Monday, April 18, 2016

Sunshade to Shelf

All bus content today, covering a little experiment I've been working on over the last few months, around my various travels.

How it started
Last Spring/Summer, I stripped the interior of the bus, pulled the glass, etc for painting. The result was pretty fantastic, with a mellow gray interior and bright white upper 1/3 exterior. The main 2/3 lower body is still primer, but that's another story. Part of the tear-down for paint included removing the sun-shades from the front ceiling of the cab. As it was, they weren't stock bus visors; they were from a beetle. One of them was broken, half of the fasteners weren't stock... they simply looked junky. But they worked, mostly. With an intention to buy replacements, I junked them. I never bought the replacements, and then lost the few fasteners which were stock. So, I've been driving around without sun shade/visors. In the winter, when the sun hangs low, that's kind of a problem, but mostly, it created a much brighter view.

Basic Idea
view of top before shelf liner
I started shopping for visors. They are not inexpensive. While I was trolling the various sites (BusDepot, Cip1, etc), I would see these "parcel shelves" that were designed to fit under the dashboard around knee level. I've never traveled with a set of those, but it prompted thinking. First, I wondered if your legs ever bumped into them, and whether things would fall off them onto your feet. Neither thought was very appealing. They weren't inexpensive either. But, the idea of more storage in the cab was appealing. Looking at my cab, I had installed a double accessory plug near the right edge of the passenger (right) front ceiling. This was to power a Garmin and allow my passenger to charge her phone. I thought: could I put a shelf above the rear-view mirror?

Starting Simple
finished. view from bottom
The short answer is "yes, you can put a shelf above the rear-view mirror".
When I stripped out the interior, I decided to junk the old wood floor, and leaned it against my shop bench. I decided to use it to try to fabricate a shelf. It is 3/8" thick plywood. Working in an Agile manner, I tested the idea first with newspaper, cutting and taping a mock shelf until I had a rough shape for the front (nearest the windscreen). I transferred the line onto cardboard for a more firm example which I taped into place so I could observe it from lots of angles. This model included a cut-out for the rear view mirror mount so it could slide into place as a single piece. Last, I transferred the cardboard line to plywood and started cutting. With each iteration, from paper to cardboard to wood the front line shifted a little bit. i shaped the rear edge of the shelf to taper at the ends, running straight lines from the tapered end to about 3/8 of the way towards the middle. This left a section in the center that was straight across, parallel to the dashboard.

cutting and shaping
Once I had the shelf cut, I started thinking about how I could best mount this shelf to the bus, and concluded that re-using existing holes is better than drilling new ones, if possible. Similar to the evolution of the shelf, the mounts evolved as well. I started with 1x3" wood scrap. This proved to be too hard to work with, since the angles needed to be precise (where the bus angels aren't), and wood isn't flexible in such a small size, so the body roll during driving could cause problems. I resolved to using sheet metal cut with tin snips and then shaped to fit the lines of the bus. The result was a more forgiving mount that could leverage the original holes and fasteners.

Get Stiff
I wanted the front edge of the shelf to have a finished look, and for there to be a lip to prevent things from flopping off the shelf into either my or my passenger's face. I went looking for simple 1/4-round at the home supply store, but their offerings of millwork has really dropped off. I found 90* angle aluminum in 4' sections, though. After a quick cleaning of sticker residue with peanut butter, I cut the angle aluminum to length, drilled holes every 3 inches and bottom-mounted the lip to the shelf. This stiffened the shelf considerably, making the concept seem much more plausible.

Front or Back
Ignore the mess in the background :)
After I had the front lip, I test fit and confirmed my thinking that I needed something on the "back" of the shelf to stop things from falling out the back/front and either into the windshield or onto the dashboard. Staying with the make-it-cheap mantra, I pulled some roofing paper out of a supply heap, and cut 2 curved sections, one for each side of the rear view mirror. Using a staple gun, I attached these two sections. I added a third much shorter piece to go into the rear-view mirror cut-out. I test fit again. This time, no daylight appeared over or around the shelf. Sweet.

Before I mounted the finished work, I shot the topside with spray epoxy and applied a rubber shelf liner. Just one more level of protection against parcel shelf contents going flying. The install now was more involved. First, the mounts are installed to the bus body. Then, the shelf is lifted into place, leading with the front (windscreen) edge. I press the roofing paper against the bus body while rotating the shelf flat and aligning the mounts to the holes in the shelf. The mounts are bolted to the mounts from below, using washers both above and below the shelf. Just as I finished this initial install, I got a call that one of the kids needed to be picked up from a couple miles away. "Perfect test," I thought. "That run has lots of turns and speed bumps". So, I placed my cell phone on the shelf and did a 4 mile loop of kid collection, hitting turns and speed bumps with abandon. The phone didn't move.

