Urban colloquialisms really do it for me. A ways back there was a push to classify a new language “ebonics”. It struck me as a little bit silly because it's not just African Americans who speak what would have been called ebonics. Further, within said language the changing the grammatical structure is so haphazard and varies to such a degree from place to place that it's really more a matter of an extended vocabulary. So my personal term is urban colloquialisms. It's a very cool thing because in many cases words are created where standard English falls off or sometimes terms are coined that very easily explain something that otherwise might have taken a full sentence. “Hood rich” for instance basically explains the idea of overextending one's credit. You might make make very little money or you might make decent money but no matter what you live in a manner that makes your finances hand to mouth. “The E Class on E”, driving a new Mercedes but keeping the gas tank 1/4 full. Running the car on vegetable oil always reminds me of this saying because there's not a huge reason to keep my diesel tank full and it's usually pretty close to empty. The major difference of course is that my Mercedes doesn't involve payments, it's an S Class (not an E Class) and instead of an “E” marking an empty tank there's an “R”. Originally my thought was that the dominant German word for empty started with an R but the car was bought before Google Translate was such an easy tool. Now I'm pretty sure it stands for either “refuel” or Mercedes engineers love the Jetsons and call empty "rempty" in the dog's honor. At any rate, for most of my drive from Florida the Veggiewagen and I have been riding with the needle either near or on R.

About a week ago a few buddies of mine flew out here. Since linking up the trip has been much more adventurous. They rented a Jeep which has enabled us to leave the Benz behind at times and do some back country camping. It's also provided both a fail safe in terms of having an extra car and a juxtaposition in the sense of being able to see how I live from other people's view point. The other day's drive was particularly interesting. It was gorgeous scenery as always but those mountain climbs seem to be catching up to the car. The veggie oil system doesn't work as well and after a few hours or spirited driving I started to lose power. In Florida where there are no hills this is a sign to switch back to diesel. Here it might just mean the car is climbing a grade that's imperceptible to the driver. Given my proclivity to avoid using diesel and being very into jamming out to some 90s music at the time my assumption was that the car was climbing up a mountain. Apparently that wasn't the case. Starved of fuel, the engine died on me. I switched back to diesel and very stupidly turned the car off while still rolling so as to try and restart it. The wheel locked up and the car and I nearly ended up hitting the railing on the side of the road. Luckily it didn't play out that way.

To compound issues there are two parts which might or might not be construed as necessary that were flat out broken at the time. One pertains to the veggie system, the other is a stock part on the car. For my purposes at least ONE would make life a lot easier and more stress free. Long story short, my only option was to wait for my friends to catch up in the Jeep and then chug on the starter until the engine purged itself of air and started. After they arrived my plan went into action. The first bad sign was that the battery died. This was a part of my plan though so we simply connected the two vehicles via jumper cables and continued trying to start the car. Still nothing. Finally I relented to our more cautious comrade's take on the situation and we pushed the 4,500lbs of German steel and Nylon's life off of the main road onto a very conveniently located side road. At this point the mad scientist driveway mechanic side of me came out in full force.

The other nice thing about having more people along for the ride is that when it comes to camping issues and car issues two heads are better than one and four heads are better yet. Somehow the topic of fuel level came up and I responded that I'd been riding on R for a few hundred miles. “Haha. Dog, you ran out of diesel”. Duh! So wrapped up in the problems on the veggie side the possibility that running out of diesel might coincide with other problems wasn't prominent in my mind. Clearly this was the ticket.

The car had decided to break down in an extremely fortuitous spot. First, we were neither climbing nor descending a mountain. Secondly we had just exited a blind curve. Third there was a little road on the left to push the car onto. However, the coup de gras was that on that little road was... a fuel processing plant! You have to understand how well we're doing at getting away from society. Cell phone service is a more often non-existent than usable. The closest gas station was at least thirty miles. This was essentially parachuting out of a crashing plane into a desert oasis. One of my friends and I trekked through their gates past haz-mat combustible signage and asked the people working on their trucks if they by chance had any diesel or kerosene we could purchase off of them. Whatever they were collecting or refining wouldn't run my car but the work trucks were filled up on the company's dime and they were willing to let me siphon some out at no charge. After a mouthful of diesel and profuse thanks we walked away five gallons of fuel richer.

There was still no guarantee that the car would start. The Achilles heel of running vegetable oil is a very complex part called an injector pump and the symptoms were vaguely similar to a dying IP. While in the throes of jerry rigging mechanics a gleaming white pickup truck rode up on use. The window rolled down and from a nicely air conditioned interior the gentleman driving asked if I needed a hand. The truck had actually ridden past us before and it seemed as if he had gone pretty far out of his way to help us. A simple no would have been a skosh rude. The truck was a diesel and we were in Wyoming so the guy was very likely to have a decent grasp of automotive mechanics. Thus, I went into the entire explanation of running the car on WVO and driving from Florida and our backpacking adventure and siphoning the diesel and the whole nine yards. Looking over at my Reagan era mechanical steed he with no irony said “you have more balls than I do”. My internal response was caught by my filter before it came out but it was a pretty apt description of the situation. “It's either balls or stupidity, time will tell”. The car started running within a few minutes and amid some congratulations we convoyed off to Dinosaur National Monument.  
 
