Friday, August 29, 2008

Music, Sound and Crap Beer

I was pleasantly surprised at the sound quality of the Les Schwab Amphitheater at last night's Sheryl Crow concert. More like very surprised. This is the first rock music performance venue where I could hear what the musicians were playing. Take the bass player, for example. Nine times out of 10, one can see the bass player's fingers moving, but with eyes closed, all that can be heard is a vague rumble that sounds like cannons are going off backstage. When players take solos, you know they are taking a solo because they will often be spotlighted and the other players will be watching them, but again, all that is usually heard is a blur of sound. I've rarely attended a concert where the singer's words were understandable.

But it was different last night and kudos to the sound designer and the folk doing the sound. I could hear every note the bass players were playing (kind of important to me because I play bass)--including the slap when the woofers in Reed Thomas Lawrence's bassist's amp hit bottom; the drummers were well-mic'd with clean kick drum punch, although a little more crispness on the high-hat would have been nice; and solos were articulate and clear. Vocals were well-done, too, although I must say that there was a sharp transistory edge to the sound in the lower treble which was a little fatiguing.

But all in all, I'd have to give the sound a 9 out of 10. Not bad when most venues provide a miserable 3 or 4. I look forward to the Mingo Fishtrap concert this Sunday: they are a tight band with a full horn section. Their arrangements are complex and without good sound the result could be a muddled mess. My fingers are crossed that last night's sound quality was not a fluke.

I'll leave reviewing the performances to others, all I can say is that Reed Thomas Lawrence and band were a perfect find to fill in time before the delayed main act could arrive, Brandi Carlile and her band were fun (excellent drummer), and Sheryl Crow's bank kicked ass. Great keyboardist. Tight band.

But what's with the shitty beer? I mean, holy crap! This town has--what? Five, six breweries? This is a town that knows from beer. Who did the Coors distributor blow to land the concession there? Coors Light and something called Blonde Bombshell were the only two offerings. Dreadful, miserable pisswater beers. They charge for this stuff? I pee this stuff out after drinking real beers. I had to dump my $5 cup after only two sips.

There must be a solution to the crap beer problem at the Schwab. If anyone knows how to get a decent beer into the place, please send me a comment. I won't publish it if you request me not to (in case you don't want your method public). Fortunately, the Bend Brewing Company will be providing refreshments for the Mingo Fishtrap concert.

But still -- when the big acts come into town, the food and beverage should be top-notch.

Loved the nearly naked girl making pizzas. I had a very nice cheese plate with crusty bread, olives, and grapes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Papers, Please

I just got back from the DMV where I got my new Oregon driver's license. I read about the new identification requirements (proof of citizenship, proof of social security number, proof of residence) and came prepared.

I thought.
  • Proof of citizenship? Check: I had my passport.
  • Proof of SSN? Check: I had my social security card.
  • Proof of residence? Check: I had my "welcome" letter from Pacific Power.
What I wasn't expecting was to take the written test. I mean, duh, I should have expected it but my blind spots continue to surprise me. Nice lady at the counter said she had a couple of tips. "Know the blood alcohol level, and when you change snow tires. And if you don't know the answer to a question, skip it; it'll come back at the end if you need it to pass, and you'll have a better chance of getting it right if you don't answer right away."

I thanked her and grabbed a copy of the driver manual and sat down between a kid and a rough-looking fellow.

"This thing got an index?" I asked aloud while flipping through it, looking for the snow tire or alcohol sections. Apparently not.

The RLF said that getting an Oregon driving license was real tough. Said this was his third time trying to pass the test.

"They don't tell you, but if you don't pass you can ask them to review the test with a video."

I pictured a tiny darkened room in the back with a single chair and a 12-inch color TV and a VCR. One of those plastic seats molded roughly in the shape of a seated human's backside, with cigarette burns in the laminated writing surface mounted to it. Janitor's mop bucket in the corner. The smell of desperation and sweat.

"And, if you ask them, they have to show you what pages in the manual has the questions you missed." He showed me a sheet of paper from his last test. There was a list of the pages he needed to review before his next test. A long list.

This guy was working hard to get his license.

"Where do they tell you about the snow tires?" I said.

A woman a few seats away said, "November 1 to April 1. We know because he," she indicated the boy next to me with a tilt of her head, "needed to know that for this time."

For this time? Cripes. How hard is this thing, I wondered.

I spent a few more minutes desultorily flipping through pages. Found the blood alcohol limit (0.08 or greater) and figured that it was now or never: if I couldn't pass the test based on my 42 years of driving and some common sense, I'd just have to take the darn book home and study it.

So I told the test supervisor I was ready to take the test, and he seated me with my back to the RLF who was already in the process of taking his test for the fourth time. Just as I finished the sample question (a slow child could have passed that one), the fellow suddenly stood up, knocking my chair from behind.

"Sorry, boss -- I just passed!"

"Congratulations, man." I said, and began my test. I skipped three questions that each had two or three equally sensible answers, stabbed at them at the end, and passed with an 80%. Sweet.

The nice lady took my picture and gave me my temporary permit, and asked if I was going to register my car.

"That's the main reason I wanted to get my license," I said. "Once the California plates are off then people won't tease me any more."

"Oh, we'll keep teasing you Californians."

Okay, well at least no one will egg Mellow Yellow for the plates. If I drive like an asshole then I deserve it.

"Is your car here?"

"No, I rode my bike."

"Here's an all-day pass." She handed me a green slip with some numbers on it. "If you come back today you won't have to wait in line. Bring your title and your car and your permit and we'll get your car registered."

