Category Archives: At Home

Car Books – Fourth Gear

Continued from Car Books – Third Gear

After reading what a scandal Volkswagen perpetrated on the unsuspecting public throughout the world, I was ready for a more upbeat car book to read.

I thought this might be a good read as I recalled from previous car books how divisive the relationship had been between car guys and financial people within Ford. Bob Lutz is unique in that he held executive positions in all three of the Detroit car companies, Chrysler, Ford and GM (twice) and this book covered his second stint at GM. But it turned out not to be the book that I thought it was and having been written by Lutz himself, only portrayed the story from his perspective, which to me, based on his opinions of the job he could have done had he been CEO, seemed a bit haughty (although I did appreciate Lutz’s disdain for GM’s PMP process, a Performance Management Program I too despise).

So I next tried this book, Once Upon a Car: The Fall and Resurrection of America’s Big Three Automakers – GM, Ford, and Chrysler by Bill Vlasic. Vlasic, being a business reporter, gave a much more balanced accounting among the Big Three as well as the UAW and turned out to be a really good book.

This book covered the fall and rise of the Big Three as a result of the Financial Meltdown of 2008. But the book actually picked up the history starting in 2005, which provided helpful background information about the financial health of each company prior to the sub-prime mortgage collapse that took place in 2008. Prior to the events of 2008, I was not aware of the huge issues the car companies were facing. These details made for a very interesting read.

The storyline in the book alternated between each of the Big Three, which gave a complete perspective of what was happening in each. At the time, all three of the Detroit car companies were heavily dependent upon gas-guzzling trucks and large SUVs, vehicles that each company made enormous profits from. And with these three US manufacturers holding over 90% of the US truck market and with trucks outselling cars by a factor of nearly 2 to 1, their sales made for tidy profits. In this period, cars were just not that profitable and were viewed by most as boring offerings.

But then Hurricane Katrina hit in the summer of 2005 and suddenly gas prices shot up a dollar a gallon and sales of gas guzzling vehicles plummeted. With no attractive fuel-efficient cars to offer, sales shifted dramatically from large US makes to small economical cars from Japanese manufacturers.

The Big Three quickly found themselves with parking lots full of unsold vehicles and excess manufacturing capacity. Each of them, in their own way, made plans to shutter plants to reduce their excessive manufacturing capacity. But the prior contract agreements with the UAW and the legacy “Job Banks”, a union guarantee that even laid off workers would still get paid by the manufacturer, minimized the potential savings of simply closing plants. Therefore, costly worker buyouts, in some cases exceeding $100,000 per worker had to be offered as well. Added to this the high cost of healthcare coverage for both active workers and retirees limited the savings the car manufacturers could realize. These “legacy costs” added thousands of dollars to the cost of a US car that foreign competitors, with their national healthcare systems, just did not have thus giving foreign car companies a financial competitive advantage.

Negotiations with the UAW began to occur and with the losses mounting, progress over reducing these legacy costs began to be made as the Union realized bankrupt car companies would be bad for all parties concerned. At one point during this period, GM was losing a billion dollars a month and Ford and Chrysler were each having record losses.

Chrysler, the one company in better financial shape, thanks to their relationship with Daimler (Daimler-Chrysler at the time), struggled with making progress with the union. That is until Daimler decided to unload Chrysler selling them to Cerberus Investments.

Meanwhile, Kirk Kerkorian was trying to wrestle control of GM from its management team by purchasing up to 10% of its stock and placing his right hand man on the GM board. His efforts ultimately failed which left GM in a precarious position having had the added distraction of fending off Kerkorian. To try to sell its backlog of vehicles, GM launched the idea to offer, “employee pricing” to everyone. While it helped them unload many more unsold vehicles, the pricing meant little to no profit and in some cases even a loss on the transaction.

