song.  I ended up watching the first episode.  It’s far less “girly” than I always judged it as.  It’s more like the family dynamics of a young teenager and some TV friendly hijinks.  It’s quirky.  It’s catchy.  And for me, just like Pokemon, it’s new.

With my favorite games, I always wish I could go back and experience them all over again for the first time.  I think that’s part of the draw of these two 90’s adolecent staples.  For me, I really am experiencing them all over again for the first time.  I had my 20 year old preconceptions about them, but as far as actually experiencing them… this is a first.

Another comforting feeling, and this more Clarissa than Pokemon, is the contrast to the stresses of childhood compared to the stresses of adulthood.  Some days I leave work and just feel completly tapped by grown up things like getting radio stations back on the air, missing sales goals, creating a show worth listening to.  And coming home to deal with adult problems like catorigizing expenses and repairing our cars.  It’s so nice to soak up stories about problems like not having TV, having annoying relatives over, or how to convince your parents to let you do the things you want to do.

If I have one thing going for me now, it’s that now Cool Points aren’t worth much any more.

Growing Up in Dodge City (The Feedyard)

Butter and Egg RoadButter & Egg Road.  Whoever named it had a sense of humor.  And mention of it always makes me a bit hungry for breakfast no matter what time of day it is.  But for five years it was the road home.

Head south from the “Hitchin’ Post” truck stop, over the overpass which passed above the tracks, take your first left and you are on… Butter & Egg Road.  The steeply rising and falling hills can give you that unexpected sensation of falling.  Turn left at the T-junction and keep following the road around the curve, down the hill, over the tracks and back up the hill, and you have arrived.

Once the house was ready we left the classy heights of the Lora Locke for a much more prosaic home on the grounds of Coake Feedyard.  That’s right, we didn’t live next to the feedyard, we lived at the feedyard.

I didn’t mind in the slightest!  It was fascinating to be surrounded by so many cows… or cattle more appropriately.  At that age, though they were definitely called cows.  I was used to seeing a pen or two of cattle at Grandpa’s farm.  Or herds of cattle grazing in a pasture.  But never before had I seen literally thousands of them all in one place.  I would stare out the big picture window in the living room at the cattle trucks that would roll in and out.  The feed trucks that would come and go from the mill and the loaders that scooped and dumped the feed, over and over again, every day.

Of course eventually the fascination wears off.  After you’ve seen the 20th scoop of milled grain dumped into the feed truck, you’ve also seen the 2,000th.  Soon I stared out the window, less in marvel of the economic machine that was unfolding in front of me, but rather waiting for the workers to quit for the day so I could go ride my bike around the wide stretches of concrete around the yard.

It was here, and on that bike that I ripped my left pinky fingernail directly off of said pinky finger.  I remember the experience quite clearly.  I was riding my sweet bike all over the concrete stretch that was infront the mill.  Part of the concrete sloped down rather steeply.  I had no problem riding straight down the slope.  It was rather exhilarating!  As my confidince in my machine and my skill grew, I just simply decided to would ride my bike parallel to the slope.  A feat that is pretty easily accomplished with almost any bike.  Except: bikes with training wheels.

As soon as I hit that slope, the training wheels quickly righted the bike perpendicular to the slant and I was thrown immediately from the seat like a cowboy riding his first bull.  I hadn’t even considered the geometry of the situation in the moments leading up to this and I was caught completely off guard.  As I apparently flailed to the earth, my pinky nail snagged the concrete as my momentum continued to carry me forward.  I immediately knew just from the feeling, “that’s not good”.  Then looked and pretty much instantly started to cry as my pinky nail clung by a thread of soft tissue to my now bleeding finger.  Definitely the most gruesome moment of my life to that point.

I sobbed the long walk back to the house leaving my bike where it lay.  It had betrayed me after all.  I remember the shock followed by hesitation by my parents as I cried for them to fix me.  Pretty sure they were trying to hide a bit of laughter as they were negotiating who would be the one to yank my dangling bloody fingernail from my pinky.  I certainly didn’t appreciate their hesitation at the time.  Good news, my nail eventually grew back.

Feedyard House

What doesn’t appear to exist any longer in the photo of the house above is the chainlink fence that  ran around the house.  One of the first winters in our new house a blizzard blew in and on the north side of the house in the yard between the house and the road, the biggest snow drift I have ever seen in my life had built up over the fence.  It was taller than four foot tall me, that’s for sure.  Tall enough that Dad would pick up my sister and me and throw us into the side of the snow drift and we’d just stick there!  It was incredible!  I remember digging tunnels into the drifts and thinking it was the most awesome thing in the world.