So I rode home, grabbed the title and drove back to the DMV and, in 15 minutes, walked out with a shiny new pair of Crater Lake plates.

So if you see a yellow-ish ("Ivory") colored Vanagon Westfalia with front and rear trailer hitches and CL plates driving around Bend, that'd be us.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bikes, Bread, and Burritoes

Saturday was brilliant. Jim and I accompanied Mrs Elliott--all on our bikes (me on my road bike which made my knees very happy)--downtown in the morning. She had a meeting to attend, and Jim and I wanted to check out some of Bend's bicycle shops. Our plan was to meet up at 10:30 at Townshend's Teas for tea and tasties. So while she was occupied, we visited WebCyclery on SE Bond St. to get their take on my need for a cyclocross type bike. They were open at 9a and Jeff Dengel showed some might fine bikes but they didn't see an easy way to set up a bike for the narrower 140mm "Q factor" (stance) that I need to protect my knees. Catering to the younger, more flexible crowd, I reckon. Good shop, excellent parts availablity, good staff. I like the place.

Jim asked whether they kept odd parts for British bikes, and they suggested we try the Gear Peddlar, so we cruised over there, but they would not be open until 10. We noted that a shop nearby, specializing in Mexican foods, with "We have Yerba Mate" written in large letters on their front window. Bendites take note: This town has amazing resources; in San Diego's north county, with easily five times the population, I was unable to find a single shop selling yerba mate.

Rather than wait until the Gear Peddlar opened, we decided to take a ride up Newport avenue to Mt. Washington and over to Century and get to Bend Cyclery at about opening time. Eric and staff were opening the shop as we arrived so we parked ourselves across the street at the Village Baker. As an amateur bread baker, I know from pain au levain, and clearly so does their baker, Bill Kurzman. We chatted about flour and hydration for a few minutes and then snagged one of their stunningly delicious Parmesan bread sticks and iced tea to nosh and sip while Eric moved his bikes out of the store and on display.

Amazing breads at the Village Baker I gotta say. While their sour white doesn't have much of a classic sour taste (I commented on this in my mention of Chow), their 15-grain mockingbird is a meal in itself. But it's their striata which I gotta say is a perfect example of a true artisan bread.

As I pulled apart the bread, noticing the irregular voids and lovely stretchiness of the crumb, Bill said, "You can't make that at home."

I asked why not.

"It's between 70 and 80 percent hydration, and it's mixed for a long time. Do you have a mixer that can handle that?"

I said I could handle that much hydration (a very "sloppy" wet dough, hard to handle) but in truth I didn't get a chance to ask him how long he mixes it. I have been making great loaves with the "no-knead" method lately, I'll see what I can do with a wetter dough and break out the Kitchen Aid. Hopefully not burn up the motor.

My sourdough starter rode up with me in the refrigerator in Mellow Yellow. It had been dozing in the refrigerator in Carlsbad for a couple months since I used it last. I took it out of the refrigerator yesterday and fed it with flour and water. After a couple of feedings I expect it will get active and strong and be ready for use. Bill said that he doesn't use anything special for flour at the Village Baker, but I bought a half pound of his flour anyway. In case he's being disingenuous. I'll use that to make a nice sourdough boule in a couple of days, to see how well the oven in the rather nice Wolf stove that came with the house.

I was almost going to write an entry saying that I have yet to have a bad meal in Bend, but last night's dinner at Longboard Louie's proved that not all meals will be great. I reckon the place is a favorite among locals--several of the guys who have been working here have mentioned it--but our experience wasn't so hot. The young woman working there was disinterested, and while not exactly hostile, she was nowhere near friendly. That's the kind of service I'm used to in SoCal, but not the kind I've found everywhere else I've eaten in Bend. The food was okay, not worth writing home about.

And what's with the rectangular burritos? Jim said that the burrito that he got in Portland was also rectangular. Longboard Louie's served up a burrito of the approximate size and shape of a thick paperback book. The ones farther south are shaped more like cylinders. Regional variations, I expect.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Weak Kneed

Department of Bicycles, Dept. I've been been exploring some of the roads around our house on my bicycle. This is a lovely place to ride. I've noticed that I'm experiencing pain in the medial (inner) sides of my knees when, and after, riding my Jamis mountain bike, whereas with my road bike I don't get the pain. My handy ruler showed that the cranks on the mountain bike set the pedals farther apart by nearly an inch (pedal-to-pedal) than those on the other bike, and I read on various sites that medial knee pain is caused by pedals too far apart.

So I went down to two nearby bike stores (Hutch's on Galveston and Bend Cyclery on Century) and what I was told is that the wider spacing of the pedals on mountain frames is so the cranks can clear the chainstays which are farther apart due to having to clear fatter tires.

The cranks on my mountain bike clear the stays by nearly half an inch but neither of the shops had anything on hand that could fit the bike and with narrower spacing.

I might have to give up riding on that frame and find something better suited to my needs. I can't do any real mountain biking anyway because of a metal knee which could easily be torqued out of my femur if I take a bad fall, so I tend to stay on pavement and other smooth places to ride, meaning I don't really need a mountain frame anyway, but I'd like something that would work on something besides pavement.

Cyclocross seems to be the category of bicycles I'm looking for: they have narrower spacing on the chainstays so I can keep the pedal-to-pedal spacing small, but they also support disc brakes and can handle fatter tires (35 - 40mm). They're not your full fat mountain bike tires, but at least they're fatter than my skinny road tires.