The shelf is a complete success. Out of curiosity, I put an old car stereo on there, and it didn't waver. I still need to really stress test it, but for now, I'm going to drive around with my prototype. OVer time, I could improve the design with thicker mounts or something, but I think for now, in this form, I could install a small car stereo, like the one I put in Flash (See: Flash Gets Sounds) or some down-lighting for reading a map. As it is, Boo and I can put our phones up there when we're travelling and have them on the charger without wires hanging everywhere. Very nice.

Thanks for following along. Lots of personal stuff happening over the next couple of weeks, so you know what that means: few to no new posts, but lots of content getting created in the form of adventures.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

SF trip, part two

Continuing / completing the trip to SF and Dillon Beach saga, I'm picking up where part one left off.

Car Time
Boo and I had reservations for dinner with her aunt, uncle, cousin and a friend at Phil Lesh's restaurant/bar in San Rafael, Terrapin Crossroads. Boo and I wrapped our last day in the East Bay with coffee with my sister and then headed west, rolling "Stranglehold" as we hit the freeway. The run from Albany to San Rafael is a simple shot down I-580, across the Richmond San Rafael Bridge.... our first and apparently only opportunity to use that $70 FastPass. Lighted signs and painted words on the freeway raised expectations that there could be heavy traffic as we approached the bridge. We slowed as we rounded corner, only to find that there were 2 cars in the queue to pay cash to cross the bridge and all of the pre-pay lanes were either empty or had a single patron passing through. Note for other travelers: don't get the FastPass offering from the rental company unless you intend to cross multiple bridges every day. We expected the drive to take much longer. In fact, we probably could have played "Stranglehold" 3 times between the time we got onto and off of the freeway. Germane to nothing, "Stranglehold" may very well be the best road song ever. Just sayin.

Terrapin Crossroads
Terrapin Crossroads is right off the highway, up against the San Rafael Yacht Harbor. That sounds fancy, but it reminded me of the canal in North Portland called the Columbia Slough. While there is water, and docks to tie-up boats, either side of the water you see the backsides of industrial businesses. The venue has 2 distinct areas: the Grate Room for larger acts and the restaurant/bar for smaller ones. Our reservation was for dinner, but the Grate Room wasn't booked that night anyway. The bar was hosting a 2-man crew,Sean Leahy & Brian Rashap, for Happy Hour when we arrived. They were fantastic, and the bar patrons were letting them know it. It was only 4:30 in the afternoon, but seating was at a premium, so we wandered the place, looking at photos until we found a little 2-seat spot at the top of the stairs. The music mix was perfect, seats comfy, company delightful. We sat and enjoyed the 2-piece through their encore before heading back downstairs to meet Boo's family.

this is a farm. on the water. seriously
We were no sooner down in front of the hostess than we were back upstairs getting seated at a table. Terrapin Crossroads is a farm-to-table concept kitchen, so everything us uber-fresh. I definitely liked the idea of higher-level food with higher-level live music paired with it. We were far enough from the main act (Goodnight, Texas) that we could hear them, but could still talk to, as opposed to shout at, each other. The staff was great, even floating us desserts in recognition of my birthday. Honestly, we chose this trip so we could spend my birthday meal at Phil's place.

Dillon Beach
After we ate, the family wanted to shove off back to Dillon Beach. We bought a few remembrances at the exit counter and climbed back into the Chysler 200. After the urban hussel-bussel of the Bay, Marin County California is the polar opposite. The old US 101 leaves San Rafael and lights disappear. While the maps show what looks like urban areas of Novato and Petaluma there really isn't anything there except a couple of big box stores in Petaluma. Part way into Petaluma, we took a left onto Bodega and entered some of the darkest road I've driven. A couple of turns later, we were driving along the twisty-turny highway 1 heading into Dillon Beach.

Dillon Beach is pretty amazing. The views are spectacular, and the streets, beach and water are very sparsely populated. Looking out into the ocean, there is a spit of untouched land approaching from the south (pictured on the left, here). This is the northern tip of the Point Reyes National Seashore, a massive protected greenspace for birds and wildlife. There are hiking trails and multiple state parks contained within this large area. With a refuge so close, the native birds were plentiful. In contrast, there is a very old mobile home / trailer park located at the southernmost water's edge of Dillon Beach. This park is actively being torn down, but there were trailers in there dating back to the 1950's. For an old car hound, that was really cool.

