Thursday, November 27, 2008

Head to the mountains

I'm having to put these posts in small sections as i want to put photos in amongst the text rather than just the top, and I have already lost hours of my life working out how to do it and failed. If anyone can help please let me know, and yes i have checked the FAQ's, but lets face when have they ever offered a real solution? Or those bits of advise that end with the question, 'Has this been helpful?' It never is.

Chloe was already impressed by a gentleman offering to buy Sandy off me at a gas station. I declined his offer, although chloe was rather annoyed that i didn't ask him how much he was prepared to pay. Valid point, but she's not for sale, although it would have been interesting to know.

So first stop on the way is Montezuma's castle. Its an indian settlement built from the side of cliff dating from the 13th century. Sort of like Petra in Jordan without the fancy decoration. It was amazing to see how these people lived and they must have been very afraid of something because they had to climb a step ladder to enter their home.

The most interesting thing about this visit was the fact that it rained. Chloe visited a similar site in Oaxaca in Mexico two years ago and it rained. It never rains in these places but it does when chloe or her mother is there. Clearly, the indian gods recognise some significance they have.

On to Sedona and an unsually plush hotel (for us, anyway) that felt a bit stuffy at first but a kiwi concierge called Ryan more than made up for this. I told him i was welsh so we immediately talked rugby. There was a free wine/beer thing going on at the reception at 7pm. We said we'd see him there.

I arrived there just as they were clearing up the wine. Chloe was still making use of the luxury toiletries. I turned to go back to our cabin/room when Ryan turned up in a golf buggy (hotel residents were ferried around in it). Ryan confirmed i'd missed the drinks, then as he approached further asked me if i drank red or white in a low voice. I said white. He then asked, sauvignon blanc, riesling or chardonnay. I said riesling. "Be over in a sec" he whispered. As i walked back to the cabin, a bit confused, i remembered that chloe liked chardonnay and that she wasn't drinking white due to a stomach complaint. Bugger. I ambled / loitered and Ryan came running after me and gave me a chilled bottle of riesling. Good sport. I realised that every kiwi i've met has been a good sport. A bit like Canadians. Must be something about being a country overshadowed by a more brash and powerful neighbour.

(Wow, by clicking on the image you can actually drag it down the page). Ok, so help no longer required, but i can assure i have spent hours trying to do this. This is a victory!

Back to the story...

The next day we headed for the canyon. We had the roof down, the sky was blue the air was crisp. This is exactly what i had intended Sandy for. We even manged to stop in a lay by so i could eat last nights cold pizza from a sedona restaurant. I was in heaven.

After a walk through a gorge, we headed on to the canyon along the 89A, an incredible winding road with stunning views. This is what Sandy was made for. After stopping in Flagstaff for fuel and to put the roof up (it started to rain again), we were soon on the plateau just south of the canyon.

Everything was going perfectly until i glanced in my wing mirror. A grey mist seemed to be following us. What is that? Is it smoke? Is someone burning grass? Is it coming from my car? Is it oil?! No, its just fuel burning. Applying my aviation knowledge i was certain it was unburnt fuel coming from the exhaust due to the engine running rich from the high altitude (we were 8000 ft amsl by now). Ok, its oil. I'll just carry on until the next garage.

Hang on the, the sun's come out again. Lets stop and put the roof down. As i get out i glance back at the car. Its like there is a bbq strapped underneath it. Smoke pouring out. I look underneath it and see fluid dripping on to the hot exhaust. Shit, is that fuel!? I tell chloe to get out of the car.

A quick inspection with my finger tells me its oil. I get up off the ground and look around. we are in the middle of a plain with no sign of civilisation as far as the eye can except for a corrugated iron farm house at the end of a 100m drive coming off the road. But as a truck had driven straight past us to the farmhouse, i supposed they weren't that interested in helping out some stranded tourists. "Lets carry on until the next garage" i suggest. I figure its a slow drip and the dipstick showed plenty of oil.

