Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The 8th and Final Day of My Summer Vacation

6:45AM,  I awake, bu not as lively as in the past.  It was only 5 hours of sleep.  I go downstairs and say hi to Eric and Luke, his middle child.  Eric offered food but we had to get going and I didn't want to put him out.  He said he'd make pancakes.  Instead I declined but I promised Luke that his dad would make him pancakes.

7:30AM,  I prepare to turn on the car and smoke up the entire northwestern quadrant of Broomfield.  Nothing...hmmmm.  Perhaps the car just needs time to warm up.  My mission was to drive to WalMart first and get enough oil to last the day.  It was killing me buying individual quarts at $4 each.  I pull into what was perhaps the largest Super Walmart I've ever seen.  As is my luck, I enter the store the precise longest distance from the Auto department.  A mile later or so I get to the oil aisle,  This is not to be confused with the oil isle in the Gulf.  I purchase three 5 quart containers of oil.  In the parking lot I top off the oil with one of my last two remaining quart bottles.  We head off.  Curiously though I still see no smoke from our car.  Not even the little cloud bursts on acceleration.

9:30AM,  I stop to check the oil after 130 miles.  It is down a quarter of a quart.  God bless America...well and Sweden in this case.

10:30AM,  We stop one more time.  I check the oil.  No movement.  We are at the border of Nebraska and I hand the reigns over to Ike.  He's a man now and I give him the distinct pleasure, honor and privilege of driving across Nebraska. From this point forward I will describe my impression of Nebraska:   zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

2:30PM,  I wake up as we need gas.  I check the oil.  It's down a half a quart.  Our car is healing itself.  Later on we decide it is a combo of the sealant taking some effect overnight along with a change in altitude making the turbo not blow so much oil.  Back to Nebraska...Ike continues the honor of driving. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

5:30PM,  Omaha, NE and we gas up again.  This time I take over driving because I am SUPER excited to get Iowa and Illinois for my shift.  I will now describe driving through Iowa:

12:15AM,  Screw it, I can't come up with anything.  A zombie could've driven that stretch.  I arrive home.  The car made it.  I am tired.  Karen has arrived home before me from her class in Iowa.  She worked herself into a sweat cleaning up all the cat boxes and messes the cats made while we were gone.  I unload the car but I will wait until after church in the morning to start on laundry, house cleaning and yardwork.  Honestly it will be a welcome change from vacation.  If you need some oil, I've got 15 quarts in the back of my car.  I'll fix the turbo in a couple of weeks. 

1:30AM,  I go to bed.  I wonder what Bob is doing right now.  Will the creepy beach stalker ever find a girl of legal age that likes him?  I hope Lisa can survive another year in Cedar City.  What is the percentage of Prius owners in California?  Are the people stuck on the freeway in Victorville even home yet?  I might just have to take a road trip soon and visit all my friends to find out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The 7th Day of My Summer Vacation

4:17AM,  The alarm goes off.  It is early....and dark....and early.  I get up and start loading the Silverado.  I take a few things for the car food wise but leave as much as I can for the girls.  Ike is somewhat surly getting up.  However for at least 6-7 years there hasn't been one morning where he hasn't been surly so actually this is not unique.  I get Kt up too as she has to come with us down to San Diego Airport to rent her a car to use for the next 4 days.  Bonnie had purchased a danish coffee cake thing from the store which I take half of.  I am finally up early ...but it is too early for inferior waffles.

4:40AM,  Zooming into San Diego.  Not a lot of traffic now.  There are cars on the road though.  They are just Priuses.

5:00AM,  We check in to rent the car.  I get the insurance and was prepared to pay the "young driver fee" to add Kt as a second driver.  That of course keeps everything covered for liability and such.  However a "young driver" for Thrifty is only down to 21 years old.  So Kt could not be a legal second driver on the car.  For a moment, I pondered the risk of what I'd be liable for if she smashed it or got hit and I wasn't driving the car....but then I figured "Hey what could possibly go wrong for a Niedfeldt?"  So I drove it out of the lot into the very next driveway to the "Evil Gas Station from Hell".  There I handed a....wait for it....wait for it...HYUNDAI Sonata over to her ever so cautious 18 year old hands.

The Evil Gas Station from Hell was a risky place to transfer this car to Kt.  In this lot a mere 18 months before, nearly to the day, we filled a rental car with gas to return to Thrifty right next door.  Literally 20 feet separated our rental car and the Thrifty lot.  After filling our gas tank to return the car, my wife backed up from the pump and mysteriously a pylon protecting the Natural Gas filling station rammed itself into the back of our car.  After a week sitting quite unimpressed in the American shoddiness of a Chrysler 300 we returned it with its bumper maligned and tailight broken.  Thank God for having a legal second driver and the optional insurance.  In retrospect I think that was a good indicator of the future direction of Chrysler.

5:20AM,  Ike and I head out to return our truck to Cedar City by 1:00pm Mountain time.  Can't afford any delays.  Ike is not aware that we have headed out.  He slept through the drive into San Diego, the car rental, and actually most all of California and wakes up around the Nevada border.

8:00AM, We pass Victorville, CA where an accident on the West bound lanes has closed the highway because of a death.  The wanted to open it by 8:00am but that hasn't happened.  All the cars are exiting at an offramp.  I start watching the odometer for the distance.  9.5 miles later I see the end of the backup with plenty more cars adding on. 

9:00AM,  I hear another report about how they hope to have the highway open soon.  Wow, I believe had I been going that direction that this nice little truck would have been doing some desert offroading.  Insanity.

10:30AM, We are rolling into Las Vegas,  we have 145 miles to Cedar city and two hours to get there.  However, I sure wish I had a Prius because we needed gas. $70 of gas later and two egg Mcmuffins and we were headed eastbound and down loaded up and truckin. Ah we gonna do what they say can't be done. We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there, I'm eastbound just watch old bandit run. 

12:00PM (MDT)  We hit the 29 miles of AZ.  I love God's creation but the AZ DOT has put down some crazy windy roads through canyons with nice drop-offs and they are not as zippy as I would like.

