Saturday, August 29, 2009

State Inspection

I have reason to believe that my mechanic would have failed my vehicle had I brought it to him for my 2010 Vermont Vehicle Inspection. Obviously, I didn't wait around for the big "F" on the test; I went somewhere else. Where, I will add, I passed with flying colors.

Here's what happened. I mentioned a minor -- very minor -- issue I have been having with the car. Rather than deal with it by making a big repair now, I would rather wait until after the winter season. So I asked him to jury-rig it. Not only would they not jury-rig it, he said my car would fail the inspection unless I resolved the issue now. In other words, paid the big dollars now.

Half joking, I said, "I guess I shouldn't have told you about the problem before the inspection."

Not joking, he said, "Our diagnostician would have found it."

I bring three cars to this guy for all my repairs and for regular maintenance and oil changes. I didn't realize we were adversaries now!

"I'll call you back," I said.

When I picked my phone up again, my fingers somehow didn't dial the number of my mechanic. They instead dialed the number of the place where I bought my Honda used. Of course, I didn't mention the issue, and of course they didn't discover it. It was a minor issue! At an inspection, you make sure the thing is registered and insured, you check the lights, the horn, the brakes... you don't scour the vehicle and then fail it unless the owner fixes every tiny issue! In addition to my nice blue inspection sticker, the new guy also gave me the thanks-for-buying-your-car-from-us discount on an oil change.

And you won't believe what else. The owner of the dealership noticed my broken radio antenna. To be honest, I don't know if it came that way when I bought it or if it was snapped off afterwards. It didn't matter. The owner himself came out with a drill and drilled out the broken antenna. He re-threaded it and found an old antenna lying around the shop. "I hate not being able to get stations," he said. And the best part of the story? He did this free of charge.

Previously, I could only get two channels on my road. On my way to work each morning, I listened to the radio halfway, then had to switch to a CD or my iPod the rest of the way. Now, I get all the local stations no matter where I am. Thanks, new guys. My quality of life has just improved.

An Investment

I'm here to tell you about the best investment I ever made: my Triple A membership. Specifically, the emergency roadside towing service. I am currently driving a 2002 Honda -- an extremely nice car, by my standards. But, let me tell you, when you have a history of driving the kind of quality cars I have driven in my life -- starting with Old Betsy, the 1978 Jeep Wagoneer on through to the Stealth (1986 Chevy Cavalier, hatchback, black, undetectable by modern radar methods, that is, if by "modern" you mean circa 1890), to the run of Subarus I drove, right up through my old plow truck -- you need free towing!

One time, my roommate got stuck in my driveway in Bolton (note: everyone I know got stuck in that driveway at one time or another...except for me). I borrowed my dad's pickup, but that didn't help. We couldn't just yank him, because on the downhill side was a giant boulder that would scratch the stuck vehicle. I called Triple A. A tow truck came within the hour, wrapped a cable around a big maple tree uphill from the vehicle (protecting the fragile tree with a section of garden hose) and pulled him up the hill where he could then drive out. Later that day, on my way to return the pickup, I locked the key in the truck. For the second time in one day, Triple A bailed me out. They broke into the truck in 94 seconds.

The latest towing was last Saturday when the fuel pump went on our plow truck. We were in town picking up a load of pallets. Fortunately, the spot where the truck died was 100 feet from the Fedex building, and next to their dumpster was another pile of pallets. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves while we waited for the wrecker, we talked to a guy in the warehouse and got permission. Then we loaded up a few more good ones. Stay tuned to AikenAction for an update on what we're doing with pallets.

Anyway, my advice to you: get Triple A. I have been towed and rescued so many times, I'm thinking about opening my own towing service -- I've watched these guys operate theirs so many times, I already know how the things work. Problem with this idea is, what happens if one of my tow trucks breaks down?

Haha...not a problem. I'll just call Triple A.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Aliens Attack Aiken Tomato Patch!

They came down in space ships and shot their little laser guns at all our tomato plants, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Well, I'm not exactly sure if they were aliens, but they sure were destructive. In 24 hours, hundreds of leaves on our tomato plants, tens of unripe tomatoes, and at least one whole plant (probably 5 feet tall) were blighted.