At Ford, a different approach was being taken. Their plan was named the “Way Forward” which included plant closings, improvements in quality and new car offerings to spur sales. To finance this effort, Ford planned to borrow 20 billion dollars by mortgaging everything, even the Ford name. But Bill Ford didn’t think all this would be enough and so was trying to bring in a new executive to replace himself. After several highly qualified candidates declined, Bill brought in Alan Mulally from Boeing (a story that is told very well in American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman). Ford’s borrowing in 2006 when credit was available was quite fortuitous given the collapse of the credit market in 2008.

In 2008 when GM and a Cerberus owned Chrysler went in search of credit to help fund their cost reduction plans, none was available. Knowing that the only way forward for GM and Chrysler was to continue to reduce their size and work force, these buyout and closure costs along with a plummeting of the US auto market from a high of 16 million vehicles to around 10 million units, resulted in their largest losses ever. The catastrophic decline in the auto market even left Ford with their largest loss in their 100-year existence.

Secretly GM approached Ford about merging (a fact I did not know) but Ford flatly declined. Jilted, GM next approached Chrysler about combining their two companies but was again turned down once it became apparent to Chrysler that it was just an attempt to save GM.

That Fall, just as Obama was about to be elected president, GM approached President Bush about the possibility of garnering government loans—a request for 10 billion of the TARP money that had been allocated to rescue the banking industry. The answer was no.

After Obama won the election and promised he would not let the US auto industry die, GM, Ford, and Chrysler went together to Congress to ask for help. Congress’s initial rebuff following a grueling two days of questioning was made only worse by the highly publicized debacle of the CEOs winging it from Detroit to Washington on their corporate jets to beg for billions in relief. Their only hope was a more successful second trip to Washington, this time each CEO having been driven in a hybrid vehicle made by their own company.

By this time Ford, given their previous borrowing, decided to forgo any loans from the US government. So it was just GM and Chrysler that requested loans. These loans came with very strict requirements which GM and Chrysler were ultimately not able to meet. This failure led to them both declaring bankruptcy with even the CEO of GM becoming a casualty, one of the few private company executives ever to be “fired” by the federal government.

With active US government participation, a new, but much smaller GM emerged from bankruptcy with the government becoming a 60% owner (this prompted the phrase “Government Motors”, technically a true moniker at least until the new GM issued stock and the US government sold off their shares to recoup their investment cost). For Chrysler, the government forced them to merge with Fiat, the Italian maker of these cute little cars.

Within two years, all three companies returned to profitable operations and today, are much stronger and much more able to compete in the US market. Looking back to these disastrous events that took place almost 10 years ago, it’s frightening to think how close the US auto industry came to becoming extinct. Since hindsight always provides a 20-20 perspective, it is easy now to say that had not the hard decisions been made and the hard work expended, our only choices today when purchasing a car would be a foreign-made or foreign-owned model!

And thanks to this book, I now had the story behind how it all came to fruition.

Car Books – Third Gear

Continued from Car Books – Second Gear

This is a car book I wanted to read even before I knew it was a car book. Ever since the story began to unfold of the Volkswagen Diesel Emission Scandal in 2015, I knew this would be an intriguing story to read. As I learned new details almost daily from my online Autoweek news magazine at the time, the fraud became even more incredible and I hoped someone would write a book. Thanks to Jack Ewing writing Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal, that book is now published and thanks to my wife’s unprompted gift of it to me for Father’s Day, I now know so much more.

I was already familiar with how Volkswagen got its start, essentially as a propaganda car company by Hitler prior to World War II so I was a little puzzled when the book traced the beginning that far back. But through an abbreviated history of the company, along with its founding of Audi in 1969 and its close relationship with Porsche, important details were provided about the automotive environment at Volkswagen. And learning about the senior management of the company and their business philosophies—their attitude of make it work or you’re fired—helped me understand how such a scandal could actually transpire.

As I read, there were several learning’s that surprised me.