1:02PM we pull up to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Cedar City, UT.  There is a HYUNDAI wouldn't that have been nice to have... sitting next to the office with a vacuum cleaner running near it, and a radio, cleaning supplies, and the car has two doors open, the keys are in it and the car is RUNNING.  The sign on the office door says "Be back in 20 minutes"  Now needless to say people do not leave their cars open, running, with their vacuums running, in Milwaukee very often.  This town seems different that way.  The temptation was that if I left them the pickup perhaps they would not remember there was a Hyundai in its place.  I was thinking of how excited Bob would be about my new Hyundai.

1:18PM,  Lisa shows up having taken another car through the car wash.  She was dressed quite nicely and looked about 21.  She had long blonde hair and lots of jewelry.  She was Basically there was hardly one thing that made this girl look like she belonged in Cedar City, UT.  So as she took us back to Superior Auto to pick up the Volvo I asked her if she was from around here.  She said, "Nooooooo, I'm from San Mateo, CA and I'm just here while my husband finishes up college."  Her look of despair at being trapped in this little town in god-forsaken nowhere said a lot.  She said that when he graduates next May they are moving back to CA.  She did not like the weather or the lack of....everything.  I told that back home in San Mateo I bet that Hyundai would have been Gone, Baby gone.  The only thing more attractive would've been a Prius.

2:00PM,  I go to the office to pay for the car.  HOLY CRAP!  $300 bucks for...wait for it...plugs, wires, and an oil change with air cleaner and oil filter of course.  I guess there is an advantage to being in the middle of nowhere.  That took care of the misfiring.  However there was one problem we had to nurse the car home,  They could not fix one remaining problem and it was the one that blew all the white smoke.  I had blown an oil seal on the turbo and scads of oil was getting blown into the exhaust.  Although the misfiring had been fixed by my replacing my nearly burnt away spark plugs and affected wires, there was still significant power loss from my weakened turbo.  With enough oil we could get the car home without cracking the engine block because it used all the oil.

2:40PM,  We went 60 miles.  We are putting up enough smoke that even BP can't burn that much oil off the Gulf.  I check the oil.  Down 3 quarts.  Holy crap.  This is going to be expensive.

3:20PM, We went another 70 miles.  Down 3 quarts.  I find a product called STP Stop Leak. A thick goopy oil that is supposed to moisterize and gunk up your seals to fill leaks.  Only 450 miles to go...TODAY!!  Cars now drop far back from us because visibility is poor.  When we go up hills the car lacking power often slows to a top speed of 35mph.  Cars are careening off mountain passes due to lack of ability to see the road.

4:20PM,  Another 70 miles.  Down 2.5 quarts.  We finally get to a very long stretch of highway with mild hills and stretches in the valleys of the basin.  This eases the stress from long climbs up mountains.

5:10PM, We go almost 90 miles.  Car is only down 2 quarts.  Now the car is relatively smoke free in overdrive and only puts out colorful bursts of smoke on downshifting or upshifting. I felt like a silver, noxious cigar driving down the highway.

6:40PM, 120 miles this time.  just under 2 quarts.  Looking good as we are about to enter Colorado.

9:00PM,  We had some nice valleys to travel in but we are now hitting some of the more aggressive parts of the Rockies.  Lots of long mountain highways and we literally crawl over some of them at a top speed of 25mph.

9:20PM,  I notice two State Patrol cars have two different people pulled over on this windy mountain stretch.  Interesting considering how little police are in the west.  A few miles later I see two State Patrol cars with people pulled over on the other side.   As I notice this I see a State Patrol in my rearview mirror.  I move over to the right hand lane to let him pass only to see him pull behind me.  Oh brother.  I have a feeling that the problem will be my rolling environmental disaster.  Corporal Anderson was a big boy.  I call him Corporal Anderson because his title was a Corporal. I called him Anderson because he he looked exactly like Louie Anderson.  I swear to God I could have killed the man and ended the entire stop simply by throwing a donut over the side of the mountain.  His little partner goes screaming by to catch yet another motorist.  Cpl Anderson had two important points to make.  First he said, "You were driving in the left lane."  I said "Yep" (I have been driving in the left lane for 4000 miles up to this point or more than 500,000 miles in 26 years but who's counting)  He said, "Were you aware that that is passing lane and you have to move over by law?"  I said, "Nope" (Well of course I know thats a law...and if my turbo was working, passing is all I'd be doing to people and you'd be stopping me for speeding.  Plus my wife has pointed out your concern to me for ...26 years...about that very issue).  He said, "Do you know your car is also belching a lot of smoke?"  "Yep"  Cpl Anderson asks, "Where are you headed?"  "Denver. Sleeping overnight at a friends.  Only an hour and half left."  Again his concern is overwhelming, "How long have you been driving?" "We have been on the road for 16 hours."  "Are you two switching off driving?"  Without missing a beat my son chimes in "Yessir!" (I had not let him drive as I was very pre-occupied babysitting the car and negotiating mountains and oil, etc..)  My child was an enthusiastic natural born liar.   I was so proud...and scared at the same time.  Cpl Anderson wrote me a stern warning about driving in the left lane which to this very day I am pondering and contemplating.  Mainly how Colorado legislature has too much time on their hands...OR...the sheer brilliance of getting the idiot slow people out of the left lane.  I'm sort of wishing WI would get all our fricken idiot Buick drivers and make them drive on the shoulder or something.

11:00PM  We hit the worst of the rockies and the Continental divide...which happens to be in the middle of a tunnel through a mountain.  I stop at the top of the last mountain climb and we do one last oil check.  Only one quart down after all those climbs.  Getting better.  Looks like we're going to make it to the flats of CO and beyond and make it home.  I think that last climb however took 15-20 minutes with a top speed of 17 mph in spots.

11:30PM,  We come over that last rise where the lights of Denver lie spread out before us.  What a sight.  we cruise up I-25 to Broomfield and pull into the Drs. Brucker driveway at 11:45pm.

