“My” Chevelle and the Impala.

June 10, 2011 2 comments

1974 Chevelle. Ours was burgundy with a black top, but still had the sweet rally sport wheels.

Ah…my Chevelle.  Now, I say that it is mine, but it was supposed to be a family car.  But as far as I was concerned, when I turned 16, it was mine.  I went to a small Christian school, and so our parking lot wasn’t real big.  So, I quickly claimed “my spot” right across from my two friends’ spots.  I loved this car and would wash it and dream of ways to fix it up to make it better.

I do have to tell you that I did everything in my power to keep my older sister from driving it (sorry, sis!).  One of my best tricks was whenever I knew she was going to drive it, I would run out to “my” car and disconnect the main wire on the distributor cap.  This would keep the car from starting.  It would sound like it should start, but it never would.  She would get mad and take our 1975 Impala and I would then get to take the Chevelle.  This worked well until my father, who was a mechanic, figured out what I was doing.  Then I would be in big trouble if I tried that.

Now, the Impala looked horrible.  I actually got into my first accident in the Impala.  It wasn’t my fault, and didn’t do much serious damage, but it did make the ugly brown car even uglier with dents all along one side.  The top had the vinyl covering that was a faded off-white and was flaking off.  This didn’t help the look of the car either.  But, this car could fly.  I could burn out (spinning the tires) with just a little power braking, (sorry Dad, I used up your tires)  and this was always a hit with my friends.

1975 Impala…Our was ugly brown and didn’t look this nice.

The Impala was easily the faster car between it and the Chevelle, even though they had the same size engine.  (I attribute this to the transmission in the Impala that was geared better.)  So, my choice of cars to drive depended on what I wanted to do, look cool (Chevelle) or go fast (Impala).  When I did drive the Impala, I would usually amaze people with how fast this big old boat really was.

Since I loved driving fast, my parents would let me go to the local drag racing strip and race there on some Friday nights in the summer.  Now, my dilemma was…do I want to look cool or go fast.  Well, since it was racing, I went with the Impala.  I took a bit of a hit driving that ugly boat with all of the other cool cars there, but in the end, it was so worth it.

Now picture the other drivers, that come with their very cool looking Novas, Camaros, Mustangs, and other sweet looking muscle cars.  And I roll up in my poop brown, dented up Impala.  I know that I heard some snickers and saw some people point.  But, like I said, that car was fast.  After I ended up beating them in a race, they weren’t laughing anymore!  I even made it to the semifinals one time, but I lost because I went too fast!

It was also fun, because many of the guys that my dad worked with had really awesome drag racing cars, and they were all there.  So I was able to hang around with them and their cool cars.  That helped a bunch.  Plus they would give me good pointers on how to race faster.  My parents would come out and watch me race.  I know that my mom didn’t really like the racing all that much, but I knew that she was up in the stands yelling as loud as she could for me to win.

Eventually, after I graduated from college, my dad sold both the Impala (someone bought it to take the engine and put it in another car for racing!) and the Chevelle.  I was sorry that these two cars had to go away.  Not as sorry as when my dad “sold” our Chevy Biscayne, but that is another story for another day.

Can I parallel park? Bien sur!

June 8, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the most interesting things about driving in Paris is the parking.  It is hard to find places to park on the street.  You can usually find a parking garage, (“un parking” in French) but what fun is it to pay a bunch to park?  No, the challenge was to circle the block for an open spot. It is cheaper (or free) and you get to hone your parallel parking skills.

Now, here in the good old US of A, many spots are marked out for you.  Whether you have a big car or a small one, you get the same size spot.  Not so in Paris.  If you can fit your car in the spot, you can park there (one of the reasons that Smart cars are so popular…you can park them anywhere).  So, your parallel parking skills are really put to the test.  But on the flip side,  you can be aggressive in your parking.  What?  That doesn’t make sense!   Oh yes it does.  You can totally bump into the cars in front and in back of you.  So the spot only needs to be a few inches bigger than your car in order to fit into it. 

One time I had to take a friend to pay a bill at a hospital.  I saw a spot and told him I would wait for him there.  This was going to be tight, but I managed to park in a tiny spot, on a hill no less.  While I was sitting there playing games on my lame cell phone, I felt the whole car rocking and shaking.  I looked around to see what hit me when I realized that it was just a car parking behind me.  It felt like bumper cars, but that is just how they park!

Most Friday nights, my wife and I would drive in from the suburbs to our pastor’s apartment a few blocks from Trocadero for a Bible study.  This is when the fun would begin.  We drove two different station wagons while we were in France, first an Opel Brake and then a Volvo V40.  Both of them were small by American standards, but in Paris, they felt like trying to park a Humvee!   Our plan was to circle the block (or about four of them) and find a spot to park.  Then the fun ensued!

