Thoughts while driving to Syracuse

By the time you read this, I’ll be on the road with a precious cargo – six of my best photographic artworks – for “Drop-Off Day” at the New York State Fair.  This seems to be part of an all-encompassing “drop-off-3-day-weekend” with my three entries for the Big E shipped yesterday, and my four (5) entries for Altamont being couriered to the Fairgrounds tomorrow.

So as I’m driving along the New York State Thruway with my entries… I’m thinking about things.  Again.  I do this a lot.  So bear with me on these things.

I’ve attended back-to-back funerals this week.  Last Wednesday was the services for my aunt Dolores.  It was a very dignified service and the staff at St. Thomas the Apostle did an excellent job.  If I could say one thing about the journeys of my life, it always seems that at some point in time I will find myself at St. Thomas the Apostle for baptisms, for weddings, and for funerals.  Such is the way of the world.

The next day, I attended a funeral service for one of my teachers at my high school, Ahmed Naqi.  This was my first experience attending a funeral at a mosque, and although I couldn’t understand any of the imam’s commands or prayers, I did understand the devotion and piety and spiritual strength of the attendees as they prayed for the soul of a good man.  The whole experience of two very emotional funerals left me, for lack of a better term, spiritually drained.

I’m 6,000 miles away from the big 100,000 mile marker for the Blackbird.  With that in mind, I’m looking at replacing anything and everything in terms of the car’s belts, fluids and the like.  If I can keep this car going for another 53,000 miles after that, I’ll have surpassed the mileage achieved by my first car, the 1991 Pontiac 6000.  It seems so long ago that I owned that “beater with a heater.”  Almost a lifetime and a half ago.

I’ve been enjoying the Sirius/XM satellite radio in my car, especially the old-time-radio dramas and comedies and westerns on the Sirius/XM Radio Classics.  If the schedule works out the way it should, I’ll enjoy episodes of Our Miss Brooks (Eve Arden in a hilarious sitcom about a high school teacher), the Phil Harris – Alice Faye Show (bandleader Phil Harris and his wife, movie bombshell Alice Faye, in their own domestic comedy), and a Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar marathon (Bob Bailey in the transcribed adventures of an insurance investigator with an action-packed expense account).  Good stuff.  Combine that with a Gunsmoke episode, a sci-fi story from X Minus One, and an experimental broadcast from the CBS Radio Workshop, and it’ll be a fun trip today.

I’ve been rebuilding my white tower computer system for the past week.  It’s involved reformatting my entire C: drive, upgrading to Windows 10, and reinstalling all my software.  Luckily I was fortunate to store my photos and writings and music and other materials on ancillary hard drives, so they weren’t lost in the crash.  It’s just been a pain in the tuchus to get everything reinstalled.  And when I figure that I’ve worked with personal computers going all the way back to the old TERAK standalone desktop computers at Hamilton College, going forward through a Packard Bell 386 laptop I purchased at Sears, and a few second-hand computers bought at various locations throughout the Capital District – none of which are around any more – if we were talking in the language of science fiction, I’m currently on the Tennant edition of my tower, having just regenerated from my Eccleston edition.  Please do not ask me to explain this, or I will club you upside the head with a sonic screwdriver.

There was a recent article in Forbes magazine about the National Basketball League of Canada, my winter employer.  It was a very positive and fair article about the league and its accomplishments.  And I should mention that the league’s Commissioner, David Magley, is a former member of the Albany Patroons.  I’m telling you, being a Patroon is a good thing for your future career.

If someone had said to me fifteen years ago that I would go from a Nikon CoolPix 800 camera to nearly a dozen digital and film cameras, I would have thought they nuts.   Just goes to show you what happens over time.  Then again, I wouldn’t have brought six artworks to Syracuse today had I known all this.

You know how some people can fall down the Wikipedia rabbit hole?  My rabbit hole is YouTube.  I start pulling videos for K-Chuck Radio and next thing I know, I’m watching a documentary on electronic tabletop football.  Yeah.

