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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Flying to Florida

The first leg of my journey to Florida passed through the beautiful Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. They actually employ a rail system like Las Vegas uses to trundle people from one casino to the next, only the Dallas airport rail takes you from gate terminal complex to gate terminal complex. Thinking I had all the time in the world, I waited until near boarding time to discover by airport video display I was a rail system away from the gate my next flight left from. Imagine having an over three hour layover, only to end up running through the airport as if in an old Hertz rent-a-car commercial.

Next up, Miami International, where after being in Dallas, I thought I’d arrived in Bogata, Columbia. Really, the only thing missing from Miami International to make it appear I had been transported into the middle of the old movie ‘Romancing The Stone’ was there were no people carrying livestock through the terminal building. I found the gate where the ‘puddle jumper’ would be taking me to my Sarasota destination. The nice lady there put me on a bus with only a couple seats at the back for the infirm; and rails for the rest of us to cling to, while they drove us out to the propeller driven Sarasota bound plane awaiting us. Think the airplane in ‘Major League’, where the Cleveland Indians arrived at the airport, and the pilot was readying their plane by duct taping the propeller.

I flew aboard ‘Indiana Jones’ airliner into Sarasota Airport safely, and with my luggage. This feat, to me, surpassed in complexity the recent ‘soft’ landing on Mars by our latest space ship. The incredible workings capable of taking me and my bag together through this aviation pilgrimage from Oakland, CA, where I said adieu to my bag at 4:00 AM Pacific Standard Time, to Florida at 10:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, boggles the mind. I had an aisle seat all the way with no kids near me on the flight, so I’m not gripin’. My sister’s main home reminded me of the places I walked around gawking at when I traveled by way of Florida to the New Orleans Mardi Gras in 1973. The cops cut my sightseeing short back then. I made it about a block before they put me in the back of their squad car, checked my military reserve ID (I’d only been out a few months at the time), and let me go with a warning never to walk around the area again. They did explain there had been a series of burglaries, and I wasn’t being profiled for ‘Walking While Raggedy’. Anyway, my sister’s holdings in Florida are gorgeous. I’m glad I didn’t bring my wife with me. After seeing my sister’s house, she’d torture me for the rest of my days. :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sing Along

My daughter and grandson came to stay with us this past weekend. We watched the 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' musical episode my daughter brought with her, numerous times during their stay. My six year old grandson knows nearly all the words to all the songs. Luckily, most of them are harmless. I put on the subtitles and we sat there after full days of basketball, miniature monster truck racing, and baseball, singing Buffy show tunes together. It was hilarious.

I am leaving for Florida tomorrow morning, so blog posts may be sketchy at best until my return at the end of next week. If I get stuck babysitting kids for parents hiding out in a different area of the plane like my flight last year, I will surely document it. :)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

This Memorial Day, I repeat a few of my favorite quotes in honor of those who have fallen in defense of America, and in thanks to the men and women of our armed forces today. They stand as their forefathers before them, in defense of Western Civilization and our way of life.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

British Philosopher, John Stewart Mills

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

In peace nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility; but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, disguise fair nature with hard favored rage ... We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother; be ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed, Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhood's cheap whiles any speaks, That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day ... From now until the end of the world, we and it shall be remembered. We few, we Band of Brothers. For he how sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.

— William Shakespeare, , King Henry V

Sunday, May 25, 2008


This week, more than a few on-line acquaintances in the writing and automotive forums I visit, mentioned how quickly discussions descend into chaotic flame wars of personal attacks. Tess Gerritsen’s blog, which is one of my favorites, was a victim of this a few weeks ago. Ms. Gerritsen made what I thought was a very funny remark, thereby innocently starting a multi-blog flame war. When a writer can invoke such reactions with words, I see it as a positive thing. Readers, who become enraged and offended by even the most level headed discourse should probably sit on their hands while blogging. :)

Have you ever noticed in commenting on a blog, how people ignore the literal words you so carefully typed, and substitute whatever happens to be clanging around in their own minds? If you disagree with a point of view, they see hatred, rather than an alternative viewpoint. The complexity of debate, in an area where no one viewpoint can be proven wrong with factual data, seems beyond the ability of many to enter into without rage. It is stirring to note how a simple paragraph can send readers into a paroxysm of anger. I don’t believe in trolling; but lately, I’ve begun to wonder how many real trolls are out here in the Ethernet. If expressing an unpopular opinion baits people into a flame war, who is at fault? Candy coated writing, inside a circle-jerk of like minded people seems boring to me; but when someone tries to host an exchange of ideas, the would be host usually ends up with a conflagration. I can certainly understand why the number of people brave enough to do this foolhardy act of hosting is dwindling rapidly.

