At 16 I Had No Muscles But I Drove a Muscle Car

barracuda
barracuda

I recently read Auto Biography by Earl Swift in which he retraces all the owners of a '57 Chevy and it's had me thinking about my first car.

It was a 1969 Plymouth Barracuda. I unwrapped it in the Fall of 1990. Twenty one years after it rolled off the assembly line. It was a cool car. I, on the other hand, was not cool car guy. Nor was I even a cool guy. In the movies a guy gets a cool car and then suddenly he has people following him around buying him pizza. That’s Hollywood. In real life I didn’t smoke or have a varsity jacket. No tattoos. I didn’t listen to cool music or have a cool haircut. I was tall and awkward. After my 16th birthday I was a tall and awkward kid driving a 1969 Barracuda with a slant six engine.

The car was a surprise. My father and I went car shopping in the months leading up to my birthday but unbeknownst to me, that was a ruse. My muscle car was parked in the neighbor’s garage the whole time. Interestingly enough, during the car shopping game I picked out several equally cool cars that neither fit my personality or my body type. There was an awesome topless Jeep whose seat belt wouldn’t have been able to restrain my lanky frame had I taken it off road like the trying-to-prove-something 16 year in me would have done. There was an equally preposterous MG that I had my eyes on even though at over six feet tall, my head touched the roof while seated and once inside the only way for me to exit would have been to recline into the passenger seat to get my legs out of from under the steering wheel.

So instead of those silly toys my father surprised me with 3000 pounds of banana yellow steel Detroit classic. If cell phones would have existed I would have had Heart’s “Barracuda” as the ringtone.

My car wasn’t necessarily a muscle car but just as I looked in the mirror hoping to see a muscle or two somewhere on my frame I called my new ride a muscle car. I bought a car cover fabric to protect it from the elements although it was over twenty years old and had proved it could survive just fine in the Florida sun. I installed a cassette player in the glove compartment to not damage the look of the dashboard and rocked out to very uncool music.

I think the plan was for the car to be a team building exercise for my father and I. It was a high ropes course for the two of us. Actually, it was more like going to a high ropes course with no ropes, helmets, gear or upper body strength. None of which we had.

But, we had a guide! Our guide had tools and knowledge and experience. And a sales pitch! A coworker of my father’s was a muscle car guy and explained to us how much fun it would be and how much we would learn about cars, the world, each other!

And then soon after I unwrapped the classic he moved out of state and we were looking up at the high ropes course without gear.

One of the first projects we undertook was replacing the master cylinder.

Yes, I know what you are thinking. “But the 1969 Barracuda had manual brakes. Are you sure it was the master cylinder you replaced?”

Before the Fall of 1990 I wouldn’t have known that either. The power brakes were an after market add-on a previous owner had installed.

With our guide out of state he sent us step by step instructions via fax.

Fax!

This was 1990 remember?

The nearest fax machine was at my father's office.

Follow up illustrations were a drive away.

“And where is this nut that we loosen to bleed the lines?” We would ask on the long distance phone call.

“I’ll send a drawing.” He would answer.

To the office! A fax awaits!

By the end of the project the faxed instructions were as stained with red brake fluid as our hands and bodies were.

But our team grew stronger.

I owned the car for a few years and then upgraded before I went off to college as I needed a more reliable car to make the journey out of state with.

I replaced the muscle car with a more practical VW Jetta that needed less maintaining and fit my uncool lifestyle a little better.

Future Daddy Blogger Support Group

Group white chairs
Group white chairs

The meetings are held in the basement of a church near an all-night donut shop. Although both are helpful, the location is more about the donuts than the man upstairs. The chairs are arranged in a circle. The donuts are placed on an end table in the middle. They are a focal point. The embers of a fire that never goes out. There are always more donuts.

“It’s time to start the group.” The host says. “Thank you all so much for coming today. I see a few new faces and many familiar ones. Who wants to begin today? Tyler? How about you start?”

