Saturday
Dec062014

...Drunk people.

I work in a bar. I pour alcohol down peoples' throats in exchange for money. The more distilled product they consume the more I potentially make. Sometimes I lose out on money if they consume too much. It's a delicate balance I must walk, but I must enjoy it on some deep level, else I would find a new line of work.

But my deep seated masochism aside, I inevitably find myself surrounded by drink people. It's annoying, as anyone who's ever been the sole sober person in the bar can attest, but I can tolerate them to a degree because they're paying me to get as close to alcohol poisoning as possible. I immerse myself in a world of drunken debauchery for profit.

The problem comes when I'm off work. Don't get me wrong,I like a drink at night, especially a single-malt scotch or well-balanced spiced rum in a mojito. Actually the alcohol spectrum I enjoy is much wider than that, but that's beyond the scope of this post.

The problem comes from the drunk people. I can tolerate them just fine when they pay me, but when they're just around me and I reap no monetary benefit, that's when I have a problem.

See, drunk people are annoying. They're loud, obnoxious, can't find their keys, lose their phones every five minutes, and the dance floor somehow has a greater gravitational pull on them than the earth beneath their feet.  They have a way of raising their voice to the point when the whole room knows about their new warts, and everyone’s trying desperately to forget where said warts have started appearing.  They’ll also find the least convenient place possible to expel the contents of their stomachs.

And I'm sure I could tolerate that if only I were one of them. But my finances are such that I cannot afford to spend all night getting smashed anywhere other than at home, where the booze is already paid for. Many a night I have passed out, not remembering what I watched on Netflix while falling asleep. And I’ll be honest, I don’t know that I would have watched nine consecutive episodes of Sherlock while passing out.  I want to be awake for that stuff.

But no.  I tend to arrive at the bar ten minutes before last call, only because my own bar closes fairly early.  If we closed at state-mandated last call, I can assure you I’d go straight home afterwards, because that would mean drunk people are paying me to stay late.  But instead I’m one of the few sober people in the tavern.  That list includes me, the establishment’s management and bar staff, and a few of my coworkers who’ve just ordered the maximum number of drinks legally permitted in a desperate attempt to catch up to the barflies around them (a fruitless effort, to be frank, as their bodies won’t feel it until after they’ve been ejected from the pub because it can’t legally have patrons in it at that hour).

So why am I there? Bars are supposed to be hubs of socialization, where the merits of various sports teams are discussed, bets are made on field goals, and desperate inebriated singles hope to go home with other desperate inebriated singles.  But here I am, just sitting next to a coworker or two, bitching about the shift I just worked, getting annoyed at the motley collection of people dancing to the Two Bit Shuffle.

Am I just frustrated that other people are having more fun than I am?  Perhaps. Let’s be honest: it’s a hazard of being sober at the bar near last call.  So why am I there?  Certainly, I like the bar staff at the pub, but they’re busy dealing with the drunk people I just dismissed from my own bar.  I want to unwind a bit, but like I said, the drinks are cheaper at home.  I like my coworkers… I guess.

I’m left to assume I am there by habit.  A habit I must break for monetary and sanitary reasons.  The neighborhood tavern will henceforth be relegated to my night off.  Unfortunately, on my night off, I haven’t the energy to go anywhere, having been sucked into a self-imposed marathon of Sherlock on Netflix.

Thursday
Nov132014

Leadfoot Video: Rockin' Dat Bass

Cars last a long time these days.  Sometimes that’s a not-so-good thing.

Don’t get me wrong: there are great benefits to your car lasting to the end of days.  The average price of a new car has never been higher, so it’s nice that your investment goes a long way.  Plus, the used-car market would suffer greatly if an Accord (or my old Caravan) didn’t last 200,000 miles.

But technology moves faster than it takes a Yugo’s bumper to start rusting.  In the time it takes you to pair your phone’s Bluetooth, this year’s Lexus can become last year’s Oldsmobile.  Luckily, when you realize CDs are the new mini cassette, there’s an ample aftermarket that will let you swap out your factory radio for something with this season’s bells and whistles.

That’s exactly the recourse my mom took when the CD changer in her 2003 Voyager kicked the bucket.  And because I’m cheaper than those guys from Best Buy who drive Beetles, I’m the one she asked to install it.

I sent her to Crutchfield, since they include the extra stuff necessary for to install an aftermarket head unit into your particular make and model, including antenna adapter, wiring harness, and mounting frame.  I didn’t want to be stuck without parts.

