Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Steno Pads

I am at work, along with three mechanics, building the Volt that will be shown at the Detroit Auto Show next month. Because this is a GM holiday, I am the only Engineer here. My responsibility is to sit patiently at my desk and just wait for problems to come up, fix the problem, then go back to my desk and wait. I'm not sure if I am here to fix problems as much as I am here to make decisions so if later they turn out to be the wrong ones, it will be easy to find the person responsible. Decisions are never black or white, just different shades of gray. I am a whipping boy. I guess I am cool with that.

I am cleaning my office while waiting for problems. I just threw out a year of used steno pads. I thought I was hanging on to them so I could go back and look at notes in case questions came up about who said what, or why certain things were handled the way they were.

I flipped through the pages of these note pads as I threw them out and it occurred to me I was hanging on to them because, in between my legitimate engineering notes and original art work, I wrote down non-work related plans: my plan to rent a cabin so I could pre-ride Yankee Springs last April, times I was shooting for at different races, rough drafts of emails I planned on sending, plans for the future. Well thought out, though often half baked plans, now sitting in a dumpster along with coffee grounds and banana peals and broken car parts.

On the way back from the dumpster I went to our office supply cabinet and got a new steno pad.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Befuddled Santa

Santa brought Allie that electronic dead bolt for her room she wanted. I am already getting tired trying to explain this gift to friends and family. Oh yeah, her other must have gift this Christmas was one of those mouth guards that football players use. Don't ask. Watching the kids open their presents is a highlight of my year for sure but watching the presents change over the years from dolls to I-Pods is a little hard for a sentimental, neurotic father like me. Actually I'm not all that sentimental or neurotic, I just have a little trouble letting go.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Building a Base

Like most racers in Northern states, I am early into my base training. It is low intensity but that shouldn't be confused with easy; the boredom is just painful. I don't watch much TV during the year but every December I find a TV series on DVD and watch it while I ride. Last year was It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The year before that was The Office. I watched Lost the year earlier, CSI and South Park during previous base stages. This year I am watching Prison Break. Emilie has gotten hooked on this series. It is nice to watch TV with her, even if I am doing it at 140 BPM.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Poignant but Pointless

I drove a prototype Chevy Volt for the first time today, a car that runs on battery power for about 40 miles after being charged through a normal electrical outlet. After 40 miles, a gasoline generator kicks in to recharge the battery. Driving the Volt was an emotional experience for me, something I might tell my grandchildren when their memory of the gasoline powered car is as blurry as their parents' memory of the rotary dial telephone. I will be spending my Christmas vacation getting a Volt ready for the Detroit Auto Show.

I am a car person. When I saw GM collapsing all around me last year, I considered other careers. I was befuddled. I don’t have passion for much other than bicycles and automobiles, and there is little opportunity to work for a bicycle company (outside of China, of course). I was offered a position at Nuke Proof (a now defunct maker of beautiful titanium and carbon fiber bicycle components in Ada Michigan) the same week I was offered a job at GM. It was a tough choice. Few people share my frustration with, and affection for, the U.S. auto industry. I left the voice mail from the owner of Nuke Proof on my answering machine for 5 years, seriously.

So this morning I am checking email over breakfast. AOL has an article on the Volt where people can post comments. I spent a half hour reading comments showing how much people hate GM in general, and the Volt in particular. They say irrational things...like Chrysler could have developed this car much quicker than GM, or that the Toyota Prius makes more sense. GM deserves a lot of the bad press they have received lately but I am increasingly convinced that if the Volt was powered by solar panels or wind power, and hovered above the ground like in those 1950’s science fiction movies, people would still be unimpressed.

I remain optimistic about the future. My grandchildren, I’m sure, won’t remember this dark period in GM’s history. And Scott Quiring wont be the only person still making bicycles in the States.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Spirit...Sort Of

Today is the office Christmas, err, I mean Holiday party. Walking in to work this morning I noticed I was the only person who didn’t decorate their office. I took out a red and green hanging folder from my file cabinet and quickly made a non-offensive, politically correct holiday decoration. I use to, maybe subconsciously, make an effort to be a little different, or maybe I was just indifferent. When I was fresh out of U of M and working for EDS (I think it stood for Everyone Dresses the Same since we all wore blue suites), I proudly drove my Kawasaki GPz 1100 to work; the only motorcycle in the huge parking lot. The exhaust would set off car alarms. Sweet. Now I’m 40-something and try to look like everyone else. It is easier this way I guess.