1:30AM,  Ike and I finally go to bed after telling our tale of woe and catching up a bit with Eric.  Eric was/is one of my best friends and was my roomate from DMLC days.  He left after freshman year and I left after Sophomore.  He went to Univ of CO and then Univ of Texas and Post Doc at Rice University. He has a PhD in Chemistry and is married to Noel, a Pediatrician.  They represent two of the very few people with such exceptional educations that are still the coolest, interesting, down to earth, Christian, and warm-hearted people I know.  Tomorrow we have a quick 1000 miles to home.  But I am going to get my oil in bulk at Walmart this time and save some money.  Almost home.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The 6th Day of My Summer Vacation

Day 6

9:00AM, I awake to another fine California day.  However I again miss the inferior HoJo complimentary breakfast.  I decide to run today but in the opposite direction.  This direction is a bit more daunting because the first 1.5 miles is uphill.  I find the run very pleasant though as there is a botanical garden along the way and at the top of the hill is a pedestrian walkway that provides a fantastic view of the valley on the other side as well as the ocean to the west.

9:45AM, Almost back.  Is it just me or are there a lot of Priuses around here?

10:00AM, Quick jump in the pool to cool down and then get ready for our adventure of the day.

11:30AM, We head onto I-5 up to Los Angeles to see Hollywood.  As I don't see myself returning to California anytime soon I decided we had better take the time to visit when we can.  Traffic was pretty good getting into downtown and we exited at Hollywood Blvd. We turned the wrong direction and ended up in little Thailand.  Everytime we see all these potentially awesome places to eat I get sad knowing my family will not be adventurous with me.

12:00PM,  I swear every other car on the highway is a Prius.  Is this the national car of the Republic of California?

12:45PM,  We park at a lot just off Hollywood Boulevard just past Vine.  The most immediate impression is the Walk of Fame.  I was amazed at how many people I knew.  However it is distracting to try and catch all the names when you bump into people because no one is looking forward.  It is hard to imagine that anyone would park their stroller on Brittany Speers star. 

2:30PM, We stop for a potty break at the McDonalds and by a family pack of McNuggets for a snack.  I think I realize at this time that no one in Hollywood is from the USA.  Perhaps eastern Europe, Asia, and South America.  What is it about McNuggets that are so addicting.  I actually determine it is the tightly guarded recipe for their barbecue sauce.  I really don't need the McNuggets at all but they won't give me the containers to just use my fingers to eat the BBQ sauce.

3:00PM,  I have decided that I was not very impressed with the standard sights of Hollywood.  We saw the Chinese Theater and such but the rest of the streets were just shops for tattoos, piercings, weird wigs and Lady GaGa outfits.  I would say that it was similar to State St. in Madison but the people were more normal.  There was someone every 12 feet or so soliciting for tours of the Hollywood Hills and the stars homes.

4:00PM, We decide to drive to Beverly Hills and check out Rodeo Dr. and the unrestrained wealth of that town.  The streets and houses are amazing and the unrelenting stream of $100K cars surrounding our hillbilly Silverado was astounding.  I simply cannot comprehend the sheer concentration of cash in one place.

5:00PM, Obviously it was the perfect time to leave downtown Los Angeles.  Traffic was good all the way up until the very moment we entered the freeway.  Then we got to be in LA traffic for a good while.  The children entertained themselves by waving to every single car around us in traffic seeing who would wave back.  A surprising number of people did wave back.  It would seem they may as well as there is plenty of time to sit around and chat with those around you.

6:00PM  I'm pretty sure this should just be called a Prius jam. 

6:30PM, Finally we break free of traffic and cruise in the HOV lane.

7:30PM, I pick up noodle bowls for dinner.

8:30PM, Pool and Hot tub time

10:30PM, Time to shower and pack up.  Ike and I are heading home tomorrow.  We are leaving Katie and Bonnie to fend for themselves and explore San Diego.  We need to leave by 4:15am and drive down to San Diego to rent a car for the girls to use.  Ike and I need to be back in Cedar City, UT by 1:00pm. tomorrow and that leaves us 7 hours to get there.  It will be close.

11:30PM,  I go to sleep wondering why I couldn't have rented a Prius and glad that I don't have to commute in LA.  I must say my impressions of all the hype about LA were debunked.  It is just an overpopulated place.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The 5th Day of My Summer Vacation

Day 5

9:00AM  I sleep in late today to celebrate the lack of any need to respond to some emergency.  Since I have missed the somewhat inferior HoJo's waffles, I decide to take a run as I have not had a chance to do this since Friday.  I head across the interstate towards the ocean to explore our new land.

9:30AM  I run along US hwy 101 looking at the unique collection of shops.  It would appear there is a pattern.  It went something like Surf Shop, Mexican Restaurant, Antique Store, ...repeat.  There was what I would describe as a shanty town strip mall.  It would appear that the building might have been leaning in odd directions and the roofs looked like tin or tarp.  I was amazed at the shear number of people running or biking along this highway.  Don't they have jobs?  It's 9:30am on a Wednesday.  I turned into a subdivision to take a look at the homes on the top of the bluff overlooking the ocean.  They stood in stark contrast to the more modest homes...literally on the other side of the tracks.  Very nice homes and many were for sale.  I was tempted to enter one house that was having one of your typical Wednesday morning open houses.  I'm not sure based on the prestige of the home whether they wanted a sweaty fat man wandering through.

A running challenger emerged when I turned onto this ocean front street.  I young mother pushing two babies in a runner stroller.  She was on the opposite side of the street and she was threatening me.  For some reason I just could not let a mom beat me jogging down the street with a baby stroller.  I swear to you she was speeding up but I could speed up more. 

10:00AM  Oh thank God, the end of the street and she turns off as I take a long winding staircase down to the beach.  I'm not sure I could keep up that false sense of bravado any longer.  The tide is just rolling out and the waves were exceptionally large.  The stairways are filled with teenagers...and more disturbingly some 50 year olds scouting out the waves and texting their friend the conditions no doubt.  There were probably 40 black dots in the water all waiting for a perfect wave.  They were black dots because they all had wetsuits.  Basically I was just amazed that the california stereotypes were soooo...prevalent.  Dude!!!  Awesome!!!  I was wondering if the bike racks on the Volvo could be retrofitted for Surfboards.

10:10AM, I run back to the hotel following a loop that makes me pass a small used car dealership.  In the lot we 6 cars.  5 of them were silver Volvo's all laughing at me.  I despised that little store and I threaten to return with some tools and perform a turboectomy.  Teach those cars to laugh at me.

10:15AM,  I might be wrong but I sure have noticed a lot of Priuses.  What is up with that?

11:00AM,  I jump in the pool to cool down.  Nice!!