We’d go out and “check the bunks” with Dad.  I remember doing this most of the time on the 4 wheeler.  We’d ride up and down the lanes and I never really knew what Dad was looking for.  I just assumed that some of the cows needed fed, and some of them hadn’t ate all the feed yet.  So I’d just lean over the side and declare, “Looks good.” or “Need some feed.”  It was always fun though.  I never was allowed to play back in the lanes, so as we would ride back and forth and through the intersections at Coake Feedyard, I just remember it all feeling very big and disorienting.  Just like trying to navigate a new town for your first time.

What seemed like every year, a large load of white gravel rock was delivered right in front of our yard next to a lamp post.  This gravel served a practical purpose of course.  To spread across the drive and fill in low spots to keep everything from becoming a muddy mess.  More importantly however, it gave my sister and me the opportunity to scale a mountain.  This pile of rock had to be at least 10 feet tall.  Which felt enormous to a small person like myself at the time.  I remember the feeling of the gravel slipping under my feet as I fought against gravity, and the chalky white dust that adhered to my hands, shoes and pant-sleeves.  Somewhere exists a photo of my sister and me perched triumphantly atop this pile of rock.

This was also the earliest Fourth of July celebration that I can recall.  In an empty feed bunk out by our garage we lit various sparkling fireworks, ground blooms, jumping jacks, those kinds of things.  Whether it truly was my first fireworks experience or not, I remember it feeling all very new.  Maybe it was because we’d just moved, and everything felt new.  But I know that since that moment, I’ve always had an incredible love for fireworks and the Fourth of July.

In that very same pen, some time later there was a cow that was incredibly unique compared to the thousands of others.  In general if you were to walk up to a pen of cattle, most of them will calmly but quickly back and trot away from you.  This animal however had absolutely no issues if you decided to step into its “bubble”.  It was so content in fact that Dad lifted my sister and I to sit on its back.  With a “ho-hum” attitude, the cow just stood there.  You could almost feel that it was enjoying the company.  Mom and that were both there and I just remember all of us laughing and shocked at the docile behavior of this cow.  I hope that one was particularly tasty.

While we lived there, we got my first dog.  Tiger.  He was… well a mutt.  That’s all I really can say.  Part this and part that.  Always high strung, and never particularly intelligent.  He was strong enough to really push me around at my age.  I remember I had an insulated coat that looked kind of like a flight jacket, with patches and insignia sewed on it.  I would put that coat on and Tiger and I would rough-house together in the front lawn.  That log loved every minute of it, and I did to.  I felt like that coat would protect me from anything that dog could do.

One night I remember waking up.  I had to go to the bathroom and as I opened my bedroom door I heard crickets.  Out here you ALWAYS heard crickets, but these seemed close, like right there in the room.  I stepped in to the hall to turn on the light and CRUNCH.  Right at the same time the switch flipped on revealing what had to be a dozen or more crickets just chirping and hopping away in the middle of the hallway.  “MOOOMMM! DAAADDD!”  I shouted.  Not so much out of fear, but mostly out of genuine confusion about how to handle the situation.  I made it to the bathroom and was put back to bed while I assume my parents vacuumed up dozens of live crickets.

Right across Butter & Egg Road from our house was a dirt lot on the top of the hill that was free from trees or buildings.  It was the perfect place for kite flying.  I remember two kite “events” that took place on this hill.  First was the “Sesame Street Kite Event”.  Wind is one of Southwest Kansas’s greatest natural resources.  Today, just drive 10 miles in any direction and you’re sure to find a modern wind farm.  So naturally it’s prime kite flying real estate.  I had a Sesame Street kite, nothing special, just one of those triangular kites you get at Wal-Mart or any other store.  With a fantastic breeze the kite was flying so easily.  Letting out a little string at a time, the kite got higher and higher.  Excited to see how high it could go, I let out more, and more.  Until suddenly the string let loose of the reel I was holding and the kite fluttered higher and higher, farther and farther.  You would think that a kite would crash to the ground without the pull of the string, but this kite just steadily rose higher in the sky, as the wind carried it farther and farther away.  I remember starting to cry and we turned back home after all hope of recovery was lost.  Even in the time it took us to walk back to the house, the kite never hit the ground.