It was also almost time for me to replace the torque strut in my Sunfire.  Last time, I’d resolved to buy a performance part with polyurethane bushings, instead of one with OEM-spec rubber.  The engine’s age has led to multiple oil leaks, and oil eats rubber.  But it apparently doesn’t eat polyurethane.  So I bought a $50 part to replace a $20 part in the hopes of never having to replace it again.  Odds are, it’ll outlast the car, depending on whether I come into some money and can afford to rebuild the engine.

So I made a day of it, starting with the radio.

Step one in any process involving electrically-driven components is to disconnect the battery.  It’s less of a concern over electrocuting yourself than it is creating a short, damaging the battery and possibly other things.  A high-school teacher of mine told me he once saw a car engine melt from a short circuit, caused by an improperly-installed stereo.  (That one involved running a wire through the firewall without proper insulation.)  All things considered, electricity is one of those invisible things that can kill you, so I disconnected the battery.

This Voyager is from the Daimler days of Chrysler.  The buyout was supposed to be a merger of equals, but the only thing worthwhile that Chrysler got was the LX platform, upon which the Charger and the 300 were built.  They also got the Crossfire, based on the old Mercedes SLK, but all of them were built with cheap materials and suffered poor quality.  (The worst thing Daimler did, in my opinion, was to kill the ME Four-Twelve; a turbocharged V12 supercar built by Chrysler engineers with Mercedes parts that was designed and built in just eighteen months.  But it out-performed the $500,000 Mercedes SLR, and Daimler couldn’t have that.)

So the Voyager has cheap materials and build quality.  It was designed to be assembled in a hurry, to maximize productivity.  So the center console is held on by six metal clips and two screws, obscured by a small pop-off panel.  Screws are easy.  Invisible metal clips that need to be pried off always make me think I’m going to break something.  Proceed cautiously.

The panel does eventually come off, after come cringe-inducing creaks.  It’s only necessary to remove the top-most wire connection (the one for the hazard light toggle and rear window wiper controls) to get the panel out of the way, but you could remove all three of them by sliding the red latches out and the connectors will come free.

Then comes the removal of the old unit.  It’s held in place by four screws, easily removed.  I was a bit worried that Daimler might have gone with some weird fastener head, like a pentalobe, in order to make sure their own mechanics are the only ones who could service their products, like Nintendo and the tri-wing bit.  But rest-assured, Daimler decided a Phillips head was cheaper in the long-run.

If ever you needed a reminder this is from the Daimler days, it’s printed on top of the head unit.  A more subtle clue in in the snap-lock antenna connection.  The connection releases by pulling the black collar away from the stereo unit, but only in just the right way.  Seems to be on a time-delay of some sort, because it took me and my dad some fifteen minutes of pulling and pushing and prying and prodding the connector every which-way before it finally relented.  The speaker wire harness is much simpler, I thank whatever higher power.  A simple clip-lock connection held that in place.  The connector for the CD changer was an aftermarket installation, and rather than pull the cable all the way through the dash and passenger-side door sill, I just tucked it deep into the dash.  There’s plenty of room in there, after all.

The mounting bracket Crutchfield sends installs into the dash using the four screws that held the original radio.  I am a bit worried about the style of screw they used, which looks more at-home fastening pieces of wood, as it seems to drive into some kind of metal clasp.  But I suppose it is hard to fit a nut, washer and bolt into such a confined space on an assembly line.  So here we are.  The DIN sleeve, which holds the actual head unit, slides into the bracket, and you bend down the appropriate tabs (determined by sight) to keep the sleeve securely in place.  Tabs further out from the center correspond to a thinner bracket.  If it’s still wiggling in the frame, use a tab further-out.

So now comes connecting the wiring harness.  Do yourself a favor and buy an actual wire stripper/crimper.  The harness from Crutchfield was pre-stripped (nice touch), but the length was excessive for the connectors I had.  I had a wire cutter/stripper, but it was a cheap one, and didn’t crimp so well, so it only served to trim stripped wire and strip wires on the harness from the new head unit’s manufacturer.  Dad had a real crimper, made the job easier on the crimping end.

Now, this is not the first time I’ve installed a head unit.  The first time, I screwed up the left-rear speaker, which I only discovered after installation.  If you’re following my footsteps, do yourself a favor and use a multi-meter to verify the wiring connections before plugging it all in and closing up the trim panels.  Nothing like pulling everything apart all over again, especially a Daimler-era Chrysler that doesn’t belong to you.

So I had everything solidly connected.  I counted my blessings and connected the wiring harness at both ends.

