Unbelievable excitement ensues as two Seattleites prepare for a baby!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Stackson stares in wonder at his flooded domain.

In some areas, water is the most valuable natural resource, a life-giving liquid - essential to the growing and harvesting of food and the sustainment of the human race. Water is essential to life - and as every child knows, water is the most prevalent substance in the human body.

To me, water is a hated, implacable enemy; an insidious, liquid Moby Dick to my frantic, bedraggled, Captain Ahab.

Normally, Seattleites make peace with water - in winters in which they are oppressed with months of drizzle, the choices are either accept the rain or go slowly insane. For years, I've been perfectly accepting - though not enthusiastic - in regards to rain, but recently that ambivalance has turned to hatred, frustration, and fear.

That transition may have taken place several weeks ago, after 27 straight days of rain, when I had my arm submurged up to the elbow down the driveway drain in a futile effort to claw out enough silt to allow it to flow freely. It may have been when I pumped away like an idiot on the side stairway drain with a toilet plunger, with the vain hope of dislodging some blockage that would keep water from pouring into our basement through the side door. I had been pretty sure the final transition took place two weeks ago, when I arrived home at midnight to find the entire garage under three inches of water - which I then laboriously bailed out with a green salad bowl over a period of four hours.

A damp outlook ...

Let me tell you, that was a bizarre four hours. Envision, if you will, from the perspective of one of several curious passersby at that desolate hour - a lone, forlorn figure, wearing a raincoat, heavy hiking boots, and an LED headlamp, kneeling on a blue foam pad, scooping ludicrously tiny amounts of water from the driveway into a flimsy plastic salad bowl and into a 5-gallon bucket, then grabbing the bucket, staggering up the driveway, and dumping the contents into the street, only to repeat moments later, the reflections of the water from his headlamp rippling eerily across the garage ceiling like a swimming pool roof when the underwater lights are on.

My mind began to crack, too, the more I stared down into the useless drain, wondering what was going on down there. For all I knew, the Titanic was down there, or the Loch Ness Monster. Or perhaps Loch Ness on the Titanic, bemoaning the unfair class system of the time and pining for Kate Winslett.

It's difficult to see in this photo, but after an hour of pumping, there was still standing water in most of the garage.

What really drove me nuts later was the realization that water was actually coming up out of the drain.

But, with a bit of fresh perspective, the true fulcrum of frustration came at 2:30 a.m. this morning, when I woke to hard, pounding rain and an even more insistent feeling that something was terribly wrong. I had cleared all of the water twice last night; but even so, when I ventured downstairs, I found that the entire garage was flooded five inches deep - and we were taking on standing water in our family room from both the stairway and the garage. At least it would have been standing had it not been cascading through the room with its own waves crashing on the couch and the entertainment center, and the little Stackson furballs floating around displaying the various currents at work.

Now, following the events of two weeks ago, Leigh and I had not been ignoring the problem. The day after my four-hour bailing effort with the salad bowl, I went to Home Depot and bought a spiffy little submersible pump that proved very handy in piping the water through a garden hose up to the street.

Plus, we called in Fritz, the erratic and moody woman-hating German drain genius. After snaking the two outside drains, he told us there was nothing we could do. Evidently the kitchen and the two outside drains run in a pipe through the front yard and empty into the storm drain. Unfortunately, roots had deflected the pipe, meaning the drains just emptied into the front yard - or, conversely, when the water table was high enough, the front yard drained into the driveway. Fritz advised us to dig up the front yard, reconnect the drains, and hope for the best. We couldn't afford that option and foolishly figured that as things dried up, the water table dropped, and with the help of our new pump, we'd be able to keep up with things until we hit a long stretch of dry weather and the problem went away until the next rainy season.

Huggies - ultra absorbent!