I’m driving by Hamilton College, my alma mater, right now.  Dear is thy homestead, glade and glen… okay, enough of that.  I realize that one of my pictures, The Walkway, is among the six that I’m bringing to Syracuse this year.  It’s also the first photo from dear old Ham Tech that I’ve ever entered into competition.

The Walkway
The Walkway. Rolleiflex Automat MX camera, Efke 100 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

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This photo was taken with my first “gifted camera,” a Rolleiflex Automat MX that was donated by my good friend Teri Conroy.  I’ll probably see Teri when she brings her Wunsapana Farm llamas to the Big E this year.  As for “gifted cameras,” I’ve received two more in the past year – a beautiful Leica M3 and a sturdy Argus C3, both rangefinders.  Next year, I believe that those cameras will produce images that will be competition-season worthy.

It’s a beautiful day today.  Beautiful days are good things.  They’re rare and precious, and they disappear before you’re finished enjoying them.

Time to keep driving.  I’m almost at Syracuse now.  Turning Stone Casino is just ahead.  No.  Not stopping.  At least not this time.  Maybe on the way home to give me a “driving break.”  That, and I have to decide if I really want to make a charitable donation to the Oneida Indian Nation or not.  Maybe I’ll just enjoy the wonderful world of Sav-On gasoline.

In about a week or so, the local Hess gasoline stations will convert to Speedway gas stations.  What does that mean?  Most likely… no more Hess toy trucks in our area.  Serious bummer.

For the first time in what feels like forever, I’ve actually skipped watching a Marvel movie on opening night.  Yep, I didn’t go out to watch the new Fantastic Four movie.  And that’s odd for me, because I love the Fantastic Four.  How times have changed.

All right, listen.  I’m going to keep driving.  But I want everybody to have a good day today, get some sunshine and enjoy the beautiful summer.

And wish me luck.  🙂

And safe travels. 😀

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iPod Classic: 2001-2013

I’m not happy with this news.  Apparently at the next public “puffs of smoke” that come out of the chimneys of St. Stephen of Jobs’ Basilica, one of Apple Computer’s most innovative products will no longer be manufactured.

I’m talking about the iPod Classic.

According to this Wired article, the iPod Classic is scheduled for retirement, while Apple will keep the iPod Touch as its primary portable music device.

And to that I say…

BOO.

True story.  My first mp3 player was called the RCA Lyra player, you pre-loaded your songs onto a CompactFlash card through a software portal called MusicMatch, you plugged the songs into your Lyra, you put on your earphones, and off you went.  I had that device for several years, it was a bare-bones device (I think it ran on AAA batteries if I remember correctly).

Then I upgraded to, at that time, the iPod 3G.  And yes, I enjoyed listening to hundreds of songs and whatnot.  Part of the time I listened to them through the car stereo in my old 1991 Pontiac 6000 car.  First, I connected the iPod to the car stereo through a cassette adapter.  Then, I upgraded to an FM tuner.

But the best part was when I swapped out the Delco factory radio for an Alpine aftermarket car stereo system.

Yep.  My old Pontiac 6000 had an Alpine deck in it.  Feel free to make comparisons to someone who attaches a PlayStation 3 to his Sony Trinitron.

But it allowed me something I never had before.  I could control my iPod through the car stereo headshell, and I could listen to everything – books on tape, OTR radio shows, podcasts, and tons o’ music – while the iPod quietly charged through my car battery.  I had the guys at the audio facility wire the component so that the iPod stayed safely in the glove box.  And when I upgraded the Alpine deck a few years later, the wires were still there to operate the iPod.

That setup lasted until 2010, when the Pontiac 6000 finally died.  And while the car I got to replace the Pontiac 6000, my 2005 Saturn Ion that I nicknamed “Cardachrome,” had a CD player built in, I didn’t feel comfortable replacing the stereo system in the car.  So the iPod stayed in my house.  Eventually the faceplate got scuffed and dinged; I eventually replaced the iPod faceplate with a plastic aftermarket mod, and I also swapped out the iPod’s old battery.

But by the time I acquired my current car, the iPod was just sitting in a drawer.  No need for it when I’ve got SiriusXM sattelite radio.  Right?

