Car & Reader

I know, we have not been very good at writing posts the last few weeks.  We have been a bit distracted with the sale of the house, work, and all the decisions/options/thoughts around the move. We will be going to the D.C. area later this month to poke around and I am sure we will write about that next week.

After last week’s musings about cars and transmissions, I was reading a moderately interesting book, The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott, about George Remus, a bootlegger during prohibition. (I haven’t finished it yet, so I can’t tell you if it is worth reading, but I will try to remember to mention it once I am done.) There are numerous mentions of the cars he owned and drove. It made me think about my favorite books about cars  and driving and figured this was a good forum to list a few of my favorites.

First, of course On The Road by Jack Kerouac.  It is a brilliant book about road trips and living the beatnik lifestyle. There is something about his writing style that defined a generation and introduced me (and maybe others) to the brilliance of  Alan Ginsberg, Ken Kesey (who is forgiven for Bonfire of the Vanities—I guess he needed the money) and William S. Burroughs. I long to go back to the time before I was born, to live a life that didn’t really exist, and to do things which I never would really have done. Oh, I am wearing only the best of rose-colored glasses

Next on my favorites list is Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent. My first contact with this book was hearing the author read a capture of  it live on BBC. I was, appropriately enough, in my car (A metallic blue Citroën  BX19 GTI) driving to work.  It was so funny and so enjoyable, that I sat in my car in the parking lot waiting for him to finish before going into work. I went out that afternoon and bought the book and read it all that day.  It is fabulous. Please do me a favor, follow the link and read the first paragraph of the book, it is that good. Full disclosure—I have read everything Bill Bryson has written and I love all his books.

Third is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.  It is a deeply personal and disturbing account of a man and his son riding a motorcycle across the country. I read it a long time ago and still think about it. It is one of those books that just stays with you—at least it did for me. Mark Richardson wrote  Zen and Now in 2008, which followed the same route as Pirsig and tracked down many of the people from the book. It is worth reading too, but I would classify it as an homage rather than a critique or covering new ground.

I would welcome you comments and any suggestions on good road trip books.

 

 

 

Cars, Cars, Cars

Today’s post is a homage to my nephew Michael and his severely damaged Subaru—Charles.  Michael, this too shall pass, and I hope Charles gets a new engine and is back on the road soon.

I love to drive. The joy of the open road, especially in a convertible is one of my favorite ford fusionfeelings. My trusty Saab is a 2006, so it lacks many of the toys that newer cars have. So when we travel and rent cars, I really enjoy the modern conveniences. I was in Boston last week for work (I know, way too much business travel) and I rented a Ford Fusion. It was a hybrid with a video screen showing all sorts of interesting stuff (mostly the music I was playing and the navigation). But what I found most interesting was the gear selector. It was a round knob on the console. For some reason, I found that every time I shifted out of reverse, I would accidentally put it inpPark.  No idea why, it just seemed that was the natural movement for my hand.  Anyway, that got me thinking about the various types of gear shifters I have used over the years.

vw1I learned to drive on an old Volkswagen Beetle that had what they called a semi-automatic transmission. It had one of the old style, long-handled, 3-speed stick shifts, but without the clutch. The driver still had to shift the gears, but did not have to deal with the pesky clutch. Good training wheels for when I bought the Duster.

 

duster1My first car was a 1970 Plymouth Duster. (Boy, I bet that car was a chick magnet.)  I loved that car in part because it was a manual transmission with a three-on-the-tree shifter. I bought it without knowing how to drive a manual transmission. My friend Michael gave me a 30-second lesson, drove the car to my house, and parked it outside.  I spent the next week or so practicing using the clutch and learning how to drive a manual. I was so proud of myself the first time I took it out for a real drive. There was a hill near my house that had a stop light at the top and I would always try to go on that street so that I could practice the rolling start. Scary, but good fun.

Knowing how to drive a manual transmission came in handy when I moved to the U.K. The interesting thing about that is while the steering wheel is on the other (wrong?) side of the car, you still use your left foot to operate the clutch.  The gear pattern is the same as a left-hand drive car, but you use your left hand to manipulate the stick.  I cannot tell you how any times I would put the clutch in, and bang my right arm into the door, forgetting that the gear stick was on the left side. Not the most comforting thing for my passengers, I am sure.

olds 88I have also driven any number of automatic transmission cars with all their various shifting mechanisms. The column shifters (I especially remember the one on my Dad’s Delta 88 which could comfortably sleep the entire population of Boston), the console shifters of various cars (my Saab included) and of course the modern paddle shifters which mimic the semi-automatic from the Volkswagen.

