Cars

2017-July: Cars playing nanny (RL252)

Although the water in Seattle was freezing cold and not welcoming, John was driving an Audi to a Washington beach club the other day. He was sitting in the driver's seat with the door open and the feet out of the door, the engine on and still talking to somebody as the car started beeping relentlessly. John does not want a nanny state with no indication from the car what the problem is. He knows what he is doing! Ultimately he shut the motor off and took the keys out. John wants to go to Germany and slap the engineer in the face with a white leather glove until he turns the thing off.

John's friend in High School had a 1972 Camaro RS that he had highly customized. One time somebody smashed the window and stole his tape deck, but he didn't really mind because he had insurance. He even took a big wrench and smashed his tachometer because it was broken and he wanted the insurance to pay for this as well. This was the first time John saw somebody game the system. At the time, John had a lady friend, a little bit of a manic pixie dream girl with short red hair, but they were the same age (she was not the one who didn't like her feet touched, there were many pixie girls in John's life). She was very tightly wound like a Swiss watch. Her tolerances were in a pretty narrow range in terms of hot and cold or surprising beeping sounds. John had an Audi back in the days that had a hard life before and was ridden extensively and would sometimes just start beeping 5 times every 20 minutes. When his girlfriend was in the car and the beeping would start, her reaction would be like you would crash a cymbal behind a sleeping cat.

2017-July: Car- and Motorcycle-pimping TV-shows (RL252)

The motorcycle customizing show Monster Garage is hosted by the cheating swine Jesse James who was previously married to America's sweatheart Sandra Bullock from the movie Speed. She was such a joy in this fairly dumb movie! It was the year of Edward Norton, all of a sudden he was in the musical Everyone Says I Love You with Woody Allen and in the Richard Gere jail movie Primal Fear, he was also the lawyer in Larry Flynt (he was so good in that movie!) and he was in Fight Club. So Speed was a movie that was spoiled by Dennis Hopper and Keanu Reeves, how does a movie survive this? It was thanks to Sandra Bullock and Joe Morton (they mixed him up with Edward Norton during their dialog). So in this motorcycle show, Jesse James was a guy with a Macklemore haircut and a neck tattoo, married to Sandra Bullock and being very mean to her. He is a total chode, on his palm he has a tattoo saying Pay up, sucker. He surely has conferderate flags everywhere. He was the ur-chode, before all the other grease monkeys who stole cars from people and turned them into shitty cars.

There are so many of those shows now because people love the idea! Jesse James was the first guy who was out there, before even Orange County Choppers (which implies that it is in Los Angeles, but it is actually in New York), where hillbilly East Coast people make big hot rod motorcycles that you could not give John for free. They made a motorcycle for Billy Joel and gave it to him on stage at a concert. Is this why Target parking lots look like they do now? It all started with the coward Jesse James and this is why everybody looks like a beefy guy with a shaved head and sleevless shirts. He got the Macklemore haircut long before Mackelmore had it and is just so California Punk Rock smug. You want to take his "Pay up sucker" tattoo and stick it right into a paper shredder, but he is making cool custom motorcycles for people. It is always going to be a hard tale, because they are not pussies and you get this feeling you live in this garage with these cool assholes and you get to be an asshole, too! Tomorrow you've got to go to work at State Farm, but for now you've got to watch the insides of these guys.

When Jesse James isn't building motorcycles, he is riding up and down the street in his GTO with flames coming out of the tailpipe. He married Sandra Fucking Bullock! She fell for this dingeling, because he was at the top of his game. He is never going to be Adam Savage level with 18 seasons of award winning television, but he was at his peak and now he is making hogs for people. Only rich guys can afford that, but they are masking the rich guys and make them look like cool rich guys. Then in the door walks Shaquille O'Neal and wants a motorcycle, but the problem is that he is 1.3 times are big as everybody else (7"1'). When he sits on a regular Harley, it looks hilarious and so they accomplished building a motorcycle that is proportionate to Shaquille O'Neal, and he drives off into the night, but the last shot is showing him pulling into a gas station and it looks like a trick of perspective, like in a fun house.

