life is funny, part 381

A thousand dollar car is gonna let you down
More than it’s ever gonna get you around
Replace your gaskets and paint over your rust
You still end up with something that you’ll never trust
— the prophets bottle rockets

That’s it, I declare to Mo. We’re done.

The battery in my car is dead. That was the last straw. Which is lucky, since straws are going to be banned soon.

It’s been a couple of months since I decided to opt out of the Sensible Decision of buying a new car, and instead getting my car restored. If everything is replaced, it’s a new car, right? Drive with confidence! No worries!

It was in the shop for a couple of weeks, and they replaced pretty much everything. What had started out as a $3,000 estimate ended up as a $6,300 item the social media kids would give the hash tag #um you know this car is only worth a thousand bucks, right? Damn kids.

But it’s my car. So I drove it out of the garage with confidence. New suspension, new motor mounts, new radiator, new all sorts of Weird Engine Parts I Never Knew I Had. And the air conditioner worked!

Until, of course, it didn’t. Two days later. Oh, well. It had been an enjoyable two days in a particularly hot Phoenix summer. I rolled down the windows and soldiered on. 6,300 bucks. At least That Was All. My budget to have the interior and exterior re-done had gone the way of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, but that was OK. The car was finally cured.

And then.

I went out the next day, and  the windshield was cracked. Like all the way across the windshield. As in overnight, for no reason. I shook my fist at the car gods. Why? What are you trying to tell me? Is THIS the sign from the cosmos that I should have just gotten a new car? Cosmos signs are hard to decipher, and I was always embarrassed by their sex-tip lists, so I’m on uncertain ground.

I figure what the heck. Runs fine with a cracked windshield. Life goes on.

And then.

I was driving late at night, and the engine started to rev uncontrollably. It’s the dreaded idler. Longtime readers will recall it’s been causing adventures for years. But now it’s worse than ever, making the car virtually impossible to drive. Although cars in virtual driving games always seem fairly easy to drive. I take it back to the shop.

The nice mechanic guy says not a problem. He’ll get that fixed and the A/C running. Nothing to it. A week later, he says it’s fine. I make it all the way from the shop to the first red light before the idle is so bad that I have to push it back to the shop. Advantage small car: Easily pushable. Apparently the fix-for-free option isn’t viable.

I can fix anything, he says. But it costs money. The Bottle Rockets chorus drifts through my brain.

Two weeks later, he calls. A measly 500 bucks. New idler and a hose for the air conditioner they hadn’t replaced earlier. Good as new.

So I’m now at $6,800. A new Honda Fit is around $17,000, and comes with such crazy extras as a radio and air bags. But at least I’m done.

Which brings us to a few days later. I get in the car to drive to the track for my morning run. I turn the ignition switch, and nothing.

That’s it. I’m so tired of never knowing if the car is going to start when I get in it. How does one go to Big Bend in a car that may double as a coffin (remember the time the brakes went out while going down the hairpin turns from the top of the mountain?) I’m a sentimental fool, but enough is enough. I tell Mo I’m finally done. She pretends to hide her relief. It doesn’t work.

But, I figure I need to get a battery anyhow to allow the car total embarrassment when I give it to the local public radio station.

The AAA guy drives up. WOW, GREAT CAR, he exclaims. SURE DON’T SEE MANY OF THESE AROUND. PEOPLE MUST DRIVE YOU CRAZY TRYING TO BUY IT ALL THE TIME, YEAH?

And then it hits me. It IS a great car. And it makes me happy. We’ve got money to pay cash for a new car painlessly, but I’ve never found a new car I wanted. I just want this one.

He puts in the battery, pats the hood, and drives off. I’m up to $6,950, roughly the cost of a year’s worth of running shoes. But for the first time in a while, I feel OK about it.

I google car interior people. I find a shop in deepest, darkest South Scottsdale and drive over to check them out.When I see the van across the street.

 

It’s totally a cartoon character. I can see Peppa Pig’s family piling into it for an outing. I LOVE THIS THING!!!

And it hits me. I love old cars. Maybe it’s from growing up on the farm, where trucks drive until they’re retired to the car graveyard in the pasture. Maybe it’s the Guy Clark stuff that works theory of life. Find something you like and stay with it.

I’ve always worried about what I would do if I got in a car crash and against all odds lived through it. I would have to buy a car. At least I know now where to look. I’m sure my mechanic could get it running. He can fix anything. It just costs money.

Today, I’m at the glass joint. New windshield, 250 bucks. So we’re up to $7,200. Still need interior, exterior (hello, Corpus Christi rust), a fancy radio (I hear they come with FM now), and a smattering of upgrades. Luxury items like a rear-view mirror.

I’m resigned now to paying more for my car than it would cost to get a new one. And I’m at peace with it. It’s my friend. And you can’t put a price tag on friends.