I drive 50 metres and hear a whining noise - its a transmission oil leak, ouch this is going to be expensive. This car can go no further. I turn around and stop at our previous spot. Chloe got out sat against a fence post and decided to sketch the scene taking place in front of her. In retrospect, this was probably the most sensible thing to do. Chloe, if you're reading this i'd like to see that sketch, did you finish it?

So what should i do? I get my mobile from my pocket. The benefit of breaking down in the middle of no where, fairly close to one of the wonders of the world in a country like america is that you have mobile phone coverage. However, I foolishly had no roadside assitance cover. I called my car insurance company. "Did i get roadside assitance with my policy?" NO.

I decided to call ahead to the motel at Grand Canyon Village to tell them we would be late and if they knew of a garage nearby that could pick us up. I'm given the number of a Malones Garage in Williams. Its in the opposite direction of where we want to go, but its something. A lady with a deep southern accent answers the phone.

"Yeah we can pick you up. Where are ya?"

"Um somewhere between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, about 30 miles south from the canyon, on route 180".

It was a guess but but we had passed a sign a few minutes before we stopped.

"OK, i'll send someone out to you."

It was about 4pm. It will be dark in an hour. We waited. In a way, we were thankful for the chance to take in the scene. When you're stranded in a place like this, the vast scale of it becomes even more impressive. I was imagining how the early white explorers would have been riding across here on horseback for the first time, perhaps a day away from the biggest surprise of all, the grand canyon.

After about half an hour later a tow truck coming towards us flashed its yellow lights then pulled up. A bearded chap in a baseball cap got out and started unravelling chains and went about putting Sandy on the truck. "Thanks for coming" I said. He smiled and asked me if i had the park brake on. After a tense couple of minutes watching our rescuer hook heavy chains underneath the car and winch it on to the truck, we hopped into the cabin and the three of us drove off.

The man also had a deep southern accent and spoke in a steady almost stunted fashion. Is this the local accent? Chloe noticed he was missing some fingers and scars on his temple. He was amiable, said most of his trips were to tow away vehicles whose drivers had been stopped for drink driving or who had crashed off the road because of drink.

(The view from the truck's cab looking back at Sandy)

When we got to malones, Sandy was put onto a ramp and raised up. Four mechanics looked at her like she was a strange wild animal that had been captured. Our driver offered us a cup of coffee from the garage shop, which doubled as a convenience store.

I loved Malones, it looked like nothing had changed there in years. We smoked cigarettes with our coffee outside, i don't normally smoke (in case you're reading this mum) but it seemed like the appropriate thing to do when hanging outside a garage straight out of Spielbergs road movie 'Duel'. As soon as i lit it i asked our driver if i should put it out as we were standing quite near to the gas pumps. "Don't worry about it, Gas ain't as flammable as people think". Fair enough.

Just then two girls came in to the shop. They were wearing cowboy boots and dresses and seemed in high spirits. They bought some cigarettes from the shop and then skipped over to a car parked at the side of the garage. Our driver started chucking to himself. "Those girls just spent a night in jail!" It turned out he had picked up their car the night before following a meeting with the local police. They had been arrested for DUI (Drunk Under the Influence).

At the same time the manager, the woman i had spoken to on the phone with the deep southern accent was prodding a long metal rod into the underground gas tanks. She was shouting over the owner that their end of week stock take was out and there seemed to be some gas missing. This was unlike any other garage we had been to.

At this point i was called over to my car by Randy, the chief mechanic. Randy confirmed that it was a transmission problem. The gearboxes oil pump had leaked. I wasn't really listening to everything Randy said because i was waiting for the punch line. He didn't give it, so i asked him,

"How much is this going to cost?"

Afterwards, chloe told me at that moment i had the look of a hunted man. It was going to cost me a almost a third of what i had paid for Sandy. Not only that, it was going to take a week to fix. And how are we going to get the Grand Canyon?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jumping Forward

OK, so i'm jumping forward here, past the trip to Vegas to pick up the car, to a trip i recently did with my girlfriend, chloe.

She was visiting from england so I wanted to show her the sites of Arizona. So that'll be Sedona, the Grand Canyon and my flying school at Goodyear.
And of course, this was Sandy's chance to really show off.

