Pivot Points

Posted in Stuff on September 12, 2011 by kreynar

Today is Sunday, September 11, 2011. I woke up this morning, let the dogs out, made some coffee and put up our American flag.  I reflected upon the mornings events of 10 years ago, probably like a lot of other Americans did this morning, and opened the newspaper dutifully delivered by our labrador retriever (newspaper retriever), Jake. Most of this Sunday’s edition of the Salt Lake Tribune was predictably and appropriately centered around this important anniversary – a day that the world changed forever.

All of the television networks aired special remembrances of this anniversary. The images, the sounds and the stories still stir emotion in me. I was nearly 3000 miles away when 3000 souls perished. I didn’t know any of them yet the feeling I have is still one of profound sadness.

I think most generations have pivot points – days that forever change how life is lived, either for the good or the bad. We often don’t realize when a major change is happening because it occurs over a span of time. The rapid development of the personal computer and the Internet – these were certainly pivot points but none of us woke up one day and suddenly realized our lives were changed by these things. They simply evolved and we really only understood what an important change they created when we paused for a moment to think about what life was like before having a screen on our desk that became a virtual window to the world. Instant communication with the opposite side of the Earth.

It’s far less common to have a single day become an instantly recognizable pivot point, but ten years ago this morning it was pretty clear that things would be different forever.

I mourn for all the lives lost and for those left behind to deal with the emptiness. Selfishly, I also mourn for the loss of innocence, the sense of cheerful optimism that was generally felt in America on September 10, 2001. Sure, the country had seen some really bad times – wars, economic depressions, societal unrest, and at one time the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction, but there was, at least in my lifetime of 38 years at that point, a sense that even if things were bad they’re bound to get better. You know, optimism.

Today, sitting here at year 3 of the biggest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, that optimism is in short supply. Many don’t see light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel, just tunnel. Is this sense of gloom a result of 9/11? Not entirely, but the tragic events of that day ten years ago certainly did contribute to a series of unfortunate changes that seem to continue to cascade over us.

September 11, 2011

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Missing Genius

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on October 13, 2009 by kreynar

My son invited me to see the movie ‘It Might Get Loud’, a documentary about the electric guitar. Three rock guitarists are featured, Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White. I was very familiar with the first two and their work in the bands Led Zeppelin and U2 and have copies of most their albums in my music collection. My exposure to Jack White was only knowing of his association with the White Stripes, a band I hadn’t ever connected with and in fact, actually avoided.

The White Stripes is a duo made up of White playing a cheap plastic guitar purchased decades ago from Montgomery Wards and his older sister drafted to sit behind a small drum kit. I’d previously dismissed their music after not much consideration as yet another gimmick thrown together by some industry executive to sell some records.

This isn’t about the White Stripes or any of those guys in the movie.

This is about how realizing the genius of art requires the viewer/listener to be a willing participant in the exchange. It’s about how the older one gets the more we tend to shut down the unfamiliar, to get into an ever narrowing rut of  purposefully limiting our range of experiences. When we do that to ourselves we end up missing a lot. A lot of genius.

In the film, someone talks about finding yourself standing in a managed forest surrounded by trees, seemingly placed at random. Only after moving will you suddenly realize that they’re all planted in precise rows. By simply stepping a few feet in a different direction, the truth is instantly revealed and it completely changes your perspective.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from ‘It Might Get Loud’  (an excellent film by the way) and won’t attempt to re-write Jack Whites biography here, but suffice to say my original impressions about White were completely wrong. The musical journey I’ve taken in the few days since making that realization has been very, very rewarding.

Bonneville Dreams

Posted in Stuff with tags , , on August 18, 2009 by kreynar

Several years ago, having found myself living a hundred-or-so miles from the Bonneville Salt Flats, I decided it was time to go see what Speed Week was all about. I had heard the stories from friends, seen their sunburned faces (oddly red on the underside of their chins and noses) and listened to tales of 50 year old land speed cars still setting records and new cars blowing old records away. Motorhead nirvana was promised and as a die-hard fan of all things loud, mechanical and fast, Speed Week was on my must-do list.Speed Week 09 017

I decided to combine passions and ride a motorcycle to the event. Bad idea, for two reasons. First, I-80 west to Wendover Utah (roughly where you bail off the highway and get on the salt) has to be one of America’s most boring motorcycle rides. Mostly flat, straight and populated by 18 wheelers rolling 5-under the speed limit, this is a bike trip to endure, not enjoy. Second, when you ride a bike to the salt flats it doesn’t take long to realize that the sun reflecting off the salt is REALLY BRIGHT and the shade provided by a motorcycle is completely inadequate. I had brought long pants, a hat and sunglasses but not much else.

