I posted a quicker version of this to the ‘Grams last week but I figured I’d add it here as well. Last week ended strong but this coming week is going to be better; we’ve got a lot of stuff to tackle. I drove 6 hours on Saturday to and from Richmond to pick up a school locker and Brian made a side trip this afternoon to pick up a steel roof rack. Hopefully we can get the large roof rack (for the tent) welded up, and get all of the storage boxes hung.
I’m sitting on the couch at home Friday afternoon, enjoying some downtime to catch up with Jen. I put in a solid four days’ work this week, pausing only because we’re out of things I can do myself and Brian is jammed up with other paying work that needs to be done. But we made some solid progress this week.
I rode out to Chestertown on Monday and met up with Brian to pick up the keys to the shed at noon. By 1PM I’d pulled the bus out and dusted off my trusty Hitachi hand planer—the one I used to plane the floor in the kitchen all those years ago—and got the whole floor leveled off. Then I cut and built a couple of screens for the windows; Schoolbuses don’t come with screens and they’ll need them where they’re traveling.
On Tuesday Brian and I made a plan to get the materials we’d need for the floor and for the roof rack, which required a trip to Wilmington, Delaware to pick up raw steel. After a tasty lunch at a taqueria, we grabbed the steel and were back by the early afternoon. We unloaded the steel, plywood, and other stuff, got the tools out and cut the rack together.
We’ve been chasing vendors for various elements for a while now, and finally got word back from the rooftop tent guy who will be starting production soon. The seats have been the other big question mark, and the original vendor there does not offer specifications or any detail on the website other than an eye-watering price. We did some more digging after dinner and I found a competitor who offers multiple sizes at a much lower price point—with measurements and specifications. Imagine that!
Wednesday we took that knowledge back to the bus and mapped out different seat sizes in blue tape on the floor. Brian hooked up the generator to the welder and attempted to tack the rack together but he wasn’t getting enough juice, so we punted on that. Matthew and Robbi came by to look things over and we agreed on a size and layout which gives us a direction; with this and the size of the rear bedding we know how much space we’ve got for the rest of the area. We continued cleaning up the interior to prep for the floor install until quitting time.
On Thursday I was on my own, but that was fine; I loaded up some podcasts and got to work installing plywood over the original floor. By about 12:30 I was done, and broke for some lunch out by the water to cool off. Then I climbed up onto the roof to measure out and find the angle we’ll need for the feet on the roof rack. When I knew that I hopped back down and built two screens until I ran out of supplies. It was 3:30 and I was hot and sweaty. Things were supposed to cool off after the rain but with the humidity it was still in the low 90’s. I closed things up and headed back to Brian’s, where we examined three steel storage boxes that arrived via UPS, and looked like they’d been dropped off the back of the truck. After cooling off, we agreed there wasn’t much else to accomplish until we had more supplies and Brian had time, so I loaded up and headed back home to see the girls.
Next week we’re going to install the storage boxes and find a way to hang the generator; that’s probably going to eat up a lot of time until we get the method down. Then maybe we’ll get the flooring in place.
On Tuesday, I drove over the bridge to Brian’s house, where I dropped some gear off, and then we went out to the field where the bus had been stored for a few months. It fired right up, and I followed Brian back to his driveway where he had a pressure washer ready to begin cleaning. He had to take off for another job so I set up a camera and got to work spraying several years’ worth of grime off of the bus. That didn’t take very long, so I climbed inside and started tearing sections of the interior out.
First came the bedframe in back, and then I worked my way forward to the seats. These were repurposed from a couple of minivans and mounted on modified bus platforms, so I had to do a lot of climbing up and down inside and out of the bus to get vice-grips on the fasteners underneath. At a certain point after I was hot, tired, and sick of the process I said fuck it, busted out the angle grinder, and cut the heads off the bolts. In retrospect that should have been how I started the process. All of the seats came out except for the two rows up front. The single seat by the door was also holding a platform connected to the battery inverter, charging unit, and fuse block. Since that was all still live and hooked to four deep-cycle car batteries in parallel I left it alone.
Brian made it back home at about 4 and I nervously pointed at a huge pile of debris in his driveway, but he was happy with the progress I’d made. We then drove the bus over to a rented shed in Rock Hall, backed it in, and called it a day. They’re putting me up in a beautiful travel camper they bought new last year; I have running water, electricity and air conditioning out in their driveway. I slept in a bunk above the hitch tongue with three screen windows providing a cool breeze all night.
Wednesday I drove out to Rock Hall, pulled the bus out of the shed, and got to work pulling the last of the seats out and stripping the floor. There was a layer of wood laminate down over the original rubber schoolbus floor, and all of that had to come out, so I was happy I’d packed a hammer, chisels, and plenty of podcasts. Some of the floor came up quickly and some of it fought me inch by inch. I took a break mid-day and found a lovely market in Rock Hall for a sandwich and an iced tea. The rental shed is about 1/2 mile from the marina, so I pulled into the parking lot, put the tailgate down, and ate my sandwich with the breeze blowing off the water, watching boats come and go. By 4PM I had about 2/3 of the floor up and piled in a corner, and my back was tighter than a guitar string. I headed back to Brian’s and his son handed me a fresh chocolate smoothie as soon as I got out of the truck. I could get used to that.
