The Dicta Smith - Unwritten Rules of the Road

Hello, lovers! I haven’t posted in a while and it is my determination to only bring you the best I can out of my feeble brain. Bear with me as I struggle through something well all know and love: Driving.

It was my intention to actually write a book and publish it on this, namely one on Seattle drivers. Who does that anyway? Not I, got no connections! So, I’ll spill my valuable insights on this and look forward what you think of these ideas. 

Back in the early days of flight, a gentleman German pilot, Hauptmann (Captain) Oswald Boelcke, wrote a short discourse on how to stay alive while being a fighting man in an aircraft. The Dicta Boelcke, it turns out, has stayed relevant from its debut in 1916 through today.

In my brain over a couple decades driving in Seattle I have written what I consider the Dicta Smith. The most difficult part about this for me was trying to constrain myself to only a list of ten items because our traffic, what with its retinue of timid, cell phone (self) obsessed drivers leaves a few more slots to be desired. Yes, Boelcke kept his to 8 but he could never envision the soulless Toyota Camry or various models of Subaru.

iu.jpeg

You’ve been stuck here before

You’ll notice it now.

With that I present to you the Dicta Smith. I’d love to hear feedback — particularly if you are an apologist or wish to defend any of the behaviors I find road rage inducing. 

 The Dicta Smith 

1. Use your turn signal every time. Adjust and use your mirrors.

Yes, I crammed two obvious items into one section. Listen, you selfish neutron, you are not the only person on the road. Using a turn signal is to allow other accommodating drivers into our world, namely one in which the idea is to keep traffic moving.  If you have no idea how to adjust your mirrors for driving (no, you don’t) you may find me here to explain it.

2. Drive like you are following yourself and you have somewhere to go. Otherwise keep right.

These are not posted in any particular order of importance because if they would be, I’d put this at number one. If you drive and can’t wrap your head around this idea, it is just time to give up and Uber or take the bus. Your contribution to driving culture, hell getting anywhere, just isn’t enough.

3. Yield your lane to a car overtaking you regardless of speed. You're not a safety officer.

In Washington State the law is to keep right except to pass. If someone is overtaking you in your lane, it is not your job to modulate their speed, be a police officer or administer judgement. It is merely to move to the right preferably as soon as you can. Likewise, if you are merely pacing traffic in the left lane, get the heck to the right so you can get back to FaceTiming. We implore you. I suppose you can feebly turn your brights on after the driver goes by to “prove a point” but frankly we’re not looking in our rear view mirrors because we’re driving forward.

Here is a list of states and their laws regarding Keep Right. If per chance you look up your state and it does not have one — just help move your people ahead about 80 years and practice doing it now. The way some laws in other states are going you may need to GTFO of yours sooner or later anyway.

4. Do not move into a lane to your left (i.e., cut off another car) unless current velocity allows greater velocity going forward.

Another no brainer. After you’ve adjusted your mirrors correctly (see #1) use the brain the Universe provided you. You are born knowing calculus even if you’ve never taken a class. The same thing that allows you to throw a ball and get even remotely close to your intended target is the same instinct you should use when looking to your left and whether to move into that lane. If your Camry can’t hot foot it enough to get up to speed, simply wait for that car to pass before moving over.

You’re not the only car on the road.

5. Honk at people looking down at their cell phones or not paying attention to the road.

Here is where it gets funny because this unwritten rule of road is strictly illegal. With that warning and if you’ve mastered the “love tap” of a car horn by all means shock these people back to the task at hand. Chances are the life you safe may be your own, which on a cosmic scale is worth a few percent more than people who can’t put driving first.

6. If you are first at a green light your only job is to set off as quickly as possible.

This is a rejoinder to #5. There is zero excuse for the first person in line to lose even a tenth of a second to their vanity and cellphone usage. In fact if you’re first in line you must for the sake of the 4th car in line act as if you care that they’re on the road fo the same reason as you: to make it to a destination regardless of whose birthday it is on Facebook at the moment.

7. Eject nothing from your car. This includes all substances - littering is of poor character.

This is another holdfast rule from most everywhere I have driven. If your state has a law that states otherwise, I’d love for you to show it to me because I may detour through there on my next road trip just to say I did. That 60s feeling of just tossing a Coke bottle out the window is so bad it must feel good.

8. One ejecting anything from their vehicle is open immediately to retaliation from vehicles behind.

So here in a second instance I have done you wrong again. Just above you see I told you that this is illegal. Well, according the Dicta Smith you may fire if fired upon. Just be smart about it. Maybe a pink eraser or a wadded up paper ball that won’t damage the cigarette flinging Ford F-350. The point of it all is to let the driver know you caught him and that you do not appreciate ash in the cabin of your clean machine.

To tie it all together: Check your mirror before overtaking, avert your eyes completely from your Galaxy 10, reach for your nonlethal projectable and make your righteous move. Aim for center mass (the hood or the windshield) as they are both built to take much worse than you’re dishing out.

The target driver will be apoplectic that you’d dare to live up to his standards of littering and auto bombing but I think, especially here, if good old Boelcke were here today he just may understand the fight fire with fire method. Of course, he’d prefer that you turn into the enemy but we do not have that third dimension he had in the sky. Playing chicken over a cigarette butt in your car is hardly sport. Also, even if you fail to overtake the attacker you can seek solace in the fact you have kept one less cigarette butt off the ground. They are well known bird killers and we all know only sick children should be shooting those birds with their BB guns.

9. It is never possible to know too much about what is going on around you.

This would be a trick question to anyone after Generation Z. Upon reading this I imagine an agglomeration of millennials reaching straight to their phones to determine how far above sea level they are. No, no, no. It is easier than that! Head up, over the dash and out the windows! Look left, then right, then left again and take a look at who may be crossing the street. Look to see where the Toyota Prius overdrove the stop line and is half blocking a direction and refusing to back up. You’ve now just armed yourself to navigate this intersection!

