Austin

Monday, May 9th 2022 at 10:07 pm
by Berck

I asked Jonah if she wanted to come to Austin with me for work. I wasn’t being all that serious about it, but she was. Until she checked the weather and discovered that the temperature was mid-80s. That was weeks ago. This week, the week that I’m here, the high is at least 95 every day. Humans apparently voluntarily decide to live here. I told her it was no big deal–they have air conditioning. Joke’s on me, my employer hosted the welcome happy hour on a rooftop bar.

After the work thing, I wandered around the streets of Austin by myself. I passed the Floppy Disk Repair Company on my way to a promising place with live music called Shiner. It stopped being promising when I got to the door and was greeted with rap. I was going to just go back to my hotel, when I decided that the Floppy Disk Repair Company must be a bar, since even in the days when it was relevant, there wasn’t much in the way of repairing floppy disks. The well-groomed guy outside told me I couldn’t go in without the code, and gestured at a numeric keypad. I shrugged and kept walking… “BUT!” he said, and I stopped and turned around. “If you tell me a joke, I’ll let you in.” I thought for a minute, pretty sure that I had absolutely no interest in going in, and decided to tell him my best joke. “What’s purple and commutes?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “An Abelian grape!” He actually did a good job pretending to laugh, then let me in. I wondered if he’d have had the same reaction to the dead baby varient.

There was only one couple inside a very dark bar. The music was some sort of innocuous ska, and the bar stool reasonably comfortable. I was presented with a menu of very fancy cocktails but ordered a scotch. The bartender with his shirt unbuttoned to the navel poured me a Laphroaig, noticed that there wasn’t really a whole second pour left in the bottle and poured me the rest. I thanked him and spent the next hour watching fairly normal bar things happen and walked back to my hotel.

My hotel is… weird. I love that they describe it as spacious because it is exactly the opposite of spacious. It’s the first hotel room I’ve been in outside of Europe where the toilet is in the shower. It’s nice, but small. Which is fine, since it’s not like I’m going to spend much time here.

Racing School

Tuesday, April 26th 2022 at 6:25 am
by Jonah

I first got involved in RMRV at driving school three years ago in the slow group of the Performance class.  The next year I passed the Competition class in my husband Berck’s Formula Vee.  Last year I worked the black flag corner.  But this was my first RMVR driving school as an instructor, and I requested to be assigned someone who had never been on a track. I got an 18 year old with her 2007 Rabbit on all-season tires that had a cylinder issue and a transmission that really didn’t want to go into third gear. But it was a manual, so I told her she’d definitely have fun. I just hoped Tech wouldn’t be bothered that her belly pan was attached with Gorilla tape, but I think they were distracted by the lack of a tow hook and the presence of hubcaps. For the first slow session, I showed her the line for a couple of laps, then we swapped seats and went back out on the track.

She drove the line perfectly.

Before the next session, I told her she could grid up wherever she wanted. If she got to the grid first, she could be in front. If she wanted to be in the back of the pack, she could wait at the rear until everyone else gridded up. “I think I’ll wait in the back. My car isn’t that fast.” We waited for a Porche, a Lotus, a few turbo GTI’s, and bunch of Miatas to get in line ahead of us. Then we had to poke around behind everyone else. I showed her how to go through the pit lane to get some space behind a pack of bunched up cars in order to actually get some fast track time.

At the next session she suggested we get to the grid early. “I think I want to go first.”

She did everything I told her to as soon as I spoke. She hit every apex. She hopped beautifully on the curbing through the S-turns. And most importantly, she trusted me when I said she didn’t have to lift off the gas and hit the brake until she was half-way down the short-chute coming off the banking into the first turn of the infield. She lapped car after car. She kept pushing and improving her performance. On the banking, I asked if she was driving flat out. “Yes,” she sighed, “This is just as fast as this car goes.”

By the end of the day, I was running out of instructions to give her. Berck rotated the Rabbit’s tires for her, since the front all-seasons were getting chewed up. That night we walked the cold track… well, the infield… beers in hand (plus an extra in my pocket) for me, Berck, our friend Andrew, who we had promised a fun weekend, and Andrew’s instructor Willis, another Vee driver. (I’d had to search the coolers for a soda for my student.) I warned her that the apex and track-out cones would be gone the next day. “Cones?” she said, and I realized she simply instinctively knew the track.