And if I ever get a new car, it’ll be an old van.

Life is funny …

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life with an artist, part 17

I ask mo if I can send the cat painting. “No,” she says. “It’s not done.”

I think I know how parents must feel with their kids. And copy editors with headlines, runners with their distances and poets with words. It’s never finished. You realize at some point you just have to let it fly away. But not yet. It’s not done …

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me and loretta

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”
— the prophet prine

It’s late Tuesday at the Whataburger. I just finished my evening stroll and am looking to negate the entire outing with questionable food choices.

It’s Taco Tuesday and I’m 20 feet away from the O food place, but I’m making a half-hearted political statement by getting a burger, which only makes sense if you follow Texas politics. And if you follow Texas politics, watch where you step. It can be messy.

It’s funny. We’re in Arizona. We lived next to this Whataburger forever in a previous life and never visited it. Then we moved to Texas and ate a Whataburgerbythebay as a way of life, that way of life being to place orders that would take the better part of a day to arrive. And, no, we would never get what we had ordered, but that was part of the fun. The other part being seagull attacks.

And then we moved back to Arizona, and we’re now a few hundred yards away from the Whataburger, and we ignore it like the guy on the corner with the sign saying he’s trying to raise money to bury his son for the past year and a half.

Now here I am, Order Number 3. I share the small dining area with a couple of snowbirds, a pack of freshly scrubbed high-school choir members in bow ties and suspenders, and two people in the corner.

She’s old, which is a qualitative term I don’t use that much since I hit the point where I started investigating senior discounts myself. She’s sitting in a booth with a guy who must be her grandson. I don’t pay much attention, since I’ve been back on facebook for a few days and god forbid you should avert your eyes from the screen for more that a few seconds for fear of missing a cat video.

My order comes out and they nailed it, which pretty much takes all the fun out of Whataburger. I eat glumly as the snowbird guy quizzes the high school students about their bow ties. I ponder whether it’s better in the scheme of things to stick with Taco Tuesday, maybe beginning a Whataburger Wednesday for the sheer alliteration of things.

And then here they come.

The woman and her grandson are walking out. She moves incredibly slowly, a pace you earn after a century or so. Her grandson walks with her, lending an arm for balance. It’s a well-rehearsed dance they must’ve done a million times. All’s well.

I’m sitting next to the door, and Whataburger is a Texas joint, so I instinctively jump up to open it for them. I figure the guy has his hands full. He’s appreciative. The woman looks at me for a long time as they approach and smiles at me.

I am a Good Person.

I finish my betoburger a few minutes later and walk into the neon shimmer of the parking lot. They are parked just in front of me. The grandson has just packed the woman into the car, a black Mustang that doesn’t seem suited for a centenarian. But I suppose free rides are where you find them. He walks over to me.

“Thanks again,” he says. “She was really happy you held the door open for her. And she says you look just like Fred, her second husband.”

I’m not sure what to say, so I just smile.

“You’re NOT Fred, are you?” he asks.

No, Gary. I say. I don’t know Fred.

“I didn’t think so,” he says. “I think Fred would be 106 now. You don’t look that old.”

I shrug and get in the car. I think back to today’s stroll. Maybe I AM 106. I haven’t looked at my birth certificate for a while. This would explain much.

The prophet Prine said it best:

So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”

I’ll keep the smile she gave me in a safe place. You never know when you’ll need one. Fred must’ve been a lucky guy …

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or not

“You read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place. People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil.

“I don’t buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own … By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”

— Jay Austin

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life is funny, part 380

I got up early today. I’ve read that in the summer if you run before noon it’s not as hot. It’s an interesting theory.  As I get ready, I’m reading about the adventures of Lauren and Jay.

They’re bicycle tourists. This resonates with me; in a former life I loved bike touring. Mexico to Canada; Phoenix to St. Louis; Alaska; Canada; Maine; Highway 101 — I rode a lot of endless roads. They were always exhilarating, and constantly a bit terrifying. You’re at the mercy of humanity on a bike in the middle of nowhere. After a million miles, I never had a bad experience, but I always counted myself lucky. I eventually settled on running, since there are fewer flats and you never snap a brake cable in a desolate area of Colorado. But I still love to read about the adventures of others.

Jay quit his government job in D.C. Lauren had been biking around D.C. and fell in love with cycling. They set off together to see the world. It’s a great story.

Southern Africa, the Mediterranean, and Tajikistan. A lovely Instagram chronicle of the adventures at simplycycling. It brought back so many memories of similar adventures in my past. Incredible views, endless struggles, the simple joys of a popsicle and a Holiday Inn after weeks of camping. simplycycling.org, It’s a good read.

Lauren is asking a pair of police officers nearby if they know of any cheap hostels when Pablo approaches me. Our bikes and deer-in-headlights gaze have given away that we are not from here. Pablo asks where we’re from. Are we lost?

