A plan is hatching for the late summertime with Brian, who has asked me for some help with a project he’s got on his plate: he’s overhauling and outfitting a 25′ schoolbus for a family of six to drive across the country, and wanted to know if I could help him with the job. This is part of a larger plan he has to shift his business from home renovation to custom camper outfitting, and he’s asked me to join him.
There are a lot of considerations to be weighed here, and I’m taking none of them lightly. By nature and experience I’m extremely conservative when it comes to my career—having been laid off twice, I don’t like the feeling of operating without a safety net. I’m finally in a place where I’ve been able to put away solid retirement money year over year (and have it matched, no small benefit) but of course, I’d like to have more set aside. The idea of getting out from behind a computer and working with my hands and my head is extremely tempting, especially after having been stuck in one long Zoom call since last March. There are so many pros and cons to this idea that I can’t sort them all out right now, so we’re doing the smart thing: we’re going to tackle this first project, see how it goes, and reassess from that point. The basic plan is to use a bunch of my unpaid sabbatical during the month of September to work on the bus full time with Brian to see how far we can get, and surround that time with paid sabbatical vacation so I’m not wrung out when I go back to work. I’m upset our original plan to travel got completely torpedoed by COVID, but maybe we can make something good out of this.
It’s all very preliminary right now, but it should be a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to a break from my desk.
Cousin Matt texted me a picture of a pretty black 1965 Mustang on Sunday, nonchalantly asked me if Henderson Maryland was close by, and if I’d be interested in driving out there to pick it up for him, drive it back to the house, and hang on to it while he arranged for transport. I told him it would be a major inconvenience, but I’d do it anyway. Actually, I jumped at the chance. He’s getting the insurance and other legal stuff taken care of, and then we’ll drive out there later this week to grab it up—probably Thursday (which works best, as it’s going to be raining until then anyway). I’m going to load up a bunch of GoPros and make a fun afternoon out of it. I’ve driven a lot of different cars in my life, but never a ’65 Mustang; taking it back across the bridge is going to be a treat. I don’t know what driving condition it’s in, and I’ll have to do a pre-drive inspection before I get it on the road, but this should be fun!
The wind was howling through the ‘Ville late last week and the temperature had dropped, so we hunkered down for a couple of days. On our coffee walk Saturday morning, as the wind blew around us, Jen reminded me that Finley had asked to fly a kite a few weeks ago—late in the day, after I’d put a full 8 hours in and without the energy to take her up on it. When we got home, we ate breakfast and then walked across the street to the church parking lot and put up her butterfly kite, one Aunt Renie got her for a birthday a few years back. It flew really well until a couple of gusts brought it down, and the fiberglas rods punched through the ends of the pockets in the wings. I figured we needed the Big Boy so I ran back to the house and brought out my beach kite, the heavy-duty beast I bought 20+ years ago that has been on every beach vacation we’ve taken. I’ve dunked it in the Atlantic, lost it in dunes, and tangled it in trees. It’s been field-patched multiple times, the bridle has been replaced twice (three)? times and it’s been through two different tails. But it always leaps into the air and stays there. Saturday was no different: it stayed aloft with no problem, and for a short while that morning the world went quiet and we watched it ripple and dance in the blue sky above.
Faced with the latest news reports which all claim vaccination rates are dropping, we’re being pragmatic about the summer of 2021. I’ve been eyeing the situation in India and thinking that we’re headed for the same blowback here: lots of people wrongly assuming the worst is over, skipping their vaccination (or simply not getting one, because…tracking chips?) and use going maskless figuring it’s all over. The alarmist in me is trying to keep from getting too alarmist but I feel like shit is going to go down before it all gets better, and I’d like to get the three of us immunized before America goes full Day of the Dead.
So, we’re making more improvements at the Lockardugan Estate, figuring we’re stuck in here for another year. Jen will be doing big reveals later and I’ll share photos then, but she’s got some exciting plans that I’ve already begun work on. This weekend was focused mainly on getting the truck running so that I could go on a run for oversized supplies, and then getting started. It’s been amazing what I can fit in, on, and behind the CR-V with nothing but a roof rack, trailer hitch, and ratchet straps, but 4×8′ sheets of plywood don’t fit inside and I can’t drive with the hatch open. So the Scout gets pressed into service for the big stuff.