She said goodnight and headed to her hotel room. She had planned to camp, but the gale-force winds on Friday had blown away her tent. Nights at the track are my favorite, where the Vee guys sit around and drink beer and tell stories about racing. I made them all laugh by claiming to be the reason Bill Miller finally doffed his racing shoes. His final race, the octogenarian hadn’t finished last; I had, driving Sterling’s Rabbit. I asked Jack if he’d swap students with me for a session in the morning. Jack has lots of experience driving Rabbits on track and gave me some great instruction right before the race where I crossed the finish line right behind Bill Miller. Jack agreed, if I didn’t mind riding in a $200,000 Ferrari. Mind?

I was actually able to give the Ferrari driver some good instruction, I think, though Jack said it was the same things he kept telling his student. I asked Jack about my student. He grinned, “She’s fast!” He said he told her to smooth out her turn in at corner 5 and to give the car a bit of a chance to settle between the carousel and the S-turns.

For the next session, I told my student that, because she was aware of other drivers, giving good point-bys, and passing safely, I thought she was ready to drive alone. Willis told the same thing to Andrew, who was driving our blue track Miata, and Willis and I went up to the roof of the classroom, where we could see the whole track. My student made sure to get to the grid first so no one would slow her down. Andrew caught up to her pretty quickly, and she would give him a point-by each time she hit a straight, but he didn’t quite have enough power to pass her. Willis was beside himself with excitement. This was also his first time instructing. “They are by far the fastest of the group, hands down, those two, for sure! Look at them flying through that turn!”

We ran back downstairs after the session and joined our students. Andrew was laughing and hugging Willis and me after his first time out solo. My student was dutifully checking her tire pressures. I asked her if the car was faster without anyone in it. “Well, of course.”

I asked Berck to take my student out during the lunch break in the Miata. She came back with a big grin on her face. “That was so much fun!” 

A corner worker on break from the black flag station at corner 5 came over and asked, “Who is driving this car?” pointing at the Rabbit. “You are so fast!” 

Berck rode with Andrew during a session, and came back laughing that Andrew couldn’t pass my student, even in a better track car. “You’re pretty fast!” he told her.

For the last session of the weekend, I asked my student what she wanted to do. Was there anything she wanted to work on? Did she want to drive alone or have anyone come with her? “I mean,” she shrugged, “You could come with me…?” Of course, we got to the grid early and started in front. This was a combined session with the faster cars (like the Ferrari), so I warned her there would be lots of cars passing us this session. I asked her if, during the classroom session we just left, she had noticed the way the car in the video had been taking turn 5. “Actually, I kinda fell asleep.”

So we worked on smoothness and tracking out more if the tires started complaining. Next we went up to the roof to watch the drivers from the competition school engage in their first race against the instructors. “Well,” she said as the checkered flag was thrown for the production car race, “I think I’m going to head out.” I still had to write in her logbook, so while she banged her hubcaps back into place, I explained to her what track camber and driving 7/10ths were so I could mark them completed. I wrote that she should work on smoothness, because smooth is fast, which is what Jack keeps telling me. Then I asked her if she’d had fun. She smiled, “Yeah.”

Then I had to run over to the Miata to put the top up because Andrew had left it down and it had started raining and I really didn’t want to drive back home up the pass in a snowstorm with a wet seat. (For the trip home, we had to swap the wheels for snow tires that Berck had the foresight to bring in the back of the truck.) I waved at my student as she drove past, wondering if I had actually taught her anything, and she enthusiastically waved back.

I hope I see her at the next race.

One-Off Extra Rare Modified

Monday, April 25th 2022 at 2:51 pm
by Berck

This one is showing off a brand-new but not-so-desirable short-nose modification.