Drama-free, the new unit slides in with a satisfying click.  Then comes reconnecting the battery, turning the key, and finding out if it worked.  The radio prompts for initial setup, so I consider it a success.  Some nervous budging got the panel back into place, and the whole installation actually looks pretty good, despite the radio being glossy and everything else being matte.

Now on to the other half: permanently replacing my own car’s torque strut.

Either the upper mounts are putting some odd pressure on the engine, or rolling the front onto raps somehow pushes the engine forward.  I might never know, unless I put the whole car on a lift, which would only happen in a shop or a wealthy friend’s house.  So with this in mind, I pull out the Harbor Freight cable come-along from the last job.   To keep the engine from lurching forward when the screws come loose, I preloaded some tension, to be released when the new part is in.

But here I come to a problem.  The new polyurethane mount is a different shape than the old one, so the come-along’s hook is in the way, prohibiting me from slotting the bolt in.  I would just have to take off the come-along, attach the front end of the mount, then hook the winch back up and tension the engine back into place.

Problem deux: Be it by manufacturing defect or bracket deformation from having to install so many of the same part, the new mount is too thick for the bracket.  Either way, no amount of Jeremy Clarkson-style hammering would wedge the wider end into either bracket, so some trimmings must be made.

Dad’s got a pile of files and rasps in his workshop, so selecting an appropriate one and hammering out the inner barrel, I figured I’d only need to take off a millimeter or two.  Of course, I had no way of knowing when I’d get to that point, so after a few minutes filing I did a test-fitting, and immediately went back to the workshop for more filing.

One last try got the larger end into the rear bracket (just).  So I had to pull it out of the bracket and attach the front end before winching it so the hook wouldn’t get in the way.  More hammering was needed as it was still a snug fit, but hammering is always better when it leads to results, Mister Clarkson.

Bolts in place, tension released, and one last check to make sure I hadn’t done anything stupid to something critical, I gave the engine a turn to check the mount’s effectiveness.

Here, we had something a bit strange.  There was more… “gusto” from the engine, I guess you could say.  Like a subwoofer was synced to the exhaust note of the car.  Stepping outside, I heard no difference.  I must assume that polyurethane is more resistant than rubber, and the mount is translating more engine vibrations to the chassis.  It might be annoying to someone more accustomed to the ride in a Lexus, but it suits me just fine.  Eddy just growls now.

Feels like I added 10% more horsepower without having to add any stickers! Now I’m wondering what I would get with a real performance part…

Monday
Oct272014

26.2… Whats?

26.2 miles.  Running.

Running 26.2 miles.

26.2 consecutive miles.

Before you make assumptions, the answer is: No, I did not run a marathon this past weekend.

I was, however, involved with filming part of the Marine Corps Marathon.  One of the event’s sponsors wanted to document their involvement in the so-called “People’s Marathon.”  For what purpose, I was not made aware.  My guess is either an outward or internal public relations move.

Regardless of it, my role in it is done.  My friend from college did work with them in the past, and was out of town this month.  So he called me up, lent me some cameras, and said “Shoot the shit out of it.”  Mission accomplished, I guess I could say, since I estimate I’ve given him about three hours of footage for what is probably a five-minute finished product.  Some of it’s even usable.

Now, I could go over with you about filming at the Marine Corps Marathon Health and Fitness Expo brought to you by GE (hey, that’s how it was listed), but I’ve written enough filler already, and it’s time for some real content to the story, followed by my pithy comments.

Parking was available on-post at Fort Myer.  This base always struck me as a little bit odd.  It seems to be nothing more than a place of residence for the servicemen who work at Arlington Cemetery.  Sure, it’s got barracks and an officer’s club and guards at the gate, but it’s all very minimal.  I’m sure its borders are restricted by Arlington’s residential growth over the past 200 years, but compare it to something like Langley, Norfolk, or Benning, and I’m sure you’d be forgiven for walking on and asking, “Where’s the rest of it?”  Its close proximity to the Pentagon would have led me to believe it was armed to the teeth with troops and tanks and super-classified Iron Man suits.  But all those are all probably IN the Pentagon.

It’s also more of a bother to get look at your friend’s porn collection than it is to get on base at Myer.  An ID is all they asked on this day.  This is probably because they haven’t got much of anything worth sabotaging.  Again, this seems odd to me, given they’re a metric stone’s throw from the center of America’s military communication and command.  Surely there’s something else at work I don’t yet understand.

But back to parking:  Easy-peasy at 7:45 A.M. on a Sunday.  I’d been told there would be a shuttle-bus service to the marathon’s finish line, where I’m meant to be.  Awesome!