Requires research. Need to find a place in town with a good selection of reasonably-priced cyclocross frames.

Bend is a beautiful place to bike and I plan to enjoy it as long as my legs will permit.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Improvement by Increments

Today was just a "forge ahead" day: I found an excellent guy to become my new technician: Mr. Bob Hunt, who seems to have all the requisite electronics and mechanical knowhow to fit right in. He passed his soldering test with flying colors and did a brilliant job of understanding my circuit designs. He and Dai spent the day building the assembly benches and installed them into the shop. Paul "The Computer Guy" knocked the bugs out the house network and got my business machine up and running in the office, so I can finally move myself and my work table out of the dining room. This will make Mrs Elliott happy.

And Mrs Elliott does need some serious cheering up: The phone system is still not 100% and Jodie of TTC blames the hardware: her theory is that the Samsung PBX hardware was damaged in shipment by not having been bagged to prevent the little styrofoam packing peanuts from drifting inside the chassis and possibly causing electrostatic damage to the sensitive chips on the circuit boards. An alternate theory is, of course, that Jodie doesn't know what she'd doing. We can't tell. This has Mrs Elliott totally bummed out because the hardware cost her $8,000 and she's up to nearly $5,000 in tech time (which also includes hardware install, etc., but it's the time she's shelling out while Jodie troubleshoots the system, dumps and reloads the programs, and so on, that is frustrating Mrs Elliott).

On the Deck, Dept. James Creel, the deck guy (see earlier posts) popped over to see if the deck is ready for staining, we need a few days of dry in a row. We're looking at several dry days coming up so he'll come over this weekend and finish up that project so we can move our patio furniture outside and reduce the in-house crowding.

The locks have all been re-keyed by my smart son, Jim, who was trained in locksmithing at his last job. We decided to master-key the shop's new exterior door so employees could be given keys. He doesn't have a pin set so he took the locks to Bend Lock & Safe and did some of the work on them there, thus demonstrating to the owner his background. Fellow said he was hiring in September, maybe Jim can get a job there doing what he enjoys. In the meantime, he's applying at Newport Market, they need late night staff and he has two years' experience working in grocery stores. Hey man, work's work and it does young people good to feel productive.

AND the electricians wrapped up the wiring in the shop: five new circuits off the subpanel, an exhaust fan for when the smell of soldering flux becomes too much, and a box above the new exterior door for a porch light.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Massive Trucks Migrate to Eugene

We returned the two rented moving vans to Penske's location in Eugene yesterday. The GPS took us over highway 242 rather than the more sane 126, proving once again that the human operator can be far stupider than the devices he or she is operating. A quick glance at a map would have told me that 242 wasn't really the smartest way to take a 22-foot truck towing a car carrier laden with a VW Vanagon and a 26-foot truck over the Cascades. When not gingerly negotiating hairpin turns between giant outcroppings of razor-sharp lava which could have easily torn through the skin of the vans, I had a chance to look at the beautiful scenery.

On the way back we took the more sensible and faster 126.

A good friend and his fiancée dropped in last night. I had wanted them to stay at the quirky McMenamins, but it, and the more corporate and bland Ameritel and Phoenix, were booked up ("It's a Tuesday night! What the heck could be going on in town that would fill your hotel?" I asked Reception. "Summer," was the answer). At least the downtown hotels seem to be doing hand over fist business right now. I warned our visitors about the Bend Riverside Motel, which Mrs Elliott and I both found to be fairly grotty (and my pillow smelled like soup), so they stayed at the Bend Inn & Suites and said the place was perfectly adequate, if characterless. We all went out for dinner at Merenda. The upstairs was closed but the downstairs was packed. The food was exceptional. I hope they continue to do well through the upcoming economic troubles: may downtown Bend continue to offer more than Subways, Pita Pits, burgers, and Italian immigrant food (see this story in today's Bulletin).

We have electricans running conduit and wire right now, installing two new 20-amp circuits in the shop. John Baker (the husband of husband and wife-owned Para-tech) is installing the Dish dish. We won't have missed all the Olympics -- we can get them from the OTA antenna he brought along if it picks up the local NBC affiliate, and maybe I can find an encore presentation of the episode of Mad Men (AMC) that I missed during the move.

That's about it right now. The weather is spectacular, the view from the deck sublime.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Day of Organization, Electrons

It started at 8 am with Jodie from TTC Communications (Springfield) to start working on Mrs Elliott's Samsung PBX equipment and six 5-line phones. Paul Spencer "The Computer Guy" (Bend) arrived shortly thereafter to get the office and household computers networked off the feed from the Bend Broadband modem. Shannon Russell from Tomco Electric (Bend) came by later to correct the incorrect job done by sellers' electrician to bring the three aluminum wire circuits up to code, which three circuit their electrician had done improperly with the wrong wire nuts; and to replace the five breakers in the panel which the sellers were to have replaced themselves because they had been identified during the home inspection as being the wrong type for the panel. Mark Grell of Hooker Creek Construction Materials (Bend) paid a visit to take a gander at where I need a driveway laid, but said the job was too small for them to be competitive on, and referred me to Dan at Benham Falls Asphalt Patching whom he said would be able to tackle a job this size at a good price. In the meantime I discovered that the three assembly benches that I had ordered from Nationwide Industrial which were meant to have been here last week, would not be here until tomorrow because the freight company that Nationwide had hired to bring them to me (Yellow Freight) didn't deliver to Bend--so they had handed the job to an interline carrier, Roadway. Thanks, guys.

