Monday, October 17, 2016

Life - Life's Rich Pageant

So I'm getting old.


I never thought of myself as someone getting old. I talked with someone about this a while back. I don't remember who because, you know, I'm getting old. Anyway...

 In the old days, like 50 years ago, people went to high school, maybe they went to college, then they got married, had kids, worked for 30 or whatever years, and retired.

When you put ages to those steps, you basically got married well before you were 30, and by 30 you'd defined your life path. At 40 you had kids in middle or high school, if not already out of the house. If you started in certain professions, like being a firefighter or a law enforcement officer, you might be retired and starting a second career.

You were "middle aged".

At 50 you could look back at your "defined at 30" path and see how you did. If you worked for an older kind of company you might retire early.

When you were 60, if you were a firefighter or something, you could very well be twice retired. Not just once, twice. Two pensions, because that's how they did things back then. And really, at that point, no cares in the world.

Now it's a bit different.

Let's take 40.

I wasn't even married at 40. Kids? That started about half a decade later.

I was in a relationship (with the future Missus, so it wasn't like it was just any relationship) but I spent my summers focused on racing bikes, the springs on promoting races, and my routine, for the prior 25 years, was to start doing longer rides in the fall, "for next year", train in the winter, the spring series in the spring, then race the summer and fall. I'd work on my cars or do yard or housework in there somewhere.

At 40 years old I was living, in my dad's days, a 20 year old's life. Or maybe a 17 year old's life.

Heck, I was blogging. That says a lot right there.

Okay, fine, I'd owned my own house, and I'd learned about grown-up home stuff slowly, agonizingly. I didn't realize that thermostats didn't go below 55 degrees because no sane person would lower their heat below that. I was trying to save money and I got upset when I realized that the coldest I could set the temperature to was 54 degrees. One of my roommates, someone I'd known since 8th grade, with incredible optimism and support, told me that it was nice to wear sweaters inside the house.

A short time later she bought an electric blanket.

I'd owned my own business. It didn't make it, and, based on stuff I've since learned about business and myself, that's not super surprising to me. I tried hard but my efforts were probably a bit misdirected. Ultimately I started to crumble under the stress and my productivity dropped dramatically as I relied more and more on my friends/coworkers - my coworkers were my friends. I know now a bit more and I shake my head when I think of some of the things I did, or the things I spent my time on.

During that time I struggled through a succession of not-ideal cars, a couple handed down from my parents, others bought unwisely.

The Capri in Salt Lake City, UT.
Note the distinctive orange rims (ASC McLaren stuff), with matching body accents.
I'm pretty sure my car got shredded into scrap metal.

My brother and I were talking very recently about stuff and somehow we ended up talking about my Capri. On paper it rocked. 17.5 psi boost (about 10 psi over stock), SVO block with low compression pistons for big boost, big exhaust, McLaren 15" rims (not the metric TRX things fitted to other Capris from that era), SVO 5 speed transmission, subframe braces, flared fenders, factory McLaren "kit", (non-functional) hood scoop, yada yada yada. I bought it and drove it around the country, about 10,000 miles of driving in a month.

The sad reality was that the car was barely able to move under its own power. It had a pull-through turbo, so the turbo pulled directly through the carburetor. How that didn't blow up I have no idea, but it was impossible to start when if you stopped for a few minutes and then tried to start it again. Then, on top of that, I was on almost bald tires in snow (Winter Park CO at one point), the thing got 10 mpg under boost (boost required to go over 55-60 mph), and it had a tiny 11 gallon tank. Also during the trip I had to replace the clutch slave cylinder (San Luis Obispo to Santa Monica without a clutch), get the carb rebuilt (turbo heat - it glowed a dark orange after a hot run and you could see it if it was dark out and you popped the hood - and the carb probably wasn't great for rubber gaskets and such), and put about 20 things of "aluminum dust that keeps your cooling system from leaking" to get home. Plus I had an engine compartment fire the first day of the trip, which was my fault so I'll leave it at that. It wasn't that bad since I had three fire extinguishers in the car and didn't even use up one entire can.

I got home, the poor thing struggling like mad, and I managed to drive it another 100 or 200 miles before the engine finally gave up. Probably due to the aluminum dust stuff in the cooling system, no doubt aided by the time the radiator fell backward into the front of the engine shortly after getting home.

Yeah. The radiator fell back into the engine, while I was going 35 or 40 mph.

So we start talking about the car and my brother's face just lit up.

