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.
Current events have me looking back on a lot of my history, and it seems like some of that history is catching up with me, too. I popped on to the Binder Planet while we were on vacation and saw a post in one of the main forums about the passing of a familiar name: John Hofstetter, who used to frequent the IHC Digest (a precursor to webforums, back when email was the next evolutionary step beyond BBS). He was an old-timer then, someone who always had a minute to help a young shit like me figure something out in the days before YouTube and when the pictures in reprinted service manuals were too dark to be usable. That led me to another thread started back in 2017 asking where all the old timers were: as I read through the posts I realized that a lot of the guys I’d learned from back in the day are gone, and I’m now the age they were when I got into Scouts. That was sobering.
File this under bummer: Looks like Geoff, the guy I bought my blue traveltop from, is selling his Scout via Facebook Marketplace. His rig looks cool but the pictures he’s posted show a lot more rust in the body than I remember seeing in 2013. He made the questionable decision to cover the front body panels in some kind of bedliner years ago, and somewhere in the last five years swapped an LS under the hood. Overall it’s a nice rig with a lot of good parts, and someone will be lucky to own it.
Our family moved from Connecticut to New York in the fall of 1983, from a rural, leafy house on a hill to a rural, leafy house on a hill—surrounded by a swamp and an impound lot. The second half of seventh grade pretty much sucked; I was in yet another new school surrounded by people who’d grown up around each other, and I was odd man out, again. I went into eighth grade with nobody I knew around me, and basically stuck it out for the entire year by myself. It wasn’t until I made it into ninth grade that I made friends with anyone I liked—and that had everything to do with music.
One of my best friends was a guy with an unusual name, and he was into most of the same things I was—comics, playing bass, Van Halen/Rush, crappy 80’s apocalypse movies, and shitty cars. His family was large and loud and lived right above town, much closer to everything than we did, and his house became the epicenter of all of my activities—mostly because we lived 10 miles outside of town and this was before I had a driver’s license. His mom and ad were kind and generous and larger than life; one of the first times I visited his house, I called home for a ride and for some reason both my parents couldn’t make it. I squared up my courage and asked his dad, a 6-foot wide Polish fireplug, if he could drive me home. He looked me up and down, and told me to go out on the deck, face my house, and bend over, and he’d kick my ass home. He waited a beat, watched me shit my pants, and then smirked through his huge mustache before pointing at his service truck. His Mom was a tireless booster for all four of her kids—from band to gymnastics to horses to wrestling, she was there on the bus, at the events, making sure they—we—all had what we needed, whether it was food or equipment or support or a clear spot on the floor to sleep.
They took me in when I needed a place to crash before a marching band event, or a party, or just on the odd Friday night after school when we were hanging around. I spent nights on S’s floor pretzeled into an uncomfortable set of cushions, happy that I wasn’t stuck at my house miles away from the fun stuff. S. and I spent countless hours together, and he was the guy who got me back out of the introverted shell I’d been building since Connecticut. His friends were my friends, and I was lucky enough to fit in with them all, and it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I found out years ago (back when I was on Facebook, I think) that his Mom had beaten breast cancer. I don’t visit there for obvious reasons, and I’m epically terrible at staying in touch with anyone. But she’s been on my mind over the last couple of months, on and off; I’ve also been mulling a drive up to Putnam County to say hi to a bunch of old friends. It was a gut punch a few weeks ago to find out she had passed from a second bout of cancer. My immediate thought was that I needed to go up and pay my respects to his family in person, to somehow show how much they’d meant to me. With COVID lockdowns in full effect, that wasn’t going to happen.
Fast forward to the beginning of last week, when I got a DM on Instagram from S., who was going to be in town for his daughter’s lacrosse clinic. Would I like to get together? Damn right I would. I picked him up about a mile down the street at the indoor facility where Finn learned to play soccer and drove him out into Ellicott City to the brewery on Main Street. He hasn’t aged at all, and we quickly caught up on the years that have gone by. We had about three hours to shoot the shit, and it felt good to catch up with him and his family.
Clearly, I’ve got to get off my ass and reach out to friends and catch up and see how they’re doing, now more than ever.
Your correspondent, in 1994-5 or so, with my friend Logan Hicks at the Sowebo Festival. Over Logan’s right shoulder is a sunflower design I did with the words “fuck you” on either side. We sold out of them. (Photo by Bridget Griffith Evans, stolen from Facebook)
Brian dropped off his very slick welding setup on his way out to West Virginia Friday afternoon. It’s set up with a multi-voltage plug, meaning it’ll run on 230 or 115 volts, and it’s hooked up to a bottle of shielding gas. I meant to look it over on Saturday but I just ran out of time.
He rolled into the driveway on Sunday morning and we began work on securable storage bins for both our trucks. We took some time to talk over a plan, then visited three separate hardware stores to find a suitable staple. Once we’d done that and had a little lunch, we started measuring and cutting and tacking and head-scratching.
The staples went on pretty easily, and we only had to knock each of them off once to reposition.
Don’t judge my boogery weld; I haven’t done any welding in anger in over ten years.
The thing I was having more problems figuring out was how to secure the backside, but after Brian and I futzed with it a bit, we realized the lip at the top would provide 90˚ of clearance if we bent it backwards 45˚, and then all we’d have to do is weld the sides of the rear latch to the bin. Once that was done, we had a locking, secure bin ready to be secured to the floor.
This is still a puzzle, because we’re trying to keep things removable and low-profile, but we’ve got a plan for the back latch and possibly a solution for the front.
In the meantime, I’m going to grab some scrap steel and go out and lay some beads down with the welder. I only put in some quick tack welds but it was fun and I miss welding so much. If I can talk Brian into it, I’d like to hang on to it for another couple of weeks until I get the bottle jack mount fabricated and completed. Only then will he be able to rip it out of my hands.
After 10+ years of faithful, if not mediocre service, our fancy HE front-loading washing machine has given up the ghost. I’m no stranger to basic appliance maintenance, but when the display starts showing strange error codes and failing to drain, and the internet tells you it’s expensive problems with the computer in the unit, it’s time to call in a professional. Jamell was super-cool and nodded his head sadly when I showed it to him; he confirmed my suspicions that we were either going to have to replace the main control board (~$500 plus labor) or the motor (~$500 plus labor). He suggested we replace the whole unit and this time go with a top-loader, as they are easier to work on, break down less, and wash clothes better. I wanted to do my part for the environment and everything but I also don’t want to stink. So we’re heading out this afternoon to the
Sears Outlet American Freight to pick up a new Kenmore and have it delivered before we run out of clean underwear. I’m going to steal the top cover before it goes, because washing machine steel makes great automotive patch paneling.
Finn and I were in Easton at Karean’s house yesterday to help move some furniture and do some house maintenance before she has her carpeting replaced with hardwood flooring; she’s got heavy and bulky furniture that would be impossible to move solo, so we got the coffee table and couch moved together. Then I fixed some stuff around the house and tried to revive Rob’s 400-disc CD changers, which both powered on and immediately made screeching noises—which leads me to believe either the motors are bad or the belts that the motors drive are bad. I threw them both in the back of the car to do some more research, and there’s a chance I can fix them if it’s just the belts, but either way I’m going to be ripping CD’s for the next couple of months so that she’s got her music available again.