Still, at some point I need to pick up a new iPod Classic.  If for no other reason than to have a device with over 160G of memory available to it, with its tiny hard drive whirring to life just as it’s about to play a song for me.  Maybe I’ll dig out that old FM transmitter and see if it’s compatible with the new purchase, so that I have the best of three worlds – satellite radio, terrestrial radio, and K-Chuck Radio – all under my control.

I don’t know.

Blackbird, meet Canada. Canada, meet Blackbird.

I’ve had my 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS, nicknamed “The Blackbird,” for at least six months now.  And now comes its first true test.

Road trip to Canada.  Specifically, Saint John, New Brunswick, home of this week’s National Basketball League of Canada All-Star Classic.

Why am I here?  Trust me.  It’s an All-Star Game.  Actually, counting Continental Basketball Association games and the one Premier Basketball League All-Star Classic, this weekend will be my sixth All-Star Classic weekend.  As for the “Albany Patroons” factor – you know, keeping tabs on the former wearers of the gold and kelly green – the Central Division All-Stars will be coached by Micheal Ray Richardson, former player and coach of the Patroons.  And one of the all-stars on the Central Division team?  Marvin Phillips, who played for both the CBA and USBL Patroons during the 2006-07 seasons.

Plus, it’s an opportunity to take some pictures.  I’ve brought several of my cameras – the Nikon D700, the Nikon F100, the Kowa Super 66, the Sprocket Rocket and the Kodak Vest Pocket Autographic “Modern-Day Warrior” camera – for the trip.  I’m sure I can find a beach or some funky architecture in this town somewhere.  Chuck needs some Chuck time to take some photos, don’tcha know.

But you’re saying, “Chuck, you’ve been to Canada before.  You’ve watched minor league basketball before.  You’ve photographed before.  What’s the big deal this time?”

Well… this time I’m doing it while using the Blackbird as my travel device.

Hey look, it's a Canadian landmark, eh?

And in comparison between the Blackbird, my 1991 Pontiac 6000 (“The 6”) and my 2005 Saturn Ion (“Cardachrome”), I can say that there have been some noticeable differences.  Major noticeable differences.

For example…

Gas mileage: On its best day, I squeezed 20 mpg out of the 6.  Maybe 25 on average from Cardachrome.  Highway travel with the Blackbird – thirty-five miles per gallon. And it only took one and a half tanks of fuel to go from Albany to Saint John – in fact, I could have stretched the fuel to get to Bangor, but I decided to top off at a Citgo station in Waterville.  Holla!

Comfort: The 6 had no adjustable driver’s side seats.  Cardachrome had an adjustable seat, but there were times when I think it adjusted for itself.  But neither could top the super-comfy leather interiors provided by the Blackbird.  Mmm…

Radio: The Pontiac did have an aftermarket Alpine deck, which allowed me to integrate my iPod into the sound system.  The Saturn’s sound system was stock.  The Blackbird?  Clear XM satellite radio for the entire trip.  I listened to a full two-hour Superman serial on XM Radio Classics, caught the entire four-hour banter of Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio, and even tuned in for Jay Mohr on Fox Sports Radio.  Very few drop-offs, mostly in the Berkshires, but nothing that wasn’t too distracting.

Driving ease: No question.  Blackbird all the way.  The Saturn’s electrical problem made me lose confidence in the car, and the Pontiac’s power steering meant that it took a lot of power for the driver to turn the wheel from left to right.

Cupholders: Four beverage cup holders in the Blackbird.  I think there were two in Cardachrome, and “beverage holder” in the 6000 meant someone held your drinks while you drove.

I know that in the past, I’ve extolled the virtues of the Pontiac… and then after that, I thought the Saturn was the cream of the crop.  But with unvarnished and unpurchased testimony, let me state for the record…

I’m seriously digging the Blackbird.  And that’s more than I could have ever asked for in a car.

Almost makes me want to say, as I start the key in the ignition…

Chuck is happy.

A little extra

I incurred the debt on October, 2007.  The Pontiac 6000 needed major repairs at the time – by “major” I mean that the engine was leaking oil and there were cracks in the engine – and I didn’t have that kind of money in my joint checking account.