The second kite event were our time honored “Kite Fights”.  It was what it sounds like.  Two kites, you try to knock the other one out of the sky.  Dad and I had had several kite fights before.  It was always good fun.  You’d knock one person’s kite down, launch it back up and do it again until you finally grew tired of it.  I had just gotten a new B2 Bomber kite.  It was awesome.  Sailing up in the sky it was majestic and intimidating.  And what better vehicle for a kite fight than an actual war machine?  I was unstoppable.  Dad was flying whatever girly kite my sister had, when as quickly as we started, Dad’s kite ripped a gaping hole in the wing of my B2 Bomber.  I still remember pulling back on the string with all my 6 year old might only to watch it spiral down into the dry dusty soil.  Once again, I walked back across Butter & Egg Road with one less kite and a heap of disappointment.

In that wood paneled living room we brought home our first Nintendo.  Mom says I worked to save up half the money for it.  For what felt like ages I had longed for one and Super Mario Bros.  When we brought it home from Wal-Mart I remember my parents saying it was going to take 30 minutes to get it all hooked up and thinking what an eternity that was going to be.  Later I remember watching Mom rescue the princess for the first time and being in awe of what she had “accomplished”.

We lived in the house at the feedyard from 1985 to 1990.  The more I write about it here, the more I remember.  Some little moments like popping wheelies in the tractor, or Mom & Dad laughing about how I pronounced “pint”, as “pent”.  (Thanks a lot phonics).  Some memories have more gravity surrounding them like watching the Nativity story every Christmas morning with my sister, and watching out the big picture window for Dad to come home so we can open presents.  I write these memories down so I don’t forget them.  But on the other hand, I feel like if I keep writing this post will never get published!

A few memories that deserve more attention:

  • The star on the top of the grain leg
  • Being first and last stop on the bus route
  • Breaking down in the Monte Carlo and walking home
  • Watching the “Ripper Planes” buzz by
  • The diamonds on the gates at the entrance
  • Getting pops out of the old pop machine
  • The swingset behind the house
  • Taking every toy out of our toy box
  • Bert & Ernie Halloween Pumpkins
  • The failed attempt at having my own room
  • Eating the “cornflakes” from the mill
  • Getting the NEW couch and lovseat

A feedyard isn’t on anyone’s list of “Great places to raise a kid,” but I do remember it fondly.  Maybe I just didn’t know any different.  I remember it as a place to play.  A place that can be dangerous with so many trucks.  A place that was rarely quiet.  A place for work.  But more than anything it was a place that felt like home.

And what about that smell?  Well, it stunk.  You get used to it.

Places and Things and Time

I like stuff.  You know things.  All the great advice for being happy though tells you not to put value into things, but rather put your value into experiences.  For me though, “things” tie me to those experiences.

Sure, it’s fun to get new stuff.  I enjoy it as much as the next person.  But I really like old stuff.  Things that have a story.  Things that bring back memories.  It’s not about the monetary value of the stuff.  When I’m gone, and no one cares about the stories anymore, all of my old stuff will just be junk.  And by the same line of thought, I don’t expect anyone else beside me to consider my stuff anything other than junk.  But let me tell you, I really enjoyed some old junk this past weekend.

Early summer in 1999 I quit my job at the IGA.  I worked all through the school year every year, and when summer came, I’d quit and soak up the long days with my friends Bob, Bef, Biebs, Chris and my girlfriend at the time, Andrea.  Ingalls, KS was far from the cure for teenage boredom.  So our cars and trucks gave us the freedom to break free of the predictable monotony of Ingalls and escape to things that at least by comparison were more interesting. We would spend nights and evenings fishing out at Dwyre’s sandpit, or Norb’s pond.  We’d drive to Garden to see a movie, or head to battle hill for an all night paintball battle.

Our good times were very much manufactured on the fly.  I remember one afternoon Bef in his 68 GMC and me in the 79 Caprice headed out to the Ingalls Airport and decided we were going to drag race each other there on the runway.  We rolled down the windows, lined up even with each other, and hit the gas!  The reluctant roar of both engines were followed by slow lurches forward, but all that mattered was who was going least slowest.  I don’t remember who won that race.  But I do remember one of the guys who worked at the airport running towards us out of the hangar shaking his fist and screaming something that I couldn’t quite make out over the roar of $30 worth of cherry bomb mufflers.

17 years later, the City of Ingalls and the Lions Club are organizing drag races on the runway at the Ingalls Airport.  And I still have that same Caprice.  They always say “you can never go back”, but damn… this is about as close as it’s ever going to get.  My stepmom, Carrie, asked if I was interested in going.  I played a cool “sounds like fun” attitude, but inside I was as excited as a 7 year old is for Christmas in November.  The day couldn’t get here soon enough.