10. While using a horn in a non-emergency is illegal most places, publicly shaming a poor/inattentive driver is worth the risk.

I was going to tie this in with cell phone shaming but cell phone use is an epidemic that hurts all of us so I gave that a stand alone (remember, just one or two *love taps* to shock those flouting everyone’s time and the law). If you do it correctly they may not even know who exactly honked at them or believe it was just a sound on their hip hop.

Number Ten, however, lends itself to what I call “laying on the horn” type action. Again, this is illegal but still stands as an unwritten rule for a reason. I once traumatized a driver by laying on my horn for a good 3 minutes after she nearly wrecked our cars. Three minutes is just a bit less than Van Halen’s Panama which, come to think of it, is about driving too. At first she was quite flippant but I assure you after 3 minutes of getting on the onramp, merging and driving at 60MPH for another minute this person may very well may be being treated for PTSD still today.

If risking Car Horn Induced Traumatic Stress Disorder (CHITSD) is used properly, there is the smallest of chances that if someone finds they missed their turn, next time they will simply take the next exit, spend 60 seconds and circling back rather than risk swapping paint.

So there we go, fellow motorists. How have you sinned recently? What are you doing to do to change your evil ways? Let us know in the comments or you may email me at adam.c.smith@me.com and maybe I’ll post your thoughts in a followup blog.

As always thanks for reading.

Down On Boness Creek (Est. 1979)

The morning is lazy and my friends didn’t know I had a small road trip planned for our enjoyment. For winter, it is a beautiful day, no rain and mostly clear sunny skies. Adventure!

Oren and Charlotte Boness, Aunt Charis and Tula

The 9-year-old boy Eduardo was indifferent that he’d be forced to play on his iPhone in the backseat of our Chevrolet rather than at home. I get it, I think. My games were all stuck in 100 pounds of computer hardware at his age - if only he knew the pain of being really cut off from his matrix of pixels, sprites and shitty music but I digress.

Silvana and I were much more excited about a little jaunt upstate - a place that holds a special place in my heart. 

Everyone was set, Edu had an orange Fanta and Silvana and I both had Cokes, ice cold in the bottle because that is the best way to indulge a favorite. By the way, the fact that a girl enjoys a Coca-Cola as much as I do… well hell, it is just awesome.

As the captain of the trip, I easily accepted the “master of the stereo” title as well. In an effort to energize Eduardo, I put the Scorpions on shuffle but it must’ve taken too long to get around to Rock You Like A Hurricane - as he had already sunk below window level peering deep into a 1/4” piece of plastic and aluminum.

So, our triumvirate squinted into the late morning as I (probably irritatingly) sang along with every single song that came on. Nobody has told me that I’m irritating them - but I’ve spent enough hours in the XO’s seat to know that if you don’t even know the songs it is much, much worse that if you do. Knowing this, I let the thought flow right out the ½” space my window that is cracked and I picked up the stereo at Still Loving You. I do not have the range that Klaus Meine has so this was probably extraordinary miserable.

As we neared Mt. Vernon, WA, I started having the flashbacks of a thousand trips to this area of the state. My grandparents owned a plot of what is basically a little boy’s paradise: A big house in a forest on a creek that flowed into the Skagit River.

Many things have changed since then but I still see every stretch of the road as I did when I was 8, 10 or 17 years old. There is one exception; there are many bigger, dumb trucks on the road. It is as if this part of the state has forgotten that we have paved roads and amazing interstates that can be navigated on a buckboard with four wheels on casters. This gripe is for another time, too.

My brother Aaron and cousin Kristian (and Tula)

We hopped off the mainline to a more rural Washington Highway 9 (the roads are still paved very nicely here but still - many giant trucks carting around… well… nothing. It is right about here I have the warm, fuzzy flashbacks to a fantastic childhood. Beautiful small town homes and small stores lazily float by our windows thanks to what are actually better than your average Seattle pavement.

Winding through the valley catching glimpses of small creeks, farms and farms with a lot of extra big dumb trucks that look like they never even get driven. Perhaps these are the backup trucks for when Armageddon comes in a bigly way - one of the four or five leviathans just has to start up. Failsafe. For the first time thanks to my love of NASA, triple or even quadruple redundancy is something I begin to admire. 

As we near the city of Concrete, Washington, the particular stretch of Highway 20 that we’re on is exactly where at about age 19 my friends and I all decided to go camping in winter on a lark. We had CBs and saw ourselves a bit of a fighter squadron with the scout up ahead letting everyone know when it was safe to pass slow vehicles. This particular stretch of 20 has a slight bend to the right for what seems like two hours. 

My buddy (let’s call him John) and I were combat scouts up front. His bright red 1978 1/2-ton, 7.4L V8 and the nickname “BIG 10” emblazoned on its flanks made every car we passed a very simple task. 

1978 Chevrolet ½-ton "BIG 10" Model

The rest of the crew were playing “tail-end Charlie” in a bronze colored 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera Coupe - a grand name for a pretty boring car. It came equipped with not the buzzing but pretty kick ass “Quad 4” GM engine but a reliable AND gutless 2.5L 4-cylinder dud. 

This rolling hazard to progress was nicknamed by some polyester suit the “Iron Duke”. Oh yeah, it was iron. The only aluminum you’d find on the engine was probably the alternator housing.