I wasn't feeling quite that sanguine this morning, as I tinkered with the pump for 45 minutes trying to get it to work while Rome burned (rather soggily) around me. You see, the pump can't operate if there's water and air mixed in either the hose or the assembly - a condition Flotec helpfully calls an airlock. Flotec includes on most of its pumps a small hole that you probe with a paper clip in the hopes of clearing out the airlock. Unfortunately, my pump wasn't one of those fortunate pumps - though the instructions clearly show the hole. So, while the waves continued to crash on the walls, and through to the family room, I dissassembled the pump, dried it all out carefully, shook out the hose, reassembled, and finally got everything to work - at which point the poor little pump began its three-hour fight against an ocean of water.

Once I knew the pump was on the job and slowly siphoning away the breakers that were crashing through to the family room, I woke Leigh for some assistance. After she calmly expressed her surprise and dismay at the situation, we began soaking up as much as we could. We rapidly went through our available towel supply - and felt slightly ludicrous doing so, because it was a bit like tossing a towel into the ocean. The towel rapidly turns dark and shiny, then floats along, bobbing in the still-robust waves. After the towels came out second-string T-shirts, then we put the absorbency of Sophia's Huggies to the test. After a rocky start, they proved their mettle.

While I bailed out the side stairwell, and the pump slowly sucked the water out of the garage, Leigh tried to soak up as much water as she could - then we began a round-robin in which we gathered up the most thoroughly soaked towels, wrung them out in the bathroom, tossed them in the dryer, and then returned them to the fray.

Huggies are made up of some funky gel, but boy does that gel absorb water ...

As of 7:12 a.m., as I write this paragraph, we finally appear to be out of the worst of it - which is the only reason I'm taking the time to write this. Leigh is back up in bed resting up for what will no doubt be a long day. The pump finally expelled all of the water out of the garage (though water continues to boil up out of the drain. The first dryer load finished, and the rejuvenated towels helped me get the rec room floor virtually dry - though I still need to finish drying some of the wiring that has been marinating behind the entertainment center, which was unplugged with severe trepidation early in the crisis.

I've already called in to work to take the day off so we can finish the cleanup and begin calling in contractors. No matter the expense this time, we're getting everything resolved - including ensuring the house gets thoroughly dry so that mold doesn't get a foothold.

And, thankfully, the rain has stopped - for now.


An update, as of 8:15 - it has begun to rain again, and I've had to pump twice more to keep everything clear. More updates as events warrant.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

I Promised a Sophia Post ...

Miss Sophia gets sporty!

And, well, the weekend got out of hand. Plus, we've had hard rain all day and the garage is about to flood - and, to boot, we just got a strange trickle of water from under the couch.

So all I can do at the moment is post this cute photo and deliver more later. But, hey - she is awfully cute!

Friday, January 27, 2006

If it Wasn't For Bad Luck ...

Sophia, as usual, has been a bright spot.

There's is only time for a very brief post before I head to work, but I wanted to let everybody know that the next installments of Chris' Object of Automotive Desire may be several days in coming. You see, while we attended the Sonics game last night against the Mavericks (which the Sonics lost horribly), both my laptop and that of another Amazon colleague were stolen out of my buddy's trunk. This is the latest in a series of unfortunate events over the last several weeks for Leigh and I.

Here's what's been going on with us lately:
- The Valiant was towed. (more on this later)
- The Volvo got a flat tire. (more on this later)
- Our rec room was flooded thanks to a recalcitrant stairway drain.
- Our garage flooded multiple times thanks to a recalcitrant driveway drain (more on this later)
- After being a great sleeper at night for months, Sophia has begun waking up 4-10 times a night in the last week, screaming inconsolably. However, she makes up for it by being adorable.
- A watch we bought for Leigh on eBay (used, to save money) wound up needing very expensive repairs.
- The Sonics have been awful.
- My Amazon laptop was stolen.

But, of course, the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl, so given the unlikelihood of that particular event, I suppose the universe had to even itself out somehow. I'm just glad the sun didn't go supernova or something, just to prevent this seeming impossibility from taking place.

