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That first car

12 Apr

We reached a fun milestone at the Campbell house last night. I came home with a car for my sons. We staved off this decision for as long as we could for a combination of both money and principle but with Alex and Brian graduating this spring, and Brian staying local for college and living at home next year, it was time. Which of course, brought me around to thinking about first cars, my first car, other people’s first cars, etc. etc.

I think getting your first car must be a uniquely American rite of passage (and I’d love it if my pals in the UK could weigh in on the concept). And I think it’s probably a bigger deal for males than females, although I do know a lot of girls that love their cars and were so excited with their first cars. The timing of a first car is also an interesting thing – I do know many people that got their first cars on or around their 16th birthday – and it was truly a car for them. The really lucky ones (and some might say spoiled) got NEW cars for that occasion. Then, there were those of us that got cars at a later age. I got my first car the summer before my junior year in college. My sister got her first the fall of her junior year in college. My folks were of the opinion that high school kids didn’t need cars of their own, and the family ride was perfectly fine. Considering that my dad liked to have a fairly new car as the family car, and we liked a bit of luxury, though in a Midwestern, conservative vein (think Oldsmobile, versus Cadillac), I always had a nice car to take on dates. Whereas I think if the folks had gotten me a car of my own, it would have have been a smaller, not as nice car.

I’ve always been “a car guy” though – I love the damn things, much to the disdain of my finances. I’m sure my net worth would be a six-figure number higher if I’d driven tired rides to their graves versus buying or leasing new cars every 3 or 4 years through most of my adult life. But, I wouldn’t have had as much fun and at the end of the day, life is worth living. And since cars are a part of my life, it’s been a worthwhile and necessary expense. My first car therefore, was a great “car guy” car – high performance, super fun to drive, etc. A 1979 VW Scirocco.  (while the picture at left isn’t mine, mine looked exactly like this)  1974-volkswagen-scirocco--2_460x0wIt was just at 4 years old when we bought it, had about 60,000 miles on it, and ran like a rocket. In a day where 5.7 liter V8 engines in Corvettes and Camaros and Mustangs were smog-controlled back to about 165 HP, my little Scirocco cranked 115 hp from it’s 1.8 liter 4 cylinder in it.  And because the car weighed all of 1950 lbs, it’s power to weight ratio was better than that in a Firebird Trans Am. And that made it just as fast.  The best/funniest thing about it was my Dad – any time I pulled my car into the driveway behind his, it would be gone the next morning – he loved that little thing and it’s 5-speed manual transmission and thundering stereo. He would pull off the sunroof panel (remember those?), pop in a cassette of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, slap it into gear and blaze off, redlining the engine on every shift.

I remember the day we went to buy it like yesterday. My Dad had given me a car shopping budget and basically no parameters beyond mileage – not more than 70,000 miles, and not more than $4000. Beyond that, have fun. I knew about Sciroccos and VW Rabbit GTIs (not coincidentally my current car is a 2011 VW GTI), and so I looked at those as well as other sporty import cars and few others. I knew I wanted small and light, with great handling. I didn’t want a Camaro or Firebird, and Mustangs were just awful at that point. I found this at a dealer about 30 miles away. I came back, told my Dad about it, and the following Saturday, we went to look at it. He had done some research on it and had called the previous owner. It was a solid car. Unbeknownst to me, he had already called the dealer and negotiated a final price, so when we showed up, we went for a fast test drive, which my Dad drove of course, and when we came back, the salesman (and through a fit of “why is information like this still in my brain”, I still remember his name – Dennis Matney) was standing there with a file folder in hand. We hopped out and my Dad turned to me and said “So?” and I said to him “Umm, So?” and he said “Is this the car you want?” I smiled and said “Yup, that’s the car”. He turned to the salesman and said “Ok, let’s do this.” He pulled out his check book, wrote a check for $3600, and the salesman handed us the paperwork. We were done in less than 5 minutes. I was in heaven when he dropped that key into my hand!

As a dad, I’ve been looking forward to yesterday for forever. After looking for a bit and trying out a bunch of cars ranging from a very tired old Blazer all the way to a perfect condition 2000 Mercedes Benz CLK320 convertible (that would have been Robin’s and they would have gotten one of our current cars to drive), we settled on a Honda Civic – it was owned by a work colleague of a good friend. 2008 model year, only 40,000 miles. Looks and runs like a brand new car. And only $10,000. While at the top of the budget we set, considering its age and mileage, it is worth the investment.