Is the coward Jesse James partly responsible for Guy Fieri? If you think about it: Guy Fieri is in between Jimmy Buffett and the coward Jesse James. He is a little bit motorcycle, a little bit Robert Burden (Burdane?) who also got a lot of tatoos (like seasoned fries), a little bit Emeril's "BAM", which is a direct great-grandfather of donkey sauce, which turned out to be regular aioli. The captivating thing that was then extended by Pimp My Ride was that the show suggested that these guys can take a shit car and turn it into a cool car in a 45 minute episode, which gives John hope that his shit car that is parked in front of his trailer, can be made into a hot car. What they don't show is that 40 people are working on this car for 2,5 months. Ditto everything with Gordon Ramsay where everytime they redo a hotel or restaurant in Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, they make it look like it was literally done over night. After the place closed and before it opened, they changed the entire hotel.

Sometimes you are in a hotel room and you flip by a food network hoping that you get maybe a Chopped or similar, but instead you get 48 hours of something about Diners and Driv-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. He shows up at a place where they make terrible food and he gets to walk into the kitchen and eat it for free: Pulled Porked Sliders! Like a train ride through flavor town! What is a slider? A small sandwich? If a guy walked into a sports bar and said "I would like a cheeseburger, but not a big one, can I get like three small cheeseburgers?", the reply would be "You want the slider platter with the slider donkey sauce!". And what are these big beer bottles now, the growlers? Where did those come from? John drank beer like a fucking stevedore for a dozen years and never heard a growler. It is the handlebar moustache of beer. They talk shortly about White Castle, a restaurant that also serves sliders.

8 states in the US have an orange county: California, Florida, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Virginia. If you are south of the Mason-Dixon Line and you have an Orange County, you probably grow oranges there. On the East Coast the orange counties are probably references to Dutch settlers. Merlin looks at the list of the most common US place names. There are 88 places called Washington. How can you still name your town Salem?

Old cars (RL159)

People are hurdling down the road at 70 mph (113 km/h) every day in cars that they fail to maintain properly. Every time John sees a car driving along in the lane next to him that is over two years old, he is wondering how long it will take until the tie rods will fail in that car or how long until there is some catastrophic steering blow-out. How many cars fail an emissions test and make you wonder how many more things might be horribly wrong with those cars! It is not like in the 1970:s where you had to have your car in the garage several times a year because cars weren’t as good. Nowadays you don’t have to think about it anymore, but instead you drive around in a death trap.

John misses the times where the roads were full of old crappy cars. The fact that all cars kind of look the same now is concealing the fact that there are a lot of old crappy cars on the road, you just can’t tell them apart. In the 1980:s, if you saw a 1954 Chevy that wasn’t really pristine, you knew it was an old crappy car. You would see Swingers and Comets and LTDs! In 1988 Merlin was driving a 1970 VW Camper. His girlfriend had a 1975 LTD, because her dad wanted her to have a big safe car and everybody you knew was driving a 1966 Swinger. John dated a girl who drove a 1964 Studebaker and the next girl he dated had a 1962 El Camino with a short truck bed, based on a Comet. Those were just old raddy cars they had bought for $250.

There are 22 year old cars on the road right now, but they just look like contemporary cars. John's eyes see them all as pregnant porpoises. They are all blobs of metal. Now that more and more people have cars, you notice the delta more. Merlin had a 1995 Volkswagen until last year and it was mostly fine, but it felt like such a relic and like a real beater. In the mid-1980:s all the cars started looking like a vitamin with the 1984 Thunderbird as the watershed moment: it looked like a lozenge and if you look at the 1994 Lexus that looks like Tylenols, you will see that one is modeled after the other and every subsequent car looks like a newer iteration. If you look at a 2014 Corolla, how can people even tell them apart?

Car designs used to change every couple of years, but the 1996 Sebring is still manufactured with just slightly different bits of sheet metal. It might be the economies of scale, because you can get such a good deal for the same kind of part. Car design used to be the thing that people took enormous pride in. John wants to go back in time and say: If they were going to make a car for 15 years, why not make the 1957 Chevy for 15 years or the 1965 Mustang. Those designs were great! Instead, we are still making the 1996 Sebring. People used to be so excited when the new cars were coming out. The fan-following that people do about electronic devices today carries forward from what people used to do about cars.

In the mid-1980:s John was friends with Chris Gilles, a kid who lived down the street. Chris's dad bought a new Thunderbird when it first came out. Obviously every family had a suburban unless they were poors like John - but then the other car was usually going to be some kind of German car. Chris Gilles’s dad bought a brand-new Ford Thunderbird which was the last cool American car. In the same way that strip malls once looked extremely modern, the Thunderbird looked very modern for like a year. When John sees a 1994 Lexus he realizes that it is an older model, but he couldn’t tell you if it was 1994 or 2006. He has only a very vague sense of car design during the last 30 years, because after 1990 it just all went blobular. Still, you had to take it into the shop regularly and you had to get a tune-up, because there weren’t chips and computers telling you when the car wasn’t running right. The only light that came on was the light that said ”You are now on fire!”

