Monday, January 23, 2012

Radio Killed The Radio Star

An inordinate amount of time was spent this past weekend resurrecting the car radio. The radio was brought back from its self induced coma a few years back in about ten minutes over a small glass of decent whiskey.

I must be sixfold more stupid today than I was those few years back.

The battery died then, and the radio has the feature of encoding itself into a secure, non-playing state whenever power is cut off at the source. Its a security feature, the theory being that if the radio were stolen, its power source would be cut off and it would be essentially useless in another vehicle or connected to a power source, resting attractively on a coffee table somewhere. It won't work again until you punch in the right code.

Great in theory but in practice, there are holes. For starters, who knew? I mean, when I fired the car up after having the battery disconnected, the radio gave me a funny numeric code and then said "Safe" on its display.

Yes, I felt safe at the time and presumably so did the radio, but I would have felt safe and entertained had it been playing soothing music as well.

So unless you hang a sign in the window warning potential crooks that you're going to need a code to re-set this thing, and they bother to read it, you're still going to come back to a busted window and a hole in the dash through which the wind can be called "Mariah."

Of course, the thief might return said purloined radio to you with a note:

"By golly, you got me. No code, you smart fellow you. Guess you win this round."


Peter R. Pertrapor

So I poked and prodded the thing but to no avail. Then once home whipped out the owner's manual to have thing tell me about the secret code. The code was of course printed on the back of the code card which I was advised to tuck in a safe place outside of the vehicle. I of course followed that advice, twelve years ago when I bought the car. Now, three houses, four wallets, sixteen dozen safe places later the owner's manual might as well read:

"The radio code is printed on the back of the radio card. Ensure that this card is not in the vehicle. Take it out of the vehicle, set it on fire and hide its ashes in bits across three non-contiguous states. Learn to hum or whistle."

The code was reprinted on a new vehicle checklist that was filled out before I took posession of the car. I had the list because it was the first thing I snatched from the dealer and stuffed into the nether recesses of the glove compartment, greedily wanting the bill of sale and keys instead. The checklist noted that a pre-delivery inspection had been performed and that the battery was properly charged, the doorlocks worked and the tires were correctly inflated. When I found it last weekend I noted that "brake rotors in round and balanced" wasn't checked so admittedly the first time I braked at speed, I should have expected the car to do a conga dance across three lanes.

Now having the checklist and the code, I went right back to the radio and punched the code in, dutifully transposing the first two digits in a fit of numeric dyslexia that from time to time grips me, resulting in awkward apologies to wrong numbers on the phone and stops at a massage parlor instead of the the optometrist I thought I punched into the GPS. Unfazed, the radio promptly shut me down and locked me out from re-entering the code again.

Neener neener neener.

This aloof behavior was not detailed in the owner's manual. Rather I found out on the web that after two errant attempts, one was obliged to wait an hour after which all would be re-set and you could try again without prior penalty.

Don't you wish marriages were like that?

Telling the story to a friend this morning, he commented that perhaps I should not disconnect the battery. Not practical, said I, as I need a power source for the weekend squirrel executions.

Truth be told, we disconnected the battery in order to re-set the engine computer. To get the "check engine" light to go off, we replaced manifold bypass hoses, installed a new PCV valve twice, replaced the OXS and finally put in a new manifold aspirator. But the thing kept faulting so we cut the battery, lit a few candles and chanted "forget, forget" over the transaxle for an hour.

Seems to have worked.

On leased vehicles with mileage caps, I might try it again. Or re-connect the poles backwards so the odometer reverses when you drive.

But seriously, when it finally occurred to me to key in the code such that the radio display matched the radio code I wondered how addle-brained I had become since I last swapped out the battery? Am I that dumber? Or can I attribute it to the season and the lack of visual and olfactory stimulus that comes with January? If everything's grey and smells vaguely of wet raincoats, is it a wonder that the difference between sleep and ten o'clock at the office is that the coffee has lumps?

Nah. Nice try. I'm stupider.

Bunny on.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Go Tell Him Nuts

Harry had taken the precaution of swapping out the pedal clips on both bikes for standard pedals that anyone in running shoes, boots, flip flops or Turkish bath sandals could ride on.

