Monthly Archives: August 2017

Old Car Magazines

As long as I can remember, I have always loved car magazines. Of course this should not come as a surprise for someone like me who loves cars.

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At one point after college (when I could afford it), I had subscriptions to the three big ones: Car & Driver, Motor Trend and Hot Rod. Occasionally they would review some of the same cars and so I enjoyed getting to read each magazine’s take on the pluses and minuses of a certain car.

But to clarify, while I am an avid car lover, I am not a car racer or car modifier and so over time, I found that I appreciated more the “sheer driving pleasure” editorial perspective of Car & Driver and so dropped the other two.

Over the winter, while rummaging around in my closet, I came across a dusty shoebox and cardboard box at the bottom of my closet.

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What delight to find that inside were some of my old car magazines dating back almost 20 years to July 1998! Not that a 20-year-old magazine with circulation probably in the millions and questionable increased financial value would be my source of glee, it was just that these old magazines held sentimental value for me.

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My favorite issue was always the new car issue that came out in either September or October of each year. Car & Driver would faithfully chart the changes over their glossy pages for the new models, confirm the demise of certain models, and include technical highlights for some of the more significant updates. I would use this issue along with ones specific to a certain car I was interested in to help make future car buying decisions. So rather than saying I was just hoarding old magazines, I was building a database archive of research material.

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But the greatest find in my closet was this shoebox, which contained all of my Miata Magazines, the official publication of the Miata Club of America (now defunct).

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It was in 1996 when I bought my first Miata and as soon as I did, I joined the Miata Club of America. For the reasonable price of only $29 per year, you got a member sticker to put on your car and four issues of a magazine.

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This was the first issue I got, not long after purchasing my car, which incidentally, just celebrated 20 years with me. I really used to love this magazine, probably the only one I would ever literally read cover to cover. This was no doubt because of all the cars I have ever owned; the Miata is my all-time favorite (I own two now).

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The magazine included news of Miata club gatherings all over the world, tips on how to take care of your car, how to modify it (if you chose), stories by Miata enthusiasts and the fun they had in their cars, and of course lots of great photos of Miatas. In no other magazine would authors refer to his or her car as a Blue ‘95 and everyone would know exactly what that meant (down to the actual shade of blue and color of interior)!

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One of my favorite columns to read in each issue was this one by Barbara Feinman where she chronicled her own story about her relationship with her Miata, at least until she got married, started a family and had to sell it since it was no longer practical.

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Sadly sometime between 2003 and 2005, these magazines were discontinued.

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Mazda stepped up and began to publish another magazine, with coverage expanded to include other sporty Mazdas and then this magazine morphed into…

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…which covered all Mazda cars. These later magazines would usually include stories about Miatas but other Mazda cars as well that I was less interested in reading about. It was sad to lose a magazine dedicated exclusively to my favorite car.

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But in spite of the demise of the Miata Magazine, I still continued my subscription to Car & Driver.

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Then in 2013, in addition to their long-standing print version, Car & Driver began to offer a digital version of their magazine through a partner company, Zinio. It was incredible! It was a multidimensional digital publication that went left to right and top to bottom.

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In addition, many pages had black or red dot hyperlinks that pulled up even more detailed information when clicked. But the feature that blew me away was for car comparisons, they included videos of the trials upon which the story was based. So rather than just reading about the test results, you could actually see the cars in action in a video. I’m sure it raised an eyebrow from my wife the first time I was reading an issue in bed when all of a sudden, engine racing noises emitted from my iPad.

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They must have offered this as a one year trial to existing print subscribers because at the end of 2013, I was sent a bill for $25 or $30 to continue it for 12 months (over four to five times the reduced hardcopy price I usually paid). I declined and so switched back to hardcopy.

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Then in 2016, Car & Driver began to publish their own digital version. It was not the multi-media version that I had received through Zinio, but it was offered at the same price as the hardcopy. I signed right up and have been receiving the digital version to my iPad every month since then.

I realize that by now subscribing to the digital version, I will no longer be saving hardcopy magazines that could possibly be valuable in about 100 years. I did google the value of one of my Miata Magazines (since they are out of print) and found they were going for about $15 a copy (about double the price I paid 20 years ago ($29 annual membership divided by four issues or $7.25 per magazine). So I obviously won’t be supplementing my retirement income by selling these old magazines. But then again, I won’t be piling up more old magazines in my closet that will just have to be cleaned out one day. So rather than leaving a bunch of old magazines to my heirs, I’ll just bequeath my iPad with all the digital issues.

