By Mike Smith

A simple yet normal day on the Seattle Streetcars.

I’m calling this article The Blue Bucket because, well because there is a blue bucket in it.

I was taking a break at Panera on Broadway and a bus pulls up across the street to drop off passengers. One man gets off carrying a blue bucket—the star or our story—and removes his bicycle from the bike rack on the front of the bus. The bus pulls away and I hear a bang. Blue bucket man is banging his bucket against the side of the public garbage can. He is apparently dumping his own garbage can into the public one. A sort of refuse transfer in the vein of Russian nesting dolls. The smaller can into the larger can which is collected into a bigger can which goes to the landfill. The cycle of life as a Starbucks cup writ large.

I watch as he bangs his bucket a few more times to completely empty his receptacle. I go back to my reading. I am startled from my reading a few moments later by the familiar sound of blue-bucket-on-public garbage can.

This time I am surprised (more accurately, amused) by the sight of a person dressed as a homeless guy—I say dressed as a homeless person because ratty smelly clothes with rips and stains on them are de rigueur on Capitol Hill.  Rich kids from Seattle University dressing to “identify” with the homeless. You know, ineffective solution to the real problem. A sort of sartorial virtue casting.

But I digress.

This second fellow was simply enjoying the sound made by the bucket banging on the cage around the public garbage can. I was of course surprised, as you must be, that the bucket was left in situ in the first place. But it was. In the process, Number Two made some pretty fine dents in the bucket. Still blue of course, but wounded. Blue, I guess in a way, was half-way prophetic. The other half being black.

Suitably satiated, owner Number Two walks off. Leaving the bucket behind.  Back to my reading.

Less than an hour later, as I am operating my Streetcar down Broadway, I see another budding capitalist in filthy clothes carrying the blue bucket under his arm like a well-loved stuffed animal. The satisfied smirk on his face reveals an obvious joy at his new-found treasure. I’ve often said there is nothing like a dented blue bucket in one’s hand to give one auspicious confidence in the future. With a blue bucket (handle intact) I can take on the world. I am obviously not the only one who thinks so.

As I travel two more blocks in the Streetcar I stop at the light. Another person, with an equally beloved bucket appears from behind the building on the block. Now this bucket is loaded with filthy lucre. Really filthy! It appears to be very heavily laden with bricks or some sort of (s)crap. I know it was heavy because of the conveyance with which fashion maven Number Three was employing: an office chair with not four but five wheels. Every transportation engineer knows that more weight requires more axles on the ground. And a pretty handy truck it was. Our man pushed his “cart” almost effortlessly across the street and proceeded to sit with his “burden” at the bus stop to wait for the next bus. What a satisfied look was on his face, too. I’m certain his look will change when he’s given the sad news that the bus cannot accommodate an occupied office chair. But hope appears to spring eternal on Capitol Hill. With this high degree of entrepreneurial spirit perhaps we should change the entire location’s name to Capital Hill.

This all occurred on the same night within an hour or so. Imagine what might take place in an entire day!

I did see another event around 1:00 am that was a bit disturbing. A young woman decided to run across the street in order to “beat the light”: a soon to be Olympic sport enjoyed by pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike in Seattle. She made it, too! But that victory was tainted by the severe faceplant she placed on the sidewalk immediately after the finish line. She lay their a few seconds as her friends ran to her aid. As they tried to help her up it was obvious she was not hurt badly but getting her to stand again was probably not the right move. Her body was in violent opposition to her blood alcohol level and was beginning to simultaneously shut down and… I believe “ralph” is the colorful phrase often used in this context. The situation was sort of tense for a second. However, the surrounding non-friends of our heroine believed it quite funny and hid it not.

I had to move on but all appeared to be well again when I came back 15 minutes later. I’m not surprised, though. Police and citizenry have been through a similar scenario many times. The entire community gives a giant shrug and presses on. Practice being made perfect makes these type of occasions as routine as a bus ride.

The above is a normal day on the First Hill Streetcars. It only costs $2.25 to buy a ticket; your admission gets you an up close and personal view of some interesting activities. Get yourself a sandwich, jump on the Streetcar and you’ve got dinner and a show!

 

Hop on board The Blue Bucket Special!

 

By Mike Smith

Many have been wondering what happened to the Seattle Streetcars on that fateful day where they were pulled from service. I can tell you what I know. Or rather, what I have been told.

I’d like to preface this report with the fact that the street cars are actually quite safe and seldom travel at more than 50% over their available speed.

On all railroad vehicles there is a device called a deadman. Notice I did not say an individual, I said a device. A deadman is a feature of railcars in the event an operator dies or is otherwise impaired. (The “otherwise” is a different more serious problem and involves a completely different group of civil servants.) The device, though, is a spring-loaded brake switch that activates when the handle is let go regardless of speed. The stop is gradual yet covers a very short span of track. It is a safe stop. No one is harmed and everyone is happy and may not even know what happened. The only person affected is the unlucky operator. He may need some attention.

A streetcar has at least three main braking systems. One is the dynamic braking which is the close equivalent to automotive brakes. These brakes work at the axles near the widthwise-center of the car at each end. Then there is the track brake, a friction brake that works by applying downward pressure directly onto the tracks. This brake is located between each of the dual wheels of the bogey (or truck) as it is known. (The wheels and power drive together are called the truck.)

There is a third form of braking which is also a form of traction enhancement. It is a sander. Just as it sounds, there are four tubes that protrude from the bottom of the passenger compartments which apply sand to the tracks whenever there is a slippage or perceived braking need. It is an automatic application but can also be applied manually by the operator. We also have an emergency brake that essentially applies all braking apparatuses simultaneously.  Believe me, when applied, the emergency brake will stop the streetcar on a dime!

So what happened? All of the braking systems accept the deadman are controlled by the electrical system on the train. Generally, the trains have a backup low voltage system that allows for the application of the emergency brake should a power outage occur. It is supposed to be a fail-safe system that runs off the battery. Apparently what happened is that fail-safe system… uhm… er… failed.

The car in question was tooling along just fine when the electrical system shut down. This has happened on occasion but has never posed a real problem. Usually the lights go out and the operator slows the car to a stop and reboots the operating computers. About a 2-minute elapsed time and we’re up and running again. This time the car experienced this outage and the system shut everything down. Including all brakes of any kind. Yes, even sand! Since the car was heading in a generally downhill aspect, the car had a tendency, as luck would have it, to go as we say… downhill in an increasing velocity which some would consider questionable. I say, some. Most passengers were unaware that there was an issue in their darkened streetcar. They were blithely engrossed in their various and sundry personal reading/emailing/video-watching devices. A true compliment indeed to the many technological marvels we take for granted every day in the public transit sphere.

But, the driver called the communications center and reported the issue, which alerted the WA State Department of Transportation representative in his office, which in turn obligated him to call his counterpart at the NTSB. We are after all, a railroad service. Despite the careful and graceful bringing-of-the-streetcar-to-a-halt by our operator. The Feds ordered a shutdown of all cars of this manufacturer in the U.S. Not a big number of cars, but at least we were not picked on.

This is basically the same thing that happens when, say, your Tesla catches on fire for no apparent reason and the NTSB issues a recall. We found a factory defect that initiated a recall. In short, we were stopped for not stopping!

So, we’ve been down for 2 weeks. I was involved in some testing by our consulting engineering firm wherein an acceptable work-around was devised and applied. The testing was 100% effective. In turn, the manufacturer is creating a fix which should be designed, installed, and certified soon hereafter.

The end of the story is: We are operational again as of this weekend. I am also again working as an “engineer” (see last weeks’ article) and the world is a better place for it. It should be all down hill from now on.

Some are not so lucky.

I hope to see you on the train. If you so Desire!

 

 

 

Or: Just so we’re tracking together.

By Mike Smith

It’s great to see you all again. I haven’t been on hiatus. I’ve been working hellacious hours.

There is a new car in my life. It is called a streetcar. It is a railroad-type vehicle that runs on standard-width train tracks and is powered by an electric motor/battery bank and is kept alive by an overhead power wire. See? Just like a car.

The irony is complete. I can just hear the brain-trust that came up with the term streetcar.

“Okay, this vehicle will run on railroad tracks, not on normal streets. There will be no engine; it will be powered by the public power grid. It uses no gasoline and has no tires. There is no steering wheel. People can walk in and walk out some double doors that open with the push of a button. The vehicle can only load and unload at designated places that we will build. There are only a few seats so most must stand. It is basically a train.”

“What shall we call it then?”

“We’re calling it a streetcar.”

“?”

“Yes, a streetcar it will be. In honor of all the ways in which it does not resemble a car used on the street at all.”

So here it is:

See? Not a car at all. But it is not as dumb as it might seem. The streetcar as a mode of transportation predates the modern automobile. The streetcar started out as a horse-drawn omnibus, or horsecar. It was a bus-like vehicle towed by a horse team. This occurred about the time tinkerers were just beginning to play around with motorized carts in their barns and basements–many years before the actual “car” as we know it was seen on any street. I think you could make an argument that pavement would not have been invented if cars had not been.

(A little known secret: from 1884 until 1940, Seattle had dozens of streetcar and trolley and cablecar lines. That’s how progressive we are. Uh, were.)

Part of the definition of a streetcar is that it does operate in traffic. By contrast, “light rail” is considered so because it operates on a separate purpose-built route away from traffic. So technically I drive a streetcar, which bears a great resemblance to light rail.

It is a new year and I really enjoy it. Which is a good thing because the 60-plus hours weekly I have been “in the cab” have made it hard for me to write my column.

Another (although only slight) drawback for me is that due to the extra concentration required to operate a train that can only stop and not swerve, I am confined to a closed-in cab. This has kept me from visiting overly much with the patrons. But, after a few months of this, I’m becoming more adept at choo-chooing, so I have started in a tentative fashion to keep my door open and my little world has become a better place for it.

Here’s why.

The streetcar is a tourist magnet, and I enjoy orienting visitors around Seattle. Can I just say it is nice to meet people who are genuinely enjoying Seattle? Many of those who actually live here don’t seem to.

I’ve noticed, too, that people on the streetcar genuinely appreciate the experience. Visitors are often less guarded and more open. So as a formerly-closeted yet social being, I’m relishing my recent inclusion in their lives as ad hoc tour guide and muse regarding all things Seattle.

