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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Driving History 7: My last owned Canadian Car, the 93 Blazer part one

As it must happen, all cars get sold.  I sold the Maxima for two very important reasons.  The first is I had decided to emigrate from Canada.  The second is that I wanted to do a major road trip that summer- my final one as a resident of North America.  It would involve 10,000 km in about three weeks, and involved a round trip to Columbus, Ohio.  Putting the kms on the maxima would have lowered its value.  Besides, I wanted something that could carry more stuff.  I found one of these for around the $3000 mark.  Had a few miles on it, but she'd be right.

The Wife- though we weren't married yet, flies up from Australia and its time for the proving drive.  3000km through the wilds of British Columbia.

We started camping with Q at Cadomin.  It was on our way so we thought we'd begin there.  Then we spent the day driving around Jasper National Park, checking out Mt. Edith Clavell in particular.  It was the climb up the road that I began to realize something was wrong.  The Engine temperature began to climb, well above normal.  As I recall we had to stop part way up the hill for a brief time to let it cool down.  I thought it was a one off, it had never done it before.  And I didn't worry about it.

But things like this have a way of biting one in the ass, especially if one ignores the root cause.

That same trip, a thousand more kms down the road, we were driving down the length of the Okanagan Valley, reaching Osoyoos.  We saw this sign, complete with Union Jack, Real British fish and chips.  We thought, righto, sounds good.  So we had a meal there., got back in the car and started the big climb up the mountain on the Crowsnest.

That's when it bit us.  Or more accurately, thats when it bit my wife.  The engine temperature began climbing.

It reached a critical level and I had to pull off the road to wait until it cooled.  Only the fish and chips had run their course through the Wife's system.  It wanted out.  Now.

Only this mountainside didn't offer much in the way concealment.  I was doing everything I could to bring the temp down more quickly, I had popped the hood and was trying to fan the engine- she hadn't boiled over, but it was very close.  It still took time.  She was enduring the urge, I have no idea how, and about 1/2 to 45 minutes later I started the car, and we continued up the hill.

We made it to the top of the mountain with out stopping, and began to come down the hill.  The engine, once the load off it, cooled quickly, but we did pull up at the first roadside rest area.  The wife jumped out the car and ran for the women's.

I got out and walked to the men's.  I heard a scream.  I turned just as she came stalking towards me.  "Someone shit all over the floor in there."

I opened the door to the men's.  It was reasonably clean.  "Use this one."  She hesitated, but it wasn't for long.    I waited.

We only went as far as the first campground that day.  We pulled off, found a site backing onto a creek and pitched camp.  We stayed there 4 days, but it was a great place.  Absolutely lovely place to rest.

We did eventually find out what was wrong with the truck.   We made it to Grand Forks where the car was looked at and the radiator was power washed- apparently there was a extreme collection of dead bugs and debris on the face of the radiator.

Next Time:  Part 2:  Encounters in America

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Driving History 6: Transition, 2002 Nissan Maxima SE

I have been trying to avoid writing about this car. not because of the stats.  3.5L v6 generating 265hp, a 0-100kph time of 7.5sec or so.  Leather seats, heated steering wheel, 6 cd in dash stereo with sub, all tied to 4 speed auto transmission.  The car was a very enjoyable ride.  

No thats not the reason.

It was the time in my life and the events that coincided with its ownership.

We bought the car 2001, and it was one of the first Maxima SEs of that year sold in Edmonton. I remember sitting in a restaurant having dinner with Shelley, my wife and watching some people come over to the car to check it out.  I remember saying to her that it was cool to own a car like that, where people will walk out of their way to have a look, but I also remember saying that its a shallow thing, that feeling.  Yet, it did indeed feel good.

About 6 months after we bought it, Shelley, my lover for 11 years and wife for 2.5, passed away.  She died of a heart attack.  If there is anyone who doubts a life can change in a single heartbeat, I can tell you mine did.

So within these memories is a sadness I don't revisit very often- and thats why I wanted to avoid writing about it.  But its on the list, and therefore must be mentioned.

While sadness is a dominating emotion in the memories, there are some good ones as well.

My second wife- known as "the wife" (I've spoke about her before- an amazing, beautiful and strong woman) visited me in Canada from Australia for the first time when we were dating, and we took on some good road trips in it.  I remember cruising around Lake Abraham with a bit of Tim Horton's magic hanging out of my mouth (I'd show you the picture, but it was destroyed in a house fire in 2009) and her laughing in the passenger seat.  

I also remember her driving it for the first time in Canada.  We were coming back from Jasper and we stopped in Hinton for a bite to eat.  I was buggered as I was driving all day, so she said she'd take the wheel.  We pulled out of the parking lot and onto the service road.  So far so good, right?  She asks," How am I doing?"

I replied,"You're doing great, only you might want to be on the other side of the road."  It was a service road, and fortunately, there were no cars coming.

The car also holds my land speed record.  It was the summer of 2002 and I was on my way to Cadomin to hang with Q.  Traffic was very light on the Yellowhead that day, and I decided to see what 265hp felt like at speed.  After clearing the city, I nailed the accelerator.  The car obediently leapt forward,  and the needle climbed.  120, 140, 160, 180,- I took it to 195kph.  I was going fast, nearly twice as fast as the other traffic on my side of the highway.  But I still wasn't passing many cars.  As I said, that normally busy highway wasn't that day.