 
Once upon a time in Nashville I visited the library to get some peace and quiet in order to study for the GRE. Nashville's public library is a stately affair with marble, Grecian columns and the whole nine yards. So it was a little bit surprising to see a fair amount of homeless people in the grandiose reading room. It only took a second to warm up the juxtaposition. Homeless people in libraries are a common sight.

The amount of libraries I've been is probably in the vicinity of fifteen, a number most likely greater than the average person. School libraries are a different story, but public libraries are an interesting thing. Certainly they are no longer what they were orignally intended for. Currently I am in Frazier Valley library. It's the nearest country library to the wealthy skiing enclave of Winter Park maybe sixty miles west of Denver. It's pretty nice. Beyond being clean and well equipped, it is clear that an top architect was well paid to make it look modern and swanky. Much nicer than that of rural Gunnison (which is most likely going to get a grant from the Gates foundation, more on that later). But no matter the type of building, the services a public library provides are generally the same.

The periodicals rack here is about half depleted. What type of periodicals are there? Maxim, Mad, Entertainment Weekly. National Geographic and the Atlantic are on there too, but Foreign Affairs most certainly is not. At Tallahassee's public library (great place to go when FSU's library was overflowing) the most prominently featured items were DVDs. Few people were actually checking out books. In West Palm Beach's spanking new public library a spate of activities are offered and there are many floors of reading materials. Yet, the only areas that are really packed are the computers, and the screens more often than not are telltale Facebook blue and white.

Public libraries have become free internet cafes and free DVD rentals. They don't offer access to knowledge so much as free entertainment. The main reason I'm in a library right now is because of my life on the fringe. It's free wifi and shelter from the elements.

So what is it that I am prescribing here? When one thinks of tax dollars at work there are a few discretionary expenses that come to mind. Schools, roads, libraries. Libraries are a good thing and compared to entitlement spending they're probably pretty cheap. But it seems to me that libraries were originally meant to ensure public access to knowledge. The internet has coopted that mission and in the information age they've been searching for a meaning. The only way to keep people coming in and to justify their existence was to put Maxim and Entertainment Weekly onto the periodical shelves and become a free movie rental for the destitute. This isn't to say that there aren't some people in here and in Nashville and in downtown West Palm who use libraries in search of higher knowledge. It's also not to say that free movie rental for the destitute is a bad thing. But instead of looking at the internet as a competitor, what if libraries saw them as an enabler of that original mission?

Being a student at FSU meant access to a plethora of fancy journals. At times the content was hefty and difficult to get through. Others like ipoll were flat out cool. But in any event it was the real deal. There was no spin, it was original thought from the world's smartest people. The Palm Beach County library system does have an electronic database, but it's paltry and focuses on things like auto repair. But what if Palm Beach County, Gunnison County and Davidson County all got together and collectively hammered out a deal with prestigious journals in the same manner that FSU has? Public access only through library computers with a limited amount of views. It couldn't really be that expensive. I would imagine that foregoing one of the downtown library's four floors could cover the cost.

While in Gunnison county's library someone from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation asked if I didn't mind having my picture taken showing the cramped working spaces. The foundation is considering giving the library a grant. So Bill Gates and some other rich people are about to shell out a few million dollars building a fancy daylight hours homeless shelter and free DVD rental out in the sticks. If they directed that money a little bit differently it's possible that the real life Will Huntings out there could have access to information that enables them to come up with some idea that changes our world for the better. Why are we abandoning that original mission?
 
 
The other night I came to a realization. 

The day's drive was unduly harsh on the Veggiewagen. While only 100 miles, the mountains and backroads are some pretty intense conditions. Couple with the fact that my route is now backtracking to some extent (something I absolutely cannot stand) by the time I linked up with I-70 toward Denver any sort of campground was welcome. The first choice was called Gore Creek. That was too easy to get to though and as such, definitively full. To the untrained eye the backup campsite would have appeared closer on the map than Gore Creek, but to a seasoned road veteran it appeared extremely inaccessible from the get go. Technically, the type of road should have been no worse than what most of the day's driving had been on. There was just something about the way it curved that smacked of an experience at a place called Davenport Gap in North Carolina/Tennessee.
 
County road 700 was hellish. From the beginning it was an arduous climb. Then it turned into a steep downhill grade (tough on a transmission). Sometimes up, sometimes down but in either direction it was generally pretty steep. More foreboding yet, a dirt road to begin with 700 became pocked with potholes and large rocks in a most expeditious manner. Soon enough these potholes were deep enough to break steering components if hit carelessly. Average speed slowed dramatically.