For example, one young woman was on my streetcar and needed to get to Dukes. Her phone was and dead she had lost track of her friends and how to get there. I helped her as best I could. I knew it was somewhere near the South Lake Union Park but did not know for sure. (Because you don’t have to teach me twice, I spent one of my lunch breaks walking around the area to find out what really was down there. In case you are interested, Duke’s is behind Chandlers Crab House.)

I have also adopted a policy I like to call the “open window policy.” I always leave my window open so I can talk to people on the platform who look lost. I adopted this policy after feeling a bit like a jerk honking at folks who cannot seem to parallel park on Westlake and Terry.

Our streetcars travel tracks that have been laid down in one of the lanes of both streets. It is tight. So if you are not good at parallel parking I’d suggest a few days’ practice before eating at Butcher’s Kitchen, Mistral, or Barolo. I don’t yell at anyone, though. I simply like to acknowledge that I am not mad at them. I just want them to still have a rearview mirror when they’ve finished their meal. Nothing ruins a nice night out like a $200.00 car repair. And yup, it would be your fault. Lines are drawn firmly and clearly.

In other modes, I use my window to say thank-you or have a nice day or whatever, perhaps “tootles.” After all, I’m in a 70,000 lb. vehicle that would simply crinkle your car flat. I can afford to be nice. I have nothing to prove. I’m already large and imposing. I could be wearing slippers and a tutu. It wouldn’t matter. I’m big!

I’ve rambled enough about this thing. I do have a lot of new stories to tell despite my brief history as a streetcar operator. Oh, one thing, though: I tell my friends who live outside the area that I drive a train. They are suitably impressed. Of course, why shouldn’t they be? What vision is conjured up when you think of a train?

Same here.

Awesome, aren’t I?

See you at the bottom of Yesler!

Wherein the author enters the way-back machine.

By Mike Smith

This has been a superb April! So far we’ve had higher than normal temperatures and a couple of record-breakers last week.

In times like this that I start thinking how much fun it would be to own a boat. Well, let me rephrase that: I think about how it might be fun to own a boat.

speedboatI have a few fond memories of boating on Puget Sound and of beach life. One time in particular one of my friends, Robert (first names only for beach bums) of Redondo, took me on a speedboat cruise from Redondo to Des Moines and back. The water was smooth as glass, a phrase I’ve heard a lot but have trouble thinking is accurate. After all, glass is almost perfectly flat and does not respond well to curvacious hull breaches. Whereas Puget Sound water is nothing but glorious to look at when “smooth as glass,” but gives way as said hull glides smoothly through the water, cutting a nice and shapely triangle.

Another reason the comparison is weak is that if  you were to drive your car on glass, or run your hand on glass, it really is smooth. Being in a boat while running across smooth-as-glass water is not really all that smooth a ride. Not to be picky but there are some bumps. Bumps that are made even more pronounced as to their being unexpected.

But I still like riding in boats. On the aforementioned trip, we had a fairly uneventfully “smooth” glide from Redondo to Des Moines. We bought some fuel and a few knick-knacks for the boat and returned home. By golly, as we began to head south the water began to resemble the Cascades. What one might say, choppy. My driver… er, pilot… thought it best to skedaddle home to Redondo at speeds that seemed a bit inappropriate even for road conditions. It was here that I discovered that the seats in a speed boat operating at its defined parameters—speeding—act more as catcher’s mitts than comfortable nesting areas. I tried sitting but was immediately launched into the air. I mean I was nearly thrown from the boat. As I rose from my former seat, the thought occurred to me that my friend may not find it convenient to come back for me were I tossed aside as so much excess ballast. Human bilge-water was sort of my mental condition. So I grabbed at what was handy and kept most of my form in the boat. I got the lower part of my leg in the water but all-in-all, I was never really in danger. I was caught by the vinyl catcher’s’ mitt of a seat.

I decided to stand and “navigate.”

Throughout the trip my inner-Walt Whitman was churning…

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Needless to say, we made it back okay. But, that was the last time I rode with him. That last couplet was burning in my O heart, heart, heart.

But, I am a man of peace.wave runner

Later that summer another friend of mine let me borrow his Wave-Runner for a day. Whoo-boy, that was fun. Even when you fall off, the boat comes back to you. Now, that is my kind of aquatic vessel!

I spent a lot of time at Redondo Beach. I even worked at the restaurant that was there before it became Salty’s. Beach bumming was becoming a real thing to me. I was considering renting a beach shack in town near the beach. Of course I was only a kid and couldn’t, but you know how real a fantasy can seem when you are seventeen.

That was also the year I got my picture in the paper as one of the painters of the roof-top advertisement for the restaurant. I painted “Paul’s Dock” in big four-foot tall letters on the north and south slopes of the roof. The idea was that boaters and seaplane pilots could see us and come in for dinner. I don’t know if it worked but my mom liked the picture.

There really wasn’t any dock facility adjacent to the building, either, but wouldn’t that have been exciting?

That whole Spring and Summer I contemplated the beach life. Imagine my reverie when I was even offered a job in Hawaii by a visitor from there who was eating at the restaurant. Apparently my enthusiasm for pouring his coffee and cleaning up his spilled pie were intoxicating to this Hawaiian restaurant owner. He mentioned that it was hard to find reliable workers at the time in Hawaii and he was willing to hire me if I could get to Hawaii. Might have been fun. Might have completely changed my life. Might I never have come back? Could my fantasy life actually be coming true in a dramatic way?

Might Robert be able to take me there in his speedboat?

Seventeen and yet a tad bit reasonable.

That boat ride was scary-memorable.

I love Des Moines.

Wherein the author encounters his (ahem!) true self.

By Mike Smith

Getting old is a real eye-opener. It is also a little scary.

I’ve begun to do things I never thought I would do. My time with friends is changing, my desires are changing, and I am becoming content. Can this be happening?

Another thing that is happening is I am becoming less crotchety, not more so. I was sure I was supposed to go the other way. I was a rough-and-tumble temperamental little kid. Pop guns with “real bullets” made of mossy dirt clods. Climbing trees and trying to jump from one to the other without touching the ground or killing myself. I did fall once and very nearly impaled myself on a broken spindly stump. I quit that. But bike riding and baseball and any other sport with a ball were always on my agenda.

When I got older I had cars and spent every waking minute trying to make them go faster than designed by adding horsepower without understanding the dangers. But now? I am softening up. I’m easily distracted from selfish pursuits to do things others (including my wife!) want me to do.

Let me explain with a few little snippets from my recent past.

Last Friday night, I was minding my own business thinking about how I would while away the couple of hours my wife was going to spend with “the girls” at their favorite thrift store. I was thinking: have a beer, watch some sports on TV, maybe sleep. At the very least I was going to wear some sloppy clothes and spill stuff. You know, do something guy-ish. We had just returned from an afternoon of errands and I was walking into the house across the freshly-mowed lawn raising my hands to rub them together in anticipation of my ‘man-cipation, when my wife calls to me and says. “Would you go with me to the thrift store tonight?”

“Don’t look at her,” says the little black devil on my shoulder.

But I drop my hands to my side to cover my obvious selfish scheming and look at her. Yup, just as olSad-Puppy-Face-Pictured Blacky warned; she gave me the look. You know the look…

It’s all in the eyes. Darn that look.

Instead of my expected and historically corroborated ghoulish rolling of the eyes, I said, “OK.”

Providentially, as I arrived a great friend of mine was just dropping off his own thrifty wife–what a wimp! He saw me. He calls me on the phone and invites me to do something manly. To which I agreed and could not park my car fast enough so as to jump into his.

So while the girls shopped The Marine View Diner and I had fro-yo.

Yup. Manly.

Then, today was a sunny seventy-degree clear day. A great day for traditional guys like me to work on their cars, drink beer, watch sports, wear sloppy clothes, and spill stuff. So I parked my car in the alley behind my house and got out my tools whereupon I was interrupted by my wife who said my grandson wanted to talk to me. So I dropped what I was doing to talk to him. What a soft-hearted sort that I am becoming. Of course anyone would talk to their grandson, but I was in the middle of something else and needed to stick with it. Can I get an Amen?

I spoke to two of my grandsons and my granddaughter. I loved it and did not feel the least put out. I even told them some of my most reliable jokes. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing the joyful giggles of young kids having a good time listening to their dear grand papa tell them jokes.

Jokes about tough guys and stuff, of course. Sigh.

I finally did finish my car project. Feeling all masculine again and ready for a beer. My wife invites me to have a pedicure with her.

Do they serve beer?

Let’s just say I liked it. Nothing guy-like about it. And that was alright with me. It was actually quite luxurious, even though I did not spill anything on myself.

Then tonight I watched the tail end of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and got a little teary-eyed. I didn’t think I was becoming more sensitive. Now, I’ve always been an emotional guy. Just never for other people and their issues. It is so much easier when I get upset because of personal disappointments. It seems so natural, so right, so native. But to have real feelings for others and to be concerned more about their feelings and needs than my own is a paradigm shift.

Is there something I can take for this?

Wherein the author encounters yet another miraculous car healing.

By Mike Smith

Every day I drive up and down Lake City Way, aka LCW. There is an espresso stand near Nathan Hale High School that has at least three different employees. Every day a car is parked in the spot presumably set aside for employees–always one of three different vehicles.

They are all different, that is, except for one thing. They all have a large dent in the rear quarter-panel.

I chuckle at this for a couple of reasons. If these cars are indeed owned by three different people, there is a weird confab of coincidence in how or where each drives. I guess it is possible that the three cars belong to one person but then that may speak of how this individual drives, or takes a corner, or pulls out of a parking garage.

Odd, thinks I. But perhaps not entirely implausible. Given that it is LCW after all.

Cars are delicate products. And cars are often-times kept in garages. Which are not all that delicate. In fact, garages (and even carports) are quite. uhh, stout. Very stout compared to cars, I’d say.

Cars and garages often meet and the meeting is not at all significant. One might say that the car and the garage inadvertently miss-perform, as it were. And a practical example of stout-meets-delicate ensues.

A couple of days ago, my wife was pulling out from our garage and caught the right fender on the corner of our garage and pulled the fender and entire bumper loose from the front of the car. I was not home at the time so I received a heartfelt text note: “I hurt the car :(”

When I got there it looked like a pretty major problem. We’ve had plenty of car issues throughout our married life so we simply took it in stride. I had things to do… like respond to my Friday lunch friends that I couldn’t make lunch due to our car having the appearance of an impending demise. My wife took the car to the local body shop, which by the way is two blocks away. It’s good to live in the city sometimes.

