Driving Time

At several points in my life I spent a lot of time driving. To and from college, work and on weekend trips to visit family and friends. Driving a lot was something that just had to be done. It was an easy thing to justify–back then.

Yesterday, Derek needed to be taken back to Pittsburgh. He mentioned that he was going to need to wake up early this morning and finish an assignment for class, and that he was going to need to pull a few “all nighters” this week to catch up on other assignments. I was puzzled. Before he came home to see is new nephew, Owen, he had told me that he was doing good with keeping up with class work. Why the sudden change? Driving Time.

To me, the time spent driving is automatically placed in a little category of “time spent doing something useful”. For Derek, especially this weekend, I guess you could say that the time spent in the car driving back and forth to Pittsburgh was time that could have been spent doing something more useful. Like working on class assignments. The main problem is that Derek is in Art School and a bouncing, weaving, vibrating car is not conducive to such work. He lost around 10 hours of prime study time.

Talking, sharing music and otherwise having fun was, and is, a good way to spend the driving time. Leave it to the student to be more focused on good grades than the parent.

Wait. Isn’t that backwards? Not in this family. I am lucky. My boys have the ability to see long term. They can stay focused when they need to be. They know what is important. I didn’t ask him, but my guess would be that for this particular weekend it was more important to Derek to see is nephew, brother and sister-in-law, and support them and let them know he is “there” for them, than it was to get class work done early. He sure didn’t seem upset at all about the prospect of a few nights with very little sleep.

Maybe he gets it from his old Dad. My driving time was close to 20 hours, and I don’t mind at all that my nerves are still jangling from all the excessive caffeine. Actually it reminds me of when I use to pull my own “all nighters” during college. I guess in certain cases, excessive driving time is still justified.

I love my family. I will do just about anything to be able to spend time with them. I think they feel the same way.

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Road Trip (070803)

Another road trip to Pittsburgh and back today. Derek wanted to spend some time with his nephew Owen. I was happy to oblige.

Chris came along again, and we had fun talking and listening to music. He has a Steppenwolf CD and the Credence Clearwater Revival 24 Carets three CD collection. My voice is nearly gone from singing along with all of that music. On the return trip, Derek hooked his mp3 player up to the car stereo and played samples of music he has been listening to. I really liked the band Metric. Emily Haines has a wonderful voice. Derek said this was an early album, and that the band changed their style for the more recent albums. He also played more Modest Mouse for me. They are good. The best surprise was how much Dream Theater sounds like Boston. Similar, yet distinctly different. Besides some familiar sounding guitar work, the lead singer seems to have a very good vocal range and hits notes like Brad Delp could.

I have made this trip many times now, and it really amazes me how short the trip seems when I have my boys with me. When I took Derek back to Pittsburgh after his all too short summer break, I had to drive home alone, and it seemed to take forever. I have to take Derek back on Sunday… so another trip is in order. But it is so worth having the entire family around this weekend. The entropy of the universe seems hell bent on pulling us all in different directions. I know that I need to fight the chaos and pull them close to me every single chance I get. Tomorrow the boys and I are going to a movie together. We use to go to movies often, and always seemed to be able to see one during the Christmas holiday season. But the last few years have shown that it is hard to keep traditions going. I plan on enjoying these next two days as much as possible.

Owen Pembroke

My grandson Owen Pembroke Atkinson was born at 10:22AM this morning. He is perfect. He even has a polite cry. Trish is doing fine, even after 9-plus hours of labor. Justin says he is tired, too.

I remember how happy I was when Justin was born and never thought that I could feel that way again. I was right. This is a different feeling, yet just as powerful. I find my eyes brimming with tears of joy almost constantly.

I am really going to enjoy being a grandpa. Did I mention that Owen is perfect?

Barn Razing

We called it the garage, but it really was more of a prototype for the modern machine building. You know the place on today’s farms where all the tractors and equipment are stored. This building was about 50 years old, and instead of being made out of steel, it was constructed out of red oak. But neglect of the roof over the last 15 years caused structural damage, and the building was starting to sag. It needed to come down.

Thursday, my brother-in-law Ernie drove up from Tennessee and he, my father and I spent the afternoon emptying the building of its 30+ years accumulation of stuff. The man who is buying the property has also been helping. At one point when Dad and Ernie when to eat lunch, (I’d already eaten) the soon to be land owner, his friend, a young relative of his and I were loading a heavy half built farm wagon onto the scrap trailer. These men are all bigger than me and I was the old man; fifteen years older than the oldest of them. At one point two of them were trying to lift up the wagon in order for a portion of it would clear the floor of the trailer. They didn’t have much success. I was leaning on a long steel bar, panting. When they gave up, I took the bar wedged it into place and popped the wagon up to where it needed to be. The two big guys looked at me as if they had never seen a lever in action before. “Give me a lever and a place to stand.” We finished up the afternoon totally exhausted.

