Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

Murray and Homer

I dusted off the seat and knocked the spider egg sacs out of the spokes. It was Ride Your Bike to Work Week, and I was going to join the fray.

My physical conditioning, it turns out, was not up to the task.

Later that day, after I leaned my bike against a tree to make the short walk to the office door, part of me hoped it would get stolen so I wouldn’t have to ride it again. The other part knows I can’t afford another bike, and on the outside chance I’ll want to ride it in another couple years or so, I might need it.

I’m starting to think the same about our our minivan.

A college graduation present from my wife back in 1993, the bike has served me well. I can’t remember doing anything to maintain it during the past 14 years, so I haven’t exactly returned the favor. I haven’t even taken the poor thing for a spin in the two years we’ve lived in Texas. It’s no surprise, either, that the 14-year-old tubes go too flat for riding within a few days.

Homer, on the other hand, a much younger vehicle, had to go to the shop this week. His check engine light was on and the codes that came up caused him to fail the environmental part of the inspection. I understand the motive behind such stringent vehicle emissions standards, but nearly $300 later, I’m not very happy about them.

This bill was for cleaning out a plugged exhaust manifold and inserting a stainless steel tube to prevent future buildup (“think of cholestorol on your artery walls,” the mechanic said). Could Honda’s experience making cars not have told them this part needed to be stainless steel before an Odyssey ever came off the line? Regardless, that should have been the end of it.

Most of you have visited my world enough to know that’s just folly.

But back to the bicycle. I just learned the day before that it was Ride Your Bike to Work Week. Apparently people across the bay from San Francisco flocked to the ferry on their bicycles, where usually a relative few straggled in via pedal power. Out there, where gas costs nearly double what it does everywhere else in the US, there’s more than just an environmentally friendly motive to utilize human-powered transport.

I wouldn’t feel safe riding all the way from home. It’s a 12-mile jaunt over four-lane roads, where the cars go zipping past and the rushed commuters aren’t paying much attention to anything but their clocks or their mobile phones. I considered driving to a point where it gets less busy (most folks are headed to Dallas proper, but not I) and leaving the car in a grocery store lot. However, after being reminded that I had to take Homer to the shop for, you guessed it, the check engine light shining brightly the morning after the aforementioned repair, I hatched a new plan: use the bike to ferry myself between the auto shop and work.

After giving the mechanic the van key, I wrangled my bike out of Homer’s cargo area. I whipped out my handheld pump and got to work bringing the old Murray back to life. Already pouring sweat after the front tire, I counted the 125 pumps before the pressure hit about 45 psi on the back. Sorry, no graphs.

I tried to ignore the cars zinging past me, and rode on the sidewalk when I could. I know that’s not allowed in some places, but since nobody I know has received a ticket for it, I figured it was a reasonable risk. I so enjoyed the ride that I barely considered the large, unnaturally heavy vehicles ready to crush me at any moment.

Flashbacks from childhood winter bike rides had me constantly checking to make sure my jeans didn’t get pulled in between the chain and the front sprocket.

Very unlike childhood, for at least 15 minutes after I sat back down at my cubicle, I spoke between labored breaths and wiped sweat off my brow. Those six weeks of diligent cardio exercise back in August and September clearly had worn off.

The mechanic told me that this second check engine light in as many days is related to the catalytic converter. He couldn’t be sure of the problem until he raised the van and checked it. My lamentations about having just had $300 of work done guilted him into not charging an hour labor to diagnose the exact cause.

Hey, whatever works.

Although my holistic side sees the importance of protecting the environment, I’m tempted to move to an outlying county that inspects for safety only and screw what comes out of your tailpipe.

Well, not your tailpipe. And not literally… nevermind.

Of course, then I’d just burn even more gasoline.

I pedaled back to the shop with my full laptop bag hanging off one shoulder, my video camera bag off the other, and my camera strapped around my neck (in anticipation of Ben’s tee ball practice later that afternoon). My butt protested with all the extra weight against the seat, so I stood as much as possible. That sent my camera swinging like a pendulum, threatening a severe case of Nikon kneecap.