Disagreement is not a profession of hatred. It is the natural order of things. Although I am often surprised at how people react to a comment in opposition to their opinion, I do find it humorous. They hone in on my words, translate them into something attacking them or expressing hatred, then fire off a flaming response, meaningless to the original topic. I always picture some poor soul, their faces contorted in rage, sweat beading on their foreheads, pounding on their keyboard in fury, all because of a few simple sentences. Man, that’s power. :)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Return Of Ms. Every Detail

Ms. Every Detail was in today for brake servicing. Some may remember Every. She comes in with a complaint. I find out what’s wrong and explain it in excruciating item by item detail. When she arrives to pick up the car, I bite my lip, because I know what’s coming: ‘so, what did we do today’? This time, since I blogged about her before, I thought I’d have a go at avoiding the half hour rehash when she picked up the car. I checked out her car for a whistling noise in front. It turned out the disc brakes were down to the sensors, which touch the rotors, and cause a high pitched squealing noise. She also needed the hydraulic calipers. They were sticking, and had never been changed on the sixteen year old Nissan she now owns in place of her old Toyota Tercel.

I wrote out an estimate, so detailed, it would have made Tolstoy proud. I presented it to her in the office. She read it over, and asked for an explanation, since she didn’t understand how brakes could make a whistling noise. Because I’m asked this on a regular basis, I keep a worn out pad to show customers the small metal tang positioned so as to rub the rotor when the pads wear thin, thus protecting the rotors from damage. She listened intently, nodding her head as I explained how the brake caliper pistons were not retracting as they should.

“Is that why the car pulls to the side when I put on the brakes?” Every asked intelligently.

“Yes, sticking calipers can cause exactly that, and premature brake pad wear,” I answer, thinking wow, maybe I’ve done this show and tell so thoroughly, Every will simply pick her car up without an interrogation.

Every signs the estimate, and takes a copy home with her. I do the job. It checks out perfectly on the test drive. I call Ms. Detail. She arrives in the office. I hand her the bill. She reads it over, and…

“So, what did we do to my car today?”

I fought down every snappy smartass answer trying to burst through my frozen lips with all the willpower I could muster. I stood with my Halloween mask smiling face so long she looked up at me from the estimate to see if I was still there. Just as I sat down to begin the interrogation I now knew was inevitable, Every shoots from the hip.

“What are these caliper things you have on the bill?”

Every is probably blogging her own view of our encounter: how I made my mechanic’s head explode. :)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Buying Used Cars

Here are some tips I may have missed on previous posts on the subject.

1. Go over the maintenance records carefully. People with well maintained cars keep records. Cars with timing belts are a prime example of needing to examine the records in detail. It won’t be such a great deal if you have to spend $800 and up to replace the timing belt right after buying the car, if you’re lucky and it doesn’t snap taking the engine with it.

2. Check the lights, both inside the car and outside.

3. Don’t kick the tires, look closely at the tread on every one of them. Those babies are expensive to replace. Irregular wear can mean big repair bills.

4. Don’t laugh, but if the undercarriage is caked with mud, you may be looking at a Katrina victim. I looked at a Saturn for a customer last month, which had at some time in the recent past been sunk to the floor boards in mud.

5. Although only a thorough leak detection check can tell for certain if the people just charged up the air conditioner, at least make sure it works in all positions with the controls. Listen for when it kicks on. Overly noisy engagement means trouble. AC repairs start at upwards of a thousand dollars.

6. Try out the radio, cassette, CD player, and make sure there’s no tinny sound from the speakers. Blown out speakers are annoying as hell.

7. Open up the hood, and look to see if various fluids are coating the engine. Check the fluid levels, even though they may have changed the eng oil to sell the car. Bringing along a small flashlight is a good idea for playing CSI on a used car.

8. If the coolant in the overflow bottle is missing or looks like mud, that’s a bad sign. You want to see bright red or green.

9. Pull off the oil filler cap and look at the underside. It should look black or whatever the color the cap is. If there’s any viscous creamy looking stuff or beads of moisture, walk away.

10. Turn off all sounds on the test drive, and close the windows. Listen for out of the ordinary road noise, pulling when the steering wheel is released, pulling to one side when braking, noises when braking, and excessive noise when going over bumps.

11. Get a smog test before buying the vehicle. If it won’t pass smog, walk away.

12. Pick a vehicle for your needs. If you need a pickup truck, don’t buy a Honda Civic and load it down like a pickup. The gas mileage drops exponentially on small four cylinder cars when they are loaded down. If you want to commute with people and baggage, a V6 engine will probably be a better choice.

