Bent Tie-Rod Challenge ’14

Tie-rod, oh tie-rod!

Tie-rod, oh tie-rod!

Yes, daily commuters, it’s pothole dodging time once again!

As Winter haltingly relinquishes its grip to warming temps and the inevitable thaw, a challenge is presented to drivers across the America’s Snow Belt.  With Spring sitting teasingly just beyond the calendar’s horizon, snow and ice give way to blacktop that hasn’t been seen for months, trapped this Winter under layers of an  impenetrable permafrost.

The big melt reveals roadways that in spots are in a state of severe deterioration.  Craters the size of Baltic countries, fissures capable of swallowing a Prius whole, and teeth rattling jolts from “puddles” hiding deep water glacier lakes!

Maybe owning this would help

Maybe owning one of these would help
(From the movie “Armageddon”)

Terror, Thy name is Thaw!

This year I dub this the Bent Tie-Rod Challenge in memory of the one destroyed just a week ago when I set out to forage for family sustinence at local pizza establishment.  The jaw-jarring impact was exceeded only by the jaw-dropping cost of repair.

The mechanics of pothole creation are fascinating.

OK … Maybe that’s a stretch.  But it might be useful to keep in mind that it ain’t the snow that’s the enemy in this game of suspension system roulette.  It’s water and the freezing, thawing, freezing, thawing cycle.  Exciting, I know …

Anyways … The purpose of this post is to give you a few coping mechanisms in the form of games you can play as your car does The Dance of a Thousand Pep Boys.  Your fingers clenched white-tight on the steering wheel; one eye searching the roadway frantically for tell-tale signs, the other watching the vehicle ahead for warning swerves and teeth-rattling bounces.

Although these ideas cannot be guaranteed to reduce your stress level, they will give you something really stupid to think about as you sit panting from exertion at the next red light.

Enjoy!

Olympic Pothole Freestyle - This is an timely salute to the daring do of the downhill skier and snowboard half-tubers.  Visualize a treacherous downhill ski slope, full of hazards, danger, and emergency room visits.  Your car is the downhill skier/boarder swooping gracefully between the gates and around the deadly edges of certain disaster.  But instead of being happy to simply arrive at work with all your fillings intact, get graded on Skillfulness, Graceful Lines, and Number of Four-Letter Utterances (excluding those uttered in the Idiot Driver category).  Just remember the Swiss judge can be brutal!

Picture potholes instead of asteroids

Picture potholes instead of asteroids

Pothole Asteroids - Take this favorite arcade game from the 1980s and make it a part of your morning commute.  Establish a point system that recognizes the potential cumulative damage to your undercarraige and commuter sanity relative to the size of the divot, pothole, or moon crater you impact.  Lowering scores are the objective.  Half all points for commutes taken before sunrise and after sunset.  For an added touch of Asteroid realism affix a weapons-grade laser to the front of your vehicle.  It won’t improve the pothole situation, but you can use it on the idiot in front of you. (unless you prefer to let him continue to clear the minefield ahead of you.)

Name that Crevasse!  This is a season-long challenge to name those memorable road bunkers you see every single day for weeks and weeks and weeks.  It requires a slower approach to your commute which also allow you to appreciate the grandeur and majesty of Mother Nature’s work in asphalt.  Look for those holes with iconic features and familiar looking profiles.

Last year's winner "Barringer"

A hole called “Barringer Crater”

Suggested themes: Countries and Islands,  National Parks and Monuments, Famous Profiles in Politics and Entertainment (Streisand, LBJ, Washington, Durocher, Durante, Hitchcock), States of the Union.  Note the location of each road canyon you affectionately name, then swap and collect locales with your friends.  For added fun try Bosses I Have Worked For, just make sure you have enough in the bank account to correct damages from the irresistible temptation to hit those road cavities on purpose!

Are you meat or a space commander?

Are you meat or space commander?