Things come full circle.

One thing that I forgot about driving on the East Coast (especially in New England) is that no road is straight. In the Midwest, there are only three types of streets.  North/South, East/West and a few diagonals, just to keep you on your toes.  The streets in Boston seem to have been designed by a committee of drunken, blind, stock market analysts who believe that the random walk theory of the markets should be extended to the streets.  Straight, at least for roads, seems to be a curse word.

Another funny thing about Boston is that streets are often named for where they take you. For instance, Newton Street in Brookline, takes you to Newton, where it, of course, turns into Brookline Street, so you know how to get to Brookline from Newton.  I remember this same “logic” when I lived in the U.K., but I thought the U.S. had successfully avoided that foolishness.

At some point, I will try to convince Sue to go on a road trip where we rent a super car,  for a week and drive really fast, just for the fun of it. Perhaps something like this. I am thinking that, you my dear readers, should fund this as part of the the Doing It on The Road research plan  😉 (I will definitely get on this bandwagon if I don’t have to pay for it.)

Sorry.  None of the images are our cars, just examples of what we had.

 

 

 

Random Thoughts From Utah (and Vegas)

This is a bit of a rant, but so be it. If there’s one thing that really bugs me, and I am a pretty laid-back guy, it is the old bait-and-switch. Tell me up front and I’m fine; sneak in different conditions after I’ve bought, and I’m not fine. This happened when we checked into New York New York. I had booked what I thought was a room with a king bed. When we arrived, the woman at the reception desk said, “Oh no, you get whatever we have and we only have rooms with two queen beds.” We could have upgraded for $30, but why should we have to. Then I looked online and saw that they list the king room and the queen room separately and you can book either one. Frustrating.NYNYrooms

We also had an issue with our AirBnB. Again, tell me the rules up front and I can decide if I want to follow them or go elsewhere. The day we were checking into the place, Sue got an email asking us to strip the bed, put all the dishes in the dishwasher and turn it on, put the towels in the hamper, and take out the garbage. OK, but you’re charging us a $52 cleaning fee. The silliest was that in the rules of the house, it said, “No shoes in the house.” Fine, but we had to walk into the condo in our shoes in order to see the rule book. Later, we asked our real estate agent, the Marvelous Mrs. Megan Ahleen, and she gave us a reasonable explanation: The soil is a very fine, red sand and it gets on everything. Somehow, it managed to get under my shoes and socks during our hike. The place itself was perfectly comfortable, with a few nitpicks I won’t bother to enumerate here.

IMG_20190819_203941447.jpgThe best feature of the condo was that we could walk to the end of the road where there was open land and watch a gorgeous sunset.

One thing we were looking forward to was a visit to Hash House A Go Go. The Chicago outpost of this Indiana chain closed. They say they serve “twisted farm food.” I don’t know about that, but I do know they serve is enormous portions. Sue had a vegetable skillet plate that came with two eggs and tons of veggies smothering crispy fried potatoes and just in case that wasn’t enough food, a biscuit. I had the “downsized” burger , so named because it only has one patty the size of my forearm. My favorite part was getting to use the 55+ (he means old man–next step, early bird special) discount. Woo hoo!

 

If It Is Saturday, This Must Be Las Vegas

On Saturday, we started our St. George trip by flying into Las Vegas. We took an afternoon flight and arrived in Las Vegas late in the afternoon. The flight was bumpy and Sue had technical issues with her computer and her phone, but other than that, the flight was uneventful. By the time we deplaned, got to the rental car company and checked into the hotel it was 6ish. The temps were still in the low 100’s, but it is a dry heat…

We stayed at New York New York because we are both from the real New York (only I am from the real New York; Steven grew up in what I consider Canada–that is, north of the Bronx) and what says real New York than one weirdly constructed casino in the middle of the desert? We survived the usual up sell on the room size and paid the mandatory “resort fee” and were assigned room 813.

Sue and I are planning on doing some hiking, and it was a good thing we were ready because it was a significant walk to get to the elevators. Once off the elevators on the 8th floor, it was another 132 steps to get to our room. The distance to the elevators is a double-edged sword; sure we needed to plan for a snack midway, but on the bright side, we were so far a the end of the maze that they called a hallway, we had virtually no one making noise.