A little. I tell him our sob story: from America, long bike trip, just arrived, looking for somewhere to camp, having great difficulty. He’s friendly but doesn’t know of any spots in the city. He hasn’t lived here for a while. He’s from Algeciras, and his whole family is still here, but he works up in Belgium. He’s home for the holidays.

Let me go ask my brother, he says. In the meantime, come join the party. Can I get you some hot cocoa? Pastries? Here, take these.

It’s ten minutes later and we’re surrounded by Pablo and his family. We’re drinking hot chocolate and eating pastries baked by his aunt and listening to kids singing carols on the other side of the park.

Such a beautiful moment, found only by standing on the edge of the cliff and taking the leap into the unknown. But they had dark places as well.

My body feels weak. Cold in places and numb in others. Heavy. We have had a long day and eaten little. I am taking long breaths and getting less than my lungs bargained for. We have been riding through this tunnel for probably just minutes, maybe ten, maybe fifteen, but I become untethered from space and time. I am somewhere deep within a mountain. Precise whereabouts unknown.

I see a light and I rush toward it. 

Jay later describes topping a 15,272 feet pass. Lauren had succumbed to the altitude and caught a ride to the other side. Jay trudged on.

With the steep grades and thin air (and intermittent snow), this was probably the hardest climb of my life. The last kilometer of so had me pushing my bike about five steps, taking a thirty-second breather, then heaving forward another five. Really glad I did it. No need to ever do it again.

That was on Saturday, his latest Instagram post. What an amazing adventure. What a feeling to make it over 15,000 feet on a loaded touring bike. What a memory.

And then on Sunday, as they were cycling about 40 miles from the capital of Tajikistan, they were struck by a car. The people in the car then jumped out and knifed them to death. Two other cyclists, one Dutch and one Swiss, also were killed.

I finish my coffee, pull on the older pair of Zantes, and head out for the Scottsdale Greenbelt. I dodge wayward shots from frisbee golfers, mutter about bike racers going too fast on a shared path and lament the weather gods.

I come home safely and think about that night at Four Corners when the drunk guys pulled up next to the tent in the middle of the night. I wondered if that would be my last night.

I eat some Cheerios and a banana and begin another day.

Life is funny …

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papa we’ll go sailing

Here I am
lost in the wind

‘Round in circles sailing
Like a ship that never comes in
Standing by myself
— the prophet randy newman

I’m running in the afternoon, because it’s just not quite warm enough in the morning here.  I’m staring at my watch. I’m barely shuffling, but my heart rate is redlining. It’s insanely hot. I can feel the tattered remains of my heart pounding way too hard. I’m thinking. What if this is it?

This would be a good way to go out. I’m in lane 9 at the track. It’s a beautiful day. I’m happy. I’m listening to Fiona Apple sing Frosty the Snowman. I’ve had a good life. 62 years is 100k, a poetic place for an aging runner to bow out. Pick up the pace a bit, and I’m done. This would make a fine ending.

I saw a story about a 78-year-old man who died this month while riding his motorcycle up Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. He just slumped over the handlebars, and he was gone. Could you write a more glorious ending? It’s better to burn out than to fade away, the prophet Young wrote. But maybe even an old star can go out with a sudden burst.

I ponder it for a lap or so, and then shut down for the day. I love Mo dearly, and the cat will be annoyed if she doesn’t get her afternoon treats. Thanks a bunch for getting her hooked, geedee.

But I remember for the millionth time that we’re not going to live forever, no matter how much we pretend. It’s all nature. People die for no reason.  But isn’t no reason a reason too?

Hours later, I watch the temperature go from 112 to 75 as one of our beloved monsoon storms comes roaring in. I’m standing on the porch reveling in the wall of dust envelop me when the largest branch of a nearby tree snaps and lands a few feet away. Life is so random.

We lost five trees at the track during the last storm. They’re born, they grow, they die. You don’t notice them along the course, assuming their lifesaving shade is forever. I guess life is like that. You take running for granted. You think it will never end. You assume rock and roll will never die.

I got two new pairs of Gramicci shorts in the mail today and realized, this is it. These are the Last Gramiccis I Will Ever Have To Buy. They’re going to outlive me. That’s the thing about The Third Act. You start thinking more about the final curtain.

Tomorrow, the desert will be cooler after the storm. The enchanting smell of creosote will waft in the air after the rain. I will return to the track, remember the trees that were once there, and look forward to the ones that will take their place long after I’m gone.

“He died doing what he loved” sounds good.  “He lived doing what he loved” sounds better. Don’t pull the curtain yet; I have a matinee scheduled.

And some Gramiccis to wear out …

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the quotable mo sheppo, part 23

“I accidentally put some coffee in the hummingbird feeder.”

Note to self: wear bike helmet when walking to car today.

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