Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Do You Get to New York City?

It's a good thing I gave myself three leisurely days to get from Atlanta to New York.

It only took four.

Sam replaces Honey's spark plugs.
After breaking down in a thunderstorm at midnight Monday, I got back on the road Tuesday by noon. The good folks at Vic Bailey Ford got me fixed up for only $600. At first, the service manager was very skeptical about even dealing with a 1984 truck. I heard someone at the shop ask him who I was when they saw me hanging out in the waiting area. He said, "Some kind of writer going to New York." The other guy replied, "I figured it was something like that." I guess I have a certain look.

Anyway, Sam replaced the leaking coil, but he also had to replace the spark plugs, which were badly fouled with un-ignited gas because of the coil problem. (Sam played football for three years in high school, but the summer before his senior year he got a truck and a girlfriend. Suddenly, football didn't seem that important to him, so he quit the team.)

And I made it a couple of hundred miles, into Virginia, before the next problem: No power on hills. Wouldn't normally be a huge issue, except that western Virginia is kind of an up-and-down place.

I asked about a mechanic at a truck stop. The girl at the counter asked a friend who was walking by who asked another friend who pointed me across the bridge and up the hill to a towing outfit. Zack, the skinny kid working there, only knows on diesels, but he knew a guy named Rail who runs the towing shop back down the highway 10 miles in Wycliffe.

Loathe though we were to go backward, Honey sputtered back 10 miles going about 35 into a setting sun on the right shoulder. I had a little trouble finding Rail's place, because I was supposed to turn right at the Dollar General. But there's also a Family Dollar and another Dollar General on the other side of town.

After calling back to Zack and then back to Rail I finally found the shop. Turns out that the traffic lights in Wycliffe are numbered, which I had never seen before. When Zack, Rail and I got on the same page, I made the proper turn at Light No. 1. This is about 8 at night.

Rail's shop is about 25 feet high with three or four bays and tools and trucks and motorcycles and RVS and ATVs and motor boats and quarts of oil everywhere.

Rail and his buddy came out and looked over Honey and reckoned I had dirt in my fuel filter. Rail crawled under Honey with a flashlight to see if she has a catalytic converter. Nope. Then he looked at the fuel line near the engine and looked at the carburetor to see if the fuel filter was there. Nope. Problem is, the fuel filter is inside the gas tank, he said, and you don't want to take them down. His solution: Keep the tanks filled, and at my next stop buy two bottles of rubbing alcohol and pour one in each tank.

Danged if Rail wasn't right. The fuel issue cleared up and I was back on the road.

That was late Tuesday night.

Interestingly, while I was at Rail's he got a phone call from the local magistrate. Seems that a woman well known around those parts had been in trouble related to alcohol (the non-rubbing kind) and automobiles. Her car was at Rail's shop, where it had been repaired following her latest escapade. The magistrate was calling Rail to tell him not to release the car to her under any circumstances, because she had some unfinished business with the judicial system.

Tried to keep driving Tuesday to New York to make my Wednesday morning interviews, but finally gave up about 1 am near Blacksburg. I was talking on the cell phone to Lisa, the kindly neighbor lady, and she thought I should stop for the night. "Safety first," she cautioned. So I stopped. Slept a bit at a rest area parked amid 20 or 30 tractor trailers, and set out Wednesday, again, for New York, which it turns out is a really long way from Atlanta.

Monday, September 27, 2010

First Breakdown, Meeting Jerry Waters

If any of you had Spartanburg, S.C., in the pool (how far Honey would go before breaking down), you are already a winner.
Jerry Waters towed Honey about midnight.

We made it only 179 miles. After two hours of driving through pouring rain, I pulled off on an exit ramp to make a phone call. When I got back on the road, Honey lost power. I tried to crank her a couple of times, and she made a feeble gasp, but never got started.

In my bones, I don't think it's serious. Good thing I have Good Sam Club Emergency RV service. Hope to be back on the road Tuesday morning.

In about an hour, Jerry Waters showed up, driving a Peterbilt heavy duty tow truck. It had more lights than a Christmas tree. Jerry said it weighed 40,000 pounds and that the heaviest thing he ever towed with it was an overloaded semi that weighed 110,000 pounds.

I want one. Talk about a muscle ride. And the cockpit looks like a 747. Peterbilt is the Cadillac of tow trucks. Jerry said the owner buys Peterbilt because he wants his drivers to be happy on the job. And it was as tricked out and comfortable as some purple Land Rovers I've been in.

But I think the real reason for the breakdown late last night was so that I could meet Jerry.

He's 42 years old, and he lost his wife last year when she hit a deer on her motorcycle. And he loves trucks, engines, towing and recovery.

Jerry and his rig.
One of the first heavy-duty jobs he went out on was to recover a ready mix truck loaded with 10 yards of wet concrete and lying in a field after tipping over. The boss told him that if you want to get your feet wet you might as well cross the river. Jerry rigged it up just right and pulled it back up onto its wheels. Then the boss told him that he was going to tow it in, too. That was OK with Jerry. He's been recovering heavy duty rigs ever since.