Back in the fall we had an electrician come out and put a switch and a wire in on the front porch for a ceiling fan, which was good! We need a fan out there. But he had to cut through the odd 1950’s era drywall that we inherited to run the wiring, which meant the walls had some gnarly holes that needed patching. 376 applications of drywall mud later, I was able to feather out the patches, paint them, and call the walls done. The fan we ordered is “in transit” somewhere between there and here, which means it’s probably sitting in a container at the bottom of the Ever Given. We bought a simple three-blade white fan with no light, which is apparently very rare and expensive; the more lights and faux Victorian bullshit you decorate a fan with, the cheaper it gets. But it’ll look great once it goes in, and porch season is almost upon us.
I walked out to the garage on Saturday fully expecting to fire up the Scout and go for some supplies, and…the starter barely cranked over. All the air drained out of me like a leaky pool float. Annoyed, I put the trickle charger on the battery with the cables to the truck disconnected, and took care of some housework. An hour later, it still wouldn’t crank, so I put them back on and waited two hours—with the same result. I thought I’d try swapping the old starter out for the new one in the off chance that was the issue, so I put the tow strap on the CR-V and pulled the Scout out of the garage so that I could take the tire off and have level ground to work on. I’m getting pretty fast at swapping starters out, and I’ve now added a 9mm wrench for the ignition lead to my toolkit.
That, of course, did not change anything, so I put the smaller Honda battery in the Scout and found that it fired right up.
At this point, I’ve got two possible culprits:
- There’s a parasitic drain on the battery from something that has suddenly appeared; perhaps a critter got into the wiring in the last couple of weeks.
- I mistakenly reversed the polarity of the trickle charger and messed the battery up.
Because time was of the essence, I figured I’d solve for #2 and bought another new battery, which was not a cheap solution—but I didn’t have time to chase down wiring issues with other projects waiting. Once I put the new battery in, she fired right up. I let her sit overnight and she started easily on Sunday morning, so I put about 20 miles on her running errands.
On my way, I spied a new Scout sitting at the shop up the street, so I drove up to the back lot and peeked around. He’s moved the stuff that was there and pulled in some new trucks: the thing that caught my eye at once was a beautiful, beat up Metro that I think I’ve seen online in classifieds.
There was a red Scout that looked good from one side and kind of terrible from another—minus axles, engine, and front clip, and covered in interesting speed parts stickers. The inner fenders were in really nice shape but the more I looked the sketchier it got.
Near that was a 1980 in rust-colored primer, which looked like it was in very good shape from the outside. Peeking inside showed it was a manual with bucket seats, but I didn’t see any diesel badges.
Conscious that I was trespassing, I was careful to stay away from them as much as possible, shoot some quick pictures, and then leave quietly. I figure driving a Scout up to see other Scouts means I’m not just some rando, but I don’t want to piss anyone off, and it’s not hard to find the guy in the purple Scout around here. The rest of the trip went without a hitch, and I was able to slide 4 sheets of 4’x8′ beadboard in the back, using several bits of scrap wood to make sure nothing got scratched or dented.
The plan now is to let her sit in the garage until Thursday with the new battery connected, and if she starts without a problem I’ll call this fixed. If she doesn’t, then I’ve got to pull her back out and chase down a parasitic drain, the concept of which does not fill me with joy.
One of the first things I did when I was having starting problems was to clean the contacts on the battery and then work my way through each lead to its end. After cleaning the contacts on the starter and then replacing that, I pulled the negative lead off the engine and disassembled it as much as possible to clean the leads there. Because the bare wire at the connector was frayed and green I snipped about 2″ from the end, cleaned the parts, and reconnected the lead, but it was about 1″ too short to reach the battery.
I made it out to Advance for a new negative battery cable last night and put it in with little fuss, then left the battery to charge overnight. This morning it fired right up. I pulled it out and let it idle until it was warm, then shut it down—with the cables connected—and let it sit for a few hours. When I went back out and tried it, it fired right up. Another test a few hours later got the same result. So I guess the negative battery cable just decided to crap out? Strange, but I guess it was probably 40 years old at this point. The new one is a fat 12 gauge wire, so it should be plenty strong for the load. I put it back in the garage with everything connected, and if it starts tomorrow I’m calling it fixed.