Our time in Dillon Beach was a combination of family time with Boo's relatives and alone time walking on the beach. The family was very welcoming, making big meals and sharing lots of laughs. The beach was so quiet with a light breeze, easily avoided by simply sitting down on the sand. We didn't have much time though. It felt as though we had just arrived and we were packing up to drive back to Oakland airport, where this 2-part posting began.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

SF trip, part one

Today's post covers a quick trip Boo and I took to the SF Bay area to celebrate my birthday in February. I've made no secret of how much we like visiting SF. Now that my sister lives in the East Bay, visits become all the better... and less expensive. This got long, so I split it into two.

Oakland Airport
Terminal 1
It starts with flying in and out of Oakland Airport. While there are lots of airports which look worse, very few of those are in the US. Seriously, the Oakland Airport is hammered. As challenging as it is to navigate through, its lack of cleanliness really makes it a pit. All foot traffic is routed through narrow passageways from the gates down through baggage claim and then out onto 10 lanes of tarmac where various transportation options pass by. We found our way to the car rental shuttle which carries those intending to rent a car from the airport, past some warehouses and the Airplane Institute of Repair to a one-stop-shop for all rental car businesses working "the airport".

We didn't want to be a burden on friends and family, so we reserved a rental car from Thrifty. They weren't thrifty. Nor were they efficient. It was actually very similar to the old Seinfeld episode when he rented a car (

Because of the shuttle model, the customers arrive at the counter in waves. Where once there was no line, suddenly there are 10 people, and the only reason why the first person is first is because s/he simply ran faster. Animosity is created immediately. That first person in line is led through a long series of questions about their rental. Each time, the questions aren't really complete, so the customer needs to ask follow up questions. For example: do you want a FastPass? What's a FastPass? It allows you to get through the bridges faster. Do you want one? What does it cost? $14... This goes on for a while, as the rep slowly explains that some bridges are slower than others and some don't accept cash, etc. So, by the end of it all, you get this picture that the bridges around SF are a complete nightmare only held at bay by getting the FastPass. Do you want insurance? More cross talk about how your own insurance doesn't actually cover you in their rental car, etc. Do you want to pre-pay gas so you don't need to find a gas station before you return the car? That sounds lazy, but the rep explains that the gas prices around SF are very high and finding a gas station in the knotted mess of streets and highways takes a person far more brave than any of us. At about this time, one of the slower runners behind you in line starts yelling about how long it's taking. Perfect. We haven't even gone through the 15 questions on the ATM pad yet. Eventually, we are drifting away from the counter, perplexed and confused. Our $200 reservation had blossomed into a $600 car rental. At least we had a car....

not actual photo, but it was
this big and this empty
Behind the counters in the rental building are glass doors which lead to another counter in a hut adjacent to an empty parking lot. Leaning against the building are travelers, baggage propped around them. Their faces tell the tale: they have been waiting, and they are long past losing their patience. They are now resigned to their fate. Boo and I entered the hut and stood in the queue to learn that the empty lot was what they had for cars. We joined the weary travelers in the mid-day sun and watched the process: a car is returned and handed to a guy sitting under an awning. He quickly removes any trash from the inside, drives the car through the car wash and then over to the hut. After about 30 minutes of waiting, our name was called for a Chrysler 200.

SF, Albany and BART
Leveraging Google Maps, we easily navigated to my sister's place in Albany. Since she was also traveling, Boo and I had the afternoon to ourselves. We walked Solano Ave, checking out the stores and decompressing. We met my sister and grabbed boil-in-a-bag dinner from La Bedaine. The chef Alain, had catered the anniversary dinner a year ago, and we'd been spoiled for French food ever since. Amazing. Truly incredible food. We stayed up late drinking wine and laughing through old memories.

The following morning was our only full day in the Bay Area, so we hopped BART down to our usual haunt: Civic Center / UN Plaza. Or, the west entrance to the Tenderloin. In our case, it was really the east entrance to Little Saigon (what we'd been calling Thai Town). Following a trend of food, we hit Lers Ros Thai for lunch after a quick visit to some friends working at Adobe, south of Market. Lers Ros just seems to get better every time we go. So tasty. We walked off lunch with an uphill hike to Japan Town in a steady drizzle. After replenishing our incense supply at Kohshi, we headed back downhill towards the BART, stopping at Harry Harrington's Pub (corner of Turk & Larkin) for hapy hour. Drinks took us past rush hour, so we grabbed a somewhat empty train back to the East Bay. We arrived after my sister's favorite pizza place closed, so we got pies at her 2nd favorite place (the name of which I don't remember). The next morning, we hit The Sunny Side Cafe for brunch, effectively hitting every place we liked the last time we'd been in the Bay Area.