To be honest, I'm a little weary of vandalism. My 10-speed bike was stolen off our porch in Charlotte, and of course that was unfortunate. But since we've moved back to Seattle, we've lost our Acura Integra, the Volvo's radio and side window, and now my laptop to theft.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 10/20

Today's COoAD, the Ford RS200, is an obscure model - designed as a limited-production homologation special to legalize its counterpart Group B World Rally Car.

The Group B cars were famous in the 1980s for their high-strung, high-boost turbocharged engines and incredible (for the time) all-wheel-drive traction. Group B cars were infamous for their tendency to overwhelm even the best professional rally drivers, and several drivers were killed before Group B cars were eventually banned in favor of today's tamer World Rally Cars.

The Porsche 959 was one such example, but this one - plebian nameplate and generic looks notwithstanding - was more powerful and challenging even than the ultimate Porsche. This is one of history's all-time unknown supercars, and I've wanted one ever since I was it on the cover of an issue of Autoweek in 1985.


Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 1/26

I'm sure we've all heard the story about the guy who, in the holy pursuit of ultimate acceleration, strapped a JATO rocket to the roof of his station wagon and promptly flattened himself against a canyon wall.
bviously this man was foolish on many levels - and fictional, to boot - because if he was after ultimate acceleration, he would have been far better off procuring an Audi RS6 posthaste.

The RS6 is one of those rare machines that has no weaknesses (save price). Its immensely powerful twin-turbo 40-valve V-8 gives it the massive torque and high-end horsepower to bend the mind, blur reality, and give the impression that, rather than accelerating forwards, you've just driven off a cliff. But the Audi, thanks to the miracle of tenacious all-wheel-drive traction, is less likely than the JATO wagon to leave the driver spread all over a canyon wall. And even if our thrill-seeker was accelerating uncontrollably towards a fiery demise, the Audi's aggressive yet subtle styling would ensure he'd look good doing it.

All RS6 models offer up a heady combination of elegance and vicious performance, but my particular favorite is the Europe-only RS6 Plus Avant - combining all of the RS6's strengths with the utility and beauty of a wagon body and an extra jolt of horsepower. The Plus has 480 twin-turbocharged horsepower with which to warp the laws of physics - for example, this heavy wagon flies to 60 mph in the 4-second range. Sir Isaac Newton would be either be extremely pleased or completely horrified - I'm not sure which.

If forced to choose one car to live with for the rest of my life, price no object, I think the RS6 Plus Avant just might have to be the car.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 10/19

Time for a Mopar injection.

I've always loved Plymouth Superbirds - they have all of the ingredients to make the perfect muscle car.

Lots of power? Check - the legendary 426 Hemi.

Racing heritage? Check - this was the most legendary NASCAR ride of the day, and was the chariot of King Richard Petty for some time.

Unique styling? Check - aside from some of the Corvettes of the time, the Superbird was the only muscle car to combine sleek lines with the brutality that muscle cars so alluring.

Scarcity? Check - these were only in production for a short time and there are just a handful left today - and all of them, if they're in good shape, go for six-figure amounts.

About 15 years ago, Car & Driver did a feature on a gentleman who bought his Superbird roughly 10 years previously (so sometime in the early 1980s) for a pittance. The only problem was the paint on the roof and the ridiculously high spoiler was scuffed - you see, he'd been using the car to haul plywood, balanced precariously on the roof and the spoiler.

That's like eating lasagna off the Mona Lisa.

I'd love to have one, but these days only the serious collectors can afford one - and I doubt they get driven, which is a real pity.