About an hour later she came home. The estimate was eight-hundred dollars. As she said this she gestured that I should follow her outside. She led me to the car which had almost no sign of damage. At all. Just a small scratch on the headlight cover.

The body shop guy told her that if she wanted a new bumper he could do the job well enough. But while he was talking to her he banged his mallet here and there, put a couple of screws in place and before she knew it, the car was completely whole and intact. I sort of mean, repaired. I’m not sure you can say it is repaired, knowing what we know, but you should see it! It looks like new! With a puny little head light scratch.

We were very happy. We don’t have to spend eight hundred dollars and the car should be fine for quite some time. Crazy. Crazy with relief and not a little thankfulness for an honest body and fender man. We were willing to shell out the eight Benjamins. But look at us, not having to.

But alas, I am still a bit concerned. I mean, are we driving a chintzy lightweight car that can’t take a punch? Good or bad? It was almost easier to repair it than to damage it. It certainly took less force and about the same amount of time, it seems.

I do take comfort in the fact, though, that our garage seems to be completely oblivious. My big strong well-built garage. Very stout indeed.

Some garage repairman just lost a ton of work!

Wherein the author encounters a tiled traveler’s greeting.

By Mike Smith

I’ve read a lot of heartfelt messages in my time on this orb. I’m a husband a father and a grandfather. Messages from my wife my kids and my grandkids are usually meaningful and touching. Even from a three-year-old who simply scrawls her name on a hallmark card. (zoe)

However, there is something about a public restroom that seems to get a person’s true feelings flowing. Public urinations of empirical reality scrawled upon the shiny wall of a shelter of lowly and private necessity never fail to get me through the day. Although not exactly the kind of place you would expect a modern Socrates to give public orations and spout his elenchus to his followers, tile and/or stainless steel provides a very bland form of Socratic irony, a pushing of the dialectic to its most ridiculous form. But be that as it may. I read this on a public restroom wall the other day. Yes, while I was out driving…

Fight against the paradigm! As soon as you start to understand the paradigm, you have lost. So fight against yourself before you become the paradigm.

It seems to say something about our society while at the same time giving us a fairly comprehensive glimpse at popular culture, the writer’s ego, his (this was a men’s room in case you are concerned about my assertion of gender) lack of self-scrutiny, and the confused state of a person in want of a little renal relief.  In its efficiency it is a veritable trove of worldly wisdom and hippy dippy post-post modernism, with a little bit of physical desperation thrown in.

In short, I witnessed the relieving of one’s self of more than one burden!

Now, why in the world would someone feel a need to publish their opposition wisdom in a place where only half of the population can be exposed to it? Would it not have been better to perhaps even write this informative spew on the outside of the building? Perhaps charge admission to have it explained. Sign autographs! Maybe even post a phone number for those needing clarification! Maybe even make up some protest signs. You’d have to kind of bumper-stickerize the concept, but I could get behind a sign that says perhaps:

Protest paradigmTry to build a following at least. Be a Socrates, a Plato… a… Paradigm. Oops. I’ve lost my head!

You do have to wonder about the person who was out driving down the interstate (no doubt in his VW bus) passing the inevitable road sign that says “Rest Area, 2 miles,” and in those few private moments becoming inspired to “give it to the man” so to speak. Tell the world what’s really going on. Peel back the love-bead curtain and reveal the real darkness that works its invisible insidiousness against us.

He must be a certifiable rebel. Not only does he deface a rest area, he didn’t even use the venue for its most prosaic use and rest a bit.

Instead he composed a missive. His life’s work continued even as every man’s impulse interrupted him. He left an indelible sign on the highway of life like a wolf. Or a wild dog.

I’m reminded of how dogs and dog-like animals leave signs and mark their territory as they whiz by on their journey called life. Apparently humans do the same thing. And like the next dog that comes by any particular tree or fire hydrant, someone else left their equally relevant, clever and comprehensive textual sign as it were and wrote:

That’s what she said.

I hope you’ve been inspired to chew on these bits of wisdom for a while this morning. I know my drive home was much more meaningful after this little example of human angst and understanding. I look forward to hearing about the impact these statements will have on future generations. Here’s to pondering the deep things…

I also hope that next time you are out for a long drive, you too should be unafraid to make a pith stop as well.

Wherein the author hits on a sure-fire resolution delivery system.

By Mike Smith

Since it is a new year I’ve been thinking about resolutions.

I don’t have much luck keeping resolutions. I am much more successful at breaking resolutions. So this year I am going to make an unbreakable vow. Instead of trying to quit something, I’m going to start doing something.

As I am entering the third period of the hockey-game of life, and since many of the foods and activities I’ve enjoyed are now in the penalty box—for good—I’ve decided to make my resolution something of an addition. I want to add something to my life that I haven’t done. Make an additional change that does not include the shame of failure for its difficulty in “giving it up.”

I’m thinking of something distinctive, something entirely new to me. Something I can also do while driving! A touch that would set me apart from the crowd, so to speak. Push the envelope. Make a splash. Fly in the face of convention. And, since resolutions are notoriously hard to keep, it must be something that is hard to quit if you start it. A sort of built-in guarantee of success if you will.

Smoking.

That’s right, I’m going to start smoking.

I’ve never had a bad habit before, so let’s look at the benefits. As a highly social animal, this seems to be right up my alley. Societal impact coupled with personal satisfaction. Not only do I satisfy my own selfish needs, I get to share them with—nay, even impose them on—others.

I get a new wardrobe: I’ll need a smoking jacket. This collector’s item is only $5,271.00. Expensive, I know, but I’m going to be at this awhile. So it will eventually pay for itself.

Smoking is “green”: Cigarette smoking is a practice of burning dried or cured tobacco leaves and inhaling its smoke. Natural is green, and green is always good. I know because I consume mass media.

I can be an example to others: People smoke for a variety of reasons; some smoke for pleasure, others smoke thinking it looks cool. Many people start smoking during their teenage due to the influence of others (family members or friends). I would like to win more friends and similarly influence people, since writing this column doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere.

Chances are high that I will never “give up” this resolution as is my tendency: Tobacco contains harmful chemicals such as nicotine and cyanide, which at higher doses are lethal. Nicotine is an alkaloid that has been used in insecticides and in medicines. Though everyone is aware of the fact that smoking can cause serious life-threatening health complications, people can’t quit since nicotine is highly addictive, similar to heroin and other addictive drugs. Researchers have found out that nicotine has a powerful impact on brain activity and the body and mind get used to it as normal. Due to its unavoidable harmful effects, governments have launched public awareness programs and campaigns that ban smoking in public places. Again, I like my chances of success with my resolve.

Not only do I get the benefit of smoking, I get to share it with others, friends and strangers alike: Passive smoking is highly dangerous. According to a study, women who are exposed to passive smoking either in their childhood or as adults have high risk of fertility problems. It has also been suggested that they have more chances of miscarriage than other women who have not been exposed to tobacco. So I get to share my disrespect for myself (which people find funny enough) with others. This is called “payback forward.”

I will be in a large fraternity of brothers: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about one-third of the total male population in the world smokes tobacco. Bruhs unite!

It won’t be too long before my resolution becomes obvious in many and varied ways: Smoking affects mostly all the organs of the body and suppresses the body’s immune system. It results in bad skin (due to lack of oxygen supply), bad breath (halitosis), and also leads to yellowing of teeth. People who smoke are more susceptible to bronchitis, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases. Both men and women face fertility problems due to smoking. Remember, it’s good to see results with your resolutions.

Read more at iBuzzle: http://www.ibuzzle.com/articles/cigarette-smoking-harmful-effects-on-the-body.html

And http://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/impact-of-tobacco-use.html

Also http://www.healthline.com/health/smoking/effects-on-body

Well that should help you see the impact of my New Year’s resolution. Although, in hind-sight, it might be interesting to go on some sort of Crusade.

Check back with me next year.

Happy Smokin’ New Year to all!

Time to wrap up the holidays. Let’s go out for dinner!

By Mike Smith

Welcome (and goodbye) to the Christmas Season. Last weekend was the eighth annual Christmas Dinner for the Homeless at our church. When we started doing this there were about 30 people who attended. This time we had 30 volunteers and over 120 people. From what we can ascertain we are the party to go to for the homeless and poor families in Renton. It doesn’t seem that big a deal to us, but as my wife says: They never get to go to office parties or any of the parties and dinners we take for granted. This is their version of that.

We had a fun discourse about what the conversations between homeless guys around Renton might be like.

“So, will you be attending the Refuge Christmas Party this year?”

“Oh yeah, Dude, wouldn’t miss it! I’m not going to drink all day till it’s over. Don’t want to miss anything.”

“Do you think we’ll get to have seconds this year?”

“I wonder if there will be another fight.”

I wasn’t much of a participant this year. I just kind of milled around and took a couple of pictures. Some of the attendees are regulars around town. They live in their cars and come to the party for the food and to see old friends. Some of the attendees actually do live in the street but lend a hand to help cook, clean, and organize. They are very grateful for the meal. They like the respite from their normal daily miserable existences, self-inflicted as they often are. And they feel like a part of the planning committee as they do their best to make the party a success. I think it makes them feel a little like “normal” people. The rest of the revelers were families–women and children who stay at the overnight shelter that is housed at the church.

Some of the folks are pretty incredible. There was one girl there who is staying in the shelter. She came here from Vietnam. She was sponsored by her uncle and at some time in the last ten years he disappeared and left her homeless. Currently attending Renton High School, she is on the gymnastics team. She just finished applying to the University of Washington next year. She wants to be a Pediatrician, she has maintained a 3.7+ grade point average. All while living the last year at a shelter, alone. Her family lives in Vietnam.

Our “Chef” is named Paddy. He is a street guy. The last time I saw him was last Christmas time. He has a talent around the kitchen. Our church has a commercial kitchen and he seems to know his way around one. He is a good motivator and is able to put out a pretty tasty meal for 120 people. The reason we hadn’t seen him for a year is that he got upset last winter with someone at the community meal and sort of disappeared. Then he was hit by a car in July and was in the hospital and physical therapy for a couple of months. He walks with a substantial limp, but was in his element in the kitchen. Last Christmas he had composed a song and with my wife’s help, directed a small band and choir to perform his piece at the dinner. When he popped back into the picture last week, he fully expected to work in the kitchen and even asked if we could get the choir together again.