Latrodectus

Tuesday, April 5th 2022 at 9:23 pm
by Jonah

Berck had just started up an episode of Mad About You, sitting down on the couch with his plate, when he tried to shout something through a full mouth and over Paul Reiser. He was unsuccessful. He jumped up with his plate and backed away from the couch and attempted communicating again. I couldn’t tell what he was saying. He pointed to where he had been sitting. “My what?” I demanded, as Berck, now standing in the hallway, put another forkful of food into his mouth. He gesticulated with his fork even more forcefully at the couch and the remote, which was now out of his reach. I still couldn’t hear what he was saying over the TV volume. “Your department!” he managed to get out between bites. “What?” “There!” “What’s there!?”

Berck swallowed.

“SPIDERS!”

Now that I knew what I was looking for, I saw it, hanging from a silk from the ceiling, right where Berck’s plate had just been, its impossibly shiny black skin, save for a golden hourglass, wrapping a fat abdomen near to bursting with poison. It was casually letting itself down. I knew I had seconds before it hit the floor and then headed in who knows what direction.

I grabbed a map off my desk and turned to capture the beast. By now it has alighted on the table in front of the couch, next to the remote. Spiders are my department because I have a strict no-kill policy with spiders. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and spiders capture and eat mosquitoes and flies and Miller moths. But dealing with this particular spider was going to have to take extra care because she was a black widow (did you know black widows can have yellow hour glasses or even two unconnected triangles?)

I carefully held one end of the folded map and edged the other end toward the widow. She tentatively stepped from the table onto the map. When a majority of her eight legs had made their way onto the map, I pulled the map away and started heading for the door. Perhaps she would find a place to hide outside in the near 0° temperature before she froze to death.

I had just rounded the couch toward the door, when the spider was suddenly yanked by an unseen force off of the folded map. She didn’t fall, and she didn’t jump. Simply, one moment she was on the paper I was holding and the next she wasn’t.

Now it was time to panic.

I ran upstairs. I tore off my flannel shirt. Then I glanced at the cuffs of my trousers and decided they had to go too. I grabbed the vacuum out of the broom closet and headed back downstairs in my undies.

“Where did it go?” asked Berck.

“I don’t know.”

“Is it on you?”

This was a non-zero possibility. I ripped off my T-shirt, socks, and panties. I examined my now naked skin, finally convinced I was spider-free. Then I took the vacuum’s plug and ducked around Berck, who was still eating in the hallway and also unhelpfully standing between me and the nearest available outlet. Then I removed the wand from the base and, without bothering with any attachments, turned the machine on.

Now brandishing my very loud weapon, entering battle as naked as a Pict, I approached my foe. The opportunity for amnesty was over. It was kill or take a trip to the emergency room. My scorched-earth plan was to vacuum every inch of the couch and work my way outwards, throughout the whole room, if necessary. Vacuuming, it turns out, is also my department.

But then I spotted her, right where I had previously found her, this time heading up her strand, apparently deciding to nope out of the area and head back to the ceiling. I struck hard and fast, lunging forward, stopping the tip of the vacuum’s stalk right next to her. Then, just as she had disappeared in a flash off of my map, she vanished into the bowels of the vacuum cleaner.

Our vacuum is one of those bag-less types with a canister you can empty into the trash. I imagined her patent-leather body exploring the maze of hoses and compartments inside the vacuum. I switched the machine off, opened the door, and walked outside, still wearing nothing, into the below-freezing weather.

In the morning, confident that an arachnid could not move in single digit temperatures, I opened the vacuum cleaner and emptied the canister into a trash bag. I didn’t see any spider parts, but I didn’t dig through the debris looking for any either. The trash bag was tied up air-tight and taken to the street for the garbage collector coming that day.

The vacuum cleaner is still standing outside on the porch, and now it’s snowing. But the vacuum can never come back inside.

Never.

It’s Legal!

Tuesday, March 15th 2022 at 3:54 pm
by Berck

I think this weekend I’ve managed to accomplish everything necessary to call the car legal for ARA. Still plenty to do, but the major welding hurdles have been accomplished thanks to my codriver and fellow Vee people.

Bending:

Notching:

Welding:

Top of the brace bars done:

Cutting:


Cursing:

Overall, great success! I didn’t get a photo of the finished bars yet, but they came out reasonably well considering the retrofit. The must-do list is shrinking. I need to paint the new bars, install a modern rally computer and intercom and sort out the shifter and I should be good to rally.