20 June 2016

[pdx_liff] Powell's City of Books On The Afternoon Of Pride Weekend

Sunday evening was, as usual, church for us, and by church, I mean hanging out Powells City of Books drinking coffee (well, iced tea that day ... it's been warming up) and looking through books we will either purchase or bookmark for future acquisition, and watching the world go by on 11th and West Burnside.

W Burnside looking east toward Oak
Of course, it's been Pride Weekend here in Portland, and it was wild, a good time had by all. We didn't go ourselves, not only did we have a sort of a mixed-up weekend, but the last thing our LGBTQ friends need is a cis het culture vulturing it. It's their space. I respect this.

But there was a lot of people thronging Powell's, as is the case whenever there's a big event in town. A lot of beautiful, beautiful people, and I think the beauty was probably multiplied by it being Pride. After all, what else can happen when you have an entire day dedicated to stepping aside and concentrating on remaking ones'-self into a person who lives and lets other people live?

Oh, I'm not talking about queer people. They seem pretty cool about themselves already. I'm talking about us straights who still have a little evolution to do. I'm working on mine. Are you working on yours?

So, this year's Pride is symbolized and sanctified by this picture. I was in the coffee room waiting on The Wife™ to catch up to me when I saw this person. Absolutely loved the countenance. Very beautiful and artistic. And so I requested permission to pict, and she gracefully granted.

Most beatific. Glad to be here.

Completing the tableau, the prettiest ugly car you ever saw, a classic VW Karmann Ghia, or what happened when VW decided to design a sports car. When I was a kid, I thought they were pretty ugly. Now, I have the attitude best encompassed by the person who described the actor Richard Boone, back during the Paladin days, which I paraphrase here:

The car is so ugly, it's beautiful.

The picture is blurred because my camera decided to be a brat and focus on the plate glass rather than the object in the street. The passenger was thrilled to be lensed, though. That much was apparent from the look on her face.

If you drive a classic VW, people are going to look. Know that going in, Homo sapiens volkswageniensis. 

[VW] The Very Last Day Of A Very Good VW Beetle

And so, back in May, two days after my natal day, after the decision to go with the total loss, decision from the insurance company, we went to retrieve things and pay our final respects to Old Red.

We all find out things we didn't know about ourselves at milestones like this. This car, which was my daily driver, served me very well for more than a decade. It was something of an heirloom. My late father raised me to be a Volkswagen lover, it was one of the few gifts he gave me that I still have to this day.

During die Zeit zwischen den Kaefern, I also learned that the mere sight of a classic VW made me smile (nothing is as good as driving and having one, but when you're in the desert, my friends, any glass of water will do). There is a spot that I will always, now, specifically remember, it's the spot where I had that accident. And, across from that corner and only one lot north is a house. This house has several residents who are coming and going to disparate places: there are four cars there, and they're always changing places. And one of them is a yellow '74 (or later) VW Beetle. With a roof rack. Totally adorable. And I would take this route just to see it.

By the way, you know how you tell a post 1974 from a pre-1974 VW Type I? Look for the windshield. If it's bowing out, it's '74 or later; flat windscreens are a feature of '73 and earlier.

File that away.

The other thing I realized is, though I'm a very materialistic person (in the way that things are just things and I tend not to give teleological imperatives to things like cars and computers and such), in things like this, I'm the same sentimental, spirit-imbuing sap that just about everyone I've ever known is. As I approached Old Red one last time, I gave her regrets. I said I of all the ways I figured our relationship would end, this definitely was not what I wanted. I sat in the drivers seat one last time. Looked all around; the German flag sticker that I affixed upside down; the instrument binnacle, remembering all the times during cold, damp weather the moisture would collect behind the glass; the red-velvet upholstery; the gas tank I had to fill by opening the bonnet. All that. All that meant something, and maybe it's the culture I was steeped in or the innate human need to have inanimate objects care about us back, but it was my experience, and for a few moments, it was for real.

When I walked away, I also did not look back. No damned reason other than sentimentality.

