Monday, September 20, 2010

Ernie's (in)Famous Car (mis)Adventures

No matter how much I attempt to educate myself on a given procedure, a successful outcome is for the most part heavily dependent on past experience. A couple of decades making foolish mistakes and learning about the strange workings of the automobile are invaluable to my current car hobby. Every now and then, while navigating my lithe 2 ton barge through traffic on the 880, I have a flashback to simpler, younger times...So, just for fun, I decided to travel back in time and compile a list of some of the more memorable auto-related mishaps in my life.

The case of the flying oil filter. It is sometime earlier this decade; I've gotten bit by the autocross bug. I was beginning my quest for a trophy in the bottom-rung H-class with my (kick-ass) 1995 Infiniti G20t (limited slip, 140HP 7500RPM SR20DE, front suspension from a 300ZX, HELLZ YEAH!). It was a nice and breezy Sunday afternoon at the North parking lot in Golden Gate Fields. I had arrived at the grid late (they run in reverse order so that the early gridders benefit from a nicely scrubbed surface) so I ended up being the first one out on the pristine course. A stranger asks for a ride-a-long (a customary practice to gain some advantage -- they are rewarded with an early look at the course from inside the car). Course walk: check. Tech inspection: check. Seatbelts: check. Helmet: check. Proper seating position: check. Proper staging in the gate: check. I tach up to 4500RPM for a perfect launch, and the flagger drops the green. I'm off to a great start, really in the zone. About halfway through, I notice something funny with the rear end which is fishtailing abnormally. My passenger yells, "Red Flag!" pointing at the course worker frantically running toward me furiously waving his flag. "Pull off course, kill the motor!!" I proceed off course, and when I see the white smoke coming from the motor it starts to sink in: I dumped oil all over half of the autocross course before ANYONE (and I mean like 50 cars) has had a chance to run. Needless to say, the rest of the attendees were amazing (even though I'm sure they were cursing me under their breath): they spent about 30 minutes scrubbing the oil off the track and helped me push the car back to the paddock (and even offered me oil!) My passenger was not as forgiving (he was giving me bad looks and never really said a word to me).

Lesson learned? Never have Jiffy Lube change the oil in your car...I had given the oil change monkey the wrong oil filter, which blew off the housing at high revs. If I done the oil change myself, I would have realized it didn't fit properly and would have sought the right oil filter.

The aspiring parking attendant. Before I was in high school, my father trusted me enough to move the car in and out of the garage to wash them. Back then, we had three cars: a 1979 4-cylinder Ford Mustang coupe a 1981 Ford Fairmont station wagon, and a 1984 Dodge RAM 250 custom conversion van. I was the oldest of 3 kids, so I was a bit ambitious when it came to doing things by myself. I think this comes from my Dad -- case in point: he and my Mom thought that a water softener was a neat little product. However, the cost of installation was a bit high. So my father decides to embark on installing the entire water conditioner setup himself with me as his trusty assistant (he was quite the handyman). He and I spent several nights installing the piping on the system. There was a big tank outside the garage wall which held the salt water, and then there was the conditioner hardware on the inside of that garage wall right next to the water main. I helped him measure and cut the mass of jumbled pipes, even got my hands pretty darned hot holding the pieces of copper tubing while he soldered them using a propane torch. All in all, it was quite educational.

But I digress.

So on said day, the Fairmont was in the right side of the garage, and the Mustang was behind it on the driveway. For some silly reason (that I can't remember anymore), I thought that I could pull the wagon out of the garage without moving the Mustang out of the way from behind it. I remember standing there, surveying the situation, and coming to the conclusion that, "hey, I could do this...I have enough room!" I proceed to back the wagon up, cranking the steering wheel (it had no power assist), then creeping it forward, then backing it up, then creeping it forward, slowly making progress. Then something happens and the car lurches forward...right smack into the water softener. Pipes break and water is spraying EVERYWHERE. I forget what exactly happens next, but my Dad ends up removing the water softener system (by this time we had had it for a while and learned about the ill effects of running salt-treated water through home pipes, so my parents were already thinking about getting rid of it -- my mishap just accelerated the process)

Lesson learned? Yes, there *are* easier ways to do things, you idiot.

Mods! The first new car I ever purchased on my own was a 1999 Nissan Maxima SE. Oh, what a blast that was to drive...the 190hp VQ30DE when hooked up to the 5-speed manual was a shining jewel of a motor. The motor was silky smooth and delivered so much torque from right above idle all the way to redline. It was in the Maxima that I have driven the fastest (~130mph) and set a personal speed record from San Jose to San Diego (6.5 hours) that I've never broken. If I remember correctly, I racked up about 60K miles in less than 2 years.