Lunar Lander -  This challenge would be the toughest of all!  Another variation on a beloved arcade game where you landed a Lunar Landing Module on the surface of a planet crowded with towering mountains and tiny plateaus with a very, very limited supply of fuel.  Unfortunately in this challenge, consistent with a space vehicle that was paper-thin in many areas to keep weight to a minimum, any contact with a pothole means “death” and loss of the challenge (Houston, we have a problem!).  Complete said challenge at night, and achieve Lunar Mission Commander status! (Tranquility Base here, the Eagles has landed!).

Now get out there and make that chariot of yours dance!

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Let’s get back to Weather sanity!

Coal-Fired-Power-PlantThat’s it!  I have reached my wits end.  It is time to take action.

Obviously, Global Warming has blown a tire these last two Winters, so I have decided it’s time to reverse this silly climate change process.

But don’t worry, my little snow bunnies, I’m onto the solution!

To wit, I am requesting bids to build a coal-fired electrical plant in my back yard.  Said plant must be designed to raise the temps in my little swath of Snow-ylvania by at least an average of 10 degrees.

607271-cowIn addition, the facility must accommodate a herd of cattle (allegedly REAL co-culprits in Global Warming/cooling/changing due to their … uh … cow pies) as an extra measure of potential temp increase.

Finally, the coal-cow facility must also accommodate a fertilizer plant capable of producing massive amounts of nitrous oxide which can be released untreated into the atmosphere.

In ten years my Pennsylvania neighbors will be happily donning swimsuits and flip flops on New Years Eve!

No need to thank …

A Walking Expiration Date

(A “poetic” look at two days in blackout conditions following The Great Ice Storm of 2014 … Southeastern Pennsylvania)

BRAMPTON ICE STORM CLEANUPA Walking Expiration Date

Their humming, it fills the frozen black night,
These machines that bestow us the Heat and the Light.

Our fear of Ah-nold’s scary Terminator coup
Just doesn’t seem as bad as having to go through
This cold and dark that so easily suppresses
Our heat, TV, and electronic excesses.

We furtively glance with growing exasperation
At iPhones, the Mac and muted game stations.
This equation is stark in granting a peek;
When civilization collapses, I won’t last a week!

Be it nuclear winter, a banking collapse,
Zombies, global warming, mega-virus attack;
The end will come quickly, I hope that it does.
Who really wants to be here when Is becomes Was?

When the fit hits the shan …

Whoa!  Sweet PECO!
Our ‘lectricity popped on!
No more running for gas
With my PJs still on!

Raced for the Mac, my iPhone clipped on
Before I forget this silly blog on
Nothing so much as a slight inconvenience
On a daily routine too full of dependence.

Then I turn on the Tube to catch up with the world.
The lessons and fears already starting to blur.
For few of us care to indulge or to linger
On our powerlessness at the end of God’s finger.

The End

(In-person reading events are now being scheduled!  Get yours scheduled now!)

Snow humor (such as it is)

Good news: We did get our Philly Inquirer today!
Bad news: I found it with the snow blower.

Was discussing the beautiful light blue hue today’s heavy snow had as you dug into its depth. Asked my neighbor, “What do you call snow when it’s blue like this?” He replied with a grunt, “Heavy (insert your favorite off-color adjective) blue snow!

How do you stop the snow plows from sealing in your driveway?
heavy weapons

Who gets to clear your neighbor’s driveway because they left two days ago for Florida?
Somebody else …

My Philly wage taxes “at work”

imagesWhenever a big snow storm hits, I receive a rude awakening in what my Philadelphia City Wage Tax dollars accomplish for me as I travel to my Philly-hosted, U.S. Navy employment site.

The Navy installation I work at (Naval Support Activity Philadelphia) is located on Oxford Avenue maybe a mile inside the City from Cheltenham Township, my usual route into work.

This means I use maybe a mile of City streets each day (two miles roundtrip) to reach my work desk, which itself is situated on Federal property.  And for the pleasure of this jaunt along the pristine streets of Philadelphia I pay roughly $3900/year!

