Friday, April 20, 2012
Big Blue - with me in the driver's seat - was recently featured in Das Auto - VW's online magazine. You can check it out here (we are like the 4th slide in). http://www.dasautomagazine.com/2012/april/vw-inspires-living-green.php. They recognized this site for our efforts to raise awareness about the 70 California State Parks closing this June-ish. So thanks to them for the article. And thanks to you for continuing to read this blog. And, if you feel like writing Jerry Brown about the parks, you can do that here:
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The below post was originally posted 11-7-2008. It followed our first camping experience in Big Blue - a trip to Bothe-Napa State Park. Bothe-Napa is one of the state parks that was scheduled to close but instead will remain due to the efforts of folks in the local communities. Basically, the county parks stepped up and saved the state park. Which is good for us. This park is very close to us and closer now that we are moving to Napa. But this park needs to stay open. Napa has tons of luxury and not much in the way of cheap accommodations. I'm glad this place will continue to stay open.
11-7-2008 - This past weekend I had the pleasure of driving Big Blue on his inaugural run to go camping. We went to Napa as Elizabeth was in the area and would meet up with us later that night.
Big Blue is not the first "old car" I have owned. I say this not to take away from the Big Blue driving experience, but to emphasize it. Driving an old car, you see, is a much different experience than driving a new car. Take our MINI for example. The MINI (2006 Cooper S) is a six speed that, even while going 65, can accelerate an extra 10 mph with a slight touch of the gas pedal. It is akin to seat-belting yourself into a small rocket and daring the police to see you as you weave through traffic.
Quite the opposite is true of "old cars", like Big Blue. These cars have personalities that mainly result from things not working properly and how they have been fixed through the years. While the MINI's headlines come on every time you flip the switch (in fact, come on automatically for daytime lights), "old cars" don't always follow orders. They get grumpy and upset.
This is commonly talked about and is probably the reason people name their cars. Cars DON'T ACTUALLY HAVE PERSONALITIES - I realize this. They have mechanical failures, quick fixes, rot, bad tires, under-powered motors - not personalities. They are machines and machines do not have souls. But try telling that to the car. Or the driver as he tries to coax the car along.
I had a 1971 Toyota Landcruiser (named Caesar), the original fj-40. Its tail lights worked sometimes, when you opened the air vents, leaves would blow into the car, and, as a female passenger that I was trying to impress once pointed out, you could see the road trough drainage holes drilled into the floor. But I loved Caesar, patted his dashboard when he was able to climb hills and talked him through many a two-track. I'd like to think that Caesar worked past his mechanical issues on his own, giving me a relatively easy time.
My 1972 K5 blazer (Fat Fonda) was grumpy. Some mornings Fat Fonda started up and ran fine. The very next day, with no change in weather, road conditions, or driving style, Fatty might decide to stall on the on-ramp to the freeway. Then he would start up and continue along as if nothing happened. But I tried with that car, showing off the much too big engine, replacing parts even as the rust made the mechanics wonder why I wasted the money.
Like life, not every relationship is a good one. I drove my 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer (Edgar) into a snow pile - not by mistake. Edgar had stalled turning into the parking lot so I decided to drive him nose first into the nearest snow pile as a form of punishment. I spent so much time trying to get Edgar along just far enough to make it to the auto parts store, that I'm sure I passed off my share of bad vibes on him. Perhaps for this and other reasons, I never had much affection for Edgar. And he had little love for me.
In Big Blue's case, you could say we were introduced this weekend. If cars do have personalities, then this was our first time hanging out (I was going to use a dating analogy here, but Big Blue is certainly a man, and, well...).
We drove together. WE figured out the best gears and speed and how to handle hills. In the first hour I was growing impatient. Not talking much to Blue, just driving him (and singing out loud as there is no stereo). Hills were killing the poor bus. Getting into Napa Valley required climbing at least three hills that now seem huge (in the MINI, I don't recall them).
After staking out our camping spot, and making a run to Calistoga for beer, chips and campfire wood. Blue was still sluggish, topping out at 50, refusing to rev up any past that. Then, nearing the entrance to the campground again, Big Blue coughed. Sputtered. Lost power for a brief moment. Then took off like a man on a mission. He quickly climbed to 60 mph and would have kept going had I not had to turn into the campground. I was giddy with pride. Blue knew how to go!
Once back at the site I hopped out laughing, talking out loud to Blue, taking off my hat and smiling at him (of course, a biker happened by and watched me as if I was mad! I quickly hid on the other side of the bus).
We were friends going camping, and I really felt like Big Blue was glad to be back in the trees and woods, his tires on dirt, shaded from the California sun. Gone was the days of sitting in a storage lot, punctuated by a month at a shop in the not-so-pretty part of San Rafael. He was back were he belonged, and he worked a little harder for me to prove his appreciation. We were camping together.