One of the first things I noticed at this particular racing event was the absence of big corporate sponsors and their giant race rigs, fancy pits and hospitality suites. Now there’s nothing wrong with all that stuff; I think it adds to the experience of many events, but Bonneville was like walking back in time. The pits were mostly modest affairs with guys – old guys – working out of the back of their pickup trucks. The race cars were positioned under simple Easy-Up shades, with temporary carpets of blue plastic tarp nailed down to the salt. Tool boxes were Craftsman and loaded with essential but well worn tools. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, buddies and friends were everywhere.Speed Week 09 006

The race cars were a collection of some of the most eclectic hardware ever to roll on four wheels, or three, or two for that matter. Many of the machines were sleek projectiles covered in candy colored paint powered by high-tech, computer controlled engines. Just as many, however, were simple, hand fabricated cars clearly built out of their owners garage and limited bank account. Start with the belly tank of a World War II airplane, find a Ford rear end, truck transmission and a flat head V8 and we’re off to set speed records. Or dig out that Oldsmobile that’s been sitting in the weeds behind grandpas place for thirty years, buy a $200 engine off Craigslist and go racing. There’s a class for everything – even vehicles with no class.Speed Week 09 010

I thought that this must’ve been what it was like in California in the 40’s and 50’s when hot rodding and drag racing were just getting started. Before big media and bigger advertising budgets, before PR campaigns, and interviews with highly polished race drivers in brightly colored driving suits who all seemed to say the same boring things in their post-race interviews week after week. This place was, well…refreshingly authentic.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some serious money out on the salt – there was. Some of the streamliners are million dollar affairs with college engineering departments and quiet funding from not-so-obvious places supporting the effort, but even at the upper levels of land speed racing the people are the same – they genuinely love what they’re doing and love to talk about it, even with squinty-eyed motorcyclists. Not ten minutes after stepping into the pit area I was conversing with a shirtless, 60 year-oldish guy wearing an enormous straw hat about what he was doing to make his motorcycle sidecar rig run 203 miles per hour. He wasn’t happy about his first attempts but was armed with (I’m not kidding here) a roll of duct tape that he intended to apply to all of the seams of the bodywork to improve the aerodynamics. That did it for me. Sidehack, duct tape, 200+mph…I was hooked.Speed Week 09 030

Further exploration revealed a gorgeous 70’s-something Dodge Daytona with a 500+ cubic inch motor wedged under the hood, a 50’s-something Lincoln originally built years ago to race the Carrera Panamerica road rally in Mexico, a ’71 Honda Z600 mini car with a two cylinder engine that held records in two classes, and a streamliner powered by a giant Cummins diesel engine. All the while, strange machines would idle through the pits – rat rods by the dozen, stunning T-bucket roadsters that looked like rolling tropical cocktails with beach umbrellas stuck between the seats for shade, a giant Radio Flyer wagon done monster truck style, a guy cruising the pits on a motorized barstool. And bicycles – vintage bikes, custom frames, choppers and trikes – pedal power was clearly a popular way to cover the lengthy pit area.

Speed Week 09 020The sound of the salt flats during Speed Week is incredible. There’s a certain auditory sensation that can’t be found at any other racing venue, one created by sound waves booming off the surface of the lake as a V8 roars by Mile 5 of the long course at full scream, the sound following the car by several hundred feet. Your mind struggles to comprehend what the eyes and ears can’t reconcile, that the car you’re seeing is making the sound you’re hearing and it’s going…so…damned… fast.

After the chute pops out and slows the car down enough so the brakes will work again, the crew – gray hair and beards, dressed in what pass as uniforms of t-shirts from land speed events a decade or more ago – drags the car back to the impound area. You’re a little surprised to see rust bubbling up on the bottom of the doors – just like Mom’s grocery getter in Wisconsin. The hood is removed to reveal a big-inch Buick engine oozing billet aluminum, massive exhaust headers snaking their way under the car, all of it the most unlikely combination meticulously assembled from what was simply available at the time and what was paid dearly for.