Sue noodles with egg & vegetables and broth

We settled in for a few minutes and then headed out for dinner. We had decided to go to Chinatown and found a great noodle place called Mian. Sue had warm noodles with egg, vegetables and broth, which she ordered medium spicy. I had cold noodles with beef, which I ordered a little more spicy than mild. They were both delicious. Sue’s was a bit too spicy for me, and mine was as spicy as I get in Chicago when I order medium spicy. They served a delicious drink which was cold sweetened mung bean soup. It had a very mild sweet flavor and really worked to dampen down the spiciness of our food.

After dinner we wandered over a block or so to the Golden Tiki. It was just what you would expect in a tiki bar. The DJ was playing ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s hits. The TV on the bar was playing clips from old Hawaiian movies and the atmosphere was a cross between pirate nautical and advanced kitsch. What more could you ask?

Sue’s Dragon’s breath

Sue had a flaming rum drink called a Dragon’s Breath; I had what is normally called a Singapore sling, but they called it something else. We had a perfectly enjoyable time and after a couple of hours we headed back to the hotel for the night.

A great start to our vacation and tomorrow we will head to St. George.

The “Joy” of Booking Travel

We are all set to go to St. George. We spent this week searching airfares, hotels in Las Vegas, AirBnB’s in St. George, and rental cars. It always ends up being more complicated than it should be and there are way too many permutations that can’t be searched at once. Our plan is to fly to Las Vegas on Saturday, stay overnight, then drive to St. George in the morning. We will look around St. George from Sunday to Wednesday and then fly home from Las Vegas on Wednesday evening.

We started on the big search sites like Orbitz and Travelocity. The nice things about them is that we can search for a package of airfare, hotel, and car. The drawbacks: We could not exclude the basic economy flights from the search and so any pricing required us to separately search for airfare and add back any additional costs if the site allowed us to “upgrade” to regular economy. (I am sure Sue will use a blog post at some point to rant about the injustice of the multi-economy pricing model, but we will leave that for another time. You know it.) I will confine my whine to say that the option to upgrade–if available at all–is usually buried somewhere towards the end of the booking.

We also searched the airline websites, which also offer packages and while we are able to book the right airfare, the hotel booking option is limited–at least on American (and United as far as I could tell) –to a hotel in the city where you are flying and for the entire time you are there. Not what we are looking for, so strike two. We were able to book the flights and then a separate booking on the airline site for the hotel (which got us extra miles!), but it is the same price as booking the hotel from the hotel site. Both of those exclude the mandatory resort fee from the price of the room. I don’t mind if they exclude the costs of options that we may not use (breakfast, internet, parking, etc.) from the listed price of the room. I might not want those extras and so I shouldn’t have to pay for them. But the “resort fee” is mandatory so I don’t have any option but to pay it. Seems like that should be part of the room fee. What next? Mandatory check-in fee? Or perhaps an elevator use tax? Please, just add $35 to the price of the room and just be done with it.

Parking is another issue. Since we need a car, we will have to park at the hotel for one night. I thought it might be a better idea to pick up the car Sunday morning–one fewer day of rental and not paying for the parking would be offset by the cost of two taxi/Uber/Lyft rides from/to the airport. The taxi/Uber/Lyft ride would be $10 each way. When I searched the cars, it is somewhat counter-intuitively $10 less expensive to rent the car on Saturday rather than on Sunday. No idea why. Perhaps there is a sin tax for renting on Sunday, although not likely as it is Las Vegas and if they were going to tax sin, renting a car on Sunday would have to be pretty far down the list. Either way, we have now booked it for Saturday and will pay the $15 to park.

We booked an AirBnB in St. George and I have the same sort of issue with their pricing. he place was listed at about $70 per night but the total was about $350. Last time I checked, and I realize I have been out of school for a long time (although he is allegedly an accountant) 4 nights@$70 per night should be about $280 (for those of you following along with your calculators do this: press the 4, press the * key press the 7 and then press the 0. Now press Enter; you should see 280. I don’t mind paying $350 per 4 nights, but that is NOT $70 per night.

So, here is my recap for this post. 1. Please let me search your site for what I want. 2. Give me a break and allow me to define what options I want/don’t want up front 3. Please organize the prices in a reasonable and logical order and 4. (and finally) JUST TELL ME THE DAMN PRICE. NO MANDATORY FEES OR NO HIDDEN CHARGES.

Time to Look at St. George

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.” – Lewis Carroll

Not real relevant to anything, but I like the poem, so I thought I would just put it at the start of this post just for fun and perhaps to draw your attention to the fact that we are now seriously planning our transition to St. George, Utah.