Now, I'm one with a very pretty yellow '72 VW and I'm so far very happy. We lucked in finding someone who needed to sell at the time we needed to buy, and the owners who had it before him took near-immaculate condition, at least as much one can reasonably expect. No complaints so far. She's the daily driver. She has a new radio. She has her quirks, of course, but I think that's why us classic VW drivers drive them. We love cars with character.  And, of course, nothing cuts a figure like a classic VW Beetle. It makes adults smile and makes kids hit each other on the bicep.

She's a different car, but I swear I feel the spirit of the old one riding along with me.

Old Red was a very good car for a very long time. I have a feeling Yellow will be a very car for at least as long as Red was.

And so it goes.

13 June 2016

[VW] The Yellow Beetle Gets A Sound System At Outrageous Audio

This is one of those things that is a very Portland thing to do.

Outrageous Audio is a little car audio shop out in the Rockwood area, at 192nd and SE Stark. It's in this charming, shabby little shopping plaza called (incongruently) Germantown Square. If there was anything German about it, it got on the MAX and left the are long ago, my friends.

But there isn't anything shabby about Outrageous. Blane, the owner and public face of the store, has been selling car audio and electronics out of that place more more than 20 years. His late-night commercials are unforgettable. He's one of the last great local commercial pitchmen, and examples of his craft can be found at the bottom of the "Our Story" page at Outrageous's website.

He takes his approach straight from the Tom Peterson school. But as big as the man's voice and reputation are, the store is an unexpectedly small place. Lots of stuff in there, though ... chances are if Blane doesn't have it, you don't need it.

What we needed was a good, basic, radio and CD player. Nothing fancy. They had something that fit the bill, and a pretty good price to match, too. Not to mention Mike, a diligent installer with caring hands who had the job done in under an hour.

Here, Mike's surveying the territory. He developed a quick action plan.

Trouble with having a '72 VW is these hippie chicks that keep hangin' round, man. Fortunately, this babe's cool.

... and that's what the place looks like. Anyone want an authentic Portland retail experience, and wants a sound system installed, there's your place right there. 

I mean, everyone knows that a car isn't a car unless you have a device that'll allow you to play your tunes and listen, while stuck in traffic because of a traffic jame, to the traffic report of the traffic jam you're stuck in because of the accident the traffic report was advising you to avoid, lest you be stuck in a traffic jam.

There was no traffic jams, but there were good tunes. A CD with pop music from the late 60s and early 70s. Which, of course, was flawless.

10 June 2016

[art, design] Forward Into The Past With John Muir's "Idiot's Guide"

Before there were "Idiot's Guide"s and "For Dummies" books, there was "The Idiot's Guide."

The Idiot's Guide. Classic VW owners know and love this well.

Back in the 60's, see, the VW was more truly lived up to its name "the People's Car", becoming a badge to the hippie culture as much as owning a Subaru strongly suggests one lives in Portland. Being an automobile, of course, the array of end-user maintenance options are more or less like they are today ... take it to a mechanic, take it to the dealer.

You could also fix it yourself, if you knew how. Not so much today; the engine in the modern car is more like a computer center; sometimes you feel if you so much as look at it, you void the warranty. But back then, the shade-tree mechanic was a valid functionality, and if you knew enough about your beast, you too could fix your own prime mover. And nowhere was this more true or accessible than with the classic VWs of the 60s and 70s, before the brand went uptown and yupscale.

The 'hippie' ethic deserves a close, hard look. One side of it was the casual, come-as-you-are-lifestyle, which may or may not have something to teach the individual assayer; the other side was a quick-witted, nimble DIY intelligence that coped with maintenance and repair with a cool, fierce aplomb that MacGyver would value. The properly-enlightened hippie only looked like a generally feckless will'o'the wisp; inside, he or she hid a savvy systems thinker that would slog courageously through lows that would leave most of the rest of us curled up in a foetal ball, crying softly over the wreck of our life.

This brings us to John Muir, who is a legend amongst classic VW lovers. And thence hangs our tale.