Yes on the kitchen, no on the choir. The music was already scheduled.

My wife and I firmly believe, and have noticed, that everyone (homeless or not) has a unique gift: an ability to take care of themselves. This talent is something that could enable them to make a living and even to be able to care for someone else. The trick, of course is to help them find out what that talent is, or at least to rediscover it. And after it is found, to cultivate it and protect it from being diluted by drugs or alcohol. This is becoming our new focus. Trying to figure out what it might look like to help those who are willing to get back into society. Some are not willing. Hard as it is to believe, they haven’t hit bottom yet. Or at least the bottom hasn’t dropped out of the bottom yet.

But the Christmas dinner is becoming a Renton Tradition. I don’t think most people in Renton know about it, but the “little people” of Renton certainly keep the tradition alive. My wife bumped into a guy who lived at the shelter a year ago. He asked if we were having the Christmas Dinner this year as he wanted to come down and celebrate and help if he could. He had an ironic meal. This is a guy who used to “retrieve” his meals from garbage cans and lived in a shelter. Now he has a job and a place of his own. After he was finished eating he went to one of our strategically placed garbage cans to throw away his scraps. He discovered that several guests had simply thrown their plate and silverware into the garbage cans. So there he was, dumpster diving again. Pulling out plates and dumping the food off of them so they could be washed and reused. A reversal if I ever saw one.

Refuge Xmas 2015

I noted that we had more servers this year than we had guests our first year. We thought we had a huge crowd way back then. Today, it took 1 hour and forty-five minutes to finally serve the last person. Yup, despite our shoot-from-the-hip planning method, we had just enough food. One person walked in after the food was gone, but that person was a vegetarian. Not sure we can count that. Who goes to a free community Christmas Dinner and expects a particular dietary offering? We had salad left over but that was declined. My guess is that the person in question was not that hungry.

It’s always a good time at the meal. Every year is different, but that is not our doing. It simply is a festival of unintended chaos. But it is decidedly quite orderly compared to some of the lives we touch.

Christmas dogAnyone is welcome of course. And they might even get a new coat!

Merry Christmas, everyone. Eat well. Remember those who are less fortunate. But still, eat well.

Wherein the author rants about so-called traffic solutions while enjoying a seventy-five cent race.

By Mike Smith

I was driving along 405 in Bellevue the other day and saw a couple of guys racing. I thought it was a bit unusual for two cars to be racing in Bellevue, on the freeway, with so many cops watching the newly yet poorly marketed toll lanes. I don’t know if it was the cognizant disconnectedness of “Good news will soon be traveling fast” or if everyone decided that paying $0.75 to up to $2.50 or even $10.00 on rare occasions to use 405 simply to get home is too much to pay.

However, since now the lanes are hardly used, they apparently afford a perfect makeshift racetrack.

I’ve been driving I-405 multiple times a day now for the last 5 years or so. It is recently quite a bit worse (for us).

By Morio (photo taken by Morio) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Morio (photo taken by Morio) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Like many Seattle area traffic projects, this one is up on the list of poor ideas along with the Second Avenue bike lanes. Which, by the way, are almost equally deserted. These projects are attempts at social engineering which, almost anyone but the socially-engineered can tell you, never work. People know when they are being pigeon-holed. In fact even the passenger (carrier) pigeon, formerly holed, is now extinct.

Seattle used to be a town where our glut of engineers and inventors examined, researched, and tested the behaviors of people in traffic, pedestrial, and other modes of travel. After which they examined their data and designed parks, roads, and bridges based on how best to move people in their most efficient and coherent manner. Nowadays, it seems that city planners have the idea that society can change simply by way of making normal actions so painful or inefficient that their “brilliant” ideas will be adopted. Even if resentfully so. Of course in this new generation a new wrinkle has been added. Extortion.

In the form of tolls.

Witness: I-405 (toll lanes) and the new 522 “floating” bridge (gratefully expanded from 2 lanes to… two lanes). The added bike lanes make all the difference. Essentially we are getting a 3-billion-dollar bike path. Now, I am admittedly not a trained transportation planner. But I am a professional and many-hours-a-day driver–on I-90, 522 and 405, oh! and Second Avenue for that matter–so I think that I may have a bit of legitimate feedback. And a bit of pragmatic proof.

It is my professional opinion that adding lanes is the only real way to get traffic moving. (I don’t pretend to think that moving traffic is the motive, so stick with me as I offer my pragmatic proof.) Every day at least two times a day I travel on I-90 both west- and east-bound during the busy part of the day: the commute hours. Traffic is extremely slow on the west-bound portion in the morning. And it is slow on the east-bound portion in the evenings. At some time in the past, the reversible lanes were added down the center. These of course help, but they have very limited entry/exit points. They also crunch down to one lane at both terminus locations. Creating more congestion.

So, there is some proof of lane deficit syndrome. Now for the juice: When you travel, let’s say, to a Mariners or Seahawks game from the eastside, you will encounter very congested traffic. Now of course you remember there are reversible lanes in the middle. But, they are never changed from their normal timing of east-bound in the afternoons, i.e., the hour before a Mariners game. And west-bound in the morning. So 8 cars are traveling east-bound out of town while the remainder of King County is on I-90 west-bound trying to get to the game. As you travel over Mercer Island, this road is reduced to 3 lanes, in the west-bound direction. So you travel this approximate 3- or 4-mile trip at about 15 to 20 miles an hour. The excitement is heightened of course by on-ramps from Mercer Island which further slows down the travel.

However, when you cross the lake and enter the Mt. Baker tunnel, a miraculous thing happens. The traffic begins to flow and you are at speed limit–or more depending on your pent up energy–by the time you exit. None have left the roadway. There has been no giant vacuum sucking cars out of the tunnel. Your neighbor in the next vehicle has not vaporized.  The miracle is: There are 5 lanes as you exit the tunnel. Need we more proof?

Now, back to the Seattle area traffic planners. Northbound 405 and Southbound of course have always been problematic due to volume and commuters. Not to mention the Canadian truck drivers who have discovered 405 after years of struggling on I-5 around the Convention Center. It appears to me that if you want traffic to flow better, you must add a lane. I understand the topographical problems in Seattle and environs. But don’t actually take a lane away, and add two expensive (extortionist) toll lanes and tell us it is a traffic improvement.

And while I’m on the subject, where did the WSDOT marketing group go to school? A play on an old shtick and a nursery rhyme are not the most creative marketing plans. “Good news is about to travel fast”? What kind of non-sequitur schlock is that? What does it even mean? The good news should be that you can travel fast.

And then the TV spots: Stop-action movies of people at their desks on the freeway? Really? They are probably the same people that coined Metro transit’s slogan. “We’ll get you there.” Great; my feet will get me there. The issue is when? Sheesh.

Plus, if you are truly trying to make this sound good, why not try: “Seventy-five cents says I can get you home faster”! At least make it sound like we had a choice! Give us some skin in the game. Tempt us, make us feel daring and a bit edgy about our decision to leave our stranded friends in our GoodtoGo dust. “You had your chance, suckers!”

And how is it that the State of Washington can add tolls to federal highways anyway?

The extortion part comes in when they have essentially removed one lane (remember my proof-practicum) and force, fine, or otherwise penalize you for using the lane without their plastic device in your window. Oh, and 3+ people now, instead of 2+? You know I drive a bus. Often my bus has 80 plus people on it. I’ll guarantee you that there are seldom if ever 3 people headed to the same building on my bus. Imagine the odds of people working in the same building or block of downtown, living in a convenient proximity to where a 3-person carpool is practical.

Some history and fuel for my fire.

Here is 405 north of downtown Bellevue in 2011. Three+1, practically 4 if you disregard the carpool lane. Which everyone does. It was often slow, but not always slow. Like now.

405 Kirklan sb 2011

Here it is now.

405 Kirklan sb 2015

You’ve gone from 3 lanes with an optional, non-legally binding car pool lane (a fourth lane in my book) to 3 lanes with two taxable-use lanes. Or in a couple of other drivers’ books, racing lanes.

A thrilling race for seventy-five cents each. Seventy-five cents says that they will get home very quickly.

Wherein the author rambles about childhood, famous people, a fast car and how to lose in finances.

By Mike Smith

When I was a small child we lived in Normandy Park. At some point during 1962 or 3 my father got offered a job working on the Dyna-Soar project with Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach California. The Dyna-Soar project was a competing space shuttle project that several contractors were trying to build in the recently launched “race to space.” The concept was a vessel that could be launched at high speed and high altitude and then “coast” to its target to deliver ordnance and power up to skedaddle (aeronautical term for “light-a-shuck,” “get the heck outta here,” and so on) and subsequently land.

Ironically my Dad left his job at Boeing to take this position, and two years later Boeing was awarded the project. The Dyna-Soar project was eventually scrapped when then-Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara decided the project was too costly and of questionable military value. Dad moved us all back to Seattle. He got his Boeing job back.

But it allowed us a bit of time to live in California so that we could experience the California-that-was in the 1960s. I can remember a view from our house in Palos Verdes of Marine Land of the Pacific. Where the famous “Shamoo” killer whale performed for awestruck audiences. (Marine Land closed in 1987.) This was the California that was the land of opportunity and hope. I can remember my parents driving us to Huntington Beach to swim and pretending to be real excited when we found oil blobs on the beach. We would run up to my mom with a blob of tar and ask what kind of fish it was. Little did we as kids know that it was simply the crude oil that California was known for washing up on the beach. Fun for kids up and down the coast.

I remember quite a bit of living in California. I remember starting Kindergarten and having to walk down a very steep hill to get to our school. I remember most vividly my art experiences as a ‘gartner. Our teacher wanted us to “finger paint.” That, as you will remember, is dipping your hands in paint and using your fingers as a sort of paintbrush. I remember hating this. I screamed bloody murder when my teacher grabbed my unwilling hands and dipped them in paint so that I would participate. That was my last day in class. Soon after I was enrolled in a different class.

It doesn’t seem that big a deal now. But I hated finger painting. I do have some residual dislike of getting my hands dirty. I also don’t like to eat finger food. I simply don’t like to get my hands dirty. Of course when you are 5 years old you can’t cognificate like an adult. So I screamed. I sure wish someone would have understood me then, though. Could have saved me a bit of pent-up stress. Perhaps I could have been a famous person, or a scientist, or an artist of non-finger painting variety. But, nope. I was left to my own 5-year-old ignorance, and the belligerence of a poorly trained Kindergarten teacher to make me what I am today. A writer-bus driver-simple guy with a dream. Who has very clean hands.