We also were of the opinion that 16 year olds do not need cars – they can bum rides, take our cars, etc. And we’ve always had a fun ride in the house. To wit: Poor Joel, our oldest son, when he first got his license had to choose between a 2004 screaming yellow, 240 HP, rear drive, 6 speed manual, Mazda RX-8 sports car, or an electric red, convertible, every-option 2002 BMW 330 Ci. Poor kid. That said, Alex and Brian, as much as Joel IS a car guy and a driving addict, are not even licensed yet. At nearly 18 years old. It just hasn’t been something that’s been a priority for them, and well, if it’s not their priority, why should I push them? While I’ve saved a ton of money on car insurance, it’s now time to get licenses. So on Sunday when we called them after buying it and said “Guess what? We bought you a car!” we were met with, “Oh, Ok. Thanks. Umm. Yeah.” Not exactly the fist-pumping excitement I had hoped for. But, I got the reaction I wanted last evening when I brought the car home. Suddenly it became tangible – they have a car. And so, the excitement came through. While not fist pumps, I sure got high fives and hugs. I’m sure they’d have been more excited if they were licensed and could go motor off in it but, they are not. So the game plan is to have them drive nothing but their new Civic for the next few weeks, and then they will get their licenses in time for graduation. And then the true reality and freedom of the road will be upon them. God help me and them and my insurance rates!

As you were,

Stew

Here’s the ride:

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Chicken Fried Toes – aka “It’s the little things” … Summer Edition

23 May

When our oldest son, Joel, came home for winter break this year, he brought home something new he was into. Now, this isn’t exactly unusual behavior for college students – we all discover new things while away at college. In fact, my mom even said to me the day that they were dropping me at University of Iowa for my freshman year (and my Dad gave both her and I a look that was the embodiment of “eyeroll” and “facepalm” all in one): “It’s not for knowledge that you go to college, but the beer you drink while you’re here.” The point being not to encourage alcohol abuse but instead to embrace the concept that really what you do at college is grow up and create your own life shaped by your own experiences. Anyway, thankfully what he brought home needed neither medical treatment nor legal intervention: he had grown to like Country Music while away at school. Apparently the guys in the race shop at Illini Motorsports (the engineering-school Formula SAE racing team he is a part of) keep country music blaring on the shop tunebox, and well, he came to like it.

We were introduced to a variety of new artists and songs over Christmas Break, including the silly anthem of this past spring, Red Solo Cup. That said, one artist in particular really rang with Joel as he thought of me and that was the Zac Brown Band. Zac Brown’s music can be described as a little Lynyrd Skynyrd, a little Willie Nelson, a little Allman Brothers and some Bruce Springsteen rolled into one band that plays great, guitar-driven songs that are musically complex while at the same time being easy to play and sing if you’re a “cover guy” like me, and have really good, well-thought out lyrics. Joel picked out two tunes that he thought would particularly resonate with me – “Toes” and “Chicken Fried”. Toes is a song about being on an island vacation. My kids well know that there’s nothing that makes me happier than being on an island vacation, and this song describes it well. More below. And the other song that he picked out was “Chicken Fried” – a simple song that observes that the best things in life are the little things. As you well know, that’s something I always seek – enjoyment of the little things. We all get wrapped around the axles too much in our busy daily lives to remember that the things that are most rewarding are the little ones.  “Chicken Fried” is a celebration of that.
The chorus is:

You know I like my chicken fried
A cold beer on a Friday night
A pair of jeans that fit just right
And the radio up …

Well, I’ve seen the sunrise
See the love in my woman’s eyes
Feel the touch of a precious child
And know a mother’s love

Zac Brown goes on in this song to talk about how these values were just a product of how he was raised and grew up. “It’s funny how it’s the little things in life mean the most, not where you live, what you drive or the price tag on your clothes. There’s no dollar sign on peace of mind, this I’ve come to know.”

I want to believe that that’s a key way of how I live my life, and I know I’m not perfect in it, but I do think it’s true. Yes, we lead a very fortunate life, in a comfortable home in an affluent area of the Chicago suburbs. But our friends, and the things we do, are entirely focused on the little things – conversation over a shared home-cooked dinner. A beer on the back deck or front porch. A relaxing walk. A “dive bar”. Etc. Our closest friends are those that share the same values and feel the same way. What is more important is the time spent. Not where we went or what we own. Our dear friends that we met in Cancun and recently visited in Alabama are the embodiment of that.

Speaking of Cancun, Zac Brown’s other “it’s the little things” song also embodies the spirit of enjoying the little things – albeit on vacation in a warm, tropical place.

 

I’ve got my toes in the water,
Ass in the sand,
Not a worry in the world,
a cold beer in my hand,
Life is good today.
Life is good today.

