A Little Ray of Sunshine

I’m on the road again, traveling with even more electrical load for the truck and even fewer places to plug in. I may have to rethink this.

Back in an earlier Road Trip episode I mentioned adding a freezer to the truck inventory.

“It’s nice to be able to carry food on long trips and I’ve gotten tired of the ice makers in motels. I will run the freezer on the truck system when I have to and on plug in to a handy outdoor outlet where I can.”

It’s a 12VDC or 110VAC unit that needs a little extra cooling so I also added a fan and a nice, 600W inverter to run that.

For this trip, I bought a 110VAC compact refrigerator and tested it on the inverter. It worked fine until I got to the mainland. By then, the inverter was running neither the frig nor the fan.


The frig draws less than a lightbulb running but it apparently has a starting surge the size of Niagara Falls.

I bought a bigger inverter. That one didn’t work at all. Took it back. Found a kilowatt inverter guaranteed to run the frig and the fan and one section of Yankee Stadium (really — that’s what the salesman said).

It made it out of the parking lot before I heard the sizzle and smelled the smoke.

So I went back to the old standby: ice. The 110VAC compact refrigerator keeps pretty nice and cold with a couple of canisters of ice innit.

That’ll work, I figured.

Except the first couple of motels had no outdoor plug for my truck. I really need to run the fan and both coolers — and particularly to recharge the “house” batteries — overnight every night.

I used the 315 HP generator GMC graciously supplied with the (new)(white) truck, idling away its time like a bus or emergency vehicle but at idle, even with the air and lights and other truck services turned off, it doesn’t quite keep up with the load. By the time I got to the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, I was feeling some desperation.

The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec is an exhibit of the artist’s radical, bold, and often outrageous posters and illustrations, particularly for the Moulin-Rouge and the angry Aristide Bruant.

It’s a wonderful museum built originally around the collection Walter P. Chrysler Jr. had assembled over his lifetime. Mr. Chrysler was one of the country’s leading art collectors and benefactors; his father, Walter Sr., founded the Chrysler Corporation.

I went for Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa but knew I would spend more time on something there. I left the truck idling in the parking lot.

The welcoming young lady at the ticket desk agreed that my question was one she had never heard before, “Do you have somewhere I can plug in my truck.”

She called the Maintenance Chief who arrived with an extension cord even longer than mine and we walked out to the lot.

“Oh, good,” he said when he saw I had backed up to the generator room. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t know it was the generator room. I just thought it was about the only shady spot in the lot. A couple of minutes later, the back of the truck was humming nicely as the frig and freezer ran and the big charger purred. The front of the truck was blissfully silent.

I saw too much to catalog that afternoon. Play Me, I’m Yours entranced me. The public piano art project put pianos out in public and invited people to play. The Japanese prints companion exhibit to Toulouse-Lautrec looked at the woodblock prints that inspired him and so many other French artists and reminded me of the prints Uncle Joe Clark brought back from Japan. The paintings of Thomas Hart Benton and the Navy captured an heroic period in American history. And I spent quite a while with Glen McClure’s magnificent enlargements of the Shipyard Workers of Hampton Roads. The Norfolk photographer shot 9,000 frames of 400 of the men and women who keep our coastal economy literally afloat.

The Chrysler also hosted the 2017 Glass Art Society conference. We watched Clare Belfrage prepare for her demonstration from the first gather.

I learned stuff and saw beauty.

When the Chrysler’s Glass Studio kicked us out after the main museum had closed, I hustled back to the parking lot but the cold stuff was still just humming along happily.

“Just roll the cord up when you leave,” the Maintenance Chief had said. “I’ll ask the security folks to put it away.”

I did.

A great museum turned into a life-saver for this traveler. Thank you Chrysler.


The Big Brother Inspection Kerfuffle

My parents helped me buy my first car but that was entirely self-preservation on my mom’s part. See, I had had a Triumph motorcycle. She was driving behind me as we returned from the shop when an oncoming car cut a little into my lane as I drifted a little toward the centerline and just tapped my foot peg a little.