Between then and now, plenty of life happened.  All of the work stuff and Luke’s school stuff, that I had expected, but Andrea’s mom’s health was starting to take a turn for the worse.  We decided that if she was willing, she could come stay at the house with us here.  We both knew it would bring a huge change to our daily life and what we’d grown to call “normal”.  As each week passed, she simply wasn’t getting better.  After a few scares and close calls, Jesus called her home.  Our life that had been less than normal, and for Andrea more challenging than ever, all of a sudden to a big punch straight to the face.

Working on the car had been an afterthought for weeks.  Instead I’d been building wheelchair ramps, juggling schedules to help with Luke so Andrea could go with her mom to appointments.  And taking evenings after work to get everybody out of the house so everybody wasn’t confined to the house until we all went crazy.  Suddenly, none of that mattered any more, but if life was now anything, it was less “normal” than ever.

A few days after her mom’s passing, Andrea said to me she felt like she just needed to get away and go spend some time with her aunt.  I told her to sleep on it, and if she still felt the same way in the morning, that she should go.  That next day she booked a flight to North Carolina to spend the week.

Luke went to stay with Andrea’s sister.  And I was a bachelor with one week to go before the race.  I had a pile of parts to put on the car, but nothing had gotten started.  At the time it just didn’t feel important.

The first night coming home to an empty house I mostly just sat and thought about everything that had transpired over the last 8 weeks or so.  8 weeks doesn’t seem like a long time when you think about life.  But it’s shocking how quickly 8 weeks can change your life.

Eventually my thoughts turned to the weekend coming up.  For a while with everything going on I did think about cancelling.  But I knew people were looking forward to it and even for Andrea it was going to be a pleasant distraction.  So I started tearing parts off getting ready for the new.

pulled apart

Ever since we got the car when I was 14 years old, it’s always driven like a yacht on choppy seas.  It started out I was just going to do an alignment, because the steering wheel was crooked and the wheels weren’t quite parallel just by looking at them.  But after I got the wheels up in the air I started checking out other parts.  The steering coupler in the shaft was worn out causing a big deadzone in the steering wheel.  The idler arm was toast, and so was the center link.  The tie rods weren’t terrible (must have replaced those at some point) but since they were less than $10 each… might as well replace them while everything’s apart.  Then I checked out the ball joints… after 37 years the original ball joints were still riveted in place!  So with the determination that the whole front steering needed replaced, I ordered up a pile of parts from RockAuto.com.

Parts.jpg

First thing I tackled was the wheel bearings.  Never done this job before.  Removing the bearing races was more of a challenge than I expected.  I remember the guy at Autozone asking if I wanted to rent a slide hammer to get the old ones out.  “Nah, I have a shop press.” I answered puffing up my chest.  “Oh.  Ok.”  He said.  What I found out is that the press is SUPER for installing the new bearing races.  But doesn’t really help you get the old ones out.  I remember thinking.  Boy.  A slide hammer would sure come in handy…  Nevertheless, I got it done by using the handle of one of my other tools and a rather large hammer.

bearings

bearings ready

With safety in mind I knew it needed a new gas tank.  One time when the drive shaft busted Dad pulled the car over on to the shoulder which angled down pretty good.  I noticed at that time that gas was dripping down onto the hot exhaust.  We played it pretty cool, but deep down I was ready to run.  Before we went out to the race, I knew I had to get that replaced.  Actually found a replacement gas tank at Autozone to my surprise.  And from experience I’ll tell you changing the tank on a 79 Caprice is quite a bit easier than it is on a 94 Blazer.

Next was the part that I dreaded the most.  Ball joints.  They just aren’t fun.  Grinding the rivets off takes forever.  And punching the rivets out is even more of a pain in the ass.  I end up using a combination of a screwdriver to pry up on the old ones and punching down on the rivets to get them out.  It just sucks.  Getting the lower ones out wasn’t difficult at all.  But pressing the new ones in was a nightmare.  They make the new ball joints bigger than the originals on purpose.  Thinking that after all this time a car has probably had it’s ball joints changed a few times and the hole it fits in has gotten a bit stretched out.  Well… since this old beast had NEVER had its ball joints changed, these new ball joints were a SUPER tight fit.  I kid you not, it took two whole nights just to get 4 ball joints changed.  You couldn’t pay me enough to be a mechanic every day.