I didn’t realize that celebrity was all around me living in California. Donald Trump had a place there. Rod Stewart owned a home there (a bit later though). Countless other famous actors and actresses lived in nearby Los Angeles. But as a little kid, I didn’t know or even consider these things. I remember going up the street to see Craig Breedlove, whom had just broken the land speed record in the Spirit of America rocket car. Breedlove was from Venice, CA but I figured he was my neighbor and we simply walked up to see his fancy car.

The biggest shock to most people when I tell them about my time in California is that across the street from our house was an empty expanse of desert and sage brush that went all the way to the ocean. We actually lived in a little three bedroom house in a brand new subdivision. Since we’d moved from Normandy Park, in which we were surrounded by woods, I did not think anything of having a different type of play area across the street. There were rattlesnakes there, but they don’t bother you if you don’t bother them.

I learned later that when we moved back to Seattle in the late ’60s we sold the house for $35,000. (Apparently my Dad made a little profit on the house.) The guy that bought it from us sold it years later for $350,000! A few years ago I was at a press junket in Florida and met a composer who lived on my old street in Palos Verdes. He had just had his house appraised for a remodel at $1,000,000!

I bring this up because as investors, I have inherited both my dad’s and my grandfather’s knack for negative investing. Which can best be described as death-spiraling dollars. When not done, you miss out. When done you fail badly. I should probably farm my investment advice out as a hedge against making a bad investment.

“If the Marine View Driver recommends it, bet against it.” It’s a sure bet.

My great-grandfather was invited to invest in this newfangled contraption called a cow catcher on locomotives. He thought it was stupid. (Nope, no need for that thing.)cattle catcher

My grandfather could not see how anyone could make money selling twenty-five cent hamburgers at a place called McDonald’s.

My dad thought he was going to make his millions selling a product called Koscot. Here is the lawsuit and order to cease and desist. He lost on that one.

So I am carrying the torch for my progenitors. I have owned three businesses and have seen my worldly fortunes whittled away like a piece of willow branch in the hands of an Appalachian hillbilly.

I am a bad investor. Which is probably why I’ve owned so many cars. I’m a sucker for a bad investment. As bad an investment as most average cars are, though, I love owning and driving any car. Investing to make money? Ha! But a good bellwether for what not to invest in? Hey, now that’s a business I could get behind. I think, anyway. Hmmm, have to consider this further.

In the meantime go ahead and ask me some investment advice. Just do the opposite and be a winner.

I once had a guy approach me about investing $900 in his little coffee company he was calling Tully’s. He sold it to Green Mountain Coffee Company for tens of millions. I said I would keep my nine-hundred dollars, “Thank you very much!”

Wherein the author writes about the exact opposite.

By Mike Smith

A few thoughts for those who are allergic to driving near, behind, or accommodatingly around buses. In other words, let me vent after a hard week behind the wheel!

As a civic-minded individual, and since I find myself with the unique and lofty position of professional driver, albeit of lowly mass transit, I consider it my duty to point out a few perhaps rather obvious but previously unconsidered things about freeway driving.

I commence my generous helping of wisdom and winsome jocularity by way of a few random definitions, once again embarking on a sort of mini-glossary of terms. These entries are simply listed as the most commonly observed. And I think equally commonly misunderstood. (These scenarios and their attendant sage advice are based on actual events. Oh, and they occurred in Bellevue and points north. So Des Moines residents are innocent by proximity, if not by extrapolation. Of which I am wont to be guilty.)

Merging: Merging by definition is to yield the right of way. If a bus, say, is cruising along on the freeway and you wish to merge onto the lane said bus is in, it might be wise to time your approach to enter. If you wish to be ahead of the bus (and who doesn’t?) you should perhaps speed up to actually be ahead of the oafish coach when you are ready to enter the lane. Or perhaps, hard as this may be for some to conceive, you could slow down so as to enter behind the bus. Thereby enhancing the flow of the traffic at hand and enabling you to assess your situation with some reaction time built in.

(Extended aside: Despite the cost or intrinsic value of any vehicle, mass still wins in a battle of titans. A bus weighs 52,000 pounds. Even a Hummer weighs in at a measly 6200 pounds. The driver of almost any vehicle should know that being out-weighed tenfold is a dicey situation in which to insert or squeeze your fancy-ass self. In other words, if there is a line of cars that are not moving, don’t stick your nose just a bit in between a bus and the car in front of the bus, as though you just put a quarter on the pinball machine to indicate “your turn is next.” Your turn is not next. And you are in danger. Oh, and the complete wrong way to merge is to stare at your cell phone while on the ramp all the while headed in a general, what I would call collision course, for said bus. Of course you will eventually note a large object out of the corner of your eye. Or perhaps you will feel the compression of the wind vortex that builds up in front of large swiftly moving objects and respond. Startled and surprised by the sneaky bus alongside you which appears without warning and includes your imposition as part of his route card, you honk and pour it on and veer so as to get the aforementioned 52,000-pound behemoth filled with your neighbors to slam on his brakes to accommodate your “hilarious” cat pictures upload to Facebook and poor driving skills. But thanks to your neighborly partially-completed wave out the window I can be sure that all is well in the long run. I’m so glad to know you haven’t been offended. But I do feel obligated to remind us all that there are two operations in which buses are slower than cars: Speeding up and slowing down.)

Bracket racing: When you try to beat a bus to the off ramp, or simply go faster in a straight line, you forget that if we were actually in a race, we would never be bracketed together. So, slow down, race someone your own size. Of course, if you are the type who only targets those who can’t possibly compete so as to give you a sizable “victory,” then Hooray! You win. Next stop: picking on kids at the playground.

Drag racing: Drag racing is between two similar cars (there’s that qualifier again) that start from a stop and accelerate to get to a designated finish line. The fastest time is obviously the fastest vehicle. Buses were not designed for this type of racing, so, besides being unfair, this type of racing is analogous to a language barrier. The bus does not even know what you are trying to say. More to the point, the bus is more than likely headed to a different destination and its driver could not care less about your plans.

Commuting: Nothing like any of the above. Simply, a drive to work. In either a car or a bus. You are all commuting. Everyone has the same objective. Getting to work or school safely. The reward is a paycheck, not a gold cup.

Passing: Buses are slower than cars. Wow, you can pass one up. Great going! My thought is that if your chosen vehicle could not pass a bus, even going up a hill, I would suggest you get your money back. But to be clear: I do understand the thrill of passing someone who is going about 30 miles an hour in your $130,000 Porsche. It’s a rush. The car is worth every penny you paid for it.

As I’ve said before, I really enjoy driving the bus. Lately I’ve had to drive on the freeway a bit more than usual and I’ve found that the practices and protocols are a bit different than driving in the congested downtown area of Seattle. I will say this: All bus drivers are trained to be accommodating and careful. Metro has three operating principals that we are taught from the beginning: Safety, Service, Schedule. In that order. Our first priority is your safety.

There probably is no safer vehicle to be in than a Metro bus, by the way. Just from the sheer weigh of the thing. You sit up quite high and you are surrounded with steel and aluminum. Buses also can’t really go much over 60 MPH, either, so you’ve also got that going for you too.

But as to racing? Leave it to the professionals. You know, the ones on TV.

Thank you all for your kind indulgence!

Wherein the author starts out quickly then hits the Sugar Wall.

By Mike Smith

TodayishalloweensoI’vebeeneatingcandyalldayandI’mfeelingprettyenergetic. Eatingcandymakesmereallyhavealotofnervousenergy. Itisthetypeofenergythatdoesn’treallyfeelthatgood. ItisthetypeofenergythatI’vehearddescribedasasugarhigh. Theysaythatyouwilleventuallycome“down”.

ButatthemomentI’mfeelinglikeIcouldpossiblymakeplanstodosomethingimportantatthreea.m. It’sagoodthingtoo. Thekidsstartedcomingthroughtheneighborhoodataboutthreethirty. SoIguessthebestthingtodoistosay:Iamreadyforthestreamoflittletykestostartcomingforthedoor. Ilovethesoundoftheknock,knock,trickortreatfromthemuffledvoicesbehindtheirKatyPerrymasks. IrememberasakidwedidnotcallitHalloween. Wecalledittrickortreat. Likeeverykidweranaroundtheneighborhoodwithoursacksforcandy. Ateitallandstayedupreallate.

Then… we… came… crashing… down.

You see when you eat too much candy, your system gets overwhelmed with the sugar. You run around with what seems like limitless energy. But soon your body starts to eliminate the sugar and you get what is called the sugar low.  But of course you all know this. But today I forgot. I ate too much candy and suddenly I’m feeling mighty low. Half way through this article and I’m falling, I’m falling. I am hitting the sugar wall. The big rock candy mountain. The zone. The really sleepy part of eating too much candy.

Darn candy.

As much as I like candy, I am going to propose something new, hopefully healthy, and maybe a bit more interesting for Halloween.

What if when the kids came to the door with their little bags and buckets we could give them, say, stock tips? They would get a bit of worldly wisdom, without the stomach ache. It could actually make them some money in the future. What kid doesn’t want to feel grown-up?

Another gift that could maybe go into the trick-or-treat bag is a coupon for a free engine tune-up for their parents. That could actually bring a bit of self-esteem to a youngster who is looking for a way to contribute to the family well-being. I know I would have been proud to bring home this type of bacon. Plus, being car-related it fits in nicely with this column by the Marine View Driver.

Speaking of bacon… It is a favorite of most people. Lately, too, doctors and nutritionists have relaxed their bug-a-boo’s about unhealthy diets. Bacon is not longer our adversary. It is one of our new friends. And, it gives off a lovely aroma from inside any trick-or-treat bag.

Maybe for the very adventurous, a possible trick-or-treat gift could be a set of white wall tires. These could really come in handy. Plus, if they did not need them they could sell them.

How about a member ship to a CrossFit club? It’s hip, it’s trendy, it’s social and get the kids exercising. Plus, they participate in some friendly competition. Oh, and they burn off empty calories. Whoa, this is getting good. I am starting to see the social ramifications. And implications for the blog, since one of our columnists runs a CrossFit studio.