12:30PM,  Time for the beach.  We head down to near where I had been running.  The beach is not over laden with people and we easily find a spot to park ourselves.  Ike and I spend some time jumping into the waves and I try lame attempts to body surf.  Ike returns to the beach to scan for girls that he will never talk to.

1:30PM,  I have noticed more and more boys have arrived at the beach.  They all seem to have some gimmick to prance about with their ripply little bodies around the lovely young ladies with me.  They of course are quite obviously scoping out said boys.  Some were playing frisbee, some were going back and forth with a soccer ball.  Others toweled themselves off gracefully.  Again the stereotypes were running rampant.

3:00PM, By now we have all burned except for little asian Ike.  He sucks because his brown skin doesn't get sunburned.  Ike and I return to the water.  The girls are strolling near the water.

4:00PM,  Ike and I are ready to be done in the water but we notice that a guy we had seen before with a physique much like mine had approached Kt and Bonnie at the water's edge.  He was making small talk and asking for phone numbers.   I admire his courage and I was laughing like crazy as I could see Kt looking like..."Dad, come and say we have to leave or something."  Instead I watched from the waves amused at this brave young man about to be shot down.  There probably was something creepy about his statement that it was nice to meet girls of legal age.  Rejected he finally left and then Ike and I came out of the water.

5:00PM, Pool again

6:00PM  Dinner of porta-tacos.  I brought burrito rollups, refried beans, burrito chicken, nacho cheese, and salsa.  A very authentic mexican dinner in this very hispanic neighborhood.

8:00PM, Pool and hot tub

10:00PM,  Shower

11:00PM  I go to sleep very tired.  The kids sit on laptops and iPhones talking to people and watching Youtube until unknown hours of the morning.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The 4th Day of My Summer Vacation

Day 4

8:00AM, I awake to a glorious morning in Cedar City, UT. My first task was to find a repair shop that can handle a foreign car. I called one place that had very little description. It turns out it was a Chevy dealer…shudder. I asked for a bailout or perhaps if they wanted these old shares of GM common stock I had with me as payment to fix the car. He declined cooley, however, he gave me a recommendation for a shop called Superior Auto. I called the shop and he agreed to take the car and see what he could do. We pack up the stuff and get ready to go but we have made a very strategic error. We have passed 9:00am. NO WAFFLES for us. Not even some pre-packaged pecan rolls or dried bagels or Raisin Bran from the little dispenser. This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect to the day.

9:15AM, We start the Volvo fogger to first head to the Cedar City Municipal Airport. It is 2 miles away. You cannot imagine the smoke this car put out. We’re talking about every acceleration or downshift putting out a cloud you could not see through. Cars were backing up and moving into the shoulder because I blocked all visibility. I had read an article after my Motortrend back in Billings about the limitations of doing war in Afghanistan with all the restrictive policies put on soldiers to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties. In one such instance the soldiers required a smoke screen so they could relocate under cover of the smoke safely. The people responsible for launching the smoke screen shell fired it too far away to be of any use because they were afraid the canister that falls from the sky after it explodes might hit child or mother who mysteriously are out playing or working in the middle of firefights in the street. I’m not saying the Obama administration is incompetent in fighting wars (Yes, I am) but more importantly I see a DoD contract for about 18 million dollars coming my way for the “War Volvo” where we can provide a smoke screen and comfortable transport for five…including 200 stations of satellite radio to calm the soldiers while relocating to safer positions. It includes a bike rack and I believe has an add-on connector for a Golf 240 or an M50 which can be easily operated through the moon roof.

10:00AM, We have secured a vehicle from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. There are 3 rental companies at the Cedar City Municipal Airport. Hertz had no one at the desk. Avis had no cars to rent but had someone at the desk. It caused me to wonder if Avis was run by the government. Enterprise had one car to rent. A nice 2010 dual cab Silverado. What would it take to find a Tundra? Is this all a conspiracy by GM? What kind of place is Cedar City, UT that when someone want a Hyundai Sonata or Elantra all they can provide is 4000 pound monstrosity. I was pining for the quality and gas mileage of a Hyundai as expressed in Motortrend from my days back in Billings. However we find that there was plenty of room to stretch out and a simple phone call to Ike in the backseat was sufficient for interseat communication.

There is another question as to why there is a such a nice new comfortable airport terminal that only has two flights a day from Salt Lake City.  Everything seemed a bit of overkill for an airport that serves barely 80 people a day.  Maybe thats why there are no Hyundai's and only Silverados to rent.  Everything in Cedar City is bigger.

10:30AM, We drop off the car at Superior Auto. I get the picture now as his lot is filled with Corvettes and Chevy trucks and all types of GM cars that he is restoring for shows and such that clearly I have stumbled into a GM town. However segregated in a small part of the lot are a number of foreign cars. Much like an internment camp I imagine. I give him until Friday to make the Volvo better and vow to return.

10:45AM, Las Vegas here we come. We have until 11:00pm to arrive in San Diego to pick up Kt’s friend at the airport and only a 7 hour drive to get there. With that extra 5 hours of time we knew we could afford a little time in Las Vegas. We were blending like western natives now in our Silverado. I might note that going 85 in a Silverado seems much slower than it is. I constantly was looking down and noticing I was going 95-97. I think this is indicative of GM overstating their recovery and repayment of Government loans using a pile of other bailout money. There was some beautiful terrain in the 29 mile Arizona section of I-15. Beautiful canyons and such. Other than that though I felt frozen in one spot with just endless flat desert and some mountains in the distance on each side of us.

11:30AM, The endless desert terrain prompted me to think about all the good times with my friend Bob from Billings. I wondered why he stopped hunting in his youth and what was the exact specifications because it just could not have been a 6 cylinder for the Hyundai that got 40 miles per gallon even many years later. I wondered if he ever did sell his Honda accord with the faded paint with 220,000 miles on it for $2000. See he didn’t care what the blue book said. He was waiting for the person who wanted a car that ran perfectly to be willing to pay that much because he didn’t care. It was his 5th car after all. I could sympathize. It’s these moments you have to yourself where you can ponder the relationships of life and I was going to miss Bob.