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 1/25

The Jaguar XJ series sedans have long been symbols of a bygone era. With its delicate styling and old world interior appointments fairly dripping with wood and leather in the characteristically cramped cabin, the XJ has historically offered an elegant presence that set it apart from the pack with performance among the best in the world.
This COoAD primarily concerns the first edition, which debuted in 1968 - the prettiest, complete with an inline six as smooth as the leather hides on the seats. There was also an XJ12 available, with a hugely complex but massively torquey V-12, giving it a top speed of nearly 150 mph - making it both one of the fastest and one of the most refined motorcars available in that era.

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 10/18

Yes, I realize it's nothing more than a Chevy Vega with swoopy styling, but the Chevy Monza has long been a guilty pleasure of mine. Not only is the Monza an awfully good-looking car by 1975-1980 standards, but it made an excellent race car in IMSA racing in the capable hands of Al Holbert. Plus, since the Monza could be bought with an anemic small-block V-8, it can easily be refitted with something a lot more potent so that its performance matches its look.

Even stock, by the end of its run in 1980, the Monza was a fairly fast car by the standards of the time, topping out at more than 120 mph. The car pictured here, in Spyder trim (symbolizing a performance upgrade consisting solely of paint and stickers) , had a 3.8-liter V-6 and was all original and with just a handful of miles as of last year.

Given how difficult it is to find Monzas nowadays, given that they succumbed to rust nearly as quickly as their Vega siblings, this is a remarkably rare car.

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 1/24

I've always had a thing for the original Volkswagen Rabbit/Golf and the resulting GTI - for one thing, my uncle used to ice-race a yellow Rabbit with great effect in South Dakota. At an early age, he presented me with a custom-painted yellow Matchbox Rabbit with his sponsorship decals assiduously affixed (he is also a master model crafter), and from that day onwards I thought it would be awfully cool to own a Rabbit/Golf/GTI of my own.

The first-generation Rabbit/Golf was a revolutionary design - a sharply-creased replacement for the bulbous and obsolete Beetle, it incorporated the space-saving lessons learned from the original Mini into a larger design with a cavernous hatchback, crisp driving manners, and attractive Guigaro-penned lines. It was an instant hit in America and directly influenced every economy hatchback since made for this market.

The GTI was similarly seminal - it was the first mass-produced hot hatchback, offering in the dark days of the early 1980s a mighty mite performance car made fun thanks to agility, not cubic inches, and without sacrificing utiliity. The legendary GTI line has continued, finding its recent apex in the Golf R32 super-hot-hatach of several years ago, but the original still carries the most purity of line and intent.

During the car-shopping trip several years ago in which I tested the Merkur and eventually bought my beloved Malibu Wagon, I tested a GTI with the hope that I might finally own one. However, the fact that it was completely knackered, combined with a steering wheel that made my hands smell like Cool Ranch Dorito's, convinced me it wasn't the way to go. And really, that's true of all of the early GTIs - it's very difficult to find an original GTI that hasn't either been thrashed or destroyed.

Here's a great page where somebody documents their GTI rebuilding project:


Monday, January 23, 2006

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 10/17

Funny note on this one - it was located in Tacoma, was incredibly original, and very cheap. I actually considered buying this car (this was pre-Valiant) but realized that the cost would include a failed marriage.

The original photos have expired off of eBay (though the listing remains), but this one, in blue, is basically the same car - clean, original, and lovely.


Another that I doubt will excite too many people, but I've wanted one of these for years!
This is the last year of the huge Caprice/Impala, and this is a rare remaining example of one that hasn't been cut up by the hip-hop crowd.

Perfection, beauty - a beige four-door 350 Caprice still all original and beautiful. Keep it stock, or drop a big block crate motor in without touching the look - either way, it's wonderful.

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 1/23

When the first in the line of legendary Corvette sports cars appeared in 1953, there was little to suggest the future glory of the name. Cleanly if delicately styled, with only an equally delicate six-cylinder engine to motivate it, the 1953 Corvette was more a cruiser than a bruiser; a car in which to relax, not race.