So unless I throw an embolism arguing with my boss over some inane minutia, requiring a police response or a stat med-evac, my lone benefit from that $3900 investment are those grand vistas along that mile stretch of Martin’s Mill Road.

Life don’t get any better than that!

So whenever it snows significantly and the region works hard to shake the white stuff from its broad shoulders, I notice – as I travel from my Horsham residence - the snow-cleared and salted streets of Horsham, Hatboro, Upper Moreland, Lower Moreland, Abington, and Cheltenham townships.  And I anticipate the glorious mess the Philadelphia streets still will be two full days after an annoying though thoroughly manageable snow fall.

The clean, salt-laced salted roads of the suburban Townships, those that get to enjoy nothing but my hometown income tax offset for suffering the Philadelphia Wage Tax, transition to the slushy, icy, still full-of-snow streets of a City that struggles to provide its tax-paying citizens bare, essential services.

And they wonder why the schools of Philadelphia are such a monumental mess!

If you cannot manage the simplest of services, how can you possibly do any better with such complex activities as education … regardless of how much money the State might pump in?!?  And how does that make YOU feel about what you might be paying in Philly wage taxes and the prospect of future demands for more of it?

Me?  I feel all slushy and iced over.

Cranky Man’s Lawn 2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for Cranky Man’s Lawn.  Take a glimpse at what happened here in the past year!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas tree Wars

crooked treeA Cautionary Tale from Christmas 2012 …

Merry Christmas!

“So, how do you guys make sure … ?”

Those words were a precursor to a Christmas experience I had yet to have the “pleasure” of enjoying.  And as soon as I finished the rest of that sentence, I had one of those little voice-in-the-back-of-the-head premonitions of impending Yuletide Aggravation.

We were Christmas tree shopping two weekends before the holiday.  And we had found a suitable tree …

A suitable tree is a) alive, b) reasonably full and bushy, and c) fixable in places where it’s not reasonably full and bushy.  

After looking at the first 45 trees, I usually remind my spousal unit that the tree doesn’t have to be “perfect”, which always gets me that “Thank you, Captain Obvious!” tilted-head glare. 

As is the customary belief of REAL Christmas tree (i.e. green and alive) aficionados, Artificial Trees are reserved for the soul-less, Just-Add-Water Christmas types, and Communists.

Fidel Castro extolling the virtues of a straight - but artificial - Christmas tree!

Fidel Castro extolling the perfect alignment of artificial Communist Christmas trees.

… and so we arrange for a tree-rustler to grab our prized evergreen and head off to The Prep Area, where the tree trunk gets a fresh cut and – in our case – a hole drilled up the middle of the trunk to accommodate our center-post tree stand.

For years and years we used the traditional four-point screw clamp tree stands and never seemed to have a problem.  Then twice in three years we had trees topple over for no apparent reason; one time as we were walking out the door to attend Christmas Eve Mass.  

And so ever since we have relied upon our Center Post tree stand.

And this is where Christmas 2012 took its unanticipated cruise through uncharted waters.

The Mistake I made was to ignore the visual warning signs, despite the “uh oh” feeling I experienced after the following conversation, which resulted from my evaluation of the tree-drilling set-up.

“Hey, I’m just curious, but I notice you guys don’t have the self-check fixture on the top of the drill rig.”, as had been used at other tree establishments in years past.

“Yeah, the grounds not very level here, so we can’t use the fixture or the trees will come out drilled crookedly.”, the tree rustler offered. 

“So, how do you guys make sure you drill the tree straight?”, I asked.

“Oh well, I’ll hold the tree in place as straight as I can; and The Driller checks the alignment from three directions to make sure we get it straight.”

uh huh …

Actually, there were two mistakes made here.

The first was to turn our annual Christmas tree hunt into an “adventure”, where we tour 4-5 road-side tree lots before we head back to our known – and reliable – Christmas tree merchant because nothing we see – as Carol demands – jumps out and screams, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!!” … accompanied obviously by Schroeder, Lucy and the rest of the Charlie Brown gang singing Christmas Time is Here.