Ironically enough there were a lot of vehicles traversing this road. As it turned out the campground I was destined for was the site of a wedding and supposedly swarmed with people. Brilliant cost cutting measure on someone's part. Half of the invitations sent out were most likely met with “They want me to drive where?!?” However, before getting to Piney Crossing Campground I saw a group of hippy-ish types with their camping gear set up. By this point asking for directions was prudent and they told me both about how to get to my destination and about the wedding. What their “campsite” was, was in fact not actually a campsite but instead the trail head for Lower Piney Trail. My first instinct was to try and follow through with the original plan. But with my car having been built in “West Germany” instead of just “Germany” another two miles was a tall order. Turn around, ask this group if they didn't mind my setting up nearby. Upon Neil's suggestion I walked in a particular direction and as it turned out there was an incredible little site down near the river. It already had a sizable mound of firewood from the previous campers so I took it to be fated. My site being a brisk ten minute hike from that of the hippies I would have been perfectly happy to start a small fire, eat some canned food then hit the hay. However, social protocol dictated at least a full round of introductions and a few minutes of conversation.
 
The group had come from a concert nearby. Most of them pretty interesting people and half of them native to Colorado I learned a bit in the hours that ensued. Grizzly bears are a fascination of mine. They seem closely analogous to alligators in terms of level of danger, temperament and general rules for dealing with them. Sort of the “soda” versus “pop” of the animal world. Most Coloradans seem to indulge in the outdoors a good bit and are versed in these matters. Just like with alligators you run in zig zags, go limp if they clamp down on you and try to gouge out an eye, growing up in Colorado little kids learn how to handle encountering a grizzly bear.

Talking about godless killing machines at some point brought up a boilerplate question: what's your single biggest fear? Neil's greatest fear was almost as fascinating to me as hearing about grizzlies. The idea of being dropped in the wilderness, completely alone. In particular that moment of realization that you're not getting out. We don't have outdoors the way that Coloradans have outdoors. Florida's environment is forgiving and it's hard to get as far away from people as you can up here. It's difficult to convey the vastness. As such, they have a reverence for the outdoors that most Americans do not. Neil's description of the ordeal which would entail his worst fear did indeed sound scary. Yet for all his explanation the primary component seemed to me to be the concept of being alone. With a shark, alligator or bear fear you're going to die. It's the same result. The difference is anywhere between a few weeks and a couple years of being alone before you bite it.

After wrapping up the evening with a stargazing session (how awesome!) I returned to my little tent. With knowledge of the real danger of grizzlies there was something about the pitch black which hit me differently than the few situations in which I've encountered it thus far. My incredibly bright LED flashlight pierced the all encompassing blackness as if waving a sword wildly at some unknown enemy. Stop, Nylon. Think like a caveman. Fire! Yes, good old fire. Warmth, light, fear into the heart of shy woodland creatures. Fire would bring an element of safety. Going to sleep without a bed of embers would be quite foolhardy indeed. Despite an abundance of dry wood, this turned out to be the most difficult fire I've ever started. The lesson: remember to gather kindling along with firewood as firewood is useless without kindling. Kindling has never been something to think about for me because with car camping you can always find some sort paper in your home on wheels and in Florida pine needles are generally closer than your car anyway. After tearing the label off of my walmart black beans I had a decent fire going.

As the flames gradually turned into flickers and finally into a nice pulsing glow of embers I settled into my cozy little tent. That's when my realization struck me. Being isolated to this extent, it's comfortable for me: I don't like people. A psychiatrist would probably use the term social anxiety. No, in most circumstances I genuinely do not like being around people. Moving to China was an odd way of escaping society. The language and culture barrier kind of puts the 1.3 billion Chinese people in a different world than the expatriate. While drowning in a sea of people, you're rarely engaging on any more than the most superficial of levels. The complete opposite of southern all up in your business friendly social etiquette. Alas, I made good friendships and built a social support network. It shot my quasi unconscious plans to hell and back. Throughout education, group projects were the bane of my existence. Study groups were effective and fun, but being forced into some interaction and forced to accommodate others, give some deference to their opinions... terrible. Then there's this, whatever it is that I'm doing right now. At face value it's the opposite of Dalian. Really though, the two are quite related in that it's the epitome of escaping society. Drive. Just drive and leave it all behind. Driving is my element. 99% of that driving is alone. In years past, while talking to people about my road trips it truly befuddled me to learn that they would not like the idea of driving alone for three weeks or more. From my point of view, other people in the car might provide some interesting conversation and companionship, but they hinder my ability to make decisions because they need to have input. Worse yet, they completely destroy my thinkin' time. The initial reactionary response in my mind: why the hell would I want such an albatross when I'm perfectly capable of projecting human emotions onto my car? On this trip I rarely stop for fuel and most of my lodgings don't exactly involve talking to someone at a front desk. So even the superficial interactions are yet more limited. The isolation is much more extreme.