The house is on the market and we are going to fly to St. George to see whether we would be comfortable making our home there for a year or so. It seems somewhat crazy to be planning to move somewhere we have never visited, but what the hell, we can always change our plans.

Our latest thought is we will head out there  in late August. The outline for the trip is a flight to Las Vegas, rent a car, and drive over the state line to St. George.

We will contact a Realtor to get the lay of the land and the rental market and see if they have suggestions for areas to scout. We plan to spend 2-3 days wandering the town to get a feel for it. (I am hoping not to get the heebee jeebees, but instead a warm, fuzzy feeling.) Hopefully, we will have time to check out some restaurants, see the downtown, and look at the areas where there are available rentals. One of our thoughts is that we should head to the local grocery stores to see what we will be able/not able to get. It seems like an important part of the litmus test of what the city is like. We both think that wandering for a few days should be enough to make the decision. But like everything else in this adventure, we are open to changing it quickly.

I don’t expect we will have time to do any recreational activities. Perhaps one or two short hikes, but I think we will save that for once we have moved. But given the beautiful landscapes, we will see if we can get some in.

Where’s the zero?

We apologize, we haven’t been writing for the last few weeks. I would like to claim that there are good reasons, but really there haven’t been. It was my birthday a few weeks ago, then Sue’s was this week, we had a bunch of stuff to do around the house and work, as always is busy—but really, we have just been a bit lazy.

I got an email from a friend of mine with the title of this post as a subject and instantly I knew what happened. He stole my vacation. I know! What kind of friend steals your vacation, and how did he steal my vacation?

As many of you know, I am an accountant and a bit of a numbers geek. Yup, imagine that, a guy who spends all day looking at numbers goes home and thinks about them some more.

The tablet

Like most of you, I learned that zero was invented by the Arabs and spread to the West along with Arabic numerals as part of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. However, a few years ago, I read a book called “Finding Zero: A Mathematicians Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers.” It was really interesting and the author stated that a tablet found in Cambodia has a zero that predates the Ottoman Empire by 500 years; based on carbon dating, it is the oldest zero ever found. The tablet is now in a museum in Phnom Penh. This is a link to an article that he wrote in Smithsonian magazine. I was fascinated and knew that I had to convince Sue we had to see it. (Can you imagine that conversation? Steven: I have a great idea for a vacation. Sue: Where? Steven: Cambodia to see the oldest known zero!!!!. Sue: Um, yeah. How about someplace interesting? I am completely on board for Cambodia and if a zero gets Steven there, so be it.) We had a quick look at what that trip would be like and decided that it wouldn’t be this year.

One quick point that I would like to mention that the Bodelian library at Oxford University has a manuscript called the Bakhshali that some people claim has the oldest known zero. However, this is disputed by some as the manuscript has a number of parts from different ages and the zero in the manuscript is being used as decimal place holder rather than a “true zero.” (Did you all follow that? There’s a difference between signifying nothing and holding a place in, say, the number 101.)

All of which leads me to my stolen vacation. I have been talking my friends (and really anyone who is willing to listen to me) about wanting to go to Southeast Asia, to see, among other things this tablet. So what happens? My friend sends the above mentioned email, with the photo gloating that he had reached the holy zero place before me!

I hate my friend.

Road Trip!

The summer is soon upon us and we are thinking about getting in the car and driving. The Saab is still in good shape (for a 13 year old car) and so we are getting into planning mode. As Sue told you in her last post, I have started a new job where, horrors of horrors, they actually expect me to show up and work. Not sure what I was thinking when I agreed to this. But, I have now been there 2 weeks so it is time to explain to them that every summer I need to be on the road for (hopefully) 3 weeks.

This year, we have to be in Boston in late July for a wedding, so our thought is to drive there via Canada. The outline of the plan is to head for Montreal via Toronto, then to Quebec City to see three great Canadian cities. Then drop south into Maine and visit Acadia National Park. After we hang out with the blue bloods in Bar Harbor (pronounced Bah Hahbah) for a few days, will set our sites on Boston for the wedding.

Thank you SomeEcards for capturing my sentiments perfectly.

While in Boston, we will (hopefully) have time to go to Fenway (and lustily root AGAINST the Red Sox). From Beantown, we will head to the Big Apple (home of the Yankees–the greatest baseball team EVER (he is delusional) and Sue’s team–the Mets!!!!!!!), because we both love that city. From New York, it is pretty much a straight shot westward across Pennsylvania, Ohio & Indiana until we get back home to the Windy City. All in, about 2,500 miles and 42 hours of driving. Sue would to go to Nova Scotia from Quebec City, but that will add another 700 miles and 10 hours of driving, so we will see.