It didn’t break my foot. I didn’t drop the bike. It did bend the footrest. And, of course, it proved I was invincible. And immortal. To everyone but my mom.

The long and the short of this story is that not much time passed before I was in a Triumph with four wheels instead of on a Triumph with two.

How Our Car Looks Before InspectionThat first car was a sad, 8-year old Triumph TR-3A with side curtains and a cast iron 1991 cc four-cylinder tractor engine that allegedly produced 100 horsepower, and standard disc brakes. Although it had just 50,000 miles, it was a tired, little car. My dad and I built new side curtains for it using Chuck Weiler’s miracle Hypalon™ fabric. The Standard-Triumph Motor Company sold only 74,800 TR3s in all its flavors. Only some 9,500 of the original 58,000 3As built survive today so I really wish I still had that little car.

But it probably wouldn’t pass inspection in Vermont today.

Speaking of passing, SWMBO got out of state last fall before her “sticker” came due, saving us that $40. It was well and truly expired when she got back, though.

Vermont’s new “Automated Vehicle Inspection Program” (AVIP) has “integrated electronic data collection and management into” the state’s inspection process. Inspection regulations have not changed but drivers may notice fewer inspection garages. And higher prices.

Ya think?

Vermont inspections typically cost between $35 and $50 last year, up from $20-25 a few years ago when the state last forced mechanics to buy new gear, first one OBD-II reader, then another.

Gerald, the neighboring mechanic, gave up the business this year.

“It was too expensive and too intrusive,” he said.

AOL Commissioner Robert Ide expected some of the smaller stations like Gerald’s would throw in the towel.

How Our Car Looks After Inspection“Some” mechanics will need to offset the $1,500-2,000 cost of new equipment, including a tablet computer with a camera to photograph your license plate, VIN plate, underbelly, and any repair that needs to be made, that uploads all that vehicle data to the state. The system will also make the inspection take longer to perform. Mechanics have to charge by the hour.

“I wonder if the data collected includes the onboard GPS readout,” my friend Dean “Dino” Russell mused. Dino is a roofer here in the middle Keys. Dancing about on roofs all his life has made him the most physically fit man in the Home Depot; it also gives him an overview of the conspiracies of everyday life.

“No, it doesn’t,” Mr. Ide said.

Motorists will be able to access their own vehicle’s inspection history and the history of other vehicles, identified by the Vehicle Identification Number. Only vehicle information relative to safety and emissions inspections will be made available.

“Uh oh,” said Dino.

Vermont contracted Parsons Corp., a huge engineering services firm out in Pasadena, to provide the equipment, networking, maintenance and support, and a technical support hotline for Vermont mechanics. Parsons is the sole suppler for ruggedized tablets and auxiliary stuff like printers. The inspection stations are required to pay $1,624 for each tablet, additional for other hardware, plus a small fixed fee for each inspection. How much the entire contract costs the state was not immediately available.

“Yeah, sure. Competitive bids with a governmental RFQ, so they know they will pay too much,” Dino said. “And there is a ‘street price’ so the bids will all be close enough to choose the ‘right’ vendor.”

The average age of the cars and trucks we drive has risen once again, now to now 11.6 years, as we keep them longer and longer. My (topless)(white) car is 17-years old. SWMBO’s “new” car celebrated its tenth birthday last fall. Registrations for light vehicles in operation in the U.S. hit a record 264 million.

“I wonder if the state is just flush and wants to share with a favorite business, kind of like the Exchange debacle, or if there’s a bigger motive,” Dino wondered.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Like a back door ‘clunker’ program.”

G. Stone Motors does say the new Inspection program “will eliminate older vehicles.”

The cars and trucks we drive are better made than my Triumph was. Back then, that 8-year old car with was 50,000 miles was down to its last owner before getting recycled into washing machines. Last year, I sold my now-17-year old white truck to a neighbor when it had almost three times that mileage. Some rust. Runs good. He drives it to Daytona every other weekend. Pulling a trailer.