The second mistake was not bailing out as soon as I saw the tree-drilling set up or after hearing the explanation thereof.  It just didn’t occur to me that if the drill rig was not level, even if the tree was visually “straight”, the “crooked” drill rig would …

Well … you can guess what happened next.

Get the tree home, but wait until the next day – December 16 – to pop the tree into the center post tree stand.  At first I didn’t notice the Leaning Tree of Holiday Anguish.  I usually allow the tree to stand in the warm house so it falls out from its tightly wrapped handling and transportation configuration.

The next morning, I come down stairs on my way to work and check to see how the tree is falling out.

Oh no … You have got to be kidding me!  Crooked?!?  The damn thing is CROOKED!?!

At first I thought maybe the tree’s trunk is twisted.  So I turned the tree on its stand looking for both The Good Side of the evergreen and an angle where it didn’t look like a drunk leaning against a lamp post.  But no matter which way it was turned it looked somehow even worse!

2012 Tannenbaum II

2012 Tannenbaum II

So this Christmas season offered me the one holiday experience I had yet to encounter … The Return of a Christmas Tree.  After 50-plus years of Yuletide experience, you tend to believe you have seen it all.

Silly Santa …

Now some might say we were callous to reject an imperfect specimen.  Yes, it wasn’t the tree’s fault.  It was the boobs on the business end of a lopsided drill rig.

The tree vendors were nice enough about it.  They offered me another tree or a refund.  I made a cursory glance around for a replacement.  Although I have to admit, I didn’t WANT to find another one, which would be subject to the same off-kilter drilling process.

The tree purveyors offered a smile with my refund; and I trudged on back to the same old place we usually go, where the trees are on display with trunks pre-drilled so there’s no guesswork involved.  We ended up buying Tannenbaum II at our usual place and enjoyed a visually perfect Christmas!

The moral of the story is … “Familiarity breeds content.”

Also … “If it sounds too stupid to be done correctly, listen to that little voice in the back of your head.”

Some things to be Thankful for …

Originally posted on Cranky Man's Lawn:

Caring friends who lend a hand 

Our families here and across the land

Relief for those in Sandy’s wake

National pride despite political make

Unconditional love of a family pet

Courage displayed by selfless Vets

Opportunity for those unafraid of labor

Peace and tranquility for all our neighbors

Intimate moments with those you love

And all these blessings from God above!

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When finally they came Home

Corporal Michael J. Crescenz

Corporal Michael J. Crescenz

Veterans Day 

November 11, 2013

As has been my habit here from time to time, allow me to honor the following individuals in recognition of Veterans Day 2013.  I use their stories in memory of all who have served.

My only expectation from this small gesture is for the reader to spend a few moments reflecting on the immensity of their sacrifice and the anguish of those who loved them.

*     *     *

William H. Pitsenbarger joined the U.S. Air Force after graduating high school in 1962.  He volunteered to become a pararescue specialist and arrived in Vietnam in August 1965.  On April 22, 1966 his unit (38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Detachment 6) was sent to support elements of the Big Red One surrounded in the jungle near Saigon.

As Pitsenbarger’s HH-43 Huskie attempted to extract wounded soldiers from the triple canopy jungle battlefield, his crew observed ground troops having difficulty loading the wounded onto the litter hoists.  Pitsenbarger volunteered to be lowered to the ground to assist the ground troops.

William H. Pitsenbarger

Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger

As fighting intensified, the helos were driven off by ground fire and Pitsenbarger was forced to stay with the infantry as they fought through the night.  Not only did he tend to the wounded, he helped the ground troops fight on by running ammunition to where it was needed.  At some point he was mortally wounded while fighting beside the infantry.

Pitsenbarger was 21 years old when he was killed in action.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor on December 8, 2000.

*     *     *

SGT Dominick Licari, born on October 18, 1912, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942.  In 1944 his flight of three A-20G Havoc bombers went missing after a mission in northeastern New Guinea.

