Sunday, March 27, 2011

Picture That!

Well, I just learned the very hard way that Blogger's auto save feature can work against one.  I'd spent the past hour typing a post here only to have accidentally deleted it all while trying to delete a single line and then watching as the "Draft Saved" notice appeared to inform me that everything I'd carelessly wiped out had been instantly overwritten.

Now, to be certain, it wasn't a stellar post that we lost because I was taking the Family Circus route* in trying to tell what should have been a simple story.  On the other hand, that's part of my charm here, isn't it?

Well, without crying over all the spilt words, it came down, essentially, to this...

Pennsylvania has a decent network of cameras** aimed at its highways, a good number of them watching the very roads I travel over to the western part of the commonwealth once a month or so.  Last year a new gas station opened right where one of the cameras I pass by regularly keeps its watchful eye on the road.  I've wanted for a long time to get a picture of myself through that camera and yesterday I managed to do it.

There's a McDonald's across the street from the gas station and I'd hoped to latch onto their free Wifi with the iPod Touch from the gas station's parking lot.  The Mickey D network was visible to the device, but was working like typical McWifi - just sitting there infinitely waiting for the log-in screen to appear.  After a while of becoming increasingly more impatient I decided to try hitting up various other wireless networks that were showing, and striking out on every one of them till I hit up the very last one available.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was coming from the gas station itself . (The very chain I'd written to when McD's started offering their free Wifi to suggest that the trendy gas station chain hop on the bandwagon too, but from which I'd gotten no response.  Maybe they listened after all?)

So, I parked the Neon and positioned myself in a few different areas around it, snapping pictures with the iPod through the highway camera high atop the pole across the huge intersection from where I was.

Here's the best one...

The lower inset is the actual picture from the camera.  The portion at the top and right is a blow-up of the same shot.  The bottom of the red line that joins the inset to the enlargement points to the Neon and me in the original photo.  That's me standing right above the top of the red line with the Neon to the left of me in the picture.  Okay, I'm hardly recognizable, but I got the picture I wanted to get!

Unfortunately, because of the accidental deletion you'll not be reading more about my formative years and how I wanted to be a photographer when I was a kid but couldn't because my family had to save our pennies in case there was another world war or depression.  Maybe some other time if you all behave and eat your peas.

*(To see what I meant by Family Circus route, click here.)
**(For the Pennsylvania highway cameras, click here and then check the "Cameras" tab on the left.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ride to Work Day

It's ironic that for how much I enjoy riding the BV to work, the school year usually ends about a week or better before the official "Ride to Work Day" for motorcyclists which is on the 3rd Monday in June.  Thus it was that I celebrated my own version of the day this morning by taking the scooter to work for the first time since the first wintry mix of precipitation hit the valley on December 9th.

Though I ride after dark in the evening often enough, I'm much more wary of doing so in the morning, probably because I know there are other folks behind their wheels who are just as much wishing they were still in bed as I am.  Just a week ago it was quite light out at 6:45 when I usually leave for work, but it was still darned cold, and while the temperatures were on the rise as we approached the start of daylight savings time, once we turned the clock ahead last weekend it was still mostly murky when it was time for me to leave the house.  Today was the right combination of light and temperature and off I went!

I probably won't feel TOO
bad in June when I'm riding
around on that third Monday
and not having to go to work!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ethel's Last Ride

I wasn't one of those kids who grew up drooling over certain cars.  I'd have to spend some quality time with Google if I cared to find out what kinds of cars were popular when I was growing up, mostly in the sixties and seventies.  My dad taught me a lot about a lot, but he never knew cars, and I don't either.  Nevertheless, a few of the ones I've had through the years grew on me, to the point where saying goodbye to some of them was met with tears.  Today was the parting of ways with one of the special ones.  Today we said goodbye to Ethel.

When she became part of our family she was just "The Corsica" at the beginning, and later just "the car."  It was in 1999 when she pulled up in front of the house for the first time.  She was shiny, and young, and strong. For three or four years she'd be the family car.  I was still working a few blocks from the house then and didn't need to drive to work and back, and neither of the kids was driving yet, so one car served us well enough most of the time.

Three years later I got the Neon, and when the Mrs. inherited her father's car two years after that the Corsica went to our elder daughter who was a freshman in college.  That Corsica was the last car on earth she wanted.  She begged us to let her trade it in and buy something else with her meager savings.  We held the line.  Either she took it, or she had no car.  She took it.  And, over time, she came to love it as much as if it were an actual person.  It was our daughter's best friend who was also her roommate who christened the car "Ethel" and the name stuck hard and fast.  None of us ever said, "the Corsica," again.  It was Ethel.  And, I suppose all of us came to think of her that way - as one of the gang.

Ethel grew like a typical person.  She needed the doctor now and then, and Dr. Gene at The Car Barn worked some emergency room magic more than once to bring her back from what we'd feared would be her certain demise.  Our little girl graduated, then married, and Ethel went with her as an inseparable friend and companion, serving her well for quite a while.

A week or so ago old Ethel started to run a fever.  Some mechanic down where our daughter lives diagnosed a bum radiator and mumbled something or other about a cylinder and the head gasket to the tune of $1300 worth of repairs.  Gene had replaced Ethel's radiator last year and it was under warranty.  A tow truck was summoned to bring the old girl "home" where her old, familiar doc would take care of her.  Little did we realize that it would be Ethel's last trip up the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania turnpike.