Turns out, this was not the first time a car company or engine manufacturer had implemented a “defeat device” to disengage emission equipment to improve performance. In the 1990s, there were three separate cases, Cadillac, Ford, and Cummins Diesel that had programmed Engine Control Units (ECUs, the onboard computers) to disengage in certain situations. In each case, the ECU was programmed to recognize when it was undergoing testing—when the engine was driving the wheels but the steering wheel was not being turned—and employ all emission equipment to function properly during the testing. Once deceit was proven, the Cummins case alone resulted in a 1 billion dollar fine by EPA.

The introduction of the Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) Diesel by Volkswagen in 2009 supported Volkswagen’s professed goal of becoming the world dominant automaker outpacing all other car companies in numbers of sales. Diesel-power, while less common among passenger cars in the US, offered advantages of reduced carbon dioxide emissions and better fuel efficiency (relative to gasoline) and afforded Volkswagen an opportunity to compete against Toyota’s highly fuel-efficient Prius. But due to the higher operating temperature inside the cylinder, diesel engines produce much more nitrogen oxides, the gases that cause smog and have a direct link to asthma and other deleterious health issues. The challenge presented to the Volkswagen engineers in 2006 was to create a clean diesel engine for this planned 2009 launch.

Since Audi had marketed a diesel engine since 1999, the engineers looked there first to see how they had addressed emissions difficulties. When they began to examine the ECU programming, they found an unusual section of code that had been included to reduce the loud clacking noise diesel engines make when they are first started. They realized, this was a defeat device as it turned off emission equipment to reduce the noise.

When the engineers kept encountering issues achieving the clean diesel goal, it was suggested that Volkswagen use a similar defeat device to address the poor car performance that resulted when the emission equipment was fully operational. It was reluctantly pursued and since Volkswagen did not write their own ECU code, they had to instruct Bosch, the ECU manufacturer to include it, which broadened the scandal even further. As with the previous devices, these were programmed to recognize when they were being emission tested in the laboratory so that emissions would be within acceptable levels.

By mid-2015, thanks in no small part to their TDI diesel cars, Volkswagen overtook Toyota as the largest global carmaker in terms of sale volume. But interestingly, it was events in Europe that began to unravel the fraud.

Diesel cars are much more common in Europe because of diesel’s price advantage over gasoline and diesel’s superior fuel efficiency. But in spite of still meeting less stringent European emission standards, actual pollution within cites was found not to be decreasing as it should (based on calculations) but rather was increasing. The European organization similar to EPA contracted with West Virginia University (WVU) to test several diesel cars both in laboratory settings and on the road. The WVU staff just happened to test two Volkswagens and a BMW in California where the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had even more stringent requirements than EPA. The results were eye opening. While all three cars easily passed the laboratory test, only the BMW met emission requirements under actual road conditions. On the road, the two Volkswagens exceeded the nitrogen oxide limit by as much as 20 to 30 times.

Still not understanding that fraud was at play, future testing was conducted by CARB. Conflicting data continued to pile up between laboratory and on road testing. Then CARB decided to extend the standardized lab test sequence and discovered a remarkable result. One minute after the test was scheduled to end, emissions jumped dramatically on the car still rolling on the tester.

CARB first asked Volkswagen kindly for explanations but since none were forth coming, began to demand answers. No reasonable answers were provided and so in July 2015, CARB chose to use their nuclear option threatening not to certify the 2016 diesel cars that were already sitting in US ports, an act that would actually preclude their sale not just in California, but anywhere in the US.

From the time of the original WVU study in 2014 through all of the testing by CARB in 2015, Volkswagen continued to obfuscate the truth about the scandal by providing misleading and confusing answers to CARB. Volkswagen eventually admitted to a technical issue with the emission systems in early 2015 and agreed to recall and fix affected diesel cars. But following CARB’s retesting of the repaired diesel cars which still gave failing results, Volkswagen finally admitted that a defeat device had in fact been included in all 11 million diesel cars sold worldwide, a fraud on par with Enron.