Living on the fringe can and should still encompass an occasional good shower, has been my most recent thought on whatever it is that I'm doing. As a result today I got a skeezy motel room. The interaction getting the room was simple. But then walking into a restaurant full of people, it was like being in that deep blackness of night in the woods and then having a light shined in your eyes. It was uncomfortable. I felt out of place. Googling “preference for being alone” right now to try and find a medical term for it, most people online frame this sentence in terms of not being in a relationship. This idea of actual isolation is apparently a strange thing.

Now, there a handful of friendships that mean a good deal to me and more importantly a few which mean a great deal. The idea of being cut off from my friends forever is upsetting to say the least. But Neil's worst fear of being dropped into the middle of the wilderness, it honestly doesn't quite faze me. My state of mind would probably become a little off balanced as would anyone's under total isolation. Actually, judging from my experiences isolating myself from society thus far, it seems plausible that total isolation could drive me slightly insane. But then again, sanity is like body odor. If there's nobody else around why should I care? All else aside, if dropped into the middle of the wilderness in a survivable situation, my level of contentment with life would most likely rise dramatically. To know that there is absolutely no possibility of interacting with another person ever again. Maybe it's hard to explain, but there's just this level on which that really appeals to me.  
 
 
I've finally found a truly inspiring campsite. It's actually not technically a campsite. It's across the road from a campgrounds. Once upon a time outside of Guilin China I went on a kayaking expedition which ended up quite the experience and my temporarily losing the kayak. Upon returning to the kayaking place the woman at the desk asked if I was French. To which I responded with a hearty no and that I was in fact America. She was surprised, Americans don't usually do that sort of thing apparently. Well, that's just how I roll.

Upon arriving at cold springs campground, my last stop before gunnison and tracking down this farm, I did a little wandering/firewood gathering. Everywhere else I had stayed was laden with signs (no firewood cutting/gather go to site 28 and pay $5). This is one of those “drop your money in the box on the honor system” deals. While there was a similar sign here it was only toward cutting, not gathering. And, hey we're in wide open Colorado anyway. If a man's gonna be free anywhere it's here. So I gathered myself a nice six hours worth, plus a handful of cutting of pine to keep any skeeters at bay. Then I decided the next order of business was to track down water as I was down to half a gallon. Walking over the highway up to a gate which had a sign that read only “please close gate” I stumbled upon a forty foot wide raging river. If there was any body of water that was safe to drink from of this was it, and boy was it tasty. Looking around there was a ready made campfire pit, a beautiful tree to pitch my temporary home under... why not. Back to the car, grabbed the main items and headed across the road again. Collect firewood, set up tent, one more trip back to get a second sleeping back (from experience I know it gets cold here at night, even during the summer) and then to build a bonfire and cook up some of those non-perishable goods for dinner.


In the morning I awoke to solitude and just just barely within reach of straight up wilderness. No showers of course, so my bath was a dip into the freeeeezing river. After six months of the overt rudeness of modern Chinese society this is heaven. Now to cook up some grits and have a little breakfast.  
Picture
How I'm livin'
 
 
The ostensible plan was to go “wwoofing”. It's an internet community where you get hooked up with organic farms. They give you a place to live (sometimes simply a choice spot to pitch your tent) and feed you and in exchange you put in an earnest day's work. During all of this one meets interesting people and learns about organic farming. While sitting in my tiny apartment in Dalian, China the idea of wwoofing occured to me. At the time the idea was to stay abroad which would have been sensible. Wwoofing in the phillipines or Taiwan would give me valuable insight into rural life in Asia and farming practices. This would be great on a resume for an INGO. But my mind works in a very specific way. Consciously I'm unaware of what I want. Yet unconsciously my mind rationalizes a way to it's true desire, which was coming home. Wwoofing in America, and then doing it abroad until applying for a masters program in Taiwan. 

Well, what has occurred is that once again I am simply on a road trip. This time it is so apt. There's no destination. My wwoofing guy has dropped off the face of the earth. So I'm just kind of in Colorado, driving around on cheap vegetable oil living out of a tent. With the transmission fixed there's nothing tying me to any particular spot. For at least ten days I have no known contacts out here or reason to be here.

Thus I sit in my tent, during a Rocky Mountain thunderstorm pecking away at my keyboard. Maybe being out here will somehow bring me closer to the meaning of life. Or better yet, what the hell to do with mine. Maybe it will help me to overcome my biggest issues in life. Or maybe it won't do anything beyond simply being an experience. The complete absence of, direction or ties somehow seems like it's meant to do something to my persona. We'll see.