After dinner I had to cover the Scout with a tarp, as a big thunderstorm blew through the Mid-Atlantic that evening. Thursday morning I drove back out through a light rain and got at it early; by about noon I had the remainder of the rubber up off the floor and in two (heavy) contractor’s bags. Brian came out and we got some lunch, and then he deconstructed the charging/fuse system while I took measurements and cleaned up the workspace.
We then spent a couple of hours formulating a plan. We have a good spot for the diesel generator up between the driver’s side axles, and Brian ordered three locking steel storage units for the other free areas under the bus. This will give them 27 cubic feet of dry storage outside of the main living area—which is key, as there isn’t a lot of space inside. He has a guy in Colorado who’s supposed to be building a rooftop tent but dude been hard to reach, and we don’t have exact measurements for that yet either. We do have a plan for the platform it’ll sit on, and a way to get the kids up into the tent; one of our next big jobs is to source the steel and weld the platform together so that it accounts for the slope on the sides of the roof and sits as low as possible.
We’ve got a plan for the rear bed but the vendor for the new seats is being flaky and there’s no data sheet available for them to review. Without that information we can’t do much with the living space inside—it all hinges on how much space those seats need and how big they are when they fold down into beds.
We have the generator, and the steel storage units will be here on Thursday. I think we’re going to get the generator mounted first, and that’ll help us work out the plan for the storage units. I’m going to get busy planing the rest of the rubber off the floor to make it flat as possible, then cut and fit plywood to go over the floor that’s there so we’ve got a clean surface to lay checkerboard tiles on.
Here are a couple of quick videos of this week’s work. I’ll have more to write about later; I’m currently chasing down some information on seats and 3D modeling software.
As I mentioned earlier this month, I’ve been listening a lot to the new Deafheaven album, Infinite Granite, and I really dig it. Very atmospheric, excellent melody, lots of energy.
Baltimore’s own Turnstile released a new album, Glow On, which sounds really good on first listen. I really loved their last album, a mixture of powerful vocals, shredding guitar, and pure hardcore energy. This one is more polished but the fact that they’re just going for it with every idea they have is amazing.
And, as mentioned before, Chvrches just released a new album that I haven’t listened to yet. I’m embedding it here to remind myself to spin it as soon as I’m in front of the laptop again.
On the streaming front, I watched the last season of Bosch on Amazon Prime and enjoyed every minute of it. I’d read this was the last season and wondered if they had any plans beyond this, and my hunch was correct: three of the main characters are going to continue in a new series over on IMDb TV (apparently that is A Thing) where Bosch, his daughter, and another character will fight crime in LA. I’ll miss all of the supporting characters I was familiar with from the book and series—Crate and Barrel, J. Edgar, Lt. Billets, Sgt. Mankewicz, etc. but they’ve had seven great seasons.
In my podcast queue I found a couple of new shows I really like. Strong Songs features a careful deconstruction of a song, spanning multiple genres, as well as careful explanations of basic music theory. I came for his episode on Know One Knows and was hooked. I have two friends currently teaching music history and theory and immediately shot the link off to them. There are three seasons dating back to 2018 so I’m set for awhile.
SmartLess is a podcast hosted by Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett, and they are always able to get incredible guests to come on and talk about anything and everything. They got Kamala Harris the week she was asked to be the VP; they’ve had Paul McCartney and Megan Rapinoe and Tony Hawk and many more.
I Spy is a podcast produced by Foreign Policy and features stories told by spies about their experiences in danger zones around the world: a CIA agent before the fall of Saigon, the guy who interrogated Saddam Hussein, and a Soviet sleeper agent sent to the U.S. before the end of the Cold War. Riveting and fascinating. This was my binge on the way home from Ohio a few weeks ago.
Cautionary Tales is about mistakes that we make and how we might learn from them. The last episode I listened to was about how we depend on tools like Microsoft Excel, how we often use them incorrectly, and how that can lead to disaster. It’s a better version of Malcom Gladwell’s podcast.
I used the first day of my sabbatical to get some long-delayed errands done. One of these was to return a pair of Gap jeans I’d bought in April to the store all the way up in Towson. I’d written earlier about how they closed the store down in our local mall, and an attempt to return it at a Gap Outlet nearby was also unsuccessful—apparently the two brands do not mingle. Happily, the woman at the counter in Towson was cheerful and quickly charged the money back to my card, which was very much appreciated.
I used that money to spring for an RTIC cooler to replace the 20+ year old Coleman coolers moldering in our garage. YETI coolers are the Hotness but are pricy as hell; I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between rotomolded coolers and RTIC came out equal at 2/3 of the price. Given that we’re going to be at a remote campsite for three days and I need our food to remain cold, I figured it was time for an upgrade. Plus, the hinges and drain plugs on the Colemans all disintegrated years ago and they’re held together with duct tape. Appearances must be maintained.