Building Books – The Great Bridge

After reading this book, you could say I put another “notch” in the proverbial workbench of my building book series (just search the key words “Building Books” for several other of my blog entries). For a long time, I have been a fan of David McCullough having read many of his works. McCullough originally published The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1972, at a time when I was not an active reader. Thankfully I am now. The 40th anniversary hardback edition came out in 2002 and ran a lengthy 608 pages long.

It was five years ago this summer that I actually listened to the book on CD on a road trip I took to my nephew’s wedding in Oklahoma in my new at the time Fiat 500.

It was the perfect length book for the 800 mile, approximately 11 hour round trip as the last CD finished just as I was pulling back into town. It was an enthralling story I thoroughly enjoyed only lessened by my discovery that the book on CD was an abridged version. As soon as I found that out, I knew I had to read the entire book and so added it to my list of books in waiting. That wait came to an end in May of this year when I purchased a Kindle version of the 40th anniversary edition.

Without any long airline trips during the month of May in which I could have enjoyed lengthy uninterrupted time for reading, it took me most of the month to finish the book. In no way a criticism of the book or of McCullough, I found there were times when my reading speed got bogged down with some of the background information included on many of the characters involved with the story. This level of detail certainly painted a more complete picture of what it took to overcome the challenges and build the bridge but there were times that I longed to get back to the technical details of the epic construction of the bridge. Fortunately, I have long ago accepted that the actual building of a large public project is often overshadowed by the backstory—the politics of its undertaking. That was particularly true in this case.

The Brooklyn Bridge majestically stands today, over 130 years after its completion, a one of a kind of bridge as it was conceived and begun at an age just prior to significant change in construction technology.

Certainly the father of the bridge, the one who envisioned it in the first place, was John A. Roebling head of his family’s wire producing business at the time. But while it was John who conceived the idea for a bridge to link New York with Brooklyn, it was actually his son, Washington A. Roebling who ultimately built it in his role as chief engineer due to his father’s untimely death. And tremendous credit must also be given to Washington’s wife Emily, who served as his surrogate in many ways while her husband was too ill to even go to the construction site. The part she played in this epic story would make her life alone an interesting read.

Construction began in 1869 at a time when steel was just coming into wider use as a construction material. Look at any suspension bridge after it and you will see towers of steel, rather than the unique stone of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was also built at a time when the engineering demands of such a structure were not fully comprehended and on average 1 in 5 bridges collapsed within 10 years of being constructed. It was no small task for the Roeblings to achieve.

The behemoth towers, which at the time dwarfed any other building and the graceful spans are what we see today. But what we cannot see and where the building actually began was with the sinking of two tremendous iron and wood caissons that ultimately became the base of the two towers (one for Brooklyn, and one for New York). These floorless, inverted chambers, the size of four tennis courts, progressively made their way down to a solid bedrock foundation as hundreds of workers manually dug out beneath them allowing the caissons to be forced downward by the sheer weight of hundreds of tons of granite being puzzle-like assembled on the top.

To keep the chambers watertight, since the towers were being built in the East River, the work environment had to remain pressurized with pressure being progressively increased as the caissons sank further and further. An interesting fact was that this site, as well as a similar bridge site in St. Louis, was the first reported episodes of what we now know today as the bends. Only at the time, it was a big mystery as it did not afflict every worker in the same way. The doctor on staff didn’t realize how close he came to solving the puzzle when he failed to recognize that symptoms immediately abated any time a sufferer returned to the pressurized caisson. This disease ultimately robbed Washington of his own health which prompted the key role his wife Emily played.

The bridge was also undertaken at a time of extreme political corruption. Predominantly spearheaded by Boss Tweed of Tammany hall, Tweed and cohorts would ultimately perpetuate tremendous fraud that would tarnish Roebling’s character and even bring into question the reputation and integrity of the bridge. For it would be these political machinations and others that would prevent Roebling from using his own company’s wire—recognized as the finest in the world—for much of the spans and even allow the use of rejected wire lots in the spinning of the individual wires that eventually made up the massive bridge cables.