Jodie was done by 4 pm, with some work not yet completed, Paul had to leave at around 5 -- they'll both be back.

During all this, Dai and Jim completed unloading the second truck and moving parts and supplies into the stock room (the bedroom the former owners had kept their cats in [I had the carpet removed because p-u cat pee in carpets is a little too tangy for my taste]). Of course, today's thundershowers and hailstorm meant that everything not in the house needed to be covered with tarps, and the front yard still looks like a Hooverville.

This evening Mrs Elliott and I drove out to OfficeMax and Home Depot and Staples for office supplies and furniture. Mrs Elliott had been unable to pack much of her office furniture because the trucks were so full, and now needs to replace desks and file cabinets and office chairs. While out there we stopped by Whole Foods to pick up some items, like marinated tofu, which I have not yet been able to find at closer stores. We walked out with one small bag of groceries. $70. Ouch. Not great values, there.

To add excitement to the mix, the technician which I had hired back in June after interviewing the best four prospects from the dozen or so who had responded to my ad in The Bulletin called to say that he had a better offer from Qwest, leaving me without anyone for my existing technician, Dai, to train before he heads back home to his wife in San Diego (Dai came with us to help set up the shop and train his replacement). So I called the paper and asked them to re-insert the ad. I need to find a good analog audio electronics tech for full time work, someone with lots of experience assembling, troubleshooting, and repairing audio electronics at the component level.

And Mrs Elliott had her own experience with a certain level of undependability from new hires: one of the two women that had been hired for phone answering didn't show up for her appointment at noon, and called at 12:15 to say that the thunderstorm had caused an electrical outage in Sisters. Mrs Elliott wondered whether the woman had a grid-powered car which might explain why a power outage could prevent someone from getting to her first day on the job on time, but otherwise couldn't understand how an electrical problem might cause a significant delay. She told the woman that the position required someone she could depend on to get here on time to answer the phones. The woman assured Mrs Elliott that she was not a flake and would be in shortly.

She never showed.

"Welcome to Central Oregon," said a longtime Bend resident with a sour laugh.

Tomorrow we have to drive the two Penske trucks to the lot in Eugene. We'll trailer Mellow Yellow behind one of the trucks and then return home in it.

That's it, we're tired.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Massive Trucks Invade Quiet Neighborhood, Avoid Conflict

Everyone is asleep now at the end of a very long day of unpacking 48 combined feet of truck. Even Jim's trailered Jeep Cherokee was jammed full of stuff, Joad family-style. Note vintage Raleigh and current-model Flying Pigeon bicycles on rack.

If anyone in Bend can recommend a bike shop that can help my son get these funky old-school (Raleigh) and odd (Flying Pigeon) bikes back into running condition, please leave a comment.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mrs Elliott Falls, Fears Concussion; Convoy Underway

Mrs Elliott took a tumble this morning from the cab of one of the trucks and struck her head on the ground. Witnesses (Mrs Elliott herself) said that she was talking to our friend Dai who was seated behind the wheel of one of the trucks when she stepped backward to get down to the ground. She had forgotten how high the cab was and fell, striking her head on the pavement. She called this reporter from the cab of the second truck (they are on the road now, she's not driving) to report that she has a painful lump on her head the size of a horse chestnut (however big a horse chestnut is--medical articles always describe the prostate gland as being approximately the size and shape of a horse chestnut so I assume that the nutlike seed of this tree is considered a common unit of size in medicine*) and to inquire whether Tylenol was contraindicated when concussion was suspected. I told her that Tylenol is fine, and asked my son to examine her pupils and he said they were the same size. No slurred speech, in fact she sounded pretty chipper, so I think she'd going to be all right. She's a spunky lass, the little engine that could, I'd hate for anything bad to happen to her. We'll keep an eye on her. (Update, 1pm: she reports that she's feeling fine, that the bump is tender but she is otherwise unaffected.)

* Just as the Volkswagen beetle is used as a unit of size in other fields of reporting. For example, "The Johnsons returned home to find that a rock the size of a Volkswagen beetle had crushed their living room."

The Lawn Ranger (Doug Simmons) dropped by to take a gander at the yard and offer yard care service just as I was about to head out for my morning bike ride. He seems to be a nice fellow, and he recommended that I speak to Chester out at that Eastside Gardens to figure out a plan to spiff up the front a bit and develop the back. The back yard has a nice view, as shown on this picture. Also boasts two pear and two apple trees. The apples are small green jobbies that taste like childhood to me, like the apples I used to filch off trees when I was a kid living in northern California.

As suggested by totoro, I had breakfast at Chow after my morning ride (could the weather be any better for morning rides?) and ordered my "test" meal: egg scramble with one egg and six egg whites, and a mess of chopped tomatoes. You can tell a lot about the cook by how he scrambles his eggs, and these were perfect: light and fluffy, indicating that he used low heat and more time. Instead of taters or applesauce (I think those were the choices) I asked for slices of tomato. Now, your run-of-the-mill restaurant would just plunk some tomato slices on the plate. At Chow, they sprinkled polenta over two thick slices and put them under the broiler -- a nice touch. The sourdough toast had a nice crust, but in the taste and texture departments it wasn't noteworthy. The term "sourdough" doesn't mean that the bread needs to be sour, it means that it was leavened with wild, rather than commercial, yeasts and other critters, so while sourdough bread needn't taste very sour, or even sour at all, I like a little more of that distinctive sour "tang" from a sourdough. But and all, add in some spicy tomato juice and fine, cold Bend water and I was good to go for only $9.