I also pondered my good friend Hamid Patel the owner of the Sleep Inn in Billings. He was only about 32 so I think he maybe needed to experience a little more life so as to not second guess his trusty Night clerk at the hotel. Because basically I only paid $19 more to stay at the Crowne Plaza with a stunning 9th floor view of the oil refinery. His clerk might be right to give those discounts because a Sleep Inn does not compare to a Crowne Plaza. On the other hand…there were no waffles at the Crowne Plaza.

12:00PM, We come over a rise and there before us lies Las Vegas. The sign says its 18 miles away but that seems unlikely as you could see it so well.

12:15PM, What do you know…It was 18 miles away. God how depressing to be able to see something for so long yet be so far away. We park in the hotel parking garage for Harrah’s. We decide to walk up and down the strip and take in the sights and take pictures. I got myself a large soda for $4. I asked my kids if they needed anything as we had not any food or drinks really for the day. They said, “No” We strolled about looking at the sheer decadence of such huge casinos and expensive stores. There were lots of nice offers from people for tours and show tickets. How nice that they conveniently seek you out on the street so you don’t have to try and track them down. About the time we got to Ceasar’s Palace a certain female member of our group got woozy and passed out. I looked like father of the year when I dropped her on the stairs of Serendipty’s to take the picture of 3 cute coeds by the Gumball machine. After the picture they looked somewhat horrified at this clearly woozy, perhaps severely inebriated girl that was falling out of the chair I tried to place her in as I tried to find a place to get a bottle of water. I moved Kt to another table and found a nice outdoor area where Serendipity’s generously sold me a big water bottle for $6. Large sodas were also $6. So after $18 all 3 of us could restock on liquids. I however already had enough foresight to plan my hydration/dehydration cycles when I got my first $4 soda. Additionally we bought a few more waters from the nice gentleman on every street corner selling water from coolers for only a $1.

2:00PM, We head out of Las Vegas to our final destination of San Diego. Gaaaack more desert.  Shortly after our entry into the California, the People's Republic of CA has a station to determine if you are carrying any Fruits or Nuts into the country.  I told them that I had neither Adam Lambert nor any Democrats in the truck and they let me continue on my way.

7:00PM, We arrive in Encinitas, CA at the Howard Johnson’s. We check in to our room which was nice but did not have the nice beds of the Sleep Inn nor did it have my waffles for breakfast. Ike and I head straight to the hot tub and pool.

9:00PM, Thoroughly pruned we get out of the hot tub and pool because we need to eat something and then head down to San Diego Airport to pick up Bonnie, Kt’s friend from JCP in Milwaukee.

11:00PM Bonnie arrives safely seated safely with Marine Recruits who were flying in for Boot Camp. Fine memories of Zach’s arrival there nearly 2 years ago.

11:45PM,  I scan the channels in a last ditch attempt to catch a Back to the Future but there are no more left on TV.  Bonnie pulls out a Macbook.  GAAAWWWWD!!!  the numbers of these things springing up around me is ever increasing.  I figure if you can't create scripts and documents in VI or navigate with deserve a Macbook.

12:00AM  I go to sleep with feelings of relief in that we actually made it to San Diego.  I also have a strange sense of accomplishment that I parked a Silverado in a space marked for compact cars only because HoJo's only had like 3 spots that weren't for compact cars.  Take that land of Priuses. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The 3rd Day of My Summer Vacation

Day 3

6:15AM,  I arise early on a glorious Billings morning.  The sun is shining brightly off the oil refinery.  There is a starbucks in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza in a rare showing of civilization. I walk to the Volvo dealership to make sure I am the first one in line to get my car looked at and repaired.  There still is no traffic pouring into Billings.  Even the hobos are not on the street.

6:45AM, The service manager is opening the garage door and I successfully get my car booked in right away.  I wish I had known the mechanic didn't show up until 8:00am but I'm content to drink my coffee, read Motortrend and listen to Fox News in the background.  Apparently there's been an oil spill somewhere in the least that's how the news seems to convey it.

8:00AM, I have completed reading a fine comparison of 2010 8 cylinder muscle cars.  Apparently Mustangs have edged out the Camaro and Challenger to win most categories in the 8 cylinder rankings.  I assume Mustangs perform better because they have less weight due to the lack of bailout packages and bankrupcy proceedings.

8:30AM, Bob the car salesman comes in for a stint at the desk.  I'm sure car buying customers will be streaming in soon.  We strike up a conversation in the mean time.  We talked about a lot of different subjects for the next two hours.  First of all Bob went out to his car and got an atlas to show me the best route to get to I-15 as we were now modifying our journey to head straight to San Diego and skip Portland, OR.  It was good advice and he did not even have Google Maps on his phone.  We then talked about Hyundai's and their vast improvement in the last 25 years.  I discussed the Motor trend article I had just read comparing the American 6 cylinder versions of the muscle cars and the new Hyundai Genesis Coupe was thrown in.  Well I'll be schnuckered but the Hyundai beat out all those American muscle cars. There it was sitting on the showroom floor too.  We then discussed the exploding deer.  He told me how prevalent it was and to be careful on the rest of my journey as the deer are everywhere.  I was just relieved to know they were not exploded hobos.  I learned that Billings has 125,000 people and has grown significantly in the last 10-15 years.  Wells Fargo has a large communications center employing a lot of people.  Also GE I think he said had a new group there.  Before this recent influx of companies most people were ranchers or worked at the oil refinery.  One woman about 65 years old came into the showroom as well while her 2004 Hyundai Tuscon was being repaired.  She was looking at the 2010 model in the showroom perhaps contemplating a new purchase.   I let Bob handle this one despite my research in Motortrend.  However I think I did assist Bob when she sat down finally by the magazines and I showed her the articles about Hyundai's and their exceptional reviews.  I'm pretty sure I'll get a partial comission on that sale the next time I see Bob.  Bob lives approximately 12 minutes away and has two kids.  One lives in Butte and the other in Idaho Falls, ID.  Actually those were his 2nd wife's kids.  Bob had an appointment at the new Honda store on the west side of town at 10:00.  I knew where this was because we had exited the highway twice at that location.  I was getting very familiar with Billings at this point.  I told Bob the next time I came through Billings we'd get together and have lunch.  Maybe grill out some Elk or Deer venison.  Yummm.