Clips were specialized pedals that could only be used with shoes fitted with metal tabs on the bottom that clipped into the pedals and locked the shoes in to provide a longer power stroke for the rider. Here was the essential intersection between cycling and sexuality that had initially interested Harry.

The biggest drawback to the metal tabs, other than when you walked on a hard surface with them they gave the impression of a nascient tap dancer without the benefit of rhythm, was that they were generally fitted to sports shoes with the functionality of a negative heel seventies sandal. Perched high atop a bicycle, these shoes worked well so long as they did not encounter the level earth. However, once out of the saddle, they had the environmental ergonomic of an ice skate in a peat bog. So Harry swapped out the pedals for regular cut metal pedals with high points cut into then to grasp to the sole of an average shoe or cut deeply into the naked flesh of a rider if incorrectly engaged.

As he keyed up the pedal to mount the bike, the opposing pedal swung back and drew first blood off his shin like a rattlesnake on tequila. Jim was already mounted and pedalling feverishly up the first trail.

"This is a great bike!" Jim shouted back to Harry. It was a good bike to be sure, a Marin Palisades Trail front suspended bike, but not the fully suspended monster Harry was following up on. However, beauty being in the eye of the beholder, Harry quickly caught that while his current standard was the technically evolved Giant Attack bike, Jim had heretofore been riding an early nineties unsuspended Bianchi. Hence on the Marin, now able to bounce the front fork off rocks without rattling a few fillings loose, Jim might as well have been placed in full command of the Space Shuttle after forsaking an old Ford pickup. And indeed, he leaned into the bike and pushed uphill with force that left Harry checking his beard stubble for afterburner scorching.

"You might not think this possible, but right now I hate you even more." Harry said to Jim's outline on the ridge between violent inhalations of what little air he could get into his lungs.

The trail consisted of three elements: a steep, graveled uphill interspersed only with large rocks across the trail to prevent erosion, a level ride along the ridgeline that lasted all of thirteen seconds before, a steep plunge back down to lake level interspersed only with large rocks across the trail to prevent erosion off the mountain. Here was where Harry took issue with human intervention in geology: Clearly, erosion had been established as some sort of natural defense against mountains becoming too uppity. Erosion was a good thing. It kept high things in their place with the enforced humility of today's pristine peak is tomorrow's river slurry. But along had come man and artificially blocked this wonderful natural process. By laying stones across the path, man ensured that rain did not form conduits of mud and muck that pulled soil downhill and created ravines that ate away at the root growth of plants atop the rise. Man also created eight to eighteen inch rock obstacles that man assumed riders could jump with bikes. Man assumed falsely riders with oxygen rich blood that was not currently weeping off the latest pedal smack to the shin.

So Harry developed a routine of slowing, dismounting and hauling the bike over the rock obstacle. Here is where the non-clipping pedals came in handy because standard pedals allowed him to dismount without first forgetting he was clipped in, attempting to wrench his feet out in time but ultimately falling over sideways before he freed himself.

Jim was on the trail ahead of him somewhere and Harry could only hope he was making good time that that the re-introduction of wolves into this part of the state had been successful.

The thirteen second ride across the ridge, across relatively flat single track terrain with the ability to steer and still take in nature's providence took about thirteen seconds. By Harry's count, twelve thousand seconds too little to make an appreciable difference in this race which Harry had now dubbed "Adventures in torture." The trail turned abruptly left and bounced downhill over rocks, stumps and the same damned erosion retarders Harry had battled uphill. Now one would assume that downhill would be easier as you'd just have to jump off and over the things. And indeed that was the case if you were in your twenties and the idea of jump was not followed as it was in Harry's case with the idea of land.

And hard.

Here was where Harry realized that the secret of turning forty was the revelation of mortality. Nobody else really knew nor cared what happened when the bike landed, everybody else assumed a continuance of the forward motion of the thing. Indeed, probably only Harry was comparing long term disability actuarial tables on the way down to distract himself. So he slowed every time he got to an erosion barricade and went over it carefully to avoid driving the bike seat into his nether regions upon landing. He lost count of the landings but noted that he never did quite get the exact hang of it.

