Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Today I finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

I read it because Larry Brooks was undertaking an analysis if the structure of The Help on his blog StoryFix.  I was aware that the book had been immensely successful but had put it in the category of Chick Lit and wasn't about to be caught dead seen reading it.  (Bad for the macho image don't you know.)

I was an Air Force Brat.  My parents and grandparents were from Texas and I visited frequently.  But I did not grow up in the South.  I came back to the States after I graduated from high school in 1962.  I attended Baylor in Waco, Texas.  I saw segregation in action at that time and it was very different from my totally integrated life on a military base.  I was interested in other things and didn't think about segregation much. 

I was at Baylor when the first "colored" student enrolled.  It was during summer school and he was a music major.  He could play the piano like nothing I had ever heard before.  There was a grand piano in the lobby in front of the cafeteria and he would play the piano as we stood in line for lunch.  I didn't think much of it other than he really can play that piano.  I didn't notice that white students were upset.  As I think back, they may have not known he was a student.  They may have thought he was the day's entertainment.

I married above my station.  My wife's family were not wealthy but were well off.  They had a maid to clean their house.  So after we married and moved to Shreveport, my wife had a maid to clean our house and I had a yardman to mow.  The maid came and cleaned for a couple of hours every day.  At the time our child was born we began having a maid every day, all day and full-time maids were a part of our household for the next thirty years.  I think the Seventies must have been years of further change as I did not observe the abuses detailed in The Help.  When I talked with my wife about this, she said I was wrong, that there were still people who treated their maids terribly.

Shreveport, LA and Jackson, MS are interchangeable.  In the Sixties life was the same in both cities.  The same kinds of people doing the same kinds of things for the same reasons based on the same heritage.  The Help could have been set in Shreveport as easily as it was in Jackson.  And for this reason alone it was an interesting book - a trip back in time.

The only exception from Shreveport I found was that I know the "mature" leaders of Shreveport's Junior League would have never let an 'early twenties' Hilly be the League's President.  My wife was in the League and I've known a number of the Presidents.  They were competent leaders and strove for many years to attain the top leadership position.  They would not have given it to a relatively new member. I suspect that the ladies of Jackson wouldn't have either.   Otherwise I found the story 'spot on'.   And I don't begrudge the author for the stretch since it made the story better.

I read thrillers, mysteries, spy, westerns, and private eye novels.  I want twisty plots, action, violence and a little sex thrown in for good measure.  The Help didn't have a single page of these requirements.   I don't read character driven novels like The Help.  So, I was surprised by how the book's characters captured me.  Yes, I knew people like all of the characters in the book but that wasn't it.  Stockett made me want to know more about these characters.  She made me care.

I'm still trying to figure out exactly how she did it.  But, I recognize this is really good storytelling!

Monday, June 13, 2011

HRPT - Home Sweet Home in Alabama

Home Sweet Home!
We made it home on Monday. The first 900 miles coming home were high speed and trouble free interstate driving. But, our epic journey wouldn't have been complete without another adrenaline jolt. So just as we got to Pensacola, FL, the front brakes started making a terrible clunking noise and then the engine died when we were caught up in slow moving traffic.

We crept back into Gulf Shores the final 40 miles trying to apply the brakes as infrequently as possible. We thought the engine dying was related to over heating so we turned off the air conditioning everytime we slowed down. It was really HOT without a/c.

Yesterday, Harold and I met at the shop to check out the brakes. It turned out the problem was that a bolt holding the caliper had come loose. (The same problem we had to fix on Steve's car back in Indianapolis.) The good news was that we could fix it at the shop where we had the needed tool. A tool we did not have on the trip.

We also replaced the thermostat with a cooler rated one, replaced the temperature sender, and the fan clutch. We're hoping that this will cure the problems of running too hot. If this doesn't fix the problem, the next step will be to switch the oil we are using to Royal Purple. The circle track boys swear by it to reduce engine temperatures. I don't want to think of what we'll have to do if that doesn't fix the problem.

We had a great time and are already planning to make next year's HRPT. We think "Bobbie Sue" deserves a third chance. She is an awesome car to drive. With almost 500 horsepower waiting to leap, a comfortable ride, and excellent handling she is all fun. But before she's ready, we're going to repair the alternator, add some insulation to the inside of the car, swap out the transmission, and switch from hydrostatic power brakes to vacuum power brakes so she'll stop as well as she goes.

