Tag Archives: Cars

Maui Driving Adventures

My daughter complained to me a few years back that she had never been to Disneyland.

This was not true.  I pointed out pictures hanging on the wall the proved we had been not just to Disneyland, but to Disney World AND on a Disney cruise.  She pointed out that she was 3 and 4 years old in those pictures, making that was long enough ago to not count.

I had to fall back on my usual defense, which is Hawaii.  She had been to Hawaii more times before she was 8 than most people will go in their entire lives.  We have family there, including my mother, so we tend to fly there for vacations.  This tends to defuse my daughter a bit, but she is still a bit surly when her friends talk about the magic kingdom.

Maui is the usual destination for us.  Again, family.  I’ve been going there since the late 70s and my wife and I for our whole relationship, so the island is both pleasant and familiar.  So it was a natural choice for our first trip in what seemed like the post-COVID era.  When we booked back in June it seemed like we were done with that.

Then came the delta variant and by the time we were ready to fly earlier this month the governor of Hawaii was asking tourists to stay home again.  We were “visiting family” so didn’t have any problems on that front, though the state was also requiring vaccine cards and health statements and a visual check before letting anybody in.

We even found the pre-check queue at the airport before we got on our flight, which got us a “cleared” wristband to get through inspection on arrival.  Getting into Hawaii was like getting into a club, you needed a wristband to bypass the line or something.

We also had a rental car lined up.  We ended up doing that at the last minute because, back in June, rental cars were in short supply and thus very expensive… like the cost of our lodgings expensive.   The rental car companies stopped buying them because nobody was traveling, which also impacted the used car market because rental car companies break even on rentals and make their profits selling the cars when they’re done, which is a huge supply flow in the car market that suddenly dried up and now finding a used car is a bit of a chore.  Also, when people went back to traveling in May and June when the CDC prematurely said everything was good demand for rental cars drove prices through the roof.

We debated going without.  There have been trips where we have rented a car, driven it to the hotel, stayed a week, then driven it back to the airport without a trip in between.   We also looked into some other options, including one service where you rent a car from a local ala AirBnB for a day or two, which we would have needed to visit my mom who live up country, far from the shore where we were staying.

Then the delta variant put a crimp in the travel plans of many and demand dropped, bringing prices down as well.  A week before our flight the price of a car was still a bit pricey, but about a third of what it had been in June.  We reserved a compact from Sixt, which was new on the island since we last visited, so we thought we would give them a try.

After some rather poorly targeted attempts at an upsell… how about a Mercedes for more than double what you’re paying, or a convertible Mustang for triple… we were handed a slip to take to the lot that would get us a Kia Optima.  It was a bit of a beater.  The pre-listed damage sheet was a page long… but at least they gave us that because I’ve had Avis/Budget come after me for damages they signed off on… and the car had 30K miles on it, which is old for a rental, but it seemed to otherwise be passable.  Only later did I find that the Optima was considered an upgrade and that Sixt slipped in a daily upgrade charge on the invoice.  All rental car companies are horrible.

I was a bit confused at first.  The guy in the dispatch shack handed me what looked like a fob, the whole keyless proximity thing becoming more common.

It sure looks like a fob

However, when I went to look for the start button I noticed the usual steering column key receptacle.  But where was the key?  Examining the fob, I found that the little silver button on it would extend the key out like a switchblade.

The key extended

It was about a day that I was asked to stop saying, “I will cut you!” every time I flicked the key out of its recess.

The car also made some strange sounds on the highway.  If you remember the pod racing scenes from The Phantom Menace, the sound that Sebulba’s pod racer made… that was what this car sounded like.  Not obnoxiously, but reliably.

Anyway, to get to the heart of the tale after rambling up to this point, being on the island for seven nights without much of an itinerary beyond “hanging out” and visiting my mom, we decided to take a drive.

We have driven around two of the other islands, Oahu and the big island of Hawaii, both of which you can easily manage in a day with a few stops along the way.  The big island has the best roads and goes from dry badlands around Kona to rain forests around Hilo to the volcano and then the vineyards as you come back around again.  Oahu is a lot more crowded, it being the main tourist destination.  Two thirds of the way around is semi-rural and then other third is huge hotels, a naval base, and airport, and all the traffic that goes with it.

But we had never driven around Maui.

There is a reason for that.  Technically there is a stretch of east Maui where rental cars are not allowed.  Maui is smaller than the big island… duh… and larger than Oahu, but is much less developed than either.

I tend to think of Maui as an eight laying on its side, with the west end of the island being the small, upper loop, and the east side being the larger, lower loop.

Maui main highways – greatly simplified.

Kahului, where the airport is (code: OGG) is the middle of the two loops.  That is also where the harbor is… everything has to go to Honolulu first, get unloaded from the big container ships, then stacked on a barge and sailed over to Maui… the Costco and most of the main non-tourist large businesses.  It is as much of a city as the island has.

We generally stay in Kaanapali, which is past Lahaina there on the map.  It is very touristy, has decent beaches, and it a great spot to watch whales in February, when we usually go.  We have also stayed in Kihei, which is more condo rental focused.  It has better beaches than Lahaina, but the condos aren’t as pretty.  You get a couple of streets back from the beach and it feels like any apartment dense part of the country.

Further down from Kihei is Wailea and Makena where the rich people live.  Oprah has a place down there.

We had drive all of those places many times.

We had also driven the road to Hana, which I have marked in orange.  It beautiful and windy and will make children throw up. (Google “road to Hana”)  I went with my family when I was young and have no desire to make the trip again.  My wife and daughter went with my cousin about ten years back, while my aunt and I sat by the pool and read.  Our daughter threw up on the way down, as I predicted.

The red stretch on the map is dirt and gravel roads and your rental car agreement explicitly warns you that you are not allowed to drive there.

So we had been on all the roads I have marked in black and each down the orange road to Hana individually.  But we realized that we had never been all the way around the back side of the west end of Maui, the yellow stretch on the map.  So that was where we headed.  We got on Highway 30 and headed north and around the tip of the island.

It is very pretty up there.  The resorts end past Kapalua and as you round the northern tip there are bays there are excellent for snorkeling.  It is one of those places where you can see all the fish on those charts they sell about the island.  The road there is narrow and winds along the coast, but is still two lanes wide, well maintained, with a freshly painted double yellow line down the middle.  As you go further the turns become more sharp, and you are advised to honk your horn when going around some of the blind turns, but it is otherwise a solid road.

And then, as you come around the tip of the island and start heading down the back side you come to a large sign that says, “END OF STATE HIGHWAY” and it is like a zone line in a poorly joined MMORPG.  Right up to the sign is this well maintained all weather two land road, and then at the sign it suddenly changes.  You can see that a stripe had been painted down the middle at some point, but it has faded away.  The road is crumbling at the edges and has more than its share of cracks and divots.

But it is still a two land road, if a less well maintained one.  So we carried on.

This put us on the north coast of the island, which faces the open ocean.  This is where the waves and the wind happen.  Between Kahuliu and Haiku on the road that ends goes to Hana you will see lots of windsurfers on the open water.  The airport is there for a reason; the wind blows strong and continuously, making landings a bit of a “seat belts required” part of many flights.  The big waves are also along that stretch with Paia being about the center of that zone.

This is not a place of nice sandy beaches like the sheltered side of the island.  This is cliffs and volcanic rock and the power of the ocean beating against the shore.  We stopped a couple of times to take pictures.