Tyler was seated in the circle directly across from the host. Although he was a regular to the support group he was hard to remember. He had an unassuming disposition and talked in a hushed voice. The others leaned in when he spoke because he was barely heard over the buzz of the box fans. It’s not uncommon for the grown up kids of dad bloggers to shun the spotlight. Growing up online was enough. Tyler was the norm.

“Hi, I’m Tyler. You all may know me as “Little T” from the SometimesHePoopsInHisPants.com blog.”

“Hi Tyler.com” The group said in unison. Adding a dot com to their name was a joke that caught on. A way to mock their dads who’ve chronicled their lives online since birth.

“I’ve made some progress since last week when I told you I was ready to talk him about his blog and how it has always been the third wheel in my relationships. He acted surprised that employers ask about the site and that first dates do their research before we meet. Secretly, I think he was adding up the page views in his head. He suggested that I add his link to my resume to help with search engine optimisation. He even asked if he could make me a match.com profile and put it on his blog. But, he listened and was receptive but... I caught him recording me. I haven’t seen it pop up on any of his feeds yet. With our conversation recorded at least I know he may listen to it later. The last time I had a serious talk with him he spliced my words into a Beastie Boys song that went viral. “Whatcha Whatcha... Whatcha Want!” with me replying “No More Blog.”

“I like your optimism.” Said the host. “We’ve all learned that they will not change and unless you are ready to hack and delete their pages we’ve got to find a way to live in their world.”

“Thanks. I tried to vary my pitch and volume to give him little to work with. He’s always been pretty good at sound editing though.”

“I’d like to go next.” Said Rachel as she sat down with a fresh donut. “I’m Rachel from SheWillAlwaysBeMyLittleGirl.com”

“Hi Rachel.com.”

“My dad wrote me a letter this week responding to an email I sent him. All I told him was that I wished I didn’t have pictures of me online from every awkward age growing up. To him they may be cute and at the time maybe they were but now I can’t hide from them. I told him that when I look in the mirror all I see is every flaw from childhood. He seemed genuinely sympathetic and wrote me a poem.”

“That is really great, Rachel. Would you like to read it to us.”

What moon songs do you sing your baby?

What sunshine do you bring?

Who belongs? Who decides who's crazy?

Who rights wrongs where others cling?

I'll sing for you if you want me to

I'll give to you

And it's a chance I'll have to take.”

Tyler squirmed in his seat and spoke up. “Oh man, Rachel. Holy shit! Your dad’s passing a Smashing Pumpkins song off as his poem to you. Damn! That’s low! I’ve had damn near every 90’s alternative song used as the backdrop in my childhood home movies. I hate that shit.”

“I knew it was too good to be true. I bet he spent more time choosing the font. He’s always going on and on about fonts. I think he only speaks to me in headlines sometimes.”

“Sorry about that Rachel. That really sucks. To you all. I’m new to the group. My name is Mark from ItsGonnaLeaveAMark.com”

“Hi Mark.com.”

“I thought I was alone all these years in my feelings. I thought I was being too selfish and judgemental and then I realized that it was he who was being selfish and narcissistic. There isn’t a movie from my youth out there for me to enjoy because all I see is my face cropped into the movie posters. I think my dad must have taken every movie made during my childhood and spliced me into it somewhere. What gave him the right to take that from me?”

“Your anger is justified Mark.com and your feelings are valid.” The host said. “May I suggest you watch something that he didn’t use?”

“I have! All I can enjoy is Japanese Animation and I hate Japanese Animation! I don’t know what’s going on and I always think I’m gonna have a seizure.”

“Most of us have tuned out from the digital world.” Said Rachel. “We get together and play parcheesi. You should join us after group. We don’t take pictures and listen to vinyl so there is no digital record. God, my dad would love to stream my listening habits online."

"My dad blogger would love to write a post about that." Added Mark.com.