Either way, this is a hell of a change from Dalian. New York is called the city that never sleeps. Dalian catches her Zzzz's in a major way. At night it was quiet outside my apartment, almost earily quiet. But upon waking up I was in this sea of people and activity. Tomorrow I will wake up and there will be about ten people within shouting distance. Other than the couple of families camping and fishing out here, there's nobody for miles. Expanses of wilderness. Jagged rocks fighting their way from the center of the earth up into the sky, only mildly softened by eons of rain. Piles of boulders the size of schoolbuses that look carelessly lopped in place as though by a 200 foot toddler. Lush green as far as the eye can see, sliced into vast parcels by lazy creeks that turn out to be small whitewater rivers when punctuated by yet more rocks fighting their way up from the center of the earth and into the sky. Even tame privately owned pieces of land seem proud. How ironic that we “tamed” them by a thin strip of barbed wire which keep in a handful of grazing horses or cattle. The thunder here is not the “crack” of most places. It reverberates off of variety of peaks and valleys within however many miles. A good one is a bright flash, followed by the pitter patter of rain on my little tent. Then after sufficient pitter patter, there's suddenly a cacophony of crashes and rumbling from all different directions! It lasts nearly a full minute! It seems indicative of stronger weather to come. I feel like the sailor in the dinghy. God, your mountains are so mighty, and my tent is so small.  

 
 
Today marked the end of the transmission saga. Leaving all technical details aside, I went by Chuck's place and we got the leak taken care of, aside for one bolt not wanting to go in. We left it out. After leaving his place there were a few missions, the last of which would be getting to wifi to do a zillion different things online (one of which was post my blogs... whoops). The best bet for spotting a leak would be after my stuff online because the car would have been sitting for a few hours. Not a couple drops, but a puddle.

If you're ever in Colorado Springs and need an honest Mercedes Mechanic: Salim's Silver Star Automotive. Explained the issue to Salim himself (semi-retired, it's a family business he's had going for 45 years). He let me drive the car in the garage and we took a look at it. He then told me it would need something that didn't seem logical at all and sounded extremely expensive. Explained my issue once more to him, he pressed for his fix some but said “it's whatever you want to do”. All of the other mechanics were on the same page as me. Then one of the younger guys said “yo, what Salim's sayin' is you put that pan in, the motherf***er's gonna be fixed”. Though this sounds silly, at the time in the context, the dude speaking my language. Salim quoted a price for parts sounded cheap even for buying them online and then said he'd only charge an hour of labor even though the book called for three. Between the urban colluquialisms explaining things and looking at under $200 I pulled the trigger. Pulled the pan off... amazing! He was dead on. How he spotted it is beyond me. Maybe something about nearly a half century of experience. The long and skinny is that they had me in and out in under and hour without an appointment at under $200. In German car world that's basically giving it away.

The lesson: trusted internet forums are a valuable resource. Benzworld.org FTW.  
 
 
The following is kind of a long post and is going to get slightly technical but I think it's worth the read. It really gives a picture of my current situation. The day started innocently enough. This website fillup4free.com has been enabling me to get veggie oil while on the road. It works well enough. I made it to Colorado on like 15 dollars of diesel if you count highway driving. So the primary mission for the day was to go get some grease from this guy about 20 miles outside of town. The side mission was going to be slightly more tricky. But I was confident and afterward would reward myself with a subway tasty subway footlong and one of the many outdoorsy activities in Colorado Springs.

Background. (a) I'm living out of a tent and currently in a way too swanky state park (b) my first drive across the US was in a car that was 8 years old at the time. This go around the car being used is 28 years old. This fact resonated with me from the get go. Yet there have been points where judgment calls have been necessary. Essentially “what can old car NOT do that moderately old car could.” Most people turn the key, press one pedal for go and another for stop. With car guys that's not how we do it. Sounds, feels, smells... all of these thing register and we are constantly running a sort of systems check in our minds. While the machinations of these metal creatures may sound scary to most people it's kind of fun once you're in on the whole thing. Being on a long drive in a car that you have to figure out stuff in is kind of like placing a bet on a horse race. It's actually exactly like that. The bigger the drive the more lame if something goes really awry. At the same time, the further away from home you get the greater the feeling of accomplishment. It really fits in with my world view of Larry David-esque day to day masochism, and penchant for adventure.

But I digress. One of these judgment calls was how long to drive the car for at any given period (I've been known to go for over 20+ hours at a shot). A week without ever stopping the engine clearly is too long. The manual says something about 8 hours so that's definitely fine. Though I ended up driving for like 15 hours, my guess was 12 max. Why, you may ask? In my mind there were two problems. The first was with non-synthetic engine oil breaking down. This didn't seem terribly likely at under 24 hours, but I was overdue on the change anyway so I took a breather at about 10 hours and changed it walmart just to be safe. The second issue was a matter of the great unknown: the automatic transmission. These are to driveway mechanics what the car is to someone who doesn't own a tool kit. They're finely honed highly complex pieces of equipment of which most car guys have never seen the innards of and definitely do not have tools to work on. So let's just leave it at: I had reason to suspect driving for a sustained period could cause a problem, it did, I caught it in time but was left with a situation that would put a strain on my abilities given my on the go facilities and tools. Lameness sets in. A trip to the mechanic would cost $185 and I would be left with incomplete information regarding what happened (yes, mechanics are notorious hucksters even to those of us who are in on the joke, it just takes them more skill to invent lies with us).