"The Capri? That's a Mercury, right? Yeah, that was a perfect 20 year old's car!"

There wasn't a really different way to put it, except at the time I was 25.

I was already falling behind the curve.

Anyway, during that trip I had a pretty big (for me) sound system in the car that I'd installed myself. I had some stupid amp, 300w or something, a big equalizer (12 band?), and I'd made a "custom" subwoofer box for the back of the Capri. It housed two 15" woofers as well as some midrange speakers and a pair of tweeters.

Because, you know, on a cross country trip, it's important to have tunes even if, say, the engine wasn't running well, or the tires were about as slick as a race car's, or... well you get the idea.

I had a tape deck in the car that overheated or something after a while so I could play tapes for an hour or two then I'd have to listen to the radio while whatever tape thing cooled off. Then I could play tapes again. In areas where my weak antenna didn't pick up stations, or I didn't feel like listening to the traffic report. To wit: "A pickup truck went off the road at such and such place. There were no serious injuries. A pickup truck went off the road at a different such and such place. There were no serious injuries." Seriously, that was the traffic report. The business news was hog and grain prices.

I had a hacked CB radio that a coworker modded for me so I'd have a bit more broadcast power. I didn't use it but it was handy for getting a feel for the area. When a weigh station opened it was a big, big deal, the airwaves went crazy for a bit. Otherwise I used that and a radar detector to keep myself sane. Or not, because driving across Kansas at night with nothing but some fuzzy CB radio and a very quiet radar detector was probably like, oh, I don't know, flying a ground attack plane for 4 or 5 hours before even getting to enemy territory (I'm thinking the F-111s that flew around Europe from the UK to attack Libya, for example). Things were supposed to be calm but all hell could break loose any second also.

Of course I brought along my suitcase of tapes. It's a little briefcase of tapes. Come to think of it, I still have it, and it's still full of tapes.

My tape box. I even labeled it with my name.
And a bike sticker.

Tapes still inside. Stickers are like the ones on my bike.
I have no working tape decks so that's sort of a pity.
It'd be nice to listen to them while on the trainer.

I had a few mixes of songs, but I had a number of straight up albums.

Most of them were REM.

One of them was Life's Rich Pageant.

It was absolutely the album that defined my life for a couple of years.

Once I'd gotten the inspiration to put "Actual Size" on my bike, through a Laurie Anderson flick I'd seen on campus, I realized that a huge part of my life was listening to music. It pulled me through abject uncertainty, intense crushes, exploring life, and, of course, listening to music on the way to races. After that Actual Size on the downtube I started adding more decals, spelling out stuff significant to me.

"Begin the Begin", from Life's Rich Pageant.
This was, intentionally, one of the first phrases I put on the bike.
Note the similar types of letter stickers as the ones on the tapes.

When I hear some of these songs it brings back memories of emotions. It's not memories per se, because I don't think of, say, a particular incident or moment. Instead it's more of a feeling, an emotional state. It's remembering how I felt in the spring when I was going to one of the early season races, or how I felt when I was driving in unbearably hot weather through some painfully monotonous highway on the way back from the crits in NJ in May.

Or humming the song to myself, somewhat desperately, as I tried to pour my soul into the pedals on some training ride.

In the end I traded the not-really-running Capri for some subwoofers, and, honestly, at that point in my life, I came out on the better side of the deal. The recipient? One of my coworker/friends from the shop, one of my groomsmen when I got married. I sort of wish I could have put all the good stuff from that car into another (Fox-model) body, like my old Fairmont, but the reality is that for me it would never happen.

The Fairmont and the Capri shared the same "Fox body" chassis.
My dream was to put the Capri stuff into the Fairmont.
Because combining two decrepit cars would make one good one, right?

And, after helping yet another engine meet an early demise (I managed to turn a VR6 into a VR2), I finally had the money to buy a new car, one with a warranty. My mom told me I needed to get a car that I could rely on, one that started when I turned the key, stopped when I pushed the brake pedal, and turned when I turned the steering wheel, and if that stuff didn't happen someone would work on it "under warranty".

I bought my first new car with that advice in mind.

With that, here's Life's Rich Pageant, "Begin The Begin", which I desperately hummed while trying not to falter on my training rides at the time, and an album that I basically burnt out on during my 10,000 mile drive around the country. I had a hard time listening to most of the music for about 10 years but now I'm starting to revisit it.

The rest of the album follows "Begin the Begin".

Life's Rich Pageant, by REM

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