I backed off the hammer at 195, and let the car coast down to legal, chickening out before I got to the 200 mark.  The car handled it with a serenity that the Diplomat just didn't have, and there was still more in the engine.

I shoulda broke 200.

Monday, 27 February 2012

It was Ruddsecution

There was no surprise in Today's news out of Canberra.  Julia Backstabber Gillard survived the leadership challenge thus proving that she is the more ruthless political survivalist.  It is said that her caucus majority was the largest of any incumbent PM who has faced such a challenge.

This means her reign in Canberra will continue uninterrupted, despite polls showing that the people of Australia would have preferred her a loser in today's earlier confrontation.  Even the Labour Party membership would have apparently preferred that.

Taking all of this into account, it amazes me that the caucus can blatantly ignore the will of the public and the party.  Where is democracy?  Or did Julia somehow stab it in the back too?

Tony Abbott, the Coalition candidate and leader of the opposition, must be laughing at the split in the Labour Party ranks, knowing full well that he can exploit the damage done to the governing party in the eyes of the public.

I suspect the Greens and the Katter Party have also enjoyed the spectacle no end.   The Greens because they are a fairly natural alternative to Labour and Katter because he knows they've shot themselves in the foot in North Queensland.  Katter's seat won't be the only one won for his party in the next election.

For Kevin Rudd, the pundits are already saying that he's finished as a force in Labour, and will never again lead the party.  Many suspect that he will resign his seat when the next election is called.

For us, it means that we must suffer through the rest of the term with a PM that probably wouldn't be there, if we lived in a proper democratic country.

When the people do get a chance to speak, we can, as Australians, take heart.  No PM who as ever faced a leadership challenge has survived the following election.

Of course, that means Tony Abbott becomes PM.

Decisions, decisions.

Copyright 2012, all rights reserved.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Driving History 5- The 87 Cutlass, The Cab

It was 1998, and I needed a job, so I went and got a taxi license.  I went to work for Checker Cabs, and then I followed the advice of my brother, and arranged a rent agreement with the owner.  I think it was $45/shift.  I worked nights, four days a week.

It was an 86 or 87 Cutlass.  It was my first time driving a propane powered vehicle, and it did seem cheaper to run, but of course that was in Canada.  I used to proudly proclaim it was the oldest car in Checker's fleet.

I have alot of little stories in that car.  Some good, some bad.  A couple times I felt threatened.  Sometimes I'd help someone out.  It was uplifting, and depressing.

A stripper once flashed me her breasts.  I'd get offers of blowjobs for rides (never took them up on it).  I'd give the odd free ride out if someone had a particularly sad story to tell me- I did that once for an abused woman who was on her way to the shelter, for example.

I remember getting one ride from Whyte ave to over by the Coliseum, he was being severely unkind, verbally abusive I thought, to his date.  I dispensed with the small talk and kept my silence, not liking this guy.  I do remember him saying that he liked a driver that kept his mouth shut.  Didn't help my tip, but.

There was a time, also over by Fort Rd where I dropped three guys off, but not before one of them made a comment about robbing me.  They threw the money at me and left, much to my relief.  The nights did eventually blur into one another, and as I got to know the job better, I did get into something of a routine.

I have this one story that would impact me in a small way for the rest of my life to date, though.  I had picked up this fare on the northside and had to drop him off downtown.  It wasn't a particularly big fare, but he got to talking about his favourite cigars.

They were Honduran Punches.  Big thick cigars.  As he enjoyed one in the back seat, he said, " (Winston) Churchill used to smoke these.  He had a little debating trick he used to do.  He would shove a very thin wire down the centre of the cigar before the debate.  As he engaged his opponent, he would smoke the cigar.  The ash got longer and longer, but it wouldn't fall of the thing no matter how it was moved.  By the end of the debate, many of his opponents were far more interested in the ash and when was finally going to fall off than in his words.  As they lost the thread of his argument, Churchill would move in for the kill. "

When he got out of the cab, he gave me one, as a tip.  It was a $20 cigar.  And I enjoyed it when I smoked it, after my shift.  Its funny, though.  I have since smoked Jamaican, Cuban, and Costa Rican cigars to name a few, but I still, to this day, prefer the Honduran cigars.

I quit driving cab on the winter 0f '99.  A cab driver in Edmonton was getting beat up or killed every week.  My wife and I decided the job was too dangerous.  I went back to school, eventually earning a Bachelor degree in business management.

To an extent, though, I miss the job.  There were some things about it I enjoyed very much.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Ruddsurrection or Ruddsecution?

(ABC Photo)

There is a leadership vote to be taken by the Labour party in Australia regarding the PM's chair.  Rudd or Gillard, who will it be?

The vote is in about 30 hours, and for those of you who don't know, there is plenty of bad blood between these two.  In 2007, Kevin Rudd, (pictured left) was elected to the office with a groundswell of support that saw him handily replace the incumbent John Howard.  His was a populist movement that came from the grassroots of Australia.  "Kevin oh seven," was the battle cry.  Upon winning the office he appointed Julia Gillard (right) deputy. PM.

