The Flat Tire–Not That Easy

“The rim,” he said to Steve. Sure enough where the tire met the rim little bubbles were floating up.

tiny-spare-tire.jpgMy tire looked a little low Friday evening. By Saturday night it was flat! OK–it happens. I get it.

I drove to Cheshire today. Steve, my auto guru, is there.

I watched as the mechanic took the tire off the car and doused it in water.

“The rim,” he said to Steve.

Sure enough where the tire met the rim little bubbles were floating up.

Once the tire was off the problem was more easily seen. A crack, the thickness of a piece of cardboard, had opened on the rim’s surface. That can’t be good!

The rim will be repaired. I had no idea that could be done.

He opened the trunk and pulled out the little baby spare. Is there anything automotive which provides less confidence? For the next few days Helaine and I share a car.

Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome

At 2:30 Rhinebeck held an airshow. Imagine an assisted living facility talent show… but for airplanes!

I don’t know how I knew the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome was there. I just knew there was a grass strip airport over-the-border in New York State that featured classic airplanes. That’s all I knew when I asked my friend Harvey Kliman if he wanted to go?

Harvey knew less than I knew!

We both knew it was a photo op. For Harvey that means video with his HD camcorder. For me stills–lots of stills.

Sunday was forecast to be beautiful so we planned to meet around 10:00 AM for the two hour top down drive. The automated routemakers from Google and Garmin wanted us to drive the fast way but I had other ideas. We headed up Route 8 to Winsted, then west-northwest through the corner of Connecticut and into New York.

With less than three miles to go and no other automotive aerodrome traffic in site my GPS turned us onto a neighborhood street which quickly became a gravel road. Before Harvey and I could get a handle on what was going on the gravel turned back to pavement and a small sign assured us we were on the right path.

Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is what the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum might aspire to, if it could just use the Washington Mall as a runway!

Rhinebeck is a museum of the living. Its home is an idyllic strip of land nestled between the trees. A few handfuls of very old planes sit adjacent to a grass runway. These planes fly!

I walked to a cotton rope which separated the hoi polloi from the exhibits. A man dressed as a mechanic circa 1935 said I could come in and take some photos.

Good God, flying was different back then. These planes were simple–yet intricate. Simplicity meant a minimum of adjustments and controls. What was intricate were the cables and spars and fasteners that held it all together.

Safety was never a design consideration. Pilots were outside and exposed to everything the plane had to take.

For $65 I got to climb into a 1937 New Standard D25 and fly a few circuits over the Hudson Valley.

I have flown in everything from an F/A-18 to an ultralight. This was a totally new experience.

With four passengers and a lone pilot the plane taxied to the end of the runway and up a tiny rise. That little molehill provided a extra speed for our lazy takeoff. On this calm day there was more connection to the atmosphere than I expected as we clumsily lurched skyward.

Beautiful doesn’t begin to describe our view. We flew low and slow toward the Kingston-Rhineclif Bridge. The sky was blue. The air was warm. Beneath us were farms and the huge homes of rich city folk who sometimes bought them. There were mountains in the distance in nearly every direction.

It was loud in the open cockpit–and windy! I held Clicky tight, wrapping its strap around my arm.

The trip didn’t last much more than 10 minutes, but that was enough. I was convinced.

At 2:30 Rhinebeck held an airshow. Imagine an assisted living facility talent show… but for airplanes!

One-by-one small crews of men gingerly coaxed the engines to fire. There was smoke as propellers began to spin. Sometimes the engines made it clear by their sound there was only so much they were willing to do! The planes taxie to the runway’s end, turned and then ran toward takeoff.

For the oldest few takeoff meant a few feet up before setting back onto the turf. I heard someone say they don’t fly “higher than the pilots would want to fall.”

Most rolled down the runway at full throttle then eased off the ground and over the trees.



Getting My Car Repaired

The body shop in North Haven reminded me of an airline ticket counter at the airport. There were young non-mechanic looking people sitting behind Dell LCD screens

My car has been dropped off to have the banged door repaired. It’s between the insurance company and body shop now. My 10 year old Mercedes SLK&#185 has been temporarily replaced by a rental Kia SUV&#178.

I decided to accept the insurance company’s offer to take care of all the details. I understand I might not be getting genuine Mercedes parts. I suspect there won’t be any parts replaced anyway. This seems like one of the few remaining injuries that can be pulled or banged out.