Automated Chicken Coop 2.0 - Off the Grid

coop
Years back when Mrs. Stork said she wanted chickens I agreed as long as I was able to build the coop. Actually, I said no for years and finally caved when I started lurking in the dark corners of the internet and learned about automated chicken coops. Actually, I've always spent time in the dark corners of the internet... I just didn't know there were chicken people there. Now that we are being honest, I should have caved long ago. My wife was right about how much fun being a chicken farmer is. Storks make good chicken farmers. Who knew?  

Okay. Automated chicken coop? During the day the hens are free to run around their enclosed space but at night they hang out in their coop... Their safe house where they are protected from elements and predators like foxes, rodents and shirtless neighbors.

Predators
For the record, our friend was checking in on the hens while we were away in the above picture. Except, we were no longer away and a few days of confusion ensued as we queried the neighbors as to the identity of the shirtless man in high waisted pants.

Back to the chickens. What's amazing is they go up into their coop naturally. The first day we put them outside they went upstairs on their own at sunset. I figured you at least would need to train them a little with a water gun and some candy corn? Nope. Sun goes down and they're ready for bed. Last call. Lights out. Goodnight John-Boy. Goodnight Jim-Bob.

And to keep the bad guys out... it's nice to have a door that shuts behind them. Those dark corners of the internet are a mess with ideas on how to solve this simple feat. Sun goes down = door closes. Sun goes up = door opens. How hard is that? One farmer has an entire Rube Goldberg setup with a timer on his garden hose that opens a valve in the morning to fill a hanging bucket of water that pulls down the door as it fills. A second timer at night does the same to another bucket that then closes the door.

I was looking for something a little less wet. Plenty of people talk about a drapery motor that people use in the house to automatically open and close miniblinds. It's a simple pulley that is on a timer that can be placed in the coop to operate on the same principle as the bucket method.

The motor has become so popular in chicken coops since I bought ours a few years ago the company now sells a modified version of it specifically for coops. Rather than a pulley, this one is more like a fishing reel that with winds or unwinds a cable attached to the door.

So, we've had this up and running beautifully and have only had a few hiccups during the occasional power surge to the house AC power supply. The door motor reverses direction whenever power is sent to the device. Ideally, at sunrise and sunset per the timer but after a power failure to the house, when power is restored, the motor would trigger and the door would close at noon if that is when the power returned.

Worse yet, the door would now open at sunset plus the time difference the power was out. Say, sunset plus 30 mins. And then close at sunrise plus 30 mins!

Chickens don't like being locked up all day and are ready to fly the coop.

To avoid this issue and ensure happy chickens and healthy eggs, I searched around those dark corners again for a battery/solar power option.

Automated Chicken Coop 2.0
12v DC motor attached to a 12v DC timer attached to a 12v DC battery attached to a 12V DC solar panel. The timer has a digital battery level display plus an override to manually run the door off cycle. For the time being, a visual indicator shows coop door position from the house or webcam but Automated Chicken Coop 3.0 will have a magnetic reed switch on the door which will send a signal to a raspberry pi computer that will push the door position to a website.

The chickens on the other hand are much more analog. They send out an old school tweet of sorts when they lay an egg. Maybe it's more of a cluck.

We Tried to Sell Our College

averett for sale

It's been twenty years since I was a college student and I returned this past weekend as an alumni to preach the airline life. These guys on campus now are kids! Many born after I started college. Not only could I be their father... I could be the father to their older siblings.

But, while on campus, naturally I was hit with a flood of memories.

A great one revolved around my graduation in 1996.

Let me start be saying this, I almost didn't walk that year. My last semester I only had two classes to take and they both were scheduled for the same time. I asked one Professor if I could audit the class and just come in for the tests. "Sure." He said.

I asked the same of the other professor.

"Of course."

Needless to say, I didn't do very well in either class.