Through the GFC, Rudd and his caucus made some hard choices, and by all indicators, Australia survived it in relatively good condition.  Rudd, I suspect, thought his leadership assured, but someone decided he was no good.

An outfit known as the Right Faction (in NSW and Victoria) pushed to get him out, and must have approached Ms. Gillard to challenge him.

In a back room, behind closed doors, and without any sort of transparency, a leadership vote was called for, to be held the following day, with little or no explanation given.  Two meetings later the same day, also behind closed doors, and with Kevin probably still trying to come to grips with the depth of the betrayal (given the expected leadership votes in favour of Julia some had likely been campaigning against him for many days) Rudd was convinced to stand down.

This was all done without public input or consent.  There was no transparency on the day, with the media, as I recall, only getting wind of the story by chance.  This dictatorial way of selecting the PM is not lost on many, raising questions about Gillard's ambition, her taking the opportunity to seize the PMO in such an undemocratic and despicable fashion.

Is this 21st century Australia or 20th century Soviet Russia?

Kevin has reminded us that democracy needs be fought for, even at home, and sometimes even in parliament.

In a not completely unexpected move, he has publicly challenged Gillard for the leadership.  He is taking back his own, win or lose, and he is doing it right.  He has been open, and given Julia more time than she ever gave him to prepare for the challenge.  He is proving himself to be someone I can, at least, respect, even if I don't agree with his politics.

The public is on his side, according to the latest polls.  Kevin is proving himself something of a fighter, coming back after being kicked around.  Staying in government at all must have been very difficult for him.  I am also not surprised that it has taken a couple years to get the knife out of his back.

Will Rudd win back the PMO?  Current estimates are that he won't.  Julia's got the caucus by the nuts and that suggests she has an easy and clear majority.  But there is always room for doubt.

Good on ya, Kev.  Go for it, and if even you don't win, give her Hell.

words Copyright 2012 All rights reserved

Friday, 24 February 2012

The 95 Legacy Part 2

The first snow fall of winter.  Its the one time of year when one really shouldn't drive anywhere.  It seems as though the previous six months has allowed people to forget the rather important differences between summer and winter driving.  This is a basic truth repeated year after year in Edmonton.

I'm not sure why they don't just declare it a holiday. but they don't.  So the endless cycle of fender benders and stupid manoeuvres continues year after year.  One can just about open a window and listen to the sounds of cars hitting each other and declare, "Yeah, sounds like the first snow of the season."

If the previous sounds contemptuous, it shouldn't, because the following story indicates that I am not immune to that peculiar form of Alzheimer's.

November 3rd, 1996.  I remember because it was my mother's birthday.  That year I decided I'd do something completely different.  I took my mother to a concert.  Sarah McLachlan, my perosnal favourite was playing at the Myer Horowitz, and I since she is one awesome singer, I thought I'd take my mom out.  And its not like she is heavy metal.

The day was fine, I think the temperature was either just above or at freezing most of the day, but by early evening snow had begun to fall, and as the temperature usually does at night, it began to get cold.  To complicate matters, it also began to snow.

The trip out to pick my mom up and drive her out there was fine, largely because the street held enough heat to melt the snow, and we enjoyed the concert.

The trip back was different.  I believe the temperature had fallen below -15 and all that lovely water on the road turned to ice.  The gravel trucks were out as I dropped her off, but they were primarily graveling intersections.  I didn't think much of it, because I wasn't having any issues in the Subaru with traction.  I moderated my speed a little.

I dropped my mother off, and then had another 1/2 hour or more drive to my home.

"Drive Carefully," she said.

"It'll be all right, I'm in a Subaru," I declared, secure in the knowledge that I was driving one of the safest cars on the road, and drove off.

The orange glow from the streetlights reflected off the falling snow, casting the drive home in a strange but beautiful glow that only occurs in winter.  I drove back into the city.  I kept the car at 5 or 10 kph under the speed limit, but the Subaru still wasn't having any traction issues.  I wasn't worried at all.

I was at the the top of Groat Road, 111ave by Westmount shopping centre when I experienced a warning.  The car slipped very slightly as I accelerated away as the light turned green.  I didn't think much of it, though.  I was in a Subaru.

For those of you who don't know, that end of Groat Rd is windy, twisty road that descends to the river valley, southbound.

I drove away from the lights.  Doing close to the speed limit, before slowing to 50kph as I entered the first turn.  The car held true, and didn't slide, but I realized I was going too fast.  50 was about twice as fast as the other cars going.  I applied the brakes.

Oh, shit. The car ain't stopping.  Fortunately the road has two lanes in either direction, and fortunately the other lane was clear.  I steered into the clear lane.  And passed those two.  I cleared the next corner, with no response from the braking system.  Another pair of cars were in my lane, but I was in front of the other two, so I put the car back in the other lane.

I went past those guys.

Two more cars in this lane.  Shit!  If anything I was going faster than I been before.  The Brakes were not responding.  I realized that I had to stop the car before I hurt someone.  I cranked the wheel, hard.  The car responded and jumped the curb and slammed into a fence.

I don't know why the airbags didn't go off, I was retrained only by my seatbelt.

I remember blinking at the steering wheel, breathing heavy.  Then I started to shake.

I got out of the car and lit a smoke, checking the damage.  When I saw the hole I put in the front bumper, I thought for sure Shelley was going to kill me.  At least my mother wasn't with me this time.