We kept on going and after a while the road started to get a little more ragged and little more narrow.  Not a lot of people live out there and those that do tend to be outdoorsy types.  We came around a bend to be surprised by a pack of riders on ATVs roaring up the road, a pickup tailing behind.

Then the occasional signs start warning you that the road is narrow and windy ahead.  The road has to follow the coast, which has many inlets and so my nice yellow line on the map hardly represents the actual route.  Still, we were fine until a sign announced that we would be facing a single lane road ahead.

This might have been a good time to turn around, except that the road was already down to one and a half lanes between a cliff on the right side of the car and a drop off into the roiling ocean on the left, which meant turning around might be a bit dicey.  So we carried on.

The signs were very serious about the whole “one lane” business.  I became very conscious of wide spots in the road where two vehicles could pass.  As we went into each inlet we could look across the gap to see if a car was coming the other way so as to be prepared for the dance of who gets to back up when we meet.

I had to back up a number of times, nearly a quarter of a mile at one point, in order to get to a point where the car coming the other way could get around us.

Gone was any pretense of a line painted down the middle of the road.  Instead there was… now and then… a white line painted at each shoulder of the road, defining the space in which you had to stay to keep moving forward safely.  I wouldn’t want to try this whole thing at night.

We also started to see signs asking people not to honk when coming around blind corners.  Apparently tourist take those signs on the state highway very seriously and the locals have gotten sick of all the horns going off.

So I asked my wife if she had gotten a picture of one of those signs, then looked over and discovered that she was not having a good time.  I had been very focused on the road, it being the sort of drive that really requires full attention to everything going on, but had been feeling okay about things because I could see a full sized Jeep Wrangle about a half a mild ahead of us.  That thing was a good couple of feet wider than our Kia and, while it had the whole four wheel drive thing going for it, I was pretty convinced that being narrow and nimble and sounding like a pod racer was the more advantageous configuration.

My wife was a little more focused on the edge of the road and the deep blue see way down the cliff below us, so she was a bit more into gripping the arm rest and not really about taking pictures with her phone.  This caused her to make what I will call a couple of declarations against interest along the way.

We’ve been together for about 25 years at this point and, being an old married couple, bicker about stupid little things, like where things go in the cupboards or refrigerator as well as each other’s skill as a driver.  She likes to kibitz and will grab onto the arm rest when going into turn at anything over 15 mph, while I am prone to mutterings of “Oh God” and have a habit of just closing my eyes and letting my body go limp when I am sure we’re on the verge of disaster.

It is a wonder we get in the car with each other some days.  And neither of us will back down from our positions.

But here, in our rental car, going “whomp whomp whomp” down a one lane road between a mountain side and a cliff in a rural area with no cell phone reception facing locals coming the other way in full size pickup trucks barreling along with no fear, she conceded that she might not always be the best passenger and that I am a good driver.

This pair of admissions caused me to laugh out loud, which was probably the wrong thing to do, but it broke the tension of the drive.  I had been kind of quiet, focused on the road, and she had been just gripping the arm rest, but with that we felt a little better.  I started talking about my strategy for getting through this, spotting outlets, while she kept and eye out for cars and trucks coming towards us, and we both focused our scorn on this horrible one lane road.

This was a classic vacation situation for us.  We have a long tradition of going off on a lark and getting in over our heads.  Often it involves a seemingly easy hike in places like Lake Tahoe or Muir Woods or up Diamond Head on Oahu, where we get too far in to back out and realize we’re out of our depth.  I spent a good portion of time lying to her on a trail up a mountain in Marin, telling her it was downhill after the next turn, only to have her get there and see that we still had more climbing to do.

But we always managed to get through it together and then we go some place and have several drinks and curse our naivety and how sore we’ll be in the morning and swear we’ll be smarter next time.

So after a couple of moments of false hope, where the road seemed to be widening for good, only to narrow down to one lane for another few miles, and a few too many minivans coming the other way for comfort, we hit the start of the state highway again, with the road once again well paved and wide enough for two lanes with a solid double yellow line painted down the middle.

And that was our big adventure for this trip.  We contented ourselves by sitting on the beach or next to the pool for most of the rest of the time before we headed home.

Have You Ever Question Time

There was a quiz over at Contains Moderate Peril, which was grabbed from Ace Asunder, where it had been borrowed from RNG, who got it originally from Vamp It Up Manchester, which probably makes it more of a UK thing, but it had a few questions I though might lead to amusing anecdotes about which to write, so I figured I would swipe it next.

Now that we have established the lineage of the quiz, let’s jump straight into the questions.

Driven or been driven at 100 mph/160 kmh?

Yes.  While the speed limits on US highways top out at about 70 MPH most places, there are plenty of long runs of road where you can get up to speed.  Also, cars tend to have the most ridiculously optimistic speedometers.  My Toyota speedometer measures out to 160 MPH, a speed it could only attain if you pushed it out of an airplane.

I think the first time I hit that speed was shortly after I got my drivers license.  My grandmother would let me use her car, a 1970 Buick Electra 225 with the 455 CID engine. (7.5L for those who measure in that way.)  It was a mighty motor, with more torque than a sane man ever needs, and I once laid a 70 foot long patch of smoking rubber on the pavement in front of a friends house.

It looked something like this… image borrowed from the internet

One evening I got onto highway 85 and nobody was on the road, so I decided to see if I could peg the speedometer, because I was a 16 year old boy in command of two tons of iron with a powerful engine.  I was well past 100 MPH by the time I passed Fremont Blvd and let off the gas to let it wind down so I could take the exit to highway 280 and fill up the gas tank.  I think I blew through almost a quarter tank getting that brick up to speed.  Gas was $1.29 a gallon at the time, which seemed expensive at the time.

Learned a possibly deadly skill?

I spent summers on my grandparents farm where I learned several skills that might fall into that category, the most obvious being how to handle and shoot firearms.  It is just a thing in the country.  At eight years old I was judged worthy of being sat with a bolt action .22 rifle and a baby food jar full of bird shot to pick off the starlings that would peck at the figs on the big tree my grandfather had planted.  I was paid 25 cents a head.  I also learned how to handle poison gas bombs for the ground squirrels and traps and a few other things.  I was, however, not allowed to get within six feet of the table saw in the barn because that was dangerous.

Ridden in a helicopter? Gone zip lining? Been Bungie Jumping?

I am going to lump these three together because they are all negative answers.

Been to an NFL game or Ice Hockey?

I have lived within reasonable driving distance of two NFL teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, all of my life and I have never been to an NFL game. (The Raiders are leaving for Las Vegas though, so my opportunities will soon be reduced by 50%.)  NFL teams only play 8 home games a year, the stadiums are huge and crowded, the tickets are expensive, and I am not a fan.

I have been to many NHL games.  We have a professional team in San Jose, the Sharks, though I even went to a California Seals game back in the day.  I have also been to major league baseball, NBA basketball, and MLS soccer games as we have teams in the SF Bay Area close by.  Just never an NFL game.

Watched Dr Who?

PBS during my childhood seemed to entirely consist of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Sesame Street, nature documentaries, pledge drives, and television from the UK, including  Doctor Who.  I watched a lot of Tom Baker episodes and some of the Peter Davidson episodes.  If you ask me who my doctor is, the answer will always be Tom Baker.  If Gandalf were a time lord, he would be the Tom Baker version of the doctor.