The legend of John Muir, 60s counter culture auto mechanic, runs something along these lines; a distant relative of the namesake American naturalist, he worked in the American defense industry during the Fail Safe/Dr. Strangelove days of the Cold War, until he'd had enough of it and decided to drop out. In the late 1960s, he moved to Taos, New Mexico and became a VW mechanic. I don't know if he intended to become the best there ever was, but his legacy certainly suggests that.

In 1969, Muir, Tosh Gregg, and artist Peter Aschwanden collaborated to create a timeless and valuable bit of 60s magic and a book for the ages. Fully titled How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual Of Step by Step Procedures For The Compleat Idiot, and known by lovers of the book and the car as simply The Idiot's Guide, the book is indeed a timeless gem. Right, the reader will find the cover of the copy I own. It is as compleat a manual of how-to-maintain it as the idiot it is intended for, but an idiot, it will not treat you as. As you are not an idiot. It will not treat you. It won't make fun of you, is what I'm saying.

It's so steeped in the 60s self-reliant hippie-esque counterculture, it's surprising it doesn't come tie-dyed and with scratch'n'sniff patchouli. The impression is that of a crunchy friend guiding you through a difficult subject with love. At the top of the section "ENGINE OVERHAUL",  for example, I find this tale of wisdom:

"Back in the Red Dog Saloon era, there was a garage in Carson City run by a sympathetic super mechanic named Muldoon. When you were pushed into Muldoon's, he looked and listened to your sick engine, asked how far you needed to go and how much bread you had, then he nodded and showed you where you could work on your engine out back. When you ran into problems, he left his profitable highway trade to give you a hand. You made it to where you needed to go, but God help you if you tried to go fifty miles further. We tell you about Muldoon because he has the type of genius an indigent VW owner needs when it comes to emergency time - the ability to balance the available bread and labor agains the immediate mileage requirement. 

In an emergency, the Volkswagen reacts well to any scrambling on your part to keep it going, but you really have to keep your promises to it. Muldoon's last words as you drove away where, "Don't forget to get that fixed right when you get there." You're on the road from New York to L.A., seventy-five bucks is all you got, you're near Santa Fe running on three cylinders with an engine that's overheating badly - like that. Don't give up and thumb, but do a compression check. 95 pounds in three cylinders, but No. 3 tests zero? Sounds like a burned valve, so find a place and go to work. Pull the engine, take off the tin, remove the heads and carry them to the machine shop (do both heads even if you go hungry the rest of the trip). Have the valves ground and a new valve put in. Reassemble and install the engine and you can probably make it to L.A. I figure a little over a penny a mile for the Bug and a cent and a helf for the Bus for gas and oil."

Adjusting the costs in the narrative for inflation to the current day is an exercise left to the reader, and I wish you well. But do you see what the above did there? Not only is it a capsule of a time, but it's casual-yet-witty prose both evoke that time, provide you with a single memorable character, and deliver a bit of technical know-how, illustrating what I meant when I said that the core of a hippie is a systems-oriented DIY problem-solver.

It's hard not to kind of fall in love with this book, whether or not you actually have or hope to have a classic VW, it's fun to read, and enlightens as it takes you under its kindly wing.

That's not to say it's all laid back tale-reeling. Muir was trained as an engineer, and the procedures, while warmly worded, are actually quite precise and methodical. Reading this book will teach you many of the fundamentals of how works a VW, but it focuses on two essential functions that every mechanic must fulfill: diagnosis and cure. The book is organized into sections simply titled by manifest symptom (RED LIGHT ON! (Generator or alternator), GREEN LIGHT ON! (Oil Red light), VOLKSWAGEN DOESN'T STOP (Brakes), and SLIPS AND JERKS (Clutch) are just a few), and each procedure identifies itself to you in language that is accessible to the tyro.

What really pops in this book is art, though. Peter Aschwanden illustrated technical details with whimsy and seems straight out of the Underground Comix school; he's what R. Crumb would have been if he did illos for auto manuals. The art (excerpted here and there in this article) are gorgeous, witty things, clearly drawn. I've used this book to diagnose electrical problems in the late Red Beetle, and I'm, if anything, mechancially declined. There's clarity and humor there, and the satisfaction that is naturally derived from seeing the work of an artist who was in solid command of his medium and his tools, and who loved his work and his subject. If Muir and Tosh got the 60s DIY ideal of owning a VW, Aschwanden (credited at one point in the book with his nom-de-guerre, Amanda B. Reckonedwith) similarly got the gestalt idea of the serious whimsy which comes with the ownership of the classic VW (which wasn't actually a classic in the full sense, yet).