With a little time to kill this evening I put some snaps on the new (to me) tan soft top over the window posts. This follows the snaps I put in on the black top to keep things snug on the frame, and should make summer driving with the tan top a little more manageable. That top was manufactured with snaps around the bottom perimeter, but I’ve never put the bars on that go with it. Maybe I’ll give that a try this year.
I have good days and bad days as a father. I spend a lot of time trying to model good behavior to Finley, walking her through problem solving, conflict management, critical thinking, and interpersonal relationships. I’ve given these lessons countless times using countless examples, hoping she’ll pick up on and employ some of the strategies I’ve demonstrated. But being a parent means you can show your child the right way to do things a hundred times and then fuck it all up with one meltdown. Part of parenting is also being aware of the meltdown when it occurs, taking a deep breath, and talking oneself down off the ledge in the middle of the red mist. On some days I’m better at all of this and on others I fail miserably.
Yesterday I took Finn out for a quick dinner and some errands. The plan was to get some food and then pick up a negative battery cable for the Scout, which is still suffering from a starting problem I have not been able to diagnose. We got our food, sat in the car and ate, I turned the key to start the Accord, and was met with a weak crank and then a click. All subsequent attempts were met with the same problem. Pulling and reconnecting the battery leads had no effect. Several months ago I had this same problem and replaced the battery (not a small expense) but apparently now it’s a larger issue.
And the fact that I was stuck in a car that wouldn’t start on my way to get a part for another car that wouldn’t start set me over the edge. My mood went to black; peeling my thumbnail backwards on the hood did not help. I texted Jen to ask for a jumpstart. When she pulled up next to us, I was not able to jump the Accord from the CR-V, so I had to call USAA for a tow to our local garage.
Throughout the situation, as I was modeling terrible behavior in front of Finley, I was aware of it, and the fact that I could not correct this terrible behavior made things even worse. We’ve repeatedly shown her how to stop, take deep breaths, jump up and down, and use other strategies to reset her brain; I did none of these. I don’t know where this anger came from. I don’t know why it felt so easy to lose control like I did. And I don’t know why it was so hard to regain that control once it was gone, but I wasn’t happy with myself afterwards—and I’m still not.
For the last thirty years, I’ve been working hard on my temper and how quickly I lose it, but it’s clear I have a long way to go.
Hazel has slowly been working on a routine as she’s gotten older, and some of her more annoying habits have been smoothing out over time. She used to launch out of bed like an ICBM with the first beams of light over the horizon and pace by the bedroom door whining and crying and nervously scratching herself. I’d shuffle downstairs with one eye open, let her out, and then collapse on the couch praying that I’d be able to go back to sleep for a few minutes before she banged on the door to come inside—or woke up the neighborhood barking her head off.
She’s sleeping in later these days, which is a blessing, and even if I’m up before she is and slowly pick up my phone to do the morning’s calendar/weather/news check (what time do I need to be put together for my first Zoom call/how cold will the morning walk be/what’s happening in the outside world) she’ll clock that I’m moving but won’t stir until she sees I’m actually getting up. She knows what reading the iPhone means, and she knows what the pre-rise bed stretch means. She can read the signs.
So on Saturday morning, we slept in for as long as my bladder would allow, and then crawled out of bed to walk downtown for coffee and muffins. Along the way we passed several signs for yard sales, which is your author’s crack cocaine. The pickings weren’t quite as good as the signs promised, but a nice lady gave Jen a 1996 Maryland Master Gardener Handbook for free along with a thick binder full of her notes; she had to carry it back home before we continued our walk.
After eating, I got out to the greenhouse and cleaned up the plants, pinching off all of the suckers, pruning spare branches, and keeping things moving upward. They all got watered, and I fixed the wooden foundation of the building so that it’s a bit more stable. Meanwhile Jen pruned a bunch of the day lilies around the entrance back and cleaned up the gardens around the house. it’s all looking really good out there—I’m optimistic for a good haul this summer.