Nobody’s talking about how to inspect that TR-3A but I did learn that “the manufacturer or distributor of each device or lens designed to control lights on motor vehicles shall apply to the commissioner for his approval of the use of such device or lens in” Vermont. I doubt anyone has done that for a now-70-year-old British sports car.

SWMBO’s now-10-year-old American sedan passed.


For the record, Florida has no vehicle inspection. A fellow I know in Big Pine drives a 1910 Oakland Model 25 every day. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.


Doctoring the New Millennium

“Hi, Laura, what are my choices?” I asked.

This is my personal health care story. Sadly, there is scant pathos, little conflict, and no resolution.

Although I moved to South Puffin more than a decade ago, I have maintained my medical ties to North Puffin and even to Canada because it takes a lot of effort to break in a new doctor.

I’m an engineer, so I usually know a lot more (and can hash out even more) than a doc figures on. I’m also very much a minimalist, meaning I will opt in for a procedure only if it fits my own idea of “value added,” not if it is merely “doctor’s orders.”

All that does not make me the best patient.

Anyway, we met “Dr. Bob” when we first moved to North Puffin. We were a young family then and he was about our age. We’ve all kind of grown up together. His kids and ours knew each other in school. SWMBO married his daughter. Mrs. Dr. Bob and I have done some artsy stuff. Dr. Bob acts in the hospital’s bi-annual Cardiac Capers. And, with the exception of the time I cleaved my finger with the chainsaw and the other time SWMBO broke her leg, Dr. Bob has treated pretty much everything that ailed us. He understand what it takes to treat me. He gets it.

Primary care is an onging conversation, not a brisk look at a chart and tap on the knee.

The connection is even deeper. Just before we bought our house, we were driving around, seriously lost, in North Puffin. We stopped to ask directions of an older gent walking along the road and told him we were house hunting. Mr. Smith told us where we were. He told us a bit about the area. He told us he had lived there all his life so far. He was 96. He didn’t tell us that his lovely, brick, farmhouse with barn was for sale.

First, check the insurance.
Then, do no harm.

A couple of months later, we bought a different lovely, brick, farmhouse with barn on the lake and a fellow I worked with bought Mr. Smith’s home. Then he sold the Smith house to Dr. Bob and Mrs. Dr. Bob.

Getting back to health care, Dr. Bob is a couple of years older than I and he has retired. Ah hah! I thought. I can transfer my primary care (what we used to call the G.P.) down here.

Side story. Dr. Bob told me my increasing snifflinesss [<==technical medical term] is an allergy and I should find a specialist. I talked to a nurse at a sprawling medical practice in Vermont about an hour from North Puffin. I’m looking for someone to do allergy testing and they have three. The nurse told me two of the docs there are Peds only. The third allergist there as well as the one doc in Puffin Center don’t have the greatest reps. In fact, Dr. Bob won’t send patients to the one allergist in Puffin Center.
I asked a friend if she knows anything about an allergist in South Puffin or even the one in Key West who also has offices in Palmetto Bay and South Miami. Turns out the Marathon guy is the doc who admitted he sexually battered a patient in Illinois and then got sued by an employee he groped and pointed a handgun at. He also does weight-loss workshops. That’s worse than the Puffin Center guy.


Laura told me (remember Laura?) that their new medical director is an ER Specialist at our critical care hospital in Puffin Center but he’s the only doc listed on staff at the Federally Qualified (rural) Health Center Dr. Bob built. They have a nurse practitioner, two physican assistants, and a wellness counselor.

Doctor's OfficeMeanwhile, down here we find the 57-year old who diagnosed that I had either flu or pneumonia a few years ago. He treated for both. Either his treatment or tincture of time worked but it didn’t leave me feeling particularly confident. There are four other family medicine docs, two men and two women. Three are over 60 and the one with the most recommendations from neighbors is 69. That’s a year older than Dr. Bob. The youngest is a 54-year old. She’s not taking new patients.