Next time, I'll cover our stop in San Rafael and Dillon Beach. Thanks for following along!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

New Shoes!

All bus content today. Hapy gets new shoes!

on the way home from
Black Sheep Family Reunion
If you've been reading this blog for a while, there are a couple of things that have probably popped out. First, I've been wanting to get bigger tires since I did the engine/tranny swap. Second, our cars appear to break down in bunches so we rely on the bus as a "life raft" when one of the regular use cars fails. Until last Summer, this had been a fine pattern: when emergency struck, I'd abandon whatever project I was working on and drove the bus while fixing whatever was wrong with whichever car was broken. Last Summer on our trip to Wheeler (see Santa Clara by way of Wheeler), we lost a tire. This forced a tire replacement decision. I chose not to decide, and to instead take my chances and drive the bus as little as possible.

Rubber Ages
The current set on the bus is over 10 years old, and they spent most of their life sitting still. The tread is awesome, but the rubber is starting to break down. This is normal. To the consumer, hearing a tire salesperson explain that "while the tread looks good, your tires are dangerous" rings hollow. Most folks have the same immediate reaction: you're just trying to sell me tires I don't need. I know I think it. In truth, the oxidation of the rubber does cause it to become less capable of holding air. Eventually they develop slow leaks. In some cases the sidewall can become unstable and rather than frustratingly running flat, it could blow out. Yikes.

Research Leads to Solutions
mid- paint job, winter 2014
Since I'd been wrestling with this problem for a while, I had lots of research to depend upon when I had to make decisions (see: Wheels, Studs, Chrome and Backspace). Decision time was now. With 2dot0 gone (see Oh SNAP), Boo and I had to re-possess her old Saturn named Dude from the person we had long-term-loaned the car to. I haven't blogged much about Dude, but that car has been the cause of a fair share of life-boat emergencies. With our stable reduced by one, I needed Hapy back road ready right away. So, I hit craigslist, hoping to find some old 15" Vanagon rims. Instead, I found a set of 16" x 7" wheels with some 50/50 rubber on them.

I ran the current size rim/tire combination (215/60R16) through my spreadsheet. According to my calculations, I had less than 8mm between the edge of the rear tire and the rear fender, but otherwise it easily fit: 14mm away from suspension, over 40mm between the edge of the tire and the front/rear fender edge of the front wheel. Comfortable that these would fit, I bought them.

new shoes, p-side
It turned out that the seller (name withheld to protect the innocent) knows my old friend Justin. The seller has a stable of Vanagons, including a mid-80' Subaru-powered Westy, a TDI-powered single-cab and a regular '87 7 passenger. I totally drooled over the Westy and the single-cab. The Westy is his wife's daily-driver (very impressive). I could have talked VW's and crawled over his Vanagons all evening, but the weather was for rot and he and his wife had dinner on the stove, so we traded cash for wheels and I hit the trailing edge of rush-hour traffic home.

Changing a tire isn't exactly hard. Block opposite side wheels. Crack lugs. Raise vehicle until rubber no longer touches the ground. If possible, put a jack stand under frame for extra safety. Remove lugs. Remove wheel. Install is reverse, with final torque performed when the tire is back on the ground, "jumping the center" as you go. Doing this 4 times can take some time and energy. I think it took me 2-1/2 hours to do all four. Along the way, I convinced myself that the rear end has too much float to it. I had to raise the rear end too high into the air, I almost ran out of threads on the BusDepot jack, and the tire still wasn't off the ground. I resorted to putting a small rolly jack under the lower shock mount to get the wheel up. I have to address this rear suspension.

new front rim
The wheels fit over the rear castle nuts and front grease caps. In fact, there is a hair of room to put little covers over them to clean up the look. The rims, though, only had one cover included, so I'll have to find some. The original lugs fit, though it was tight. I was able to get them on with the tips of my fingers, and had to use a 3/8" driver with a socket to set them. The old spare that was put on in Wheeler went back onto the nose, for now. I'll need to replace that soon too.

