Friday, June 18, 2010


Travels with Emmy...
Our show this past weekend was at the Allentown Art Festival. Allentown is a party/artsy section of Buffalo NY. The weather report for both days included passing showers, of which we got few to none. Crowds on Saturday were sparse but we enjoyed a just-below-average monetary intake. There was heavier traffic on Sunday, but they didn’t spend much, at least not at our booth..
My wife is the artist, she builds beautiful bead embroidered jewelry, I am a retired truck driver. I get to do all things that are not actually artistic. We travel to the shows with our pickup truck camper and display trailer. It far easier for us to walk a few minutes to the camper and stay overnight even if the location isn’t ideal, than to drive the hour or so home and back in the morning.
This year’s overnight stays in Allentown were the quietest to date. Two years ago a security alarm started to ring loudly around 2PM during the first day of the show from the building whose parking lot we were taking advantage of. It rang for over 30 hours. I was surprised nearby residents weren’t alarmed and up in arms themselves. The police came shortly after the noise started but could not locate the owners to access the building and shut the alarm off.
The ringing bell wasn’t so bad, it helped to cover the noise of the college-aged drunken kids singing and arguing loudly as they roamed the streets from bar to bar. It has been pointed out to me that these are suburban children, not locals. I believe that to be true, when I was an inexperienced drinker I was one of those noisy young people. I lived in Hamburg, a suburb of Buffalo; I came to Allentown to enjoy the night life, noisily roaming the streets and frequenting the bars in that section of town.
I am always amazed at the patience the locals have for these arts and crafts festivals. I live in rural Western NY and when I have to wait for a car at a stop sign on the end of my road where there usually is no traffic I can be slightly perturbed.
Residents, who live where these shows take place, often have to park blocks away from their homes. Before and after ‘show hours’, while we are tying up loose ends or opening for the days show, neighborhood folks walk by with their dogs or hoof it to the market. They always have a cheerful “good morning” or “hello”.
‘Twere it I, it would probably be a growl… I’m just saying.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Machine whisperer recycled column

I am not the only one; there is an army of bewildered backyard mechanics with average abilities out there. We did the simple things. We adjusted carburetors, changed spark plugs, replaced oil and filters, brake shoes, mufflers and shocks.
We always expected a Ford or a Chevy, even an old Volvo, to last a decade or two with a few repairs and some routine maintenance. You’d have to open the hood or crawl under and get your hands dirty, but in the end, you could make it run.
Then there is the above average mechanic. I have a neighbor and friend whom I’ll call Bob. He has a machinist’s mindset and mechanical character. Bob has been retired twenty years and is having a particularly hard time giving up his old ways. He has built machines from the ground up, creating them a piece at a time, on a lathe or a horizontal mill from brass and iron. I think of him as the ‘machine whisperer’.
I’ve seen Bob, walk up to a dead car or dismantled engine. He’ll scratch the side of his head; maybe shake it ever so slightly from side to side. He will then roll up his sleeves and work it like a puzzle, “is the engine getting air? Is there spark? How about fuel?” When the puzzle comes together and the pieces function like the well-tuned machine it was meant to be, Bob would be satisfied, but no one was surprised, because he is the machine whisperer.
Bob recently bought a brand new computer and had high-speed internet installed in his home. He unhappily carried his old PC to his shop and spread it out on a flat-topped cart, where many of his mechanical projects begin. The big old CRT monitor, tower, printer, external modem, speakers and the connecting cables covered the three by five foot surface.
The old computer had let him down. Even though Bob performed routine maintenance on it- defragging, blowing the dust out of it, the aged PC failed him. He didn’t even get a decade out of it.
He is a fan of several on-line forums, reading posts from other motor-head types. Discussions are of machines, their care, and construction. As we all know though, it is a high-speed world. The motor-head forums became harder for Bob to view with dial-up internet service and his old PC’s super-slow processor. Other motor-heads sent pictures to him, and though he is a patient man, the long wait for a single old tractor photo to upload was disturbing. Video links were out of the question, click on one and it would choke the life out of the ancient PC.
It’s winter now, and it takes a lot to heat Bobs’ shop. He won’t work out there much until spring. The old computer still sits on the flatbed cart. The machine whisperer walks out to his shop occasionally and sees the parts arranged on the cart. He walks around it, viewing it from different angles. He scratches his cranium, shakes his head imperceptibly side to side, he can’t fit the pieces of the puzzle together, he can’t bring it back to life.
No amount of thinking or shrugging of shoulders or nodding his head will bring this puppy back to life. It is as obsolete as a blunderbuss.
It is good the cold makes his shop unusable for now. Though defeat is inevitable, Bob has time to accept it. He realizes there is no resale value for the junk computer. At least a car would bring him money for parts. He will chuck it in the spring.
He’ll spread the parts of an ailing, but real machine, made of steel and aluminum on the cart. He will have it running, smooth in no time, clicking or humming or thumping the way it was meant to- for he is the machine whisperer.