Jump to graduation. With just a few weeks to go in my college career a friend and fraternity brother asked if I wanted to be the Senior Class President. He was the Student Government President and told me the previous position holder was just kicked out of school leaving a vacancy.

"Nope." I said. "But thanks."

"You get to make a speech at graduation." He offered.

"Sold! Where do I sign?"

"You also have to present a gift from your class during the speech."

"What's the gift?" I asked.

"You have two weeks." He said. "The previous President never secured one."

So with a few weeks to go I called the owner of a trophy factory in Tampa that I used to work at and asked if he could make me a plaque that read, "Donated by the class of 1996."

It would be on it's way in a few days.

Back to the two classes I was auditing.

If my memory serves me well I wasn't going to pass one of them and my graduation would be postponed.

I explained to the professor that I was to speak at graduation and the programs had already been printed. "They are going to have reprint all those programs at great expense?"

He gave me a passing grade. He was an economics professor.

A few days before graduation an art student friend of mine and partner in crime said he uncovered a 100 foot roll of fabric in the art studio and thought we should do something with it. Along with two other partners in crime (whose names will all remain private) we decided the best thing to do would be to make a huge "For Sale" sign and hang it from the iconic Main Hall the day of our graduation.

Naturally.

And now the planning began.

How to reveal it?

Wires and cables... timed explosives.

One of the foursome, who I will call Beaver, figured the best way was the simplest.

"We walk up the steps and unroll it." Beaver said.

"And won't they see us?" The man known here as Milo offered.

"We will walk up in our graduation gowns." Beaver said. "And then on the way down we will take them off telling anyone who asks that a few guys in cap and gowns did it."

Naturally.

And that is exactly what we did.

me at graduation

And about the gift?

I presented the plaque that read, "Donated by the class of 1996" to the college President and suggested they put it in front of a building or tree or park bench... or whatever really.

While at the mic I asked the President since I came all this way could I say a few more things?

"Of course Mr. Stork."

Who really knows what I said. I was reading a lot of Vonnegut at the time so I may have said something about enjoying every sandwich. But I do remember reading a few lines from Dr. Seuss and then wishing the faculty good luck during the sale.

To Goa With Love

photo-1.JPG
photo-1.JPG

With the luxury of non revenue travel also comes the joy of spontaneous adventure. Our trip to India would begin with either a flight from Newark into Delhi or Mumbai. We had tentatively prepared an itinerary around Delhi being our entry point but when that flight was full and we were able to score the last two seats on the outbound Mumbai flight we had to rearrange things a bit.

The first of which was to find some place to stay upon arriving at nine pm after a 14 hour flight. A quick room was booked by Susan on her iPhone in her middle seat two rows behind me before the order was given to turn off all electronic devices. Since we were the last to board.... and had bags to stow... this had to be done in minimal time. Although we got an auto reply confirmation that the room was booked we did not get confirmation that transportation would be waiting for us upon arrival. I was hoping for a man with a Stork sign. See these guys every day but never had the luxury myself. Since all we had was an address and no international data plan we would be reliant on the prepaid taxi driver to get us to bed.

We chose the hotel based on a google maps search for its proximity to the airport and the number of positive reviews it had on hotels.com. All was set. Except our driver didn't know where it was as evidenced by his frequent stops to ask other drivers and his exaggerated hand gesturing to his roster with the hotel name on it. Apparently it wasn't where the dispatcher at the airport said it was and was more than the quoted "prepaid" fee. We were lost on the streets of Mumbai surrounded by traffic, congestion and stifling heat.

Bumper to bumper traffic in India is exciting enough without a lost and angry taxi driver who appears to be close to kicking you out for under payment.

From the backseat, we called AT&T and ordered some international data and secured not only our location on Google maps but that of our destination and were able to direct our driver to the red pin on the map. "A few more blocks," I'd say with no guarantee he understood me. What on the map was just a few miles took over an hour to reach.