I haven't had a chance to take a test drive yet. I am mid-way through a few projects, but I may clear the bus of half completed work so I can take a spin tonight. The wheels look great, IMHO. K, my oldest, says it has a throw-back beach bum look. I'll take it. I'll be replacing these tires when the need arises, and then I expect to put on 215/70R16 for a slightly lower revs-per-mile than the current set.

Thanks, as always, for following along.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


A couple of weeks ago, I had the $500 Jetta suddenly stall in the driveway. Today's post covers the root cause investigation.

P0341: cam position sensor
P0422: o2 sensor
So, Boo is standing in the driveway next to her idling 2001 VW Jetta (named 2dot0) when it suddenly stopped running. There was no special noise, nor did it gasp on it's way down. It was just running one second and not running the next. My mind ran through a few scenarios, but I landed on electrical because of how quickly it shut off.

What You Should Do
Since a gas engine runs with the correct combination of fuel, air, compression and spark, These are the things that should be checked, and checked in that order, before you start swapping parts... even if you think you're sure you know what's wrong. If you have a more modern car, get a code reader and pull the codes from the computer. Sometimes, the computer won't give you a code for a while. I didn't get these codes here until after I'd figured out what was wrong through the steps below. The P0341 code confirmed my findings.

fuel pressure regulators
(new on right)
Simply put, verify that you have fuel at the injector. To radically simplify things, I verified that I had fuel at the fuel pressure regulator by removing the regulator and letting the fuel pump cycle. I had fuel bubbling over. Pulling an injector can be difficult, so for me, this demonstrated that I had fuel at the rail. The probability of all 4 injectors clogging so badly that the fuel wasn't making it to the chamber was so low, I ruled out fuel, but replaced the fuel pressure regulator anyway since the old one fell apart on extraction (see picture).

Check the air filter. It is completely clogged? It's probably not the issue. Check the "snow snorkel" that runs from the air box to the outside. Sometimes something can get jammed in there (like snow), preventing the engine from getting air. Remove some intake piping between the air box and the metal bits so you can see the little gate on the air intake. When the foot pedal is moved, does the flap move? You're probably getting air. This would be a good time to check the air sensor. This usually would throw a code, but to verify it isn't that sensor, unplug it and try to start the car. If it starts, that sensor is bad. The car will run without the sensor, but badly. Sometimes this sensor can prevent a start, but that wasn't the case with me. I ruled out air, and put everything back together again.

This is where I should have checked compression, but I was convinced it was an electrical thing, so I skipped ahead to Spark. Don't. Checking your compression is easy, and it reveals some very interesting info about your upper end, the mechanical timing and, possibly, a lower end issue.

2.0 ignition coil
Grab your compression tester (they are pretty cheap, if you don't have one) and test your cylinders one at a time. It's best to remove all four plugs, and test each cylinder multiple times. Take care how you manage your plugs and wires so you don't set yourself or your car on fire nor do you lose track of which wire goes where. Unplugging the coil is the simple solution. Anyway, if you get any reading under 100psi, try squirting a little oil into the cylinder and retest. If the reading is better, your rings are going and you'll need a bottom end rebuild soon. Start saving. If the reading doesn't change, its a valve-train issue. Assuming all of your reading are within 15% of each other and they are all above 100psi, move on to fuel.
Had I done this step before Spark, I would have found all 4 cylinders at 0 PSI, indicating a broken timing belt. This was verified by removing the timing belt cover and not seeing the belt. Yikes.

Remove the spark plug that's easiest to get to. In the 2.0 engine, that's #4. Take care how you remove the plug wire. Now, with a partner turning the key, hold the plug against the engine block (forming a ground) and watch for the spark. No spark? Could be your issue. I was way overdue for a tune up, and the plug socket fell off the plug wire when I touched it, so I concluded replacing plugs and wires was a good idea. 2dot0 still didn't start. I should already have checked compression, but still, I should have stopped here and gone back to it. I continued down the electrical gremlin path instead.
The new plugs and wires didn't do it. So, I got a new coil. And then a new battery. And finally a new crank position sensor. Still no start.

no, I'm not a Packer fan
It wasn't until I got to this point that I reverted to the compression tests and learned that I had just thrown over $100 of new parts plus a battery into a large boat anchor. The timing belt broke, throwing off the timing and causing the valves to hit the piston tops. The engine was effectively blown. Tiny fragments of valve and piston will work their way into the deeper recesses of the engine while the breaking belt could have damaged rollers or the coolant pump. I sold the car for scrap and its gone.