I would determine that our car would fit into the spot, then I would begin my 15 point parking process.  Now, if you have plenty of room, you can parallel park with a three point process (which would have been nice to be able to do on my driving test, but that is a completely different story).  But when you are trying to get in a spot with much less than a foot on either side, you can’t do it in a few moves.  In order to maximize every inch, it is acceptable to touch the bumpers on the cars on either side.  This allows you to get into much smaller spaces than you could ever imagine.  It is a fun challenge!

I came back with the ability to parallel park like a pro.  But, often I lament to Jen that I really miss my bumper car parallel parking.  But I try to be good and not touch anyone’s bumper.  Look at me, not being aggressive.  (If you haven’t read my blog about driving in Paris, check it out here.)

It is possible to be too aggressive.  Here is not how you park in Paris (at the end, listen to the people who are watching yell at the guy).

The “Pond”

June 7, 2011 Leave a comment

One summer when I was a kid, my brother and I decided that we needed a pond.  I really don’t know what made us decide that we needed a pond, but it seemed like a great idea when we came up with it.  Our house was right next door to a vacant lot that we had to take care of, so it seemed okay with us to dig ourselves a pond.

We got a couple of shovels, went out to the middle of the weeds and started digging.  Now, in my mind, I had the idea of a huge pond with lots of fish, frogs, and lily pads…and maybe even a fountain or waterfall.

A beautiful pond in Duinrell, Netherlands

What we were digging in was really just a vacant lot…lots of weeds and rocks.  But that didn’t deter us.  We were young and had nothing else to do. So we dug like mad men…for about 15 minutes or so.  We didn’t have a very big hole yet, but we decided that we needed fill the pond and see what would happen.  Now, summer in Eastern Washington where we lived was hot.  And the ground hadn’t seen any type of water for awhile.

Well, needless to say (wait…that phrase means I don’t have to say it, but that wouldn’t make for a very good story, so I will say it anyway), the water didn’t form any kind of a pond at all.  In fact it didn’t even puddle a small bit.  It just ran down into the ground.  Hmm…what to do now.  Oh, let’s just dig it a bit bigger and that will help.  So, we dug it a bit bigger and then tried some more water.  Same result…big surprise, right?

That evening my father saw the “pond” and wondered why we were digging holes.  We told him of our plan and I am pretty sure that he thought that we were crazy.  He told us to quit wasting water.  We needed some sort of a liner to keep the water in the pond.  Some plastic would work.

Holes is a great movie!

The next day we found enough plastic and lined our pond with it.  Now, keep in mind that we didn’t have one big sheet of plastic, but about 4 sheets that we had to overlap.  We used some big rocks to hold them down.  And then we filled up our pond.  YES!  Success!  There was water staying in the pond.  We left the hose running and went off to ride our bikes.  We came back a bit later expecting to see our pond full and maybe even a bit of wildlife in it.  (I have no idea where wild frogs and such would come from, but I hoped anyway).  Sadly, our pond was only about as full as when we had left it.  Go figure that our patchwork plastic didn’t hold water.

That was enough of a disappointment for us to give up on our pond idea.  We put the hose away and went back to riding our bikes.  In our mind, the failed attempt was over and we moved on.  But, my dad didn’t think our project was finished.  He sent us back out there with our shovels to fill the hole that we dug.  It was sad for me to have to give up on my dream of my very own pond, but deep down, I felt relieved that our failure would be covered up.

Someday I hope to live in a house with a nice yard that will include not only a pond but a waterfall as well.

Categories: About Me, Spokane Tags: , , ,

D-Day and Pointe du Hoc

June 6, 2011 Leave a comment

A roundabout near where we lived outside Paris. Flags pictured from left to right: France, Great Britain, USA, Canada.

I am writing this on June 6.  This is an important day in history.  Unfortunately, for many Americans, we have forgotten why this day is so important.  I wanted to spend a few moments talking about one important battle that happened on D-day in 1944.

When I lived in France, one of the highlights for me was when friends and family came to visit.  If they were staying long enough, my wife and I would try and take our guests to Normandy.  We would go to the wonderful little town of Bayeux, to the American Cemetery from WWII, and to Pointe du Hoc.

Now, I understand that many of you are not familiar with Pointe du Hoc, and that is okay.  I am going to give you a quick snapshot of why the battle that happened there is so incredible, but I won’t be able to give this story due justice.  There is so much to tell, that I can’t cover everything in this blog, but I will highlight some of the great points about this story.