When I was still living in San Diego, a few months after purchasing the car, I was reading up on some performance mods that others have done. Back then, there were no automotive forums like there is an abundance of now; I was on an email-based mailing list of Maxima owners, and folks were sharing tips on modifications they made to their cars. One of them was a stiffer rear anti-roll-bar, which would "improve handling". I was quite new to the physics of car handling, but I relished the thought of a better handling car. After installing the bar, the improvement was noticeable. Turn-in was quite responsive. I was out on a drive one late night westbound on Miramar Road, approaching the 805. Those of you familiar with this section of road back then should remember that once you clear Camino Santa Fe, there's a fairly decent stretch of asphalt that leads into La Jolla. That night, I decided to nail it. On these late night drives, I never really have a direction, I just went wherever I felt like. And on that night, I decided to take the 805 Northbound. The freeway onramp was coming up *fast*. So I took a glance at my speed: BIG MISTAKE. The speedo registered about 105, which sent me into freak-out mode...if I remember correctly, that onramp was a posted 45mph right hander. The worst part, it had an elevation change (down). Even worse, I decided to lift the throttle and steer right, at the same time. And even worser: the rear anti-roll-bar was at full stiff. Say it all with me now: S-P-I-N. Luckily there was no one around, and the only thing hurt was my ego and a blown passenger side tire that nailed the sidewalk. Make no mistake...doing two full rotations in a 3200lb 4-door at over 90mph is NOT fun. I was darned lucky to walk away from that one.

Lesson learned? DON'T LIFT.

And for those of you who think I didn't learn my lesson: "you shouldn't be driving that fast on the street!" Don't worry, I eventually learned that and toned done my driving quite a bit. But I will tell you this: not dropping throttle mid-corner or in a panic situation is one INVALUABLE piece of learned behavior...throttle management and managing the traction circle is central in accidence avoidance maneuvers.

It's late.
I'll have to continue this in another blog posting...

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Saturday, February 13, 2010


Over 30 years now and I still haven't broken this habit. :( But I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we won't run out of time to complete our search by May. Hopefully the right house is out there somewhere. Having Monday off will be good; we can go for a drive and look for neighborhoods that we like.

Today's outing was good, though, despite the let downs...we now have a better sense of what we want, and it will help us focus our search.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

That's Why They Play The Game

A friend of mine has been sharing with me (through e-mail) his views on college football in direct comparison to the NFL. He has many good points, most notably the player commitment to a given team; the long history (some go back almost a hundred years); the intense rivalries... All of which make college football an intriguing sport for me. But it will forever remain that: a curiosity. No, I had the misfortune (luck?) of going to a nerd school. Instead of a Division I-A football program with rabid fans, intense marching bands, and packed stadiums, our school was instead burdened with a Supercomputer program, an annual watermelon drop and a library that was featured in the opening credits of Simon & Simon. Nope, UCSD was not the school to go to if you wanted to have a good football team. And how silly would I look rooting for a college football team if I never went to that college, let alone live in the same town?

But the handful of lengthy e-mails did get me thinking...why do I watch football? My hometown team hasn't won the big one since before the AFL-NFL merge (I wasn't even born yet). And this past Sunday I was let down yet again with another lost postseason. So why bother? Why root for a team who in 2005 blew (what will probably be) its best chance in my lifetime to win it all? You see, I was never really a fan of the Chargers. Heck, I was never a fan of anything, really. (Well, except for those few years in college when I rooted for the Cowboys - damn what a great team). It was only after moving up here to the bay area that I began to root root root for the home team. Maybe it was just a way for me to connect to that 5th grade picture of me standing next to Gill Byrd when he presented for the Citizen of the Month awards. Whatever the reason, I rooted for the home team. Because it was the right thing to do. I didn't watch every single game, read every single article, go to training camp, get autographs of players, bitch and scream at owner decisions, want to fire the coach, stay grumpy all week when they lose on Sunday, no. That wasn't me. But I watched the games when I could. And I believed that they would win. Every time. And when they lost, I believed that they'll bounce back and win next week. I never said they sucked. I never hated them.

But this past couple of weeks, going to my first college football game (ever), reading my friend's e-mail thread, and believe it or not, watching tonight's New Orleans game, it came to me what it really is all about: I just love to watch good football.