The legal process that ensued was complex since it involved government regulators, states, VW dealers, and car owners. Partly due to Volkswagen’s covering up of the fraud, the legal settlement between Volkswagen, US authorities and car owners amounted to 15 billion dollars, well above the previous 1 billion defeat device fine, only to be increased by another 5 billion the following year related to another type of Volkswagen diesel sold.

While this was not the type of car story that would typically pique a car lover’s interest of cars, it was nonetheless, a very interesting tale of just how bad and how potentially unscrupulous a car company could be.

Car Books – Second Gear

Continued from Car Books – First Gear

But it is this most recent book that I read by David Halberstam that has given me the most comprehensive look into the modern automobile industry. I have to admit that I had an almost love-hate relationship with this book while reading it as some of the details it went into in its massive 760 page length I was just not that interested in. On more than one occasion I considered not finishing the book. But I kept on plugging and I am glad I did. In fact, after finishing the book and reflecting on the different interwoven stories, I now see that they were all critical parts leading to ultimately what happened to the US auto industry in the 1970s and 1980s.

This book mainly focuses on Nissan, Ford, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, the Japanese auto unions and several influential individuals inside and outside the auto industry, going back and forth between all of them on the same chronological timeline as they each enjoyed different successes over their history. The story traces its beginning all the way back to just after World War II when Douglass McArthur was in Japan helping the Japanese to resurrect their manufacturing industries. It was interesting to get more details of the story I was only aware of at a high level of how it was Americans, in particular Edwards Deming that taught the Japanese how to develop quality driven manufacturing processes that led to high quality vehicles (think of products made in Japan in the 1960s vs. the 1980s).

I enjoyed learning of the history of Nissan (Datsun in the US), which was thoroughly covered in the book, all new knowledge to me. But once the book began to describe the development of the Ford Mustang, my interest was particularly piqued. I can still recall as an adolescent in 1964 when the Mustang was launched. The details included helped clarify the controversy over who was ultimately responsible for bringing the Mustang out. While Lee Iacocca has been credited with its development, it was actually others who came up with the design. But it was no doubt Iacocca who shepherded the car through the Ford political morass and into production and his prescient foresight that ensured adequate manufacturing capability to keep up with the unprecedented demand.

It was also incredible to read how close the Mustang came to not being produced at all, for at the time, Ford was controlled by very conservative finance people who had Henry Ford II’s ear and who constantly impeded the product people, the “car guys” whose passion it was to design and build exciting cars. In fact over much of its history, Ford has been controlled not by car guys but rather finance guys who were always looking out for maintaining the wealth of the Ford descendants instead of bringing innovative automobiles to the market.

By 1970, all three US automakers were producing really big, highly profitable cars because they claimed they couldn’t make a decent profit on small cars. And US consumers kept buying these big cars in spite of their poor quality. But all of that was soon to change.

Superimposed on these automotive stories were the events surrounding the oil producing nations and how for so many years, oil was cheap (I can still remember from my childhood seeing gas selling for 29.9 cents per gallon). This storyline reached a climax in 1973 when the Yom Kippur War (Six Day War) led to the Oil Embargo against countries supporting Israel and resulted in the escalation of the price of gasoline and the end of cheap energy. It was at this time when the Big Three (Ford, GM, Chrysler) had no small fuel efficient cars but only large poor quality cars that on average got a mere 13 miles to the gallon. It was the turning point for the Japanese to gain a real foothold in the US auto industry with small fuel-efficient cars that had better quality. Interestingly it was at this time that I bought my first car, a 1973 American Motors (AMC) Gremlin.