 

 

That pretty much checks off what I love about escaping to anywhere warm and tropical. Now, what’s interesting is that there is a bit of a conflict there – in the first half of this post, I’m talking about the little things, not what you have or what you do but enjoying the little things in life, and now I’m talking about vacationing in Cancun, which, most would say, is a pretty luxurious thing to do. So, I guess I will cop to a little conflict there. That said, honestly, it is both a key to my sanity and a key to my happy marriage with my lovely wife, Robin.  We’ve managed to get away just us for a bit of time almost every year of our marriage. This year is no exception.  I do have to say that we do do these vacations on the cheap.  With all my business travel, we usually use mileage to get where we’re going, and the place we stay in Cancun is not a 5-star resort at all – more like a little 3 1/2 star, but more importantly, it does seem to embody my view of the little things being important.  Where we go is all about the people and all about the party.  The fact that we made a group of lifelong friends there shows that for us.

So, what’s the point? The point is, it’s summer, folks. And to me, summer is all about the little things. Putting up the hanging baskets and flowers on the patio and then sitting back and enjoying it. A quiet glass of wine or cold beer in the afternoon shade of my deck. A night grilling burgers with our friends. Outdoor eating. Long walks with the dog in the early morning or evening twilight. 4th of July, with little kids and sparklers. Washing the car in your bare feet and then standing back and admiring the shine. Loading up said shiny car with the family and driving to Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone. Sitting on my friend GASHM’s screened porch in the evening. Enjoying a summer thundershower. Late sunsets. Early sunrises.

These two songs mean a ton to me, and I have to thank my son Joel for two things: One, introducing them to me. And two, for showing that he knows and loves his old man enough to hear a couple of songs and know that they are in the music of his dad’s heart.

Go find some little things this weekend. It’s the official kickoff of summer.

As you were,

Stew

Triple D Road Trip and My Three Sons

19 Apr

Ostensibly, this post is NOT about the Triple D Road Trip – it’s about my sons.  The impetus, is of course, the Triple D road trip.  I have to count myself among a very tiny minority of exceptionally lucky people who have teenaged children that a) would want to go on a road trip at all (“17 hours in a compact car? Like, whatevurrrr …”); b) would want to go on said road trip with Dad, of all people; and c) would make the highlight of that trip two big museums, and the featured city of said road trip, Cleveland, OH.

Yet, I hit the lottery on all three.

As I’ve stated before, Spring Break is not anything special for us, between Robin working for an accounting firm, and now with Joel, the oldest, at school, not having even coordinated spring breaks.  So in years past, just to get the kids out of the house and away, we’ve packed up for Iowa and headed to my mom’s home, where the guys would hang out, be bored, play video games, occasionally go to the Y to burn off steam, and I’d eat and drink too much with my mom and our friends out there.  Therefore, this year, when the guys asked me, “so, when are we going to Iowa this year during spring break?” my answer was “well, actually, I was thinking we’d do something different.  Let’s Road Trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” (aka Rock Hall).   And that was met with “Hey, that sounds fun!”

On road trips, our guys are long accustomed to them – as I’ve said before, we’ve been a road tripping family since they were born, with 4+ annual trips to my mom’s in Iowa (5 hours) and multiple trips to Boston/Cape Cod, New York, Colorado, etc. – they feel like anything short of 3 hours there’s not even a reason to stop the car, and 5 hours is just a lob. So, a trip of this length wasn’t new territory for Alex and Brian.   And, I did make this Road Trip friendly for them as well – A&B, by the nature of being twins, have always been on the short end of the travel accommodations stick.  On trips where we’ve stayed in hotels, they’ve always had to share a bed – which as teen boys now, isn’t so fun for them.  They’ve always been the passengers, not the directors of the trip.  On this trip, I made it different.  For our hotel, we stayed in an extra-large suite at the Embassy Suites in Cleveland (overall hotel rating?  Meh.) – when we checked in, we got to the hotel, I said “you guys have the bedroom” – they pop open the door to the two queen beds and “Hey!  We’ve got our own beds!”   And they had an active hand in every decision on the way – from when we would stop for the bathroom, to buying road food (Jerky.  Road food of champions.), to destinations, the Triple D restaurants, etc.  And they were champs.  There were zero conflicts between us, between them, etc.  And other than “ugggh … I’m so full!” after yet another Triple D restaurant stop, no complaining either.