Pointe du Hoc is a small point that overlooks both the Utah and Omaha beaches.  The Germans had captured many guns from the French including the six long range guns (155 mm) that were placed at Pointe du Hoc.  These guns had a range of up to 12 miles!  So from this overlooking point, the Germans could hit the incoming troops at both beaches.  In order for D-day to succeed, these guns had to be taken out.  The point has cliffs that are 100 feet tall and the Germans considered the cliffs to be unassailable.  So, their fortifications were all set up for forces coming from the land, not the sea.

Medium bombers of the Ninth Air Force striking Pointe du Hoc on June 4, 1944, the beginning of two days of intense bombardment and naval shelling leading up to the assault on D-Day. U.S. Air Force/National Archives, Washington, D.C.

The U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion was given the job of taking the point and destroying the guns so that the boats bringing the troops to the beaches would be safe from these long range guns. The Rangers had quite a time even getting to the point.  Their navigator mistakenly headed for a point (Pointe de la Percee) that was between their target and Omaha beach.  They were able to correct, but it cost them important time.  The boats that carried the Rangers had been refitted with extra protection.  But this caused the boats to take on water.  The Rangers were actually bailing water with their helmets to keep the boats afloat.  One of the boats sank and only eleven of the soldiers survived the two hours in the cold water.

One of the remaining bunkers at Point du Hoc

225 US Army Rangers landed and scaled the cliffs amid gunfire.    Because of the navigation error, the Rangers were late getting to the point.  They were supposed to hit a window of thirty minutes that had bombing raids on either side of it.  They missed the window and the Germans were actively defending the top of the cliffs.  Because of the firefight, the rangers were not able to signal their reinforcements that they had arrived.  So, the reinforcements went to their secondary target at Omaha beach. (An interesting side point that was crucial to the Allies taking Omaha beach was the arrival of the the redirected rangers on the west side of the battle allowed them to flank the Germans and they truly turned the tide in that battle. Omaha beach may not have been taken without these men coming in.)

Me poking my head out of a bunker at Pointe du Hoc

Despite all of these setbacks, the Rangers were able to fight their way to the gun placements, only to find that the guns had been moved farther inland.  Two separate groups of Rangers worked their way back to where the guns were removed to destroy the guns and extra ammunition that they found.  For two days, the Rangers held the point against the superior numbers of the German forces until reinforcements came.  Out of the 225 Rangers that attacked, only about 90  were able to still fight.

The land has been deeded to the United States in honor of the men who fought there and secured this important victory.  It has not been restored, and so you can see the deep craters (10 feet deep or more) and the remains of the gun placements and bunkers.  It is truly a moving site to visit and makes me so proud that the US Rangers fought so hard to secure this important victory in the war to liberate France and Europe.

There is much more about this battle to learn about, and I encourage you to do an internet search and see more about what happened in the pivotal battle.  Even better would be a visit to the Normandy region for yourself.  And if you are willing to pay for us, my wife and I will come along as your own personal tour guides (did I mention that she speaks fluent French?)!

The French are extremely grateful for what the Allied forces did for them.  Overlooking Paris, not far from where I worked, is an American cemetery.  It is mostly soldiers from WWI but there are 24 soldiers from WWII.  This cemetery is next to a place where French resistance fighters were shot by the Germans.  The street that runs in front of the cemetery is called Blvd Washington and on specific holidays, they fly the French and American flags.  Let us Americans never think that the French have forgotten our sacrifices for them.

The French and American flags fly proudly in Suresnes overlooking Paris.

The Hobbit becomes Eeyore

June 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Hobbit has claimed to be a “kid elephant” for about a year now.  Whenever you would talk to her, she would inevitably respond with, “call me Kid Elephant!”  Yes, it sounds like a cute thing for a three year old to say, but hear it twenty times in an hour, and it gets on your nerves just a bit.  She would instruct anyone that she came into contact with to call her Kid Elephant.”

Over the last few weeks, we have been reading the classic Winnie the Pooh stories.  Both Hobbit and Princess have enjoyed hearing the stories.  But they have had an unexpected effect.  A few days ago, the self proclaimed “kid elephant” has now decided that she is Eeyore.  She often will crawl around on all fours and tell everyone in the vicinity that she is now Eeyore. 

Today, I took Hobbit and Little Man to the mall to play on the toys.  There weren’t many kids there and Hobbit and Little Man were running around and having a great time.  Then Hobbit noticed another girl about her age.  They started playing together and I am guessing that Hobbit told her new playmate to call her Eeyore about 15 times in 3 minutes.  I don’t know what the girl thought about it but after only a few minutes her mom decided that it was time to leave. As new kids would show up to play, they were greeted with “I’m Eeyore, call me Eeyore!”  Most kids at the play area are just in their own world, and so most of them probably didn’t even realize what she was saying.  Which is a good thing.