Next year's Hot Rod Power Tour will run from Detroit to Dallas. Look for us to come by on a road near you.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

HRPT Day 8 - Milford

This morning there was a special meeting at the General Motors Milford Proving Ground for the long haulers. I counted the number of cars on a row and the number of rows. I estimate that there were about 1,100 cars at the venue. Many people didn’t stay for today’s meeting. We probably had a total of 1,500 long haulers.
Milford was the industry's first dedicated automobile testing facility when it opened in 1924. It covers 4,000 acres and has 132 mi of roads representative of conditions found on public roadways and other specialty surfaces for vehicle testing. 
Our venue today was the VDTA ("Vehicle Dynamics Test Area"), also known as "Black Lake", a 67-acre pad of blacktop for vehicle dynamics testing. Waterfowl have been known to try to land on this "lake" of asphalt. At the ends of the VDTA are two semicircle tracks used for accelerating vehicles up to high speed before entering the pad. A controlled low-friction area made of ceramic tiles is on one side of the pad. Another area is coated with the asphalt sealant Jennite and can be watered down to produce a low friction surface. They had an airplane fly over and take a group photo of all of our cars. And they handed out posters, a sign for the garage wall, several $ off coupons, etc.
The very best part was when they let us drive on parts of the test track. Our driving tour lasted for more than 20 minutes and included many different segments of the track. GM had the good sense to not let us on the big, high speed oval. We probably would have killed each other showing off. But, we did get up to speed in other areas. The super banked turns were a blast. Other segments were like a sports car race track with hills and blind curves, lots of curves.
They gave away a 2011 Camaro SS Convertible. I didn’t win it.
Tonight we are in Springboro, OH. Only 800 miles to my very own bed and pillow.

Friday, June 10, 2011

HRPT Day 7 - Muskegon to Detroit

Today we drove from Muskegon, MI to Detroit in the rain. 
The temperature was 58 degrees so Harold broke out the jacket we teased him about when it was in the upper 90s. At our morning gas stop, they had two pallets of impulse items beside the pumps. One pallet contained firewood and the other contained salt pellets to melt ice. Harold looked at me and said, "We need to go back South."
When we got to Steve's motel, his car wouldn't start. So we broke out the golf umbrellas and proceeded to un-stick a choke and jump start him.
The Detroit venue was at a pretty park on lake St. Claire. The lake is between the US and Canada. It's either the littlest Great Lake or it's a not so Great Lake.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

HRPT Day 6 - Indiana and Michigan Are Pretty. The Locals Friendly.

Indiana and Michigan Are Pretty. The Locals Friendly.

This morning we left Indianapolis for Muskegon. It was 65 outside and we drove with the windows down.

They have the prettiest grass; there is no drought in Indiana or Michigan. The grass is a beautiful shade of green and as we drove past fields where hay was being cut it was a delightful smell. The funny part was it smelled like a freshly cut watermelon.

It rained on us for a couple of hours. Eventually the convertible top leaked a little where the top sealed against the windshield. We pulled out a towel and laid it in our laps and enjoyed the rain cooled day.  

At one gas stop we ran across a grandfather and his young grandson enjoying a wet drive in this "interesting" rod.  We lent them some Rain-X to help with the lack of wipers.

The venue today was in downtown Muskegon. Four thousand cars and one thousand parking places. Not pretty.

Tonight we opted for something besides burgers and pizza. We went to the local KFC for fried chicken. The chicken was ordinary. I said hi to an elderly gentleman as I passed where he was eating. On his way to his car he stopped at our table and sat with us while we ate. His name was Leon. He's 88. Buried two wives. Used to be in the grocery store business. He took us on the grand tour of Grand Haven, MI which included the beach at Lake Michigan at sunset, an overlook of the town from a large hill, a beautifully restored downtown area and finally back to our motel. He drove an immaculate '82 Mercedes coupe with 80,000 miles.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

HRPT Day 5 - Rolling on the Bricks

Rolling on the Bricks
Yesterday we drove 290 miles from Nashville to Indianapolis. My car behaved and nothing broke.
We are driving with Steve Weeks of Hope Hull, AL. Steve is driving a 1972 Dodge Demon. He bought the car when he was in college in 1972 and has held on to it all these years. He restored it about 4 years ago. We met him at Bowling Green last year and he was one of the people who helped us home last year when we broke down in Birmingham. Anyway, yesterday his brakes began making a terrible clunking sound when he applied them. So last night we did surgery on his front brakes in the parking lot of the hotel. One of two bolts holding the driver's front brake caliper in position on the rotor had fallen out and the other one was loose. After 5 auto parts stores we went to Lowes and found a bolt that will work until he can get it home and get the right bolt. We then double checked the other side and found both bolts loose; we worked on his car until 11pm.
The big deal at this venue was to drive your car around the track at the Indy Speedway. We signed up for the drive. But, wound up playing parking lot mechanics instead.
Today we drive to Muskegon, MI. USA Today's weather map shows it will only be in the upper 70s. That is wonderful news.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

HRPT Day 4 - A Day With All Sunshine Is Hot!