She went straight to The Car Barn and a few days later Gene called with the sad news.  The radiator was replaced, but he told us that without a new head gasket she'd be a running time bomb and would probably blow the new radiator in no time.  Our little girl went car shopping and picked out something to replace Ethel who went to mark time in front of my parents' house till the time would come to part ways with her.

That time came this morning.  The plan was for all of us to take our final ride in Ethel to the car lot, and then to take her to the junk yard after getting some pictures of the old and the new together.  But, it wasn't to be.  We left my parents' place and started heading over to the car lot when Ethel's temperature gauge spiked.  We circled the neighborhood  for the wife and our younger daughter to pick up her Jeep while the elder and I would continue to the scrap yard.

For as time consuming as it is to transfer the title of a car to another person, I was astounded at how fast a transaction happens at a junk yard.  In five minutes Ethel was signed over, the money was in my hand, and that was that.  My daughter is just like me.  She lives with a camera in one hand.  We took some final shots of Ethel before we left her there all alone.

I'd have insisted, if anyone had noticed, that my bleary eyes and sniffles were from some dust being blown around at the junk yard even though it was quite muddy.  It was like saying goodbye to a person.  An old friend.  Like that last peek you get at somebody you love before they usher you out of the room to close the lid of the casket.  When I have to part with that Neon, or the BV, I'll be carrying on like an Italian widow and her sisters.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Wienermobile Comes to Town

When my sister sent the news by way of a picture she snapped of the official flyer she saw at the supermarket a few days ago, I knew that today would be a dream come true kind of day for me. What scooter riding boy doesn't dream of someday having his own picture taken of his scooter and himself posed right beside the one, the only Oscar Mayer Wienermobile? (Okay, it's not one and only, but it looked good when I typed it. There are seven of them at a time touring the country.)

It almost didn't happen. It was too gray out this morning to take the scooter to work, and the Wienermobile would only be on display during work hours - from 10 AM till 1 PM before moving on to another venue. With a bit of last minute planning I managed to pull the photo shoot off by leaving work at noon on my lunch break, driving home and swapping the car out for the scooter, and arranging to have my sister meet me at the supermarket to shoot some pictures. It went off without a hitch and folks stepped aside with smiles to give my sister a clear shot with the camera as I sat there on the BV next to the awesome hot dog on wheels, grinning like an idiot.

I was back to work in plenty of time before the lunch period ended, once more returning to the house in between to drop off the scooter and pick up the car. Not only was the sky still gray, but it was colder than it had been in the morning and I wasn't going to risk possibly getting caught in something slippery with the bike. And not only did I get the coveted pictures, but there was a shiny new Oscar Mayer Wiener Whistle in my pocket to boot. God bless a hot dog company cool enough to have a Wienermobile and that still gives out free stuff!

By contrast there's the Turkey Hill gas station / mini mart around the corner... They can afford new gas pumps that can display variable text, usually in the form of advertising their expensive iced tea while you're pumping your gas, but apparently can't hire register monkeys who can be trained to add messages to them rather than hand scrawling signs to slap on the pumps with masking tape? Nothing quite screams CLASSY COMPANY than something like this.

As for that "rewards card?" That would be the card that you present upon purchasing something way overpriced like a bottle of Pepsi that then gives you a discount on the price of your gas. I'd rather get my carbonated beverages around the corner at the place that sponsored the visit from the Wienermobile without feeling like I'm being prison raped by the mark-up, and pay the regular price for my gas, than carry around their plastic card and pay too much for the "convenience" of getting my drinks or just about anything else at the gas station.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Want to Throw in the Towel

"Rain," the forecasters all predicted for this past weekend. Rain from Friday through Sunday coinciding with my monthly trip to western Pennsylvania. Rain as often as I checked on Yahoo, The Weather Channel, and even the National Weather Service (whose forecasters speak with all the enthusiasm of their staid brethren on PBS).

Well, I rode through 24 miles of that "rain" on Interstate 80 yesterday afternoon, and if I hadn't given up biting my fingernails in the sixth grade when I got a piece of chewed nail stuck in my throat during geography class one afternoon, I'd have devoured every last one of them down to the quick between Lamar and Loganton. Apparently nobody told the rain that it was supposed to be in liquid form and I drove through what seemed to be every form of wintry precipitation that water can take. There was a car upside down in the divider. Another facing backward on the shoulder. A third with an obviously broken axle was down in the gulch beside the shoulder and apparently came to an abrupt stop when the front end rammed the foot of the mountain beside the road.

I ripped a trucker apart on Friday on the CB when he cut his rig right in front of me in the passing lane only to slow me way down to 65, and there I was on Sunday slugging along somewhere in the 20 and 30 MPH range for close to an hour with most of the other sensible motorists, all of us too thankful to be moving along at all. Eventually I hit the dividing line between the crap and the rain and rode the rest of the way back in relative ease.

About 8 PM the junk started falling here. When I was going to bed around 10:30 there was about an inch of slush / freezing rain / sleet on the sidewalk so I ran the shovel over the walkway in front of the house and cleared the cars figuring that the changeover to rain would wash away the little bit of solid junk that was still falling and all would be well in the morning. Instead I was rudely awakened at 5 AM with the announcement that five inches of snow had fallen overnight. School was delayed by two hours and when I got back in the house after clearing the cars and sidewalks completely it was cancelled.

I kept up with clearing the deck with every storm that besieged us this winter, but this time I'm throwing in the towel. After cleaning everything in front of the house, by the time I cleared a single shovel width of what was on the deck surface, I'd had enough. The warmer temperatures later in the week can take care of this. I'm not, and even the thought of running the scooter through the thaw won't make me.