As Ford, GM, and Chrysler scrambled to come out with small cars, it was this portion of the book that was of most interest to me as these were events I could readily recall from my teenage and early 20s, the times when GM came out with the ill-fated Chevy Vega and Ford, the maligned Pinto. Having previously read Iacocca’s book, I was quite familiar with his ouster from Ford and his very successfully saving of Chrysler. I can even vividly picture the commercials he starred in for Chrysler and the return of the convertible and the launch of the now ubiquitous mini-van.

The book also covered the development of the highly successful Ford Taurus, the riskiest product launch ever undertaken by Ford and the development of the Nissan plant in Smyrna, TN.

But the underlying theme of the book came to a climax in the chapter with the same name as the title of the book, The Reckoning. For while it was with great interest in the US automotive industry with which I read this book, the fact was that for the forty-year period from 1945 to 1985, that it was the Japanese that became the major producers of automobiles sold in the US. What started, as a very diminutive importing of Japanese cars became the major manufacturers that we know them as today. With the huge market share garnered by the Japanese, the “Big Three” became simply the “Detroit Three” since no longer were they the manufacturing behemoths they had once been. And I guess this reality is reflected in my own selection of cars as with the four cars I currently own, none of them are domestic but rather all are Japanese.

Reading this book has reignited a desire in me to read more books about the automotive industry. Until I read this book, I had not run across one in over four years. But now searching I will go on Amazon for more good car books to test drive.

Car Books – First Gear

I have posted numerous times of one type of book I enjoy reading which I refer to as my Building Books—books about building things. But until recently, I realized I had never written about another genre I especially enjoy reading, books about cars. The more I thought about it, the more I recognized it was long over due.

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know that I have been a lifelong car lover, a Miata owner for over 20 years, and now that I have more time to do so, an avid reader.

I can still remember from when I was a toddler that my favorite picture book with all of its colorful cars and dog drivers was Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman. And when I was in grade school, I can recall with delight when I discovered my first book about cars at the Scholastic Book Fair, a book about buying and taking care of your first car. In high school, my mother suggested I read Wheels by Arthur Hailey, a fictional novel that explored the auto industry from the perspective of the dealer, the manufacturer, the line worker, and the consumer. This was my first exposure to the complexity and politics of manufacturing cars and probably dampened my naïve desire up to that point to work in the automobile manufacturing industry.

As an adult, I read with fascination a number of different books about the development of specific cars, in particular Corvettes, Mustangs, Muscle Cars and Miatas.

I absolutely fell in love with the Mazda Miata when first seeing this car ad in 1989 since convertibles had all but disappeared from our US roads, especially small sports cars. After purchasing a Miata, I bought this book by Jay Lamm. It was with fascination that I read how three different development teams within Mazda vied for creating the car and then once the winner was declared, how the final car was brought to market and all the changes that occurred over its first seven years of production. This could have been a thick 1,000-page book rather than the slim 140 pages it was and I still would have read and poured over every page. The entire development story was an enjoyable read with a most happy outcome.

However, not until I read The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts did I got an inside look into how unpleasant it could be to live in that world. This book covered the history of Ford as it spanned over its founder’s lifetime. I found absolutely shocking some of the things that occurred within the Ford Motor Company that confirmed my wise choice to enter the field of science rather than automobiles as my career.

Knowing that Lee Iacocca was a part of that troubled history under Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, I wanted to get Iacocca’s side of the Ford story so I purchased his autobiography and gained further insight into those difficult years at Ford. In addition, this book covered Iacocca’s successful turnaround of Chrysler after he was fired from Ford.

A much more upbeat story about Ford that I read was American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman. I was already familiar with Alan Mulally having seen the PBS documentary many years ago on the building of the Boeing 777 jet airplane, a development program spear-headed by then Boeing executive Mulally. And I recalled from 2008/2009 when the other big automakers were getting bailout loans from the federal government as they were entering bankruptcy; Ford had gone it alone and survived without government loans and without enduring bankruptcy. While he seemed to be quite a likeable person in the PBS series, it was only through reading this book that I gained tremendous respect for his executive office prowess.