I don’t talk about bicycles much at work.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tooth Faries and Santa Claus

Allison lost a tooth while we were at the movies last night. She put it under her pillow like a normal child but also left the Tooth Fairy a note asking a lot of specific questions that only the Tooth Fairy would know (what the Tooth Fairy eats, how old she is, etc.) Allie wants to believe, but she needs to be sure.

I adore Allison, as I do Emilie, but I interact with them differently because they are…different. Someone called Allie “spirited”. I don’t even know what that means but I assume it isn’t correct because Allie transcends the English Encarta Dictionary. Cin and I use the word “Allie” as an adjective to describe something that doesn’t make sense but it is so real that it is pointless to argue, as if it is on some other plane that we just can't comprehend.

Typical of Allie, the one must have Christmas gift for her this year is one of those electronic deadbolts for her bedroom door, where you enter a code and the door unlocks, like they use in commercial office buildings. She wants this electronic deadbolt more than Ralphie wanted a Red Rider BB gun. She asks to go to the Home Depot just to look at them. Allie wanted one for her Birthday in September; however, I dismissed this idea because it didn't make sense. I have had to hear about her disappointment every week since. I disappointed her but Santa wont. As a father I am incredibly jealous of Santa. He works in a magical, non-unionized toy workshop. I work in a dirty garage at GM. I race a 26" wheeled, rim brake ghetto bike. Santa probably has a Quiring Titanium 29er with a Fox fork.

I was driving the kids to dance and Emilie pointed out a wad of gum on my seat’s headrest.

Me: “Hum…how did that get there?”

Allie (texting on her phone, not looking up and very casual): “I put it there last week.”


Me: “And you put gum on my seat because…?”

Allie (still texting and still casual): “I wanted it to get stuck in your hair.”

Me: “ah, okay, why?”

Allie (as casual as ever): “I was mad at you for not letting me spend the night at Anna’s.”


Allie (stops texting for a minute and looks up to emphasize what she was about to say): “You don’t put your head all the way back…that’s the problem.”

That’s the problem??? What the, who in, how….I didn’t even know how to respond. She is Allie.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Believing In Things I Don't Understand

Bill and I rode this morning. It was cold, really, really cold. My heart rate monitor transmitter was frozen like that rose your 7th grade science teacher dipped in nitrogen then smashed with a hammer but instead of smashing it, I put it around my chest. My heart rate spiked. God bless Michigan.

This was my first ride with Bill and his new 29er. He seemed faster. I didn't have to soft pedal to let him catch up. Maybe it was the placebo affect but regardless, we took over a minute off the time it took us to do the 7 mile Murry Lake loop last week, and today there were frozen parts we had to slow down for and we were riding in full winter clothing. I am almost convinced I must have a 29er but I still don't get it. People, smarter than me, have tried to explain it. They use terms like "angle of attack". Once a reason has an engineering sounding term to explain it, it becomes hard to argue.

I will go to church tomorrow morning like I have done every Sunday morning of my life. Sometimes the girls go with me. I understand religion less than I understand why bigger wheels make you go faster. It is hard for me to believe in things I just don't understand.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Riding Partners and Other Things One Shouldn't Take For Granted

Bill bought a new Giant 29er yesterday. He called, still hopped up on endorphins from his first ride, and told me it was unbelievably quick, like the extra three inch wheel circumference magically transforms a bicycle into some type of a perpetual motion machine that rockets up hills all by itself. I may have to euthanize my 26” wheeled ghetto bike this winter.

I couldn’t ride with Bill yesterday; Cindy was out of town and I was playing the part of mom again. I am getting much more adept at being a mom. I spared the kids my lecture on complex carbohydrates during breakfast, helped Allie floss, and warmed up the car before school. I have been riding outside a lot lately. One reason is, even though it has been rainy and cold, I know soon the trails will be snow-covered and my CamelPak will be frozen like a popsicle. Living in Michigan, one learns to appreciate mildly crappy weather. The other reason is my riding partners are nuts.

Bill spent the summer and fall working in Illinois. He moved back to Michigan last week. Bad weather just does not faze him. I have also been riding with Renee, a teacher both my kids had in first and second grade. She seems just as unaffected by crappy weather as Bill. She might casually say something, in her quiet, sweet voice, like: “Hum…I can’t feel my toes” but she is the one who asks to go riding in the feezing cold. I figure if she is man enough to ride in this, then I ought to be too.

I am a bit fussy in choosing whom I ride with. I've moved from one riding partner to another as things changed and never gave it much thought. This summer I found myself alone and it sucked. My hectic life off the bike made it difficult to even join the MMBA group rides. Going forward I need to be a better riding partner and won’t assume others will always just be there. Yes, this is an open apology to everyone I use to ride with.