Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Cowboy Club Protocol

In the spring of 1976 I rode my Triumph out to the Washington D.C. area to take in the summer long celebration of our country's bicentennial. I stayed in a small motel in Alexandria Virginia and rode into D. C. every day to check out the festivities. I spent the better part of one week just wandering around the Smithsonian Museum.

A couple blocks from my motel was a huge country and western night club. One evening I decided to walk over there and check it out. When I got to the door, the bouncer said, "I'm sorry, but you can't come in. You're wearing Levis and that's not allowed." I said, "Do you realize how bizarre it is to not allow people to wear Levis in a cowboy bar?" He thought for a minute and then said,  "You're right, that's pretty fucked up. Go on in."

Inside I found a bandstand with a large dance floor and two large groups of tables. Most of the guys were wearing cowboy hats, string ties, and boots. The women favored big hair, heavy makeup, and lots of jewlery. It was a safe bet that the only cow most of those "cowboy's had ever seen was on TV.

I was just standing there taking it all in when one of the two women at the table near me asked, "Are you new here?" I said, "Yes, as a matter of fact I am." She said, "Let me explain the setup. This side of the room is for people that are just here to dance. The other side is for those that are here to get laid."

"Is that posted somewhere?"

"No, but everyone knows about it."

"Well, thanks for explaining the protocol."

It felt like I was in some kind of Twilight Zone episode. I wandered around a bit more and then headed for the exit. The place was just too weird even for me. 


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Peterbilt Air Trac

In 1972 I worked for Pacific Provisions in South San Francisco driving a Peterbilt truck hauling produce to the mid-west and meat back to the west coast. The truck had what Peterbilt called an Air Leaf suspension on the drive axles. This consisted of an quarter elliptic spring for each wheel with one end anchored to the frame and an air bag mounted on the other end attached to the axle.

I noticed while watching the suspension in my mirrors that every time I turned, the drive axles would get quite a bit out of alignment with the frame. I also noticed that the springs would wind up when accelerating or braking. I was not in the habit of driving in such a way that I would break springs, but on this truck I was breaking them fairly often.

I was in the San Francisco Eng Peterbilt dealership getting another broken spring replaced when I wandered into the office of one of the salesmen. I told him I had broken another spring and explained to him why I thought it was happening. The axle alignment issue along with the springs winding up was what I thought was the cause.

I said what the suspension needed was a panhard bar from to each axle to the frame to keep it in alignment along with a torque arm parallel to the spring to keep it from winding up. I drew the whole thing out on a piece of paper for him. This wasn't any kind of radical insight on my part. This was a very basic way of controlling a rear axle used in many race cars.

A few months later at a big truck show, Peterbilt introduced their new air ride suspension called Air Trac. This was exactly the design I had drawn out in the salesman's office.

The next time I was in the Eng Peterbilt dealership for service, I went to the salesman and asked him how Peterbilt happened to introduce the same suspension I had drawn for him.

He said, "I took your drawing along with your explanation of what was happening down to the factory in Newark, CA. They liked the idea and wanted to know if you had any other suggestions."

I never received any money for my idea, I gained something even better. I gained the satisfaction of seeing my design widely used in Peterbilts all over the country for the last 45 years.


Piano Lesson

When I was about 8 years old the song, Davy Crockett, was played often on the radio. I figured out how to play it by ear on our piano and played it constantly. It didn't take long for my father to get really tired of hearing it.

One afternoon after I had played that song for the umpteenth time, my father sat down next to me at the piano and said, "Let me show you how to play something that's even better than Davy Crockett. Let me show you how to play boogie." He then played a few bars of boogie on the piano. He taught me how to play the three chord progression which is the basis for blues, boogie, and most early rock and roll.

I was hooked and my father never had to listen to Davy Crockett again.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Cake Defrosting

When I was young, my mother did a fair amount of baking. One day she baked an angel food cake and covered it with a nice thick butter cream frosting. After frosting it, she put it on top of the refrigerator to cool.

While the frosted cake was cooling, she made a big mistake and went next door to the neighbors.

My younger brother, sisters, and I kept checking out the cake on top of the refrigerator. The frosting was so thick that we thought we could scrape a little off and our mother would never notice.

We pulled up a chair and took turns scraping off some frosting with a table knife. We were careful to keep turning the cake and smoothing the frosting so it would look even and unmolested.

There was only one problem with this plan - we didn't know when to stop. When my mother came home, the frosting on the cake was so thin it was almost transparent.

She was NOT amused.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

No Sports

When I was in high school in Pawnee City, NE I went out for football and track through my Junior year. I was very good at both of these in a small town that lived vicariously through the high school sports teams.

In the summer I worked for local farmers putting up hay for $1.50 an hour. Two weeks before the beginning of my Senior year, the football/track coach, Clyde Voltz, called to tell me that I had to report for football practice the next day. I didn't like his attitude and besides, I was still doing a lot of farm work.

I told him, "You're wrong. I don't have to report for football practice tomorrow because I'm not going to play football! You can forget about me going out for track as well."

It didn't take long for word to spread around town that I refused to play football. It was bad enough that I wouldn't play football, but the whole idea that I wouldn't play even though I was really good at it made local heads explode.

For the next several months I was a real pariah in town.