A representation of the Iron Duke

Anyway, on this long bend of great American road, the word on the CB from the Big 10 (the Shepard to its Lost Sheep, if you will) was that the 5 cars they were stuck behind could easily be passed, as the oncoming lane was empty all the way from them to us. As it was related to us after the Iron Duke lazily pulled into the oncoming lane the first four cars were easy - but that 5th was beginning to look like “bit off too much to chew”. We all came to the realization at the same time. We dutifully radioed back that the next vehicle coming in the oncoming lane was a Peterbilt that had some amazing chrome dual exhaust stacks. 

At this point, our forward observer position was mostly worthless, as the Iron Duke had also seen its challenge. We were told Eye of the Tiger by Survivor just happened to be playing on the stereo when the word “commit” meant exactly what it said in the dictionary. The captain of the Duke pushed the throttle down the last 10% of the way (in effect, did nothing) and they all grabbed each others butts because it was do or die.

They died in a tangled wreck, meeting St. Peter at the pearly gates going backwards and on fire.

Not really. They cleared the last car and the CB was silent but we in the front know that somehow, our brilliant tactics were not brilliant enough. Our asses burned as somehow we could hear them cursing us back in the Golden Chariot. 

Our happy crew was now nearly into Concrete and I reveal to them that we’re here to see the world un-famous Baker Lake and Baker Dam. Eduardo pulled his hoodie further down over his baseball cap as if leaving the car would unplug a cork from his body, spilling his essence into the sharp gravel we were parked on. I think he has the wrong definition of bullying but I’m accused of that and as the adult, I accept it because I cannot throw him off the bridge which is the only other option I’m left with. 

I take the point and our little crew walks out on to the 100 year old bridge, all the time I’m pretty sure that Edu is going to drop his iPhone accidentally over the side as we all watch its beautiful red case glint in the sun for 4 seconds before gravity takes it all the way under the water. It’s a long way down. 

Eduardo flirts with gravity

Yet, this does not happen and we have time to pose for a few pics because, thank the Universe, as soon as he peeked over the side of the bridge and how far down it was, one could actually see the hair standing up on the back of his head. He’s a good boy.

We breathe some air, laugh and Edu takes a swig from the orange Fanta he hauled with him the full 30 feet to the bridge. We made our way back along the exact same 30 feet and pile back into the black Chevrolet. I’m not sure if my crew is happy or perturbed that the bridge was not the main attraction and that now we were going to drive further up the hill to the top of the dam.

Me and Silvana on the 100+ year old bridge

This sends my brain back to when my grandpa drove us up to this very same place in his 1979 Dodge. He told me, “its a dam good view,” it always made me laugh as I felt like we found the very best way to cheat at swearing! A stop at the True Value hardware store before motoring up the gravel roads and he’d happily buy me a 16oz Coke in a glass bottle (those fatty ones that only Generation X probably remembers). 

I’m a kid and I can drink 5 of these a day and not pinch an inch.

Remember the fat bottle?

Grandpa drives windows down all days of the year which I think is pretty manly but now realize it's just a great way to drive and breathe Pacific Northwest air. Even as I type this I hear Marty Robins and damn it is good. Thanks, Grandpa!

We crawl up the hill (we’re really off road now, you know, the type you need to buy a Jeep for). Silvana is watching a video of a terrible flooding disaster back in Brazil on her phone and I kinda feel terrible for the Beach Boys’ “Catch a Wave ” playing at the same time. Someday she’s going to read this and kick me square in the apple sack but for now my morbid humor demands that this precious memory stick with me forever. I’m not sure but it may be the reason I’m writing this little story.

We reach the top of the dam and Baker provides the clear water. Baker Lake is absolutely mirror-like and I stand in wonder, gazing up to Mt. Baker, at how this water has made its way down the mountain through trees, roots, ferns and rocks to land right here. Perfect, clean water. With an amused smile at this thought I turn to explain to Eduardo the significance of the snow pack, the melting, the water and then the dam that creates the power for his stupid online game. Before I open my mouth I see he has decided at this moment of the week and month to fiddle with a loose tooth. I digress. 

Me and cousins

Grandpa always offered to tie a string around it, attaching the other end of the string to a doorknob and then slamming said door. It promised a quick and easy extraction.

I was either too much of a coward or too smart to ever take him up on his offer. I now feel the need to find out from my cousins if they ever fell for it. One of us had to, and whoever took the hit: hats off to you.

My fat ass hastily makes its way over the rocky terrain here as I deploy the tripod and attempt to corral the crew into any kind of frame I can pare down in to a photo. The tripod is pretty damn rickety and we’re far from on stable ground. I place my far too expensive Phone XS Max (seriously?) on the top of the baby giraffe legged contraption and set the time at its maximum time. 

The Smiths all in one frame

10 whole seconds to get down to the group while trying to not knock down the whole shiteree on the way. 10 seconds goes by fast at 6’3”, 300 pounds but I make it! I’m pleased with the shot but it turns out “all” of our smiles are not the greatest so we set it up again. Another successful dance around the rickety tripod and finding my place in the photo. Eduardo, at a 9 year old bantam weight gets back to the camera before me and promptly knocks the tripod off its footing. 

I’m not ready to die yet but I can see a way through if that phone hits the rocks and shatters like so many Mariners fans’ dreams every goddamn year. (Hello, homers! The Mariners now hold the longest playoff drought in all of the four major North American professional sports, having not qualified for the playoffs since 2001). Anyway, Edu catches the tripod from falling and I do an about face and walk away from the light. For all the gesturing and fiddling with his tooth and to my chagrin the tooth is still in his mouth.

We motor down the mountain and I find what the town of Concrete would call its very own Kessel Run.  That is if anyone in Concrete was a Star Wars fan. I’m unsure if this particular stretch is to be driven on but it isn’t posted and I want to get some photos of this amazing train car that has been sitting here since The Great Pyramid was under construction.