Perhaps a small rodent. Parakeet or any other exotic pet. Neighbors could have lotteries or competition for gifts. “This year the Smiths are giving away an awesome trip to one lucky trick-or-treater.” One of my neighbors could give foot massages. Newspapers could find a new market for classified ads. Trick-or-treat lottery. “A list of mystery gifts and a special gift for moms are on the list this year for Halloween.”

“The Andersons are offering a free puppy to one lucky trick-or-treater this year.” The puppy could help by eating all the candy in the bag.

Pony Rides!!!!

You have to admit, with this type of list as inspiration, Trick or Treat could become very interesting.

I know it is all a bit ridiculous. But, think of this. Americans for many decades have been going door to door on Halloween, at night, in the rain if you live in the Seattle area, when it is cold (I can actually remember coming home with a bag of frozen candy), which has the ultimate effect of my first couple of paragraphs. There are no long term benefits of eating a bunch of candy. After a while it all starts to taste the same. But because it is sugar, I you can’t stop. I, er, you just have to keep eating it. You think each piece will taste better. Or at least you think each piece will satisfy some sort of desire, or sweet tooth or whatever they call it. I’ve heard it’s a sort of addiction.

All I can say is that I wish I’d have gotten some stock tips when I was ten years old.

Right now all I have is a stomach ache.

Oops! gotta go, the doorbell just rang again. Hmm, I wonder if these kids would like some of my take-out Chinese food?

Boo

Wherein the author vents a private peeve.

By Mike SmithRoald Dahl

I have a friend who likes to garden. She is quite thorough and conscientious about her gardening. She will spend hours a day digging out weeds a couple of feet down in order to get all the roots. She talks to herself constantly, too, reminding herself of this or that or scolding herself when she does something “dumb.”

She is quite a serious person. She doesn’t tell jokes, nor does she engage in a lot of goofing around. She is a people person, to use a metaphor, but visiting via conversation is a serious endeavor for her. One that requires the hearers undivided attention. Mainly because she does all the talking.  I don’t mind that she is that way. The one thing I don’t like about her, though, is her use of metaphors.

One day I was walking by where she had just planted some flowers and commented that they looked good there. She said, “Oh yes, they love it here.” I thought that was sort of a funny comment coming from her, given her predilection for pragmatism. So I kind of laughed. She turned to me and said, “I am not joking!”

I asked, “What about now?”

She asks, “What?”

To her the metaphor (figure of speech), an anthropomorphism of her flowers, was not a figure of speech (metaphor). It was emphasis. It was self-evident. Despite the fact that flowers can’t feel; they are living, but they don’t have emotions. Which, her being pragmatic, I certainly assumed she understood. But she did not see her statement as a figure of speech. It meant what it meant.

Psychologists call this a conceptual metaphor. And well they should! I simply find it uncomfortable. And a sure-fire conversation ender.

Clichés are another particularly smelly form of metaphor. A cliché is a figure of speech that, due to overusage, becomes practically meaningless or of a different meaning than its original use.

Sometimes falsely referred to as colloquialisms, clichés are signally odious to me. As Ambrose Bierce, the author and one of my personal favorites, wrote when describing the art of the author (or at least the way I remember reading it): If you’ve read it in print, or heard it in a speech, don’t use it again. Which is another way of describing a cliché. Not only is it plagiarism. Chances are if you’ve read it somewhere it is already becoming cliché. I hate clichés, but unfortunately we live in a world where most people speak in nothing but.

For instance, “Wassup?” was pretty funny and effective the first time I heard it. But say that to your friends now…while you remove  your cape and Nehru jacket.

Or one of my least favorites is: “Know what I’m saying?”

I had a conversation with a person one time who gave me this long diatribe about something at work which I didn’t understand. His monologue was filled with all sorts of esoteric misconceptions and personal opinions. When he was finished he said, “Know what I’m sayin’?”

I responded with, “No, I don’t know what you’re saying.”

What?

I said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

He replied, in a way to explain himself, “Dude, everybody knows it.”

In other words, what he tried to say was to him self-evident. “Know what I’m sayin’?” is simply the assertion to close the argument. He was using a cliché as an assertion. He considered his statement utterly true, and he ended with a  “Ta-Dah!”, case closed. I didn’t know what he was saying, and he thought I didn’t hear the closing argument which is another way of saying “See? Everybody agrees with this.”

I have a little formula for this: [Cliché < Truism]. A cliché is not an argument any more than it is proof of an idea.

I sometimes find it hard to communicate with people like this. Part of it is my aversion to over-used speech–clichés, and the chutzpah that assumes one’s opinion is universally held.

Essentially what I see happening in everyday conversation is that these literary devices or rhetorical methods have become no longer a way to emphasize a point, no longer reveal an idea in a more convincing way; they have instead become the convincing way. They no longer reveal anything. They are simply nouns. Things.

Like “A song with no title, just words and a tune,” to quote Sir Elton John.

I don’t want to discourage anyone. I love having conversations, I like writing. I like to improve in both skills. It is important to me to be a good conversationalist. Being an improving writer is also important.

But, not being a jerk is probably paramount. So, say all you want, metaphors or not. I’ll listen. I won’t correct you. You may have to be patient with me, though. I’m like a foreigner in my own land.

There–I just used another metaphor, a simile. Describing something is “like” something else in order to give a deeper understanding.

Know what I’m sayin’?

Wherein the author tells you a few things. (Yeah, I know… for a change!)

By Mike Smith

I saw a blind man running today.

I’ve mentioned that I see amazing things while driving my bus; if I was keeping track, which I’m not, because I’m not very good at keeping track of things, I would have to say that of all the places around the Seattle area that I travel, the International District has the most entertainment value.

It probably doesn’t hurt that it has so many cultures represented. It probably also doesn’t hurt that it has, by my estimation, over a dozen cheap bars.

By cheap I mean a couple of things: One, there are bars in the ID—that’s Metro speak for International District—that serve drinks for less than $5.00. Two, there are bars that serve drinks with more alcohol than you might expect. They are “enhanced.” These are the bars that cater to the fall-down-drunks. They sort of stumble out the door early and they are out of the way early in the evening making way for the full-timers.

There is one of these Type Twos right across the street from the bus zone. Many riotous things happen here.

I have always found it odd that a cheap bar that has as colorful a clientele as the ID offers is on one of the busiest corners in Seattle. The sidewalks are crumbling, the streets don’t drain, and they are packed with Metro (wired and diesel driven), Greyhound (Bolt busses), the local free APS, bikes that dodge and parry their way through anything that looks like a break in the traffic–and any cars that have figured out the HOV lanes from I-9–all spill through Fifth and S. Jackson all day, every day. Mix in the crowds for Sounders, Mariners, and Seahawks games days and you have a powder keg of human combustible material. Made more so by the introduction of cheap and abundant alcohol. I hope I have made it sound interesting. I’m working on my descriptive narratives.

You see, there is another component to add to the moving parts of the International District. Tourists!! I’ve noticed that many people make the ID an important destination in their vacation plans. Imagine driving a sixty-foot-long bus through all of the above mentioned humanity with the added non-variable of someone standing in the street taking a picture of this:

IDYes, it is photogenic. Especially from the center line of Fifth Avenue S. Which is why, I guess, everyone stands there. In the middle of the street.

China Town, as it is also called (according to their web site, and who doesn’t have one?), the dependably hyphenated, “International District-China town.” There may be some political posturing going on in the soft underbelly of the ID because this site: http://cidbia.org/ Refers to itself as the Chinatown-International District. Both middle named hyphen of course. But top billing appears to be at stake. Others (City of Seattle) refer to the area as simply the International District, no hyphen. Locals and long term residents like me have always known it as “China Town.” One thing about Seattle, local constituencies get equal billing, everyone gets a nod.

China Town remains as active and largely entertaining as any group of people who are not feeling self-conscious. Lots of human activity for watchers of human activity. It is the perfect place to set up shop as a photographer. It would be easy to get candid shots of people who are oblivious to being filmed. Most of the time the introduction of a camera changes things. There is no longer a candid setting. Everyone is posing. But not here. All are too drunk or, to use a common parlance, they are doing what they do.

There is some major gentrification happening, though. Two major building projects are taking place on 5th between Jefferson St. and King Streets. It looks like an old hotel is being refurbished or repurposed. And some residential units are going in. Don’t be afraid of gentrification. It has become an evil sounding word. But in this case, two landmarks are being rebuilt to avoid their falling on someone.

All in all, a high capacity for interesting observation.

So one day I’m in my bus and I’m speeding through at my normal 10 miles per hour or less. Just as I reach the corner of King street and 5th, a very old Chinese lady, the size of a loaf of bread, decides it’s time to cross. She is very old. She moves very slowly. So slow that I think they were planning to celebrate another birthday for her before she got to the other side. Ahead of her were two young Chinese guys who were talking and enjoying each other’s’ company. As they arrive at the other side of the street, they look at my bus, our sweet old woman still just a few feet from her starting point, then each other. As one, they turn back and run across the street. Each grabs one arm of the elderly lady and as though she were a feather, they pick her up and walk her across the street. Her feet of course were suspended about 3 inches above the ground. They gently set her down on the west side of the street and continued on their way. One of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.

But today I saw a blind man run. Same location and I was scanning for runners who might need my bus. Out of the corner of my eye I catch a rapid movement. Thinking to see a rider in a hurry I see what looks at first glance a homeless guy. Full beard, dirty jeans and tennis shoes two sizes too large. But of course he is blind and fashion is not his top priority—his appointment is, apparently—because he is running at full speed.

On prolonged gaze I notice he has a long stick like blind people use. Confusingly called a “blind stick.” His is unusually long. It was nice to see a man who could not see running as though he could.  I decide to wait in case he needs me. But just before he gets to the bus, he takes a turn with full confidence and dashes for parts unknown. I thought him quite brave. I guess you can get used to anything. His longer-than-normal stick was no doubt his “running” stick. The normal blind stick is too short to do much good while moving at a rapid rate. You need the extra length for the increased reaction time. I couldn’t find a picture of the extra-long blind stick, so I am posting this composite picture: blind stick-man.

stick man

Not quite the same, but a running blind man? You don’t expect to see that either!

If your life is dull, try driving a bus for a living. Metro is hiring!

In which the author shares a little bit of downtown.

By Mike Smith

I see a lot of strange and wonderful things while driving my bus. Of course, driving in downtown Seattle after 5:00 pm give you many unexpected delights.