This book covers the period from when Alan became CEO of Ford when the great grandson to Henry Ford, CEO Bill Ford stepped aside. It tells the story of the struggle between the changes Alan wanted to make and the wishes of the Ford family, which to this day as a block, owns a controlling interest in Ford. To Bill Ford’s credit, he recognized that dramatic change was necessary to save Ford and so mediated with the family to help Alan make the changes. This story is so intriguing and came so close to failing that it might well become a case study for others to learn from in business school. Particularly since Ford still enjoys today the successes that Mulally forged under his leadership.

But it is this most recent book that I read by David Halberstam that has given me the most comprehensive look into the modern automobile industry.

To be continued…

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.

A Swing Set Swinger

This girl is a swinger…

…and a slider…

…and a see sawer.

So when her grandmother (my wife, affectionately known as Mimi) mentioned that she needed to get a swing set for her own backyard, it was absolutely the most logical thing. Just her granddaddy (me), the person who routinely takes her to the Children’s Museum each week where she gets to play on these things indoors, never thought of it. But thanks to Grandmother’s forethought and initiative, this was remedied this past spring.

This box was delivered to my son’s house just before spring break when her parents would both be off from school. Rather than picking up my granddaughter for our usual Wednesday afternoon together at the Children’s Museum, I came over for the assembly process at my son’s house.

As we removed the pieces from the box, my granddaughter thought it was great fun to get in the middle of things, even though she had no clue as to what the final product would be. But this partially assembled slide seemed as good a place as any from which to watch the action unfold.

The first step was to assemble the cross bar from four separate pieces that had to be tightly screwed together. Interconnecting the first two, my son and I failed to notice that the bar had been engineered to have a top side and a bottom side. And wouldn’t you know, as luck would have it, the first two bars came together very tightly with one side up and one side down. This was due to my tendency not to read over the entire directions prior to assembly in spite of how instructions always say to do so (this was certainly not the first time I had had to dissemble something to reassemble if correctly). We labored over getting them separated for quite a while until my son came upon the idea of spraying some WD40 on them to get them separated. That worked well although our hands were slightly slippery after that.

From then on, we tried to pay close attention to the fine details in the directions where such helpful notes were highlighted. In a relatively short time, we had the frame assembled.

At this point, my granddaughter may have begun to recognize what her daddy and granddaddy were putting together with hammers, screwdrivers, and wrenches.

To confirm her suspicions, we attached a couple of swings and quickly my granddaughter was ready to have some fun.

After that, we couldn’t put the rest of the swing set together fast enough.

Once we had assembled the two different gliders, we had enough swings for the whole family to swing on.

All that remained was the slide and the see saw.

And before we could even attach the slide to the frame of the swing set, my granddaughter was already climbing the ladder to slide down.

Playing on a see saw is one of my granddaughter’s favorite activities at the Children’s Museum, the spot she usually goes first as soon as we arrive. So when she realized she was getting one of those too, she jumped down on the yellow seat before I could even attach the fulcrum to the side frame. Trying as hard as I might, I could not attach it with her sitting on it.  When we lifted her off, she sadly burst into tears. So we had to finish as fast as we could so she could get back to her fun.

It ended up taking us about six hours to complete the swing set, just about the time the online reviews indicated it would take to assemble it, that is once you subtract the time it took us to separate the first two pieces. Fully assembled, the swing set was larger than any our kids had growing up. But Grandmother had wisely chosen one that all three of our grandkids could play on together at the same time when they were in town.

Since installing the swing set, our granddaughter has had literally hours of pleasure swinging in her own backyard. Now when I bring her home from Parent’s Day Out, one of the first things she does is head to the back door to go out and swing.

Now she just has to wait for her two cousins to come to town so all three can play together. And when they do, my wife will have realized her dream of seeing all three of our grandkids having a great time swinging together. What fun we have to look forward to.

Thanks Mimi!