Other preparations for camping are coming along. Both fishing poles are out and cleaned up. Finn and I will be putting the tent up to air it out this afternoon. The Scout is at a local shop getting brake work done this morning. The pile of gear in the basement grows by the day. I have some food to buy and prepare, and some last-minute camp stuff to get (skeeter repellent, a cheap rechargeable phone battery, a frying pan from the Goodwill) but it’s all coming together.
Craigslist can be hit or miss for selling gear these days. I’ve posted things that have sold in hours, and I’ve reposted certain items month over month with absolutely no response. Sometimes the time of year factors in, but I can never tell when some stuff is going to be hot. I’ve had a Yakima bike rack posted since I bought its replacement, on and off this summer with little interest. Sunday morning I got an email from a woman who just bought a Jeep Wrangler and needed this very rack. Within 24 hours I was showing her how to strap it to her spare tire. She drove away smiling and I walked away $50 richer. The same morning I got an email asking about a camera lens I’ve posted since 2019, and I’ve got a time set up to meet her on Saturday. I’ll be happy to send that one off to a good home, and happier still to pocket the cash.
Life has been pretty quiet around here otherwise. I get up and take Hazel for a walk in the morning, trying to find a different version of the same route to keep things interesting. We then take a short walk with the neighbor to give her some controlled proximity to other dogs. After making coffee and rustling up some breakfast, I start my workday, and I don’t move much until dinnertime.
I have been so thankful since the pandemic started for having built out the front porch into an office with its own bathroom back in 2008. Having seen some of my co-workers’ office situations—people still working from bedrooms, kitchens, closets, and basements a year and a half after the lockdown—we are blessed to have a dedicated space away from the noise of the house with desks and power and storage. It’s looking like we’ll be remote until at least the end of the year, so I’m going to hunt for a better desk chair when I go on sabbatical at the end of this month. There’s a guy on CL who has a bunch of Mirra chairs for a good price; I’ll see if any of them are worth buying, and finally retire my $70 IKEA chair. I think my lower back will thank me.
Meanwhile, the Scout is parked in a driveway in Annapolis waiting on some bearing work. I caught up with Erick and gave him the scoop on the truck, and hopefully he can get her sorted out in time for the big trip west next week. Otherwise I’m going to have to hitch a ride with Bennett or Brian…
I got a package in the mail last night that I’ve been waiting for awhile. Inside were a set of
goggles glasses that look decidedly utilitarian, and also kind of like someone forgot to tint the lenses on a pair of Oakleys. They’re actually a pair of safety glasses, and I had them ground with progressive lenses to help me when I’m out in the shop working. It’s a drag to continually be taking my glasses off to see something up close, and it’s even more of a drag to get shit stuck in my eyes. These were inexpensive to have made, compared to other services, so I’m using this as a test run for upgrading my every-day glasses.
The verdict: not bad! They’re comfortable and they stay on my head really well. The lenses are curved to fit my face, so there’s some distortion as I move my head side to side—there’s a sweet spot at the center of the lenses for distance, and it falls off around the edges. But the up-down difference between distance and reading is really smooth. And I can read easily with them at normal reading distance. It’s going to take some training to move my head so that my eyes are looking at the right thing through the right part of the glass.
My buddy Rob, who I’ve written about before, is only partially to blame for me being interested in watches. Back when I only had one, he was already into modding big Seiko models from the 90’s, which are gigantic metal beasts. He was working on one he wanted to give me, but all of the custom models he’d designed (he had impeccable taste) looked like I was wearing a hubcap on my wrist. He laughed and said they were called tuna cans, which seems to be a trend in watches right now.
I’m a small guy, so tuna cans only accentuate that fact. It was years before I realized big baggy clothes (which were, admittedly, the style in the late 80’s-early 90’s) made me look like a skeleton wearing a pup tent. Once Jen and Karean convinced me to wear tailored clothes that fit my frame the way God intended, I changed up my style completely and embraced what worked. Big watches are not on that list.
Timex has been releasing new watches based on old designs for the last couple of years, and there was one that caught my eye early last year: the Navi Harbor 38mm, which looked like a nice mixture of the Ollech & Wajs diving watch I got from the Mildew House and the field watches I tend to favor. 38mm is the right case size—not too large and usually pretty thin. Most of the watches I own are 38mm or smaller, save my Hamilton and a Todd Snyder Timex I bought on discount early this year. The Navi Harbor was sold out for about a year until a few weeks ago when I got an alert that they were back in stock. With a holiday discount I got a good deal on one, and I ordered it.
While I liked the way it looked on the website, in reality it was a lot different. It’s much bigger and thicker than in the photos. More troubling, the proportions are all wrong. The bezel of the watch is very high and the crystal is raised off the watch face a lot more than I like. The lugs are placed too close together, making the strap look extra thin, and that plus the overall height makes it look even fatter than it is. I love the look of the dial and the hands, but the whole package just didn’t work for me. And the band it came with was too long for my wrist, so I’d need to swap that out almost immediately. Using the classic proportions of my current diver as a baseline, this fell completely short. So after wearing it for an hour, I boxed it up and got it ready to send back.