If the used vehicle still looks like a good buy after you’ve gone through all this, take it to a trusted pro. Buying a used car is a lot like sending your manuscript in to an editor. You want to have done all the basics before they look at it. If it's not possible to get the final check, those maintenance records are super important.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Check Out

I checked out a used car for one of my customers and her daughter this morning. The car, a 1998 Oldsmobile, ran very well. The owner of a used car lot brought it in for the check. I’ve known this guy for over thirty years, and he’s sold cars to many of my customers. He told me right off in the first minute this was his last year in the business. I’m filling out the invoice while he’s talking, and looking over the car. It was a real beauty, inside and out. Then, my salesman acquaintance started down a line of rather strange dialogue.

“Bernie, you can’t believe how many cars I’ve had checked out, and the mechanic bombs the deal. Then, I sell the car, and the buyer gets years of trouble free driving.”

“If the car checks out as good as it looks, I’m not going to kill the deal just for the hell of it. My customer needs a car for her daughter, and this would be a good one.”

Then he hits me with the second piece of news I didn’t like the sound of.

“I changed out the broken digital dash on this, so it has about thirty thousand more miles than it says. I told your customer that too.”

“You do know that’s illegal, right?” I’m not a stickler for this particular bit, because the digital dashes on these crap out all the time. I can usually tell if the mileage is close to accurate by the looks of other parts on the car.

“Well, they can’t reset it. It’s digital.”

“They do it all the time,” I correct him, but I’m pretty sure he knew it already. “I change digital dashes frequently, and when they need to replace the odometer, it’s a state law the original mileage has to be put back on it.”

“Oh… okay, well call me when you’re through.”

“I will, thanks.”

My computer scan reveals numerous airbag history codes, but no engine or ABS brake codes. The car is running trouble free on the scanner, and everything works: lights, air conditioning, heater, radio, even the cassette deck. Under the hood, many of the regular maintenance items have been replaced, like the multi-accessory belt and hoses. The spark plugs reveal about the mileage on the car the salesman said. I look at the underside of the oil cap; and there’s a creamy white substance covering it, which can only mean one thing: coolant getting into the crankcase. Then I pull off the upper engine cover, finding signs of oil leakage at the manifold. The Olds has a 3.8 liter V6 engine, and they have a lot of problems with intake manifold leakage. If the gaskets are changed in time, the engine is usually fine. Unfortunately, it’s a gamble. If coolant has been present in the crankcase for a long time, it can mean engine damage showing up later. I took digital pictures of the cap and oil leakage, after completing the undercarriage check, and transferred them to a fact sheet. I erased the air bag codes and they did not reset. The undercarriage looked real good, so if the bags deployed it may have been a simple fender bender, or false codes set when the battery was changed.

My salesman buddy was not happy.

“I forgot to tell you. I steam cleaned the engine. The stuff probably got on the cap then.”

“Nice try; but no, and if you’re steam cleaning cars with these electronics, it’s a miracle any of them run. I’ll tell the lady it’s a gamble. If you give her a break for the intake manifold repair, maybe she’ll gamble on it.”

“Man, that’s around $1200.”

So, he’s not as ill informed as he pretends.

“Better than selling it to someone, and have the engine blow a couple months down the line. It may anyhow, depending on how long the crankcase has been getting coolant in it. The oil’s brand new, so…”

“I never changed the oil in it.”

“Yea, okay, whatever you say,” I reply. “You can take it now. Here’s the copy of the fact sheet and invoice.

I hand him my picture sheet and invoice copies. He’s really not happy now.

“You took digital’s,” he observes mournfully.

“It’s part of the check out,” I don’t add the obvious, concerning him running back to the lot, and wiping out the evidence.

“Great, I’ll… talk to you later.”

Not if you can help it, I’ll bet. :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shop Battery

Over the past couple months while blogging about Layla and the ABC crew, I incorporated a few things happening in real life at my shop. This morning, I had one of those inane conversations I’ll have to store for a sequel.

“Hey man,” a middle thirties guy calls out from the big door.

Right on time because I just walked out of the office. “May I help you?”

“Yea… sell me one of your used batteries for a…”

“I don’t sell used batteries, only new Delco batteries,” I cut in, rather than let him give me a vehicle description.

“C’mon,” Mr. Usebat laughs incredulously, “you guys always have shop batteries around.”