Turns out Homer required a new catalytic converter. “I’m surprised it lasted 128,000 miles,” the mechanic said. “Usually they have to be replaced before that.”

How ridiculous of me to hope that it would be something wrong with the replacement engine, still barely within the 6-month, 6,000 mile warranty (I think). Remembering there is a mechanic in the family, and that we would be visiting him in about a week, I opted to take Homer out of my local mechanic’s care.

What was supposed to be a great investment, a venerable Honda Odyssey minivan, has turned out to be a money-sucking machine. Yes, the biggest single expense might have been my fault (running it with no oil is very difficult to blame on someone else), but now that it has a replacement engine, problems are cropping up in other areas. Even after I killed the original engine, I would have sung the Odyssey’s praises as the flagship of the “Honda certified pre-owned” vehicles.

I called a local auto parts store to get an idea on a price for a catalytic converter. “That won’t take a universal, so it will run you about $278.” I’ve since found them online for $158.

When I started writing, I just wanted to tell about the wind whipping through my hair and the geeky video I made while riding my bicycle. About how free I felt while moving myself along with power from my own body.

Instead, I’m ending this pissed at myself because I’m a tall, slender idiot with no physical conditioning who didn’t check his oil when he should have, and is finding out why foreign cars last so much longer than their American counterparts: their owners can afford to replace very expensive parts.

In contrast, I’m just struggling to keep my vaunted van from becoming a classic POS. I have to remind myself that I’ve never owned a car past the 135,000-mile mark, and that once we replace a few things, Homer probably will go another 100,000 without complaints.

Then the other major benefit of riding a bike hits me: I could buy and maintain a bicycle for each day of the week for what it’s costing to do the same for one vehicle.

14 Responses to Murray and Homer

  1. Umm…. you dropped Homer off at a garage, and then pumped up the tire yourself?
    Didn’t they have an air pump you could use???

    On Homer, we can’t tell what we’ll get when we buy a used car. Sometimes, we get a gem, sometimes a lemon. We take a shot, and hope for the best.

    Best of luck with Homer… hopefully, he won’t give you any more problems…

  2. I refuse to use this space to piss and moan about the last used car we bought. Which we sold over six months ago, yet are still paying for, and will for some time to come. (Ahh, technology!)

    Nikon kneecap made me groan a little.

    You remind me I have been intending to get back into the whole running thing in the mornings, but have managed to delay that journey of a thousand miles through sheer force of will and obstinacy. Well, my six-pack abs aren’t going to tighten themselves up…

  3. I rode my bike to work (only 4 miles each way) for about four years until they moved the office back downtown near corporate.

    It was the best and the worst. We had a super locker room with showers so I would get up, stretch, and head in to work and then take a shower.

    I was nearly hit numerous times, had someone hit me in the head (I wore a helmet) with a full can of Pepsi that knocked me off the bike.

    The ride home required me to pedal up a hill the last 3/4 mile that became known as the “widowmaker” by myself and my riding partner.

    I really, really miss it.

    Remember, what you are paying out for repairs is less than two payments on a new car.

  4. Dave… haven’t once been a bicycle fanatic myself, I know you can’t use one of those air pumps you use for cars. I split second on one of those pumps and your bike tire explodes to smithereens. (Speaking from experience). That’s bad when a good bicycle tire costs almost as much as one for a car.

  5. That post was all over the place. I edited it a little and added a connecting sentence here or there.

    We entertained local friends (and some visiting from Phoenix) last night, and I didn’t get to post this until midnight. For some reason, even though that isn’t very late for me, I was nodding off while trying to finalize this one.

    Dave – Yeah. Many times the air compressors used on cars are too much for bike tires. I guess Curt pointed that out. But, I didn’t even think of it. Doh! Plus, I had trekked about 50 yards back to where Homer was parked. I suspect the guy would have offered if he had known what I was doing.