I picked chloe up from Skyharbour and apart from Sandy hard starting when we left the airport, chloe was very impressed (Sandy always does this, she starts fine from cold, fine from hot, but not so good from tempid - what can i say she's fickle. I've spoken to numerous petrol heads about this and they're stumped. She's a mystery.)

Anyway, after a day of leaving chloe by the pool to aclimatise and allow me to fly to Tucson and Yuma (part of my commercial pilots licence requirement, Btw, the FAA/CAA don't specify those partcular places, that would be weird; you just have to do a certain number of miles), we headed north to the mountains.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Let me introduce Sandy!

I found Sandy on E-Bay. I had been watching her progress a while. Except of course she wasn’t known to me as Sandy then. She was called 1985 Mercedes Benz 380 SL.

I’ve never bought anything from e-bay. Not even a cd, or a second hand camera. (Those are just things I think would be good to sell on ebay). Apart from her obvious good looks, I was drawn to what was written about her.

Doug from Viva Las Vegas autos! Inc. (the exclamation is part of the name) had really put in some work here. I didn’t know this but apparently Mercedes had fitted pretty much the same engine in this version of the SL since 1971. Until...they decided to make an historic change to the trusty V8 by adding…wait for it… a second Timing Chain. They went from one, to TWO timing chains. And guess when they did it. 1985!!!!! The same year that Michael J Fox starred in Back to the Future, which, lets face it, is a film branded on to the memory of any pre-pubescent boy of that time. Not only that. While celebrating their 2nd chain, the engineers in Stuttgart got drunk and started kicking round empty aluminium beer cans and one of them said “these cans are so light” and another said “wait a minute….lets make the bonnet out of aluminium!!!” All this happened in 1985. (Ok, I added the stuff about them getting drunk and kicking cans). But it really was a great job he'd done. He'd taken a picture from every conceivable angle.

So you see, although there were others to choose from on ebay, Sandy was the only one for me. Of course I tried to forget about her, but every time I turned on my laptop I couldn’t resist another peak. And if I didn’t have a peak, ebay would remind me that her plane was arriving soon and that someone else would be flying with her.

So with 2 hours to the auction ended, I called Doug, (he requested new bidders do this). I just said I’m in Arizona and will be bidding for the car. He said the top bidder was a guy from Guam and is really keen on her. In an attempt to compete with my opponent I told Doug I was from Britain. Ah, a worthy challenger. Turns out Doug’s son is currently in South Wales doing some missionary work for his church. Hah, I am Welsh. This guy from Guam hasn’t got a chance. I totally beat him on the distance from the vendor and who has the most in common with the vendor competitions. Doug, wishes me good luck and advises me not to leave my bid too late as the ebay server can be slow and to bid well. By that I think he means high.

I decide to bid with 20 mins to go. Some leave it later but I’m not risking an internet failure. The bid goes in. Instantly, Guam’s bid increases. This guys good, he’s put a higher bid ready to react to a lastminuter like me. What to do? I leave it 15 mins. The site seemed quick to register the last bid. Then, with 5 mins to go I raise my bid… no response from Guam. I refresh my screen to see for an update. No response from Guam! Where is he? He’s gone to the bar to celebrate prematurely, I refresh again, and again. Time up, its mine!!! I high five my flat mate, ebay are flashing messages at me saying CONGRATULATIONS, YOU’VE WON! The crowd are on their feet, the noise is deafening, this is a great day for Welsh ebaying!

I immediately think of the loser, the guy in Guam. He was probably working late in a remote part of the island. He would have got a text message telling him his bid has been beaten. He would rush to his car, only to be thwarted by Friday afternoon traffic and a winding coastal road.

If you’re the bidder from Guam, reading this, I can only say she has gone to a good home. I’m not sorry for what I did, but I did feel bad for about five minutes. The feelings of guilt were quickly replaced by feelings of sheer terror. What have I done!!??? I’ve bought a car for almost $10,000 that I have never seen before. Within half an hour Doug rang me to congratulate me and take a $1000 deposit from my credit card. The deal was done.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A New President

I congratulate America on her new President.

