A Month To Cool Off

This page written circa 4 June, 2001.

Faithful followers of these soapboxes will note the two-month gap between this and the last linked installment. It feels as if there has been so much happening that I have had neither the time to reflect, nor the chance to decide what is worth reporting. Santa Rosa weather has been changing as precipitously as our lifestyle. In 4 days last week we went from needing the central heating to a run-naked-in-the-sprinkler heat wave. I had a birthday in there somewhere... it seems so minor a thing.

We got back from Aus in May, with our current houseguest Danny, and promptly went to MTT in Phoenix. I shall reflect upon those trips in an upcoming Photo Exhibition, so no more of same here, save for me to report that travelling with kids is hard work.

I suppose I did not previously appreciate how much children affect every facet of lifestyle. Years ago, Andrew had a crack where, upon being shown his son, the father says "Thank you nurse, please bring him back when he is seventeen". It sounded good to us. I knew intellectually that having children was a committment and an irreversible step (I've always hated those), but I never before appreciated how it would affect all the minutiae of my existence. Quite a lot of people in the last 30 years said I would make a good father (and I thank all for the confidence). I'm loving it, though there are downsides.

We have come to the conclusion that we must buy a van. We do not fit Ms Benz any more (sob). We are shopping for the full, sliding-door, 7-seat, walk-in, "Catholic bus". The Mazda MPV and the Honda Odyssey are the top contenders (neither the Benz nor the VW versions are imported into the US).

Decades ago, Andrew and I saw a film called "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe". The film director lost a bet ("if such-and-such, I'll eat my shoe"), and decided to film himself cooking and eating his shoe, and in that wonderful film he put much philosophy. One comment we appreciated was to the effect that "One should not go too long without cooking", and we (Andrew, Werner and I) realised that there are other things "without which a man should not go for too long". Wipe off that smutty smile, I meant "working on a car". Really I mean working on something, coming to understand how and why it was made as it was, and perhaps gaining satisfaction also by repairing it. At the time that meant working on a car. Programs like Car Talk thrive because of the appeal of such projects, in addition to their financial necessity for many people. I find I come to know much about a person working on a satisfying, typically mechanical, project with them. A man should not go so long without a satisfying project.

I vividly remember rebuilding the engine of my X19 with my friend Tony Carnovale back in about 1983, in his garage. The experience helped forge a friendship that endures still despite our few chances to meet, drink beer and watch the grass grow. Of course, the memory is reinforced by an event that occurred about 11PM on the third night of work... his wife came into the garage in hideous pink slippers and gown, screamed that she did not know where he was and that he might have been killed, and then went back upstairs. It took several years for him to realise that she really was a complete fruitcake, and divorce her.

Sadly, the time when cars were made to be worked on by their owners is going away. Today a car might go 200,000 miles with no more than oil changes, tyres, batteries, brake pads and so forth, and is then scrap. Reliability is high and repairs are designed to be tackled more and more without undue skill on the part of the mechanic. It makes good financial sense, even if it is not fun, and many people do not want to know what is in a car, it is just a necessary tool, not a thing of pleasure. Wil tells us the story of a friend whose father wanted him to rebuild a car rather than buying one; the father presumably sought to find a learning project, but it was not a welcome one. For a couple of decades, electronics made good fodder for projects with things like ham radio or digital clocks or hifi equipment, but that time is gone now too.

What will be next? Upon what will the 21st-century father dream of collaborating with his children? Will it be assembling or rebuilding a computer? I doubt it, this is already becoming commoditised. Have we come to a time when there is no activity that is materially productive, demanding of understanding, open to teamworking, and satisfying to undertake? Will it be architecture? Will it be internet-related, designing agents to find files on distant machines?

I hope I find out what replaces car work in this 21st century. I want to do it with my children before they leave.

| Home | Back |