I drive the 212 from downtown to Eastgate (Bellevue) every Monday through Friday. I’m the last 212 out of town. I make it my business to go slow so as not to miss anyone who might be needing the late bus. Which, by the way, is an express. Once I leave downtown, I go straight to Eastgate. The 212 is a very busy route for that reason, among many I guess.

One night I was traveling down Second Ave. and noticed a man who was struggling with one of those walker thingies. As he tried to get control of his walker he fell and his hat flew off and into my lane. Since I was going slowly I stopped and got out and picked up his hat. As I bent over to pick the hat up I had a whiff of that telltale odor of stale alcohol.

Now this elderly gentleman looked quite distinguished despite his compromised physical and mental condition. He was clean cut, had a nice suit and a swell hat. I’m sure he was a player at one time in his life. Now, he was simply a drinker, I would guess. But he was a happy drunk and insouciance wasn’t his biggest issue. His walker was more likely to be the problem for him than his drunken state. One of the wheels was broken. His walker was one of those that had a small little seat he could sit in when he got tired of walking behind this flimsy four-wheeled shopping cart-like contraption. And he was trying to sit down; the bad wheel would continue to buckle under his weight and down he would go again. I’m certain this instance was not the first that evening.

Along with myself, a couple of younger guys than me (I hesitate to say stronger than me due to my pride, but there it is: the whole truth and you are welcome to it; yes your beloved Marine View Driver is a wimp) ran off the bus and proceeded to try to upright him. We would no sooner get him somewhat situated and seated and the little frame would buckle again and down he would go.

Oh… I think it might be helpful right now to point out that the reason drunk drivers often survive driving accidents applies to falling off your walker as well. They are so relaxed they simply allow inertia to carry them to their position of rest. And in this case, it was on the sidewalk.

He was otherwise unharmed. Actually he was quite cheerful about the whole affair. As in quite talkative and chatty. I think it was the alcohol talking because his conversation had a remarkable eighty-proof logic to it.

I don’t normally pick up folks that are just going “down the street” on my route as it is mostly used by commuters and Bellevue College students. But he was determined that my bus was the one he wanted. He needed to get to First and James. (I don’t have a designated stop at First and James and I was traveling down Second. I don’t even go down First, but he was insistent and we proceeded to try to traverse the wheel chair ramp with a drunken, laughing, talkative former “player” with a broken wheel on his walker.)

Not the gentleman in question, but you kind of get the idea

Not the gentleman in question, but you kind of get the idea

After about five minutes of wrestling with the useless walker, the strongest 3 of the four of us–we know because we arm-wrestled for it–picked this guy up and sat him in a chair and placed his walker in the aisle. Once he was seated and secured we went on down the road. Two blocks. I hadn’t even finished thanking the guys who helped when Sir Laughalot pulled the stop chime. Okay, 20 seconds of a bus ride and we were forced to storm the sidewalk again.

Another 5 minutes to get him off the bus. You see, he insisted on being wheeled out of the bus. We tried to accommodate him but his aforementioned wheel kept buckling and he fell onto the floor of the bus. I don’t know if he could not walk or was afraid we might discover he was too drunk to walk (a well kept secret by the way), but he kept trying to sit in the walker. Finally, again, the winners of the previous arm-wrestling elimination round picked him up and I carried his walker to the side walk and leaned it up against a building. Our band of guys got him seated in his secured walker and began to walk back to the bus.

As we turned to make one last check on him, he was miraculously rolling toward us with increasing speed. Have you ever noticed that when something is broken, it works perfectly when you’d prefer it didn’t? The wheel was making up for lack of previous service and was rolling like it did in its former life at the Veterans’ Hospital. So we hustled back to him and pushed him up to the building again where he had been propped up before. The wheel buckled and down he went.

He laid there and said he’d be fine. He wanted to pay us for helping him. He applauded us profusely with “God Bless Yous” and “you are fine young men.” I like that second part especially. The others took it in stride, since it obviously applied. I asked him if he thought he would be okay. He said of course and I handed him his hat. We got back on the bus gave him a salute due a man in full “player” uniform and got back on the bus.

We had to get people home, so we waved, closed the doors, apologized to the others in the bus, who by this time were highly amused, and began our uneventful drive to Eastgate.

There was a nice feeling on the bus that evening. The shared event made us all a bit happier and gave us a little something that drew us all together if for just for that evening.

I thought to myself: There are some real nice people out there. Someone in need got folks out of their smart phones and selves and got us all working together to help an old man who needed us. If that is the worst part of driving a bus, I am a blessed man indeed.

I think I like this job.

Not the driver in question, either... but Metro uses these photos for publicity, so you get the idea!

Not the driver in question, either… but Metro uses these photos for publicity, so you get the idea!

In which the author pitches a sure fire way to buy a car.

By Mike Smith

I work in downtown Bellevue. At least, that is where I report for work. Most of you know that I am a part time bus driver for Metro. So I go to Bellevue to pick up my bus for my daily route assignment.

I also often get to work by way of the bus. One of the cool little perks of driving the bus is that I get to ride any form of transit for free. My routine consists of riding the 560 or 566 Sound Transit to the Bellevue transit center. I then walk the 1.8 miles to the bus base on 124th Avenue Northeast and Northrup Way.

If that little bit of fascinating preamble hasn’t hooked you yet I imagine there isn’t much more I can do for you. Except to tell you about this….

If you are ever lost in King County, it might be helpful to know that streets that go north and south are labelled Avenues and east to west roads are labeled streets (usually). And the grid designations, i.e. NE, SE, etc., are listed after the name on avenues. For example, 124th Ave. NE. Conversely NE 124th Street would be an east to west road.

Isn’t that fascinating?

Bellevue is home to quite a few young professionBentley by cool wallpapers (1)als or software geeks or whomevers that work in the high tech field that is so overwhelmingly represented in Bellevue.  On my little walk I pass by Yahoo, Intel, Microsoft, Expedia, Oracle, Google, Amazon, HTC, T-Mobile and various other web-based, tech or tech support companies. Many of them also ride my bus to other various locations around Lake Washington where these aforementioned companies also reside. Those who work at these companies are usually fairly young, from what I can tell. Younger than me. Not hard to do, so let’s move on.

Apparently these jobs pay pretty well. There is a high ratio of expensive sport cars and other exotics driving around Bellevue and its environs. A word of caution for you foot-movers. 124th Avenue NE  between Bel-Red road and Northrup way is a straight line. And it’s about a half a mile long. You can imagine what a straight line looks like to a young dreamer in a Lamborghini. Our word for the day today is: dragstrip. Can you say dragstrip?

There are dealerships a-plenty of course. But on any given day I see Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Aston Martins, Maseratis, and other amazing cars speeding up and down the very road I am walking on.  It’s quite a ARGsight. I even see a Bugatti on occasion. Sometimes they appear to be driving in formation there are so many. I enjoy the sights and sounds of these exotic cars as they go by. They must be difficult to drive…

To wit, the next major intersection if you turn eastbound on Northrup Way is 130th Avenue Northeast;  I have counted no less than five auto body or repair shops on this little stretch of road. I also counted one day 17 high-end exotic cars with front ends bashed in, or missing. Axles lying next to the body of a Lamborghini and various other serious injuries to these already astronomically expensive cars. Can you imagine the cost of the repairs? Can you imagine the impact to one’s insurance payments? Can you imagine the heartbreak of totaling-out the car of everyone’s dreams, including your own?crash exotics

I can’t. My 1993 Buick got wrecked and that was enough trauma for me. I can only dream of driving a car like a Lamborghini or Ferrari, even though I got to ride in a Ferrari back in high school. It must be exhilarating and inspiring. I think it causes a heavier than normal foot.  It seems like they cannot be driven slowly. I always observe them tailgating some unsuspecting Subaru owner. I’m guessing they are not made to go 25 mph with a stop light at every block. That seems like a frustrating proposition.

I think I’ll wait till I move to the country before I try one of the exotics out. I like the way my friend Greg buys cars. I asked him once why he bought his Jeep. He said he needed a car so he sat by the side of the road one day and waited for someone to drive by that looked like they were having fun. That happy person was driving a Jeep. Greg went and bought one for himself. Seems very sensible. Who cares what your friends or neighbors or competitors think. Have fun. Buy what makes you happy. Like Greg did…

I saw this yesterday.Wiener

It made me happy… Hmm. What do you think?

In which the author talks of high Caliber repair and the transmission of doom. And, some musical theater.

By Mike Smith

My gosh, I got some heart-felt advice from readers about my car and I really appreciate it.

Alas, it was the transmission. I got a brand new or at least re-manufactured transmission with an additional 100,000-mile Chrysler-backed warranty. It is really a quiet ride. My return to quietude has been realized and I have a perfectly good pair of walking shoes too. I’m going to keep them. In fact I wore them to take a drive in our new, much quieter car.

We went to a restaurant in North Bend that we found last year on my birthday. I’m not going to mention the restaurant here because it is not in Des Moines… but I needed a longer drive to test out the car, and I’ve been told to keep my pro bono advertising plugs to a minimum. What could be more minimalist than zero plugs?

My transmission guy–yes, he is mine now. I’ve paid good money for this guy. He told me that these transmissions have been a miserable failure since their inception. Minor improvements have been made but they do fail on occasion often.

This is a transmission doomed to failure. It is undersized and under designed. Despite its heritage of brilliant design ideas from the mind of Leonardo de Vinci, it simply has not panned out as suitable running gear for even the smallest of cars. I can’t fault Dr. de Vinci, as he’d never seen a car and certainly did not conceive the Chrysler Corporation… even though it is owned mostly by the Italian company Fiat.

But, I still like our Caliber and we have been thrilled to drive it around with the radio set at a moderate level. So thank you very much for your concern and advice.

And now for something completely different. I had a conversation with a co-worker this week that was interesting. He is a car nut. Like me. We both drive for Metro and one of our mutual assignments is to pick up students from Mercer Island High School and drive around the island dropping them off.

We were joking about how well-behaved they are. Joking in that we were shocked because we’ve both picked up kids from other high schools with less positive results. Another co-worker was there who used to drive school buses for the Mercer Island School District. She also lives on Mercer Island, and told us something that I found interesting.