After that I figured I was pretty home free.  Except that then I couldn’t get the tie rods to separate from the center link.  No problem.  I’ll just take the center link out with the tie rods still attached.  Except I couldn’t get the center link separated from the pitman arm that connects to the steering box.  I hammered away for probably 45 minutes.  Until finally I switched to a different sized fork, the one that I thought would be too big.  A couple solid smacks it came right apart. All about having the right too I guess.

tie rods.jpg

So after some cleaning, it was finally time to start putting things back together.  First the idler arm, the center link.  The spindles back onto the new ball joints.  The tie rods to the center link then to the spindles.  Before cinching everything down, one last look over everything.  Cranked down all the nuts and greased up the new joints and packed the new bearings.  The last part of putting it all back together was finally fun.

The Friday morning that I was supposed to leave, I still had to put in the new heater core.  I had gotten all the prep for that done at 4am, got a couple hours of sleep, and the new one went in with only a few problems.  I couldn’t use the original retaining bracket since the new heater core was slightly different than the original.  Nothing a few zip ties couldn’t fix.  No one will ever see them since it’s covered up by the heater box top.  Hehe.

heater core

Can you tell which one is new?

With everything finally put back together it was time to do the alignment.  I bought some neon orange twine and lined it up to be exactly parallel to the rear wheels.  I then set the alignment for the front wheels and some how, some way got each wheel set with just 1/8th of an in inch toe in.  I felt pretty good about it, and the car drives insanely better!  Now I just need new shocks….

With the work done and a quick road test from Andrea, it was time to hit the trail.  The car made it clear out to Cimarron with little fuss.  Dad got to take it for a spin around town.  I was happy for him to do so since he built the thing into it’s present form.  Except that every time I’m in the car with Dad… something breaks.  As we’re heading back to the house and Dad is gunning it around corners raising all hell across the town, I notice a CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK coming from the rear end.  We get home and I look under the car and can’t seem to see anything out of place.  Oh well.  If the car breaks on the track, we’ll figure something out.  Too late to do anything at this point.

I was up at 6am on Saturday morning.  Got my self cleaned up for the day and went to grab a cup of coffee.  The night before we’d fuel up the Black Car and the RV.  So pretty much all we needed to do was hop in and go.  We set out for the track around 8am.  When we got there there weren’t but maybe a dozen cars there.  Already though, they were cars all over the map.  From fairly stock cars to full blown track-only drag racers.  None of the workers really knew what was going on.  I thought this would be a pretty interesting day.

At-The-Race

Around 10am things started to get a little more organized.  We had a meeting with all the drivers who were there so far.  They made sure everybody knew this was just for fun, and to be safe so they’d have the opportunity to do it again.  Perfect.  This was going to be just my speed. And by my speed, I apparently mean slow.

fast cars

Sure.. I can beat these guys.

I will say, I have never driven anything faster or with more power than the Black Car.  But man compared to a lot of other cars there, sometimes it felt like I was just putting along!  Don’t get me wrong, it was still a blast!  I won I would guess 3 out of 20 races.  But I had fun every single time I went down the track.

It was such a cool feeling to pull into the box, light up the tires and smoke them.  Then back up to the line just like you see the big cars do.  Then everything after that happened real fast for me.  I’m sure after you’ve been at the line a hundred times, it all slows down in your mind.  But man from the moment they stage you to the moment the light comes on feels like a blur to me.  But then you hit the gas and go.

at the line

There’s definitely a skill to drag racing, and one I never mastered that day.  I spent most of the day trying to figure out how to get a good launch off the line.  I would spin my tires every time and the other cars would just drive away from me.  Maybe it was my tires, maybe it was my car, but I have a feeling it was the driver.  I saw cars with smaller tires than me get a lot better start!  So I do have a new respect for these drivers, as it’s more than just mash the gas and go.

I just enjoyed being there and being in the middle of it.  We love going to the drag races here in Great Bend.  But here I was really a part of it, even if not the star of the show.  I like to think there were people out there in the crowd rooting for me as the underdog.  It was fun to put the Black Car out on the track and see what it could really do.  It helps me decide the direction I want to take it in the future.  And it was just a great day to spend with the family.

Plus… I got to drag race on the Ingalls Airport runway again.

pit crew.jpg

Growing up in Dodge City (Part 1)

I always say, I really enjoy visiting Southwest Kansas, now that I know I can leave whenever I want.  My friends and most of the people I grew up with all shared a similar desire, to somehow reach an escape velocity in our lives that sent us on a trajectory full of opportunity and places with trees that were allowed to grow without being planted by human hands.  Some of us did launch in to distant places, and some of us settled down and found our place close to home.