A Day With All Sunshine Is Hot!
Today's update is boring. Nothing broke. In the evenings tour participants walk around the motel parking lot looking at the the cars and telling lies about how fast their cars are. The consensus of parking lot wisdom is that I have a defective temperature sending sensor and that that is causing a false temperature gauge reading. The gauge ran pegged on Hot all day today but the car displayed none of the symptoms of a Hot motor. So, I'm more comfortable. Except for one time today when I glanced at the gauge and panicked. I had forgotten momentarily about the gauge problem.
We drove 310 miles today. We must have driven through 20 places on the highway in Alabama where tornados tore up the trees back in April. They've been cleaning up the damage, but it still looks bad.
Our venue today was the parking lot of the Tennessee Titan's football stadium. According to the TV weather tonight, Nashville set a new record high temperature of 96 this afternoon. It felt like 126 on the asphalt parking lot. The venue highlight was an Autocross course where tour participants did their best to drive very quickly around a circuit marked with orange cones. It was great fun to watch.
Tomorrow morning we're off for Indianapolis. As of tonight, we've driven 1600 miles since last Wednesday.


Monday, June 6, 2011

HRPT Day 3 - It Just Keeps Getting Better.

It Just Keeps Getting Better.
Last night we went to bed without 1st and 2nd gears. The plan was to get up this morning at daybreak and head for Gulf Shores and swap cars.
When I turned the ignition switch this morning, nothing happened. Upon closer examination we found that the back of the original 1951 switch had separated from the part the key slips into. Inside the switch are three contacts which are supported by small springs. Apparently, one of the springs had burned up from the heat of the electricity passing through the switch. 

Since I am traveling with McGiver, this was no big problem. After an hour, Harold "McGiver" had carved a metal post from an electrical butt splice part and substituted it for the missing part. Bobbie Sue cranked and we began a day of driving without 1st or second gear. Which is pretty good except when you have to start from a stop at a light or stop sign. I confess the rolling Hollywood style stop was used many times.
We made it to Gulf Shores and discovered that the belt squeal we had heard intermittently for the last couple of hours wasn't the power steering pump as we had guessed. It was our alternator on its last legs. We probably couldn't have driven another 50 miles before it locked up.
At the shop, we prepped the '84 Mustang GT350, "Sally John", for the road. She had not been driven on the road in a year so her air conditioner had to be charged and the fluids checked.
While we were in the process of charging the air conditioner, the Mustang stopped starting. After 30 minutes we found a broken wire to the coil. We re-attached it and now it starts just fine. We are now scratching our heads and wondering if this is cause of the intermittent starting problem we've seen over the past couple of years. We were really glad to find this at the shop before we hit the road. The shop is air conditioned and working on a car in the cool is much better than on the side of the road in the heat.
This trip is a shakedown trip for the Mustang. Although its restoration was completed more than four years ago. Its longest previous trip was less than 100 miles. Today we stopped along the way and added more Freon. It's finally cooling tburn up the engine? Is it just a gauge problem?he interior like it should. We're hoping that the temperature gauge is not working properly. It pegged Hot most of the trip. But, the radiator was cool enough you could put your hand on the cap and the burp jug did not indicate that any coolant was boiling over. I'm worried. Harold says don't worry. Its just a sick gauge. The suspense continues. Will we burn the motor up?

Tonight we are in Prattville, AL. We are two tired puppies. We've been on the road or swapping cars for over 13 hours today. We never made it to the venue site which was a drag racing track on the outskirts of Montgomery. We're off again tomorrow. The destination is Nashville.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

HRPT Day 2 - Drive Till It Breaks Redux

Sunday, 5 June, Hot Rod Power Tour 2011 - “Drive Till It Breaks Redux” - We've been having a blast driving my ’51 Chevrolet. It has a really choppy exhaust and we've been running it unmuffled through the side pipes. I sounds awesome, like an 8 cylinder Harley. It is a favorite with the crowds; so Harold and I spend a lot of time grinning. The a/c went on the blink on the way to FL. Then we got it working again so we weren't dying in the heat. The Cocoa Beach, FL venue was great, lots of good seafood. 
Today, we stopped twice on the way to Valdosta, GA to help others who had broken down. We're carrying enough tools for a small garage. They didn't have the right tools.
Then at the last exit of the day, I reached for 1st gear on the off ramp and it wasn't there. I grabbed for 2nd and it wasn't there either. We jacked the '51 Chevy up in the parking lot, crawled under and checked for a broken shift linkage. But, the problem is inside the 4 Speed Muncie. So as we go to bed tonight we’ve driven 800 miles and have reverse, 3rd & 4th gears. L
We can't make it to Detroit with only 3rd and 4th so we're up at daybreak tomorrow taking Bobbie Sue back to the garage and swap for my '84 Mustang - "Sally John". Then we are driving to Montgomery, AL to rejoin the Power Tour. J
I hope Detroit or Bust is just a slogan.