Those of you who have read my blog since its inception with the TU know that the Pontiac 6000 was my first solely-owned car, and I put a lot of time and expense and $$$ into making the “6” roadworthy and classy.  Well, as classy as a GM A-frame body that could have been mistaken for an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera or a Buick Century could be.  But, as you know, old cars can turn into financial money pits.

Well, I needed a car.  I couldn’t afford a new car – heck, I couldn’t afford a used car – and I wasn’t going to return to sharing whatever Nissan my 4’10” wife was driving.  Trust me.  You know that car at Ringling Bros. where 15 clowns come out of it?  That’s the kind of Nissan Altima Vicki loved to drive.

But I wasn’t giving up on my Pontiac 6000 without a fight.

So I did something that, in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have done.  But that was five years ago, and I was thinking more with my heart than with my brain.

I borrowed money against my 401(K) plan – just enough to pay for the car repairs, as well as a little extra just in case there were additional repairs that were necessary.  The car was fixed, and I got three more years of mobility out of it.

And of course, when you borrow money, you need to repay it.

So I repaid it.  Every pay period, I put in the amount – plus a little extra.  A few dollars extra here, a few dollars extra there.  A little extra.  If I owed $, I paid $$ and ¢.

The first thing you have to remember when paying a long-time bill; most of your payments are going to interest.  You think you’re paying things down, but in fact only a fraction of what you’re paying is going to your balance.

So you want to pay your loan of early.  It’s not easy.  It’s never easy.  If I had the money that day, I never would have taken out the loan.  I’m just thankful I had the ability to borrow that money.  But it needed to be returned.

I kept paying.  A little extra each time.  I paid through the credit crunch.  I paid through relocation and the divorce.  I paid even after the Pontiac 6000 drove its final miles.   I paid while I was zeroing out my Sears card and paying off my Chilly Day credit card.  A few dollars here, a few dollars there.

Last Friday, I confirmed with the company that administers my 401(K) account, that my loan was finally paid off.  Free and clear.  And five months ahead of the original amortization schedule.  Whatever total that is currently in my 401(K) is now earning interest towards my retirement, and eventually toward my daughter’s inheritance.

To say that I’m relieved that the loan is paid off is an understatement.

I have many goals in my life, a “life list” of whatever achievements I can attain within my lifespan.  But one of the most important goals is to make sure that on the day when God taps me on the shoulder and says, “Your ride’s here, Chuck,” I don’t want to leave any debts behind.  I don’t want my daughter Cassaundra going over my financials after I’ve passed away and watching her inheritance gobbled up by creditors and collection agencies and lienors, devouring up the money like Pac-Man devouring electronic dots.  And don’t give me that malarkey about the debt being eliminated when the borrower passes away.  That’s like saying, “Gee, I hope he drops dead, then the bill collectors will get screwed out of what they’re owed.

So now I have a few extra $$$ in my take-home pay.

You know what I’m going to do with that.  I’ve got three options.

I could:

(A) take a road trip to B&H Photo Video in New York City and go camera-shopping crazy;

(B) take my current car to the local custom body shop and give it the “Pimp My Ride” treatment;

(C) purchase a really, really big gumball machine and fill it from bottom to top with penny candy.  Sugar free candy, of course.  And then get a big, big bucket of pennies.

But in the end, you know I’m going to choose Option D.  You’ve read this blog long enough, you know I’m always going to choose Option D.

And Option D is to earmark that extra money that I’m now receiving in my paycheck, and use it to knock down the balances on my credit cards from the Rainy Day and Sunny Day Credit Card companies.

That’s important.  And I have to take care of this.

At least until my ride pulls up and says it’s time to go.

You want to sell a 1995 Pontiac Grand Am… all you need are unicorns and a tap-dancing messiah!

My bud Bailey Williams tweeted me this little gem.

According to complexrides.com, someone in Seattle wanted to sell a 1995 Pontiac Grand Am.  But if you’ve ever seen the bare-bones Craigslist format, you’re not likely to get that excited over the listings.  So what this enterprising young soul did was to take pictures of the Grand Am – and, using photo-editing software and some graphics programs, created a hokey-smokes advertisement for the car itself – complete with big bad unicorns, references to a tap-dancing Jesus Christ, and claims that anyone who buys this chick wagon will become an instant chick magnet.