We ran out to drop Finn off at a friend’s house and ran some errands at the local Home Depot, and while I was there I left my Moleskine in the basket of the shopping cart and drove off without it. On a good day this might have been only a small setback, but I left my vaccination card and some other stuff in the back pocket, which made it a bad day. Two calls to Customer Service and a trip to the store netted us nothing, so I’ve pretty much given up hope. At least I have a picture of my card.
Sunday we puttered around the house and got a late start on the day. After dropping Finn off at a friend’s house across town Jen and I took Hazel to Second Chance to look for some spare doors. To recap: Our fridge is stuffed in what was originally the hallway coat closet, and during the summer, our un air-conditioned house tends to get stuffy. Having the fridge in the closet with the door closed is a terrible idea, so we’ve had to crack the door open and let the cats wander in and out and generally deal with how shitty that looks for sixteen years. Jen’s idea was to find another door in the same style, punch out the center panels, and replace them with radiator screen so that the fridge gets enough airflow and the door stays shut.
Second Chance is one of the advantages of living near Baltimore. We found a very close twin to our doors on the shelf—only 1.5″ taller and 1/2″ wider, in the same large-over-small panel design. We also found a replacement door to the master bath, something to replace the thin wooden screen door we found on the side of the road back in 2004. We stumbled on a beautiful, sturdy 12-light door with good hardware and wound up getting both for $60. I found a way to stuff them both in the back of the CR-V with the rear window up, scooped the dog into my lap, and Jen drove us home with our prizes.
The weather, which has been pogoing up and down for the last month, is supposed to get up into the 80’s this week, which means Brood X is going to rise from their slumber. I don’t know that we’ll get the same number of cicadas without the tree cover we had in 2004, but I’m sure it’s going to be loud out there.
So: the Scout was not starting yesterday, after having been on the trickle charger since Tuesday. I tried it first thing this morning after having been on the charger overnight, and got pretty much the same result—a chattering from the starter but not enough juice to keep it going. I started diagnosing by cleaning the contacts on the starter and all the positive wires, with no change. Then I tested the charge at the ignition wire on the starter to see if that was getting juice from the key, which it was. I pulled the battery and brought it to AutoZone to have them test it, which showed no problems. After a trip to the hardware store to buy some supplies, I rigged up a test jumper and bench-tested my two spare starters. The one that was making intermittent noise tested fine so I put the Scout up on jacks, pulled the tire, and swapped it out for the year-old unit.
Crucially, I disconnected the positive battery cable and put the battery on the trickle charger for the hour that took. After hooking it back up, the truck fired right up. I left everything in place, put the tire back on, dropped it onto the pavement, and cleaned up my tools. Then I went to start it up and move it—and had barely any juice.
So, a slow leak in the electrical system? Maybe a critter climbed up underneath on Wednesday afternoon and started munching on wires? Maybe the bulkhead connectors, which always have looked like they were blasted by Godzilla, finally melted?
The sky had turned gray around noon, and it began drizzling as I tried one last time to jump it from the Accord with no luck. So I used gravity and the gentle slope of the driveway to coast it back into the garage, disconnected the positive battery lead, and put the trickle charger on it one more time. Then I came inside and cracked a beer.
So the good news: the bumper is on! I shot it with a can of etching primer and then a final coat of heavy implement black, and it looks great! The whole front of the truck looks much better now. The license plate looks great in place. Overall I’m stoked with how this worked out.
The problem is that sometime between Tuesday and today, she developed a starting issue. I got absolutely nothing from the starter at first, so I checked the battery with a multimeter, which was giving me a little more than 12 volts. After looking over all the wiring and finding no breaks, I pulled the Accord in and was able to jump the engine with some difficulty—lots of chattering from the starter and then some slow cranking. I let it run in the driveway for the 15 minutes it took to swap bumpers, shut it down, and was rewarded with chattering again. I was meeting Brian in Annapolis for dinner, and, disappointed I couldn’t take the Scout, I set it up on the trickle charger and left. When I got home, nothing had changed.
Tomorrow I’m going to have Jen help me test the leads on the starter, clean them off, and see if that does anything. If that’s no good, I’ll take the battery back to AutoZone and have them replace it for a new one under warranty. And if that doesn’t work… I’m not entirely sure what to do after that.