And he had a few kind words for Honey, which is built on a Ford 3/4 ton chassis with a 454 cubic inch engine, even though every mechanic in the world calls it a 460.

"If someone told me I had to spend time in an RV, I'd rather do in yours than one of those new ones," he said. High praise for Honey.

The cab of the Peterbilt recovery truck.
Turns out the transmission is bullet-proof, and the engine's not bad, either. When Jerry worked for U-Haul in Spartanburg, he said they'd regularly get 300,000 miles out of those Fords. I'll be happy if Honey makes it to 4,000.

So here I sit, in the middle of the night, in the lot of a Ford dealership waiting for sunrise and the shop to open. Jerry says Rex is a good guy and he'll fix me up.

I told him about growing up in a construction family and riding in concrete trucks and the Lima crane I once saw pick up a GE locomotive and set it gently on an ocean freighter bound for Africa. We talked about how Mack trucks used to be the gold standard, but not anymore. The automatic transmissions suck and they're really uncomfortable. And I told him about Meriwan Abdullah, the Iraqi Kurd who replaced Honey's header gasket (Jerry says next time I should get the copper gasket instead of aluminum because it's worth the extra cost).

And Jerry told be about the gift he had from God when his wife died. She hit a deer not far from their house and was messed up pretty bad. As a tow truck driver, Jerry has seen a lot of hurt people. When he got to his wife, he held her. She squeezed his hand twice. "When she did that, I knew it was going to be alright," he said. She died in the next couple hours.

"God put us here to go."

Around the UAA

Here are the weekend headlines from University Athletic Association schools.

• Brandeis: Women's soccer beats Simmons. Babson beats men's soccer in seond OT. Volleyball splits on second day of Amherst Classic. Brandeis Athletics

• Carnegie Mellon: Football beats Kenyon 17-10. Men's soccer beats Grove City. Women's soccer loses to No. 4 Otterbein. Volleyball wins 2, loses 2 at York College Spartan Invitational. Carnegie Mellon Athletics

• Case Western Reserve: Football beats Denison. Men's soccer beats Heidelberg. Women harriers 2nd, men 3rd at CMU pre-regional. CWRU athletics

• Chicago: Volleyball beats UW-Whitewater. Men's soccer beats Millikin. Football loses to Wabash. Women's soccer beats Aurora. University of Chicago athletics

• Emory: Women's soccer wins at Maryville on PK. Volleyball wins two at UW-Whitewater Invitational. Men's soccer blasts Greensboro . Emory Athletics

• NYU: Women's soccer beats Farmingdale State College. Volleyball wins its own classic. Men's soccer loses to Manhattanville. Men's cross country wins 4k and 6k at Stevens Invitational. NYU athletics

• Rochester: Men's soccer beats Lycoming. Women's soccer beats R.I.T. Men's cross country 1st, women 2nd at Harry Anderson Invite in North Chili, N.Y. (Is this Harry Anderson the comedian?) Rochester athletics

• Washington University: Football beats Wabash. Men's soccer beats Wheaton. Women's soccer loses to Wheaton. Washington athletics

Manifold Destiny

Meriwan Abdullah and my header.
Honey, my 1984 recreational vehicle, is breathing fire. Not a good thing when you have 4,200 miles ahead of you. I decided on Saturday to get the leak fixed in the manifold gasket (It's not really a manifold, but a "header," which is a customized exhaust manifold designed to increase power). Two mechanics had told me to go ahead with the trip and "whatever will be will be." They reasoned that the risks of attempting to remove an old header and replace the gasket outweigh the risks of simply driving on. Lisa, the kindly neighbor lady, thought I should get it fixed.

Now, Honey is at an exhaust shop on Lawrenceville Highway. My savior is Meriwan Abdullah, who is from Sulymania in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Meriwan has nimble fingers, patience and a love of exhaust systems. He removed the eight bolts without breaking a single one and is getting ready to install the new gasket. Minh, the Vietnamese owner of the shop, recommends the sturdier aluminum gasket to the paper ones.

Should be on the road by mid-afternoon, Meriwan willing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Good Omen?

On Wednesday night I was taking a break from my trip preparations with Lisa, the kindly neighbor lady.

We sat on her front porch, enjoying the full moon -- or pretty close to it -- and the Autumnal Equinox -- or pretty close to it, when we heard the cries of a cat coming from the roof next door. Miss Fluffy was stranded and couldn't get down.

I fetched my ladder and, after several attempts, lured the kitty toward me, grasped her by the nape of the neck and lowered her safely to the ground.

Lisa reminded me of the proverb "No man stands so tall as he who uses a ladder to help a cat."

A good omen as I ready myself for the 4,200-mile, 45-day RV trip to visit the schools of the University Athletic Association?


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How powerful is the UAA?

Every school in the University Athletic Association is in the top 50 out of 447 Division III schools ranked by the National Collegiate Scouting Association for athletic and academic excellence.

Out of 1,100 schools ranked in all divisions, every UAA school is in the top 75.

Is the UAA more "powerful" than the New England Small College Athletic Conference? Check out the rankings for yourself.