I know. Cars are machines. They don't have personalities. But Big Blue will never know that because I will never tell him. He will never hear from me that he doesn't exist, that he is simple metal and fuel lines and electrical current. I'll tell him good job, talk him through hills, and I'll even let him steer once in a while, because I can see us being friends. But I'll never let him think he is just a 1968 vw bus. Because, in reality, he is so much more.
Monday, April 16, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Bus City 2012 - the annual all Volkswagen campout that I organize - is a little over a month away. This is the 4th year and the second year at the totally awesome Schoolhouse Canyon Campground in Guerneville. We couldn't have a better spot or a better group of folks that show up annually. The details are here.
This year I am making it a little different.
For every bus that shows up I will be donating $10 to http://www.calparks.org/. I will also be trying to get the VW businesses that usually donate things to give away at the campout to donate money to the California State Parks Foundation instead. My goal is to raise $1000 for the California State Parks Foundation. It's not very much. But the VW has proven that a little can do alot.
So show up. Bring your bus. Just by coming you will help toss some money into the effort to save the very thing we all love - a little quiet space to chill out for a bit.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Our experience with Grizzly Creek was not with our VW bus. But it was better off without it anyway, as the highlight of this park is the environmental camping down by the river. California parks call anything a bit of a walk from the parking lot "Environmental Camping", even if it is 50 yards from the parking lot. In the case of Grizzly Creek, it's not far from where you park, but it's a different place on the other side.
Here's the view from above on Google Maps:
Green. Nothing but green for miles and miles.
And that's the way it should be. Highway 36, which this park is on, is a great adventure itself, worth the hours spent following its cutbacks and tight curves. This is big tree country, and an unused area of California that begs to be explored.
Before we bought the bus, we traveled in our MINI or a company car - a Chevy Uplander - that we had. We would film many of our visits to these parks and post them to YouTube. I don't think Grizzly Creek's video ever made it until now.
We'll be uploading a number of old videos this month. Many from the parks that are closing, in the hopes that you will help us by writing a letter to help save the parks. It actually takes less time than watching this video:
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Much of the reason that I drive a VW bus, that I write this blog, that I live in California is due to the area around where we live here in Northern California. We live in Sonoma County. We have ocean to the west of us, with one of the best systems of county parks in the state dotting its shore. To the east of us is Napa Valley. To the north is marijuana-land and south is San Francisco. In our minds, it's paradise.
I won't even attempt to be colorful or dramatic when I tell you that it is access to the open land, through the local and state parks, that keep us here. The thing that blew us away about California when we moved here 7 years ago, was that there is SO MUCH land that is unoccupied and available for exploration. Cows in California have some of the best views in the world (though they do have to stand in the rain). Beaches have open access. And we're not even that great at hunting out state forests and BLM land like some of our hardcore camping friends.
So it shouldn't seem too dramatic to you when I say that losing the state parks will result in a sizable shift on how we view California. What was once access for all of us will be turned into pay-access, no access or simply voids of what used to be. And these are important and sometimes historical places. Places that once shut down, will never find the money to be able to get back open. The first 70 that are slated to be closed in June (and, let's be honest, if these close, they are just the first to be closed) are:
- Anderson Marsh SHP
- Annadel SP
- Antelope Valley Indian Museum
- Austin Creek SRA
- Bale Grist Mill SHP
- Benbow Lake SRA
- Benicia Capitol SHP
- Benicia SRA
- Bidwell Mansion SHP
- Bothe-Napa Valley SP
- Brannan Island SRA
- California State Mining & Mineral Museum
- Candlestick Point SRA
- Castle Crags SP
- Castle Rock SP
- China Camp SP
- Colusa-Sacramento River SRA
- Fort Humboldt SHP
- Fort Tejon SHP
- Garrapata SP
- George J. Hatfield SRA
- Governor's Mansion SHP
- Gray Whale Cove SB
- Greenwood SB
- Grizzly Creek Redwoods SP
- Hendy Woods SP
- Henry W. Coe SP
- Jack London SHP
- Jug Handle SNR
- Leland Stanford Mansion SHP
- Limekiln SP
- Los Encinos SHP
- Malakoff Diggins SHP
- Manchester SP
- McConnell SRA
- McGrath SB
- Mono Lake Tufa SNR
- Morro Strand SB
- Moss Landing SB
- Olompali SHP
- Palomar Mountain SP
- Petaluma Adobe SHP
- Picacho SRA
- Pio Pico SHP
- Plumas-Eureka SP
- Point Cabrillo Light Station
- Portola Redwoods SP
- Providence Mountains SRA
- Railtown 1897 SHP
- Russian Gulch SP
- Saddleback Butte SP
- Salton Sea SRA
- San Pasqual Battlefield SHP
- Santa Cruz Mission SHP
- Santa Susana Pass SHP
- Shasta SHP
- South Yuba River SP
- Standish-Hickey SRA
- Sugarloaf Ridge SP
- Tule Elk SNR
- Turlock Lake SRA
- Twin Lakes SB
- Weaverville Joss House SHP
- Westport-Union Landing SB
- William B. Ide Adobe SHP
- Woodson Bridge SRA
- Zmudowski SB
What can you do?