10:00AM, The car is complete.  It seems to be starting snappy and I'm very pleased.  My children have already packed up the room and we load up and go.  The trip of the year resumes.

12:00PM, Did the car just stutter a bit?  No that must just have been the road.

3:00PM,  Ok the car is stuttering and misfiring.  This is not cool.  We are approaching Idaho Falls.  Kt could you please start finding all the Volvo dealerships in Idaho Falls?

4:00PM,  All the Volvo dealerships have been located.  There is Boise, ID 150 miles the wrong direction.  There is Salt Lake City 200 miles ahead.  There is Las Vegas which is 500 miles ahead.  We will try to get to Salt lake city before 7:00 and hopefully it will be open.

6:55PM,  We reach Salt Lake city.  Nice looking city by the way.  There are more temples in SLC than Walgreens for sure.  Car is losing power on hills more and more and is misfiring more.  Dealership closed at 6:00pm.  Okay car take us to Las Vegas.  We're going to roll the dice and get lucky.

9:00PM  We are approximately 200 miles from Las Vegas.  The car is now barely getting over the hils at 25 miles per hour.  It is straining in low gears to make it.  The turbo is stressed and we are losing speed.  We are approaching Cedar City, UT and it looks like we have to make a decision.  We stop for gas in Parowan about 18 miles from Cedar City and notice a new symptom.  We are belching white smoke like a western wild fire.  Our fate is sealed.  We drag the car to Cedar city and find a Super 8 Motel.  Kt has located an Enterprise Rent-a-car where we will just have to find a shop to work on the car and we will rent a car to finish up the trip.  Since we have to return this way anyways that gives this theoretical shop 4 days to locate parts and fix this oddity known as a Volvo.  A vehicle as yet unkown to those in the west. 

10:00PM, I notice the continental breakfast has the same waffle mix as the Sleep Inn in Billings.  I am excited. 

11:00PM,  I scan the channels for any Back to the Future episodes.  Finding none I retire for the evening.  Kt has been relaxed and stress free this entire time.  Ike was unusually chipper and smiley the whole ride.   HAHAHAHAHA.  Just kidding.  I assure them that many of their friends will be very jealous that they were in Cedar City, UT and to just go to sleep and dream of waffles.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The 2nd Day of My Summer Vacation

Day 2

8:00AM, The alarm goes off. Perhaps our long lost mechanic will call us this morning. I headed to my free continental breakfast for a surprisingly good waffle in the waffle maker. I make a mental note to find the same batter for my waffle maker. Apparently my mental note has fallen off the mental fridge because I have now forgotten the brand to buy.

9:00AM, I start watching Back To the Future. It seems to be what we do when stranded in boring states while traveling. On a ski trip a few years ago we were snowed-in from a blizzard in Omaha, NE and sat in the hotel room all day watching all 3 Back to the Futures followed by Big Mama’s House I and II. Good times for sure.

10:00AM, I head over to the car to fetch our cooler for what I was convinced would be a second nights stay in Billings. What could possibly be done to my car on a Sunday? On the off chance the car would start, I gave it a try and voila, it started and behaved perfectly. I drove it across the street to the hotel and rousted my children to pack up we were going to go hit the road. After the car was loaded and we were going to go I turned over the car. Click Click Click. The battery was too low. I used up my remaining power for the first start of the day and did not have enough left to start. I ran across the street to the gas station and bought jumper cables. I then went back into the hotel to find a suitable donor. Sure enough but the owner of the hotel was there and offered to jump start my car. I figured he might have been a journeyman mechanic because he had a Ford F250 pickup and as anyone knows the ability to fix cars corresponds directly to the size of your pickup. My car did start from the jump and we hit the highway. Not before giving the night clerk a nice endorsement for customer service, however my capitalist friend did not look amused.

10:25AM, We return after two miles of travels we had to deviate back into Billings to a NAPA auto parts store as the same conditions had returned. Repression and ignoring work so much better on humans than cars apparently. The NAPA sent us to the only shop open on a Sunday with mechanics in downtown billings. We head to Expert Tire.

11:00AM, The man at Expert tire says he’ll look at it but feels certain there will be little he can do because he is not a Volvo dealership. However he waited a bit to tell us this just as we were getting to the end of Back To the Future Part II. We now know we are doomed to stay in Billings another night. We scouted out the only Volvo dealership in Montana which thankfully was 6 blocks away and then found a room at the Crowne Plaza which was also 6 blocks away.

12:00PM, We check in to the Crowne Plaza and head back to Expert Tire to get our stuff from the car. We figure it will be a nice looking hobo parade hauling our stuff 6 blocks down but the nice man at Expert Tire just told us to haul our stuff down to the hotel in the shop pickup. This really is not like other places. The keys were of course on the dash and it was truly an elegant brown Chevy shop truck that looked grand pulling up to the Crowne Plaza.

12:30PM, I finish up Back to the Future Part II of course. It certainly is a good distraction to contemplate the complexities and paradoxes of time travel.

1:30PM, Back to the Future Part III has started but the kids and I have a mission. We need to move the car from Expert Tire 6 blocks to the Volvo Dealership. When we last left the car at Expert Tire it again was low on power and needed a jump to get started. Also it seems like it was again having a hard time starting. We were confident that we could push the car a flat 6 blocks due to the combined hard core athletic abilities of the 3 of us. I refused to pay $60 to tow it to a place I could almost see from Expert Tire. When we got there, a determined young man was trying to diagnose the car despite telling us they couldn’t do anything about it because no one has Volvo parts. He gave me the codes though and the problem was an Engine Coolant Sensor and the Thermostat. He explained why the car has a proclivity to speed when it doesn’t know the proper temperature. It sounded like Monday morning would be a breeze to just have the Volvo dealership change those out and hit the road. One last jump and remarkably the car started and instead of pushing it to Volvo we drove it there.

2:15PM, We walk back to the Crowne Plaza. One observation about downtown Billings. Besides being dead to the world on Sundays, it has got to be the hobo capital of the state. Perhaps due to the lack of things like cities and such all the Montana hobo’s have to wander downtown Billings. Per Capita it must be a very high homeless rate but it must suck when you options as a homeless person are limited to like 5 cities in the state at best. I pondered whether perhaps those weren’t exploded deer on the highway but just unfortunate hitchhiking hobos. Thankfully we were able to watch the end of Back To the Future Part III and contemplate the settling of the old West and the unlikely ability to make a train version of the flux capacitor.

