Thursday, May 29, 2003
For the most part, this Memorial Day Weekend was pretty typical. Memorial Day itself was spent on projects of the type that have usually been put off since last Labor Day, as well as stuff that absolutely has to be done now or Bad Things will happen. In this particular case, it was the installation of a replacement transmission in my car. This cost me a little more than $300, which at this point is probably more than the car itself is worth. Fortunately, my dad and brothers are all experienced mechanics, and were able to get this taken care of without much difficulty.
I know a few things about cars, and can usually do basic maintenance stuff on my own, but if l was to try installing a new transmission, chances are that some set of unfortunate circumstances would result in a situation which would most likely require intervention by the Fire Department, Animal Control, a SWAT team negotiator, or all of the above (OK now, put down the ratchet and step away so we can get the kitty out of the tree...) Automobiles seem to be one of those things that seem relatively straightforward in theory, but by the time you go outside and pop the hood, you can pretty much throw all of that out the window (or I could if the window on my driver's side door could actually be rolled down.) You might be able to identify some of the major parts and components, but for the most part, that engine compartment is filled with a rat's nest of hoses and wires with the apparent purpose of convincing you that it would be a really good idea to pay someone at the dealership $90 an hour to just fix the stupid thing for you.
These days, on most cars they just put a big plastic cover over the engine with a hole to put oil into every once in a while. Beyond that, you're supposes to take your car to the dealer if anything breaks. What they don't tell you is that most of the stuff under the hood is functionally the same as it's been for a hundred years. On the other hand, it has been frequently mentioned that modern cars contain more electronics and computers than Apollo 11 had. Notwithstanding the fact that nowadays a $2 calculator probably has more computing power than a moon lander and the PocketPC I'm writing this on is probably more powerful than everything NASA had in the sixties, all that stuff gets to be pretty complex. If you have the right tools, you could find out all sorts of useful information from the onboard diagnostics, but it's probably going to cost you a few bucks to get that stuff ($200 or so for the basics, $800 or more for the brand-specific ones for your particular make.)
That ridiculously long tangent aside, we did also attend a barbecue this weekend. This came after two of my younger cousins were baptized (in my church, baptism of children takes place when they turn eight) which meant that members of both sides of one of my aunt’s families were present at the barbecue. I believe that at some point, I may have written about the extended family I come from, although I can’t be sure of that (read: too lazy to dig through the archives and figure it out.) I think that this particular barbecue does illustrate to some extent the difference between my family and other (read: more normal) families. After everyone ate, the two families eventually settled into their own sheep-and-cattle groups. The other family (my aunt’s parents, to which I have only a distant relationship) settled into the living room, with a quiet fire going in the fireplace, and a casual conversation. My family, on the other hand, gathered outside in the yard, when someone decided that it was a little cold outside. There were still some coals in the barbecue grill, so someone got the idea of moving the grill into the middle of our circle, and throwing some leftover pieces of lumber on to start a fire going. Before long, other items were being added, a few of which I doubt the EPA would have particularly approved of. Before long, someone started using some unidentified garden tool as a branding iron, leaving a rather odd mark on one of the fenceposts. Of course, given some of what has transpired at various family get-togethers over the years, none of this is particularly surprising.
Somehow, I managed through get through a whole childhood of this stuff relatively unscathed, although I did somehow end up being rather good at breaking stuff somewhere along the line…