At Bonneville, functional individualism rules the day. That, and Old Guys.Bonneville Speed Week Fall 08 007

It’s somewhat charming to watch these men work on these machines, men that look like your grandfather did as he showed you how to properly operate a hacksaw when you were ten years old, guys that have the wisdom that only comes from years of trial, error, ruined parts and botched experiments. These old guys don’t waste money on anything that doesn’t make it faster, and with that simple ethic they inevitably make it cooler even though they weren’t even trying.Speed Week 09 013

These are people that are playing with the real nuts and bolts reality of their crazy imaginations where the vehicle is never really finished. These cars show up on the salt in a perpetual state of being built, a condition only interrupted by flat-out runs across the dry lake surface, returning to their builders for adjustments, tweaks, changes and sometimes full-on invasive surgery before the next run.

At the starting line there’s no question that everyone knows exactly what’s at stake. There’s a seriousness that falls over the driver and crew before each pass. The car is pushed silently up to the orange cone that marks the beginning of the course, fire suits over Nomex underwear, helmet, neck brace, fire resistant gloves are all donned before the driver squeezes themself into the impossibly-small cockpit, harnesses cinched down tight. When it’s time to go, the official gives the signal to start the engine and the car comes to life. Bonneville Speed Week Fall 08 059Since these engines are designed for maximum power at high RPM, they can barely idle on the start line, popping, crackling and only staying lit by the occasional blip of the throttle as the engine warms up. After the starting official receives word that the course is completely clear he waves the car and its push truck out onto the race course. The truck pushes the car to 40, 50, 60 miles per hour before the driver eases the clutch out onto first gear and feeds it some gas. The car sounds like the driver has mistakenly selected fourth gear and almost stalls before you remember that this thing is built for top end speed. In fourth gear the car will be traveling over 200 miles per hour but it literally can’t get itself moving from a standstill.Speed Week 09 011

The car disappears into a shimmering horizon where land and sky are one – no mans land, fast mans land. A radio crackles over the PA system…”Mile 2, one hundred sixty three miles per hour”. A moment later: “Mile 3, one-eighty-one…”, then half a breath, “Mile 4, two-thirty-two…chutes out”!Bonneville Speed Week Fall 08 074

Meanwhile, another car has rolled up to the line to repeat the ritual and to try and find another mile per hour.

I left the salt that evening slightly sunburned and a little dazed at the sensory overload, and definitely not looking forward to the two hour ride home. Would I return? Yes, with four wheels and a better pair of sunglasses.Bonneville Speed Week Fall 08 058

More pictures can be found under Blogroll column to the right of this page.

Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan

Posted in Music on February 4, 2009 by kreynar

Absolutely the best stuff to hit radio since KLOS in Los Angeles in the early 80’s. Gotta buy an XM receiver but worth it. XM40 – Deep Tracks at 7:00AM EST on Wednesdays, repeated later and elsewhere.

Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure is another good ‘un….

GMC Makes Good…sorta

Posted in Stuff with tags , , on January 12, 2009 by kreynar

I was frustrated enough about the recent experience with my truck (recounted earlier) to fire off an email to GMC Corporate. A few days later I got a call from a nice customer service person at GMC stating that they were opening a file on the episode.

It took a few weeks (probably due to the holidays) but GMC finally called me back to say that the dealership, Salt Lake GMC, was going to replace the leaking transmission cooler line themselves as a goodwill measure. While I’m pleased at the end result, it is somewhat perplexing that the dealership wouldn’t have simply done this to begin with and avoid putting a customer through the hassle. It’s also curious why GMC themselves wouldn’t back up the repair; afterall it wasn’t the dealerships fault that the part failed so soon after replacement.

Morning Music

Posted in Music on December 10, 2008 by kreynar

I’ve noticed that music always sounds better in the morning.

Maybe it’s because my ears have just awoken with six or eight hours of rest, or maybe it’s just my brain being relaxed and open to new sensory input. Whatever the reason, I’d bet music sales on iTunes or Amazon.com are greatest in the morning hours.

