Monthly Archives: May 2016
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.
Butter & 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.