It took seven years to complete the two towers and the anchorages that would secure the four suspension cables to solid ground. The cable spinning would take another two years and the bridge floor understructure, trusswork, and promenade another five years to complete (mainly caused by work stoppages due to New York City not providing their agreed upon funding and material delays at inferior suppliers selected for political reasons). And for much of this time, Roebling was absent from the construction site due to poor health. But his mind was ever sharp and his plans precise and detailed ensuring the success of the bridge. Driven by political reasons, it was terrible how Roebling was treated during this time by the Bridge Board with numerous attempts to oust him as chief engineer.

When the bridge was finally completed, it was one of the largest celebrations in our country’s history attended by no less than New York Governor Grover Cleveland and US President Chester Arthur (vice president to the assassinated James Garfield).

But beyond simply my interest in wanting to read about the building of the bridge, a more personal reason was that my oldest son, for the three years he lived in New York, had an active role in the development of Brooklyn Bridge Park, a remarkable green space created through the repurposing of the old eye-sore Brooklyn wharves sadly decaying in the shadows of the namesake bridge.

And it was upon the occasion of a visit there and tour of the park under construction that I got to walk from New York to Brooklyn on the century old promenade just like millions upon millions of people have been able to since its completion in 1883 thanks to John A. Roebling, Washington A. Roebling, and Emily Warren Roebling.

Our Condo – 5th Anniversary

Today marks the fifth anniversary of us purchasing our midtown condo. I took this photo of my wife at the coffee shop where I met her just a few minutes before we went to closing. I have written here before about several different aspects of this condo but thought it would be fun to look back to where it all began and how we have transformed it from just a condo to “Our Condo.”

It was in July over five years ago that upon my returning from the gym one morning, my wife asked me if I would be willing to buy her a condo for about $40,000. While I responded in the affirmative, I was soon to learn that for my wife, this was not a spur-of-the-moment, impulsive request but actually a lifelong dream of hers to own a midtown condo. The unit that caught her eye that morning and the one that she and I both had walked through was not to be as it was taken off the market the day before we were going to make an offer on it. But another condo in the same building with a sales price that would actually turn out to be significantly below that $40,000 figure did work out.

To say that this condo needed some renovation was a huge understatement. We would eventually gut the entire unit.

But in my wife’s eyes, she obviously saw the potential from the first moment we walked in.

From the time of closing, it took just over nine months to complete the renovations and appropriately furnish the condo with the mid-century modern look my wife was aiming for and the look which made me feel like I was on vacation at a “chic” hotel whenever I stayed there. Obtaining the artwork for the walls, which actually started before the renovations were complete, took even longer but was also a part of my wife’s plans for having only original art in the condo.

Once our condo was transformed into this desirable auberge, this charming boutique inn, it became for us many more things.

It first became our weekend getaway where we would spend a Friday or Saturday night to enjoy the vibrant, walk-able neighborhood where it was located. This afforded us the opportunity to walk to a microbrewery for a great beer or to dinner at a fine restaurant and then to a play at one of the four live theatres all situated within a block of each other.

It also became our “night before a flight” hotel with its short 10-minute drive to the airport ensuring we would never get caught in snarling rush-hour traffic potentially missing our flight.

It became a private resort for our kids and their friends whenever they were in town and needed to get away from it all as well.

 

When our youngest son started graduate school, it became a study lair for daddy and mommy to get caught up on school work while my wife or I watched our granddaughter.

It was even the venue for one of my SibSabs, the annual sibling sabbatical when I get together with just my two sisters and brother.

And it was a getaway location for just my wife and her sister whenever she came to town.

While construction traffic in Memphis made my morning commute to work miserable, I would even go there and spend the night just so I could have a 10-minute commute to work the next morning rather than the hour-long nightmare I sometimes had to endure.

And sometimes when my wife would be out of town, I would stay there by myself for the relaxation and cozy feel I get from being in what has been described as a “curated condo.”

When I think back to that warm July morning when my wife popped the question—that condo purchase question—I had no inkling of any of the many things it would eventually become. Were it not for my special wife and her dream, I don’t know that I ever would have thought to buy a condo, a second home, when I already had a large comfortable home to live in.