Chicks, man…

So anyways…

Although the original Craigslist advertisement was flagged for removal, someone was fast enough to capture the graphic blandishment you see below.  So, if you’re willing to travel to Seattle to purchase a Kool-Aid blue 1995 Grand Am for $700 – complete with steering wheel, broken head gasket and an affinity to travel with Pegasus and dance with the Son of God… then this car is most definitely for you.

Originally hosted by complexrides.com, from seattle.craigslist.org.

If you’re having trouble reading some of the fine print – of course, that’s an issue when buying any car – I’ve re-typed some of it for you.

Never in your life has a car made you so appealing to the opposite sex. From its provocative curves to the paint job that says, “Screw you, I’m a car,” this 5-speed ’95 Pontiac emanates manilness from every loosely-coupled peice [sic] of sheet metal.

EVERY PREVIOUS OWNER HAS HAD A BEARD.

This was the car that broke Pontiac. When it came off the production line, each person in the company had a collective aneurysm from the visual masterpiece with which they had blessed humanity, and gave up entirely…

“I know what you’re asking yourself, “Am I man enough to handle a car this flawless?” The short answer is no. I tried to be. I grew my beard to unreasonable lengths, trimmed my fingernails with belt sander, ate nothing but lumber for 6 straight days and knocked a polar bear unconscious. The car chuckled at my failed attempt at manliness, and became so bloated with testosterone that it literally blew a head gasket. Oh, right, you’re definitely going to have to fix that.

DRIVING IT IS BETTER THAN YOUR LAST 4 ROMANTIC ENCOUNTERS … COMBINED.

Look at you. YOu don’t even know what to do with yourself right now. Well, take a deep, masculine breath, and pick up the phone. Once this car is taken, every woman on the planet will pile into it, and you’ll be SOL. Call Joe.

Wow.  A windshield wiper-fluid blue Grand Am.  Yeah… I think I’ll pass.

But if Joe had a 1991 Pontiac 6000… then I’d certainly call Joe for that. Because everyone knows that the Pontiac 6000 was the REAL babe magnet.

Yeah, these commercials will make you buy this car, won’t they?

We joke about these cars.  Oh, they were unsafe at any speed.  Oh, they were a deathtrap.  Oh, my cousin had one of those and they were embarrassed to drive it.

Well, someone must have bought these cars at some point in time – and I blame the commercials that were made for these cars.

I mean, look at these commercials.  They simply SCREAM “I’m a good car, you want to buy me right now.”

Such as … for example … the …

FORD PINTO

At one point in time, these cars were advertised as being under 2,000 pounds and under $2,000. I guess if they spent another $15 and reinforced the gas tank with a rubber outer liner, maybe – just maybe – the cars wouldn’t explode when they were rear-ended.

CHEVY VEGA

True story – this car might have been my first car. When I was in college, a local townie was trying to sell his Chevy Vega. The price was right, and I almost bought it – until I discovered that the car’s motor was missing. Although I understand that, with a Chevy Vega and its plastic motor, it probably melted the first time the car went over 45 miles per hour.

AMC PACER

Yeah, there’s a reason why American Motors Corporation fell apart. The car company that brought us the Hornet and the Matador and the Javelin – also brought us this piece of junk.

CHEVY CORVAIR

If you’re ever asked a trivia question about the car Ralph Nader said was “unsafe at any speed,” he was talking about this little runabout. Nothing like trying to make a sharp turn and suddenly your car’s riding on two side wheels like you’re auditioning for a Joie Chitwood stunt show.

FORD EDSEL

This thing had more chrome and sheet metal than most roadside diners. And believe it or not, the “Edsel” wasn’t just a car name – it was an entire car line, you could get an Edsel Citation or an Edsel Corsair, as well as an Edsel Bermuda wagon.

RENAULT MEDALLION

True story. My mother owned a Renault Medallion. I think that was the first car in which EVERY SINGLE PART BROKE DOWN at one time or another. That car was in the shop so many times, I could swear that it had its own dedicated repair bay.