The body shop in North Haven reminded me of an airline ticket counter at the airport. There were young non-mechanic looking people sitting behind Dell LCD screens. A few insurance companies have offices on premises. Others are there on a regular basis. It was too business like–too neat– to be an auto repair place!

I ran into the owner. He told me it’s changed a lot since he bought the place 12 years ago. I’m sure! He has adapted his business to take advantage of technology and the changing face of insurance. It’s twice the size it was when he bought it.

He said there was a time when they spent 50 hours a week moving cars. The whole process would come to a halt as things were juggled into the right place. Time really is money. You don’t want a trained mechanic acting as a valet parking attendant.

The phone just rang. It was Robert from the insurance company. It will take until Friday for my car to be finished. They’ll have to paint the entire driver’s side. The insurance company will pay the body shop over $1,200

I can wait.

&#185 – If you hold onto a Mercedes for 10 years, it really doesn’t cost more than a ‘regular’ car you keep for half the time–or so I’ve convinced myself.

&#178 – I turned down the rental company’s insurance offering. At the bottom of the sheet it is enumerated on an annual basis. Their insurance works out to approximately $15,000 a year. Wow!

Which Commerical Was Best?

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: “It was a bad year for commercials.” It was. There were few to like in the Super Bowl (though the game itself was unusually entertaining).

I have two favorites – and one isn’t really a commercial. It was a very short CBS promo featuring David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey. If you blinked, it was gone.

It was totally nuance. You had to concentrate. Did you recognize Oprah? Did you think about their back story? Did you realize he was from Indianapolis, she lives in Chicago?

Unless you connected all these on a visceral level, it was gone before you could think about it.

My other favorite was more in your face… and animated. It was the Blockbuster commercial featuring a mouse portraying a mouse. It was clever and really well animated.

Unfortunately, when I went to type this blog entry, I wasn’t able to remember who paid for it!

Among my other favorites were the Budweiser faux dalmatian (including animated blink) and the T-Mobile spot with Dwayne Wade and Charles Barkley.

So, to summarize. It was a good year for the game and a bad year for what came in between the plays.

Here’s how visitors rated the first quarter (where the Blockbuster ad first ran).

Blockbuster: Mouse.............46%

Bud Light: Faceoff...............15%

Snickers: Mechanic.............11%

Doritos: Crash.....................9%

Bud Light: Wedding..............7%

Chevrolet: Singers...............5%

Sierra Mist: Combover.........3%

FedEx: Moon Office..............2%

Toyota: Tundra...................1%

Sierra Mist: Karate..............1%

Schick: Quattro...................0%

Total Votes: 67,823

How would you like being the creative head for an ad agency that produced anything lower than Chevy? Must have been tough to come in to work this morning. Ouch!

Getting My Car Rebooted

I have two intertwined stories about my car. They both, unfortunately, came to a head today.

A little background. I drive a 1999 Mercedes Benz SLK230 – a little 2-seat convertible. It’s a snazzy car – not as good for impressing women as a puppy on a leash, but impressive none the less.

The SLK sounds pricey, but after driving it for seven years it’s got the same cost basis as a Plymouth Scamp or AMC Pacer.

Friday, I came home from work, pulled the car in the garage and walked in the house. The only thing I didn’t do was turn off the headlights! By Saturday morning the battery was totally dead.

No problem. We have jumper cables. But the weather wasn’t too nice this weekend and I put it off.

As Helaine headed out to the market Monday, she realized my car was still in paperweight mode. I pushed it out of the garage, popped the hood and threw the cables across the battery terminals.

Within a few seconds the Benz was running, but running roughly. It was also throwing off enough white smoke to elect a pope.

I pushed my foot down on the accelerator to rev the engine and – nothing. The pedal went down to the floor but the engine’s speed remained where it was.

Uh oh.

I shifted into Drive and attempted to move. The car ran more smoothly, but it wouldn’t do much more than a few miles per hour, and again the accelerator pedal did nothing.

There was little to do but go to work, leaving Helaine stranded. On my way I called Steve, my friend and mechanic. It’s good to have a mechanic for a friend.

He said he’d drop by on his way home from work. When he did, he found exactly what I’d found and was equally adept at fixing it.

Last night I began to research the problem on the Internet. Having the car go stupid after a battery failure or replacement was commonplace and there was a solution.

With the engine running, turn the steering all the way left, then all the way right, then center it. It seemed too simple… because it was.

I tried it. Nothing.

I called the dealership. It wasn’t long before John came by in his Mercedes SUV holding a computer. He opened my hood, unscrewed what I thought was the opening to refill the oil, and plugged in a cable.