I’m motoring and taking in the sights and out of nowhere a deer jumps out in front of me and in one hop clears the path and is back off the road to the other side. As I marvel at its quickness and the Chevys anti-lock breaks, two teenagers reeking of weed bound out of the forest in chase of the deer. They freeze, with “what the hell are they doing here” looks in their eyes. I throw the peace sign in order to try to convey that I’m not the hooka police but it is clear that their mantra here in their forest is “trust but verify." It is a sound mantra but I am past them before they can verify so I cannot report if they are still thinking of me right now wondering why I showed up in their life for 10 but I've thought about them every day since. Do they grow their own weed?

This has not changed

We’re done here so it is back towards home but this time I take the route whose orbit is close to my heart than any other part of the trip before. We roll past the gravel pit that is bigger than ever. I explain how when it is snowing they mountains of gravel make great mini-mountains to slide down. The closer we get the present starts giving way to the past. We drive over Finney Creek’s bridge that the daring would jump off and cans of refreshment were left in the water to keep cool. We pass “Finney Creek” Charlie’s place where my grandfather and I once were called upon to eradicate Blue Hornets. I got to drive my grandpas 1942 International dump truck down the road and to Finney Creek’s place and it was a thrill. It was also funny to watch the two men concoct a plan: they all included fire and fire worked just fine.

I slow down as I pass over Presentin Creek. I’ve never really owned anything in my life but I feel like I own this bridge. I’m sure my cousins may feel the same way about this creek. Summers spent with good sticks, blazing trails and countless rocks tossed, skipped or saved. We may be the single reason you just don’t see slugs around anymore. As kids it was fun to blow up a slug. I wince at the thought now. I think we stopped the slug massacre the year we blew one up and we all laughed until about 3 seconds later one of my cousins caught a piece of dead slug that didn’t reach escape velocity. I’m unsure I’ve ever seen anyone go from laughing to freaking out and screaming in my life. Another 4th of July comes to mind: the year we set up an extravaganza for everyone to watch in the evening and a Buzz Bomb made its way up on the deck of the house.

Safe and Sane

It was dark out and I can still see the shadows and silhouettes of child and adult dancing to escape the fiery device. Somehow, not only was nobody harmed but also we didn’t even burn down the house.

I cannot even begin to share the many stories with Silvana and Edu so I take a deep breath and hop back on the South Skagit Highway. I have Siri play Sons of the Pioneers and roll the window down all the way in honor of my grandpa and half tune out for the next few miles, letting the familiar surroundings flood in. It is kind of like Walton Mountain but it was our creek and river.

My eyes pick up the telephone lines running along the side of the road. Until the 90s the phone line was a party line! You could pick up the phone and if there was a conversation going on you could listen in! If someone needed the line in an emergency, much like a ham radio conversation, one asked if they could have the line for a while. It’d never work today, too many self-obsessed people that’d leave their phone off the hook just to spite you. In fact, now that I think about it we should reinstate the party line and teach people to be decent again. 

Adam and Tom plant a sign

I try to quantify all the cherished voices these lines have carried into and out of Boness Creek. Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends in electric form shot over copper. Home sick grandsons at age 8 who just wanted to call mom to say hi during a summer stay. If only reality could be as permanent as the copper in these wires. I’d pay good money to posses them.

Alas, copper wires do not have a memory of what they once conveyed at nearly the speed of light and there is no portal to the past and even if there was, young Mr. Smith would probably not even recognize old Mr. Smith.

I've mown this front lawn a few times

Again I queue up Sons of the Pioneers to imprint a little more on the memory while deciding where to grab some dinner. I ask Edu in the back set if he'd like a milkshake, he says yes and promptly falls asleep for the 20 minute trip. 

He stirs a bit dazed when I pull into the drive through and announces that he doesn't want a milkshake and crashes back out.

The car was aglow in red from the brake lights in front of us as we made our way though the line. We get our food, get sorted and I navigate to Interstate 5 - when Eduardo wakes and asks in a groggy voice, "where is my milkshake?" 

He drank my milkshake.

Grandma with me and my brother Aaron

Best Christmas Ever (1989?)

Grandma with her grandchildren and great grandchildren 

The Buick and the Whale Tail Mustang 5.0 - April, 2007

A clear and dry night coming up Highway 18 East Bound

It was after 10PM on a Saturday night and Band On The Run was playing through the iPod (yeah, remember those). Already shaking in rain the Riv has already bombed up the hill as only drivers who give into their impulse to get up the hill give into. 

By time the Highway 18/I-5 interchange had come up, I thought the adrenaline would have burned off but thanks to a late 80’s 5.0L Mustang (White) heard cackling and merging – and pulling hard exiting the off ramp to Highway 18 the fuse, apparently, was re-lit. 

It was irresistible and in an instant the torque-y Buick downshifted from 1600RPM and 65MPH to 3rd gear out of Overdrive. From a roll the Buick easily walked the Mustang and he took it as a personal affront, as well he should have. 

 
3.8L Gen II Huffer

The next light was too busy and both street racers knew it so we rolled a few blocks.

Finally, after having enough time to disable traction control for the coming launch, our cars rolled to a stop. 

I pre-loaded the transmission and got the supercharger into producing some boost as the light was about to turn. The Mustang turns out to be a manual transmission as I can hear the slight bog at the light. We launched hard, the Riv’s torque spinning the tires off the line and grabbing quickly thanks to the dry street. 

After the light there was a downhill bank. The cars are evenly matched handling wise, but the heavy throttle through the turn had both cars asking everything of their tires. Traffic loomed up ahead in my lane so I backed off the throttle, not wishing to ask anymore of the hot tires on my car. The Mustang was behind me a half-car length at least and this easing off gave him an opening to jump in front.The next light ahead had four cars in each lane so we both shut down. 