Been to Canada?

I’ve been close enough to see Canada, but I have never actually been into Canada.  I’ve been to Minnesota, and that’s about the same, right?

Visited Disney?

Disneyland is an hour flight away.  You can hardly avoid it.  I have been a bunch of times, twice for company events where we left in the morning, flew down for the day, and got back home that nights.  I am also just old enough to have gone as a kid when they still had tickets, so saw the “E Ticket” of legend. That said, I am not a big fan and it is hugely expensive these days.  My daughter complains that we never go, but she has been to Hawaii more times than most people ever will.

I have also been to Disney World in Florida once and on a Disney cruise.  That mouse is everywhere.

Visited an actual castle?

That depends on what you call a castle I suppose.  I’ve been on forts and fortifications and in a palace or two.  But not a medieval castle, that being what I imagine the question is getting at, as that wasn’t really a thing where I live.  I did find an arrow head once though.

Visited Vegas?

Vegas is a 90 minute flight away and the location where many conventions and events take place.  I have been many times. (I’ve posted here about going to EVE Vegas at least five times.)  It is bright and shiny and colorful with some good places to eat.  But if you don’t really drink or gamble it can lose its edge pretty fast.  Also, the dirty, seedy underbelly of the whole thing is pretty visible if you start looking for it.  I enjoy the first day I go and am generally ready to leave by the end of the second.

The hardest thing for me about Vegas is that they allow smoking everywhere.  I’m from California where smoking in public is only allowed in very specific pariah zones.

Eaten alone at a restaurant?

I am not sure why this is even a question.  Yes.  Many times.  I see people do it all the time, though I am not one of those people who sets up a nest with a good book in a corner booth, but if I was alone and needed to eat I wouldn’t think twice about eating alone in a restaurant.  This must be one of those English things where they are always looking for something else about which to feel embarrassed.

Played an instrument?

I took trumpet lessons in school in 4th grade.  I wasn’t any good and didn’t have any passion for it.  I am pretty sure I just wanted to get out of class for an hour one day a week.

Ridden a motorcycle?

Yes, in the form of a dirt bike out on the farm mentioned above.  It was fun then, but I have no desire to ride one now.  I’ve seen what happens when cars and motorcycles collide.  If there was a question about seeing a dead body, my answer would involve a motorcycle accident I witnessed.

Ridden a horse?

Again, on the farm.  My grandparents didn’t have horses, but the neighboring farm did, so I got to ride a bit back then.  It wasn’t a big deal to me.  A dirt bike is more exciting to a young male I suppose.

Been skiing/snowboarding?

I have been skiing.  My stepmother liked to ski and so we went once or twice a year when I was a kid.  It was a very yuppie sport, expensive and inconvenient, and while I enjoyed it some at the time, when it came to the point that I had to pay in order to participate I stopped completely.

Gone to a festival?

Yes.  Maybe.  I am divining what these means from context, which is a multi-day musical event.  But I’ve only gone for one of the days, so does that count?

Driven a stick shift?

My first three cars were manual transmission.  By the time I got to the fourth car I was commuting daily across the valley in stop and go traffic and got tired of “rowing the boat” constantly, so went for automatic transmissions after that.  But hell, even F1 cars have paddle shifters now, which is something you add to an automatic transmission.

Ridden in a police car?

I have been frisked up against a police car, but never invited inside.  I have ridden in a fire engine though.  When the SFFD took over administration of Treasure Island in SF Bay and friend of my aunt’s drove us around the island in one of the fire trucks.  It was loud, even without the siren going.

Driven a boat?

A few times.  No particular stories to go with this though.  We live near the ocean and a huge bay and a freshwater delta and a series of lakes and reservoirs, so the opportunities are at hand.  Going water skiing in the delta was a thing when I was a kid.

Eaten Escargot?

No.  I poison snails I see, but don’t see the need to consume them.  I have plenty of more palatable food at hand.

Been on a cruise?

My step-mother again, she loves cruises and goes on a few a year.  Her and my father have brought the whole family along a few times.  As a floating hotel that brings you to the next destination while you sleep they are fine I suppose.  The food aspect is overrated to my mind.

The best cruise was probably on the Freedom of the Seas, which was the largest cruise ship in the world when we went.  That ship had a lot of space and things to do.  I enjoyed just being at sea on that one.  The Disney cruise was good too, all the more so if you have kids.  The rest have been on Carnival ships, which are okay but not as much fun.  I’d go again, but I am not interested enough to plan it myself and I’d rather go sit on the beach in Hawaii or by the pool somewhere, it being cheaper, more relaxing, and less crowded.

Been on TV?

In a couple of crowd scenes on the news.  Nothing that would have had my presence noted.

Been in a paper/book/magazine?

I was quoted once in the local paper when asked some questions by a cub reporter who then printed what they felt I should have said rather than what I actually said, much to my annoyance.  The problem with the news is that every story I have been personally involved with has had significant material errors and the reporting team doesn’t really seem to care.  If the news has a bad reputation these days, it is in part their own fault.

Eaten Sushi?

I live in California.  You cannot drive two miles without passing a sushi place.  I am a peasant and like things like California Roll and the Shrimp Tempura Roll, but I’ll eat sashimi.  Raw fish, fine.  Snails, no.

Seen a UFO?

Literally, I have seen many things flying I couldn’t identify.  Flying saucers or space aliens from other planets however, no.

Rescued an animal?

Out on the farm, depending on how you want to count rescue.  There were a whole series of dogs who showed up in various states of repair, hung around for the summer, and disappeared of their own accord.  A few cats too.

Met someone rather famous?

I like the modifier “rather” in this question.  It is a very English affectation, like you might not be expect to have brushed up against real fame, just some lesser degree of it.

We occasionally talk about famous people at family events and I always find it amusing who focuses on what sort of fame.  It seems to be divided up between sports stars, musicians, movie and television stars, and then there I am talking about tech luminaries.  So when it is my turn I always bring up that I have met and conversed with Steve Wozniak a few times.  But if you need somebody in one of the other categories, I got to talk with Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead a few times as he was something of a Macintosh enthusiast back in the late 80s/early 90s.

Road Trip with Mojo Nixon

We are into the third week of Blapril here and my weekly posts about it are coming later and later in the week.  I may have to work on that.

The Blapril commeth

This week is getting to know you week.

  • March 29th – April 4th – Blapril Prep Week
  • April 5th – April 11th – Topic Brainstorming Week
  • April 12th – April 18th – Getting to Know You Week
  • April 19th – April 25th – Developer/Creator Appreciation Week
  • April 26th – May 2nd – Staying Motivated Week
  • May 3rd – May 9th – Lessons Learned Week

As with so many things, I am perhaps a bit skeptical that there is anything I can write here that would end up with anybody reading this “knowing” me very well at all.  I can recite biographic facts, dates and times of specific events, games I’ve player, colors I favor, religious beliefs, or my astrological sign and leave you no more the wiser as to who I am really.

And that leaves aside the deeper philosophical question of who we really are in any case.  Do I even know me?  Who am I really?

I get annoyed when I go to family gatherings and my siblings seem so keen to dwell in the past.  Specifically, nothing that happened after high school ever seems to come up.  Not that I am against living in the past.  This blog is, in a way, a shrine to the past.  We are, it seems a product of the past, just the sum total of our experiences existing in that razor thin sense of the present.  It isn’t that they go to the past, but they pick such a mundane part of the past to bring up.