Our first two nights in India were on Mumbai's Juhu Beach at the Sun and Surf hotel, which apparently is often frequented by Bollywoods elite (or so Wikipedia says). I naturally assumed any handsome couple by the pool was said "elite"... just as they naturally assumed I was a rich American tech startup guru. Although not the most conveniently located for exploring by foot it was easy to hire a driver to take us around and he waited for us at each stop to show us our next destination.

IMG_20120628_055109.jpg
IMG_20120628_055109.jpg

After two days on the beach we decided to research our next stop. Since Goa was an easy an affordable flight from Mumbai with lots of hotel options... we booked tickets on Jet Konect for the next day. Goa has plenty of resort options during the peak season with beach and water sport activities but we assumed those places would have limited offerings during monsoon season (now). To ensure we would be entertained we found an inn in the heart of Goa's capital city, Punajim. The inn is five generations owned and blocks from the market district. An open outdoor second level dining patio which according to the in room guide book allows guests to "sit on old style chairs and marble top tables over a beer or local feni or sipping a juice, one can observe local town people go about their mundane chores. A little imagination - down memory lane to better times, to an old fashioned world of chivalry and you can envision youthful Romeo's serenading comely damsels from below the balconies or perhaps almost hear the wistful lament of Portuguese Fado emerge from the shadows of twilight. A comfortable bed, good food and drink, an informal warmth and friendly and caring staff soon make the Panajim Inn a romantic home away from home."

The inn is amazing. Since it is off season we had our choice of any room for the same 'basic deluxe' price. Roughly $40 usd a night. We are on the second floor with a balcony overlooking a courtyard with a day school behind it. Having no clock, we are awoken each morning by the school kids running down the alley to class.

On the first day I asked a man down the street if I was going to rain today. He said it's going to rain for the next four months.

As of today, we have been here for two days with plans to leave for Mumbai tomorrow. Although the forecast has called for "rain with spells of heavy rain" we've had no trouble getting out taking a tour of a spice plantation, visiting 16th century churches and shopping the street vendors of Goa. We are off to talk to a friend we've made across the street and then hire a taxi to take us to see some temples. After we hope to have dinner at a local Goan establishment our new friend told us about. Although it's not as good as his moms food, he said.

My Feet Were Fish Food

image
image

I sat with my bare feet dangling into a tank training a few hundred recently imported Chinese flesh eating fish to not only welcome my feet but to think the crust buildup from walking the streets of Mumbai is down right delicious. The "Dr. Fish Foot Treatment" at The Bambooo House (three o's) is temporarily off the menu after their tank sprang a leak killing all the pedicure providing fish. The new recruits aren't currently up to the task yet and are being trained (and starved) by employee volunteers until they are no longer skittish around wiggling toes and are eager for human consumption. "You can try them out if you please. Complimentary, of course." Said the owner mistaking my inquiries for interest in the procedure. "Rather, they can try me out?" I reply. "Yes, yes. You can help train them. They may just run away. But maybe they won't." "It's the maybe they won't I worry about?" "No charge, of course. Sir, no charge" "No, I mean if they don't run away, but are untrained, will they bite too hard? Will I pull my foot out and they not know to let go? "They have very little teeth, sir. Nothing to worry about." I've never had a pedicured or a foot massage before and have no frame of reference on this one so I cannot say with authority that fish do a better job removing dead skin from a man's hairy foot that their loofah wielding human counterpart. But, I can say this. They are much less judgemental. I was much less hesitant to stick my foot in the face of a fish than a fellow human.

Six Pound Challenge - Failed!

6 pound challenge - failed

In high school... I could eat! I was a growing boy. I was always hungry and never gained weight. I was invincible. Or so I thought. There was (maybe still is) a restaurant in Tampa that offered a six pound challenge. Ninetysix ounces of beef for the willing. Eat it all and the table eats for free. I rolled in there with my family like I owned the place. I was so young and confident... I even took my girlfriend. The whole family gathered around to watch... they ordered what they wanted because surely we'd all be eating for free.

