Monday, November 26, 2012

The Key to Life

Snow is predicted for tomorrow, and the all-season radials on Maire Anne's 2008 Honda Fit are nearly down to the wear bars, so it was time to throw on the steel wheels and snows. I pulled the Z3 M Coupe out of the garage and pulled the Fit in to do the wheel swap.

Now, the single-bay roll-up door to my two-car-wide garage is on the right side, so when I need to change wheels, I pull the car in and angle it left so there's room on the right side. I begin jacking up the right rear of the car (and you do the right side first because the car will slide slightly when you jack up one side; if it's close to a wall, you want to jack up that side first because if you do the other side first it may get too close to the wall). 

And then I remembered: Because the Fit has alloy wheels that are an incredible theft target (and I've never understood why; they're only 15x6, but apparently they can be used on a ton of cars), it has a set of those bloody keyed anti-theft lug nuts. You know the ones -- instead of being hexagonal as the Flying Spaghetti Monster intended, they are cylindrical but have an embossed curved slot on the face, into which fits a key whose outside is hexagonal. You buy them for high-theft wheels, and you use them until the wheels are no longer a target, or they strip when you're trying to change a flat and they've been on there for eight years and the corrosion is stronger than that thin curved embossed slot. Whichever comes second. Then you take them off by hook or by crook and throw them as far as you possibly can, not only hoping never to see them again, but swearing never to use locking lug nuts on any -- any -- car, no matter now pretty the wheels are.

The problem is, if the wheels are a theft target, you can't leave the lug nut key in the car, or at least you shouldn't, or at least if you do, it shouldn't be in an easy place like the glove box. I looked in the glove box, and sure enough, it wasn't there.

Now, at times like this, the mind plays tricks. I remember once being about to walk out the door on vacation for two weeks, looking at the spare set of keys to every car I own hanging in the hallway, and thought "this is dumb. If someone breaks into the house, they can steal every car. Don't leave them there." So I hid them. And I remember thinking "don't be too smart about this; just get them out out of the hallway." I have equal memories of hiding the keys in a pair of socks, above a book on a top shelf, and under a rock in the backyard.

Never found them. Ever.

So, similarly, when the lug nut key wasn't in the glove box, I conjured up images of it under one of the seats, in the spare tire well, wedged behind one of the speaker covers. I checked all of these places. No lug nut key.

I asked Maire Anne if she'd taken it from the glove box. No dice. Ever rational and helpful, she said "maybe it's in the garage." Well, I said, it's unlikely I'd do that, since it needs to be in the car if you get a flat, but I suppose it's not impossible. 

So I looked in the obvious places in the garage. With the other lug nuts. With the socket sets. Next to the radio where I put other useful things like trashed Swiss Army Knifes, tire inflation chucks, and White-Out. Nope.

Damn it, all I wanted to do was get the snows on my wife's car, and I'm stopped by these stupid lug nut keys.

Somewhat dejected, I walked over to the beat-up notebook computer in the garage, turned it on, and started to google "Honda lug nut key."

And I looked down, and the key, in its little Honda-logo'd pouch, was right next to my foot, about 2" away from a big pile of junk immediately to the left of the garage door opening.

What the...?

And then I thought about it.

Because of the situation of having to pull a car in toward the left to deal with the door being near the right wall, and having to jack up the right side of the car first, I always change tires in the following order: right rear, right front, left front, left rear. The lug nut key was 18" away from the left rear tire. It would've been the last tire I did when I took the snows off and put the alloys on this past spring. That would've been the last time I used it, when I had to put the alloy wheels and thus the keyed lug nuts back on. I clearly forgot to put it back in the car, but there it was, right where I'd left it. The fact that it hadn't gotten kicked clear across the garage was nothing short of miraculous.

I love it when the universe makes sense.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

THERMOSBLOG: You Know You Want It

I have two addictions left: Coffee and sushi (well, three if you count locking the door behind me and Maire Anne, but that’s a basic human need, not an addiction).

So Maire Anne was surprised that, when I packed for this one- to two-month trip to Dry Prong, I didn’t include a one-cup coffeemaker. I explained that, addiction or no, sometimes the logistics simply aren’t worth the trouble.

In the first place, there's always coffee at breakfast at the hotel, and it’s usually passable enough.

Second, I was taking a pound of ground Starbucks Kenyan just in case, and if need be, could buy some filters and brew it using the coffeemaker that is in just about every hotel room these days.

Third, there is a trailer here at the survey site in the Kisatchie National Forest. There’s a coffeemaker in it, and there’s usually a pot brewing. Work site coffee has historically been far more objectionable than hotel coffee, but this has changed somewhat for the better. Just as granite countertops and stainless steel appliances used to be part of a “gourmet kitchen” found only in high-end houses but have now been pushed down into much new construction, Starbucks coffee was once exotic but can now be bought in many supermarkets (though not my precious Kenyan). I was pleased when I found the UXO technicians in the trailer brewing Italian Roast.