The computer and my car immediately struck up a conversation. I heard little valves and switches click into place. As John looked down, every sensor… every sensor… was marked with an “F” for failure!

It was then that John did something I never expected. He told the computer to reset everything in my car’s onboard computer. My car was being rebooted. Within 30 seconds, the SLK was back to its old self… except for one thing.

And so begins my second car story.

I didn’t notice it until John was gone but both my brake lights were out. There was still the 3rd brake light, a long string of red on the trunk lid, but the conventional tail lights for braking were gone.

This is something I’d been having trouble with for a while. My left brake light had become intermittent. I replaced the bulb and even went into the dealer for service. Five minutes later the problem was back.

I checked the NHTSA website and found a similar recall on cars just like mine. The site said to call Mercedes. I did, but they had no clue what I was talking about, so I called NHTSA.

Oh my God! Here’s my email that followed the call:

To whom it may concern,

My name is Geoffrey Fox, (address). I have just gotten off the phone with one of your representatives concerning my 1999 Mercedes Benz SLK230, vin: (redacted).

I have never, ever, been treated in such a surly manner by any telephone agent for any company or agency.

I called to ask about a recall, which your agency’s website says “is expected to begin in July 2006.” Mercedes Benz claims no knowledge of this recall (using the number you provided on your website). The NHTSA agent said she had no information. So, I asked to file a complaint on the vehicle.

Your agent did everything humanly possible to prevent me from filing this complaint. In fact, she originally refused. Only after I pressed did she grudgingly allow it, demanding the smallest of facts.

As an example, she asked how I knew my brake light wasn’t working! When I said another motorist had signaled me while driving, she said that wasn’t enough. She wasn’t asking for clarification. This was my punishment for wanting to file this report.

Somewhere along the line there is a disconnect between what your agency should be doing and what this particular agent is doing. I hope you’ll reconsider whether this person should have direct dealings with consumers.


Geoffrey Fox

cc: Nicole Nason

Nicole Nason is the person who runs NHTSA. At the close of business today, my email hadn’t been acknowledged, much less answered.

There’s little I can do now other than replace the bad parts which are causing my brake light failure. That’s $300 plus labor for a housing which had gotten ‘bent out of shape’. It was designed for temperatures lower than that produced by a standard brake light!

If there’s a recall, I’ll get the money back. As I found today, there’s really no way to know.

Now you’re caught up with my two car stories.

Back From New Jersey

Sunday was beautiful. The sun was out. The wind was down. The temperature was up.

The highlight of the afternoon was a walk up the boardwalk to Atlantic City. Once we got to the casino end of town, the boards became very crowded with an unsavory mix of everyone you’d meet at the DMV or an arraignment.

Actually, walking the wooden boards and even the metallic ones they have for part of the distance in Ventnor City, is very comfortable and relaxing. I often wonder about my sedentary life and its effect of my health. It’s reassuring to take a very long walk with no noticable physical consequences.

We left the shore and drove back to Cherry Hill. I was undecided when to leave, so I went online and checked the live cameras from the New Jersey Turnpike. Everything looked fine. I took off.

It is only now that I realize all the cameras are north of the biggest potential tie-up! The trip that took about three hours Friday night, took four and a half hours tonight.

To add insult to injury, a sensor light came on in Steffie’s car. It’s a picture of a cutaway tire with an exclamation point in it. This is supposed to signify bad air pressure in a tire, though I never would have guessed without the manual. I pulled the car to the side of the road to look.

I’m so petrified of being hit by oncoming traffic (even at the walking pace it had tonight) that I pulled past the shoulder and onto the grass. The car was so far into the grass I could only check the tires on the driver’s side.

I got back in and drove to the next service area, about 5 miles up the road. There, a mechanic pulled out his trusty gage and checked the pressure on all four tires. They were each about 10 pounds high! He adjusted them to the indicated 29 psi, but the light stayed on.

Great, another car that needs service. I’m thrilled.

There was one good part of the trip. I was able to listen to the Phillies beat the Braves, pulling off a come from behind victory in the 10th.

I do have one question I’m left with after the trip. As you get on the George Washington Bridge, on the roadside, there is a sign admonishing drivers (and passengers too, I suppose) that picture taking is not permitted on the bridge.

What, exactly, will I find that hasn’t already been posted on the web? Google has hundreds of photos of the GWB already indexed. Is this another example of good intentions beng carried to an extreme, and with no real positive result from the action? Probably.