Owning your car vs leasing (RW15)

Many people having done some computations and it turned out it made more sense for them to either own or lease their car. People say that leasing a car is much more inexpensive over the course of the lifetime of the vehicle. They can walk away at any time, they don’t have to think about repairs or ownership, they just lease it and it makes perfect sense to them. This is not only emotionally unsatisfying, but completely alien to John, because it proceeds from the idea that your car is utilitarian. You lease it because it performs a function.

Everything John would ever buy has an emotional component to it. He wants to own it because he wants it to be his. He wants to love it and pour energy into it and have it reciprocate that energy. Even if the energy is fraught when your car breaks down, becomes useless or has flaws, it is still a tremendous amount of engagement. Maybe the people who are leasing their car are preserving that emotional engagement for something else, like their work and their family? John seems to have an abundance of that kind of energy and he would never consider leasing a car, even if it made all the sense in the world.

2015-December: Car safety and airbags (RW15)

Safety technology has come very far since the 1970s and if you process the data, vehicles from the 1970s are completely unsafe. There is no argument that contemporary vehicles with anti-lock braking systems, shatterproof glass, five-point harness seat-belts and airbags are infinitely superior. John's GMC RV for example is an impractical purchase that almost completely ignores those kind of considerations and it is relying on the statistical improbability of anybody getting into a fatal car accident.

A couple of months ago, John was driving along and a guy passed out behind the wheel of his truck right in front of him. The guy's truck careened off the road and crashed into the the annex of the Boeing Air- and Space museum. There is an outdoor elevator to take people up to the Space Shuttle exhibit and this guy just went right into the elevator shaft. There could have been 15 people in this elevator and they would have been completely flattened. The truck was an early 1990s minivan and airbags deployed all over it. John pulled over and ran over together with some Abercrombie & Fitch bros who were standing around.

The driver was completely unconscious and covered with blood, but the airbags protected him from much worse injury. His minivan caught on fire in front of them and although they originally didn’t want to move him and wait for the ambulance to come, all of a sudden they had to get him out of there. At that moment a Boeing guy in his Boeing truck came by with a fire extinguisher and put out the fire. The whole thing was an advertising for airbags for John. There were airbags coming down from the roof and the whole inside was like being inside a padded cell. If John would get into a head-on collision with another car, who knows what would happen? He sits up so high, he might just fly over the other car, but again: It is rare enough. If anybody gets into an accident, as a classic car owner you just kind of keep telling yourself that eventually you will install better seat-belts.

John’s truck was on fire (RL270)

In December of 2017 John had a little bit of a truck fire, or a dash fire, as you would call it in the business, which is not the kind of fire that you necessarily want, but on the other hand there is not really any kind of truck fire that you are looking for. John was driving along and wondered why there was a smell of hot plastic because there is no plastic in his truck. He was looking around if maybe the baby did lean something against something so that a vent was blocked, but he couldn't find anything. The hot plastic smell got stronger and John turned on the fan and rolled the window down, but by doing so, smoke started pouring out of the vents. He shut down the fan, but it was too late!

When the truck caught on fire John was driving on the freeway, which is a bad place, but he was able to get the truck off the freeway huckelty-buck and everything was cool. The guy on the ramp in front of him was going a little bit too slowly and John was talking to him ”Let’s go buddy, let’s go, truck’s on fire, keep moving and get out of the way!”

Using a fire extinguisher

John finally got to a gas station / convenience store where he often goes for breakfast chicken strips, he pulled up out front, ran in and found a woman stocking some juice. ”Do you have a fire extinguisher?” - ”Yes, right this way!” and she proceeded to walk pretty damn casually to the other end of the store, pointed at a thing that was mounted at the wall and John grabbed it like he was about to put out a fire, which he was, sprinted through the store in a bit of a war movie fashion, he pulled the pin, threw the pin across the floor, and jumped in slow motion, while his truck had the door open with smoke just pouring out of the dashboard and all the heater vents. The fire had not yet gone overboard.