Friday we finished emptying the building, wrapped a cable around the upper joists on one side and pulled the building over with a minimal tug from Dad’s tractor. Ernie and I scrambled up on the now much lower roof peak and began stripping off the rusted tin roof. I took a hunk of skin out of one finger on a piece of tin that broke free unexpectedly, and I also fell three feet to the ground when a rotted roofing slat gave away. I fully expected to get a few more nicks, cuts and bruises than I did. We ended the day with all of the roofing material removed and carted away. We were again exhausted.

On Saturday we started taking down the roofing joists. Ernie and I worked on getting key structure points loose, and before long the entire roofing structure was lying flat on the ground. We spent the rest of the day dismantling the rest of the joists, and one side wall. Ernie and I worked very well together, anticipating eachothers working style and actions. We pounded loose the last part of that side wall in one last burst of energy. I had not been that exhausted in a very, very long time. It was just what my arthritis doctor ordered. My back muscles are tired, but I have no joint pain in my spine.

Ernie is heading back to Tennessee, and Dad and I will finish up what is left on the ground in the days to come.

The best part of this entire thing is that I got to spend time with family, working outside and drinking lemonade. So what if it was hard work.

Planned Obsolescence

So… the passenger window on my car decided it wasn’t going to work anymore. Fixing it has been on my to do list for over a month. Yesterday morning I finally got around to attacking the problem. One of the things I learned as a kid is how to be mechanical. My Dad hated working on anything himself, and there were times when something just had to be fixed. I have torn down, fixed and re-assembled a lot of 3.5 through 9 horsepower engines, including replacing bearings and piston parts. Breaking down a car door seemed easy. The thing is, while I have torn apart car doors in the past, this was my first “power” door. The wires and speaker system make it a little more complex. I got to curse at my stupidity when I broke a plastic part. (Duct tape will fix it!)

When I got the door panel off, I figured the fix would be easy. Silly me. It seems that GM cars have a planned obsolescence built into the window assembly. The scissor lift that pulls the window down or pushes it up attaches to the base of the window with a ball joint that fits into a clip, (the socket) that is embedded into a runner that is pop-riveted to the frame holding the window glass. A really slick design for a big car window that uses curved glass. It can flex inside the door.

The thing is GM used a cheap plastic clip. And over time plastic gets brittle and then one day snap, the clip breaks and the window glass can fall inside the door frame. I guess I am going to have to buy a two clips and get it fixed right. For now, I just got the window into the top position with the ball joint locked into the runner where the broken clip is. As long as no on lowers the window, it won’t fall down. I immobilized the switches.

I was talking with my Dad yesterday afternoon. Two of his GM cars have the same problem. Looks like I’ll be buying a bag of clips and fixing the whole lot.

The warranty period on these cars has expired. Did GM use plastic instead of aluminum or some other light metal to save money, knowing that the warranty would be over before the plastic turned brittle?

Sure looks like planned obsolescence to me.

Green Apples

I love green apples. I am specifically talking about unripe apples, not apples that remain green after they are ripe. Don’t get me wrong, as far as eating apples are concerned I think Granny Smiths are the best. But there is something about those sour unripe apples that appeal to me.

When I was a small kid we lived in a Columbus neighborhood near Ohio State University, on the west side of the Olentangy River. The back yards in this neighborhood seemed to me to alternate the kind of trees that had been planted. One next door neighbor had cottonwood trees, we had maple trees, the other neighbor had apple trees, then cottonwoods again. I am not sure if there was a pattern. I don’t remember if any other back yards had apple trees or not. What did I care? The yard next to ours had apples, why go looking any further?

My big brother Lloyd was crazier about green apples than I was. I could blame him for the neighbor yelling at me for being in his yard, but the truth is that I would have climbed the fence to get those apples even without Lloyd’s encouragement. I would only grab two apples, maybe three, anytime I climbed over the fence. It wasn’t a daily occurrence either. I don’t know why the neighbor yelled at me. It’s not like a six year old, especially one at tiny as I was, could pick very many apples. Well, there was that one time that we ate so many that we both had bad stomach aches.

There are I times I still can’t resist. Just a few minutes ago I was mowing the lawn, and one particular apple was just at the right spot when I was mowing around our apple tree. It almost picked itself. And since it was off the tree, I figured I’d polish it up and see how much red was starting to show. And since it was all shiny and clean, I figured I’d go ahead and eat it. Sure hope I don’t get a stomach ache.