How did Jim get down here so fast without harming himself likewise? Probably not at all, but then it occurred to Harry that Jim was already raising two children and probably didn't care as much anyway.

The next leg of the race was to be on foot. A run and orienteering. Harry came out of the woods on his bike to find Jim sitting on the grass next to a small, dammed stream that provided the water from mountain runoff to the lake they had canoed on.

"Man that took you a long time!" Jim said. "Come on, we need to get maps over at that table and get going. We've got to catch up here."

Harry got off the bike and was staring at the dark water behind the dam. Cool and dark, it was alluring after the dusty downhill of the gonad-smasher express.

"Come on man!" Jim insisted. "Why are you staring at that?"

"So how deep and cold do you think it is just behind the dam?"

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

When Harry Met Folly

There were clues from the parking lot to the gathering point of the Adventure Race Harry had let Jim talk him into. Small, subtle clues, but clues nonetheless that should have struck him with the force and audible resonance of a Zildjian square on the forehead.

Harry's pick up truck was one. A four year old compact that he had picked up after his full sized dented monster had lost its brakes one night last winter. That and the rust that was perforating the bed, the wheel wells and the cab kind of teamed up to tell Harry it was time to retire the beast. So now he tooled in son of beast, trading down to a compact with an asthmatic four cylinder that allayed his fears of ever losing his brakes again in that he would merely turn on the air conditioning to stop the thing dead. The little truck started to look out of place in a lot otherwise filled with four wheel drive, all terrain, land roving things that could probably throw out grappling hooks and lift themselves out of Hades by actuating a small switch in the cab. Plus the mountain bikes they all carried were hung off or strapped to carriers universely designed by Escher. Harry's two bikes had been gingerly thrown into the bed and the helmets strung up on a bungee cord.

Everybody getting out of the four wheel survivalistmobiles was about ten to fifteen years Harry's junior too. Jim was younger but only by four years, hardly the ringer material needed to even keep up with these kids. They looked to a one like they lived in single room apartments with their fashion model girlfriends, rode, lifted and ran all day stopping only by the mailbox to pick up the check that some sort of adventure racing admirers society sent them as a monthly stipend on which to live. Harry checked the last of his Blackberry messages from the office and got out to find Jim.

It wasn't hard. He had parked his Volvo near Harry in the "meek" section of the lot.

"Hey man, isn't it a beautiful day? I mean, for the second week in October, its heading up into the sixties today." Jim was always upbeat and enthusiastic mornings. It had to do with waking up to his wife whom he loved every day and leaving his children well off in his comfortable newly built home with a fresh cappucino, Harry was certain. Harry, on the other hand, always lightened his mood by quietly thinking up things that would get back at him. Letting the air out of his car tires, for example.

"It is, Jim. And to think that from my house I could be at the head of the Chesapeake in less than an hour, having a Bloody Mary at my favorite dockside bistro. But, here I am. Somewhere in a wood by a lake out of "Deliverance" and you've got that shit-eating smile on again."

"Its gonna be great," Jim ignored him as usual. He knew that if Harry wasn't unhappy about something, he just wasn't happy. It was amazing that he had been friends with the man as long as he had without a single incident of physical violence between them. "So I know I told you it was a canoe, run, bike thing, but Butch announced he had put in a few extras this morning."

Clearly, killing Butch on the spot wasn't going to be one of them, so Harry ventured: "What kind of extras?"

"There's a Frisbee toss, a portage, a treasure hunt."

"And when the fuck do we meet the Munchkins who will take us to the Emerald City?"

"Did you bring the second bike?"

Harry pointed to the truck bed. The lake caught his eye. It was beautiful, smooth and still with the morning mist coming off of it as the sun rose higher in the sky and the air began to warm. Framed by two trees, the water formed a mirror reflection of the opposite shore where maples had exploded into the height of their fall color. In a little while the air would fill with the excited shouts of the racers and the water would churn with their paddling. With a little luck, no one would notice him whacking Jim with the flat of his paddle and drowning him in sheer retribution.
But for now it was time to get the bikes. Harry had two mountain bikes and was lending Jim the older but still competent Marin. He kept the fully suspended Giant for himself since he was the more experienced biker. After all, Jim could outrun him, was probably a better canoeist and now that a Frisbee toss was in the offing Harry knew that there was one event they would have to brazenly cheat at in order to get through.