The deck is being worked on now by James Creel of JKC Construction and he's doing a bang-up job brightening this old cedar. His 11 year-old son, Zack, and Mark Thomas's kids (Mark runs Cobble Creek Construction) Trevor and Jacob are all helping to clean the garage. All these kids are great--enthusiastic and bright.

I took Mellow Yellow, my 84 Vanagon, out for a little shopping this afternoon and bought it a wash, the royal treatment from the Summit High School Cheer Dancers -- this as reward for being such a stout and worthy vehicle and delivering me and my goods to Bend with zero trouble. Cheered me up no end to see these young go-getters out raising money for their group on a hot day, and probably cheered Mellow Yellow nearly as much to have the road grime wiped off. Forgive the crummy cell phone picture. I plan to bring the van to the good Vanagon service shop for a checkup after that mighty voyage. (Members of the mailing list who live in or near Bend have recommended Youngs Ole Volks Home on SE 3rd.)

And later that same day . . . I wish to tread--ever so gently--into the world of pizza. Now, everyone has their own idea of what your ideal pizza pie should be like. Some like the thick crusts and tons of toppings, some like your thin crusts with fewer toppings. I, myself, am a proponent of pizza as the Neapolitans developed it: a thin crust cooked in a super hot oven, with only a few, but very high quality toppings: pizza napoletana, to be exact. The photo shown in the wikipedia entry for "pizza," captioned "Authentic Neapolitan pizza margherita, the base for most kinds of pizza" is what I'm talkin' about. That, to me, is the Holy Grail of pizza. Finding a restaurant that knows how to make a proper pizza margherita can be a challenge (finding a proper pizza margherita while camping is, of course, impossible . . . impossible, that is, unless you cook your own. See my blog page "Campin' Pizza Margherita" to see how I do it when camping).

But how lucky could a fellow be if he discovered a restaurant that not only makes pizza in his fav-o-rite style, but has been certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association? Pretty lucky, I'd say. I am happy to report that the simple pizza margherita at the VPN-certified Flatbread Community Oven in the Old Mill District was wonderful, just wonderful. Just the way I like it.

And finally an update from those on the road. It's nearly 10pm as I write this and Mrs Elliott called to say that she and the crew will be overnighting in Klamath Falls.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Correction, plus Carpet Cleaner by Day, Jazz Drummer by Night.

Mea culpa, my bad, I stand corrected. Yesterday I commented that it was hot here. news junkie suggest that it was actually quite nice. nj was right: I had time today to wander about downtown and in Pageant Park, and once a fellow is out of this hot house (upper floor, stickbuilt, no curtains to block the sunlight = greenhouse effect esp. since opening the windows introduces majorly hot air baking off the cedar decks) ... once, as I say, a fellow gets out of this house then, by gosh and by golly, it is pleasant.

I strolled around downtown (on the shady side of the streets) and made a point to drop into Pegasus Books because I've enjoyed Duncan's blog, "Best minimum wage job a middle aged guy ever had," and I wanted to meet him. He seems to be a sensible fellow making a nice living from a nice little business, and doing so by not appealing to the bottom of the market. I like folk who can do that. Pegasus doesn't carry what I'm looking for in terms of new literary fiction and essays, but he suggested that his wife's shop might. Alas, it seems that I must go to Barnes & Noble for my magazines. Doubly alas, I cannot recall the name of his wife's book store -- corner of Greenwood and 97? I'm sure someone will provide the answer that is slipping my brain.

Anyhoo, it seems that he's read some of my posts on the Bend Economy Bulletin Board and was surprised that I had been mixing it up with the "local guys from long distance." I explained that I had no reputation here to protect so I wasn't too worried about causing a ruckus.

Bob of Brad's Carpets and his lovely wife came by today to extract the damned spots, years of dust and dander and pollen and mites and hair and general dog and cat funkiness--not to mention these stains of a certain shape, color, and general location that don't bear too much thinking about--from the plush carpet here. He quickly measured the dimensions of the room with his laser measuring thingy, calculated the cost and presented a quote which was a little higher than what the Other Guys asked for, but he assured me that he had the Most Powerful Carpet Cleaning Machine Ever Since The Beginning Not Only Of This Time But Of All Times (seems that a carpet cleaning machine even a few percent more powerful than this one will create a black hole which will quickly consume this Universe and all the time in it or something like that), so I told them to go ahead. Within moments he and his LW, both looking snazzy in dark blue jumpsuits, began laying down great snakelike hoses, firing up large noisy fans, and spraying spots and discolored areas with nozzles connected to large silver canisters which looked ominously like something from a 50's promotional film about how Swampland Reclaimation Marches On With DDT.

Then they fired up the MPCCMESTBNOOTTBOAT. "Other guys," he shouted over the general hubbub, "they run 180, 190 degrees at the most, that's all their machines can do. I clean at 230 degrees -- any hotter and the carpet would start to degrade." I believed him: the carpet immediately cried "Uncle," and began giving up prodigious amounts of dirt, funk, and Chemdry.