All in, I figure it is a 20-day trip, give or take. That assumes a minimum of 2 days in each city and no driving days of more than 6 hours. We haven’t really started to do the nuts and bolts planning (hotels, what we want to see, odd ball places to stop, etc.–ahem, who’s going to watch that giant beast of a dog?), but I think we will probably start that pretty shortly–once I ask for the time off…

El Avion

El Avion

Reading the news today, I saw that Oliver North was stepping down as the President of the National Rifle Association. This reminded me of something that made the Hotel Costa Verde unique and fun.

You may recall that when we were staying there, we spent one night in the cockpit cottage. They also had another “room” called the 727 Fuselage Home which was constructed from the fuselage of a 727 built in 1965. Additionally, they had one other airplane themed attraction. A restaurant called El Avion.

The thing that makes this restaurant so interesting is that it is built around an entire C-123 Fairchild cargo plane. “Big deal,” I hear you say (or maybe it was “What is a C-123 cargo plane?”). Either way, the type of plane is less important than its history.

For those of you who do not remember Ronald Reagan’s presidency, let me spend a few lines enlightening you. The Iranian people had overthrown the Shah in favor of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Hezbollah, an Iranian backed organization, was fighting a civil war in Lebanon and had taken a number of Americans hostage, Nicaragua had elected the socialist Sandinistas for their government. The president and his advisers were trying to support a group called the Contras who were attempting to overthrow the Sandinistas. Iran’s government was using American weapons bought when the Shah was in power to fight a war with Iraq and was desperate for resupply. It was illegal for the US to provide money or arms to both Iran and the Contras.

In steps our friend Oliver North, who was a lieutenant colonel and member of the National Security Council. Through a complicated web of transactions, he facilitated the illegal sale of weapons to Iran, and then diverted the money to illegally fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. All was going well…until people found out. There were Congressional hearings; various members of the executive branch were convicted of various crimes, then pardoned; the Contras attempt to overthrow the Sandinistas collapsed; and Iran’s war with Iraq continued for another 3 brutal years and ended in a stalemate.

So, back to the restaurant: The C-123 plane is one of the ones that Oliver North contracted to ferry the arms to the Contras. Here is how they tell the story.

The restaurant surrounds the plane and is like so many places in Costa Rica, open-sided. We sat upstairs with a beautiful view of Pacific Ocean and had a very nice dinner.

Opening Day!

The spring has arrived. I know this, not because it has stopped snowing in Chicago, but because baseball season has arrived. As Josh & I continue our tour of stadiums, we are attending opening weekend at Chase Field in Phoenix. Number 18 on our tour. We decided to attend the first two games of the year.

Chase Field

For those of you who do not remember or know, I am a die-hard Yankee’s fan while Josh follows the Atlanta Braves. Usually, we would be particularly vested in rooting for either team, but the Diamondbacks were playing the Red Sox, so I was working hard to help them win. The two greatest things in baseball? The Yankees winning and the Red Sox losing.

The first game of the season is always a somewhat special, the stadium is all decked out, both teams are introduced, and awards are presented. Friday’s match up was Porcello (Red Sox) vs. Godley (Diamondbacks) and was a slugfest…for the Diamondbacks. They jumped out to a 14-1 lead by the end of the 6th and it was all over after that. Boston scored a bunch of late runs, but the game was never in doubt. The one great thing about the game
other than a true beat down of the Red Sox with tons of Red Sox fans
is that we got to see a position player pitch. Eduardo Nunez, a former Yankee who now plays for Boston, pitched. This is the first time we have seen that.

Saturday morning we decided to go to Taliesen West, the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture school in Scottsdale. The tour took about an hour and was very interesting. They explained lots of his philosophy and how he used the shape and size of space to both move people and create a spaces for people to stay.

Saturday night we went to a second Diamondbacks/Red Sox Game. This one was much closer. The starting pitchers were David Price for Boston and Luke Weaver for Arizona. The score was tied 4-4 in the bottom of the 9th and we were thinking there would be extra innings. However, Eduardo Escobar got a single and then reached 2nd on a passed ball. Alex Avila singled to right and Escobar turned the corner and headed home, but was thrown out at home on a beautiful play by Boston. Avila reached second on the throw. Chris Kelly singled to left and brought Avila home for a walk off single! Great ending to a great baseball weekend.