That desire to leave really didn’t exist until my adolescent years, by which time we really didn’t even live in Dodge anymore, but in Ingalls, 20 some odd miles to the West.  It’s not that I don’t have some retroactively fond memories of Ingalls, just that in the years I actually lived in Dodge, I never had the urge to get out of Dodge.  I lived there from age 3 to 12.  At that age you just take everything at face value.  Not until my teenage years did I get the delusions that I could change the world around me or alter my trajectory in life.

We moved to Dodge City in 1985.  I was only three at the time, so I lack the ability to remember things like what time of year it was, if I immediately noticed the smell of manure, or if I noticed any of the landmarks along the way.  Most likely I slept through the whole trip as was my preferred style of travel for pretty much my entire youth.  What I do remember are the feelings of excitement and knowing that Dad had gotten a new job.  I remember knowing that we were leaving Woodlawn and we’d only be back to visit our family.

First thing I really remember about Dodge City itself was the Lora Locke Hotel.  Today it’s the home of rather boring Ford County offices, but in 1985 I believe you could still get a room at the Lora Locke.  When we first got to town we weren’t able to move into our house right away.  I never gave much thought to why at the time.  Again, when you’re three, you often just accept the world as it is.  We ended up in a small apartment on one of the upper floors of the hotel.  Just being on one of the top floors was cool.  (An experience I still always kinda get a kick out of as an adult at a hotel.)  You could look out the window and see the cars snaking down the streets.  We had a small kitchen area if I recall and one or two small rooms attached to the main room with beds.  It was fun and exciting to be doing something so different.

lora locke

A couple blocks away McDonalds on Wyatt Earp Blvd. had the COOLEST booth ever.  It was a life sized stage coach with a booth and table inside.  You literally had to climb up inside of it to sit in the thing.  And of course, I wouldn’t be satisfied unless we did.  Man.  So far, this Dodge City place was pretty awesome.

I had gotten some plastic train as the Happy Meal toy.  I only remember this because, perhaps all my other toys were packed away, un-retrievable until we got into our house and unpacked.  Maybe this little train was the only toy I had to play with?  For whatever reason I seem to remember rolling it around on the shiny terrazzo floors of the basement in the Lora Locke.  I want to say we were in the basement using the laundry facilities.  Or perhaps we were just scoping out the joint.

The Lora Locke was really a pretty classy joint as I remember it.  Or at least it looked like it could have been at one time.  We always came in the east entrance as I believe we usually parked in the lot across the street.  As you walked in there would be many mail boxes all locked up.  You quickly entered the lobby from the door however and I feel like the counter was off to the right as you walked by.  On the north side of the lobby was a staircase that lead up to a balcony.  I can’t remember if there was a piano up there or not.  Seems like it would have been a good place for one.  I’ve tried and tried to find photos of the interior of the hotel, but no such luck.

I remember being told all sorts of famous people had stayed there.  Some president, some movie stars.  Whether I heard those stories in the time that I stayed there or in the years after the fact, it all lent itself to making it feel like a pretty significant place.

We only stayed there for a few days at most.  A few years later I think I returned there to attend a wedding for some friends of my parents.  But in the decades that have passed all I have to remember it are the frequent trips driving past the building on Central, and the fuzzy memories of the time we spent there.  I’d like to go back and tour the place some time to see if any of what I remember still exists, or even ever did.  It could all be simply conjured up from the rapidly spinning wheels of a three year old’s imagination.

UPDATE:  I found one picture of the Lora Locke Hotel lobby on Facebook.  It only leaves me wanting to see more!

Lora Locke Lobby

Damage Control

Today was one of those days.  When your day begins before you even wake up.  We lost a server for one of our radio stations early in the morning.  So my phone rang around 6:10am this morning with a co-worker informing me of its demise.  Of course we all always hold out the hope that a simple turning it off and back on will snap it back into routine order.  You’d be surprised how often that works!  This time, however, the situation was terminal.

Sparing the boring details of troubleshooting and hardware swapping, by noon we were back up and running.  Half the day shot in a week I really needed to get caught up.

I feel like a lot of my life recently has been in damage control mode.  Constantly just putting out the most raging intense fire that happens to be burning at the time.  It reminds me of the old Sim City 2000 game, where a plane would crash and a fire would break out.  You have this gigantic city that you’ve built, but it is at this moment you realize that you’ve only built two fire stations.  So as you race to contain the fire in one direction, it rapidly envelops your once thriving industrial sector in the other.  At some point you just hope the fire will run its course and that you can rebuild and move on.  It worked for Chicago.

No sweat.  Everything is under control.

No sweat. Everything is under control.