I beat a hasty retreat to someplace more restful: downtown, as mentioned in general, Pegasus Books as mentioned in passing, and the Deschutes Brewery pub in particular. Sampled some Mirror Pond cask conditioned ale (my first cask conditioned -- it has a very "light" taste, "light," that is, as in "not heavy," not as in "lite"-- it had plenty of flavor. Man doing the pouring said that this was typical for cask conditioned beers because they are not carbonated). Followed that with a taste of their stout (alcohol content a bit higher than I like; I am partial to dry stouts with lower ABV), then a pint of ... something else, I forget--whatever was on nitro. Bond St. Brown Ale, I think. Watched some kids compete in the Little League World Series in high-def on the pub's TV -- that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

When I got back, Bob and LW were wrapping up, coiling up the massive hose, packing the blowers, strapping the DDT-seeming containers securely to their cradles in the truck. Turns out that Bob plays jazz--he's a drummer, and his bio is here. Playing music is no easy way to make a living, and playing jazz is even harder, so having a well-recommended business like carpet cleaning and doing the job as professionally as they did is a darn good way to pay for life's little costs.

"Good carpet," said Bob. "Nylon. Not that polypropylene."

I gotta say -- the carpets are looking spectacular.

Frustration down south; good riding, eats up here.

Mrs Elliott snapped this photo with her cell phone to give me an idea of how the two moving vans are filling up. She's being forced to start triaging our possessions: stuff to pack, stuff to donate, stuff to discard. I told her not to worry about any of my items except for my chop saw--all my other tools, the table saw, the router, and so forth are all cheap Harbor Freight items--and if it comes down to her not being able to pack some essential item she needs for her office, I can always replace my stuff. Like settlers setting out westward-bound, one can't take everything.

So while she's having to deal with that mess, and still facing a long two-day drive, I enjoyed a very pleasant bike ride this morning along Mt. Washington Drive and then bipped down Skyliners for a tasty brekkie at the Victorian Cafe.

Looks to be a full moon tonight.

Today's docket has a new door for Mrs Elliott's office, carpet cleaning, removal of a stunningly ugly stump from the front yard and general this and that. Nothing to see here, keep moving.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Landed and Finally Online

It's no Swiss picnic driving a non-airconditioned vehicle up California's I-5 "superslab" in the dead of summer. I left Carlsbad at 5 pm last Sunday night, and by 9:30 I was checking into the Lost Hills Motel 6. It's one of those wide spots in the road located near the kinds of facilities that truckers like to frequent, and as a result the various businesses light up the desert sky from dusk until dawn, and the sound of giant trucks is pretty much non-stop. However, a friend advised that I request a room in the back, "near the frog pond," and it worked out okay. The room as about as bare-bones as any motel room I've ever stayed in--didn't even have a clock--but for $37 it was fine. I reckon its location would have shielded me from much of the freeway noise, but since the ambient temperature was in the 70's all night long, I had to run the fan in the room to keep from baking and, as is normal in the United States hospitality industy where only the noisiest, rattliest, grindingness of air conditioning units are deemed acceptable for room that people expect to sleep in, a minor war could have taken place over at the offramp and I'd never have heard it over the local din in my room.

My Vanagon's 1.9L 68-hp engine did a fine job of pulling the heavy vehicle and 500 lbs of trailer up the Grapevine from the LA basin to the high desert. Of course, I was over in the rightmost lane, the truck lane, tailing a long line of 18-wheelers crawling up the grade, all of us with our 4-way blinkers flashing--me, desperately so--hoping to avoid being rear-ended by someone with fewer lbs per hp.

But up the grade, up the superheated valley the next day, all the way up 97 through Dorris and Klamath Falls and Chemult and LaPine, my old van ran just fine, and managed the best mileage I've ever seen it get: 19 mpg, which is phenomenal, considering that the best I've ever previously observed as a tad over 17 mpg. I attribute this improvement to the trailer: while it did add 500 lbs that the engine certainly felt during climbs, it also probably reduced drag by reducing turbulence behind the flat back of the van.

I pulled into the driveway of our new house shortly after 7 pm on Monday evening after having first stopped by the Newport Market to pick up dinner. In contrast to how nicely the trip had gone, my arrival into the house was considerably less pleasing: the place was a mess. Filthy, in fact. The seller had assured us that they would leave the house "spotless," but it was far from that. My realtor was shocked, I was shocked. Ashes and partially burned logs in the fireplace, dirty fingermarks on everything, plies of cr#p in the garage, heaps of wood and rubbish in the yard, a dirty kitchen, dirty bathrooms...I'm not normally very fussy about such things, but this was unacceptable.

A call by our agent to the seller to ask whether she was going to clean the place had elicited a response that she was "too busy to spend all day chasing after contractors." Sigh. Since nothing about how clean the place would be was in the Agreement, this is apparently as much as the seller cared to do.

Mrs Elliott is leaving our house--tomorrow--in Carlsbad in far, far better condition, and she deserves to find her new home as clean, so I'm paying top dollar to have the place super clean for her. The crew (two great women, one of whom had a professional cleaning company and is also a realtor here in town, the other self-describes as "A wife and mother - well, I'm not a wife anymore." [laughter]) are hard at work as I write this. The refrigerator alone took over an hour to clean.

The carpeting is stained and spotted, and smells of dog (the sellers had two or three large dogs) and cats (the seller also had two or three rather grumpy cats) so tomorrow it's all getting cleaned by Brad's Carpet Cleaning. He sold me on his service by describing some perfectly frightening carpet shampooing machine that he built himself out of dragster engine parts or something, but he seems to have a very good reputation so I'm going along with it.

The badly scratched and weathered cedar decks, which were promised to have been re-stained before our arrival, were not. The seller's brother, who owns his own construction company, was apparently given the job and while he seems to be the sort of guy that operates on his own schedule, he's also getting the job done, bit by bit. I reckon that if my sister asked me to take care of some mess that she'd left behind I'd be a bit less than enthusiastic about it. But he seems to be a good guy, so I'm sure it will be handled.