Always liked the lines of the Riviera
To stop at the light, even though I was light on the brakes, the ABS kicked in a bit. I guess slowing down from 70 even in dry might have some uneven wheel spin. The best thing about this ending was the thumb up from the Mustang driver. The second best thing was as we shut down and coasted, loping down the street, we passed two of Federal Way’s finest watching the streets on a Saturday night. My guilty conscience assumed they were waiting for us… but no. I guess the Rivira is pretty quiet.


Maybe they thought I was driving an old man’s car.

Chevy Guy Drives A Ford

Well, I am a General Motors nut. More specifically, I really love Chevrolets. I've owned many and my latest one is very nice - but someone needs it more than I do so I've gifted it.


2000 Mustang with giant tires

My ride is a 2000 Mustang. My best friend won an auction ($350!) and isn't driving it so I'm taking care of it. It is a 2000 Mustang 5-speed. It has a 3.8L V6 - not the V8. It does not make it less fun to drive!

The Mustang really reminds me of my first car. Long hood, snarling and actually shifting the gears brings back memories of my teenage years driving the mean streets of Renton and Kent.






The modifications are a short throw shifter and some bad ass 18" wheels with very low profile tires. We have a couple superchargers that we've bought - can't decide to use the roots type or the vortec. I'm including a blurry pic of them - and I'll report back.

The 3.8 V6 is already a torque monster - easily spinning the tires in first and second gear and the Mustang is light. The big meaty tires will help get more power down and I'm interesting in seeing how the "huffer" will add power. Bigger fuel injectors are already done so we're ready to bolt on a re-program.



Here is a little video of the short throw shifter 1st-2nd shifter at work.



I didn't know how much delight I'd get from driving this rig, and I'm having a blast! 



On Saturday I got on the road around 10PM and carved up I-90 just to get some fun driving in. The roads were empty and the twists were a blast. 





I drove to Cashmere and back - and on the way back I used ALL of the highway! Nobody to worry about at 2AM!

So, if you're an adult that misses the good old days - they're still here. Go find yourself a nice used car and get driving!





You Can't Fly Underground, 1990

If I titled this story what it should be titled it would give away the punchline so, since my life is an open book, I just wanted to be straightforward with you on that one.

As you know my best friend and I both owned fire breathing Pony Cars in high school. We'd take turns driving to school as while 8 cylinders are just right for a fast car, 16 is too many to just drive to school and work so we economized.

Another friend that lived close somehow ended up part of this deal so we had three cars at our disposal so it made no sense to do anything other than accept another 4 cylinders into our carpool.

I cannot recall if his parents bought the car for him or if he was able to just drive it whenever he wanted but, I think, his parents bought him a new 1990 Nissan Sentra. I am pretty sure Sentra means "square face and ass" in Japanese but I don't know Japanese so I can't bet more than $1 on it.

This is not my friends Nissan Sentra, it is a representation. Stop looking at pictures and read.

Well, today was the Nissan's duty to drive us four sophomores to school. Oh, and if you're asking how I know this particular Nissan Sentra is not said Nissan Sentra, it is because said Nissan Sentra is either rusted out, has mildew problems or has enough electrical problems to have driven whoever owned it next insane.

How do I know this?

I know it because I was in the passenger seat. On this day in the Greater Seattle Area it rained above average. Which means it rained "a lot". Plus, kids, todays drive to school took a diversion down a road that we never really drove down. It was a residential area and to this day I cannot remember why we diverted down it.

Picture a long, straight residential road, no speed bumps and oh about 1/4 mile of distance in a 25MPH zone. As my particular friend that was driving was not all that daring a kid (read: more mature than myself) we were doing 25MPH. When what to our wondering eyes did appear but a little bit of water running over the roadway.

As the intrepid Nissan rolled over this water, it became instantly apparent that this road was not "perfectly flat". Soon the water was ½ way up the tires and wheels. We pressed on, a steady 25MPH as our attention turned more and more to what was ahead of us.. in a matter of seconds the Sentra had a bow wave

The not-so-mighty engine started having trouble holding speed and soon the water was over the nose of the hood.. this ship was in peril. My friend in the backseat and I yelled, simultaneously, "FLOOR IT!" and, "DON'T STOP!"

Accelerator to the floor, the Nissans brand new windows, and I'll never forget this, were very clean. I could see a good 3" under water through the side window of this car, if the Sentra were a convertible I'd be up to my nose in rainwater! The car was slowing but we were still moving... if there were fish in this "puddle" I'd have seen them, the windshield and in fact, all the windows were 3" under water!

This was as deep as we got - but knowing that if we stopped now, right here, it'd be catastrophic to not just our morning but to the car. I'm unsure if we could have even gotten the door open.

The car sputtered down to less than 10MPH under full throttle (and we never became afloat as far as I know). The wheels kept turning and the water visible through the window started to recede as if a drain had been unplugged from the street. It wasn't, of course, we just happened to make it to the other side of the pond.

We laughed knowing that we dodged a bullet, as Ralphie in A Christmas Story states: We kids know it is always better to not get caught.

Our friends only comment on this, other than extreme laughter echoing through the cabin of the Sentra was, "don't tell my dad, he'll never let me drive again."

So we never told anyone.

Sticks and Stones My Break My Bones But they Also Can Fix My Chevy

I've posted a couple serious and deeply personal posts lately so I'm going to balance it back out with goofy car stories. This one is actually a "humble brag" post about my mechanical ability and ability to work a situation that isn't necessarily going my way.

In 1992 while driving in my neighborhood, I passed a car with a for sale sign in it and it immediately drilled into my psyche. It was a gunmetal grey 1962 Chevrolet Biscayne 2-Door Post. The "post" referred to the B-billar of the car. Oddly, to me a the time, it was also known as a "sedan" even though it was a two door.