“I do have a shop battery, but it’s not for sale.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s a shop battery,” I reply, “and it’s over four years old. I use it…”

“I don’t care,” Mr. Usebat interrupts animatedly nodding his head, “that’s just what I need. How much?”

“It’s not for sale,” I repeat, wishing I had never admitted having one. “You do understand just because I have a shop battery, doesn’t mean it will fit in your car anyway.”

“I’ll make it work. How much?”

“Think of it this way. I sell you the shop battery, and you go home and hook it up. What happens if it doesn’t start your vehicle?”

“I’d bring it…” Mr. Usebat pauses, knowing he stepped off the tightrope, and he’s working without a net.

“Exactly,” I fill in for him.

“How much for a new one then?” Mr. Usebat asks, resigned he’s not going to separate me from my shop battery.

“Come in the office and give me the application, and I’ll find out,” I direct, opening the office door for him.

“Can’t you give me a ball park figure?”

“Sure, somewhere between $80.00 plus tax to $150.00 plus tax. Delco batteries are pretty expensive, but they’re the best. If…”

“Shit… I’ll just go to Walmart!”

“Okay,” I shrug, letting the office door close.

“Could I borrow your shop battery to drive over to Walmart?”

If only I could conjure Layla…


Saturday, May 17, 2008


It’s been hard this week to return to regular blog programming with Layla ending, and my readying the manuscript for querying. A gentleman popped in on Friday morning all smiles, and cheery demeanor; but his attitude changed quickly, when I was unable to comply with his request. In the professional auto repair business, we have plenty of do-it-your-selfers, just as with any other repair type occupation. In plumbing, carpentry, and house electrical work, I’m a do-it-your-selfer. If the do-it-yourselfers stay within the limits of their expertise, they can save a lot of money.

One area I don’t patch is brakes. I’ve mentioned it in blog posts before, because it evokes the most animosity from the people who screw their brakes up during a do-it-yourself attempt, and then come in expecting me to make it better cheaply. After all, they’ve done the hard part, or they think they have. In reality, I can’t patch something very likely to result in the deaths of one or more persons. Friday’s visitor had decided to do a brake repair himself; and by the time I convinced him of the fact I would not just bleed out the brakes for him, I was beginning to wish I could call Layla out to handle him. :)

Speaking of Layla, I already received my first rejection. The first part was pretty standard: wrong fit, etc. The last sentence was a kick though:

So, we'll step aside and wish you well for publishing success.’

How thoughtful and unique. With five manuscripts being queried now, I’ve seen a slew of rejection notices, but never a line like that. Although I like the short ‘not for us’ best, I smiled when I read this new bit. I had to stifle myself; because the reply popping into my head went something like this: Thank you for stepping aside when you did, the mob waiting outside ready to publish LAYLA was getting antsy. Maybe I should do a blog post on ten things not to say in reply to a rejection notice, if you ever want anyone to take a look at your stuff again.

I stuck with ‘Thank you for your time and quick reply’. :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Here's a spin-off sample I'm kicking around for the ABC Crew. :)

Uncle Cole told me my Father was a Dhampir, born of a vampire father and human mother. It’s exciting really. My Mom loves Uncle Cole, as do my Aunts, Layla and Jill. I’m Jim. I’m five years old, and the terror of all who meet me according to Aunt Layla. They say I’m a prodigy, and my IQ off the charts, which Aunt Layla blames for my level of deviltry. I don’t think I’m so bad.

“Jim, you scourge of the devil!”

I’m afraid my Aunt Layla has discovered I’ve rearranged her unicorn collection, using a glue I concocted with Uncle Cole’s 3M Trim Cement and gummy bears.

“Get down here, you little shit!”

I hear my Aunt Jill laughing, and trying to calm the raging Layla. She’s a Djinn, a magical being of immense power. She wields no power over me for some reason of my lineage, and I exploit this exception to her continued angst. I love her very much though, so usually I entertain my magical Aunt, evoking laughter and chiding whimsy. Today, my five year old mind craved a challenge. I will be in the imaginary doghouse, Uncle Cole refers to as his hideaway from the female trio in charge of monitoring me. Whenever I do something good, I’m under the influence of my Mom and Aunts. When I screw up, it’s Uncle Cole’s fault; which is why I used the 3M Trim Cement as one of the ingredients. It’s Saturday morning, and Uncle Cole should be here any minute to take us all to Great America theme park. Although I like sleeping in on Saturday’s, I snuck downstairs at five AM to rig up my unicorn surprise

“Coming, Aunt Layla,” I call down sweetly. If I’ve timed this right, Uncle Cole should be ringing the doorbell any… yes… there it is. Being a genius doesn’t always mean building nuclear accelerators like in the ‘Ghostbusters’. Sometimes it involves timing. I hurry downstairs a few seconds before Aunt Layla’s angry summons has my Mom rushing after me from her room to see what I’ve done now. The pot has been stirred, and I must rush to the eye of the storm.