In the midst of all the perceived chaos, I did make time to go see the new Bond fild “Spectre” with Andrea.  It was pretty good, though I’d have to say my least favorite of the Daniel Craig films so far.  I can’t quite put my finger on why.  That’s still to say it was pretty damn outstanding.  I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to Bond movies.

It got me to thinking, about the constants in my life.  I’ve seen every new 007 movie in the theaters, on or close to opening day since Die Another Day in 1997.  My life, the world, it now feels SO different than it did in those days.  Back then the things I got excited about were new N64 games, ZIP drives, MP3s, and… well Bond.  Now a days I get excited about days off, getting to watch an uninterrupted episode of Cheers, and sweeping out the garage.  And well… Bond.

I suppose I really enjoyed it because it helped remind me that I’m still that person.  I turned my phone completely off.  Leaned into the girl that I love, and just soaked up something that JUST FELT RIGHT.

I hate to complain.  And I think for that reason, I need to write more.  The blog has always been a good place to blow off some emotional energy, both positive and negative.  Getting it all out there helps keep a bit more of an equilibrium.  Just putting all this down feels good. Feels… like old times.

Thirty Three

Well, yesterday was a great birthday.  At least as far as grown up birthdays go.  I had a regular old day at work.  But when I got home, Andrea and Luke made me a cake completely full of candles!  There was a lot of heat coming off that baby!

They also got me some pretty cool presents.  Luke got me an old… well it was new… the concept is old to me… video chair for the game room.  I haven’t sat in one of those since we had the ones back in Ingalls.  I seem to rock back much easier in this chair.  I think I just happen to be a bit more top heavy these days.

Andrea picked up an old Gamecube game for me, “Star Fox: Assault”.  I’d heard mixed reviews about this game, but I wanted to pick it up someday anyway and decide for myself.  Honestly, I don’t know what people are complaining about.  A lot of folks didn’t like the ground missions, but for me even those were still really fun.  I haven’t gotten anywhere close to beating the game yet, but the short time I’ve spent with it has been time well spent.

I also played a little Mario Kart 64 last night.  Got really close to a new best time ever on Luigi’s Raceway.  After all this time I’ve been trying some new strategies and taking new shortcuts.  But it’s always very satisfying when I land a time on the leaderboard.  We do a little Time Trial competition at the Nintendo 64 Forever Forum.  It’s fun to compete with some of the other members there and it keeps me motivated to continue to play and improve my times.

Tonight it’s more organizing around the house.  We finished painting the basement yesterday, so just a little touch up here and there where the tape pulled the paint off the wall…. and then start hanging up all the decorations.  I’m looking forward to making the room a fun space to hang out when people are over.

I guess at this point, birthdays really are just another day.  I remember when I was a kid, I NEVER thought that would happen.  Sure maybe other people.  But ME?  I’m going to have a big old party every year.  At that skating rink!  That actually still sounds like a lot of fun.

Before I Forget

I haven’t forgotten about the blog.  In fact I often think about it… and a wave of guilt rushes over me.  Much like the time I was playing Animal Crossing on the Gamecube.  The Mayor was going on vacation for a week and asked me to turn the lighthouse on each night.  Naturally I forgot.  Not just one night… but every night.  It was truly months before I went back to the game mostly because of the shame and scorn I was surly to receive.  This is pretty much the same.

So I’m back.  So much has changed since last time.  There are so many moments that have passed by undocumented.  In the past I’ve blamed Twitter for being too easy to blast out photos and stories.  But I haven’t even been using Twitter that much lately either.  What’s changed?  That’s something I can’t quite put my finger on.

About the time of my previous post we were just getting serious about house hunting.  An experience I truly regret not chronicling.  It truly felt like some sort of Space Mountain type ride.  Where you’re strapped in, on rails you go through all these different twists and turns, never quite sure where you are, or what is really happening.  And then you’re pooped out at the end the same as everyone else.  With a house and a bunch of debt, and if someone asked you to explain in detail exactly how you got from the start to the finish, you’d be hard pressed to do so.

I really like the house we ended up with though.  We looked at quite a few houses.  Some nicer than others.  Some much crappier than others.  But this had almost everything we wanted.  All the big stuff for sure.  It’s much nicer than anything I ever expected to have or even deserve.  It’s been updated around the turn of the century.  It’s plenty big for the three of us.  And it has a great big shop to not only park the cars in but have room to work without moving everything around.  Just the fact that we don’t have to start up a car to play basketball in the driveway is an upgrade!