Still, most of the day, I am not in the trailer – I am out in the field, spending hours in a pickup truck, processing data on a laptop computer, and waiting for things to go wrong with geophysical equipment. And, after three weeks, I exceeded the threshold of what I could stand of no coffee, bad coffee, and cold bad coffee. No problem, I thought – I’ll brew Kenyan using the coffeemaker in my room.


When I checked the room coffeemaker, I found it didn’t use basket filters. Instead it relied on those silly little coffee pads that look like some sanitary product gone horribly wrong (“CoffeePad – For that Wide Awake, Morning Fresh…” never mind). Both Maire Anne and I have, on occasion, punctured these, poured out the execrable coffee they’re filled with, and substituted our own, but this was far more effort than I wanted to go to for an extended stay.

There’s a Walmart nearby (where in America isn’t there a Walmart nearby?) and due to the wonders of Chinese manufacturing, I came home with a Mr. Coffee 5-cupper for twelve bucks.

Again, under the heading of simplicity and reduced logistics, I’m often content to let coffee get cold and simply drink it that way later in the day, but once I started brewing Kenyan in my hotel room, it tasted so damned good hot that I wanted it hot throughout the day.

I needed a Thermos. 

Thermos is, of course, like Xerox and Kleenex – a brand name that has become a noun. (I guess the generic is the uninspired “insulated beverage container.”) Maire Anne and I have owned a black Thermos – a genuine one – for easily 20 years. It works so well that it puts other, uh, insulated beverage containers to shame. Several years back we ponied up to buy a coffeemaker that, when the timer comes on, grinds beans fresh in the morning and drips the coffee into an insulated carafe (which sounds so much more elegant than insulated beverage container). But the carafe doesn’t keep the coffee hot, so we wind up pouring the coffee into the Thermos as soon as it’s brewed. And, actually, the mechanism that swings the ground coffee container under the dripping water malfunctions, so after coming downstairs first thing in the morning to find drip coffee cascading onto the kitchen floor several times, we now grind the coffee the night before, thus rending the two reasons we bought this not inexpensive unit moot. But I digress.

If the push-down of “what were once luxuries are now necessities” is one dynamic in the consumer product marketplace, another one is the division of products across sub-departments of stores. For example, I went into a Shaw’s last month to buy tea. I found what appeared to be the tea aisle, but the selection was meager, expensive, and with names like “Chai” and “Tsao.” I looked up and saw a faux wood-carved “Wild Harvest” sign with stalks of wheat blowing in the gentle leftist breeze. I realized “oh, I’m not in the coffee and tea asile – I’m in the Shaw’s Is Trying To be Whole Foods aisle.” I found the regular coffee and tea aisle, with its plain lettered sign, Folger’s coffee, and Lipton tea. So the tea is in two places, and tea I was looking for was in the wrong place.

With that in mind, go into a Walmart, K-Mart, Target, or other such store and try to find a Thermos. Those arrayed around the coffeemakers are either insulated mugs (which keep coffee warm for a relatively short amount of time) or sleek stainless steel tubes that look more like a projectile or a device to pleasure a woman than something to store and dispense hot coffee. I bought one because a) I was there, b) it was ten bucks, and c) I’m out of town, Maire Anne’s not here, and I want to see the reaction when I’m flirting with a woman in a bar and I whip this baby out and say “come on, let’s party!”

I kid, I kid.

Not surprisingly, the pleasure device masquerading as an insulated beverage container didn’t work for shit at keeping the coffee hot; it was cold by noon. The jury is still out on its performance as a pleasure device.

Back to Walmart. I must simply be looking in the wrong place. I poked around in kitchenware and found a separate section containing three related things: 1) the kind of squat wide-mouth Thermos you’d put beans in, 2) sports bottles, and 3) stainless Thermos-like devices that looked less like a Hitachi Magic Wand but still were small and had integrated pour spouts. One of them was branded Thermos and actually had the performance characteristics printed on the label: “Cold 24 Hours / Hot 12 Hours.” I was, literally, getting warmer. Could work. Fifteen bucks. Done.

Better, but still, by the end of the day, I had lukewarm coffee.

I thought, why is this so hard? I don’t want fucking stainless. I just want a Thermos to keep coffee hot all day. Where is a man’s Thermos? The big ones. The kind without some whiz-bang integrated pouring contraption. The kind you have to unscrew to get at the goods. The kind you can use to bang a tent stake in with.

And then I realized.


There they were. All sizes. All shapes. And not stainless.  I found one 12” long that held 16 oz and said “Hot 24 Hours” (again with the pleasure motif confusion; it does look like it’s “ribbed for her pleasure”). $20. I'd spent a total of $45 on Thermii.

But my afternoon coffee is piping hot.

And I am happy.

(What? You were waiting for another pleasure device joke? Get your mind out of the gutter. My needs are simple.)