"Racers, assemble!" The call had to be Butch and they walked the bikes down to the starting point. They were shown, along with the rest of the runners/bikers/canoeists/masochistic sociopaths running this thing where to line up their bikes to grab once they had come out of the water.

Come out from on top of the water, Harry mentally corrected the organizer although even on a positive day like today he knew he was lying to himself.

"Ok, we've put a few fun extras into today's event." Butch roared into the portable microphone from his perch atop the abandoned school bus.

"Funny, I don't see the 'take the bra off of Jennifer Aniston' course." Harry said to Jim who was bouncing on the balls of his feet either to limber up his legs or piss Harry off.

"There's a quarter mile run to the Frisbee toss," Butch continued as if he had not heard Harry, which, being perched on top of a school bus roof, he of course hadn't. "Then you need to throw to your partner, and have him or her catch it in flight, five times each. Then you run to the canoes. Grab the first one you get to, put on a life jacket-Harry's heart sank a little-and put them in the lake. Two times around the lake, and for fun, you see the docks that jut into the lake? There and over there? You need to paddle up to them, get out of the canoe, lift the canoe over the docks and continue on the other side."

"Didn't we come up with ideas like the Panama canal to overcome this?" Harry asked Jim.

"Ok racers, line up for the starting gun!"

Indeed, Butch fired the pistol in the air and not at his temple as Harry had hoped. The race began with Harry and Jim keeping a comfortable sprint up until they got to an old dirt parking lot to take up positions opposite each other for the Frisbee toss. Jim threw first, straight at Harry who caught the disk in both hands.

"One down, four to go!" Harry called triumphantly.

"We each need to catch it five times." Jim called back.

"The waters are cold and deep!" Harry replied in what he hoped was his inside voice. He threw the disk and Jim turned abruptly left to chase the thing down the line of other racers, hoping to catch it twenty yards down line from where Harry had ostensibly aimed.

Jim threw back and Harry caught and immediately returned the throw. The racer two positions down from Jim, seeing the Frisbee careening directly towards his face, momentarily put down his own disk and caught the throw.

"Counts!" cried Harry.

Jim was breathing heavily from the sprints up and down the parking lot chasing Harry's throws. Harry could dial back a little running to the canoes and let Jim recover. They grabbed a boat, threw on life jackets and pulled it to the shore.

"You steer." Harry called to Jim and pulled the bow, now 160 pounds heavier since Jim had taken the command to take the back position as a sign to settle into the boat, into the water. Harry pulled until the thing floated free, jumped in and began to paddle. He remembered a story read to him in grade school. It was about early French explorers in Canada who went up the St. Lawrence river with their Indian guides. The Indians laughed at the sorry paddling skills of the French, who really just splashed a lot of water around until they acquired the skill of the Indians. Harry wished that he were competing against an all-Indian team who at this point would be in such throes of hysterics that they would be useless in any competition.

They paddled up to the first dock. Harry jumped out and began to lift the bow out of the water, almost neatly tipping Jim off the stern into the water.

"What are you waiting for? Get out an pick the boat up!" Harry shouted.

"I might get wet."

"We're in a lake. I'd say there's a pretty good chance of that."

In the first turn of the lake they watched as another team of two capsized their boat and went into the water.

"Ok, we may suck, but we're essentially dry." Harry said over his shoulder, hoping that Jim was paddling equally ferociously because it sure as hell didn't feel that way.

In the fourth turn of the lake, the last turn before the aimed straight for the shore to begin the biking leg, the turn where Jim was now soaked in the back of the boat, where an inch or so of water was sloshing back and forth in the canoe and where Harry's upper arms felt as if on the next stroke they would detach, skip out, paddle in hand, once or twice across the water's surface and then sink gently into the deep, at that turn in the lake they were passed by another boat which, from the soaked and dripping canoeists they recognized the team that had earlier capsized.

They pulled the boat ashore.

"Let's get onto something we're good at." Harry said. "If God had meant us to be on water, he would have made us float."

They got to the bikes.

"We do float." Jim said.

Harry strapped his helmet on. "Only after we drown."

visited 34 states (68%)