Watching 2dot0 get towed away, I ran a quick accounting. I bought the car for $500, and had it running for another $30. Since then, I only bought tires and oil, so that's probably another $600 or so. Rounding up, I was probably into that car for $1200 before it broke and then threw another $300 into it. That's $1500 for a car including maintenance for 18 months minus the salvage I was paid, means it cost me less than $70/mo. Since you can barely rent a car for a weekend at that rate, I think we did extremely well. I just wish I had performed the timing belt maintenance.

That's all for today. After 2dot0 broke, I served my penance for not doing the timing belt by riding mass transit for a few weeks. Today was my first day back driving to work. It is such a luxury, though I do kind of miss the light rail. Thanks for following along-

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Circus Circus, Tahoe and High Sierra Snow (part 3)

Continuing the travel saga from the last 2 posts. part 1 - flights & hotels. part 2 - Nevada. Now, for part 3, Colorado. I'll get to some bus/car content next time.

Welcome to Denver?
hotel room view
We arrived at Denver International on Sunday, about an hour before the Broncos hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in a divisional playoff match-up, while the Seattle Seahawks / Carolina Panther game was still being decided. We asked an information booth about mass transit (nope), and then called the hotel about a free shuttle (nada). Our options, according to the hotel, were to grab a cab or take a airporter shuttle van, either ran $50. We saw a shuttle at the curb, so we approached for a ride. The driver was overtly unpleasant and short-changed me $10 for the displeasure. The van already had 5 other people in it, so we got ourselves a tour of Denver on the way into the city center.

Bouncing along, I was keeping up to date on the Seattle game and shared the play-by-play as it appeared on my phone. The rude driver picked up on the conversation and put the game on the van radio. It turned out that everyone in the van was good with Seattle losing. Ha. This created conversation, though, and soon we learned that one of our fellow occupants had a ticket to the Denver/Pittsburgh game waiting for her. We tried to convince her to go, though I think she may have skipped it for needed rest.

All That's Missing Are the Tumbleweeds
Erbert & Gerbert's
We got checked in, dropped our stuff in the room and immediately set out in search of some city energy and some food. The streets were dead. Seriously, I could have laid down in the middle of a 3-lane one-way street for 15 minutes and not blocked a car. We walked around Lower Downtown (LoDo), past the 16th Street Mall, and around. The only other people we saw were 2 couples who appeared to be on their way to a rodeo, complete with pretty hats and their thumbs tucked behind their oversized belt buckles. Neat. Denver is clearly more "western" than the cities further west. We stopped in at Erbert & Gerbert's Sandwich Shop, and the locals behind the counter explained the empty streets: football. If you weren't at the playoff game, you were in front of a TV watching it. This sandwich shop, apparently, was one of the few places around downtown Denver that didn't have a TV, so it also didn't have any customers. Except us. We ordered 1 each of two different suggestions from the counter guys (Flash & Comet Candy). They were really good. On our walk back to the hotel, we started seeing more people. There were a few kids skating on a mall ice rink, and a few patrons of the 7-11 on the corner. Concluding it was half-time, we made our way back in time for the end of the game. T's friend R and his dad were in town after visiting UCD the day before, so we visited with them a little bit.

Colorado State University
CSU ceramics studio
We had allotted Monday, MLK Jr Day, to wander around Denver. After we got back to the hotel, T indicated that he'd seen enough to get a sense, between the long shuttle and couple of hours of walking. Instead, he wanted to see Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins. Recognizing the upside of not over-scheduling things, I rented a car for the next day on the spot. The drive between Denver and Fort Collins is a straight-arrow shot up I-25 for about an hour. CSU was mostly closed for the holiday, but we were able to get into the art building and poke around. The building was small, but the students seemed very invested. Even on their day off, they were milling around, drawing and hanging out. Based on the installations, the multiple kilns and posters, the community looked very vibrant. Similar to UNR, there was considerable construction going on, and we had a hard time figuring out what was where. That morning, we had left Denver in a bit of a rush, and failed to eat anything, so by 2:PM, we were starving and couldn't think about schools any more. We stumbled upon Aloha Coffee and Grill. Coming from the west coast, my expectations for Hawaiian are pretty high, and Aloha didn't quite make it. The coffee was good, though. T left CSU glad we visited, but not too interested: far from snow and travel, but looked like some great programs. The drive back to Denver was highlighted by the discovery of the funniest convenience store name we'd ever seen: the Loaf 'n' Jug.