PLYMOUTH VOLARE

Sing it with me. “Volare… oh no… ain’t buying it… oh no no no.”

And just because I saw this video clip today as I was writing this blog post…

And I thought it was the funniest tribute to a car I once owned and loved…

The Vocal Group Hall of Fame and an Ohio Pep Boys

It’s the autumn of 2008.  I’m on my way to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame induction ceremony and concerts, which were to be held over four consecutive days in Youngstown, Ohio.  My 1991 Pontiac 6000 – the car I hearted before I got my 2005 Saturn Ion) has been checked over and all is fine for the long road trip from Albany to Ohio.  I’m going to spend a few days along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, hobnobbing with doo-wop groups and vocal harmony groups and inductees and past inductees and photographing it all and having a great time.  That’s the most important thing.  Having a great time.  I’ve been part of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame since it opened way back in 1999, and I’ve made many friends in the music industry through contacts there.

Everything started out great.  I had lunches and dinners and get-togethers with people that I hadn’t seen in ages.  And at one point, I’m eating lunch at the hotel, and across the way was Gretchen Christopher.  Gretchen, along with Gary Troxel and Barbara Ellis, were the harmony trio known as the Fleetwoods.

We talked for a while – she told me stories of how the Fleetwoods recorded their biggest hits like “Come Softly To Me” and “Mr. Blue” and “Tragedy” and “Outside My Window,” and it was fantastic.  You don’t get a chance at this kind of oral history.  And I enjoyed every minute of it.

“Oh my,” she said, looking at her watch.  “I have to get to the Chevrolet Center for rehearsals.  When is the shuttle bus scheduled to arrive?”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll give you a lift in my car.”

“Thanks,” she smiled.  “I just need to get my gown for tonight, and I’ll meet you in the lobby in five minutes.”

See, one of the benefits of working with the Vocal Group Hall of Fame is that, when necessary, I’ve shuttled artists from the hotel to the performance venue and back.  Okay, you’re going to say I’m doing grunt work, but you know what – when else are you going to have the opportunity to chauffeur Mary Wilson (Supremes), Martha Reeves (Vandellas), Ross Barbour (Four Freshmen), Duke Fakir (Four Tops), Claudette Robinson (Miracles), Jon “Bowzer” Baumann from Sha Na Na, and members of the Clovers, the Manhattan Transfer and the Harptones?  Yeah, I did.  Not all in one car, the Pontiac wasn’t THAT big.

Back to my story.

Gretchen Christopher brings down this white chiffon evening gown, and I load it carefully into the back seat of the Pontiac.  Then we drive to the Chevrolet Center in Youngstown, Ohio, a few miles from our hotel.

Of course, I’m concentrating on driving, and I absent-mindedly turned on the car radio.  Now bear in mind, my Pontiac 6000 had an aftermarket Alpine car stereo deck, which meant that I could listen to music on my iPod (which was tethered in my glove box) and control the iPod with the car stereo deck.  I was listening to some oldies before I arrived at the Hall, and the next song on the playlist – curiously – was the Fleetwoods’ “Mr. Blue.”

I’ve often said that whenever I’m singing along with the radio, the only three appreciative audiences I have are the steering wheel, the shower head or the computer monitor.  And as I’m absent-mindedly singing along to one of the oldies on the radio – “I’m Mr. Blue… whoa-a-whoa, when you say you’re sorry…”

“That’s sweet.  You have a great singing voice, Chuck.”

I discovered I had a fourth appreciative audience member.  It was Gretchen Christopher of the Fleetwoods, whose #1 hit I was just singing in the car.  I turned about seven shades of crimson.  Oh my God, this is a professional singer whose career is based on these recordings, and here I am, some vocal hack who couldn’t cut it at a karaoke concert…

It didn’t matter.  I thanked Gretchen for the compliment, and inside I’m thinking oh my God, I never thought this would happen to me…

I dropped Gretchen Christopher off at the Chevrolet Center, and headed back to the hotel.  Oh my God, one of the Fleetwoods thought I had a great voice, oh my God, this is an amazing day –

Continue reading “The Vocal Group Hall of Fame and an Ohio Pep Boys”