I’m standing with a group of about 15 people.  A Boy Scout troop, apparently, based on their inane conversations driven by a shallow need to prove masculinity.

Bus rolls up.  Marine in fatigues steps off, in conversation with the bus driver.  The two agree that there are no busses running, though there should have been.  Marine looks at us, explains to a member of the group I’m not with in a tone I can’t hear, wraps up with, “Sorry, guys.”  I think to myself, “If we all rushed the bus, who in this group is most likely capable of driving it?”

In an annoying bout of attempted character-building, one of the Scout Dads says, “It’s okay.  We’re Scouts!  We’re used to walking!”  Boy Scouts groan just like every single Boy Scout in America would have, myself included.

I haven’t yet mentioned the forty-some-odd pounds of camera gear on my back.  So of course, the words cross my mind, “Um, I’m not used to walking!  Why do you think I have a car?!”  Truth be told, those words were more colorful in my head before my fingers filtered them for the keyboard.

So the trek begins, walking.  On the way, a quick call to the client explaining the situation.  They aren’t here yet.  More walking.  I see the fort’s gate opposite the one I came in.  Beyond that, a security checkpoint.  More walking.  I see bleachers with people on them.

I grab ahold of my media credentials, granting me camera access.  A call from the client comes, telling me they still aren’t here yet.  No problem.  I’ll get some B-roll.

When I arrive, the first of the marathon’s 10K event runners come across the line.  Each and every one of them skinny as a rail and under 5-foot-8.  They look pleased with themselves.

“Why?” I wonder.  As (in)active as I am, I would be miserable, doubled-over in pain from everywhere south of my shoulders.  I don’t even like running to my car when I’m late for work.  Why would I run all the way from my home to work and back for fun?  And a marathon is ten-times that distance!  The Good Lord gave us horses for long distances, and we improved on them with the automobile!  For what evolutionary reason would we run long distances anymore?

Despite my bewilderment, the first three finishers smile from ear to ear.  My world makes sense again when fourth-place stops immediately after the finish line and throws up.  But then I am confused again.  He got up at 6:00 in the morning just to vomit on the street?  I usually do that at 2:30 in the morning, much better-dressed and without having to do all that running.  Then I get to sleep afterwards.

I had been told I might get inspired by all these people running for a goal, possibly enter myself in a 10k later, possibly a full marathon some day.

That hasn’t happened.  All I’m inspired to do is change the oil in my car more often to ensure I’ll never have to run again.

Thursday
Aug282014

Ice Bucket Challenge... Not Accepted.

Ive been watching this Ice Bucket Challenge for a little while now, and I've come up with some observations.

First off, this is a bizzare premise.  The idea is that, when challenged, you have the option of either donating money to ALS research or dumping a bucket of ice water on your head.

This bothers me for exactly the reason you see to the right of this text.  If we were truly a charitable society, this whole thing never would have started.  Pouring a bucket of ice water on your head sucks, so if money is no object, you'd avoid it, and we wouldn't have all these funny videos of people subjecting themselves to buckets of near-freezing temperatures.  The only reason this went anywhere at all is because there are so many tightwads who don't mind getting soaked if it means they can spend that money on a new pair of shoes once the ones they're wearing get wet.

Charity in its truest form is spontaneous.  Is it really charity when someone holds a proverbial gun to your head and demands you put money in the poor box?  You could argue that we are a charitable people, since Americans donate more to worty causes than the rest of the world.  But there are SO MANY worthy causes out there that they're all scrambling for attention.

We host untold thousands of events to "raise awareness" for cancer or autism or multipose schlerosis or lost puppy dogs or even more cancers, and they're practically pointless.  Everyone's gotta "raise awareness" for their cause, because everyone else is screaming at the top of their lungs about their own causes.  And even if you do end up capturing the public's attention, the most it will do is last about a month before the next plight of humanity hosts its charity dinner.

"But wait," you might say, "Lots of people are doing the challenge and donating all the same."

Trust me.  If this thing hadn't gone viral, the few people who had taken the challenge wouldn't have donated.  All it took was a few people to play the One-Up Card and say "I'm may be soaking wet, but I'm still donating to this cause I haven't yet bothered to Google."  Now the people who doused themselves feel like uncaring cheapskates because they'd rather spend their (probably) hard-earned money on something else.  Like liquor.  These people have donated out of guilt, and now they've run out of tequila.

Consider the age old question guys have asked each other when they're a couple of drinks in: "Suppose someone's got a gun to your head: would you suck a dick to not get shot?"