John didn’t read the label on the fire extinguisher, but he just hit it. Unfortunately it was one of those awful ones that formed a cloud that immediately went into every single corner of the truck. John felt like he had been hit with tear gas! He popped the hood to find out where the fire was coming from, but it was not in the motor, so he went back around the other side where smoke was still coming out. He hit it again from the passenger side.

Suddenly there was a hands-in-pockets-guy standing there spotting for him and also running a commentary like ”I’m a classic car guy myself and I have been in your situation before”, like "Aha!", telling John about all the cars he has had that have caught on fire, all while John was in the middle of putting out this fire. He was fairly helpful in pointing out where John should hit it, though! He wasn’t even an over-talkative guy, but he was just getting all this information into that very intense 10-minute period they spent together. He made John feel good in that he didn’t burn the truck down, but he was also the first of many people saying ”Those fire extinguishers are the worst!”

Fire extinguisher technology has improved considerably and newer models just smother the fire by throwing a bunch of CO2 on it. It is funny that they are more expensive because CO2 itself is not expensive. Putting out a fire with CO2 is very benign, whereas these old ones are made with a sort of tiny silicate micro-powder that is meant to go everywhere and create an oxygen-free environment by filling it with this kind of caustic yellow noxious silicate powder. It burns paint, your lungs and your eyes. It is everywhere in John's truck, even under pieces of paper in the very far corner of the vehicle. It is a miracle substance, but it has done at least as much damage as the fire. John can’t imagine doing this to his house or he would have to have a hazmat team come in!

Whatever the cost of CO2-fire-extinguishers, it is worth it! The bummer is that John owns a CO2-fire extinguisher that he had purchased for the very reason that he is driving a 40-year old truck. It had been in the truck and John had been meaning to mount it in that cool-dude way where you are mounting a fire extinguisher in the cabin of your cool truck, but he never got around to mounting it and it was rolling around all the time. At some point he was cleaning out the truck to get ready to go on some trip or some haul and the fire extinguisher got swept up in a big armload of things. Not having mounted it, John had cleaned it out into a pile and right now it is sitting in his barn.

John's two mechanics

The situation after John put out the fire felt like it required either some car detailing or crime scene mitigating. The fire behind the dash must have been caused by something and John took the truck to his guy to find out. Everybody’s got to have a mechanic! His dad had a lawyer, a secretary, a mechanic, a doctor, a cardiologist, an accountant, an insurance agent and he knew all those people by names! He would go by their offices and they would see each other at Rotary meetings. He also had an airplane mechanic and there was the woman at the photo stop who delivered his film. He knew everybody!

John is trying to build up similar relationships and he has for example two booking agents now. He also has two mechanics and both of them are practitioners of the style of mechanics that John really appreciates, which is that most of the time their answer is that it is not that big of a deal. You could replace the timing chain, but they wouldn’t! One the two guys does not want your truck sitting around at his place, because has a booming business of changing people’s oil. His name is Dan and that is probably short for Daniel. He will throw your car up on the diagnostic thing and the computer will give him 4 codes, like the main bearing is out.

He is not a bad mechanic and he can take a motor apart, but he has got 3 guys working for him, pulling stuff out while he is walking around with a spelunker’s light on his head. Dan is [Palestinian Palestinian Muslim] and he is a member of a very strange apocalyptic Second Coming cult (the one who gave John the pitch in the past for something). John knows it is time for him to get going when Dan gets that look in his eye. Last time he said ”You know this whole Trump and Jerusalem thing, it is a great thing!” and as John asked him why, Dan replied that people are criticizing Trump but he is actually their guy. He pulled his spelunker light a little bit so it was not shining in John's eyes and he really wanted to talk about it.

John’s other mechanic, Clint, does not care if John’s truck is there at his space and he will do long-form deep-dives. One time John took the truck to him because it smelled like gas and Clint couldn’t really find anything, so he left it alone for a day or two and then it really smelled like gas, but there was nothing wrong with it. John took it back, but he couldn’t drive it and it felt like it was about to explode because it smelled like there was raw gas in it. Clint worked on it for a couple of days more and found a gas can underneath a blanket in the back of the truck. It was a hot summer day and the gas had been venting, which is a bad situation and you shouldn’t do that. The truck had been with Clint for 5 days, but still: no charge. John gave him $50.

John goes to hang out in both of their shops, depending on his mood. If he wants the apocalyptic evangelical Muslim guy, he will go hang out with Dan. Dan has never any interesting cars in his shop, but it is just a steady stream of Hondas, Toyotas and BMWs, while Clint will sometimes have a 1978 Camaro that looks like it had been in somebody’s back yard for 10 years. There is always something going on at Clint! Both Dan and Clint are about John’s age. Clint is old-school and had been a bass player in a Punk band and met John via some other hot rod friends.