Photo: Rebecca Mar, Mercer Island Reporter

Photo: Rebecca Mar, Mercer Island Reporter

Apparently, some of the bus drivers in Mercer Island have a flair for the dramatic. They are also musicians. Because they had all dealt with unruly kids on buses before, they decided to do something about it. So, they wrote a musical. The topic was bus etiquette. I can’t imagine what it must be like as the topic doesn’t seem to lend itself to creative inspiration. But my guess is that it must be clever and effective. From a very young age, school kids in Mercer Island attend a musical performed by their bus drivers on the proper way to ride the bus. And, by the time they are in high school, they are well versed. Not to mention well behaved.

I actually had a kid ask me before we left the school if he could listen to his radio on the bus. This is a 16-17 year-old kid who had an old transistor radio. He politely asked if he could listen to his music which was currently set at a station playing a song by The Doobie Brothers. I thought, “This kid has good taste in music.” I said of course he could, and added (always in pursuit of the betterment of young people), “Would you like me to play it over the PA?”

On my Metro bus, picking up random folks in downtown Seattle, we hear music from cell phones, and radios large and small. Even occasionally we hear, clearly, what is playing on a set of headphones. They are attached to someone’s head, and being worn in the proper fashion. I’m guessing the wearers have long since lost the ability to hear in the normal range of decibels. And downtown, no one asks if they can play their music. The other riders on the bus do not seem to like what they hear. And we are not listening to The Doobie Brothers. It’s a little more contemporary, and graphic.

I’m thinking of trying to commission a traveling drama troupe to ride on my bus to instruct and influence my riders. It might not work. But it would be nice to be able to make a difference in the world. At least I know where to get the training curriculum.

In which the author looks optimistically at auto repair.

By Mike Smith

For the half a dozen or so that read this column, you may recall that I have owned about 18 different cars. I’ve owned many models of car. This is a result of being cheap and not too picky.

Number 18 is my “little red wagon” Dodge Caliber. I actually really like this car. I admit, though, that this car was sort of loud to drive. It was beyond “road noise,” as Car and Driver likes to point out on almost every car they test drive. (This is the chief reason I am a Motor Trend reader instead).

So my Caliber had some road noise when we first bought it. It was not too annoying. However, lately it has become a bit loud. A bit hard to hear the radio. A bit hard to have a conversation. A bit deafening.

A bit annoying.

Now, I know road noise. Road noise is the combination of engine whine, tire sound, wind, and background noise associated with driving any vehicle. Even the Tesla and Leaf (electric cars) have road noise.

This is because movement makes a sound. (There, you’ve had your free physics lesson for the day.)

Our loud beyond-road noise was beginning to make us nervous. We took Number 18 into our trusted mechanics at East Hill Tire in Kent. (Free plug.) They drove the car. Did some investigations and comparative customer complaints and discovered that the transmission is sort of known to make a sound like this. I think I mentioned this in a way in my column about the Caliber back in February. They said that the transmission makes a sound like that but that their current customers who drive the Caliber have the same sound and never have had an issue. That was a relief.

So last week, I got into the car to drive to a friend’s house. He is an ace mechanic and instructor at South Seattle College (another free plug; I’m a generous guy, am I not?). This particular day our car made a new sound. It sounded a bit like someone jumping into a pile of dried leaves in the fall. Sort of a crunch and grind and swirling sound all at once. Now, having been a transmission mechanic, and long time leaf jumper, my first thought was: Ooh, our transmission is making a funny sound. You see, most of the time automatic transmissions don’t make a sound when they fail. Primarily because all of the little pieces that would make a sound get thrown to the sides of the case due to centripetal force. Ours was different. It made a sound. A “bad sound” to quote Sigourney Weaver in Galaxy Quest. (One of my all-time favorite spoofs and an extremely clever take on the whole Star Trekkie phenomenon.)

Did I digress?

Oh yes, a bad sound. I told my wife as we pulled out of the alley behind our house. “This thing is on its last legs.” In hindsight, I should have said, “you can quote me on that.” We made it within one half mile of our friends’ house and Number 18 expired. Gave up the ghost, if you will. Became kaputno more. In short. Stopped dead and wouldn’t move. Our transmission went kaput.

I am a great admirer of Webster’s dictionary. It always has the right word. Kaput, as silly as it sounds, means: No longer working, utterly finished, no longer able to continue, completely ruined or defeated.

This describes not just our car but me! It is the quest of a writer to find the words that say the most in an efficient and succinct manner. So, kaput it is.

But, as defeated as I felt, there was a silver lining. Our friends told us of an honest transmission mechanic, not as oxymoronic as you might suspect, who was a friend. Plus, his shop is only a mile from our house. We had our car towed there. It is so close we can visit our car while it is in the hospital. Also, the car will most assuredly have less road noise. We’ll be able to listen to the radio. Maybe even renew our Sirius radio account (plugs abound in this article), and have normal conversations as we drive our car. The car is only a few years old and we really like it. So in a sense we are thrilled. And in another sense we walk a lot lately.

But it will be finished soon. You see, this transmission cannot be rebuilt or repaired as I used to do. It is simply replaced. The company that built our unit has since made improvements and we will be getting a remanufactured / new unit that is made for our car. In that respect we are a bit relieved. We didn’t expect to spend this much additional money on this car but new car shopping is an exercise in astronomy. We’ll take what we can get.

We are optimistic. We are looking forward to having a quieter car. We are looking forward to driving again. I’m prudently hedging my bets though. I bought some new walking shoes today.

Wish us luck.

In which the author waxes historic, lyrical, and ironic.

By Mike Smith

One of the places I used to live as an adult was in Kent. Right on the Benson Highway.

The Benson Hwy is not commonly known to most people, I would think. But if you are interested, it is officially called Hwy 515. In its 7.68 miles it travels in a vaguely straight line from the vicinity of Kent Meridian High School to downtown Renton (some of which is in the old Loop) to N. 3rd.

Life is full of little ironies. Which is great for a lover of irony like me.

Irony and sarcasm are synonyms, by the way, though “irony” seems to be more socially acceptable. I once answered a question of a co-worker from the east coast in the sarcastic vein. She asked, “Do you have to drive on hills a lot when it snows?” My first answer was, “Oh, I love it. It’s far more dangerous and exciting as one never has lived till one has faced death on a rapid slide down James Street.” She looked at me blankly and flatly said, “I don’t like sarcasm.” So after apologizing I changed my answer to the ironic, “Well, after all I live in Seattle.” To which she nodded in a confirmatory way and said, “Oh of course, I wasn’t thinking.” I used the same derisive method but one she found more to her liking. Ironic.

Anyway, back to the Benson Highway. Four years ago my wife and I moved to Renton to live as missionaries, sort of. We were serving the homeless in Renton every Saturday night and decided to live near our peeps in order to perhaps do more for them. Or at least be friends and possible advocates to them. We moved to the extreme north terminus of the Benson Hwy. Unintentionally so, since our home in Kent was on the other extreme end of the same Highway on the south terminus. Ironic.

As a matter of fact, our home in Kent was an historic part of the old Benson Hwy. The alley behind our home is in fact the old highway itself. It was rerouted in the 1960s.

In 1937 the route was built and designated with the sexy sounding name of Secondary State Hwy 5C. Then it was paved in the 50s and renamed State Route 515 in 1964. Benson is the name of an early settler and land owner on the east hill of Kent. There is a picture of the view down the alley where our house stands in the Golden Steer Restaurant. Basically a cow trail, but it got me thinking. So I looked up some history. I have yet to go to the actual Kent or Renton Museums to find out more, but what I found was interesting. In fact you’ve just read it.

What you don’t know is that there is a huge boulder that blocks the old Benson Hwy. There is a picture in the above mentioned eatin’ joint of some guys climbing on this boulder and you can clearly see the road veering around the rock. That rock is right by us. Our kids used to climb on it. It is huge.

Our back yard at that house had three distinct levels. One year I got ambitious and decided to level out the bottom and create a wonderland of gardening delight. I rented a jack hammer and tried to tear out an old 25’ x 20’ parking slab in the back. Then I was going to move some dirt around, possibly have some brought in to level things out. The cement slab was apparently built to a commercial specification. I broke the jack hammer and got the cutting spike caught in the cement. I found out that the cement slab is 12” thick and lined with rebar. I didn’t think they knew about rebar in 1937.

After that idea got conked out, I decided to simply bury the slab with the dirt from the higher elevations. I got out my shovel and started digging and after 5 minutes I discovered a cement slab. After several other holes I was able to piece out the puzzle. My property had been the site of an old store or something and my three levels of yard were former parking, stair case and loading dock for, oh, who knows, Pa Benson’s Feed Store conveniently located right on the Benson Highway.

Grass can be pretty on three different levels.

As you walk along the Benson you can find a lot of interesting sites. One of my favorites is the gull carving on one of the telephone poles at around the 220th St. mark. If you are driving or walking along 108th and pay attention to the telephone poles, you’ll see one that is a bit shorter, does not have the power lines on top, and has what looks like a seagull perched on top. That got there because the guy who used to live in the house at that address didn’t like the idea of the city digging a big hole in his front yard to put up one of those newfangled power lines. “We’re all going to die of cancer from ’tricity!” Despite his Luddite leanings, he saw the inevitability of the project and silently conceded defeat. The night before the pole was laid the crew delivered the pole to his front yard along with the machinery to install it and went home for the day. That night old Crusty took his chain saw and carved a pretty decent likeness of a seagull in the top of the pole, maintaining its structural integrity. The crew went ahead and made their own sort of concession and used it anyway.

My wife and I have a saying called “Benson Moments.” We marvel at how often we see unusual and unique things on the Benson. One day we were out for a walk and a boy drove by on his bike with a large purple stuffed horse on his head. It was a good sized horse too. It gave the impression that a flying purple horse was carrying a boy on his bicycle.

Then there was a guy that dragged a big tree branch out of the woods and put it in the middle of the street and yelled at people as they went by. Apparently, he couldn’t handle such large-scale indifference to his gardening techniques. This kind of thing happened often.

Then one day we saw this lady.

Benson ladyShe was just walking down the road with her stick. She was singing and appeared to be otherwise happy. I don’t think she was trying to hide from any one. No stranger to paparazzi, either, as my wife asked to take her picture and she smiled. Just like this.

Do you ever wonder where people are going or what their lives might be like? There is no way to tell for sure unless you ask them. We asked her what she was doing. We’d never seen her before. She said she was happy and liked to dress happy. That is all we know. Seemed like a good enough bio to us.

I don’t know if this is ironic or what. It’s nice to meet a genuinely happy person once in a while, though. Hope she “sticks” with it!