In all honesty though I was quite happy with the house we were renting before.  I had a garage I could work on the cars, a nice big back yard for get togethers and Luke to play in.  Great neighbors.  Lots of room.  It was still nicer than I ever thought I deserved.  The last couple weeks there I was really thinking about how great of a place it was for us, and how I really would miss it.  After we moved all of our stuff out and I was there doing the final scrub down I went through the house for the final time.  I went room to room and just stopped and reflected on all the great memories there.

Downstairs in the computer room where Andrea and I spent a lot of time there were some great memories playing Guild Wars 2.  Late night gaming sessions playing Rise of Nations, and many many posts on my new favorite forum N64Forever.com.  But it was also a place where Luke spent a ton of time playing.  He bounced in there as an infant.  We stacked blocks and tossed foam bricks at each other.  He had his first laugh in that room.  And possibly became the only 1 year old in the last 20 years to figure out how to use a Floppy Diskette!

The Family Room downstairs was host to some epic poker games.  Most that ended early in the morning hours with a questionable All-In bet because we were all tired and ready to sleep.  Friends and family crashed out on the futon.  Screams of laughter filled the room playing games like Wii Party U or Nintendoland.  It was a great room to show off what Andrea and I were both passionate about with all her 49ers stuff and the KSU, Bond and Friends posters that graced the walls.

The small bedroom down there was Luke’s first bedroom by himself.  Previously the Retro Room we cleared it out and set Luke up in there.  He took to it almost immediately.  First in his crib, then in his Lightning McQueen bed.  I remember he was so excited to put it together that in the midst of “helping” he almost lost several of the screws and fasteners that would hold it together.  It’s where he’d get dressed to face the day each morning, always bright and smiling.  And of course it was also the place where the water would leak and soak the carpet every time there was a heavy rain.  Not everything was perfect about that house.

After discovering the leak, we moved Luke to the room across the house in the basement.  It had just been a guest room up to this point.  But we moved all his stuff over there and I made sure to keep Luke involved in every part of the process.  Where he wanted his bed.  Where his stickers and posters would go.  Once again, he had very little problem switching rooms.  For the first couple nights he wanted to go back to the “old room” but after that, he had totally bought in!  I told so many bedtime stories in this room.  My bedtime stories are usually real stories about things I did, or things he remembers.  Whether it’s about Mom building the solar system model that hangs in his room, the snowflakes we cut out of paper, launching rockets when I was a kid, or the story of the Black Car; I always let Luke pick the story.  And whatever he picked I told it to the best of my ability and tried to keep them consistent when he chose the same story over and over.

Even the bathroom downstairs was an emotional goodbye.  Luke would brush his teeth every night as I sang him his ABC’s.  It’s such a strange thing to get sad about, but the thought that my little guy and I would never be in that room sitting on top of the dryer brushing teeth and getting ready for bed honestly moved me to tears.  As I turned off the light for the final time I knew it was a place and time I’d never ever be able to go back to.

Everything upstairs was just as meaningful.  The bedroom where Andrea woke me up in the middle of the night and said it was time to go to the hospital.  We left that night and came back with a bigger family.  It was home to the nursery, the retro room 2.0, and many nights pacing back and forth with a baby in my arms just hoping and waiting for him to fall asleep so I could soon do the same.  I remember after we first moved in, in April, I was so happy because for the first time possibly of my life, I had a bedroom with windows you could actually open.  I loved the feeling of sleeping with the cool breeze blowing in.  Reminded me of camping.  Only on a soft bed.  And an alarm clock to wake me up.

The kitchen was home to some great meals made by Andrea, and as retro and out of date as that kitchen was, I loved it.  For all those reasons!  There was a super cool 70’s square light shade that hung in the middle of the kitchen when we moved in.  I cleaned it all up and it was like brand new.  Until roofers came to re-shingle the roof after a hail storm.  The constant hammering on the roof knocked the light down and it shattered on the floor.  One of history’s greatest losses.  Here Luke also had his 1st Birthday.  I remember he cried when everyone (crammed into the house) laughed when he plopped his face into his the Yoshi Egg cake that Andrea had made for him.

The living room was great.  No TV.  Just the old GE radio.  Some comfy furniture and the fireplace.  The picture window was perfect for setting up the Christmas tree.  Andrea and I would snuggle on the couch enjoying a fire in the fireplace.  Luke always had plenty of toys out and about to play with.  And the time Andrea set his “Christmas Train” up around the tree and he discovered it for the first time was just so magical.

I know things change.  And I know the home we’re in now will create so many great memories just as wonderful, maybe even more so.  But the move to the new place was certainly a bittersweet moment in time.  I wonder how much, if anything Luke will remember of it.  I know I always remember the house on Worden fondly.