In this high school, you were awarded a letter sweater when you did well in a sport. I thought the whole thing was somewhat stupid and never wore mine until I decided to not participate in any sports. After that I wore it to school almost every day.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Fire Drill

When I was about 9 years old, we lived in a big two story house in Hutchinson Kansas. My father worried about us being able to get out of the house if we were upstairs and there was a fire. He bought a long rope, tied big knots in it every 12 inches, and then tied it to the bed post next to the window. He had us practice throwing the rope out the window and then using the knots to climb down to the ground.

My 7 year old brother, Chuck, and I thought this was enormous fun.

In the summer, the neighborhood kids would roam from yard to yard unencumbered by the fences that are so common now. One summer afternoon while my mother was at the house next door, the neighborhood swarm of kids ended up at our house. My mother came home to find my brother and me along with half a dozen other kids conducting fire drills by climbing out of the upstairs bedroom window and going down the rope.

Monday, March 6, 2017


One time I had a load of seed corn to deliver to a grain elevator out in the middle of nowhere Kansas. When I got there, I couldn't find anyone around. There was no one at the elevator and no one at the house next to the elevator. The only other house anywhere around was a small house across the road. I went over and asked the nice old couple sitting on the porch if they knew what was going on.

According to them, the guy who ran the elevator lived in the house next to it and had probably just gone into town. They expected him back soon and invited me to join them on the porch while I waited.

I spent the next couple of hours drinking tea, eating homemade cookies, and chatting with Henry and Martha about their grand-kids. When the elevator manager finally returned, I thanked them for their hospitality and walked across the road to get my truck unloaded.

Jim, the manager, apologized for making me wait, but I said, "That's OK, I had a nice time chatting with Henry and Martha across the road." He explained that Henry was the elevator manager for more than 30 years and was forced to retire when he turned 65. He said, "Henry was really upset about being forced to retire. He and his wife haven't spoken to me since I took over for him."

Here were two nice families who were neighbors living out in the middle of Kansas, 20 miles from any other people, and they weren't speaking to each other.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Car Bargaining

About 6 years ago, Lan's car was due for replacement. It was almost 20 years old and parts were starting to become hard to find. One afternoon when we were coming back from the market in Sunnyvale, we decided to stop at the Ford dealer.

They were having a sale on the Ford Focus, Lan likes small cars, so we thought we'd check one out. We talked with a salesman who took us for a test drive. We didn't like the Focus at all, but decided to have some fun.

We went into the salesman's cubicle where he started the car salesman's pitch. He told us we could buy the car for only $19,800. We countered with an offer of $18,900. He went back to the salesman's secret room to, "Check with his manager."

When he came back, he said we could have the car for only $19,500. We countered with an offer of $18,200. Every time he came back with a new offer, our offer went down another $500 or $600. After a few iterations of this, he said in frustration, "You can't bargain that way!"

We said, "You bargain your way and we'll bargain our way."

When we got back to our car, we both burst out laughing. We didn't buy a car, but we had a lot of fun bargaining.

Title Company Fun

When you buy a house, the last step involves the Title Company. Here you have to sign-off on about 20 pages worth of disclaimers and warnings before turning over your cashier's check and getting the deed .

The last time we bought a house, the Title Company's charge was $1,600. Lan and I decided that we would try to get our money's worth.

Most people quickly scan the documents and just sign each page in a process that usually takes about 20 minutes. For us, it took an hour and a half. We read each section carefully, discussed what was meant, and asked the Title Company rep, Megan, for clarification on each point.

When we got to the bottom of each page, there were two places for signatures. As we had planned, Lan signed first and then I signed below her signature. After about an hour of this, Megan was starting to get visibly annoyed. When we neared the end, she turned to me and asked, "Why does your wife always sign first and then you sign below her?"

"Isn't that the way everyone does it?"

The look on her face when she realized how we'd been messing with her was almost worth $1,600.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bottled Water

A few days ago, as I was leaving Safeway, I saw a pony-tailed, gray-haired man take 2 empty 5 gallon water jugs from the back of his Volvo station wagon. He put them down in front of the "Pure Water" vending machine.

I watched as he put one of the jugs in the machine, put his quarters in the slot, and started filling the jug. I went over and offered to show him where his water was coming from. I directed his attention to the water faucet that was about a foot from the vending machine. It had a copper line that branched off the faucet and went to the back of the machine dispensing "Pure Water".

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Jeep

Dave Marsh and I went through almost all our army training together including Officers Candidate School. When we finished OCS, I went to Intelligence Officers school and Dave went to Helicopter Pilots school. We both ended up in Vietnam at about the same time.

When Dave got out of the army, he went home to L.A. and bought a new yellow Jeep CJ5. He took the Jeep from the dealer's showroom directly to a shop in L.A. that specialized in Jeep engine swaps. They replaced his Jeep 6 cylinder engine with a Chevy V8. At the same time he installed four wide tires on alloy rims.

About a year later Dave was on his way to Indiana when he stopped in Aurora Neb to say hello to my parents. My mother was blown away by Dave's yellow Jeep with the Chevy V8, wide tires, and loud exhaust. There was nothing like it around there and she thought it was the coolest thing she'd ever seen.

In 1972, Jeep came out with a factory V8 option for the CJ5. My parents bought a blue one about a year later with a roll bar and a black top. I bought them a set of wide wheels and tires to make it complete.

My mother just loved that Jeep. Guys would stop and stare as she blasted by with her gray hair flying under the roll bar, a big smile on her face, and the Jeep's top safely at home in the garage.