But thanks to a restyling and the magic of the small-block Chevrolet V-8, by the second generation, 1956-1957, the Corvette had hit its stride. In fact, I think the 1956-1957 Corvettes are the prettiest made during that first decade; more artistic than the bathtub-sided progenitor, and less weighed down with chrome bars and filigree as the similar but more chunky 1958-1962 models.

With its classic lines from the age of true styling individualism and V-8 power (including optional fuel injection, a rare find in 1957), the 1956-1957 Corvette and its racing derivations quickly began to dominate the sport car market and establish the marque as a true competitor to the world's finest machinery.

Nowadays, these cars are very rare and extraordinarily expensive - though I'm surprised at how inexpensive this New Braunfels car is - dual four-barrel convertible, no less.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 10/14

This is the big one. Up to this point, I have put forth only those cars that I lust after that I figured others might also appreciate and enjoy. Why inflict anything on the team that they might not also enjoy?

But with this selection, I am baring my very soul. This selection cuts right to the quick of everything I am.

I've wanted one of these badly when I was 10 years old. I've wanted one badly ever since. I'll want one when I'm 80 years old. On some subconscious level, I wanted one when both the car and I were merely a twinkle in our designers' eyes.

Very few other people like these. They're hunchbacked, unreliable, and, by today's standards, unexceptional performers. Yet, while the other COoAD selections get my blood running hot, these get my blood boiling to a degree I can't describe within Amazon.com's decency standards.

These care are my weakness. These cars are my disease. If I had the money, I'd buy 10.


1986 SPG, Edwardian gray - thank you very much.

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 1/20

The first two generations of the Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon were the leading lights in the sport coupe segment in the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s - inexpensive, attractive, and thrilling performers that could blow the doors off of 90-pound weaklings like the Ford Probe, Mazda MX-6, and Honda Prelude while keeping pace with the big-engined Camaros and Firebirds of the world.

Their blend of low prices and hyper turbo power made both generations of the Eclipse/Talon the progenitors and early mainstays of the Fast & Furious generation, but today you can find them relatively inexpensively, considering the performance available. The trick is finding one that hasn't been thrashed or cut apart by an overzealous teenager. All went south with the third-generation model, which was more refined and grown-up with a V-6, but without the hard-edged performance or clean lines that made the car special.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sophia Gets a Job

After repeated coaxing from Leigh and I, Sophia has decided to begin pulling her weight and bringing in some income.

So, during a recent visit to Washington Mutual with Leigh, she impressed the interviewers and earned a new job. Sadly, she will be making more than Leigh and I put together.

However, the IT department will likely have to chat with her about her bad habit of eating her computer's mouse.

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 10/12

By 1973, all the real muscle cars were dead - except for the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am SD-455. The SD stood for Super Duty, and the 455 stood for 455 cubic inches of heart-pumping V-8 power - real, brutish V-8 power in an era that double or tripled the output of its contemporaries.

With 0-60 runs in the low 5-second range despite slippery tires, the SD-455 would be a supercar even by today's standards. The SD-455 was the lone beacon of light as Detroit's proud performance tradition began to circle the bowl of the toilet of the 1970s.

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 1/19

When Subaru introduced its WRX, fundamentally a hot-rod, turbocharged, all-wheel drive version of its Impreza economy car, in the mid-1990s in every market except the U.S., it seemed like a travesty of justice. Here was a go everywhere, do anything car with the performance of a Corvette or a Ferrari, with the practicality and utility of a Subaru - all in a relatively subtle package that evoked the all-conquering World Rally Subaru of driver Colin McRae.

Never was the sting most painful as when Subaru introduced the Sti 22B variant to the European and Asian markets. Hyper-powerful, with enough speed and traction to run with all but the most exotic six-figure supercars, the 22B provided a nuclear weapon with the look and expense of a prison shiv.

Of course, Subaru later brought the WRX to America and even added the hyper-quick STi version, but as desirable as those cars (and they are - future COoADs) they are detuned and rather odder-looking than the 22B.