A car had pulled up. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah," I said, still vibrating,  'Thank you."

He just shook his head and drove off.  I flicked my cigarette into a snowbank and got back into the car.  It started up and I backed it carefully onto the sidewalk, then put the car in drive and got back on the road.

I was still shaking when I got home, but apart from the body damage, the car was fine.  Shelley was just happy I had survived.  For the rest of the time we owned the car, we never got that bumper fixed.

At highway speed, especially in a crosswind, that bumper used to give a mid frequency whistle that, because it only did it in certain conditions, used to make me think something was wrong with the motor.  When I hear that sound these days, I remember the car.

The Moral of this story?

Ice is Ice. Its properties don't change over the summer.  Drive accordingly.

Monday, 20 February 2012

A Driving History: Part 4- The 95 Legacy part 1

Six months too early to buy the outback, we bought the Subaru Legacy Wagon (Liberty for my Australian friends).  The photo is even the right colour- taupe.  Or brown if you prefer.

Leather seats, heated steering wheel, sunroof, am/fm/cd/cassette stereo, and all made with that quality Subaru engineering.

This was a great car, even if it was a little underpowered.  I believe in 96 they upped the hp from about 145 to 160 by improving air intake, amongst other things.  When I was on the highway I had to pick my time pass carefully as I would have to time the oncoming traffic so I could drop back a bit, and then run up behind the vehicle I wanted pass while the oncoming car was still approaching.  Then time it so when the oncoming cleared I could swing out and go around without losing much time.

All of the safety systems, the all wheel drive, airbags, etc weighed the car down, so it wasn't the fastest off the line in the summer.  In the winter, though, I could beat nearly everything off the line.  The car always seemed to have grip, well, except for a couple of times.

The first time I ever had a problem with that car was the very first winter we bought it.  It was late December, and Shelley and I were wondering what we were going to do for New Year's Day.  I think it was about 11pm at night.  Then she had this brilliant idea.  Let's go to Vancounver for New years.  She had friend down there we could stay with, and I said, Why not?    For you Australians, Edmonton to Vancouver is like driving from Mackay to Brisbane.  So we packed and left that night.  Must have been after midnight when we got on the road.

The trip down was essentially uneventful (apart from this monster Moose the headlights got a glimpse of on the side of the road in Jasper National Park).  We had a great time there.  The weather was superb, with daytime temps of nearly 10 degrees and nighttime lows of zero.  A good time was had by all, and so a couple days later, we drove back.

When we left, the day was typical Vancouver, warm, a little wet, and nothing to worry about.  And the trip to Kamloops was fine.  The temp dropped a little as we headed inland, being about 2 degrees there.  It was the Kamloops to Jasper leg that trough a few wrenches into the works.  The temperature as we left Kamloops was obviously changing.  A light fog had settled in, and the road had become a little slippery.  I remember not so far out of the city we passed a car that gone down the mountainside.  We could see the tracks.  And then a little while later a light snowfall began.

We turned on the wipers to keep the moisture off the windscreen to discover the driverside wiper no longer worked.  The snow wasn't heavy, so we continued.  As we climbed a little higher into the mountains, the temperature got colder, and the moisture began to freeze on the roadway.  I reduced my driving speed from 100kph to about 85, as a precaution to the conditions.  But I truly wasn't worried I was in a Subaru!

But then I came around this bend in the road, and it must have been just tight enough because the back end let go and I found the car pointing down the mountainside.  I thought... that's bad... so I spun the wheel the opposite direction (mercifully the front tires had traction) I quickly tapped the brakes, discovering they were useless on the ice.  The car was then pointed up the hill and I headed for the hillside, still doing 75 to 80, but as I approached the plowed snow that marked the shoulder of the road, I cranked the wheel in the opposite direction.  The back end swung again, putting the rear tires into that snow, kicking up a huge wave of white snow a surfer could have rode.  It  also reduced my speed from 75 or so to 30.

I got the traction back in an instant.  With control of the vehicle assured, and with out stopping, I  drove on, but I never took the car above seventy after that.  But the snow came down harder, and we had to do something about the wiper, so came across this town, and I drove down the hill hoping to find someone who could help.

Of course, the Town's service station was closed, but I did find this old biker dude.  We went to his place, and we swapped wiper motors.  Got the driver's side wiper going again.  We climbed back up the highway and pressed on.  It was dusk, and it was getting colder.  The snow was beginning to fall in earnest.  We began actively looking for a motel because the driving conditions were real bad, but every motel on the road seemed to be full, so on we pressed.

The Temperature got lower.  The night got Darker.  My Speed go slower.

By 8pm the only other vehicles that were on the road besides us were the big trucks.  They don't stop for anything.  They were probably shocked to see us on the Yellowhead.  It was 6 hours since we left Kamloops, and we were not yet even at the merger of hwy 16 and hwy 5.  I was tired, and worried with all the snow, but determination had set in.  I knew we weren't going to get home that day.  I'd settled on Jasper, and by the Gods I was going to get there.