It's known as "tomato blight," and apparently the unusually wet weather has caused it. It is some sort of fungus that gets in the soil and infects your plants. And once it does, it's wildly contagious, and it moves fast. The idea is to clip the infected areas and get rid of them as soon as possible. And then, because the spores already live in the soil, we're not supposed to plant tomatoes in exactly that spot next year either. Our plants had done so well up till then, it killed us to cut them up and throw parts away. What was heading towards being an epic year for tomatoes will still be our best ever, but it was sad. We have already harvested close to 100 sun gold small tomatoes, and a few black krims. The plant that was lost was a prudens variety (I believe our only prudens). We still have lots of green tomatoes on the vines, and hopefully they mature before the blight gets them too.

I'll be honest; I don't fully understand how the blight works. The UFO explanation works as well as any for me. So aliens, be warned. Come into our garden, and I'll be shooting to kill. Go spread your germy disease someplace else!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I have to ask why. It's 84 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is 94 percent. So why -- why -- as I look across my field do I see a guy jogging down my road? It is 2:08pm, the sun is glaring down from the height of its trajectory in the sky, and the guy looks like he is having no fun at all.

My hat goes off to him. I couldn't run right now.

Alison, Oscar, and I ran early this morning. Back then, it was only like 72-degrees with high humidity. Alison's hamstring was sore (which could have only been worse in the humidity), Oscar submerged himself up to his lips in Johnnie Brook when we got there, and I was covered in sticky, uncomfortable sweat. Why do we do it?

Well, it certainly felt good when it was over. And I certainly enjoy having an entire burrito at Mexicali Bar and Grill -- and not feeling guilty when I clean my plate. It will be a great feeling when we have great races in our next marathons. It will feel good when hockey starts back up in the fall and I'm not exhausted at the end of the first session. And it will be great next fall when we go out on some 45-degree day, hike out to cut up some firewood for the woodstove, and the work doesn't kill us.

Come to think of it, the run wasn't actually all that bad, and I've been feeling pretty good all day. Maybe this is that one really hot, really humid week Vermont gets every summer. If it is, we can be thankful it's not in the 90s this year. If it's really overwhelming, go sit by the lake or take a walk in the mountains -- it's always cooler there.

And in the meantime, maybe I'll grab my bike and ride up the road to check on that runner. He didn't look so good.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bumper Stickers

"Imagine Whirled Peas." "Not all Who Wander are Lost." "My Other Car is a Tractor."

I'm a big fan of stickers. One of life's blessings is pulling up to a red light when you're in traffic to find that you're behind one of those cars with 50 stickers crammed on its rear end. They make for nice reading. I hate to generalize, but I have noticed that most cars that have this are too small for all the stickers, and they are usually driven by hippies. Whatever... I like it.

I can't say I clutter my car with stickers. Water bottles, maybe. Notebooks, sure. But my car usually remains relatively sticker-free.

My plow truck is a different story. When I first got it, one simple sticker decorated its bumper: "Independents for Tarrant." Rich Tarrant was the former basketball player who ran as a Republican for Vermont's junior senate seat, but got demolished by incumbent Bernie Sanders. I guess there just weren't enough Independents supporting him. Anyway, the sticker was disintegrating from the weather and peeling, and one day the green sticker pictured above appeared over the Tarrant sticker: "Practice Random Acts of Gardening." (I'm not sure who put it there, but I suspect it was either my wife Alison, my dog Oscar, or Scout the cat.) Wherever it came from, I'm okay with it, as I'm a gardener now.

Today, a new sticker joins the Gardening one on the bumper. There was a time in my life when I looked down at country music. "I'll never listen to that... that country!" I said. Then, 5 years ago, Phish broke up. What's a Phishhead to do when his band stops playing? It was an evolution; nothing happened overnight. But in my search to fill the Phishy void, I started listening to WOKO, the local country channel. There's some good stuff on that station! So, when Phish got back together this year, I couldn't get tickets, because every show was selling out in minutes. Fine, I said. I bought 20th row seats to Brad Paisley's show at the Champlain Valley Fair. "Who needs Phish?" I said.

Well, WOKO is holding a contest. Listeners send a picture of their WOKO bumper sticker and their license plate number to the radio station. On August 25 and 26, the station reads off license plate numbers. Listeners then have 9 minutes to call the station to receive front row seats to Brad's concert.

I picked up my sticker and it's on the truck for everyone to see when I make my weekly dump run. I emailed it to the station. So please everyone, tune into WOKO 98.9 on your radios on August 26 and 27. If you hear my license plate read, call me. I only have 9 minutes to respond and collect my tickets. No offense to Phish, but I am looking forward to seeing Brad at the Fair. And I want those front row spots.

And of course, I have 20th row seats for anyone who tips me off that they just read my number. I hear they're great seats.