So rather than something formulaic or statistical, I am going to tell a story about a past event that popped into my mind earlier this week.  It was sparked by Mojo Nixon.  I saw somebody asking, “Where the hell’s my money?” online about the stimulus checks we’re alleged to be getting some day, which just happens to be the title of a Mojo Nixon song.  So I brought that up in iTunes (you can listen to it here on YouTube if you so wish) and started listening to it and the rest of the tracks on the Frenzy album.  And that sent me back to when I first heard one of his songs.

It was the summer of 1987.  Or maybe 1988.  Bill and Tony and I were headed south out of Silicon Valley… that name was still fresh and meaningful back then… towards LA for the Crossroads of the West Gun Show.  It took place at the Panoma fair grounds and was the largest guns, militaria, antiques, and collectables show west of the Rockies at the time.  The event was absolutely huge, spread out over multiple event halls, and my friend Bill was (and remains) a big military collectables guy, so was headed to the show to scout items, make deals, and meet potential sources.

I think I had some vacation time handy, so went along.  I am not sure how Tony got invited, or who Tony really was other than being some sort of Armenian royalty whose family fled the place when the Bolsheviks took over.  He had a Russified Caucasian last name, put in for gas, and was good company, so he was welcome enough.

For some reason I ended up driving us down to LA.  I had a fairly new Mazda 626 which had a decent stereo and a cassette deck… the idea of a CD player in a car was at the luxury end of the market, if at all at that point… and we were pushing various tapes in the deck as we made our way south.  I didn’t have a lot in the car.  I think we went through the Repo Man sound track, but  I tended to listen to books on tape in the car on long rides, which were fairly common as my girlfriend at the time was going to Chico State, a four hour drive north from home.

Tony had a tape though.  He had Bill put it in the stereo and Mojo Nixon came pouring out of the speakers with I Hate Banks.  I had never heard him… or heard of him… before, but for three twenty somethings on the road in the middle of nowhere it was about the perfect sound track.  I don’t think we played another tape on the trip.

Interstate 5 is four and six lanes of blacktop through the middle of nowhere for most of its run through California, interrupted only by a bad smell as you pass by Harris Ranch.  So a loud sound track is appreciated.  We rolled on through the summer heat, windows down, yelling along with Mojo.

It wasn’t until we hit LA that we ran into traffic.  The fairgrounds are off of the 10 in LA, which is a major artery in the congestion that is LA.  I seem to recall seeing my first car pool lane on that trip, down there on the 10, or maybe on the 210, which required three people per car to use.  There were three of us, so on we went.

We stayed at a Best Western near the fairgrounds.  I still have a postcard from it.  We checked in, put our stuff in the room, and went out into LA for the evening.  I have almost no memory of that evening, not due to drink but just the fading of time.  I do recall, however, that we wandered into a record store where I found a copy of Back from Samoa by the Angry Samoans on CD, which I purchased and still have.  There is maybe 20 minutes of music tops on that CD.  Short songs were the punk thing.

The next day we got up early and headed to the show.  This is also a bit of a blur, though I recall going by the booth that had on display a Walther PP pistol owned by Heinrich Himmler.  I am not sure it was even for sale, but it was the center piece of somebody’s booth.

We spent a lot of time digging through displays of wings and badges.  Bill’s current passion was pilot wings and he could spot the good from the bad.  This was at a time when a lot of WWII stuff was becoming collectible and, thus, valuable.  Things that were laying in heaps into the 70s were suddenly becoming interesting as the 50th anniversary of the start of the war approached.

The problem is, a lot of the stuff is faked up.  Less so back then, but it was still pretty common.  Now the odds of anything you run across being authentic are pretty small, but Bill was an expert at spotting anomalies that marked fakes or at least put authenticity in doubt.  And he had a nose for the real deal.  So we spent the day deep in the minutiae of the collectors, occasionally stopping to goggle at some big item, but mostly talking to dealers with wings, badges, and patches.  And Bill found some deals.  He always did.  I remember going over to his apartment one day and finding it full of WWI British uniforms.  RFC tunics with wings in golden thread and uniforms of various regiments with ribbons and buttons shined bright, and uniform caps to go with them all.  He’d gotten them at some auction and they were all about the house as he sorted them and found buyers.

After the show shut down we went back to the room for a rest.  I then went out to meet up with somebody I knew through Air Warrior and hang out.  We nerded about the game for a while and I flew a bit on his account, which is where I twitched to some of the differences in the clients.  One of the controversies of the game, which Kesmai denied for ages, was that aircraft on the Mac client were not as powerful as those on the IBM PC and clients which derived from it, being the Atari ST and Amiga versions.  But playing on his IBM machine it was immediately obvious to me that the planes were noticeably more powerful.  Later it came out that the method for calculating engine horsepower was much more generous on that code base and it eventually was fixed.  But those of us who flew on the Mac felt validated when the news finally came out, not to mention a little superior, having often held our own even when the deck was stacked against us.

I headed back to the motel at about 2am, which back up in Silicon Valley would have meant having the highway to myself.  But LA, even then, was busy around the clock and the freeway, while not rush hour full, was still packed like it was maybe a Saturday afternoon.

When I got back to the motel room it was clear that something had transpired while I was away.  To start with, Tony’s clothes were in the pool, as were all the screens from the windows of our room, and maybe those from a couple of other rooms.  I knew ours were in there because all the windows were open and all the screens were missing.  There was a bunch of paper in the toilet… not toilet paper, but note paper…, the bathroom window was cracked, and the bathroom door had apparently been kicked in as the door jamb was split.   Tony was lying on the floor under the little coffee table that was in our room while Bill was bundled up in the comforter from the bed laying across the foot of it.  He was there because the top half of the bed was wet.

To this day I do not know what they got up to while I was away.  There were some empty beer cans, some of which were also floating in the pool, but not enough to explain wild behavior.  I got Tony up and we fished his stuff and the screens and what not out of the pool and tried to put the room back in some sort of order.  Then I found a dry pillow and a corner of the room and got some sleep myself.

The next morning we got up kind of early… youth knows no end of energy… and quietly checked out of the motel and headed north, stopping at the traditional last point in LA, In-N-Out Burger.

Now there is an In-N-Out Burger a few miles from my house, but back then the last one was off the freeway by Magic Mountain and Knotts Berry Farm and it was the usual routine to stop and eat there on the way home.  So we got out and had our double-doubles or whatever.  It is hard to say what the real draw of the place is, save for simplicity of menu and quality of product and service.  I might pick Five Guys some of the time, given a choice, but In-N-Out can be damn good when you’re in a mood for it.

We ate up and walked out to the parking lot where I put the key in the lock of my blue Mazda 626 2-door and got in, Bill in the passenger seat and Tony in the back.  At that point there was a car alarm going off and Tony, still a bit blurry from the night before, asked if the child’s booster seat had been there on the trip down.

We were in the wrong car.

My Mazda was parked three spots further down the row.  But my key let us into the closer one, or seemed to.  It might have been left unlocked, due to it being equiped with a car alarm, which was what I had been hearing.  It was surprisingly muted from within the car, but as we unassed the wrong car it seemed very loud.