Whiteknuckling the steering wheel for the last 3 hours and driving on the highway at speeds of 50- 60 kph, we arrived in Jasper town.  A trip that usually takes about four hours took us over nine

When we left Kamloops the temperature was 1 degree.  When we hit Jasper, the temperature was -32.  We had so much ice packed into the wheel wells, every bump between Jasper and Edmonton sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard.  2 nights in a heated underground garage wasn't enough to melt it.  When we took the car in for the warranty repair on the wiper, they hosed the wheel wells with warm water.

So.  What's the moral of the story?

Want to drive from Edmonton to Vancouver and back in December?


Sunday, 19 February 2012

Note: The following does not Reflect the Veiws of this Website

Call this an Editorggil- the Driving History will continue next post.

The New World Order is the Old World Order

These two ideas are one and the same.  Its all about wealth, and wealth comes from trade.

With today's technology, globalisation is inevitable.  For antiglobalisationists this is a very hard pill to swallow.  Economies need to trade.  This is fact, not fiction.  Historically, going back to pre-confederation days in Canada, if there was no trade treaty, particularly with the USA, the economy was in recession.  When trade is restricted, UN embargos for example, the isolated economy begins to suffer.  Trade is a necessity.

Trade also links economies, boosts output, and creates employment: therefore it is desirable to trade.

Technology makes trade easier than ever before.  It is now within the human scope to move a large number things reliably and in good time over vast distances.  Many hazards of shipping can mitigated or even avoided with modern technology.  Radar detects storms, powerful engines to outrun pirates, etc.  Ideas, money, and commitments can be made virtually instantly between any 2 people anywhere in the world making business almost simple by comparison.

It is trade that is driving the world together, and creating common (international) laws to facilitate it.  Laws that should be designed to keep the playing field level, to make trade and its rules easily understood by everyone because trade is a good thing and everyone profits.

Antiglobalisationists will argue that perhaps a product should be bought locally.  That way you protect domestic jobs and keep the cash local.  But should I buy locally if the local product is perceived to be inferior?

No.  I shouldn't be made to do that.

What antiglobalisationists fear is the laws put in place to facilitate trade.  That these laws are already being used to push unknown or conspiratorial agendas they give as fact.

They may be right.  But if this is the case, the New World Order is really just the Old World Order, only the scale is different.

Historically, whether by blood, election or usurpation, the laws have always been made to benefit the rich and powerful, to enhance their wealth and power, to push personal or conspiratorial agendas.  This is especially true of finance and trade laws.  Only today we are talking about a global elite rather than a national one.

The people at the bottom rung of the wealth ladder will have to work very hard indeed to move up, while those at the top will have to work hard just to keep their socioeconomic status.This is no different than in history.  No different than a king and his nobles lording it over the peasants of the middle ages, nor any different than the industrialists and robber barons of the 19th century lording it over the workers.

Don't protest or fear the NWO, its the same flawed system we have been using since the dawn of civilisation.  Call a spade a spade, and work to improve it.

Friday, 17 February 2012

A Driving History: Interlude- The Shitvette

I know what you're thinking.  HE never owned one of those.

You're right.  I didn't.  But I did drive one of those.  Once.

This is a mid eighties Pontiac Acadian, and with the snow and dirt hanging off it, its also pretty much as I remember it, although, its missing the front airdam.  This car is even the right colour- black.

I'm not 100% sure of the timeline here.  I know it was around this time that I begged my brother- the owner- to give me a driving lesson in it.  This car marked my first attempt to drive a manual.

The lesson was brief.  My brother, it turned out, didn't have the patience to sit through more than 20 minutes of someone grinding the gears in that car.  It takes more than 20 minutes to gain the coordination necessary to properly drive a stick for most people, and longer for uncoordinated me, but after a couple of frustrating manoeuvres, we called it quits.  Probably just in time too, before he ripped my head off, or before I ripped the gears to shit...

But the lesson isn't the real story.   The Real Story is the trip he and I took to Cadomin.

It must have been the summer of 1996.  I'm pretty sure it was before Shelley's first heart attack, but it was also after I owned the Diplomat.   I know it took place during the June, July and August we were getting our condo renovated.  It wasn't long after we moved into the apartment that James (the infamous brother) and I decided that it was time to drink piss up the bush for a weekend.  So we gathered our supplies.

I remember waiting for him to show up in the foyer of the apartment building, with all my gear.  He was late.  I wanted to get there with plenty of daylight left, but I think it was neared noon or 1pm when he finally rolled up in that car.  The ass end of it was loaded and already low to the ground as he drove it under the awning.  I'm thinking, where the hell am I gonna put my supplies?  To be fair, James brought most of the supplies, but we were still missing some key personal supplies for me... including Vodka, Beer (not the "beer" my brother drinks) and cigarettes, because in those days I loved to smoke ciggies in front of a fire.

The suspension groaned, as my brother stepped out of the car.   I'm looking at him- a bit angry (he was late), and gesturing at the full back end of the car.

James smiled.  "Don't worry, there's heaps of room in there." and opened the back end.  I leapt back, fearing the hatch would spring forth its contents like an open can of rubber snakes, but it didn't.  He spent about 20 minutes repacking the car.  We agreed that leaving any beer behind wasn't an option (Blasphemy!), and he somehow found the room.

The ass end of the car sank even lower.

Now my brother and I both weighed in excess of 200lbs in those days, though I think at that time he was marginally lighter than me, and after we forced slammed the hatch shut, we got into the car, and the suspension groaned loudly in complaint.