These road trips have a way of every turn seeming fated. As luck would have it, the guy who was going to sell me veggie oil was also willing to lend me a hand with the transmission! Upon arriving Chuck's setup appeared real slick. He collects and recycles vegetable oil for a living, measuring it not in the tens or hundreds but in the thousands of gallons. More importantly for the transmission situation he had also amassed an impressive collection of tools over the years, many of which were beyond the means of an average driveway mechanic. We took his GMC Topkick (link to Cadillac One) modified for vegetable oil pickup to O'Reilly's auto parts, used his commercial account to purchase necessary equipment at a discount and then headed back for what proved to be an easy job with his professional jackstands and pneumatic tools.

Two things happened. The Mercedes is equipped with a way to drain transmission fluid easily that most cars do not. The pneumatic tools destroyed it. That was fine by me because it necessitated doing the job in a more meticulous manner. Downside is that it meant getting fluid out would be trickier on my on my own if we over filled it. The second thing that happened is that we overfilled it. Despite being out of there by noon, those two things proved disastrous. As it turns out, though Colorado State parks do not actually have any rules listed about working on your car in the park it is indeed against the rules. 15 minutes nobody would have cared but the amount of time I needed would prove to be vastly more than originally anticipated. After a half hour they sent their most stolid (ex-military by the cut of his jib and C.S.'s demography) park ranger to give me a stern talking to. He was generally pretty cool though and the way he put it was that he was saving me a huge fine because he just happened to see me doing this and was letting me off before the park ranger got there, who would not have been as understanding. Later in the day there were some interactions that led me to believe that the jerkoff working on his car stirred up a great deal of buzz on those walky-talkies. I was the talk Cheyenne mountain park.

After leaving the park and going through a little bit of hunger and situational induced despair I regrouped and made a game plan. A car parts store would probably not worry about me doing a small job in their parking lot because it might bring them business. Off to rear parking area of Autozone! Within 20 minutes the transmission fluid was within a satisfactory level for my tastes. But with an old Mercedes every day is an adventure. Unbeknownst to me, a rubber seal had come ever so slightly out of place. Not good. Deciding to make it a car day I then drove to Firestone to have them rotate my tires for free (they throw this in when you buy a set from them). There I made mistake #2.

For those who don't know about cars, never, EVER get work done at firestone. Let me repeat: Never, under any circumstances get any work done at firestone. Ever. Their business model is based around charging a lot for things that might be a good idea but aren't really necessary, then overcharging for them. I told the guy outright there was no point in checking my car because I wasn't going to spend any money. Under a modified pay structure called “flat rate” they even the guy working on your car has a huge incentive to get cars out quickly (resulting in poor alignments, if you want a good one the only place to go is the dealer), never take on a major job and always rack up a bajillion little things. “That's fine, it's complimentary and we'll do it anyway.” After 45 minutes of waiting a nice fellow customer in the lobby offered me a coupon to which I responded, “I would never have work done here”. In short oder they called me and handed me my keys saying the job was done. This is where it gets funny. The artards hadn't even bothered to move the car to make it look like they did something! The CD player was still on the song I had left it on!

You have to understand how hard it is for me to listen to other people getting swindled at Firestone. 500 bucks is a ton of money to some people and the lies they make up are so outrageous. It's almost like they find the most ludicrous thing to say just to test it out. Moreover, these people are way less qualified than I am to work on cars. Every extra ten minutes they make me wait for no reason isn't just lost time, it's time in which my principled rage festers. The guy that said he worked at McDonalds but dropped hundreds of dollars on what should have been an oil change was particularly galling. Good and hot after biting my tongue in the case of the burger flipper and seeing the car in the same spot, tires facing the same direction as before I walked back in visibly furious, tossed the keys back on the counter and sat back down without saying anything. The manager knew he had bungled his real job: swindling people. He gave the new employee a stern talking to and then told me “your car will be ready in five minutes.” About a minute afterward I heard a screeeech and looked up to witness my car running into their tool chest! They always give the new guys jobs that won't pay anything, thus the dude working on my car was like just hired. But this guy was so new he hadn't learned to test out how well the brakes work before pulling a car into the garage. Poor kid's rotten luck, I had just loaded the car up with hundreds of pounds of vegetable plus all my road tripping gear so it drives funny. In retrospect, watching him crash my car was absolutely hilarious. I hit stuff for fun in that beast. Under 15mph it just doesn't show. But it fueled my fire anyway. After another five minutes, I knocked on the window. Guy was rotating the tires wrong. So now the manager comes over, tells me he's been doing this for 20 years and that the greasemonkey was right. I made a hard glance at his name tag and said “alright, that's cool.” He claimed to have been a Mercedes technician or something and got right on it. Friggin' idiot couldn't figure out how to open my hood! Hahahahaha. LIAR! This is most qualified person in the joint, car was produced for 13 years yet he can't open a hood on a car that he claimed to have spent years working on. Later on he admitted I was right about the tires.