You can still come by this book; sadly, both Aschwanden and Muir are no longer with us (Muir died of a brain tumor in 1977 at age 58, Aschwanden made it to 2005, and died aged 63. Even John Muir Publications is a thing of the past, his works still being published but The Idiot's Guide now belonging to Avalon Travel Publishers and The Velvet Monkeywrench, his socio-political manifesto and proposal, being published by Oceantree Books.

My particular copy is the 1981 edition, and was given to my by the legendary east Portland VW mechanic, Bill Trafton. If you knew Trafton and his generosity and his gift with VWs, you'd know that he was the equal of Muldoon, and why I consider the book such a treasure.

Even in a 35-year-old copy, it's as current as it needs to be.

It's a love letter to the best car every made, a book that everyone who loves a classic VW should have - even if you don't plan on touching the insides. It'll make you an enlightened owner, and is just damned good fun to read.

07 June 2016

[liff] Tales of the DMV, Which Changed its Name to DMV Some Time Back

The DMV. A verity of adult life. If you want to legally drive, you'll find yourself there.

The mere name is a verity. Over on the site DMV.org, a privately-run clearing house of links to DMV information for all 50 states of the Union, I randomly clicked several states and as often as not, the name DMV ... Department of Motor Vehicles ... was the name of the agency in each state which handled titling and registering of cars and trucks as well as licensing of drivers. Almost every one had either DMV, some combination of another letter (BMV, in New Mexico, for Bureau of Motor Vehicles) or MVD (which is also what the Russians call their Ministry for Internal Affairs, a coinage one must accept as coincidental).

That last sentence points up a certain conception of the DMV as a thing that must be endured. A friend, long ago, remarked that Hell is an immense DMV waiting room, and your number will never be called. We all have bad memories of a DMV encounter. This year not only have I had to renew my ODL, but also process a new title and registration for the new Little Yellow Beetle that we now have. And I approached the event with more than a little apprehension.

The Oregon DMV has undergone such changes, though. I went in apprehensive and left delighted. The keynote seems to be on efficiency, speed, and friendly service. I got my ODL renewed in record time, and the title transfer application and registration were of almost sublime efficiency. Would it that all less important services were delivered with such aplomb.

Today we spent maybe 30 minutes in that building. It was a Tuesday morning, though, and that's kind of a slack time for them. It probably drags a little during high demand, but I'll be they're pretty good at handling that too. The sincerely-smiling, genuinely-helpful people there are probably a match for any problem you threw at them.

And, noting that I'm registering a 1972 VW Beetle, the clerk asked, with an impish glint in the eye, "You picked a name out for her yet?"

We haven't. But we're working on it.

The real inspiration for this ruminance, though, was the name. DMV. I'd noticed that the mere abbreviation seems to be a near-universal cultural token ... even Marge's sisters in The Simpsons work as clerks at the DMV. And I, as well as you, my dear reader, probably think we know what those three letters in Oregon stand for: Department of Motor Vehicles. 

Well, no. As it turns out, it's not Dept of Motor Vehicles; it's not really a Department; it's a Division (there are two major levels of Oregon state government agency. The top level is Department, and Departments are comprised of Divisions). The official name of the DMV in Oregon, is the Driver and Motor Vehicle Division, and its under ODOT, the Oregon Dept of Transportation, which is proper and logical.

Anyone devising the branding here can appreciate the cleverness. DMV changed its name, but still gets to call itself DMV. The iconic connection is maintained, the social concept token intact and involate. You need license and reg, you still go to the DMV.  I still can't determine when the official name-change occurred, though; all the time when I was growing up, the Dept of Motor Vehicles coinage seemed correct, my memory reports to me, even when it wasn't a state Department.