It sure tasted good.

Road Trip

I spent yesterday picking up the youngest son from college in Pittsburgh. It makes for a long day to go there and back again, but I find I really don’t mind. We only get to keep him a few weeks before we have to give him back. I think that trip will be harder on me, especially if my middle son can’t go with me like he did this time.

I think I have said it here before, but a proud father just can’t keep from saying it over and over. I am delighted at the men my three sons have grown up to be. Right at the start of the trip my middle son pulled out a CD he’d mixed. It was a delight. The variety of music was amazing. Comedy songs and ballads, classic rock and orchestras, in your face hard rockers and covers of video game soundtracks. He called it his “stay awake” CD. The variety was selected on purpose to keep him from being lulled to sleep when he was pulling “all nighters” studying. It did its job and kept two early morning travelers awake and alert. Later in the trip we listened to his David Bowie anthology and I finally was able to listen to John Mellencamp’s “Freedom’s Road”.

When we got to Pittsburgh around noon, little did I know that my day had just started. The school has built new dorms, and is stopping the sponsored housing in a local apartment complex. This meant moving all of the youngest son’s belongings out of the apartment. It took five hours, a pepperoni pizza plenty of root beer to get all of his belongings loaded into the van, and the apartment cleaned. Roommate from hell skipped out the day before without doing much cleaning. Youngest son played music from the band “Modest Mouse”, and he was right, I did like them. I am sure that I had heard the song “Florida” before. It was really good.

Small aside to discuss kindness. There have been many times in my life that simply being kind has paid me back with more benefit that just the simple satisfaction enjoying being kind. A small example of this happened yesterday. The person responsible for inspecting the apartments for damage and finishing up the lease paper work just happened to ride up on the elevator with middle son and I as we were making a return trip from packing the van. I must have looked a sight. I was drenched in sweat from climbing inside our Ford Oven née Club Wagon van to pack everything in so it would all fit, and not rattle all the way home. I saw people rushing across the lobby to the elevator so I kept the door from closing so the inspector and the student and parents could get on. The harried inspector vented a little about residents not really trying to make the 5pm deadline for checkout. I told her we were going to be cutting it close, but that we were working as hard as we could. She thanked me for being understanding. Later, when she was inspecting the apartment for us, she remembered me from the elevator thanked me again. We were past the checkout deadline, but she said she knew we were working hard and did not mark it against us. She went out of her way to give us information about what the process was to file a complaint against the roommate from hell should the apartment owners slap us with damages and keep our deposit. The inspection was fast and enjoyable because the inspector was at ease and not defensive. All I did was hold an elevator door, smile and be polite.

The trip home was a little more laid back. We started out of Pittsburgh just as rush hour was dying down with the Eagles’ “Life in the Fast Lane” blaring from the speakers. After stopping for some burgers, the two boys napped while I drove us back to Ohio. At the end of the trip the youngest son hooked his I-pod up to the van’s stereo and played some of the music he has been listening to. Some of it is good, some I could do without. One band had a sound that reminded me of the Talking Heads.

It was a “very, very long day” as the middle son put it. All three of us were exhausted. But you know, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. I got to spend time laughing and being with two of my boys.

Helping with Homework

All of my boys have graduated from high school and while I hadn’t actively thought much about it, I guess I was resigned to the notion that these fine young men have grown up, and that they do not need my help anymore with most things, especially school work.

It is one of those things that you don’t know you miss until something happens and you get hit over the head with it. Right now, there is a small sadness wrapped in joy within my heart. Over the weekend our youngest son called from Pittsburgh where he is attending college asking for help with school work. He needed some common items scanned in order to use them with a graphic arts project. He didn’t have the items, and knew we did. I jumped right in and started scanning, and forwarded the images via email. (I have to remember to relate this story to compute-phobic relatives that think people use computers only as overly expensive toys.) Computer technology is becoming as essential to everyday life as the internal combustion engine, isn’t it?

Back to the school work. Doris did the some more scanning later in the weekend. It reminded me of clipping out pictures from magazines for him to use with homework when he was in grade school. I got a phone call and he thanked me and told me it was just what he needed.

Part of the emotion, the joy, is knowing that my boy still needs me. Part of it is knowing that he trusts my instincts and knowledge and he trusts he will be able use what I hand him. The sadness part is recognizing that he really didn’t need me. If circumstances had permitted him to have more time, he would have purchased the items himself. He didn’t need me to explain or teach him anything. He just needed me to clip pictures out of real life. And that is okay with me. I really miss my boys now that they are not around as much. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the quiet house most of the time. But I also miss the laughter.

I am so glad I got to help with homework, one more time.