The logically honest answer for anyone who isn't an outright-militant homophobe is "yes."  There's a long list of uncomfortable things humans would rather do than die.  Just because you wouldn't like to see your brain matter scattered across the room in this fabricated scenario doesn't make you gay.  By the same token, dumping a bucket of cold water on your head simply because someone dared you to do it doesn't make you a charitable person.

If you really do care about something, skip the bumper stickers, hashtags, and viral videos.  Get off your ass and do something about it instead of starting another Netflix binge.

Personally, I'm not doing anything.  It's not because I'm into that sort of lazy activism; it's just that I don't care.  There really isn't anything out there that hits me in the emotional gonads enough to even go through the effort of changing my profile picture on Facebook.

Granted, I am extremely cynical.  The first thought that goes into my head when someone tells me a sad story is "What are you selling?"  You know those sad puppy dog commercials that come on right after an entertaining ad for beer?  I fast forward through them because that way they become funny (slow motion looks sadder than it really is, while faster video looks funnier, as evidenced by Benny Hill) and that way I don't have to listen to some over-inflated Hollywood ego beg for money they themselves could have donated.

And the ads are all two minutes long.  Who has that kind of attention span?  I can make a 30-second spot with a clear beginning-middle-end story that'll make people laugh.  Why do you need four-times as long to make people care about puppies?

So, if nominated for this Internet Meme of the Month, I refuse the challenge and I won't donate anything.  Charity isn't supposed to be blackmail, no matter how noble the cause.  Besides, we're all going to forget about this next month when someone stuffs jalapenos up their nose to raise awareness for the American Society for the Prevention of Hangnails.

Sunday
Jul202014

Is that daylight?

Yes, it actually is daylight.

It is not a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel after a hard struggle.  This light spells doom and illuminates failure.

The past 36 hours have seen me sleeping for a mere 7 hours.  Ordinarily, this is not extraordinary.  However, it is currently half past seven in the morning, and I've spent the last four hours attempting to return to sleep after a short midnight-to-3AM stint, which came only after the stimulants mercifully filtered out of my system.

So here I sit, with the German Grand Prix qualifying playing off my DVR while I write a blog post about it. ...Because apparently in this day and age, that's what all insomniacs become these days: bloggers.

Oh, wait... blogging is dead now, and they're all on Twitter.

It's not as if yesterday wasn't tiring, either.  I arrived to work after leaving that very building at 3AM the night before, having begrudgingly covered two people's shifts at the same time, with my obsessive nature taking over and spending an hour longer than they would have done cleaning... Wait, where did this sentence start? Yesterday morning, okay.  Sold-out show with a twist: unique cocktails on special, meaning extra prep work, which my fellow bartender was doing for one of them while I did all the rest.

Only half an hour to do all this.  Actually less, because the MOD wanted to open early without telling anyone.  So people are pouring in and I'm only half done with the other bartender MIA as far as I know. Next thing I know, four servers are suddenly behind my bar setting up, when I really only wanted one bartender who knew what to do. No offense to the servers, but they don't do this every day, and I really don't have time to answer questions.

Did I mention just four hours of sleep the night before? Well, if not, you're probably better rested than I am and you did the math already.

Oh, look.  Lewis Hamilton just crashed. Brake failure. Mercedes boys might want to look at that.

But the event, thankfully, went smoothly. I've done busy without decent rest plenty of times after three years, especially when I was working two jobs.  The only real problems came when a manager would relay an instruction to the other bartender, and I can't hear the contents of said instruction.  Working in the same setting long enough, you just know what instructions sound like as opposed to conversations or general comments.  I then break my concentration (risky move) to try and get someone to repeat what was said.

I had one ray of hope: the following show was going to be slow. I asked the other bartender if he was cool with working that show solo so I could get a smidge of rest.  "Um, they're switching me to server and sending a bunch of them home."

My brain fails to compute this.

He explains this a second time and I immediately go to 7-11 for energy drinks.

Stimulants keep me awake, but alertness is another matter.  I'm now on autopilot for the rest of the day. It's enough to bartend a half-capacity crowd solo, receiving minimal help from other staff. The weird thing I noticed, looking back, was that muscle memory seems unaffected by how awake you are. Rotating a shaker tin on my palm and tossing a bottle in the air to get a better grip work as smoothly as ever.

Why do all energy drinks taste terrible? With such a crowded market, why is no one working on that?

Relief comes when my GM tells me they've got it and sends me home.  A shower, pizza delivery, and whiskey give me those three hours I was talking about earlier.

But why am I up now? Logic dictates I should be out like a coma patient. My roommate can pass out virtually anywhere.  Where's my coma?

I'm getting a headache now.  That's enough writing.