Oddly, this was not the only time I ended up with the wrong car in LA.  My girlfriend and I were down there a year or two later.  I drove her down to LAX because her year of study abroad was departing from there and not up north.  We stayed the night and the next day I went to go put her luggage in the trunk and, when I opened it up there was a huge bouquet of flowers in there, which sent her into tears.  That quickly stopped when I announced we had the wrong car and moved to one in the next aisle which had my stuff in the trunk and no flowers.

Back at In-N-Out we quickly made our way to the correct car and left as quickly as we could, heading north for home once more.  Mojo Nixon once again blared from the speakers as we headed through the central valley heat, zipping along at well beyond the newly posted 65 MPH speed limit.

All of which came bubbling back up into my conscious thought as I listened to Mojo Nixon sing Where the Hell’s My Money earlier this week.  Listening to his music… and I think I own most all of his albums… brings me back to a youthful state of mind full or irreverence and lacking in much of the responsibility that weighs on me today.

So do you know me any better after that?  What if I told you I took that quiz and my top match was Frodo Baggins?  Any better? Probably not.

All of that seems like an eternity ago and very recent at the same instant.  Time is strange, memory is flawed, and in that the past is all we really are.

Being a California child, automobiles enter into many of my youthful tales.  Other car stories I’ve written about here:

The “Bill” in the latter of those two is the same “Bill” in this story.  I might have to record another tale or two involving him.  Maybe our Friday the 13th adventure.  But that is for another time.

Blogger Fantasy Movie League – Week Four

We are about a third of the way through the 13 week summer Fantasy Movie League, but there are still a host of potential blockbuster movies out there.

This week saw most of our group making the decision between Transformers: About Last Night and Wonder Woman to anchor their picks.

As with last week, it seemed pretty clear who would take the top spot in the box office.  Transformers was set to win, but would it win by enough to make it a viable pick.  As noted previously, you have eight screens to fill and a $1,000 budget.  If you invest most of it in a big movie, it has to pay off.  The prices of the week four picks:

Transformers               $560
 Wonder Woman              $286
 Cars 3                    $278
 All Eyez On Me            $104
 The Mummy                 $73
 Pirates                   $58
 47 Meters Down            $55
 Captain Underpants        $45
 Rough Night               $39
 Tubelight                 $34
 Guardians of the Galaxy 2 $32
 Beatriz at Dinner         $17
 Megan Leavy               $16
 It Comes At Night         $13
 The Book of Henry         $11

As the week began, estimates for Transformers were up in the $70 million range, which made it a safe pick.  Grab that and a few good cheaper picks to back it up, and you’re set.  And then the reviews hit and the early opening numbers came in and estimates fell through the floor, with its weekend pull down at $45 million.

Meanwhile Cars 3 and Wonder Woman were both being estimated at around $27 million.  Pick two of those and you beat Transformers for about the same price.  It was something of a toss up between Cars 3 and Wonder Woman for me.  Wonder Woman was still going strong, but Cars 3 was still the big kids movie and only in its second week.

I decided to go with Cars 3 on three screens.  Then I started picking and choosing what the other five picks ought to be.  I ended up with this selection.

My selections and how they did

I wasn’t totally sold on this set, but I couldn’t come up with anything better and then I realized it was after 9am on Friday, selections were locked, and I was stuck with it.

9am is the big reveal, when you get to see what everybody else picked.  Nobody picked Cars 3 aside from me.  Everybody else was down with Transformers and Wonder Woman or else they picked Wonder Woman to fill two or three screens.

The closest mirror to my own picks was Liore, who went with three Wonder Woman, two Captain Underpants, and three Beatriz at Dinner.  Given her ringer status in the group, I felt a bit encouraged by at least the shared pattern.

As it turned out, Wonder Woman did about a million dollars more over the weekend than Cars 3.  However, my savior was 47 Meters Down, which not only clocked in at $7 million, but which got the nod as the best price/performance pick of the week, boosting my total by $2 million per screen showing it.  That was enough to put me at the top of the list for the week.

  1. Wilhelm’s Clockwork Lemon Multiplex – $95,679,946
  2. Dr Liore’s Evil House of Pancakes – $88,567,091
  3. Pasduil’s Popcorn Picturehouse – $87,759,467
  4. Void’s Awesomeplex – $87,244,395
  5. Ocho’s Octoplex – $85,011,942
  6. Moderate Peril’s Sleazy Porno Theatre – $84,410,311
  7. Murf’s Matinee Mania – $81,825,392
  8. Bel’s House of Horrors – $81,603,369
  9. Syl’s Fantasy Galore Panopticum – $80,899,156
  10. Braxwolf’s Waffleplex – $76,460,030
  11. Clockwork’s Cinesplosion – $17,190,425

Clockwork apparently started to pick, filling in two screens, but then didn’t finish, leaving six empty screens.  Each empty screen comes with a $2 million penalty, so Wonder Woman and Captain Underpants teaming up were not enough to save the day.

Of course none of us picked the optimum selection, which was Transformers and seven screens of 47 Meters Down.

Week Four’s Optimum Picks

Weekly wins so far:

  1. Liore – 2
  2. Braxwolf – 1
  3. Wilhelm – 1

Liore not taking the week did not do much to shake her from her leading position in the overall season running.  At the end of week four the totals are:

  1. Dr Liore’s Evil House of Pancakes – $416,272,621
  2. Wilhelm’s Clockwork Lemon Multiplex – $390,585,663
  3. Pasduil’s Popcorn Picturehouse – $382,306,139
  4. Moderate Peril’s Sleazy Porno Theatre – $371,138,496
  5. Ocho’s Octoplex – $364,953,950
  6. Void’s Awesomeplex – $364,730,70
  7. Braxwolf’s Waffleplex – $358,166,372
  8. Bel’s House of Horrors – $342,072,780
  9. Murf’s Matinee Mania – $325,309,184
  10. Syl’s Fantasy Galore Panopticum – $284,246,625
  11. Clockwork’s Cinesplosion – $270,152,909

I am holding on to second place, but am $26 million behind Liore.  That means I need to beat her total by at least $3 million each week for the next nine weeks of the summer season.  Or I need a really big score one week… or she needs to go on vacation and forget to do her picks.

And those in the mid-pack need to beat her by double that every week to overtake.

One of the interesting side notes is how well Moderate Peril is doing, holding on to fourth place, all the while doing his picks like he is running an actual theater, showing each movie only once most weeks (he doubled up on a film once) and not min/max optimizing.

Anyway, we are on to week five and the options are:

Despicable Me 3           $840
Transformers              $175
The House                 $198
Cars 3                    $102
Wonder Woman              $131
Baby Driver               $110
47 Meters Down            $36
The Mummy                 $26
Pirates of the Caribbean  $26
All Eyez on Me            $19
Rough Night               $23
Captain Underpants        $19
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 $15
Beguiled                  $32
Beatriz At Dinner         $12

Despicable Me 3 is tracking for a safe $90 million this coming weekend.  However, if you pick that, your other seven screens end up pretty weak.  Meanwhile, Baby Driver is getting some buzz and the the FML site stats show it is being picked heavily.  That might be the sign that those in the know feel it is going to be the optimum pick of the week.  So it might be a better plan to pick a lessor anchor film and pile on that.  But which title would you pick as an anchor?  And how deep do you go with Baby Driver?  Six screens?  Seven?  All eight?

We shall see how the week goes.