The place really knew who to do it up. The chef came out with a cow bell and a bullhorn to announce that "this young man thinks he can take the challenge! This, friends and family, is not for the faint of heart! If you have a heart condition, are pregnant or may think you may be... you should not watch."

Dads brought their kids over to look and held them high to watch the spectacle. They looked at me and then their kid thinking, "one day Son, you may make me this proud."

The challenge was six pounds of beef in an hour. I'm no expert on steak but I do know this. That steak sucked. It was so huge I couldn't cut all the way though it. I had to chop triangular wedges out of it like I was an axeman besting a redwood trunk. Several times I had to send it back because I'd hit a raw spot. And for every raw spot there was patch of meat as tough as leather.

By the time the clocked stopped I think I finished a little over four pounds. I may have been able to continue but my jaw was sore. So tired of chewing. Mouth fatigue.

And I left with my picture hanging in the four pound section of the "wall of shame." Right there along with all the other over confident "I can eat anything" losers.

But the funny part is this.

When I went off to college, leaving high school behind starting anew and reinvented, I was a six pound champion. Somewhere along the lines I told the story of how I ate six pounds of meat and from there the legend grew. I again was invincible.

A few years later when I took a college friend home the topic came up of where to go for dinner. My brother (pictured above with the look of awe at the shear size of the challenge before me) suggested we go to the steakhouse.

"Nah, I don't feel like going there," I said. Knowing I'd be caught in a lie.

"Hey, isn't that the place with your picture?" My friend asked.

"Yeah, I think so. How about seafood?" I offered.

Soon, we were on our way to the steakhouse where we would find my crushed ego.

Preemptively, I confessed. "Listen, about that challenge. I'm not the man I've portrayed myself to be. I never actually finished the ninety six ounces. I failed the challenge. I failed you."

And then the tears of betrayal began. The cries about shattered confidences. Between the sobs I could make out "How could you!"

When we got there I learned the steakhouse had burned down and been rebuilt since then erasing all the awards and photos.

But, I was able to sleep easy with a clear conscience... after a nice salad with a side of confession.

A tale of two snowmen

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Our neighborhood in Baltimore is situated between several colleges and universities and therefor we have many student renters living on our block. It gives me the chance to often think back and realize what a horrible tenet I must have been - back in the day. When we ran out of oil for the furnace we would burn garbage in the fireplace and all sleep in the living room.During the snow storm last week several snowmen sprung up after the weather cleared. The boys to our right are athletes (I had to spell check athlete) while the boys to our left have a drum kit that they practice on early in the morning. When looking at the snowmen, I'm certain you can guess whom belongs to whom.

Rather than a button nose and two eyes made out of coal their snowman's nose and eyes are made our of beercans. But, it does have a corncob pipe.

They lost some points for the HomeDepot bucket hat. The other guys used a bike helmet.

Susan said she was certain our snowman in college would not have looked like the one built by the athletes. I called and asked my college roommate and asked if we should be offended. He said our's would have had such a huge and unplanned base snowball we would have never been able to go hired with the second and third. We would have built him sideways. It would have been better than the over achievers next door!

Baby makes days hazy

Since Judah's been with us... we've been a little spacey. People had said this would happen... but I doubted them. I run a pretty organized ship, both inside and out of the cockpit. Few things are left to chance and procedures are followed to ensure the desired outcome.

This morning, I forgot the second to last step in making a cup of coffee - Place cup under spout. I didn't forget the last step - Press "brew".

Make a High Contrast Mobile from Instructables.com

I'm not sure if Judah is going to grow up to be a pilot or a giraffe trainer... he spends a lot of time looking up at the ceiling. The area above his crib is pretty plain so I thought I'd make a mobile for him to look at while he drifts off to sleep listening to music from his Ipod (Docked, or course. They don't make earbuds his size.)

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