So now this next moment was emblematic of why one doesn't have to be Christian to be a good person. They spotted my earlier foul up with the rubber seal. The transmission was leaking all over their floor. I've caught Firestone lying to me before. Corporate's orders are that when they get caught red handed to placate the customer even if the store is losing money. With such a simple thing I could have used the lying and running my car into things and general ineptitude as leverage and made them fix it. I could sat there and helped them figure it out with all their great amazing tools, and got it taken care of in minutes. Oh how much fun it would have been. But the rent they pay, franchise fees, tools and employee's time do not belong to me. The new employee who had been blamed would probably have been fired and the new employee working on my car wouldn't have gotten to go home on time. Judgment call, tell them to leave it alone.

“Do you have torque wrenches in this place” (that was me being condescending)
 
“Yep”

“Just torque it to spec,” car lingo for “reprieve liar with bad luck, you get to go home on time.”

At the time of writing I kind of wish I had closed the vice while what little manhood they had was stuck in it. In retrospect being moral will feel better. So from firestone I went to another parking lot, called my father for some advice as he usually has a level head in these situations and then got down to it. Calling Chuck, he gave me a pretty good idea of what could be wrong and was correct. For fifteen furious minutes I labored in a grocery store parking lot. And then came the downpour. Still leaking and without the proper tools, losing light, in the rain, the car low to the ground from all the veg in the trunk, I was looking at a best case scenario of an hour in sheets of rain, worst case scenario of wasting three. Car's in drivable condition = bag it.

Sweet talked the park rangers with a little bit of Dale Carnegie. Explained the situation in detail, told her I was mainly worried about the environment and didn't want to upset any park rules. As DC says admit you're wrong in the first sentence (even if not so), after that the other person's argument is moot. From there you bank on goodwill and if that fails a variety of other carrot based incentives. They were all aware of the jerkoff working on the old car and felt my pain. Chuck's the man. Know I used this saying before, but I like the cut of his jib. Probably gonna need to throw him a few extra bucks, but tomorrow morning we'll get it straightened away.

And thus is a day in the life of driving a 28 year old German car 4-5k miles away from home while trying to run it on vegetable oil. Beauty all around me, permeated by stress which is in a slightly sick way kind of fun. Not if, but WHEN I get back in the Veggiewagen it will have built some serious character.
 
 
After the whole China experience one of my new things is trying to avoid purchasing products that were made in said autocracy. Unfair trade practices, a lack of environmental standards and no basic protections in regard to human rights just makes gaming the system too easy for them. Granted, one person isn't going to make a difference but on a personal level every time I look at something that says “made in China” it draws my ire. From previous experience I was already aware that buying American is next to impossible. It turns out that for many types of products simply not buying Chinese is at the very least going to take a ton of effort. So the next best thing is to buy used whenever possible. Even if it's made in the PRC at least my dollars didn't go directly to the crony communist owner a smokestack in some pollution choked city of five million that you've never heard of. Craigslisting can be a minefield though and some of my necessities have been put off. Specifically: shelter. A good bit of my next few months or possibly even longer might be spent living out of a tent. But for one reason or another the craigslist deals just kept falling through.

At about three days beyond the last minute (there was a night spent in the car and one directly under the stars) my new home was finally purchased from a local reseller of outdoors equipment. Though it was indeed made in China by people who could never begin to imagine the places it would see, the method and venue of purchase makes my temporary home feel a little more ethical, if not patriotic. Problem is that it's a pretty unfamiliar design. Moreover, the park where it's being pitched has these odd gravel lots that tent stakes just don't want to stick into. Meatier stakes might have done the trick, but the cheapos kept coming loose. Meanwhile a storm was brewing across the plains and coming toward the mountains. At the first gust it became apparent that the tent wasn't going to last the evening. Another night sleeping in the car? Hardly. 

There are a few skills which have served me well. One of those is the ability to look around and utilize whatever may be around at the moment to suit my purpose. Also, my car is a receptacle for any and all items that are no longer of real use but aren't exactly garbage material either. A nylon tie down cut in two, a veggied up and rusted chain, copious amounts of zip ties (lengthened for use as rope and also as structural support on the tent), a bicycle lock, the grill on the firepit and my late doggy's collar. Honestly, these weren't even my last resort. Jumper cables in place of rope, ratchets in place of tent poles, there were a lot of ideas swirling around my head. Macgeyver, jerry rigged whatever you want to call it, I have a good feeling the tent is going to last through the storm.  


edit: (it did)
Picture
(grill top is chained to steel fireplace)
Picture
Picture
 
 
There's a saying “it's darkest before dawn”. My spin on it is “it's Kansas before Colorado”.
 