Blogger Fantasy Movie League – Week Three

In which we really start to see systemic optimization.

Week three of our blogger Fantasy Movie League once again seemed to present two possible paths forward.

The choice seemed to be between Wonder Woman, still going strong at the box office having outperformed last week’s big release, The Mummy, and Cars 3, the new challenger.

It seemed pretty clear that Cars 3 would take the top spot.  But FML isn’t about picking the box office winner, but picking eight movies based on a budget, with a bonus available for picking the best price/performance movie of the week.  Cars 3 might do better, but would it be worth the price?  It would limit what other movies one could pick.  And you couldn’t pick Cars 3 AND Wonder Woman.

Cars 3                    $719
Wonder Woman              $478
All Eyez On Me            $327
Rough Night               $243
The Mummy                 $167
47 Meters Down            $105
Captain Underpants        $78
Pirates                   $71
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 $60
It Comes At Night         $34
The Book of Henry         $31
Baywatch                  $29
Megan Leavey              $25
Alien Covenant            $11
Everything, Everything    $10

I decided to take a chance this week.

As often happens, as the week progressed I changed my mind and redid my picks.  I do that enough that I would like to be able to save my “shadow” picks just to see how they would have done.

Way back on Tuesday of last week there was a lot of optimism around Rough Night.  Initial guesses put it at $16 million for the week, but that surged past $20 million at one point.  With Cars 3 pegged at $50 million and Wonder Woman less than that, putting Rough Night up on three screens would likely beat either and still leave me room for decent secondary picks.

I was down with three screens of Rough Night.  And then Wednesday rolled around and people who saw previews started talking and reviews started coming out and estimates fell dramatically and ended up being optimistic even then.

So I tinkered around with some other picks.  My daughter was determined to pick Wonder Woman and All Eyez on Me, the latter based on what she was seeing on social media, which turned out to be a decent call.

I ended up sticking with my desire to avoid the two leading contenders.  So when the week’s picks were finalized on Friday morning, the Blogger league had six people going with Cars 3, found people sticking with Wonder Woman, and me all-in on The Mummy.

My Mummy selection and its yield

The Mummy, on five screens!

My logic was that all The Mummy had to do was 50% of its opening week, not an over-optimistic level of performance to my mind, and it could be the optimum pick for the week.

As it turned out, Tom Cruise couldn’t carry that much water and it fell short of the mark, leaving me in 5th place for the week.  However, I was not that far behind the pack as none of us picked the optimum lineup for the week, which was Wonder Woman and seven screens of Pirates of the CaribbeanPotC turned out to be the optimum price/performance choice of the week, rewarding an extra $2 million per showing.

Weekly Top winners

A hell of a way to run a multiplex.

The scores for the week ended up being:

  1. Braxwolf’s Waffleplex – $95,601,042
  2. Pasduil’s Popcorn Picturehouse – $89,038,632
  3. Dr Liore’s Evil House of Pancakes – $88,324,978
  4. Wilhelm’s Clockwork Lemon Multiplex – $87,349,717
  5. Void’s Awesomeplex – $85,782,636
  6. Murf’s Matinee Mania – $80,261,527
  7. Moderate Peril’s Sleazy Porno Theatre – $79,249,812
  8. Ocho’s Octoplex – $76,340,371
  9. Bel’s House of Horrors – $75,251,356
  10. Syl’s Fantasy Galore Panopticum – $74,075,088
  11. Clockwork’s Cinesplosion – $50,587,837

Surprisingly, Liore did not finish on top this week, with Braxwolf taking the top spot.

Wonder Woman was not a panacea this week.  While it was the main pick of the top two finishers it was also the anchor of the last place entry.  Picking neither Wonder Woman nor Cars 3 got me 4th place.

Weekly wins so far:

  1. Liore – 2
  2. Braxwolf – 1

Liore did not, however, lose much ground by coming in third and remains firmly out in front of the pack.  Season totals after week three.

  1. Dr Liore’s Evil House of Pancakes – $327,705,530
  2. Wilhelm’s Clockwork Lemon Multiplex – $294,905,717
  3. Pasduil’s Popcorn Picturehouse – $294,546,672
  4. Moderate Peril’s Sleazy Porno Theatre – $286,728,185
  5. Braxwolf’s Waffleplex – $281,706,342
  6. Ocho’s Octoplex – $279,942,008
  7. Void’s Awesomeplex – $277,486,309
  8. Bel’s House of Horrors – $260,469,411
  9. Clockwork’s Cinesplosion – $252,962,484
  10. Murf’s Matinee Mania – $243,483,792
  11. Syl’s Fantasy Galore Panopticum – $203,347,469

I managed to just hold on to second place, while Braxwolf’s strong finish for the week jumped him up to fifth.  The race remains for second place as the gap between first and second place is about the same as the gap between second and eighth place.

Still ten weeks left to go, which leads us to the week four lineup.

Transformers              $560
Wonder Woman              $286
Cars 3                    $278
All Eyez On Me            $104
The Mummy                 $73
Pirates                   $58
47 Meters Down            $55
Captain Underpants        $45
Rough Night               $39
Tubelight                 $34
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 $32
Beatriz at Dinner         $17
Megan Leavy               $16
It Comes At Night         $13
The Book of Henry         $11

Transformers: About Last Night is the big fish in this week’s pond with box office estimates ranging between $60 and $75 million.  That is enough to make it the likely anchor for most picks this week I suppose.  If you do go with it you then have to back fill with what you hope will be this week’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

But if you avoid Transformers: The Last Goodnight, then you have considerably flexibility to experiment with screen builds… as I will now call them.

You can go all-in on Tupac… All Screenz on Me

So we shall see if this is a transformative week or not.

I will follow my usual practice of picking what I think is a good screen build, then I will look at the box office predictions and see how badly I have likely erred.

The Test Drive

I stood there on the edge of the dealership lot, on the sidewalk, but just barely.  My eye had been caught by a 1969 Buick Skylark convertible.  It was the GS 400 trim level and was white with red interior.  It sat there and beckoned me as I walked by and I was drawn to it.  It looked something like this:

A Skylark Convertible

A Skylark Convertible

However, that picture doesn’t really capture the moment as it was back then.  It was a bright, sunny and warm California day, the car was fully detailed and every surface gleamed.  We were in that dead period for US made convertibles, so this car, with a powerful motor and an open top on a perfect day for such things, was an object of desire.  I wanted it.

As I sat there, likely drooling on the body work as I ran my hand lightly over the synthetic leather-ish seat material, a salesman wandered over and began to engage me in conversation.  He must have been good because I didn’t run away immediately or make the sign of the cross and shout, “Just looking! Back! Back! I am JUST LOOKING!” as I tend to in such situations.

As I recall, he was quite willing to talk about the object of my desire for a little while, and so we went for a bit.  It was a weekday afternoon, so things were slow I imagine.  I certainly do not recall anybody else on the lot clamoring for his attention.

Eventually we started talking about other cars and he said he had another one that he wanted me to see.  I had nothing else to do, so I followed him, wondering what other treasures the lot might hold.

However, he wasn’t really interested in looking at cool cars and shooting the breeze.  He wanted to sell me a car and, having sized me up from our conversation, brought me over to the used end of the lot where he showed me a 1976 Plymouth Arrow GS.