This trip really reminded me of this – I feel truly blessed with my sons – and this includes Joel, my oldest, of course.  Somehow, in the lottery of parenting, where nothing quite goes as planned, we are blessed with three sons who count long family dinners, sitting at the dining room table, time spent hanging out with mom and dad, time spent hanging out with mom and dad’s friends, and time spent with family in general, as among their favorite things.  I’d love to say it was all in our parenting style, but there’s got to be something more to it.  Clearly, all we did was raise them as our parents raised Robin and me, so maybe it’s that.  Maybe they are genetic anomalies that are born without the “whatevurrrr” gene.  Maybe it’s because that yes, while as their parents, we treat them as our children, we also recognize that they have a pretty much equal voice in our household and their votes do count.

I’d be remiss without spending a bit of time on them individually here.

Let’s start with Joel.  Since I’ve been writing a lot about A&B for the past few posts, Joel gets some “inches” here.  We’ve known since pretty shortly after he was born, that Joel was indeed a unique animal. He is scary intelligent, with an analytical brain and a memorization capability like none I’ve ever encountered.  The kid was making lists and organizing things since he was two.  As a little boy he was a HUGE NASCAR fan –  Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, the Labonte brothers, the Waltrip brothers, etc. – all his idols.  And so, he had a huge collection of the little 1/64th (“Matchbox” sized for those of us of a certain age) scale NASCAR toy cars and he’d have races on our dining room table with them.  He’d set them all up on the middle of the table like they were in the garages in the infield, literally grouping teams of them together (he knew all this info at like 3 years old, by the way), and then he’d have them qualify, methodically writing down the qualifying order, then he’d line them all up, and he’d have a race.  Somehow moving 30 or more cars around and around the table, and the best part was giving audible play by play as if he were the booth announcers.  I really am sorry I don’t have this on video.  As he got older, and got into sports, and video games and sports video games, he’s pursued the same thing in those areas – pressing the capabilities of those systems to create games, seasons, schedules, tournaments, etc.  He’s an engineering major at Illinois now – the car thing has carried over, he’s actively involved in building race cars at University of IL.   Joel was always our challenger – when you’re that smart, and that independent, it’s hard to grow up and still be a kid.  And well, it was hard for us as well – his senior year in HS was rough around the house – and well, we all didn’t get along.  He was pulling hard at the ropes and we were hanging on for dear life.  It was because we hadn’t come to terms with the fact that he really was already an adult. The best thing that happened in our relationship was him was him going off to school.  Now, he gets us, and we get him.  There’s still some battles of course, and normally it’s because, well, we’re still not quite ready to cut all the ropes yet.  That said, of my three kids, I worry about Joel the least.  He will make a great living, he will be a great husband to the lucky girl that gets him, and will be a great dad to his kids.

Alex has always been our complex one – he is also brilliantly smart, but instead of being analytic, he’s expressive.  Both he and his twin brother have embraced Rock music as much as their old man, and took several years of guitar lessons.  I’d love to see them pick it back up and continue with it – they were both becoming pretty accomplished players and they can still pick up the axes and jam with the old man.  Alex also has become a huge lover of film – and again, same with Brian.  I’m not sure if there’s a “who was first” thing there – but the way they analyze movies, film, etc. and by extension now, web video is amazing.  Lastly, Alex is positively hilarious – he never, EVER fails to make me laugh, and his humor is wacky, dry and amazing.  On our road trip, he was definitely the supplier of the wacky wit.  Alex also has a quiet intensity about him, he is amazingly handy, and has always been the “no problem” guy – you ask him to do something, it just happens.  Between his love of film and the internet, I’m thinking he will find his way into doing something in the internet content world – and in video.

 

We’ve always called Brian our “hippy dippy man”.  One of our favorite phrases has been to say to him,  “Dude, what color is the sun in your world.”  He looks at things from a different perspective.  He is the embodiment of “Hakuna Matata” – no worries in Swahili, always being relaxed and carefree.  Now, that has its ups and downs – school doesn’t come that easy for him, although he’s just as intelligent as his brothers – but hey, he’ll get to it.  But the thing with Brian is,  he is one of the most happy guys I’ve ever met.  Things just don’t seem to bother him – he finds the cool in everything and cool in the little things, he is relaxed and easy going, he has great friendships, he’s artistic and more.  He LOVES children and little kids – he’s really found a groove as a swim counselor at the camp where the boys work in the summers.  When we took a family vacation to Hawaii back several years ago, there was a guy working at our hotel that was the “beach concierge” – literally a hotel concierge, situated on the beach.  He could make you dinner reservations and also sign you up for the surfing classes, the snorkeling, etc.  He was the most easy-going chill guy ever, with huge local knowledge and was an instant friend to anyone he met.  We continually say that that would be the ideal situation for Brian – he makes friends instantaneously, he is extremely comfortable talking to anyone and he loves helping people.  And he’s mellow.  So, he could be that guy.