3:00PM, Started over with Back to the Future Part i

5:00PM, Toy Story 1

7:00PM, Toy Story II

9:00PM, gaaaaack bored. Time for a glass of Schnapps.

10:00PM, took a look at the Billings night scene. It turns out it is not the lights of clubs or Billings night life or casinos but rather the lights of the Oil Refinery. Hmmmm I guess it’s time for bed. Better luck tomorrow.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 1 of Summer Vacation

In the following posts, I will chronicle my vacation one day at a time.  Not since 2001 have I had such an adventurous vacation.  You can read about it here (A Journey Interrupted) if you choose. I will make sure to try and paint a vivid picture of my experiences and observations.  I might even through in a few pictures.

I had a decision to make about my vacation this year.  I could go with my wife to Fayette, IA for a week long class she was taking on campus at UIU OR I could accompany my daughter on a vast road trip encompassing Portland, OR/Battle Ground, WA and then San Diego and home again.  Comparing all the activities in Fayette, population 12, or a 5000 mile road trip with two of my kids, the choice was clear.  Plus it would seem prudent to chaperone my 18 year old and 16 year old on a 5000 mile road trip event of the year.

Day 1

1:30 AM, The alarm sounds and it is time to leave.  By leaving at 2:00am we were set on a course of a 27 hour marathon drive rotating between 3 drivers and set to arrive in Portland, OR in the morning one day later.  Our route has been pre-determined to take a northerly route on I-94 until hitting I-90 in Montana. The Volvo had been prepared the day before with new tires, an oil check, I fixed the trunk latch so it could actually open, and I pre-loaded the vehicle with our luggage and food.

2:00AM, We depart on time and head west.  Our satellite radio was faithfully producing tunes, two iPhones and one Windows Mobile phone approriately were navigating via Google Maps and GPS. Laptop was available to be tethered to my cell phone for complete Internet access when needed.  The last thing you want to do when heading out into the vastness of God's incredible creation is to not be properly connected to the internet.  My children contentedly sleep.

6:30AM, Our first stop for gas and McMuffins in Hudson, WI just before crossing the Mississippi River into MN.  We have killed 1,276,429 bugs with our car. Katie takes the wheel and I ramp up for the sights of MN. I fall asleep before the Mall of America and wake up as Kt exits the highway inside of North Dakota.

9:00AM, It's time for a driver change and Ike takes the wheel.  We pull onto the highway but I vow to stay awake a bit more this time as theoretically I'm supposed to be monitoring the young'n as he drives.  As we pull back onto the highway an ambulence with lights and sirens comes on behind us and we graciously let it pass us as the custom goes.  However here's where I made an alarming discovery about emergency health in North Dakota.  If you have an emergency, you may very well die.  We followed this Ambulence for 40 miles before it even exited the highway into nowhereville.  Even worse is that with the more liberal speed limit in North Dakota is that we had to stay back our 500 feet and slow down so as not to pass the ambulence.  I have decided that I could perhaps become a premier Emergency services responder in North Dakota by simply applying my feet to the gas pedal.  If I were in that ambulence having a heart attack I swear I'd climb up front and jam that accelerator down.  We may as well risk it because I'm likely to die anyway on the 130 mile trip to the hospital...and it's likely that hospital is a veternary hospital. 

Finally the ambulence departs the highway and we resume a comfortable North Dakotabahn speed of 85ish.  I advise Ike to put a bungee cord on the steering wheel and set the cruise and he could probably nap or read for 3 hours and check in later to see if anything changes.  I however want to report to you the awesome beauty of North Dakota.  I will illustrate everything here:

Did you catch all that.  I believe I covered it all. even if I hadn't fallen asleep again I'm pretty sure I covered everything.

12:00PM,  I take over driving again finishing up North Dakota and entering Montana. 

12:35PM, See exploded deer on the side of the road.

12:49PM, See exploded deer in the middle of the road.

1:24PM, See exploded deer on the side of the road.




3:30PM, We make a stop at the outlook in Theodore Roosevelt National Park just before the Montana Line.  We take some awesome pictures and even see a Bison nearby grazing.  How exciting that with 20 miles left in North Dakota there was something to see.  We return to the car to depart, but alas, the car has difficulty starting.  I turned it over many times and I could hear it starting to lose power.  This is not good as the thought of a tow from this location was far worse than the thought of North Dakota emergency services. Also, God had rendered our communications devices moot as we were indeed amongst the 3% of Americans not covered by AT&T at that moment.  However after some prayer and very thoughtful staring and goatee stroking at the engine bay it finally started.  We will overlook this quirk and return to the Dakotabahn.  Kt takes the wheel.

5:30PM, After having fallen asleep again, I woke up to a concerned Kt fretting and pulling over.  Oh No!  Our car!  Nope that was not it at all.  This was our opportunity to met the entire State Patrol of Montana.  We believe Officer Janus of the Montana State Patrol is perhaps the only officer in Montana, thereby ruining the reputation of the Montanabahn.  He apparently did not sympathize with Kt's carefree expression of freedom of driving 87 in a 75mph zone on her 18th birthday.  However Officer Wet Blanket, did not lack the communications and technology to swipe in a license, check the license, and print off a receipt for the $40 due immediately for the ticket.  I'll assume AT&T was not his communications provider.  Despite Kt getting a meaningless speeding ticket on a stretch of highway going nowhere where the only obstacle seems to be exploding deer, I was very envious of his mobile communication and in-car printer.  This is very convenient for the speeder who just wants to get on their way.  I think a 7 minute traffic stop is commendable as WI police just drag it out for 20 minutes.  I attribute this to WI heavy reliance on unions.

7:30PM, We arrive at Billings, MT and decide to stop for a nice dinner at Applebee's to celebrate Kt's 18th Birthday as well as her first speeding ticket (Kt was as celebratory as you'd think).  However as we exit the highway the car seems to be displaying a love for the Montanabahn and is keeping its RPM's at 4000 and has a desire to speed up to about 60 on the city streets.  The brakes were straining a bit at the intersection from hell where there was an accident and it took 5 minutes to get through as the temperature gauge soared to the red zone.  We eventually get through the intersection and into the Applebees lot.  I open the hood to the radiator overfow...overflowing....just a bit...not an all out overheat.  I'll say the car showed restraint in blowing off steam but I was really not inspired by the list of quirks.  I would say that dinner was somewhat muted by the last few minutes and hours events and I was only thinking of what might happen when we return to the car.