Aunt Jill answers the door, and I see her sneak in a hug and kiss before Aunt Layla sees her. She doesn’t allow any mushy stuff since I came along. Aunt Jill and Uncle Cole ‘wrench’ together at Uncle Cole’s ABC Repair Shop, where Aunt Layla runs the office. My Mom’s ‘Witches’ Brew’ novelty store is in the back section. Mom catches up to me as I reach the stairway landing. Aunt Layla arrives to stand with hands on hips, shooting laser beams out her azure eyes from me to Uncle Cole.

“What have you done, Jim?” Mom asks, putting the Vulcan neck pinch on me.

“Nothing,” I answer, hunching my shoulders in falsely accused fashion.

“Come over here, you little spawn!” Layla gestures toward the living room, where her unicorn collection lay encased in a special crystal and glass display. “You too, Cole, you worm.”

“I just got here, Layla, what…” Cole is protesting as my Mom stops him for some adult yucky hellos.

“Is this something of yours?” Layla asks as we all reach the unicorns, and she holds up the empty economy size tube of 3M Yellow Trim Cement.

Uncle Cole takes the tube from her, but he’s watching me. My Mom gasps, which draws Uncle Cole to my artistic creation. He takes one look, and starts howling in laughter, with Aunt Jill slapping him with one hand, and stifling her own laughter with the other. Mom, however, is looking back and forth from the collection to me in horror. The unicorns have been staged with a colorful mixture of blended gummy bears and trim cement, poking each other with their head horns in inappropriate places, all in a circle of torment.

“Oh… oh my God,” Mom covers her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Layla.”

“It’s not your fault! It’s his accomplice, Amazing Dog Boy!” Layla jabs at the quieting Cole, who suddenly realizes where this conversation is headed.

“Now wait a damn minute, Layla… you can’t possibly…”

“Were you or were you not cementing a transmission gasket in place with that very tube of yellow glop while the Hell-spawn watched on Friday?!”

“Hell-spawn?” Mom graces Aunt Layla with a no longer penitent look, which earns her a quick Aunt Layla warning finger to stay out of it.

“You’ll notice my name’s not on it,” Uncle Cole points out, holding up the tube, only to have it slapped from his hand by the furious Layla. “Okay… he watched me… so now this is my fault? Jen asked me to watch Jim for a few minutes while she went out for supplies.”

“Each time he spends a few minutes with you, he creates havoc for weeks,” Layla is now pointing at her collection with exaggerated sadness.

“You are such a drama queen,” Uncle Cole retorts. “Clean the little glass dogs off, Djinnster, and let’s get going.”

“They’re unicorns, you… you… knuckle-dragging oaf! Clean up is not the point. Jim, aping your every thoughtless deed is the point. You have to be more careful. The boy needs discipline, and a better example.”

“Fine… discipline it is then. Forget Great America, little man. You’ll be cleaning your room and practicing the art of writing as you render the sentence ‘I am sorry Aunt Layla’ three hundred times.”

“No…no Great America?” I make my lower lip tremble as the great Djinn melts. I put my head down and trudge toward my room. “Yes…yes Sir.”

“Now look what you’ve done!” Aunt Layla heaps scorn on Uncle Cole as I turn quietly to watch the fun.

“But Cole… “Aunt Jill takes his hand, “we’ve had this planned for weeks.”

“Cole’s right, you two,” Mom begins to dissemble my plan. She gestures at my handiwork tiredly. “This… this is just… disturbing.”

Calming down quickly, as Aunt Layla sees the first trip of the season to her favorite amusement park going south quickly, she flips a finger toward the forlorn unicorns, instantly cleaning and arranging them.

“I don’t see why I should be punished for what Cole causes,” Aunt Layla says. “We’ll go to Great America, but Jim won’t get an extra ice cream today.”

“Oh no… not that,” Uncle Cole mocks her comically. “The little bugger plays you three like a violin. We’ll let Layla countermand the punishment she’s demanded; but I’ll think of something for my young sorcerer’s apprentice, come Monday.”

Uh oh, I may have to rethink these humorous exercises. Uncle Cole turns to look at me with a smile not reaching his eyes. He’s well over six feet tall, lean, work muscle strong, and really scary. He wouldn’t hurt me… ah… at least… I don’t think he would. Best I let some time pass before I test the theory again.