University of Colorado, Denver
CO has Rockies, but is also flat
Tuesday was our last day of the trip, and it was time-crunched. We had a tour at 10, had to check out by noon and had a 4:PM flight home. That's tight. We readied for the day, packed up the room and hit the coffee shop in the lobby (learned from yesterday) for some breakfast. Walking to the campus was only a few minutes away, so we were early for the tour. Unlike UNR on Thursday, this tour group was bigger, and the campus was having its first day of classes after winter break. It was teaming with people. The guide pointed out that this first week everyone comes in to get schedules, ID's, etc, so it was unusually busy. UCD is a commuter school with limited on-campus housing options. Still, there are dorms, and for a location, it's prime. The Pepsi Center, Coors Field, Mile High Stadium and all of LoDo is right there. Unfortunately, the school shares a campus with 2 other educational institutions, and it hasn't any sports teams, reducing the sense of community. The mostly-commuter student make-up further erodes that sense. There are lots of internship and corporate-placement opportunities, though, so for the prospective student who wants a degree and then a direct path into corporate America, UCD is a great option.

CSU construction map
We detoured into Which Wich for a go sandwich on our way back to the hotel. They have an interesting model: your order slip is the paper bag in which your wich is placed and then given to you. Clever. And a pretty good wich too. We cleared out, checked out and walked across the street to the taxi stand where a line of cabs awaited. Now that the game was over and business had resumed, the streets were bumping again. Still, we had a quick and informative ride into the eastern plains where Denver International Airport awaited. Our cabbie had lived in Portland, so we talked about the marijuana legalization parallels and local music comparisons. T and I easily passed through ticketing, security and boarding. After 6 flights in as many days, we'd gotten pretty efficient at it. Boo met us at PDX, grinning at our huge smiles when we picked her out of the car queue.

We had a great trip. We saw 3 universities, visited with family and friends and tasted some snow. Most importantly, T had made his decision about which school was his first choice: UNR. He has learned since this trip that he was accepted, and so he is going through the process of determining costs so he can commit. Go T!

As always seems the case, there have been lots of things going on with cars, and such both before and after this trip, so I'll post on some of that here soon. As always, thanks for following along and Hapy Saint Patrick's Day!

CSU kiln and kiln construction materials

Friday, March 11, 2016

Circus Circus, Tahoe and High Sierra Snow (part 2)

Continuing the look back on a trip to the Nevada, California and Colorado with my 17year old, T. Last post covered flights and hotels (Part 1 here, Part 3 here). This one covers our time in Nevada.

UNR "Nevada"
Knowledge Center with robotic library
I mentioned that the reasons for our trip was to visit schools. UNR wasn't really on T's radar before I mentioned it. He had been looking for a fairly large school, for breadth of programs, but one that was near snow. There are a bunch of schools that meet that general description, but not too many which are easy to get to from the PacNW. UNR is located north of the casino district, isolated from the rest of the city of Reno by a 6-lane Interstate.

UNR Quad
We had arrived in Reno the night before and had only time for some breakfast before our campus tour. We got a little turned around on the way, but a friendly custodian walked us part of the way to the start of the tour. Like a typical tour, it started with forms and such, but soon we were being led about by a business major. Since we hadn't really seen the area at all, T and I were quite taken with the high desert and the dusting of snow on the surrounding hills, visible as we passed from building to building. There was a lot of construction going on. New dorms, a new physical fitness center and some thing else I can't remember were all in some mid-construction state. We saw the arts building, with the designated graffiti stairs and the knowledge center with the robotic book lending library contained within. We learned about the midnight pancakes, football tailgates and touring artists who visit. We left the tour impressed.

Port of Subs
UNR graffiti staircase
After walking around the UNR campus for a few hours, we got a little hungry. Upstairs from the new student office, we found a food court which had a Port of Subs in it. When I went to UNLV, I worked at a Port of Subs, and hadn't seen nor heard of one otherwise. I assumed it was a 2 or 3 store chain based in Las Vegas. Turns out, there are a lot more of them. The main sandwich menu is exactly the same, 25 years later. They still slice the meat on the big Hobart slicer as you order, and everything. Such a flashback. We ordered, watched and grubbed. Still as good as I remembered too.

UNR dorm
After eating, we figured we should "do the strip" or whatever it's called in Reno. So, we drove through town and hit Circus Circus. It was a Friday afternoon, so we thought the arcade would be bumping. We weren't quite right on that score. In fact, Circus Circus was kind of a bust. We headed towards mid-town, and found Recycled Records. Awesome record store. We pawed through old vinyl, cassettes and videotapes for a long time, but didn't buy anything. If T goes to UNR, we'll be back. We planned to hit snow the following day, so we hit Bobos (Bobos) for rental boards. The store was pretty chaotic, but the staff were very chill and they got us set up and out the door quickly.