The cynics have been proven wrong and America has shown a side the world has missed for a long time. Bravo America!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Step away from the parking lot!

A ford dealer offered me a brand new mustang Bullitt, (a commemorative model after the film). Apparently ford had watched the filmed and took sound clippings of Steve McQueen’s mustang and have made a version that sounds just like the film version.

I was very tempted but knew I couldn’t afford it. I told the salesman that my nickname back home is The Bullitt. He didn’t ask why.

On my way home I drove past another car lot that had a second hand jeep wrangler convertible parked in the front. I’d watched enough American teen movies to pay attention, so I pulled in.

Again I was met very quickly by a salesman, Chris. A younger guy, wearing similar beige chinos, but this time a red polo shirt. We introduced ourselves and I told him I liked the jeep. Chris agreed and said “lets take a closer look”. It didn’t have back seats which I said could be a problem.

“ That’s no problem. I’ll take some from that other jeep over there”. Fair enough.

“Wanna take her for a drive?”

“Can I?”

“Sure, Give me your licence”

Chris took a copy of it and we were off. Chris really didn’t have a sales spiel. He just said that a friend of his had one of these when he was at high school and that they used to have a lot of fun in it. I wanted to ask him what kind of fun.

After test driving it i was directed towards Chris’s boss.

“Well hello sir! What do I need to do today to get your business today?”

I was kind of prepared for this level of directness. So I replied
“I won’t be buying anything today but I am looking for….” I was surprised by my own passive aggressivness. Turns out he had just received a second mustang convertible which chris had gone to get the keys for.

The Boss, who’s name I forget, noticed my accent.

“You’re British?”


“Well, you’re the only friends we’ve got. The French can fuck off, the Italians can go screw themselves and forget the Germans.”

OK….where is this going?

“…some people just don’t understand the situation we’re in.”

“Yeah” was about all I could say.

“We’ve just got to keep on going”

“The problem with that is that you’re going to create a whole generation of new terrorists who have known nothing other than this and hating America… and Britain.” It had to come out. I said with a smile. Again kind of passive aggressive

“Yeah, so you’ve just got to keep on killing them until there is none of them left!”

For a moment I thought he was joking. But he wasn’t smiling.

This is when I realised that I was dealing with a different level of reasoning.

There was silence.

“Has Chris got those keys” I asked.

Chris and i drove off in the car. But I knew i wouldn't be buying it anyway. Maybe i should have declined and left.

It turned out the car had been in a crash. Thats one thing i have to thank the boss for because he checked it out online.

This is all actually happened about two months ago. My blog is actually more of a review at the moment.

Since then, the car lot has gone out of business.

As i left, the boss pleaded with me to check with him before i bought anything. For some reason i intended to, but of course i never did.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Gotta Have a vehicle!

I have been considering buying a car for some time out here. There is a bus stop outside my appartment but i have never seen a bus stop there. I have seen the bus that does stop there but that was the only time (and i can't remember where i saw it). The flying school does provide us with three mpvs but that is between 30 people. Thanks to Gmail's Calendar feature, my course is the first in the school to successfully administer an effective car sharing system. Once again, if any airline HR are reading this, please take note.

However this does not allow for impulse trips to Taco Bell. So a car is needed.

Going to a secondhand car lot is a very good way to experience good old fashioned sales techiques. When i was an actor, and searching for good monologues, american salesman used to regularly appear in my choices. Mamet's film Glen Garry Glen Ross, Miller's Death of a Salesman, a sketch I stole from Raymond Carver. I suppose what attracted me was that they were generally well meaning people with dreams that were inevitably shattered and stooped low to get out of their mess. In a country that prides itself so much on enterprise and people achieving their dreams, the salesman holds an important place in American culture. They are respected here, unlike in Britain (having been a salesman myself, i can vouch for this).