But on the brighter side, things are coming along very nicely in the shop. The guy (Jack Martin) who was hired to knock down two walls to join three small rooms into one larger one for the shop and install a new exterior door did a fine job. The room is painted in bright white paint with a tough gray vinyl floor and base coving--it will be just fine for assembly work. I could see that the wiring in the shop is far too skimpy to power the place so a couple of recommended electricians will be bringing in two new 20A circuits from the house panel to a subpanel in the shop and add a bunch of outlets. Trucking companies are delivering industrial shelving and assembly benches and other necessities daily and my man, Scott Hancock, is assembling them with his son.

I made contact with a concrete fellow (he's not actually made of concrete, concrete's his line of work) who has come up with an affordable bid to pour a new driveway from the street down to the new exterior door so deliveries and shipments to and from the shop won't have to be carried through the house or on a dirt hillside which will most certainly turn to mud in winter.

And our realtor, who was so upset by the condition the house was left called out a window cleaning company and is paying to have the windows done.

So -- how's Bend, you ask? Hot, I can tell you that. Weather's darn hot right now, but other than a couple trips to Liberty Bank to set up my accounts (thanks Stacy and Wendy in the Century Drive branch), a few trips to the Ace hardware on 3rd, and occasional shopping trips to get some food into the joint, I haven't had a chance to really "do" any of Bend. Everyone I've met so far, including the driver of the Bend Garbage and Recycling truck who asked me to put the containers on the street so he could access them, the installer from Bend Broadband who hooked up the cable for Internet, the tech from Connected Computers who I had to hire after the Bend Broadband guy left to figure out why I couldn't get onto the internet (faulty cable modem), the nice mini-skirted lass at Cascade Cleaners, the folk at the hardware store...everyone has been quite nice. It's a welcome relief from the disinterested folk that one meets in more crowded cities.

Tomorrow: the decks get bleached prior to staining, the carpets get cleaned. I need to find someone to put shelf paper in all the kitchen cabinets for Mrs Elliott, but the kitchen looks 1000% better after cleaning.

In other news, my oldest friend has spoken highly of Full Sail beer, but I've never tried it. I was gratified to see that the Newport Market had some in stock and I took home a bottle of their IPA tonight. He's right: it's a darn good ale.

And this just in: Mrs Elliott called to tell me that the packing of the 26-foot and 22-foot rental trucks was unsatisfactory, that a ton of stuff would need to be taken out and repacked in order to fit in all our stuff. This is scheduled to occur tomorrow morning, which will delay their departure.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The First Wave

Today's the day for the first of the two waves to depart to Bend. The first wave is me and my possessions and I'll be departing in the late afternoon, driving my 1984 Vanagon and towing our little Ladybug utility trailer. The second wave will be Mrs Elliott, my son J., and my friend D.P., driving a 26-foot Penske rental truck, towing my son's Jeep behind on a car carrier and they are scheduled to head out this coming Friday.

I won't be able to post from the road, but I'll take a picture or two of my rig and post them, along with any words about any adventures, after I get settled in the new house and have Internet access going which should be the afternoon of August 13 after Bend Broadband comes out and turns on the service.

P.S., I like that gas prices have now fallen for the 23rd straight day in a row.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Packing, Dry Runs, the Family Gathers, I Escape a Maiming

I shut down my office today. The phone's off, the office computer and printers and all that have been boxed, ready to pack into the Vanagon. The computer that I'm writing this on is in our living room and will be packed Sunday morning, the morning of my departure. Both computers have external hard drives for backups, and those are coming with me. And both of those hard drives have their own backup drives--those will be coming later, in the giant 26-foot Penske. At least if I roll the Vanagon there's a good chance that my accounting and work files will not be lost.

I loaded the little utility trailer that I'll be pulling behind the Vanagon. Loaded, it weighs a tad under 500 lbs. I put a jackstand under the trailer tongue, and a bathroom scales under that, and arranged the load so that the tongue has 55 lbs of weight on it -- that's within the 10% to 15% recommended amount necessary to prevent trailer sway. Aired the tires to 15 psi in accordance with the manufacturer's load inflation chart (BTW, these are honking big tires for a little utility trailer: ST175/80R13-- not your weenie little donut tires usually found on utility trailers) and took a little test drive.

Sweeeeet. That little trailer sat right behind the Vanagon with nary a sway nor a bounce over big bumps, deep dips, and at full freeway speed. So I reckon I'm pretty close to being ready to leave ahead of Mrs Elliott and the Gang who will be following five days later in that afore-mentioned giant 26-foot Penske truck.

There is to be a big gathering of Mrs Elliott's side of the family on Sunday. It started out innocently enough: a few of the family members were going to get together for a picnic at a local park to celebrate a couple grandkids' birthdays, and to say good-bye to us. However, the plans quickly ballooned into a fair extravagance: a full-blown reunion with several birthdays, viewings of the newly-born...heck, I forget what-all. There will be a professional photographer; my daughter, B., has agreed to do face-paintings for the kids, cake and ice cream; I think sky-writing, and a tumbling team, too. I might be mistaken about some of this. For a fellow like me, who came from a quiet little nuclear family with three sons, a simple folk who rarely saw a relative, the sheer size--not to mention sound pressure level--of Mrs Elliott's family is overwhelming.