James started the car and we drove away, back end scraping over the curb as we entered the street proper.  My fiance watched us drive away, and she always swore that the back end of the car rested less than half a Coke can's height off the ground.  We were lucky the suspension handled it at all.

Needless to say, the trip back was easier as most of the beer had been consumed.  The ass end of the car had considerably more clearance.  Space was still issue, though, as we had to contend with the empties.

It was a good weekend.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A Driving History Part Three- Torggil Gets a T-Bird

Looking back on it now, I am actually embarrassed I owned it.  Yeah it was a 1980 Ford Thunderbird.  It looked a lot like this...

Only it was in a pretty sorry state.  The biggest story with this car is the purchase itself.

I think it was the end of winter, late Feb or Early March, and I had given up on the Diplomat (radiator fluid in the oil pan.  NOT good).  And decided after much thought to scrap the car.  Still my budget to replace it was small, maybe $400.

Where was I going to find a car for $400?

It was then my finance drew my eyes to the local paper.  The Classified ad read Police Car Auction this weekend!  And I thought, cool.  I've never done that before.

The morning wasn't too bad, there were signs of thaw on the ground as I stepped in a slushy pothole getting out of the car.   I was looking forward to the wonders of the yard, and I had about 1/2 an hour to wander the 30 or forty vehicles on site for auction that day.

I admit, I was nervous, I was excited.  I had never been to an auction before.

And then I walked in through the gate after registering as a bidder.  Wreck after wreck lay in their isolated spots, and I started to worry a bit, then a couple of gems became visible as I walked down the rows.  There was an 86 monte carlo, top of the range on the lot.  It looked to be in excellent condition and I was interested in bidding but the car sold for well over $5000 as I remember.  I also remember speaking to the previous owner.  He'd flogged it out anyways.  Told me he got stacks of tickets in it.

There was  also a really cool motorbike, a crotch rocket.  And there were a few other vehicles.  As I said, some more recognizable than others.  There was also an old 1980 Tbird.

I didn't think much of it.  At least one of its tires was flat, and the headlight covers were half open, giving the car a sleepy look.  The seats had been torn to bits, and the abandoned vehicle sticker was still on the glass.

The auction started.  The auctioneer was on the back of a pickup that stopped at each lot for bidding.  So we started walking.  The auction started with a couple of wrecks that sold for the minimum bid ($140 I think) to a local wrecking yard.  The first decent car came up and it sold for more than $400.  I started to worry.  A couple of more vehicles went by and I was wondering if I'd get anything useful, and it was time to bid on the tbird.  I remember saying to my fiance that I didn't really want it.

She gave me one of her looks...  "But its a T-Bird..."

I thought, "For fuck's sake..."  The auctioneer said  $150 looking for 160..

I raised my card.  I didn't want to pay too much for it.  I thought that $160 may have already been too much...

They got a 170 and 180 bid.  Shelley nudged me.  I raised my card...$190.  Okay.  I bought it for $240 plus auction fees.

So what kind of car was it?

Well, it ran.  It ran in great billowing clouds of smoke and burning oil.  The engine leaked so bad when it was running I refused to take it out of town.  The interior was ratshit.  The seats had been cut open as if someone had been looking for something.  The interior roof lining was half off, and before I drove it off the police lot I ripped it out completely.  I had to get my mate Rob to tighten some shit up underneath the car before I could even take it anywhere.

I was shocked when this smoking, smelly thing passed the insurance inspection.

I also enjoyed driving it.  It didn't even smell that bad if you were moving fast enough to keep the air under the car.  It didn't have a huge engine, but I reckon  it would do 0-100kph in about 10 secs (the diplomat did the same in about 13.5) and it could out corner the diplomat as well.

I got two years and change out of the diplomat.  The Tbird got hit 9 months after I bought it.  As my employment situation changed shortly after that, I didn't bother to immediately replace it.  In fact, It would be many years before my name appeared on a pink slip.  I was, however, driving my fiance's car.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The 79 Diplomat

There she is.  That's a photo of the make and model.  There are few differences- mine was green and had cloth seats.  As you can see, its a two door, my preferred body style.  Mine had a 318 engine- 5.7ltre v8 generating a whopping 148 or so horses, cycling through a 904 3speed auto, but that was later upgraded to a 727 trannie out of a 74 challenger.

It's a 1979 Diplomat, ironically, the Lebaron clone of its day.  But this one was not the k-car type, but the more famous Chrysler M body.  This body type was so durable, diplomats were used by police forces (powered by 360 4bbl engines with the police pursuit package) up into the mid nineties.  Watch an early episode of Law and Order.  The cop cars in the opening credits are diplomats.

I bought thsi car for a number of reasons.  My brother owned one, only he had the Plymouth Caravelle 4 door (he bought that from my parents).  So I knew what I was buying, and some of the problems I would have with it.  The second reason why I bought it was the $450 price.  This was 1994.  The fuel economy was awful, about 20mpg (19L per 100k) but fuel could still be bought for about 40 cents per litre so it didn't matter that much.  The interior was comfortable and the car was easy to get in and out of.