So i was quite excited when i walked on to the first lot. Geoff (not the cowboy) saw me looking at some of the cars and within a minute of me setting foot on to the forecourt (as us Brits call it) he holdered over "How you doin sir?". I explained i am over from England and will be here for some months and am looking for a car. Geoff was in his thirties but his neat moustache, white polo shirt and grey chino trousers made him look older. Turns out he'd served in the army and was stationed in Germany. He showed me a few cars and eventually i said the words that had for some reason scared me.

"I want a convertible".

Geoff, looked slightly surprised. He assumed that as i was British I would want an economical car. This was probably because i had told Geoff that a gallon of fuel back home works out at $8, compared to $3.50 here, and i think he kind of still had that in his head when he was showing me the cars.

We happened to be standing by a convertible when i said this. Geoff took out a cigarette and said:

G: Do you mind if a I smoke?

Me: Go ahead

Geoff lights a cigarette in a snap movement from his zippo lighter. The convertible request seems to put him at ease. He knows where this guy is coming from now.

Me: What about this one?

A red Pontiac Firebird.

G: Thats a nice car. Pretty low mileage for its age. 5 liter engine, plenty of go, smooth ride, nice interior, and the great thing about buying from us is that we've got the lowest sales tax in the area. The boss struck a tough deal with the council, said if you wanna us to open up here, this is the tax we want. And he got it.

Geoff opens the driver's side door.

G: Hop in.

(Ok, i didn't record the conversation but that is pretty much what he said.)

Me: Its nice

G: You won't find better than this in your price range. I could get the paperwork together and you could drive it away today.

Whoah!! I explained to Geoff that i would need to get an arizona licence as that would mean my insurance would be much cheaper and that i wasn't ready yet to make a decision. He invited me inside to take down my details and said he could assist me in getting some good insurance rates. A company had quoted me $3000 to insure a mustang for 6 months. I told Geoff this, to which he replied:

"Wow... did you tell her to 'step away from the pipe'?"

It took a couple of seconds to work this out, until i realised he was referring to a crack pipe. We both laughed. Geoff took my details and i left.

I was quite relieved to leave. I started to feel that Geoff really wanted that sale. In sales there is a phrase called "KISS IT". Which means you've got to lightly touch the buyer with some kind of key selling feature. Geoff was using a bit a sledge hammer in my opinion but, but hey maybe it works for him.

On to my next parking lot...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Geoff and his horses were waiting for us. He asked me if i'd ridden before. I did what i always do in these situations, which is say yes, then back track and say something like they weren't real horses or that they didn't really move that much. Charlie, being from South East London, had never ridden a horse in his life and Nan, had ridden before but warned Geoff that she always got the problem horse, which kind of meant Geoff wasn't about to give her that kind of horse.

Geoff knodded to his buddy and said "put him on Jaynee" (at least thats what i called her). So having been intoxicated by the wiff of the wild west and believing i was now a cowboy, i prepared myself to take on the mustang of the troop. In reality, these horses were very happy with their lot and weren't intending to break out anywhere fast. Geoff said we would take it easy as he'd been up all night drinking beer and playing cards. Of course he had, he's a cowboy. This was just what i was looking for.

He took us on what seemed like a small path through a forest, but was infact an old route used by early settlers. They were also remnants of a railway track used for mining the area. You wouldn't have known it unless he'd said. Not really sure what they were mining. Geoff was up ahead on his stallion and i don't thing he really liked repeating things. So you generally nodded in appreciation.I liked Geoff. He seemed a to travel around a lot following what he loved doing,working with horses. Wether it was lasooing cattle down and herding them, training horses or taking tourists on treks. He said his friends had settled down and took proper jobs but that "never appealed" to him.

I've been listening to Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. A lot of the songs seem to be about well meaning feckless men who work hard but blow their paycheck in the bar or on wild adventures, but always have a strong woman to stand by them. I suppose cowboys don't really grow up. I wasn't bothered about them when i was a kid (unless you include The Lone Ranger, but he was more Knight Rider on a horse than a real cowboy). But as a man the cowboy represents so much more. The freedom, the wilderness, the wanted man, the hell raiser, the loner.

Ah well, as Willie said "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys!"