I’ll often grab a cup of joe, sit down at my desk and open a fantastic website called Pandora as I get going in the morning. If you haven’t heard about Pandora – http://www.pandora.com/ – check it out sometime. I’ve found more new music and artists that I’ve never heard of on this site than anywhere else, often resulting in an expansion of my musical library.

On the playlist this morning, some favorites – Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd…all go great with morning coffee.

Detroit Blues

Posted in Stuff with tags , , on December 6, 2008 by kreynar

This is my truck.

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I like this truck. It’s a 2007 GMC 2500HD with a Duramax engine and Allison transmission, four wheel drive. I bought it to pull those two trailers that are shown behind it.

Actually, this is the second one of these I’ve owned. The first was a 2002 and looked identical to this one except for the big tires and lift kit. The ’02 was completely worn out by the time it hit 147,000 miles four years after I bought it. I wasn’t happy because I had taken really good care of the truck, maintained it fanatically and never let anything slide as far as needed repairs. Still, the last three months I had it, I spent nearly $1,200.00 per month on repairs that never should’ve had to have been made.

After four years and 147,000 miles one doesn’t expect to have to replace the transfer case because a hole was worn through the housing from the normal action of an internal part. I also didn’t expect the EGR valve and all of the fuel injectors to need to be replaced. Or the drivers side upper ball joint. Or the head and manifold gaskets. The first truck was completely stock and was never asked to pull more weight than it was designed to, or go exceedingly fast or go pounding off road – it was by all accounts babied and well taken care of. Yet it was virtually worthless after four years. Worn out. Done.

On the left side of the picture you can see the first new truck I bought, a 1990 Chevrolet K2500. It has over 300,000 miles on it today, has had one rebuilt engine and two rebuilt transmissions. The engine cost about $2500 and the transmissions around $1500 to rebuild. Other than needing to rebuild powertrain components (which I expect at the given mileages), this truck has been flawless.

Which brings me to the 07 GMC that, as of today, has 58,417 miles on it.

I took it to the dealership it was purchased from today for an oil and filter change, fuel filter change and replacement of the transmission spin-on oil filter. Normal maintenance. Several hours after I dropped it off, I got a call from the Service Manager that they had found “a few things”. Uh oh. That’s what the guy said 7 months and 17,000 miles ago when it was in for the same service.

“All of your steering rods and linkages have play in them – the tie rods, drag links…they all need to be replaced”.  “Okaaaaay….it’s got larger tires that might contibute to a little more wear; the lift kit kept all the steering geometry the same so that shouldn’t have mattered…how much”, I asked. “Bout a thousand dollars” he said.

“Great. What else”?

“Well, you’ve got a transmission cooler line with a leak”.

“Would this be one of the same cooler lines that were replaced at 40,000 miles for $600.00?” I asked. “Uh…yes. But the truck has 17,000 miles on it since that repair and GMC will only warrant the repair parts for 12 months or 15,000 miles. Sorry”.

I pointed out that I’m sure it didn’t just start leaking today when I brought it in and that it was probably leaking for the last 3000 miles or so. “Sorry – I gotta play by GM’s rules and this won’t be a warranty repair”.

You see, this is why I’m finished buying expensive new trucks. No where in the sales brochures or owners manual does it state that the normal service life of the transmission cooler lines is the same as the transmission spin-on filter. I’m sorry, steering parts shouldn’t wear out after 58,000 miles of mostly highway use, nor should they cost $1000. to replace. I thought maybe the 02 was just one of those ‘built on Friday’ vehicles but now I’m starting to see a trend and I’m more than just a little concerned about what’s next.

And before you say something like “Oh, you shoulda bought a Ford (or a Dodge or whatever)”, don’t bother. I hear the same stories across brands. These trucks cost upwards of $40,000. and few of them seem to make it to 100,000 miles without significant repairs being necessary.

Just yesterday the President and CEO of General Motors was on Capitol Hill asking for a bailout. He, along with executives from Ford and Chrysler have their hands out asking for tax payer money so they can stay operational. Maybe they should try building a vehicle that provides the owner with some value instead. Value like that 1990 Chevy truck still provides. I think I’ll go back to driving it.