John has a friend named Andrew in San Diego who has a 1966 Econoline that is painted with house paint. It is red on the bottom and white on the top and he calls it the Santa van. He has probably put conservatively $35.000 into a $5000-van that thing is a piece of garbage, but he babies it! Andrew is a motorcycle racer and he uses his van to put his motorcycles in the back. The Santa van is legendary among Rock’n’Roll guitar players and hot rod motorcycle jumpers on the West Coast because they have all seen the Santa van on the side of the road pouring smoke. When John got his first jalopy, Andrew recommended him to take it to Clint.

Taking his truck to Clint

John took his truck to Clint because he would certainly not take it to Dan. Clint had it for a day and his answer was that as he turned on the heater it was blowing fire extinguisher garbage, but it didn’t smell like smoke anymore. It is a bit like having a stroke and then saying that it went away and so it must be good. Clint also said that a bunch of burned insulation and stuff fell out from underneath the dash, but he got it pretty much all out of there. John wondered if he didn’t want to take the dash down and see what happened, but Clint was like ”not really”. Clint is a curious guy, but he is of the type ”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and if it is broke, maybe don’t fix it” It is like the thing with Merlin’s timing belt that Jerry had warned him about, as his wife always reminds him of. In John’s case, all of Seattle is his backyard and if he is going to break down somewhere, he will have a Rock’n’Roll friend who is a mechanic within 5 blocks.

Adam Pranica told John that the Accutint guys are the best detailers in town, although they would just gather around the truck and laugh at John. They make you feel that your dumb fire extinguisher problem is the funniest thing they have seen in weeks. They are going to do a great job, they are just going to haze you, but John loves getting hazed by dudes in boilersuits with their name embroidered on it. John is really good at standing there playing the dumb kook which it is fun for everybody.

John called Clint to tell him that he is going to get the truck and take it down to Accutint, but Clint said that there was a problem: The battery had ran down this morning which it shouldn’t have, meaning there was a slow bleed. As he hooked up his electrical testers he found that the electrical rear window heater and motor were both drawing power when they were off. Also when he turned the truck off, they would both continue work for a while. Clint thought that some plastic insulation in the wiring had melted and there was some cross-over.

The whole time Clint had been saying that the problem had fixed itself and John had suggested to take the dash down and look behind it, but Clint was like ”Nah, sometimes things happen and probably your insulation got caught in there and it burned up and it is fine” He probably felt like "What can go wrong in these trucks? It only has five wires!", but John wanted that dash pulled down. Now Clint is curious and John had to call the Accutint guys back to tell them that he got a pushback from Clint and it was anything-can-happen-day.

John's Jetta having a burned out ignition coil (RL270)

As they were podcasting, John got a call on his computer because somehow his computer is connected to his phone and it comes up on his computer when people call him. It was Dan calling from Community Automotive who at the time had John's Jetta. John called Dan back on the air: ”Hey Dan, it’s John! Is that right? What was it? The ignition coil did what? Three coils in the module, oh, okay, so fully 2 cylinders weren’t firing. I’m grateful to you, you are a special man! In and out. You didn’t damage anything that you need it for a couple of days to fix it? Hahaha, kidding. Oh. Ja. Ja. Well. You are a miracle! I’m going to come see you in a couple of hours.”

The ignition coil of the Jetta has a little module with three coils in there because it is a 6-cylinder car and one of the coils had burned out, meaning that 2 of the cylinders were not firing. If you have a 6-cylinder car with 2 cylinders out, it is not a smooth motor. Merlin had a Jetta for a long time and it was amazing, but John’s Jetta is a hot rod Jetta with the VR6. What makes it an R is that the motor is sitting in there side-to-side instead of front-to-back. It is quite a sporty car because it is very light and the motor has enough horsepower, but on the street it looks like any other black Jetta. It can leave a lot of people behind, which is not a thing John likes to do all the time, but he does deploy it when people need to be put back in their place.

John wasn’t worried about the Jetta. It had been sitting around because when he encountered the cylinder problem he didn’t want to deal with it, but he just drove the truck. Now the Jetta was ready while at the same time Clint wanted to dive deeper into the truck after John's truck fire. School was out and John’s little girl was with him at the house with no car, so nothing could happen!

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