The events actually started last night when Mrs Elliott's younger son and his wife blew into town from Oakland, bringing their 2 year-old daughter and infant son as well as the massive amount of tack, luggage, equipment, and supplies that a family with babies need for even a trip to the corner cafe. One of the newly-emptied rooms here (B. had just moved out and her room was stripped) was pressed into service as emergency quarters for them. Mrs Elliott was busily wrestling with mattresses and box springs, inflating air mattresses, finding sheets. "Wouldn't it be easier just to book them a room at the local motel?" I asked.

Not the smartest question I could have asked a grandmother who for two weeks has been so excited about seeing her grandchildren that she could hardly contain herself. If looks could kill, I would have been taken out of the house in a basket.

After everyone went to bed, the missus made it clear to me that it was only because of the slight possibility that somewhere inside my wretched soul there breathed a scrap of decency that she didn't divorce me on the spot.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Five Days and Counting

Only five days before I hit the road. No, the news was not good for Mrs Elliott's Volvo. The dealer hooked it up to their purpose-built scanner and found three codes. The first, a stuck solenoid, was $75 for the part and $170 for the labor. The second said that the transmission wanted new software. No biggie, apparently. The third was for a transmission. $2,300 and 13-1/2 hours of labor. he gave me the news in that order.

"Ha ha," I said. "That's a big laugh you're having on me, aren't you?"


I waited. "You're not kidding--right?"

He waited.

We decided against buying a new transmission. Mrs Elliott will drive the car until the day she and the boys climb aboard the 26-foot Penske. The car will be picked up by a tow company and auctioned off at a wholesale auto auction, proceeds to go to charity.

In the meantime, I have been getting our little 1973 Ladybug-brand trailer in ship-shape. (Trailer pictured above. Made in San Clemente, CA.) Tires are aired up, lights have been checked. We're raring to go.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Van Gets a New Brain

My 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia, Mellow Yellow, received a brain transplant this morning and it sure is happy. It's clear that all the lousy performance issues--poor idling, lack of power when accelerating from a stop, and possibly poorer than average mileage--were due to a failed Electronic Control Unit (ECU), the "brain" that operates the fuel injection system. I have on hand two replacement ECUs, one a loaner, one liberated from a Vanagon headed toward the crusher, and they both run the engine far far better than the one that was in the van. Inspection of the circuit board showed at least five solder joints with cracks around the component leads. With some resoldering even the original ECU may work again.

I took a test drive today with the Ladybug trailer hooked up, drove over to West Marine in Oceanside to buy a locking hitch pin and hitch lock to reduce the chance that the trailer will be stolen during my planned overnight in Fresno or wherever I toss up on Sunday night, the first leg of my drive to Bend. The taillights and turn signal lamps all work, so I'm feeling confident that I'll make it all the way.

In other news, my friend Dai Phan brought his scanner over to the house to check the computer codes in Mrs Elliott's Volvo. That "TRANSMISSION SERVICE URGENT" lamp never came on again after that one time, although a "ENGINE SERVICE" message is on all the time. The scanner said that there seemed to be a failed wiring connection, and possibly a stuck shift solenoid in the transmission. So it's possible that her Volvo isn't crusher snack after all. I'll drive it to the Volvo dealership tomorrow morning, and ride my bike home. Later that same day I expect we'll hear what their proprietary scanner tells them.

I have less than a week left here. My 17 year-old daughter, B., who has chosen to stay in Carlsbad where her friends, work, and school are, has moved out. She will be living with her mother part time, the rest of the time in a small rented room in the house of a single mother with a daughter a couple years older than B. Unlike her mother's house, which is an ugly-long commute from the community of Fallbrook, this rented room is very close to her work and school, making it a more convenient place for her to stay when she has classes or late night shifts at her place of employment, Legoland.

So with B. out of the house, Mrs Elliott and I have the place totally to ourselves for the first time in, well, ever. Mrs Elliott never signed up to have to live with B. when she married me, but my daughter needed a more stable living environment than her mother could provide, so for the past five years, from the day we moved into this house, Mrs Elliott has--with remarkable patience and good grace--made room for B. in her life and has been an amazingly good surrogate mother. But now, with B. moved out, we have a few days to ourselves here. Alone. In the house. All to ourselves. Wow.

We plan to enjoy it. Because once we move to Bend, my 20 year-old son moves in with us. It's time to give him more attention, more help in launching his life.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tenting and Tasting

On Friday the fumigation company showed up bright and early to tent the house so they could fumigate it to take care of the termites that the pest inspection turned up. So Mrs Elliott and I checked into the Temecula Creek Inn, a nice golfing/tennis resort about an hour away. I neither golf nor tennis (is "tennis" a verb? it should be, since "golf" is) and don't see the appeal of a place where the only thing to do is golf, or tennis, or buy attire for golfing or tennising. But I know how to have fun anyway: we went on a six-hour tour of five Temecula Valley wineries.

Temecula, like just about anywhere in SoCal, is too bloody hot for grapes like Pinot Noir and cabernet, but they make reasonably good dessert wines -- I vaguely recall buying a bottle of a very nice ruby port. There was also a syrah that impressed me. Buying anything else before going to Bend would be like hauling coals to Newcastle. They have some mighty fine wines up there.

Newport Market in Bend has a fine wine selection, but they are a bit pricey for me, and I didn't find any good values in sub-$10 wines when we were last there. I probably just need to find their wine guy to talk to. If not, there's always Trader Joes: I paid my last visit to the Oceanside TJ's today. Greg, the wine guy there, has always helped me find the good values in domestic reds, and when we started talking about Bend, he said that Chris, a fellow that had worked at this TJ's a couple years ago, was now working at the Trader Joe's in Bend. I promised to say hi.
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