Driving it was easy.  It floated down the highway, and it had power steering.  To get an idea of what I mean, most vehicles today have power-assisted steering.  In other words, there's a bit of resistance from the steering when you turn the wheel.  The diplomat's steering was so light you could turn the wheel with your pinky finger even in hard corners.  It also had no rear end traction.  In the winter, in order to drive on the icy roads safely, I had to weigh the car down with sandbags, three 40 kilo bags in the trunk over the back wheels.

But I loved it.  That summer, I went camping every other weekend to a place about 4hrs from where I lived.  Driving it was a pleasure, and long trips were wonderful.

I remember I had my best mate with me, Justin, and we were coming back from the mountains on one of those weekends when we entered this broad valley- probably 3 or 4km wide.  Interestingly, as were coming down the hill we could see this line of dump trucks- there was a large number of them turning right (for my Australian friends, that's a left turn equivalent) off the highway.  As the road was ramrod straight, we could see clear across to the other end of the valley, and there was no oncoming traffic.  So I punched it, and swung out to pass them ALL.  It would take a little while, but that underpowered car would go 160kph+.  I pinned the accelerator, and gripped that wheel tight.  I had too.  That car was not built to do those speeds, and the light steering made the car susceptible to overcompensation of any sideways movement.  But the car and
I were managing.

Then trouble struck.  A car appeared atop the opposing hill and we were only about halfway down the line of dump trucks.  I think I swore.  I don't remember Justin saying a damn thing.  There was nothing to do but press on- the dump trucks, especially as we getting closer to their turn off were probably not even doing 70kph, and by this time I was doing over twice that.  The old car was giving me everything, and the steering was bad, I was fighting to hold her straight, and still that other car came on- head on.

Suddenly, I was clear of the line of trucks.  I took my foot off the throttle and put the car back into its proper lane as quickly as I dared.  I remember saying to Justin as that other car passed us, "See? Five or six seconds to spare, plenty of time."

I miss that car to this day and that wasn't the only "adventure" in that car that weekend.  I sold it not long after I blew the head gasket by successfully starting the car after leaving it unplugged in temperatures below -40.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A Driving History part one- the Lebaron

Well, after giving it some thought, I have decided to go on a walk down memory lane.  I love cars, specifically, I love to drive them.  I remember each and every car I have ever owned, either in my name or in my wife's.

When I was young, a teen, I wanted to drive real bad, but for reasons I'm not going to get into, I didn't learn how to drive until I was 22.  While I had learners permit, I only had driven a handful of times.  I remember actually driving my mom's little car, with her in it, straight into a ditch when I was 15 or 16.  The look on her face was enough to keep me out of her car after that.  That was pale blue Dodge Omni.  I am at a loss as to why she bought it.

Six years later, I drove my girlfriend's 87 Chrysler LeBaron.  I was camping with her and I needed to go to the woodpile to get some more wood.  She didn't feel like driving the short distance, so she gave me the keys to her car and said go get it.  Now, I was nervous as all hell, fearing that if I dinged it I'd be in big trouble.  It was an automatic so at least I didn't have to worry about the clutch.

Well, I got in it, set the seat back, slid the gear knob back to reverse and idled it out, slowly.  Now this was a k-car type, but it was heavy and gutless.  If it wasn't for the slight hill on which it was parked, I doubt I could have idled it out, but I was able to.  I reversed it back, onto the the little campground road without hitting anything.  ooOOoo success.  Then I stopped, and put the car in drive.

I spun the front tire.  But the car began to move forward.  That feeling of having the power to go gave me a rush I still feel when I start a car today, albeit not as strongly.  Lightly on the throttle, and very slowly through the campground I drove the car.  I pulled up next to the woodpile, loaded wood into the car and drove back to the site.  Mission accomplished.  That week we were there I must have gone to woodpile 2 or three times a day.  I remember leaving a pile of wood for the next person to use the site.

My girlfriend was laughing at my delight.

After pulling into the nearest town for fuel, she said,"Why don't you drive it on the highway for a while?"

I remember my brother saying something about learning to drive on the highway his first couple of times, so I did.  I got my driver's license a short time later and then I was driving everywhere.

To drive, the car was gutless.  I doubt the engine generated 100hp.  But that wasn't what made the car.  What made the car was the digital dash display.  It looked like the cockpit of  an aircraft.  That was cool.  I didn't measure fuel in quarter tanks, I measured it in bars.  Engine temperature in bars.  The speedo was digital with a rev graph.  The display was pale green monochrome.  The Lebaron had a roof console as well that displayed temp and direction.  The car was cool for that.

Looks cool, don't it?

Even if a car doesn't have a lot of power, I did learn that there were ways to get the most out it, especially after you got used to the handling characteristics.  I look back on the "little blue bomb" with a fondness that it mightn't even deserve, especially after it started costing us real money to keep on the road, and after only 145000 k.  The car declined very quickly after that.

Next time: MY first car, bought with my own $

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Collective Bargainer?

Yeah, that's right, I'm getting involved.

Collective Bargainer.  The governing EBA- Enterprise Bargaining Agreement for my foreign friends- which details the rights and responsibilities of the employee and employer and sets the minimum standard is up for negotiation this year, and I have done a very silly thing, I've nominated myself to be a part of the negotiating process.  Its a silly thing from a personal time standpoint as this is going to suck back the hours of spare time I have.  I also suspect I may have to take the odd day off work to participate.