So my choices seem to come down to one of a bunch of physician’s assistants or a doc who will likely retire tomorrow.

I don’t care if I have the pro from Dover for day-to-day stuff but I do care that I get the same person. Primary care is an onging conversation, not a brisk look at a chart and tap on the knee.

Is it too much to ask to see an actual doctor, let alone one young enough that I might not have to do this again for a couple of decades? I don’t mind training a newbie too much if they seem to be in it for the long haul.

Our dentist lives and works in Quebec. He was about 12, I think, when he bought the practice there, so I figure I can keep him at least as long as I can keep what’s left of my teeth.



You Peed in the Pool!

And we have proof. Swimming pools are full of piss but rarely vinegar.

Olympic swimmers do it. Babies do it. Elderly great-grandmothers do it. A 2012 U.S. study verified that nearly one-fifth of Americans do it and an American Chemical Society study performed at the University of Alberta confirms that everybody pees in the pool.

It’s just the amount that might surprise you.

At the same time, our beach club owners are bumping heads over whether to install an outhouse. It is not a trivial question. There is a real concern among beachgoers about people peeing in the ocean but our beach is a nice sandy lot with neither electricity nor sewer. Planning for accessibility, the engineering and construction costs, a sewer hookup, and running water and electricity are all significant issues.

Does it really matter if you pee in the ocean? Or your pool?

The environmental toxicology experts at the University of Alberta found a way to measure the concentration of urine in pools thanks to our lurve of sugary snacks, particularly sugary snacks at the seashore.

Calling Ace K. Snackbuster!

Acesulfame potassium, better known as “Ace-K,” is an artificial sweetener now commonly found in the much of what we eat and drink.

Sales of diet sodas have dropped by nearly 20% since reaching a peak of $8.5 billion in 2009 while energy drinks grew from $12.5 billion in 2015 to an expected $21.5 billion this year.

Whether your soda pop has sucralose or aspartame the chances are good it also has ace-K which is around 200 times sweeter than sugar. Other foods that contain acesulfame potassium include fruit juices, non-carbonated beverages, and alcoholic beverages, baked goods, cereals, chewing gum, condiments, dairy products, desserts, ice cream, jam, jelly and marmalade, marinades, salad dressings and sauces, tabletop sweeteners, toothpaste and mouthwash, and even yogurt and other milk products.

Acesulfame K isn’t broken down or stored in the body. Instead, it’s absorbed into your system and then passed unchanged in your urine.

The researchers determined how much of the water was urine simply by measuring the concentration of Ace-K in the water.

So how much urine is in your pool? Or my beach?

All of the pools and hot tubs the team tested contained urine. The study found that typical backyard pools contain about 20 gallons each.

Your kitchen trash can holds about 7 gallons. Imagine if one of your (very productive) friends filled it three times and dumped it in the pool!

We all know that urine is sterile but the other compounds we pass, including urea, ammonia, and creatinine, become dangerous when mixed with the pool chemicals. They can lead to eye and respiratory irritation and even asthma in those exposed long enough.

It’s worse in the ocean where they can turn the water green.

Beach Lady, Green Water

Rule 39

“There is no such thing as coincidence.”
Leroy Jethro Gibbs

I often sit on my inch of beach of the afternoon with my arse in the water and toes in the sand and I keep running into people I didn’t know I know.

A couple of beach buddies had friends down from the frozen north last week. The friend, Romulus, has been to Vermont several times on bike trips so he wanted to know if he had ridden past our house. He came close but the bike trail cuts a few miles east of us. He got off the trail and found himself in Canada at one point. That story involves men with guns and searchlights but that’s for another day.