So on this fifth anniversary I must say thanks to my wife. Thank you for having the dream. Thank you for asking the question. Thank you for having the vision. And thank you for guiding the decorating and furnishing that made our condo such a special place—a place where we, our kids, and our friends all would want to come home to.  A place were can sit out on our balcony, have a beer, relax and enjoy catching up on our day with a view overlooking the quiet, wooded neighborhood behind us.

Painting at Work

In 2013, I wrote a blog post about exploring the artist in me—an artistic challenge that was inspired by my admiration for a painting that hung on the wall where I work. I was so fond of this particular piece of artwork that I decided to try to paint it myself. In that post I wrote:

My first attempt at creating art grew from an appreciation for a painting I passed daily at work on my way to the cafeteria. I was drawn to a modern painting of a couple of buildings. Maybe this was a resurfacing of my adolescent love for architecture. I admired the interesting colors and the straight lines and I thought, “I could do that” and I am going to try. I knew aspiring artists often developed their skills painting other artist’s paintings. But I knew I couldn’t sit in the hall at work all day attempting to paint this painting. So I took a digital photo of it and took it home. You can even see a reflection of me in the glass.

I took that photo in 2004 so the refection you see of me in the glass (in front of the red building) is a much younger version of me. In that 2013 blog post, I went on to describe how I painted my version since I was not a trained artist:

I decided to make my version of the painting the same size as the original so I could judge how well I achieved my goal. I printed out my photo and began to measure the dimensions of each of the features. Knowing that I needed to accurately translate the building’s dimensions from an 8 X 10 photo to a 16 X 24 canvas, I pulled out my calculator and determined the proportions necessary to “blow up” the scale. Using a ruler, I drew all the straight lines on a piece of paper to allow for any necessary corrections and then once I had the 16 X 24 drawing on paper, I redrew it on the canvas.

 I knew with my hand skill limitations and my desire for precise straight lines that I was not going to be able to paint straight lines either. So I used blue painter’s tape to block off a section at a time for painting. I didn’t even try blending colors; I just used the paint right out of the tube. While this can be a slow, tedious process, taping and painting and repeating, it allowed me to achieve my goal. And I thought a fairly true rendition of a real piece of art.

This is my finished painting that, thanks to my wife’s encouragement, we hung on our wall at home. I loved my rendering of the original painting and was very proud that I had been able to recreate it. It has hung in several different locations in our home for the past 13 years.

If you are a regular follower of my blog post, you know that I will be retiring later this year—as a result of the 2016 announced closing of my work site. While this will mean huge changes for me and my family since I have worked at the same location for almost 35 years, interestingly one aspect will remain the same.

With my work site closing, it was determined that certain assets would not be relocated out of state to where our operations were being consolidated with an existing company site. As a result, employees were encouraged to take home the plants located throughout our facility. I found this nice one to take home.

In the fall of 2016, I learned through the grapevine that employees would also be allowed to take home certain furniture and fixtures that would not be moved to the new site. And included in this allowance was some of the corporate art that had graced our walls for all the years of operation.

Some of the art work; in particular original oil paintings of our company founder and of one of our iconic corporate brands, will hopefully find new homes in local museums. When I inquired about the painting I had admired for so many years on my way to the cafeteria, I was told I could have it. Now almost a year later, that painting has now moved to our home.

With the two paintings side by side, I could easily see that while I had intended to reproduce it in the same size, I had far under-estimated the original’s size. In fact, once I got it home and held it up in several different places in the house, it was too big for the space being much larger than I even remembered. With its ultimate location uncertain, I temporarily leaned it up against our dining room table until we could figure it out, at least until my 2-year old granddaughter pulled it over onto herself with a resultant loud crashing sound. Other than being frightened by the sudden noise, my granddaughter was unhurt and when I picked up the framed painting, I was glad to see that it too was undamaged. Finding a place to hang the painting then moved up in priority.

With a two story entry hall, this wall space offered the scale such a large painting needed.

And so it now hangs.

I don’t recall when my company first purchased this particular piece of art so I cannot say for certain how many years I have walked past it on my way to lunch. Now in its new home, every time I stride through our entry hall, I will walk past this long-admired painting. I do not know if it will always remind me of work, only time will tell. But whether or not it does, it will still serve as a reminder of when I actually began to explore my creative side by rendering a likeness of it by my own hand, a pleasurable artistic activity I plan to spend more time enjoying once I do actually retire.