Since the last post on Nye's mind much has changed. The idea of returning home seized me and within a week I was on a airbus flying across the pacific. Mainland China just wasn't my cup of tea. Ostensibly there are a few medium to long term plans but at the moment I find myself trying to constructively kill time and once again in my element. The open road. There's nothing quite like it to me.

A bit misfortune has been the lack of a/c in my car. One of my many aborted posts to Nye'smind discussed my personal battle with the air conditioning system in my car and the air conditioning establishment. It didn't turn out well. Between that and the current heat wave driving at night has become a necessity. What seems like ages ago an enfeebled old trucker with coke bottle lensed glasses gave me a slew of advice. One bit of it was to drive under the cover of darkness. The reasons he laid out were pretty logical, but at the same time he was also under the impression that I was an escaped convict, so that may have had something to do with his proclivity for nocturnal travel. In retrospect after seeing his face drop upon bursting his bubble I probably should have let him go on thinking his new friend was on the run from Johnny Law. Either way, I still follow most of his advice and for utilitarian driving (for instance, college town to home) he was spot on. Night driving really is the way to go. Easier on the car, less people on the road, no cops and nice cool ambient temperatures. With areas like the Appalachians or Ozarks on the other hand it's a touch heartbreaking to be aware of beautiful scenery you're missing out on.

This isn't my first cross country drive. Every one has taught me that while “America the beautiful” is a fairly accurate account of our geographical circumstances there are exceptions to the rule. These places are striking for a moment, but are vast expanses. Portions of Texas, Oklahoma and most of Kansas. There's just nothing to see except for visions of how mundane the existences of the residents must be. Not that I have anything against small town life. It's just... wouldn't you like some springs to go swimming in or possibly some mountains to climb. Somewhere beautiful to go and cap the night in your more rambunctious years. Alongside sheer boredom, for the roadtripper these places foster feelings of pity and contempt. After doing Kansas once during the day I said never again.

The interesting thing about the instance of Kansas is that driving westward it slowly evolves into this flat expanse. Signs along the highway “no services for 80 miles”, towns that don't have a restaurant and all the while nothing but corn, pwt and a disturbing amount of wind. But then almost immediately after crossing the border something happens. In spring it's nothing short of miraculous. Gentle rolling hills that erupt in purple blooms. Today had no purple blooms. Maybe it's not the season or it could also possibly be the dry spell Colorado's been having. Even without, it's quite picturesque. And then two hours later these massive mountains appear out of nowhere and BAM! you're in a different world. 

I used the old trucker's advice and did Kansas by night. It was a hard drive. Stopping for vegetable oil in California Missouri took me pretty far out of the way. Stopping to refuel when the tank runs dry is disgusting and a hassle (I carry 22 gallons on top of the veggie tank). Then I decided to stop at a Walmart in Topeka to change my oil which took a couple hours. Two points of interest here. (a) Topeka has the most amazing walmart you will ever see in your life as well as the largest mean gurth of Walmart customer (b) the security guards in the parking lot of Walmart don't like you doing automotive repairs. Post Wally-world it was powering through back roads in the dead of night until I saw this most welcome of welcome signs:
Picture
Immediately after crossing the border I stopped at a the nearest sleezy motel, finally got to sleep around 5am (really 6am because I crossed a time zone) and woke up to beautiful, Colorful Colorado. Morning also brought the full onset of realizing that the first time I did this drive it was in an 8 year old car and now it's in a 28 year old car. The transmission fluid changed from translucent red to a light brown (no mas). Apparently driving from Florida to NYC non-stop is a young car's game. But getting held up in Colorado Springs for two or three days is like getting stuck in an elevator with a lingerie models who didn't grow into her looks until late high school.
Picture
Western Missouri is flattish and there's corn, but it's still pretty in it's own way
Picture
I'm goin' to...
Picture
Picture
 
 
My last post was about internet censorship. Of the different flavors the most annoying in my opinion is the lack of pictures on wikipedia (it's also the most telling in terms of gauging government paranoia). Facebook you can get used to not having, youtube as well but wikipedia without the pictures is sort of a tease. There are certain articles I've read time and again for the feelings they evoke beyond the basic knowledge they provide. For instance, the “blue riband” was award given to the fastest Atlantic crossing from the beginning of the steamship era up until the early 1960s. Traveling through time perusing the histories of the Mauretania, the Rex and the SS France isn't possible when you can't see their grand staircases, giant boilers or stately silhouettes. When I was still doing the teaching one subject I hit upon was the British Empire (which seemed appropriate given that it's the reason they're learning English). Wikipedia has a great graphic which shows the growth and decline of the British Empire. You can't see that here so they'll never know. And then the infamous picture of “Harvard University” they have on the third floor. Really it's a picture of the White House. Something tells me that if Google images wasn't difficult to access and Wikipedia had pictures SOMEWHERE along the line somebody would have figured out that what they have there isn't a picture of Harvard University.