Here's how UAA schools rank in Division III:
5. Washington University in St. Louis
7. Emory University
13. Carnegie Mellon University
19. Brandeis University
21. New York University
26. University of Chicago
36. University of Rochester
43. Case Western Reserve University

Source: National Collegiate Scouting Association

The Collegiate Power Rankings from NCSA are calculated for each college/university at the NCAA Division I, II and III levels by averaging the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup ranking, the NCAA student-athlete graduation rate of each college/university and the U.S. News & World Report ranking. The collegiate power rankings based off of the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup rating evaluates the strength of NCAA athletic departments, while the U.S. News & World Report rating recognizes institutions of academic excellence. The student-athlete graduation rates are based on those provided by the NCAA.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Up To My Knees in Bees

Five days before I head out on a 4,200-mile road trip to Catch the Stories of the University Athletic Association. In a 1984 recreational vehicle branded "Honey" by the now-extinct company that made her.

This is my blog, and it's supposed to be about the history and unique achievements of the UAA, but right now I can think only about getting Honey ready.

Here's a partial list of Honey Dews:

Replace 100 (or so) exterior screws with new, stainless steel hex head screws and clean the rust stains left behind; finish caulking the busted roof seam from when I backed into a tree; replace six storage cabinet locking clips; learn how to light and operate the range; paint black rubber tubing orange; afix black rubber tubing to the the funky roof seam repaired in step mentioned above; install new handles on galley drawers; install eye hooks and bungie cords inside cabinets to keep stuff from rattling around; re-screen the very funky screen door (the rubber strip that holds the new screen in place is called a spline, and it comes in different diameters); buy and install flexible, vinyl trim around edge of kitchen sink countertop; find stopper for bathtub; clean head (that's bathroom for you landlubbers); buy cell phone holster to glue to dashboard; put UAA school bumper stickers on spare tire cover; install two more valve stem extension on front tires; figure out what cool license plate to put on front bumper (either 1970s Colorado plate or "Powered by Aurora Coffee" plate); treat, brush, sand, prime, paint 12 rust spots on front of Honey; get digital antenna for TV; borrow VHS tapes from Lisa; pick up Honey from repair shop where valve cover gasket is being replaced ($310); finish scraping smootz from inside windows.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Poll Sitters

The new DIII soccer polls are out today.

Here's how the UAA stands (with records in parenthesis)

14. Washington University in St. Louis (3-2)
15. Emory University (2-1-1)
Also receiving votes: University of Rochester (4-1), University of Chicago (1-1-1)

3. Carnegie Mellon (5-0)
7. University of Rochester (4-0-1)
25. Emory University (5-0)
Also receiving votes: New York University (2-1-1), Washington University in St. Louis (4-0-1)

Source: Top 25

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Girls I'm Leaving Behind

Claire the dog watches as I snap a candid photo.
Can you see her?

Little brown head in the bottom right-hand corner.

That's Claire, nicknamed Doppler by my friend Lisa, because Claire can hear/feel a storm 30 miles away. She's not 3D Doppler, but then I've never heard a weatherman bark, so I guess that's a fair trade.

Leia, aka Lindsay Lohan, is not in the picture. I think she was sleeping.

I Hit a Sign

Sunday I took the girls to a fabulous spot on the Chattahoochee River for a little swim and a Honey test run.

I hit a sign. Didn't even realize it until I got out to see whether I was parked appropriately. No one around, what the heck. The sign was crumpled a little, but still legible. Honey was fine.

The river was running low and the water was cool. Claire and Leia did some swimming, but they were more interested in checking the pee-mail on the riverbank. Dogs will be dogs.

When I arrived back at 1041, I was parking Honey on the street, next to a big tree that sticks out over the pavement. Yep. I hit it with the top right hand rear corner. Gosh, that rig is bigger than I thought. Will take a trip to the RV store tomorrow to see if they can push the dent out and seal it with a couple of gallons of goo.

Honey's head-turning days are far in the past. Now she just needs to be waterproof.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Potty Training

Yesterday, I became one with Honey's toilet.

It was broken, with water running into the bowl even after the valve was supposably closed. I found a repair kit at RV World, and after some head scratching and cursing, got the little plastic throne working again. Expected repair time: 45 minutes. Actual time spent: 3 hours, 45 minutes. Favorite instruction: "Shut off water supply from toilet and disconnect water line from its rear." I didn't know that toilets had a bum.

• 13 days until departure.

• Case beat Rochester in football yesterday in a UAA / non-UAA game (It's complicated).

• Carnegie Mellon men's soccer team is still undefeated and ranked No. 4. CMU's soccer coach attended Colorado College, where my sister, Melanie, went to undergraduate school. (Everything is connected)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

4,200 miles, 45 days, 16 soccer games

On The RoadOn Sept. 26,  Honey and I will head up Interstate 85 from Atlanta for the first leg of a crazy road trip.

We're going to eight universities -- from Atlanta to Boston, from New York to Chicago.

And we're doing it in just 45 days and 4,200 miles. SWEET!

'Why,' You might ask.

Because -- like the dog in the the joke -- we can.

And who's Honey? Stick around. You'll find out.