Hobbit really commits to her characters.  She loved the story about Eeyore’s tail, so she borrowed her sister’s monkey tail from the dress up clothes bin and will wear it, and then lose it.  Then she will want help finding her tail, just like Winnie the Pooh did.  She will walk on all fours and will ask what kind of food that Eeyore likes.  I guess that she wants to make sure that she is eating authentic Eeyore food.

This girl is a ham and I am looking forward to seeing who or what she decides to be next.

Categories: The Fam Tags: , , ,

Drive defensively? No way!

June 2, 2011 2 comments

When I took drivers ed in 1985, one of the big things that they teach you is to drive defensively.  Now, for a teenage boy, this goes against your very nature.  I couldn’t wait to get my license so that I could drive our Chevelle, and drive it fast.  It is a wonder that I didn’t get into serious accidents or even get a ticket, but I didn’t.  Over the years, I have had to learn to slow down and look for all the bad drivers that tend to want to cut me off or run into me.  Driving defensively is a smart way to drive…in the USA.

But, in Paris?  No way.  You let your inner NASCAR driver out and go nuts! (Which is one of the reasons that Jen didn’t want to drive in France.)  If you wanted to get anywhere, you have to learn to drive super aggressively.  Case in point, I was the first youth pastor at our church that didn’t total a car while driving in France.  I will have to be honest, I absolutely loved driving this way.  You cut people off, honk your horn (a lot!), and look for the smallest opening to fly into.

One of my favorite things that I loved to do in Paris was drive through the Etoile. Everyone knows l’Arc de Triomphe.  The roundabout that encircles it is called l’Etoile.  Here, twelve (yes 12!) roads come into one giant circle…that has NO LANES!

A bit of crazy traffic in the Etoile.

When we first moved to Paris and drove around, we would often end up places where we weren’t quite sure how to get back to the western suburbs where we lived.  But, in Paris, finding the Etoile was easy.  I could find my way home from the Etoile, so for a long time, every time we went into Paris, we would drive through the Etoile.

Now, there are two basic rules to these big roundabouts.  Use your horn as much as you can and whoever is to your right has priority.  So, the people coming into these big roundabouts can cut you off and you can’t do anything but honk.  So, I loved entering the roundabouts…fly in and they have to avoid you.  But, the tricky thing is getting out of them.  Those darn drivers coming in have the right of way, so you have to figure out a way around them.  That is where you channel your inner Frogger and try not to die.  But, if you are aggressive enough, you won’t get stuck in the roundabout for too long.

Whenever we had friends come and visit us, I would try to drive through the Etoile with them right at the start of their visit.  Once they saw that we could survive that craziness, they relaxed on the rest of their trip.  The rest of the crazy driving that they saw didn’t seem to bother them as much.  They were often amazed that 1) I would be even willing to try and drive around in it, and 2) that I loved it so much.  Plus there was the added bonus of a bigger, more confusing roundabout just down from the Etoile that we would drive through and after going through the Etoile we would get to drive down the Champs Elysees.

One of the hardest things about moving back to the US was toning down my driving.  I once again had to go back to driving defensively.  Jen had to remind me often that I couldn’t use my horn so much.  I had to learn again how to not purposefully cut people off. And I also don’t have any big huge roundabouts to have fun in.

Categories: Driving, Paris Tags: , , , ,

Meet the Little Man

June 1, 2011 1 comment

Little man is all boy…which is a good thing seeing as he has to try and hold his own against his big sisters.  Jen and I chose a 50’s and 60’s classic car theme for his room.  I don’t know whether it was that, or just him being a boy, but he absolutely loves cars.  This boy wakes up talking about cars, plays with them all day, holds one or two while he is eating, and has to have them while he sleeps.  When we are out driving, he notices cars everywhere.

We have a 60’s era car that only comes out in the sun.  He got to ride in it and loved it.  When I went to put it back, he was crying that it was under the cover.  A few days later when we got it out again, he ran up to it and was rubbing it and lovingly saying “car” to it. 

He also enjoys all sorts of different balls.  He has a little basketball hoop in the living room and he loves making baskets.  Sometimes he even uses the basketball. He uses any ball he can find, and sometimes whatever ever else happens to be lying around.

Little man is a happy little guy and lots of fun to hang out with.  It is fun to watch him discover new things and how he gets excited about different things that he sees.  There wil be some great stories about him.

Categories: Meet the family Tags: , , ,