It is one of the most amazing things to watch. Forget all that fan bullsh*t or dynasties or marching bands or new stadium proposals or what have you. The football players you are watching on that field, whether they are a 2-12 team or a 14-2 team, are the absolute best players in the country. Of the 100,000 high school seniors who play football, only 215 ever make it to the NFL. Only .02% of the 9,000 college football players will ever play in the NFL. And that's what a lot of my memories about football are filled with... Watching Dan Marino leave the Jets stunned by faking a spike in the waning moments and throwing a touchdown. Seeing Tony Romo botch a field goal hold, try to run it in for a touchdown, and then bounce back to be one hell of a quarterback. Or seeing LT run; it was like God himself commanded that no one shall ever get a clean hit on him. Or laughing as Barry Sanders made Pro Bowl defenders look like 5 year old kids on a Pee Wee field. And it's not just individual performances, it's the whole game... Seeing ever changing defensive schemes, halftime adjustments, coaches' play calling strategies, pre-snap audibles, unspoken QB/WR's just so much fun to watch. (Now if only the stupid directors will utilize more wide angle shots of the entire field pre-snap instead of zooming in on the ball I'd be in absolute heaven)

The sad thing is that this is what modern-era football has reduced the sport to - individual performance. I think the league has achieved that goal of making football more popular: Less dynasties (well, except for maybe those @*!&@*&# Patriots) and teams with equal shots at the title (an expansion team making a Superbowl bid after less than 5 years? It took the Bucs 20 years to do it) have made the sport more accessible to a larger audience. They claim it's all for the fans, but the cold hard truth is that it's all for the money (more competitive teams means more people to watch means more $$) but that's a topic for a different discussion.

It's too bad, really. Those days of head coaching "legacies" and team "dynasties" are long gone. No longer do you have those teams that everyone hated for years because they were so good. So root for your team while they're winning. Because they won't be winners for long. Me? I'll continue to root root root for the home team and love watching football.

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Friday, September 19, 2008


It’s been a while since I’ve taken a ride on Caltrain. Bouncing along on the northbound line on a Friday afternoon, I find myself with a bit of downtime to try to break new habits and rejuvenate old ones.

(Holy crap it stinks in here…I think someone just farted. Why couldn’t they let it out before getting on the train? How hard is that?)

This first year of married life so far has been quite amazing. Despite the high points and the low points, there’s a fundamental calming effect that can only come with the knowledge that my wonderful wife will be there for us through it all. And yet this comfort, this security, has its drawbacks. I can see how easy it is to fall into that rut. That day-to-day monotony that has the incredible ability to change days into weeks, to bleed weeks into months. If you aren’t careful, you’ll blink your eyes and it’s 20 years later.

So here I am, enduring the abhorrent smell of intestinal gas in an effort to fight the monotony. “Shake things up”, if you will. I refuse to lose sight of those things that I enjoy doing, despite what the pressures & realities of life dictate. Next month, I’ll check off box #12 and #15a on my list: Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon. And with a little perseverance and a whole heckuva lotta work, I’ll check off box #2: a 32” waistline.

Until then, I’m keeping tabs and refuse to let life beat me into submission.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008


I fell into that trap again...watching the news media fan the flames for greedy commodity speculators to cash in.

I gotta stop watching TV.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

A Blaze Of Glory

If I were lucky enough to choose how I would leave this earth, it would be in one big blazing ball of glory...blowing my super high-tech multi-million dollar Formula 1 race car into a gazillion carbon-fiber-laced bits in front of my hordes of fans across the world. It would be at the peak of my professional racing career, after stunning the world in amazing feats of car control that defy reality. My legacy would then be left echoing for generations, with children shuddering in fear at the sound of my name, and grown men caught weeping when witnessing my exploits on the track. Ah yes, that would be the only way to go.

But if only we were so lucky.

No, us mere mortals are left with the ultra terrifying realization that our time will eventually come. I've been fortunate(? - if you could call it that) enough to not have to confront the big finale...but being there, witnessing for the first time someone close to me face the cold dark truth of it all humbles me to no end. Seeing him look at it square in the eyes in all its bare essence, shows me just what it really is all about. And it left me with a strange conflicting sensation: on one hand, of utter sadness...with the notion that the "clock" that one used to measure on the order of decades and years has now come down to much, much smaller and much, much more precious units of time; while on the other hand, of tremendous respect...seeing the courage and the strength to continue fighting through it all despite all the setbacks and be at peace knowing that you have the love of family by your side through it all and the life you've lived has been a good one.

Yes, it's a gentle nudge in my back...
It's a reminder that I do get too caught up in the frivolities of it all. That having the coolest car or traveling the globe to all the most beautiful places or having the hottest body or having the most money doesn't really mean jackshit in the grand scheme of things. No, when it really comes down to it, the only things that truly count are the people that are going to be there for you at the very end, how much of their love they will return to you, and just how much of a difference you have made in the lives of others (if at all). Children may not shudder in fear at the sound of your name and grown men may not go weeping when hearing of your exploits, but if you lived your life well, at the very least, they'll have a smile when they retell stories of their fond memories of you...

I can live with that.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

If You're Lookin For The Goodies...

...keep on lookin' cuz they're stayin in the jar

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