A welcome to readers

As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mercedes to Pontiac GTO to Buick Roadmaster Wagon to Ford Pinto

In days of yore, as we say, when my mother used to take me to our family doctor for my annual checkup, I knew--was totally confident--that  my body was smooth running, faultless, with all measured values well within the excellent to superior range. I was a physical Mercedes capable of feats of both speed and endurance as well as a built-in "quality" which meant that I could go many months between visits to the medical "garage" and my physician mechanic. In short, I took my design and assembly (not so much the sleek exterior lines, I admit) for granted, as I looked forward to longevity of at least 900,000-1,000,000 days before serious work needed to be done on the motor or transmission or drive chain. Perhaps it would go forever.

Then, sometime in my late twenties, I unwittingly traded the Mercedes for a '65 Pontiac GTO , with a 369 engine generating 360 HP at a screaming  5400 rpm,  (three two barrel carbs, Hurst shifter, zero to sixty in a breathtaking 5.8 seconds). I polished the exterior of this beauty, but took less good care of what it consumed and the TLC I gave it as we spent hours together navigating curving and bumpy  roads at high speeds.  Inevitably, there would be consequences. On an annual visit to my family mechanic/doctor, now called an "internist," I went through my usual mental exercise of "defying or "daring" him to find a problem. I loved to hear the results of various tests read to me and learn that all values were still in the excellent to superior range. Imagine my surprise, even shock and dismay,  to hear that my sharp-eared internist had heard a funny noise in my valve area; he said it was a flaw, probably there from the date of manufacture; no problem really.  Hmmm. Easy for him to say! But for me, DISASTER. I had a flaw, and it wasn't in some peripheral component, but in the center of the power plant. How to proceed?

I became a little more careful about what I fed the vehicle and how I drove it over treacherous, curvy and bumpy roads, but by no means conservative in my approach, even after the warning pings and clanks became more and more apparent. Many of the latter I wrote off as the vehicle getting older, the natural results of metal stress and fatigue, rust, the build-up of various deposits on cylinder walls and spark plug and timing gaps. The yearly visits to the garage now produced more and more in the way of test results which indicated, "average," "way too high," "needs immediate attention," and what kinds of gas and oil are you using anyway? (At that point I was making almost exclusive use of specialty 90 octane fuels from Scotland and Kentucky).

During my last years in New England, the temptations of the GTO's speed and handling proved too dangerous so, as a professional and respected educator, I traded quite consciously for a staid, safe, comfortable, utilitarian Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon complete with faux wood side panels, heated leather seats, and average gas consumption around 10 mpg. That luxurious vehicle took me cross country from New England to Colorado and Kentucky a number of times, and soon the odometer racked up over 125,000 miles. This time when I went to the family mechanic/doctor (now called a PCP), I heard nothing about test results in the excellent to superior range. Every remark was either guarded or qualified. Longer times were spent with the stethoscope's chest piece moving in vague patterns around my torso while my PCP avoided my questioning eyes as he stared into space.  More tests were ordered and scored against norms.  Clearly the years had not been all that good to the "King of the Road-"masters. So, a major ground-up overhaul and rebuild was rather forcefully suggested. It took the mechanics about 8 hours to perform the job, and took the vehicle almost two weeks more to be ready for any sort of outing

When the fumes from the paint shop finally wore off, I realized that I had unintentionally traded my Roadmaster for an old model of the infamous Ford Pinto, you know, the one with the design flaw in the gas tank which, when the car was rear-ended, would burst into flame.  Not only that, but I learned that the car had nothing but irritating surprises for the owner-driver--malfunctioning switches which changed lights from "on" to "off" or even "dim,"  an electrical system that would short-out without warning, fluid leaks, funny noises, a refusal to run on certain fuels, inappropriate backfiring,  and an increasingly uncomfortable ride. Parts were replaced, additives of all sorts (liquid and solid) were pored and poked into the engine, and various assemblies were repetitively retooled. Everything helped a little, but the sleek lines and power of the Mercedes, the excitement of the GTO, and the impeccable reputation of the Buick have gone forever, except in memory.

The net result of all of this experience with the Mercedes, GTO's,  Roadmasters, and my current Pinto is this: a realization that no matter how well a vehicle is designed, maintained, and driven, or how badly it is abused over the years, 250,000 miles is still 250, 000 miles and, no matter how I cut it, the Pinto is still a Pinto.

And I am also reminded that one of these days, it will be the First of November in '55 for my vehicle--see below...

The Deacon’s Masterpiece
or, the Wonderful "One-hoss Shay":
A Logical Story

    by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it — ah, but stay,
I’ll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits, —
Have you ever heard of that, I say?
Seventeen hundred and fifty-five.
Georgius Secundus was then alive, —
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock’s army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.
Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weakest spot, —
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace, — lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will, —
Above or below, or within or without, —
And that’s the reason, beyond a doubt,
A chaise breaks down, but doesn’t wear out.
But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do,
With an “I dew vum,” or an “I tell yeou”)
He would build one shay to beat the taown
’N’ the keounty ’n’ all the kentry raoun’;
It should be so built that it couldn’ break daown:
“Fur,” said the Deacon, “’tis mighty plain
Thut the weakes’ place mus’ stan’ the strain;
’N’ the way t’ fix it, uz I maintain,
    Is only jest
T’ make that place uz strong uz the rest.”
So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn’t be split nor bent nor broke, —
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills;
The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees,
The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the “Settler’s ellum,” —
Last of its timber, — they couldn’t sell ’em,
Never an axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he “put her through.”
“There!” said the Deacon, “naow she’ll dew!”
Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren — where were they?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day!
EIGHTEEN HUNDRED; — it came and found
The Deacon’s masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten; —
“Hahnsum kerridge” they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came; —
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then come fifty, and FIFTY-FIVE.
Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundreth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there’s nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it. — You’re welcome. — No extra charge.)
FIRST OF NOVEMBER, — the Earthquake-day, —
There are traces of age in the one-hoss shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn’t be, — for the Deacon’s art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn’t a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thills,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the whipple-tree neither less nor more,
And the back crossbar as strong as the fore,
And spring and axle and hub encore.
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!
First of November, ’Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
“Huddup!” said the parson. — Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday’s text, —
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the — Moses — was coming next.
All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet’n’-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill, —
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half past nine by the meet’n-house clock, —
Just the hour of the Earthquake shock!
What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you’re not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once, —
All at once, and nothing first, —
Just as bubbles do when they burst.
End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.
Logic is logic. That’s all I say.

1 comment:

  1. To me? always the GTO.
    Apparently just spends some seasons on blocks, waiting for better weather, that's all.

    Love this piece, dad.