Romulus is a high end woodworker in real life. We got to talking about southeastern Pennsylvania and he told me about a set of bowls he made from a walnut tree the owners had cut down in the front yard of a stone house at the corner of Street and Shiloh Roads.

“That was a lovely tree,” I said. “But it was in the back yard over the dog house and it dropped walnuts into the driveway that split under all the tires.”

Romulus was amazed.

“Not so hard to know. I grew up in that house and wore a towel as a cape when I learned to ‘fly’ off the dog house roof.”

He comes from around there and has done a lot of work so he knows the area well.

Coincidentally, I answered the phone yesterday because I recognized the name on CallerID, although I haven’t spoken to him for 20 or more years. It was Redacted, the current owner of the stone house at the corner of Street and Shiloh Roads.

“The township Gazette is doing a history of these old houses,” he said.

We reminisced and caught up and told some lies. They, too, were in Vermont last summer but they didn’t get as far north as Romulus so they didn’t run afoul of Border Patrol. And I told him about meeting the maker of the bowls.

“We still have them,” he said. “The Gazette photographer took photos that will be in the article.”

I went back to the beach after the call. There was still plenty wind but my jetty shielded me nicely so I sweated a bit sitting in its lee in the sun. And the water temp is up a degree to 76° at the Vaca Key buoy VCAF1 so it didn’t feel quite as penguinish to swim. Nice.

A couple of other beach buddies joined me and we talked a little about the people we meet coincidentally. I pointed to another couple walking down the beach and said, loudly enough for them to hear, “see, here are people we might know.”

Turns out they’re from Michigan and rent a beach condo every year here in South Puffin. I didn’t recognize them but they recognized me. I may have to mix it up a bit. Or at least buy new Speedos™.

Here’s a history of the house.

“At the northeast corner of Shiloh and Street Roads … is a dignified two story stone mansion which overlooks the valley. In the south wall of this house, some four feet above the ground level, is a stone inscribed ‘1734.’

“In January 1699/1700, in this area, Thomas Mercer, an immigrant from Northampton County, England, bought 230 acres of land. His son, Thomas, inherited this land and built the 1734 house in which, it appears, he lived until his death about 1758. Among his ten children were two sons, Daniel and David. Near the stone marked “1734” there is another one on which is inscribed “D heart symbol M.” It seems likely that this identifies either Daniel or David Mercer and that it was the handiwork of an ambitious boy.

“The Mercer family owned several hundred acres of land in the Township. In early deeds the property with the 1734 stone is sometimes referred to as “the mansion tract.” This remained in the Mercer family until 1860. Between 1875 and 1896 it was owned by William Cronin. His ownership is reflected by an inscription “W C 1876” which is painted in the south gable of a carriage house which he built in 1876.

My great-grandfather, “Enos H. Redacted, purchased the property in 1896 [after he sold the farm in Doe Run] and continued to live there until his death in 1935.

“In recent years it has been the home of Dr. and Mrs. Wilbur Redacted, the latter having been the daughter of Enos. After her death in 1954, their daughter and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Chandler Harper, have shared this delightful home with him. Several decades ago a frame addition was added on the north side of the 1734 mansion. This happily coupled modern conveniences to the skilled craftsmanship of the original house. Thus the early structure, with its choice woodwork and fireplaces, has not been spoiled by inroads of modernity.”
–excerpted from Arthur E. James’ Chester County Histories

OK, the real reason the early structure, with its choice woodwork and fireplaces, wasn’t spoiled by inroads of modernity is that neither the Cronins nor my family had the money to do more than change the front windows to the large-pane Victorian style. The owners since us did.

The current owners bought the house from the flipper who bought it from us. The intermediate owner took down the plaster ceilings to expose beams, tore down the “modern” frame addition and built a new one that more than doubled its size. The current owners bumped up a full length dormer on the north side of the attic, changing that to livable space. The house is a lot bigger now than it was.

DiNozzo said that Rule 39A is “There is no such thing as a small world.”

Uh huh.