Like this but grey
It had huge front and back bench seats and the seats were sprung, not of foam like modern cars are. The body was straight and it was a 283 V8 with a 3-speed and automatic overdrive, essentially making it a 6-speed. A great drag car!

The $1600 asking price was within reach - if I sold my 1968 Chevrolet 3/4-ton truck. I didn't need a truck, I'm not even sure why I ever bought it. 

I sold it.


Like this but grey.
The Biscayne I purchased the next day was just a joy. It was a 2-owner car, I was the third. The previous owner had installed cruise control, delay wipers, water injection and a 2nd oil filter under the hood. It purred like a kitten. It had the original hub caps on 14" bias-ply tires.

This is my 2nd favorite car I've ever owned. It never broke and I daily drove it for years to work and all over the Northwest.

Well, honestly, one day it broke. I had driven a good friend over to his not unattractive girlfriends home on the other side of the city. We listened to Queensrÿche: "Empire" on the CD player and 7 speaker system I had installed myself - and damn it was great!

The "breakdown" happened, appropriately for a Chevrolet, only after it delivered me to my destination. The clutch pedal went dead - to the floor - and for a few minutes my heart sank to the same place.

I had often bragged that I could fix a Chevrolet with sticks and rocks if necessary. I never had a wish to try it, it was bravado, but this day, this day I swear my only options were sticks and rocks.

I diagnosed the problem while my friend was in his girlfriends house doing who knows what. I found that the clutch pivot spring that mounts from the engine block to the fame, about 8 inches long, had broken the weld at the frame. This essential part was what let the spring "rock" when you engaged the clutch. No weld, no brace, no engaging the clutch.

As I eyed this problem, two factors immediately came to light. 1. I had not brought my tool box. 2. I did not know how to weld and even if I did, I'd need to fabricate a new part. The cherry on top of the shit sundae being that I was not a CNC operator.

The last thing I noticed was that forward of where the weld broke on the frame was the top of the suspension shock absorber. This was a stout mounting and here was where my mind went to work. Eyeballing the distance between where the broken weld was and this literal stud

Without even thinking of my past boasts about sticks and rocks, I began looking for... sticks and rocks. What I finally came up with was a nice piece of granite, a nicely dried 3"x½" stick of maple and the wonder of compressibility, a nice piece of bark off a giant Douglas Fir.

These three simple, natural items placed in the right order allowed the spring of the clutch to press into them. I hopped in the car and gave the clutch a press. I kid you not, it felt exactly as it did when everything was factory. Good pressure, the pedal returned to its normal height off the floor... groovy!

When my friend came out to check on me I had given it who knows how many pumps to see if anything was moving about under the hood - nope! In fact, the bark had already worn in a nice groove for it to rock in. I wasn't exactly 100% sure this would get us home but I had, as Astronauts say, "a high degree of confidence". I didn't ask how his girlfriend was.

My confidence was well placed. We got in the "Biscuit" as many of my friend called the Biscayne (they must not have been familiar with the bay but I'm a geography nut) and we sailed her home. Nary a hitch as Jet City Woman played on the CD player, an odd mix of 1962 and digital audio rolling through King County in style. Men in bland Honda Accords looked at me with our windows down, all smiles and I could read their minds: I wish I had never sold that car.

The most impressive part of my humble brag is that I drove my car like that for a good six or more months before finding someone who could take on the job of fabricating and welding in a new bracket at the great price of $50!

So if you wonder why the only tattoo I have is "1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2" and I bleed Chevy Orange, this is one of the many reasons. I've had many things let me down or not work as advertised or had small prayers not answered but Chevrolet has never stranded me, whether a 30 year old one with hundreds of thousands of miles on the odometer or a modern 2008 or 2013 model.

I still have those sticks and rocks packed away somewhere. So I implore you:

See the U.S.A. in your Jet-Smooth Chevrolet.

Spring, 1993, Stone Temple Pilots Show

If you haven't heard of Stone Temple Pilots, that's fine. Just substitute STP for one of the hottest, sweatiest most packed live shows you have ever gone to and it'll all make sense, kids.

I'm not going to get into a debate about STP. I think there are two people: One who dig them and others who think they just aped Seattle Sound. Let's not argue that. Let's just say that if you're GenX you definitely rocked to Plush, Interstate Love Song, Sex Type thing... and many more tunes that are near and dear to my heart.

So, when STP came to the Mercer Arena in 1993, you bet your sweet ass I was gonna be at that Rawk Show! I'm a music snob but I couldn't wait to see frat boys who only knew two songs packed in and getting their lame asses rocked off just to hear Plush while they were high.

Well, turns out, it did't matter who you were that night. We all got our lame asses rocked. 

I had bought a brand new pair of Chuck Taylor high tops, the only size 13s in the city, just for the show. Chubby and Tubby on Rainier (like Sir-Mix-Alot but a rocker) for $24. I was ready to rock. The usual "Goddamned Rockers" piled into my 1979 Sleeper Camaro and cruised downtown to the Mercer Arena for just another night.

This is not the one shoe I had left. It is a representation.

It wasn't just another night. I'm not even sure who opened for STP because everyone was jockeying for front row to see the DeLeon Brothers and Scott Weiland. I was about 2 or 3 people deep and the lights went dark. At first it was quiet and then the crowd started to press. Scott steps to the mic with a megaphone in hand, into the microphone, with his inimitable voice says, "I aaaaaaaaam smelling like a rose......."


I aaaaaaaaaaam!