A few things.
First, dig this site: http://savestateparks.org/
...and then send a letter online here.
And then tell your friends to do the same. If not for you then do it for Oak and me. Because I am really looking forward to showing him how to keep his food cool in the creek at Bothe-Napa and showing him the redwoods in Grizzly Creek and inspiring him to become a writer while visiting Jack London's house in Sonoma. And showing him the 67 other reasons why these places became parks in the first place. Without parks, we are simply a shoreline of cities and mansions.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
With Little Blue sitting on a street a few streets away from my house, having suffered a humiliating racket, side of the road death, 1 tow to Napa, 1 tow back home to Petaluma the next day, it was time to fix the most obvious thing. We needed a new car. This was coming for a while. We wanted a safer 2nd car to take Oak to and from daycare. Having 1 car that could accomplish this made it too tough on EP and it was always her responsibility to shuffle Oak around.
So I set out.
Where does one start when all new cars look the same? I suspected a 4-door Jeep Wrangler was what I needed. Who else makes a 4-door (for the kid) that the top comes off (for me) with some amount of hauling capacity (for future junking adventures). I test drove 2, and we were close to pulling the trigger on this one...
Sure - it was loud and the zip up windows seemed impossible to operate while moving, but it bottled and sold America freedom. No trails off limits. There were obvious drawbacks though. At 18mpg at its best, it didn't seem wise for a commuter driving 40 miles a day. It also drove like a... truck. Imagine that. And, frankly, it was expensive. They were willing to let this new 2011 model go for $23,500 and that was the cheapest one on the lot.
I went home and EP moaned about missing our MINI Cooper S we had years ago.
Mmmm, I thought. They do make a 4-door.
So we started looking around for the 4-door versions - the Countryman - to see how much they cost. Last time I bought one I worked for the agency that did their advertising. We actually qualified as a BMW employee and got the corporate employee price - cheaper than the employee at the dealership was eligible for (he pointed out to us).
This time there would be no discount. The bastards at MINI of San Francisco were the same jerks they were years earlier when we had been MINI shopping. They stopped short of suggesting we buy a Honda, which is what they did last time we were there, but never gave us price info over the phone. And I didn't want to drive an hour and a half to find out they were too expensive.
A Google search turned up a link to a "MINI of Marin". What? Marin is the county to the south of us. Way closer than San Francisco. Apparently they had opened a dealership and we hadn't heard about it. We immediately took of in search of a Countryman, man.
Come to find out, it was the first weekend MINI of Marin was open, and the place was bumping. We got hooked up with a salesperson named Al who turned out to be awesome. I took the Countryman for a test drive, confirmed a car seat would fit and we sat down to find the perfect one. He didn't have one with a sunroof and a bench seat in the back (as opposed to bucket seats) so he had to order one for us...
Oak, who was shopping with us, was still partial to the Camry...
Below is the one we ended up getting. No name yet. So far I really like it. But part of me feels like an ordinary Joe. You know the ending monologue in "Goodfellas"? That's how I feel not driving my VW to work. No one cares. No one talks to me about the MINI....
See, the hardest thing for me was leaving the life. I still love the life.... We ran everything. We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it’s all over. And that’s the hardest part. Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.
Little Blue currently sits in our garage with another blown motor. Now that I know what rods going bad sounds like, I'm pretty sure it's that.
I was headed to work one morning in early March. The sound was slight. 20 miles or so later and the car was on the side of the road with a seized engine. As you may recall, this is a replacement engine that was swapped in last fall. Now, this engine was a used, non-rebuilt engine. So there is no warranty. I'm not even expecting anything from the shop that sold me the engine as I understand it wasn't their fault.
The blown engine couldn't have come at a worse time. I rented a car after it happened to get to work as I needed something that could pick up Oak from daycare. We car shopped one weekend and by Sunday had a new car on its way.
The future of Little Blue is now uncertain. A plan is in place. But 2 bugs needing engines in my garage seems like 1 bug too many. More to come...
Sunday, April 1, 2012
I am back. Though the thought of starting this up again seems harder than should. In the 4+ years of writing this blog I have taken 2 breaks - both announced - from posting. Once, when Oak was born. And once, the year before that, I took a 7 day break while we took a trip. Other than that, I posted almost every day. Over 1000 posts.
So, when March 2012 grew into a chaos out of my control, posting here was the first thing to go. Actually, a lot of things had to go to make me stop posting. And they did. So I did.
What happened? You might wonder. Explaining that added to the reservations about coming back here to post. So I will detail some updates over the next few days to bring readers up to speed on the current state of the VW adventures. But, until then, here's an illustration...