And there's yet another interesting thing that I turned up. The DMV hasn't been a Department since 1969, long before I started driving. It was only a Department from 1956 to 1969, before that, it was under the wing of the Oregon Secretary of State, and after that, a part of ODOT.

But to me, it'll always be the DMV, no matter what the initialism actually stands for. The DMV ... a fact of life, and one that works pretty well.

And so it goes.

06 June 2016

[art] When You're Not Successful And People Still Help Themselves To Your Content

My friend, Jeff Fisher, has been a successful graphic designer for a very long time and I much admire him. He's published two very good books and put himself out there in the world in what still seems to be a courageous way: He stands up for himself in the matter of holding people accountable for simply helping himself to his work, which he has gotten justly paid for, but is just as likely to see his work used across the world by small businesses who don't understand that graphic work has value as well as by desperate designers in 'crowdsourcing' online logo factories.

A personal blog he maintains is http://jefffisherlogomotives.blogspot.com/, and it's got good reading there.

It's kind of a funny thing to acknowledge but I, too, have been similarly done. It's a funny thing that obscurity and lack of success does not bring immunity from this. In a recent posting I mentioned that a few people have, in the past, helped themselves to my own online stuff, specifically, the PDX downtown skyline picture I snapped in 2004. It's even being used in unauthorized places today, as this Google Images search will show.

The commonality I mentioned in that post that the three authorized users have is that, at first, they found the image on the web and simply appropriated it, without asking. At the moment I discovered that, I was a little wounded; after all, all three were fairly savvy online users, all had good ideas, and all were good people. I say this because I want to pointedly add that once I contacted them they apologized and since I liked them and what they did, I agreed to license use of the picture because of that personal reason.

But I think it goes to show that no matter how obscure or unsuccessful you are, you put something up on the web, out it goes and, Berne convention or no, people will use it. Now, I still, after all these years, have profited pretty much not at all because of another thing; I had, and still have, no real strategy for holding such kyping accountable. I'm not the DMCA sort, but simply helping yourself to what I do online without so much as checking in with me isn't cool either.

So this is a work in progress, still, even 12 years after the original was taken.

And, yes, I might have imagined that this would happen ... but I might have also imagined people could send me an email on it. And I've evolved in more ways than that; I'm much, much less inclined to use something off the 'net without making sure it's available for such (I'm thankful to Wikimeda commons for this … most people there put stuff in expecting it to be shared and used), or simply creating my own (I've the skill to do so).

I guess what I'd say to anyone putting stuff on the web right now is, have some sort of plan in place for dealing with when people help themselves to your stuff.

Be ready to contact them. Because, for some reason, they won't contact you.

And so it goes.

04 June 2016

[liff] The '72 VW Beetle Has Landed

So far, 2016 has held many unexpected things in store, and when I say unexpected, I mean unexpected.

On 20 April, for example? I was involved in an auto accident. My quick reflexes prevented me from catapulting through the window. I was unharmed, physically at least (auto accidents have this way of messing with your head).

My beloved 1972 red VW Beetle was, as it turned out, a total loss. But difficulties sometimes have this wily way of working out for you. This one did. The amount from the insurance company has enabled us a replacement ... and here she is:

Isn't she adorable? She's another 1972 VW, Type I, 1600 cc's and all. But instead of a dusky red-orange which we couldn't really tell the color bias of, she's a pure, unmistakable and rather adorable yellow.

... and that's her starboard side. The roof line of a classic VW Beetle is visual poetry to me. I'm pretty sure the Beetle is the best car ever made.

Moreover, this one is actually in better shape than the old one! So it's like the lottery, in a way. There are some flaws (fuel gauge sending unit, tires, needs a brake job), but that's to be expected for a car that's 44 years old. There are some 44 year-old people I know that could be doing as good.

But she fills a definintively-Beetle-shaped hole in a heart that was broken massively when the old red one was similarly broken. Sometimes, things work out though. This is one of those 'when one door closes another opens' sorts of things, and I'm grateful.

I love the VW Beetle to death, and I'm looking for many satsifying miles on the road with her.

Hertzlich willkommen, little Beetle.

Volkswagen does it ... again.

And so it goes (putt putt putt ...)