The lights pop on at the exact same time with red shining down on his red bleached hair and the place feels as if someone just vacuumed packed us all in this place and time to have wallets stolen, asses grabbed, nuts kicked, sweat swapped, and smiles and singing above all.

I am not a small guy, even at age 18. I swear to you, ½ way through the first song someone stepped (I'm sure purely on accident) on my right heel, removing my brand new right Chuck T. I immediately tried to go to ground but the pit was so packed, I was able to raise my knees to my chest! There I was suspended - lifted as if I were a 2 year old... an odd feeling for a "grown man".

Before I can even try to shimmy down the sweaty arms to my beloved, new Chuck T, I see what can only be MY Chuck T being thrown over our heads at the drummer. The person missed, and it sailed over his him. There goes $12! But it isn't just $12 because nobody is selling me one size 13 Chuck T high top. The meter is still running kids - I have my brother's Eddie Bauer watch to lose still - absolutely no idea where that one went... no idea which song, whether the first or last one.

Also, to win the Big Rock Show Trifecta, and only after the show was over and my beer soaked right sock (It was a Nike mid-cut with blue Swoosh™) and badly bruised heel, arch, toes and top of foot.... as I hopped out of Mercer Arena on my left foot - Seattle blessed us with its famed gentle downpour. 


Adam the Goddamned Rocker with my cold friend Mat

Picture Frogger but instead someone who still had to drive all his friends home in his $400 Camaro - which for some reason everyone envied but they never had to get their hands dirty. Denon pull out cranked the tunes, I added up my losses and our ears ringed all the way home. 

I did try to ask politely to get my shoe back after the encore... you can guess what the stage crew said to me.

And I was happy.

They Day Flamin' Amy Died (And I Almost Did Too)

Hello, Lovers. I've had ten emails just in two hours - ridiculous for a post from this rat-trap blog - wanting to know about my near death experience. No, I do not think this is gruesome or prying. Now keep in mind, because I am a Norwegian Viking Warrior, no scars nor blood was shed in my near death experience. In fact, I only woken to permanent, catastrophic pain on September 29, 1999 at 3:15PM on a clear, sunny day in Seattle.

First, one should know that by age 26 still nobody has ever trained you on what to do when a 1990 Kenworth from CTI (complete with second trailer) full of broken cement is out looking for trouble. You yourself don't have to snort cocaine to be effected by it. So if you send email questioning what to do after your spine is inevitably turned to liquid I do know now. Teachable moment.

On that afternoon I was driving home on Highway 167S which is a known gridlock generator full of semi trucks and people driving to Auburn or Puyallup (or the "Paris of Washington" as I like to say). Other trucks on the road are jacked up accidents waiting to happen, built up as if there are no paved roads just 20 miles south of Seattle. My 1979 Dodge short bed was just a plain ol’ pickup. You know, the kind you use for work and not to feel manly about or compensate for a lack of understanding physics.


I don't remember this. Three days after, I shouldn't be walking. Then, I couldn't.

Predictably, after driving 55MPH for about 5 miles the gridlock grew and I came to a stop. My arm was out the window. The stock AM radio was playing “Greatest hits from the 50s, 60s and 70s” and I was listening to chatter from truckers on the CB. C’mon! Great day right?

As I was singing along with Manilow I glanced into the rear view mirror (as all good drivers do every 5 seconds or when coming to a stop). What befell my Rootbeer Brown eyes was a Silver Kenworth dump truck about a mile back coming at me quick. What caught my eye was the second trailer visibly jack knifing. Not good.

Highway 167 South is 3 lanes in its direction. The carpool lane is on the left. The “fast lane” in the middle and the “slow lane” is to the far right - the lanes were in the right place but as usual the drivers were not in their proper lanes. I was in the middle lane and there were no cars behind me.

I can see the driver correct for the jack knifing trailer and then wheel from the center lane into the carpool lane but there is a car right along side him and he veers back towards me and that’s when I knew I was going to take a massive hit. The driver had made the choice to rear end me rather than crush the car beside him into the divider.

I had time to actually consider getting out of my truck and making a dash for the grass and trees on the side of the highway but quickly reasoned that the best protection I had was the Detroit Iron I was already in. I took one more look with my own eyes out the back window. To keep from adding to the change in velocity I was about to experience I threw the truck in neutral, let off the clutch and brake (not unlike Obi Wan lowering his light saber when facing Darth Vader) and heard Manilow sing to me,  "This ones for you," and said, “SHIT!”


SHIT!


By that time, it was lights out. Cocaine Kenworth crunched to within 3 feet of my body/head and had wiped out over 20 cars before I “awoke”. I don’t know how long I was out but there was not one thing in the cab of my truck bolted down that wasn’t thrown lose, including me. The initial hit had my head knocking out the rear window immediately followed by being pushed into the next car in front of me, knocking my big 6’3” 240 pound lifeless body into the steering wheel. The steering wheel bent at 90º and left marks on my cheek bones to this day. Still, no blood or tears came.


Courtesy rear window pop out via head.


This Norwegian oaf was shook out of it first when one Washington State Trooper, one Kent Police officer and one King County Sheriff were gently pulling me out of my truck. I only remember apologizing for being so big. When asked for my address I gave them a mix between my childhood homes and my childhood best friends home, none of them current in more than a decade.

I remember hearing one of them saying, “he’s dead.”

And that is where Adam 2.0 started. The shock of running 6 minute miles and dunking basketballs and lifting cars off people - gone in the blink of an eye. My brain is still sure I can do it, alas, it cannot. Think of every possible physical pleasure you enjoy - diminished by 50% or completely - forever. 26 and life to go, Mr. Smith.

The good side.