Clearly then, this is an extraordinary step, so why have I taken it?

It is absolutely clear- certainly in the last agreement- that the union has more concerns regarding the teaching end of the educational system.  If one takes the time to read the EBA, one will find the provisions for teachers to be quite extensive, which is fair enough, for them.

I am not a teacher.  I work in boarding and that's a whole different kettle of fish.  Comparatively speaking, no thought or time has been given to the boarding portion of the current EBA.  At the school where I work, employees are given the award.  There are no penalty rates for nighttime hours, or for hours after 6pm.  There is no provision for annualized pay- meaning that we go at least 14 weeks per year without.  Certainly Centrelink (unemployment for you Americans) doesn't cover even a simple mortgage payment so those weeks are hard.  Also, at the school where I work, staff are at high risk.  The intake is full of students who have been rejected or expelled by other schools for poor or violent behavior.  The employees are not being compensated for the risks involved in the course of the employment.  This is reflected in the high staff turnover rate in boarding.

Indeed, it has come to my attention that other boarding staff at other boarding schools covered by this EBA have certain benefits including live on site, annualized pay, and pay that could be as much as 25% more than we make where I work.  What is even more disgusting is that some of these schools are owned by the same outfit that owns us, meaning that we are not even on parity with the other schools under the same umbrella, yet our risks are higher as we intake their castoffs.

Somebody has to stand up and say enough!

Things need to change, so I've entered the process to change them.  I expect the union to do much of the talking, but the thing is, where I work, the vast majority of employees, like myself, are not unionized.  The perception being that the union doesn't do anything except take the money.  Therefore, in order that my concerns are heard, I entered the process.  Someone has to do it.

Fortunately, I like a good argument.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Cars are for Roads, Freight is for Rails

I promised a driving editorial, so here you are...  and yeah, I wrote this.

Cars are for Roads, Freight is for Rails

As I sit behind this truck on a narrow mountain North Queensland road, I can reach only one inescapable conclusion.  Cars belong on the road, Freight belongs on the rails.

The roads where I live are windy, narrow things that ill maintained at best.  Ruts are common and potholes appear every wet season like grey nomads every winter.

The speed limit says 100, but god forbid drivers should actually be able to achieve it.  This isn’t even a big truck, just a little local freight hauler that still can’t get above 60 on a 1% incline.  As we crawl up the hill, truck straining in low gear, and me riding in low gear because I can’t reach the speed I need to take the hill in 5th.

It’s not getting any better anytime soon and I remain disgusted by the railway crossings that have been dug up in Atherton and Tolga last year.

Even as the late great Slim Dusty sings about the enterprise of railroad construction in “Three Rivers Hotel,” I have to recognize that such ambition in that railroad company is dead.  In a typically short sighted move, QR has begun tearing up the small shortlines instead of looking at the big picture.  More mines are due to open up here in the next few years, but seeing as how none of them involve bulk coal, QR is not interested in the potential.  This means more road trains.

I realize our highways and back roads are more and more becoming the domain of the road train.  These heavy freight hauling trucks are limited to less than 100 kph, but can be 50m long.  If we all owned 911s or Astin Martins there wouldn’t be a problem.  But we don’t.  Some of us own old fuel miser shitboxes that would need 500 or more metres of traffic free road to pass one.

Meantime, our highways get torn to crap from this ridiculously heavy tonnage traffic that the roads aren’t at all designed to handle.  The money to “repair” that damage comes out of our pockets in the form of increasing rego fees, fuel taxes, and anything else the government can think of to get it.

Fortunately, this time, the truck in front of me does eventually pull over to allow me to pass, and before we get into a really cool bit of twisty road.  I say goodbye to Slim.  Giving the driver of the truck a wave of appreciation, I accelerate away to the sounds of the Black Eyed Peas pumping out of my sub, getting ready to attack the upcoming corners.

Copyright 2010

Thursday, 9 February 2012

First post

I'm not entirely sure why I'm doing this.  I suspect its time that I started writing on a regular basis.  I'm hoping that this will lead me to some inspiration on writing my own sci-fi or fantasy novel.  So I suppose you'll want to know who Torggil is.  My handle is taken from one of my D&D characters, one of my most successful and also, an asshole.

My hobbies include anime, role playing games, and strategy games.  I used to hangout with my mates and do a lot of this shit, but, alas, I moved away.  Across the world to be true, and though I've been in this country many years, I've not taken up the strategy games or role-playing.  But I still watch anime, much to my wife's annoyance.

Being almost middle aged- I can't even tell you what my goals are, beyond writing a novel.  I have some life experience- second marriage (first wife died)- no kids (thank the gods, and curse them, too- same reason).  And a schedule that seems to tend to the nighttime hours.

My Wife is very tolerant.  She must love me to put up with my shit.  Why is it that the older we get, the more shit we have?  I'm not talking material wealth.  I'm talking about habits, preferences, and being set in our ways.  We become more fixed and less susceptible to change, less open to new ideas- I suspect you'll see some of it come to life here.

My next couple of posts have to do with driving, they are editorials of a sort, I'll post one tomorrow.  I'm intending to blog at least 5 times a week about, well, shit in my life on Torggil's World... Its my first time blogging, so this should be interesting...