    Simon – That car did give you some trouble. For the past 70,000 miles or so, Homer has been impeccable (besides when I screwed up). It had about 60,000 when we bought it.

    I originally had “threatening to whack my kneecap,” but then I remembered something I learned in a writing course: be specific (say, “Hershey’s kiss” instead of “a piece of chocolate”). So, the brand name went in, and just happened to make a nice double alliteration.

    Maybe we’ll both get back in shape. I know I’ll need to considering my big changes coming (more on that later).

    Blitz – Good for you, man! It’s stories like yours, however, that make me skittish. It’s telling that it was Pepsi that knocked you off the bike. I bet Diet Pepsi wouldn’t have done that.

    The painful part of the van repairs is that we still have a year and a half to pay on it. We financed it for 5 years starting in November 2003.

    Curt – That’s what I thought. Thanks for confirming.

  6. I went on a biking kick a couple years ago. I borrowed my friend’s bike that was collecting dust in his garage so I could see if I warrented a new bike of my own. I biked everywhere and loved it. Living withing a half mile of the Katy Trail was a wonderful boon. I had just convinced myself to buy a bike the next spring as I put it away for thw winter. Then spring came and I never touched the bike again. Somewhat, it had to do with a pregnant wife and baby prep…but really I just stopped getting up early to ride. I miss it.

    Zazu the Subaru is in the shop today for a check engine light as well. Made it to work late due to car/baby seat wrangling an dhav emy fingers crossed that it’s nothing significant.

    And you really should start biking again. It’ll certainly help your legs look better for when your wardrobe switches to skirts. Oh…am I giving too much away about your “big change”?

  7. Making a wardrobe switch to skirts? Don’t be too quick to mock that Moksha.

    Go ahead a read the description under the Leather Utilikilt.

  8. Si – I said nothing about kilts. Unless you are yourself admitting there is no difference between a kilt and a skirt. In which case I shall taunt you mercilessly for your kilt pictures. If not…then let’s keep our focus where it needs to be: a) on laughing as we imagine Mark in a skirt and possibly b) on convincing folks that Mark is planning a sex-change operation.

    As a side note, however, the utilikilts are awesome (if a bit expensive). I was digging the construction one (nothing like introducing kilts to an industry that frequently involves ladders)…but the caption for the leather is hilarious.

  9. Good post Mark. You do some of your best writing, tired. I’m jealous.

    I keep wanting to do the bike thing. That’s about as far as I get. I would have to get up a good half an hour earlier. And then there are rainy days. Helmet hair. Pot holes. Stop me.

  10. Moksha and Simon – Guys, shhhhh! Stop it. Just stop it. Can’t a boy have any fun?

    (the leather Utilikilt description cracked me up)

    La La – You’re mentioning yet more of my own frustrations about biking. The weather here is so unpredictable (until about mid-June, when it turns very predictable for about four months, all the while remaining too damn hot to ride a bike into work) that I’ve never seriously considered commuting that way.

  11. Moksha, I agree on the recommendation about focus. And that was a bit of a slip on my part regarding names. After all, the main reason kilts are called kilts is because, “They’re called that because I kilt the last man what called it a skirt!”

    And I know that still won’t stop you from taunting me about my kilt pictures. The Gren in you is far too irrepressible.

    Mark, yes a boy can have as much fun as he wants, but you have to keep in mind it frequently comes at the expense of the amusement of his mates.

  12. Simon – Ah, yet again, the effeminate lilt in my voice did not translate well to the typed word.

    I was trying (badly, I guess) to joke that you guys were letting out my secret and spoiling my fun.

  13. Mark, throw in a few occurrences of “th” in place of an “s”, and your effemininity (?) will come across loud and clear.

  14. And here I was thinking when I first started reading this that you biked all the way from your house to work. Oh, the disappointment…

    I’m taking my car in for some repair this week. Probably won’t be cheap.


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