I remember coming around and saying, “I’m a hero!” That’s just my style - supposed to be funny in dire straits and I’m glad my brain quickly filed back to a good place despite a severe concussion and spine completely on fire. My body tightly strapped down to a board to prevent further damage, including my head taped down and on the floor of a speeding ambulance I remember my back hurting so bad my hands felt cold. I spent what mental faculties I could focus on by reassuring the medic. I asked him if I was in a General Motors vehicle and what engine was under the hood. He replied that it was inconsequential because the semi had wiped out over 25 cars and there was no traffic between us and the hospital.





The bad side.
Some details for your pleasure. Tailgate at 45º angle.

Use your signals. Give a semi 5 seconds of signal before changing lanes in front of one. Finally, submit to the fact that even if you do all these things and the driver is coked up and jamming gears that he is going to do some urban renewal on your body. 

I suffered three burst discs, L3-L4, L4-L5, and L5-S1. These immediately were the thing that set my spine on fire. The concussion, which was only termed "severe" made my whole body flinch every time I blinked my eyes. Newborn Adam, brave new world.
I don't remember this. (Taken three days after accident)


The Dual Fart Can - Inept Driver Conundrum

I'd like to start this out with some bonafides and because my life is an open book, share a story or two. I will then explain my exasperation at completely incomprehensible loudness of the slowest vehicles on the streets, peoples inept driving skills and offer some solutions. Most of them will be legal.

Yeah, I may sound like an old curmudgeon and my street racing days are waaaaaay behind me. My fast cars all sold for an "adult" modern sedan that is not exactly slow, but definitely not fast. 

My first car was a 350 cubic inch V8 (that's 5.7L to you, kid), 4BBL carb, dual exhaust, M-22 4-speed Camaro Rally Sport. I bought it before I had even learned to drive a stick - I taught myself. The clutch was non-hydraulic assist like cars today - just a big ass heavy spring that probably was more work out than I see most people do when they're working out their legs. 
With a 3.55:1 rear diff the car had a perfect mix of launch and legs. Redline in 1st was 60MPH - and the Hurst T-handle shifter made the 2nd - 3rd shift a fast, pleasant "snap" and into the wiggle of power coming back on in a blink.

I have no idea why my mom let me buy this car for my first car but bless her soul because this car is what led to my understanding of how the internal combustion engine worked - from start to finish. 

So yeah, in high school I worked 40 hours a week for an "honest" job but after midnight was when I made most of my cash. The job was merely a cover for my avocation of a little tomfoolery while rock music blared out the windows and the CB used to find where the action was that night.

Now, onto my curmudgeonly post. Please, suffer along with me  aswe go down the list of modern lack of disregard for neighbors and fellow citizens ears and peace and quiet.

1. The Fart Box car. These cars are, when you hear them, cars whose bark is not only merely worse than their bite, they are toothless except to act as should be noise citations. Legal solutions are to just hope they fix their car. Options are to share your stash of potatoes with them and cram one up their tail pipe any and every time you have the chance. We need to get proactive on this.

2. The Fart Box + Bad Driver car. These vehicles are much the same as above except the person "driving" the car has no idea how a powertrain works and either doesn't care about the longevity of their engines or purposefully drives their Annoyance in a manner that at all times allows it to make the most useless noise it can at all times. 

I must go in depth on the second one. If you have a fast car, even if it is loud, it should leave ear shot quickly. If you can still clearly hear a car as it shifts from 2nd - 3rd and until that redline, you know that most tow trucks could pull the car faster on their hooks than the car can move itself. Regardless, the cherry on top of the shit sundae for these Car and Drivers are that when they hit 45 and are redlined in 3rd, for some reason they do not upshift. Not even one gear! 
  • This is bad for your engine.
  • This is bad for gas mileage.
  • This is bad if you drive a car like this and run into the wrong guy at the wrong time.
Motorcycle drivers, particularly Harley Davidson riders (whom I consider newbs or just don't understand the point of driving a Harley) lately seem to have a strain of this ignorance/disregard or lack of couth. 

No matter if you are four wheels or two, when you drive a manual and are not in peril or racing for money or pride, we can hear you anyway. Trust us, you drive a Noise Generator and WE HEAR YOU. There is no reason to drive at redline for 30 seconds or rap out your car when you turn a corner onto a short/residential street.

Here is how, if you happen to be in this group of drivers or riders, to drive with some decorum and class:
  • Short Shifting. You probably have never heard of this, or just don't understand that low RPM driving is cool. Short Shifting is merely shifting up a gear without redlining your ride. Yes, you have 6 or 8k RPM but you needn't use them all when motoring. Instead, simply shift up a gear at 2-3k, and when you reach the speed limit upshift to  just short of under-revving your engine. 
Doing this primarily raises your driving IQ and the admiration of neighbors and fellow motorists as it shows you actually do have control and knowledge of your vehicle.  It also allows your engine (which even if you drive a cheap, base model Fart Box) such things as it starting the next time you want to drive it. Also, not blowing up as you drive it, more cash at hand and road rage avoidance, that is what Metal is for.

Now, kids, don't be offended by what I'm writing here. I get it. I was raised by a single mother and learned all of this (much more quickly than you have apparently, but I did) bit by bit. I love that you love cars. I love that you don't mind risking a ticket or wrapping your car around a tree at 2AM! Just do it at the outskirts of town and pass it on to the next generation so if you're fortunate enough to not kill yourself and live past this part of your life, you may have a fairly quiet sleep after midnight.

I am here, as always, as your Zen master if you have questions on how to win street drag races and street racing etiquette. Please feel free to post questions or comments below or, if you really do need help or have questions because you are losing at the drags for either psychological reasons, your car is slower or for any reason - you can always email me directly. I can help you sort this out and with just a few tips can have you giving faster cars hell.

Thanks for reading and NEVER let them look under your hood.