8:30PM,  We head out to the car.  Our sad little puddle of radiator fluid on the ground.  Will it start?  Will the quirkiness go away?  Would simply turning the radio louder make it all go away?  It did start.  But the high RPM's returned and the temperature gauge started being erratic from the red zone to the cold zone with in 3 miles so we veered back into Billings and stopped at a Conoco to see if there was an auto parts store or I could get a tool or two so I could check for vacuum leaks and such.  Please be a loose hose or a replaceable sensor!  Alas, Conoco only has a small pliers and It proved worthless.  The car refused to start again and again the power was draining.  It turns out thee was a Sleep Inn across the street.  Thwarted we checked into the motel.

9:00PM, Bonus, This sleep Inn was completely remodeled and had the most amazing bed I've ever slept on.  We contemplate taking the mattresses with us but figured strapping mattresses to a car that doesn't start did not seem like smart crime.  Another bonus, the clerk at the desk knows a mechanic and vowed to have him call me to perhaps look at the car in the morning.  She said he would call me after 11:30PM.

10:30PM, I go to get Ice near the lobby and hear the owner of the hotel, who was on a tour of his properties, yelling and berating the nice helpful clerk for giving too many discounts away and speculating loudly how he is contemplating docking her pay, suspending her, or going to fire her.  I'm not sure where his logic was going in explaing his tax bill per year of 1 million dollars and how he gets no bailouts and aid but I had such mixed emotions in sympathy for a low margin business and a western conservative and a clerk who was as far as customer service goes went above and beyond...yet did not give me one of those nice discounts.

11:30PM,  The phone rings,  silence.  No one is there.  The clerk is not at the front desk to ask for the number of the mechanic who called but never got transferred and never called back again.  Oh well.  We will sleep and figure things out in the morning. 

Good Night Day 1.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Post

Alright here is a post.  It'll have to do.  I have not been very motivated in the posting department.  I have been very busy at work on projects, I have been busy after work coaching and now my own running/biking training.  I am getting ready for coaching the HOPE school CC team this fall and we are starting summer running in June.  I think getting the CC program at that school restarted will be quite a project.

Katie is graduating this Sunday from Wisconsin Lutheran.  That's a big deal.  I'm very proud of her academic prowess and dedication to being a great student.  Might have wished to spread some of that dedicatoin out a bit amongst all three children but it did seem to get consentrated in Katie.  Congratulations Katie.

Katie has some vacations planned this summer.  She is looking for jobs in daycare.  She is looking at school online at UIU where Karen goes or possibly MATC...or maybe both.  She will be staying here though and not moving to California as she is no longer with Phil.

Ike was confirmed at Victory of the Lamb on May 9th and is graduating from 8th grade at St. Marcus this Sunday as well.  He will be attending IQ Academy for high school.  This is a virtual online high school run out of the Waukesha School District.  After some research and contemplating this change, we decided that the online school addressed Ike's learning style in a much better way as well as provides him some flexibility to deal with difficult subjects in a way that removes some of the barriers to classic "brick and mortar" education. 

The main things are that he can "rewind" the teacher(online class) whenever he needs to.  Multimedia learning is obviously a focus.  Assignments and tests are not restricted by time frames...meaning he can take an hour and a half on a math test which is an area where if given enough time he can do well...he just needs twice as much time.  The point is to test the knowledge...not whether he can do it in 42 minutes.  These kinds of deals and considerations are hard to make at a brick and mortar school...and even harder at Wisco.  One more feature is that he has better access to teachers than most students.  He can communicate with them with email and the online school portal and ask questions anytime of night or day.  The teacher can go online and do demo's and "chalkboard" work from their computer and show him things nearly anytime in the day.  Try to track down your teacher in a school to get a question answered.  Maybe you can find them in the morning or just before class when the assignment is due.  Maybe your study hall hour might allow you to find them.   At IQ they are all at his fingertips.  No fears of missing the assignment deadline because you couldn't get help. the last big plus is that he has a chance to perhaps catch up a year and graduate a little early.  Since he is two years older than most of the kids in his grade this would be nice as socially it is awkward when a 16 year old has peers who just turned 14.

The downside is obviously the time management and staying on top of his work. This will be my job as parental homework gestapo. Thankfully they provide a great portal where I can see all his work as it is submitted as well as get instant feedback on grades.  Even though the schools all post grades online it is almost useless because if you want to manage your childs assignments vigorously, you can't, because half the teachers don't enter them regularly nor can I actually see the assignments before and after they were submitted.  Now I can.  The other downside is that socially doing your high school from home is well...not very social.  however the online community of IQ students is very strong.  Additionally there is a ski club that ski's every Friday in the skiing season.  This was a big plus for Ike.  Also Ike spreads his friends around and his good friends go to a variety of schools.  So he might adobt Wisco as a place to hang out socially.  It wouldn't surprise me if half the people there didn't even know he wasn't a student there.

Ike is pretty excited about the school.  We'll see how it goes.

Karen took the test for her FALU designation.  The last test of 4 is very tough and only 25% of the people who take it pass it.  That held true at NM as of the 5 people who took it, only Karen passed it this year.  I'm very proud of her getting through all the FLMI, FALU, PCS, ARA coursework.  This is the equivalent to approximately 50 credits of courses at various levels of college work.  On top of it she has been attending college.  She is now signed up for two classes.  One of them she will be taking at UIU in Layfayette, IA for a week in June.  The other she is doing in her normal correspondence mode.  She has 8 classes left until she graduates.  Again I'm very proud.

Zach is still in Jacksonville, NC at the New River base.  He came for a surprise visit this Memorial day weekend which was very pleasant.  Chrissy is planning their wedding and quite smartly keeping Zach out of it. Their wedding will be in February...yes February in WI.  No matter...I love a good party and weddings are good fun. Zach is planning on coming back in July for a week or so over the 4th of July holiday.

So there a post.