The Subaru WRX STi 22B - truly a pint-sized supercar, but never available here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Non-car posts ...

... are coming, seriously! I understand everybody wants to see the baby, and I'm working on it!

The only thing is, I want to keep the blog updated, and these are already written, so ....

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 10/11

The 275 GTB/4 is one of the most lovely Ferraris ever made - and its beauty is not entirely captured by the photos. In person, this car is so lovely and pure that it can make a grown man weep.

Well ... me, anyway.

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 1/18

Today's Chrysler 300C Hemi is an intimidating car, with more than 300 horsepower from a bellowing V-8 blunt lines that marry elegance and brutality in the manner made popular by Armani-attired Mafia goons. But as remarkable a car as the 300C is, it was not the first Chrysler 300 to master that combination.

The 300 nameplate, resurrected several years ago for use on the front-wheel-drive 300M businessman's cruiser, has long been one of Chrysler's most famous. Decades before Chryslers sneeringly became known as the make of the K-car and the minivan, the 300 letter-series were some of America's most famous supercars - muscle cars before the term came in vogue and legendary for their elegance and their rip-roaring V-8s. In fact, the 300 series bore the very first Hemi-head Chrysler engines before the legendary 426 Hemi came into its own in cars like the Charger, Challenger, and Barracuda.

The 300C Hemi carries on the tradition well, but it owes a debt to the original 300 letter-series cars.

Here's the 1960 - one of the most popular of the letter series.

A gallery of all the years of different 300s http://www.chrysler300site.com/cgibin/history.cgi

A particularly nice 1968 example - by this time more of a cruiser than a muscle car - note the Chateau St. Michelle photo (local for us Washingtonians)!

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 10/7

The Chevy II/Nova was Chevrolet's economy car of the 1960s but has become famous for the hot engines Chevrolet wedged into the nondescript small-car body - making the Chevy II/Nova a stealthy opponent. Envision a small child with the kung fu grip - a tempest in a teapot.

This particular model was blessed with the 275-horsepower Corvette 327 cubic-inch V-8 and filled the Camaro's niche before that car debuted; the later version featured the 375-horsepower, 396-cubic-inch V-8 that was used in the hottest Camaros.

In either form, the Chevy II/Nova was a legendary giant killer and to be approached with caution.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 1/17

It should surprise absolutely nobody that a massive beige American car would keep me transfixed. And, as always, the Chevy Impala leads the field.

This one looks absolutely perfect. I especially love the great upholstery.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 10/6

Another early COoAD, before I got too verbose. But, basically, the Lancia Stratos was a wild, woolly, thoroughly unrefined rally car turned sports car, with gorgeous, typically 1970s wedgy lines and a sterling motorsports pedigree.

Incredibly fast, extremely handsome. Excellent car.

Chris' Object of Automotive Desire - 1/16

Any automotive engineer will tell you that weight is the enemy of any aspect of vehicle dynamics - a heavy car will accelerate more slowly, reach a lower top speed, handle more ponderously, and get worse fuel mileage.

No automaker has preached the gospel of light weight more religiously than Lotus - and the ultimate expression of that fervor was the Lotus Seven - a long-obsolete design that yet lives on both on the street and as a dominant force in amateur racing as the Caterham Super Seven.

While the Seven looks quaint - and well it should, as it's a 48-year-old design - it weighs not much more than 1,000 - and married to a modern engines in Caterham form, the Seven boasts a power-to-weight ratio of a supercar. The straightline performance belies the Seven's antedivulian looks, making the featherweight Seven a holy terror on the racetrack and a blast on the road.

The top-of-the-line Caterham Seven comes with a 260-horsepower Cosworth four-cylinder - propelling the Seven to a claimed 0-60 time of 3.1 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. The acceleration numbers, in particular, are world-beaters.

Just don't expect to be too comfortable or to use the Seven to give your Black Lab a ride to the vet.