In this very shade, though not this shiny

In this very shade, though not this shiny

This was, I must admit, a lot closer to my potential price range.  It was a popular car for a bit, being heavily advertised with the Me and My Arrow track from the Harry Nilsson’s album The Point! back in the day.   The salesman was quite keen to demonstrate the vehicle to me, insisting that we go for a test drive.  Being somewhat shy, I let him lead on and got in the passenger seat.  He started it up and drove off the lot and up the street a ways, then pulled over, undid his seat belt, and said we should switch seats.

Slowly I got out of the car and walked around to the driver’s side, slid in, adjusted the seat a bit, and buckled up.  The salesman was busy telling me how he had to drive the car off the lot for “insurance reasons” but I could take it from here.

This is the point in the story where I need to stop and tell you I was 13 years old at the time.  It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade and I was standing in front of the Century Chrysler Plymouth dealership there on Stevens Creek Blvd. because that is where the old 23/24 line bus stop was located.

But rather than getting on the bus and heading to… I don’t recall… probably to the San Antonio Hobby Show up in Mountain View… where ever I was going, I was now sitting in the driver’s seat of an automobile on Kiely Blvd. with the engine running and an adult in the seat next to me waiting for me to put it in gear.

What the hell! Let’s go!

Actually, the whole scenario wasn’t all that bad.  If I put my daughter in the same situation today, as she is the same age I was back then, she would be lost enough for it to be obvious she shouldn’t be driving.

But I had spent many a summer on my grandfather’s farm out in the central valley of California.  I had been driving farm equipment of one type or another since I was six.  The thing about being tall when you are a kid, and I was tall as a kid, is that adults frequently… and mistakenly… estimate age, maturity, ability, and general assumed knowledge of the world based solely on your height.

In hindsight, my grandfather, who didn’t stand all that much taller than me by the time I was 13, just had me do things that he estimated were appropriate for my height as much as anything.  I was the first grandchild, so everything to do with me was pretty much experimental anyway.  Boundaries that corralled my cousins later on had not yet be drawn.  Plus, when you’re out on the farm and you have to drive out to help repair a piece of broken equipment or top up the tank of a pickup that ran out gas, and there is just the two of you, both of you have to drive back.  Practicality dictates.

So, technically, I could drive.  I had certainly driven vehicles more complicated than this Plymouth.  It was even automatic transmission, so why not?

I don’t recall if I put my signal on or looked over my shoulder before I pulled out onto the road, but I got there.  As we reached Saratoga Avenue the salesman told me to turn right.  I went through the channelized right and onto Saratoga where he again indicated I should take a right, only this next right was the on ramp to Interstate 280.  I was a little rough making that corner, not having bothered to slow down, causing the salesman to grab the overhead handle.  There was no real danger, I just hadn’t gauged the corner quite right.

We went down the on ramp and onto the freeway and I brought the car up to and then past the speed limit, the engine roaring to the extent that the little four cylinder could.  He then indicated I should take the next off ramp, which would put us along Lawrence Expressway and then to turn back towards the dealership up Stevens Creek Blvd. again.

I took the corner onto Stevens Creek a bit too fast, but otherwise kept it between the lines and managed to pull up into the dealership lot and park the car with some degree of accuracy.  I am sure the salesman had seen worse.  The route was something like this, with the X marking where I took over driving and the red pin where the dealership lay.  Oak Tree Mazda is right next door and only on the map because I used it as the start point and then made the route go via Interstate 280.

Map copyright Google Maps and all that

Map copyright Google Maps and all that

Google puts the whole route at just shy of three miles.  Great fun and likely the highlight of my summer on reflection.  I have actually driven that same test drive route on several occasions when shopping for a car on that stretch of Stevens Creek, and I think about this day every single time.

So there we stood, the salesman and I, his hand on the hood of the car.  We were now into what I recall as the difficult bit.

As you might have guessed, he wasn’t just taking people out for joy rides for the fun of it.  He wanted me to buy the car.  He was just three years early on that front.  When I was 16 and had spent two summers working at the family business to save up money and had a fast food job during the school year to keep an automobile in tires, gasoline, and repair… and actually had a driver’s license… this would have been a very good car for me.

I even thought about this very car when it came time to buy one of my own.  Unsurprisingly, it was long gone from the dealer’s lot by then.  Trust me, I checked.  The optimism of youth.

But at that point in time, with no job, a weekly allowance of $2, and lacking any official state sanction to operate a motor vehicle on the public roads, the whole idea… no matter how much I might have wanted the car… was pretty much off the table.

But how to communicate that?

I was already keenly aware of the unlawfulness of what I had just done.  I was not about to blurt out my actual age and lack of a driver’s license.  I figured trouble lay that direction and could see them calling my parents at a minimum and maybe the police if they were well and truly enraged.

But I couldn’t just up and run away, though the temptation struck me.  While I lacked any sort of polished manners, not an uncommon situation for 13 year old boys, I had a sense of what being completely rude was, and turning on my heel and walking off after being offered a test drive seemed to fall into that territory.

So I adopted an attitude of non-committal interest in all the salesman had to say.  Yes, the car seemed to be a good deal, if not explicitly for me.  I appreciated that he had some room to work with on the price if I was a serious buyer.  I acknowledged that the detailing they offered to do on the vehicle and the extended warranty were generous, as far as it went.  I just never said, “I ain’t buying the car” and I never hit a point where I felt I could exit the scene gracefully.

This went on for a while as the salesman pointed out that I clearly liked the vehicle, that the price was one of great reasonableness for a car of such value and efficiency, and offering to sweeten the deal in this way or that as time dragged on.

As an adult I have never been able to hold this much sway over a car salesman as I did as a scared and embarrassed 13 year old boy.  I could have set my price, had I been in the market and all those other details.

Eventually he decided that he needed help to pull me over the threshold and get me to buy the car.  I was clearly interested, as I was still standing there on the lot with him next to the car.

So he went to get his manager.

In hindsight the couple of minutes I was standing there alone next to the car was my opportunity to escape.  I could have bolted around the back of the lot and come up around behind the Meridian Quad to hide in the Time Zone arcade where I would later see Space Invaders for the first time.  I would have been free.

Instead I waited, not wanting to be rude.  And so I was standing there as the sales manager came out.

He was a salesman of the old school.  He was loud and brash and literally used the phrase, “What do I have to do to get you to drive off the lot in this car today?”

He wasn’t going to put up with my non-committal nonsense.  He wanted an answer… the right answer… and he wanted it now.  And when I kept veering away from the direction he wanted to go, he got angry… or decided that playing angry was the right move.

That was actually a liberating moment.

I have much more trouble saying no to people who are being reasonable than people who are not.  And somebody who starts yelling at me… well my Catalan heritage has a tendency to surge to the forefront and I will go from very inoffensive and deferential to yelling back twice as loud in a flash.  It can be very much a light switch mood change.

I didn’t quite go there, but my temper flashed and it gave me the courage to storm out of there like I was offended and wasn’t going to take that shit from anyone.  And so I was free.  To this day I hope that the salesman felt that his manager came out and screwed up his sale.

I don’t recall what I did for the rest of the afternoon.  I am pretty sure I didn’t go back to the bus stop around front.

I was also unsure who I could tell about this.  Who could I trust to not tell, because I still feared that some trouble might follow, and more importantly, who would even believe me.  So I kept it to myself for quite a while, but every once in a while I drag out this anecdote when sitting around swapping tales of misspent youth.