Stocked with gear, we hit a Japanese restaurant (Sushi Lover) for dinner, breaking up a series of big meals with something lighter. We planned to taste some Tahoe snow the next day, so we wrapped our first full day in Reno with some Mighty Car Mods (these guys are awesome: MCM) back at the hotel.

Unreal Boreal
riding into the trees
During the UNR tour, we learned there is a ski club who arrange bus charters up to the various resorts. Very cool. We also learned that Boreal Ridge (winter site) offers $15 Fridays for college students. Since we hadn't decided where we were going to see snow, and it was Friday... so, Boeral Ridge seemed obvious. After watching a few episodes of MCM, we looked at the snow report. 16" of fresh powder. We were flippin' out, and got up way early to maximize our snow. The drive was straight out a well-plowed and prepared I-80. 40 minutes after pulling onto the freeway, we were pulling into the parking lot. The lot was pretty full, but parking, dressing and ticketing was fast and easy. We were on the lift before 10.
Most of the skiers and riders were sticking to Accelerator or the Beginner lifts, making those lines longer. T and I immediately rode over to 49er and spent most of the day there.

The runs were really fantastic. The 49er zone offers lots of off-piste tree runs, and with all the new powder, we were in it over our knees. The trails were groomed, but enough fresh snow had fallen that the trails weren't corduroy. T and I were bonkers for that deep fresh powder, but most of everyone else was just taking it in stride. Apparently getting 16" overnight isn't as big a deal in the Sierra Nevada mountains. So, while everyone else took turns in the Neff Land terrain park or rode the trails, T and I had the tree runs and deep powder to ourselves. Epic. Unreal Boreal.

view from UNR
We rode until our legs wobbled and then watched day turn to evening as they shut our 49er lift down. We grabbed a bite and then walked over to the Woodward indoor center. I'd never heard of Woodward, but the boys have. It is an indoor skate / trampoline spot that's probably over 100' x 100' square and 3 stories tall. There is a large wood ramp on the far side from the entry that provides a safe place to try 10' (probably more) jumps on a bike or skate with a cushioned landing knuckle or a foam pit to land on/in. Next to that is an indoor concrete skate park. Closer to the entrance are a series of trampolines where action sports enthusiasts can practice aerials with or without planks attached to their feet. As evening fell, the indoor arena got very busy. Meanwhile, a rail jam signup was queuing for Neff Land. We watched some of the start of the rail jam, but felt the pull to get back to the hotel. As we were rolling out, the night crowd was rolling in. It looked like a great night to play in the snow.

South Lake Tahoe
Adam plays
When we got back to the hotel, we were totally spent. Showers, more MCM and then bed. We had arranged to connect with T's cousin who lives in South Lake Tahoe (SLT) the following day, so an early to bed was all the more a good idea. T's cousin, Adam, has been living in SLT for a few years, and now runs a rental office there. He's a talented guitar player too, so part of our time with him was spent hearing what he's been working on. He's totally humble; he's really good.

The drive from Reno to SLT is one of the prettiest drives I can remember. Untouched high desert with view points and vistas around nearly every bend. We had to climb up and over a few passes through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and that created all the more beauty. There were few creatures out, though. The night before I had talked with a few travelers at the hotel bar, and they had commented on how they hadn't seen a deer in years. On the drive to SLT, we saw one. And a few birds. So, maybe its all about looking in the right direction. Finally, we tuned around a corner and got our first view of Lake Tahoe. In retrospect, we shouldn't have been as surprised at its size, but we were not at all expecting such a large expanse. So pretty, with snow right down to the water's edge. T took pictures as we drove, but none of them really captured the scope of the view. I'll add one here later.

We made our way through the business section of SLT, Nevada, and passed into SLT, California, noting the casinos built right on the state line. Adam lived a few minutes from there, on the CA side. Our visit wasn't long, but it was great to connect with him again. Neither T nor I had seen Adam in years, and hearing him play, and having him show us his SLT was really special.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we were up at 4:AM the next morning to check out of the hotel, return the rental car and get through security in time to make a 6:AM flight. T and I were both a little sad to leave that old hotel, and Reno. Neither one of us had expected the area to grab us the way it did. High desert is beautiful, and when the alpine feel of overnight snow dusting the hillsides is added in, it makes for a pretty special place. Next time, I'll post on our stop in Colorado.
Leaving Reno