Anyway, in closing on this, we are just incredibly blessed with these three guys.   And the Triple D Rock Hall trip, and the trips that we take as a family, and just us guys (Indy 500 in just over a month – all four of us.  Look out.) and, most often, family dinners, continually prove that to me.

This ends the Triple D road trip saga.  Now I have to find something else to write about.

As you were,

Stew

A day nearly 19 years in the making

17 Jul

Today I did something I dreamed of shortly after my son Joel, who turns 19 in August, was born. As most of my close friends know, I’m a “car guy”. Love the things – the worst investment in the world, I know. But cars are one of the things in life that make me happy. Thankfully, I’m blessed with a wonderful wife, who, while not fanatical like me, does like a good set of wheels.

The other thing I like, which seems to go nicely with cars, is driving. And even more specifically, competition driving. As in “racing’. Now, I’m not one of those street racing jackasses who roam the expressways at night looking to throw down against others in performance cars, nor am I a drag racer. I love road racing – twisty, turny road course racing. With low budgets, and just production cars, you’re generally limited to a style called “autocross” – this is just you against the clock, one car on the track at a time, taking one lap at a time on a short course. Often they are cone courses set up on parking lots. Sometimes, they are on actual race tracks, and that is where it gets really fun.

Ok, so back up nearly 19 years. When we learned at his birth that Joel was a boy (yes, we went for the surprise!), the next day I was day dreaming about all the things we would do together – and a significant number of the dreams came around cars – going to the Indy 500 (we’ve gone together six times), going to the Chicago Auto show (many times), car shopping (all the time) and the big mac daddy – the day we would go do a track day or autocross together. That day was today.

Today’s race day was sanctioned by the Chicagoland VW Organization (aka “CVO”) – a club of auto enthusiasts dominated by drivers of the Volkswagen make. It was at Tire Rack’s testing road course in South Bend, IN. Tire Rack, if you don’t know them, is a great online retailer of tires. Highly recommend them. We’ve been driving past that facility for years, and every time, Joel and I have said to each other “we’ve gotta figure out a way to go drive on that course.” And we did.

We got up at the godawful hour of 4:20 AM – registration began at 7:30 AM and we would lose an hour driving there. We arrived about 7:45 AM just as registration was getting going. Got through a quick tech inspection (our car is box-stock, so no surprises there) and off we went. The road course at Tire Rack is interesting – it is a series of asphalt straightaways, turns and circles all linked together, so with cones, you can make an infiinte number track layouts. Here is a Google Maps look at where we were: Tire Rack. This particular course featured two passes around their high-speed circular skid pad, several turns, chicanes and slaloms and enough speed to make it very interesting.

We each got 12 runs on the day – our poor little VW GTI got one hell of a workout – 24 passes on that course today. I’d bet we took 5000 miles off the tires and at least that off the brakes! We each had five runs in the morning and 7 in the afternoon. First I drove, then Joel. Joel rode with me for my first 3 passes then went and got the camera, and after that first run, he says “Ok, let me tell you where you can be faster.” And it was at that moment, where my pride welled up, as did my eyes slightly and I realized just how much I had been looking forward to this day. With his coaching, I definitely found a lot more speed today. Awesome – the kid really has a talent for this.

When it was Joel’s turn though, suddenly he got very quiet and pensive, and I realized he was pretty nervous – I asked him “how’s your heart beating?” and he laughed and said “Fast!”. And with that, it was game on. He made a few rookie mistakes of course – overcooked a few corners, didn’t go as fast elsewhere as he could, but with each run, he tweaked, and thought, and focused and improved. And he LOVED it. And I LOVED that he loved it. I wasn’t surprised that he would, but nonetheless, I loved it.

At the end of the day, we are both bashed. It was HOT out there – upper 90s. And, well, this sport really takes it out of you – that heavy helmet is trying to pull your head off, and well, you’re seriously stressed in that car. But, what a satisfying day. And, he beat the old man. His best lap was 1.2 seconds quicker than mine – 66.8 seconds versus 68.0 for me. Boy did he lord that on me.

Every parent says at nearly every age (maybe not early teen years), that they wish they could just “freeze” their kids at a certain age – because they are just perfect. When they are babies and their personalities switch on. When they are 3 years old, still a baby, but being oh so grown up. When they are 8 years old and mom and dad are heroes. But as much as I’d love to “freeze” today, I don’t want to freeze Joel, nor do I want to freeze Alex and Brian. I want them to grow up to be the great men that I know they will be. And I know, as adult friends, we will have a LOT of fun. Just like today.

As you were,

Stew

And a few pics of us in action. I was number 355, and Joel was 35:

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