Meanwhile, time has moved forward, as it tends to do.

Century Chrysler Plymouth on the corner of Stevens Creek and Kiely has long since folded up shop.  The location is now the home of Stevens Creek Toyota.  The VTA 23/24 bus line has since been re-routed .  When it came time for me to buy a car three years later, I did end up with a Plymouth.  However it was a 1974 Plymouth Duster, with the 225 Slant Six motor and a three speed shifter on the floor, a ride probably better suited the abuses a young driver can inflict on a car.  It came into contact with a number of large objects over the years I drove it… a tree, some garbage cans, a mountain, the side of a house, a concrete bridge abutment, Barbara Avenue, and two considerably less solid Japanese cars… though one of the latter hit me first.  It was also the vehicle I used back when we played U-Boat, a topic I wrote about previously.

Some of the U-Boat crew in 1982

The Duster, second from the left, me sprawled on the hood

And in late 1986, when the old Duster finally stopped running and could not be revived… it literally quit on me as I was driving to work and the mechanic could not get the motor running again… I bought my first new car, a 1987 model year Mazda 626 Coupe, the last year for that generation, and a great car that I might still be driving today if some guy in a Honda Civic hadn’t plowed into it as it sat at a red light.  A tale for another time.  I purchased it from Oak Tree Mazda, which is right next door to where the events of this story began.  I even went on the same route when I test drove the 626, though the salesman at Oak Tree Mazda wanted to see my driver’s license first.

Probably a wise plan, all things considered.

The Adventures of Opus and Mopar Mac

It is a cold Friday night in February of 1982.

Potshot and I are sitting in my 74 Plymouth Duster on a side street in Cupertino near a point we refer to as “crash landing.”  Our eyes are focused on a Citizen’s Band radio mounted under the vast black metal dashboard of the Duster.

Despite the cold, the passenger side window is rolled down and Potshot is holding out the window something that, from a distance, might be mistaken for a crude ankh.

The ankh is, in fact, a wooden “T” with a copper loop attached to the top.  There is a coax cable attached to the loop that runs down the length of the wooden handle and into the car.  It is attached to the antenna connector on the back of the CB radio.

It is a crude radio direction finder that Potshot made.

Potshot is rotating the loop while we watch the signal meter on the radio in an attempt to locate “Huey.”

However, we cannot get a bearing on the elusive “Huey” (named after the cartoon duck and not the helicopter, and you’d know why if you met him) because “Mr. 350” (commonly called “Weebee”) is on the channel practicing at being annoying by keying up the microphone and rambling on and on, frequently riffing on “We be we be we be we be we be on the CB” (which is why we call him “Weebee” instead of his preferred handle) or the ubiquitous for the time “Goodbuddygoodbuddygoodbuddygoodbuddygoodbuddy” spoken rapidly and continuously until he ran out of breath.

So we weren’t doing very well.  We weren’t even sure “Huey” was still on this channel.  Maybe it was time to leave our observation and tracking point and cruise for targets.

And what are we doing out in the cold trying to track somebody’s radio emissions?

We are playing U-Boat.

U-Boat was the brainchild of our friend Bill.

I never knew if he thought it up himself or heard about it from somebody else, but he introduced the idea one day in high school.

The concept was simple.  A group of people with cars divide up into two teams and stalk each other in a pre-determined geographical area.

When you saw a member of the opposing team, you would flash your high beams at them to “sink” them for a point.

High Beams of Doom!

High Beams of Doom!

Of course, sinking neutrals was supposed to cost you, but you had to get caught.

You also had to have a CB radio in your car to communicate with your team and to eavesdrop on the other side.

Of course, to use a CB, you have to have a handle.

Huey got his because that was his nickname in any case.

Bill was Frogger, for reasons that escape me.

I got Mopar Mac because I drove a Plymouth, and the Chrysler parts division is called Mopar. (Allegedly standing for MOre Parts Are Required, reflecting upon the unreliability of Chrysler products.)

Potshot took Opus from the penguin in Bloom County, a popular comic at the time.  Somehow the penguin association stuck with him and for years afterward people who never played U-Boat or knew his handle would buy him penguin related gifts.

There was also Filbert, Binkley, Spock, Mr. 350, MCU, and Rice Burner among those who set sail in the game.

Some of the U-Boat crew in 1982

Some of the U-Boat crew in 1982

We started out with what seemed like a modest territory to cover and two teams of three cars each.

The Hunting Grounds

The Hunting Grounds

We quickly found out how difficult it can be to find three other cars, all in motion, in even what seemed to be a small area.  Subsequent games were often cut down to the area in the red square.

And still it could be difficult to spot the enemy.

Part of that was the nature of how we hunted.  Long stretches of time would go by where I was sure we were all laying in ambush, waiting for somebody else to drive by.  We would sit on side streets, wedged between other parked cars, in people’s driveways, waiting and watching regular intersections as they represented choke points.  This was gate camping in 1982.

Of course another issue was that we all cheated early and often.

We would run out of bounds and listen to radio traffic or try to get an RDF bearing on somebody. (It turned out that the crude loop antenna was formed in such a way that it focused 90 degrees off from where we assumed it would.  It was a bit more useful once we figured that out!)  Somebody once spent a good part of one game parked in a garage, broadcasting as though they were in motion.  Once in a while we’d just drive over to Jack in the Box for some food and let everybody stew.

We also had to work up codes for locations to coordinate with our team without letting the other side know where we were.  Of course, a good deal of disinformation went out over the air as well.

There were even attempts at camouflage.  I would get out of the car mid-game and unplug one of my headlights or the running lights so that  the headlight pattern that everybody had gotten to know would be a little different.

In the end, scores were rather low, even in our reduced hunting zone.  The roads just aren’t as crowded as you think they are.

For the most part we avoided irritating the neighbors.  Only once did we get entangled with the Sheriff’s department after “Mr. 350” roared past me, and the police cruiser in front of me, on the wrong side of Linda Vista in the 72 Camero with the 350 CID engine from which he took his handle.  Born with the gift of gab, he talked himself out of yet another ticket, nicely leaving the mic open on his radio so we could hear him do it.

Most nights of playing were slow.  Finding targets took patience and long stretches of time would be devoted to searching or laying in wait.  This is part of the reason we sailed with two people per vehicle most nights, the boredom.  That and the fact that not everybody who wanted to play had a car.

So the night would creep by as we hunted.  Every once in a while though, there would be a “YOUR DEAD!” cry over the radio and somebody would be sent back to base for a short duration.

There were, to my recollection, few if any disputes over who fired first.  There was no MILES gear / Laser Tag level of victory determination.  It was more a “Bang! You’re dead!” level of resolution.

We played U-Boat over the course of two years before it fully faded from our routine.  A lot of people came and played once, found it boring, and did not return.  After a while we got to a point where finding enough people became the biggest obstacle to playing and eventually we gave up trying.  There were more entertaining things to do on a Friday night.

But for a time there was a pulse of excitement when we heard somebody suggest that it might be a night for U-Boat.

[Warning: These memories are over 25 years old.  They may have shifted, settled, or mixed with unrelated events during storage.  Some of this may never have happened.  I will affirm however that Mr. 350 had a knack for getting pulled over and talking his way out of tickets and that years later I bought Potshot a 6-pack of imported beer solely because it had a penguin on the label.  I recall that the beer was branded “Zele” and that it wasn’t very good.]