Sergeant Dominick Licari

Sargeant Dominick Licari

The wreckage of the plane which carried him and pilot 2nd Lt. Valorie Pollard was not located on the thick jungle mountainside into which they crashed until 1989.  It took three additional visits until 14 bone fragments were discovered in 2012 to finally identify his remains through DNA analysis.

His brother, Mort, always held out hope that his brother would be found and returned to the family’s cemetary plot during the 67 years he was away. Licari was scheduled to be interred at Mt. Olivet near Utica, NY.

*     *     *

The story of Michael J. Crescenz‘s childhood sounds a lot  like many of us who grew up in big cities.  A Roman Catholic education in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia and playing stickball, wall ball, wiffle ball, etc. with his five brothers from dawn to dusk.  Then off to Cardinal Dougherty High School and graduation in the era of the Vietnam War.

I was lucky.  I graduated from Father Judge High School (a rival school located in Northeast Philadelphia) in 1974.  The war was winding down; and an armistice was signed in the midst of my junior year.  There was no pressing need for service in the military, so off I went to college, a good job, and raising a family.

bildeMike Crescenz landed in in Vietnam in September 1968 as a rifleman in Alpha Company, Fourth Battalion, 31st Infantry, 196th Brigade, Americal Division.  Just two months later, on November 20, his unit walked into an ambush near Nui Chom, a 3000-foot high, thickly covered jungle redoubt laced with enemy machine gun bunkers near Da Nang.

His unit was pinned down with several men wounded on the point.  Crescenz grabbed an M-60 machine gun and charged the length of a football field to assault the bunkers.

His Medal of Honor citation reads in part:

Immediately, Cpl. Crescenz left the relative safety of his own position, seized a nearby machine gun and, with complete disregard for his safety, charged 100 meters up a slope toward the enemy’s bunkers which he effectively silenced, killing the 2 occupants of each. Undaunted by the withering machine gun fire around him, Cpl. Crescenz courageously moved forward toward a third bunker which he also succeeded in silencing, killing 2 more of the enemy and momentarily clearing the route of advance for his comrades. Suddenly, intense machine gun fire erupted from an unseen, camouflaged bunker. Realizing the danger to his fellow soldiers, Cpl. Crescenz disregarded the barrage of hostile fire directed at him and daringly advanced toward the position. Assaulting with his machine gun, Cpl. Crescenz was within 5 meters of the bunker when he was mortally wounded by the fire from the enemy machine gun. 

Michael Crescenz was 19 years old.  He was the only Philadelphian to earn the Medal of Honor for actions taken in the Vietnam War.

A bill is before Congress to name the Philadelphia Veterans  Medical Center in honor of Michael J. Crescenz.

*     *     *

Major Louis Guillermin

Major Louis Guillermin

This past October 7 Donna Stoyko was amazed at the turnout for a husband she had lost 45 years ago in a plane over Laos.

MAJ Louis Guillermin was a navigator on an A-26A aircraft on a night mission to disrupt supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  His plane, flown by Lt. Col. Robert Pietsch, flying his last mission before moving to a desk job, was blown to pieces in an explosion.

Stoyko, who had married Louis just a year before, knew from those who were there that night that her husband would never be coming home.  Yet she had to wait those 45 years to lay him to rest.

Lt. Col. Robert Pietsch

Lt. Col. Robert Pietsch

Their plane wreckage was not found until 1994.  However recovery efforts had to wait until the area could be cleared of explosives.  When the site was eventually excavated they found a wristwatch, a strand of Gulliermin’s hair, and one long leg bone.  His dog tags were found in the soil beneath the wreckage.

When Stoyko returned to West Chester, PA last month to bury her first husband, she was grateful to see the turnout which included over 100 motorcycles in escort provided by the Chester County Vietnam Veterans of America, hundreds of American flags posted around the Oxford (PA) funeral home, and flag-draped fire trucks on every overpass along Route 1.

It was a far cry from the way many Vietnam veterans were greeted when they came home from a very unpopular war.

Please remember them and all veterans who served and are serving our country.