Category Archives: Truckin’

Waitin’ at the train station, singin’ the ‘Airport Blues’

Editorial Page Editor
“NEWS IS whatever happens to, or interests, an editor,” a wise colleague named Jerry Ratts once said. Actually, he said it more than “once,” which is why I remember.
    I would insert a corollary: “… or to the editor’s wife….”
    For the past year, my wife has traveled a lot back and forth between here and Pennsylvania. So have I, for that matter. She and our youngest have been up there so that our daughter can study ballet with extreme intensity. My wife has worked up there as a pre-school teacher to help pay for keeping two households, not to mention all the travel.
    She’s spent a lot of time in airports — enough that when she comes home this week, it will be by train.
    A trip back up there in May was the last straw. She recounted her ordeal in an exclusive interview with this correspondent:
    She had to fly out of there early Mother’s Day afternoon, and given the airlines’ rule about early arrival, there was no chance to celebrate the day over lunch. She intended to have a nice dinner with my youngest up in the Keystone State, but that was not to be, either. She wouldn’t get home until after 1 a.m. Monday.
    Miraculously, she left Charleston on time. But she had to make two connections to get to Harrisburg. Things seemed fine when she arrived at the gate for the first connection. They still seemed fine — the sign at the gate still brightly proclaimed that her flight would be on time — when she and other passengers noticed that the flight after theirs was boarding, and they weren’t.
    Somebody had the temerity to ask, and was told, “Oh, we canceled yours.” No apology, and apparently no intention of making an announcement.
    It was either on that leg of the trip or the next (“Can’t remember… so exhausting…”) that she found herself wandering about a terminal after having received no helpful advice at the gate. She learned by chance that another passenger was going to Allentown, with a promised 75-mile bus ride to Harrisburg. She went back to the apathetic agent at the gate to ask about that, and was told yeah, we could get you there that way if that’s what you want.
    The alternative was a flight to Harrisburg at noon the next day, so yeah, she’d like a bus ride. She reached her bed about four hours before time to get up and go herd 4-year-olds all day.
    “So I’m not flying any more,” she said with that dangerous emphasis that I know not to contradict. “They don’t care how much they inconvenience you, or how much they lie to you. I’m just not doing it any more.”
    Of course not, dear. Especially since, between her experiences and my own, this was the third trip in a row that could have been completed more quickly by driving. That haul up interstates 77 and 81, passing through six states, is a stroll in the park compared to these aeronautic nightmares.
    I’ve been on the verge of writing this column a number of times in recent months, but have held back, remembering what Jerry Ratts (the Sage of Wichita, quoted above) said about editors and their sense of perspective.
    Besides, I wasn’t sure it was right for the opinion pages. It had happened to us several times, and the Sage was also known to say: “That’s twice. Once more and it’s a trend, and we can send it to Lifestyles.”
    Then I saw Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, which had a bona fide news story about how many passengers had become fed up with air travel and were taking Amtrak: “Airplanes are getting stuck in lots of traffic jams this summer, but Amtrak is on a roll.”
    Then I realized USA Today — the paper whose only “home town” is the nation’s airports — had been all over it: “By virtually every measure, this is shaping up as the worst year ever for air travel. (That is, if you’re a passenger. Some of the airlines are actually making profits for a change.)”
    Good thing my wife swore off air travel in May, because things have only gotten worse since:
“There’s really something different this summer,” said a frustrated traveler who blogs on the subject (at, which is almost as authoritative as being an editor. “Not only can’t you count on the airlines giving you anything to eat, but you can’t count on a three-hour flight actually being a three-hour flight. It’s a whole new paradigm.” (Journalists find it soothing to describe their personal frustrations with words like “paradigm.”)
    And if you’re the old-fashioned sort who wants facts rather than anecdotes, USA Today supplies this: “In June, 462 aircraft sat for at least three hours awaiting takeoff after leaving the gate, more than tripling the 137 such delays during May. DOT says it’s the highest monthly number since at least 2000.”
    Why has all this happened? Disgruntled scribes differ on that. There’s an air traffic control system that isn’t using the latest technology. There’s the increased number of short-hop flights, taking up more gate time and creating more chances to get tangled up. There’s the cutbacks in airline personnel, who are getting cranky and increasingly unlikely to give you the time of day, much less fluff your pillow.
    But who cares about the why when the answer to when is, “Not any time soon, so sit down and shut up or we’ll call security”?
    In any case, it’s clear that my better half swore off air travel just in time. So I won’t mind a bit hauling myself out of bed at midnight to drive my pickup down to the railway station and wait for my woman to come home. I’ll take along a notepad and a harmonica, ’cause if that don’t get me halfway to a country song, I ain’t got one in me:

Well, I went down to the station;
I was feelin’ kinda sore…
Yeah, I went down to the station, mama;
I was feelin’ mighty sore…
Mah woman, she done tol’ me,
She ain’t gonna fly no more… (Honka wonka waw-waw-wahn)…

    For guitar chords and more, go to

Let’s talk trucks


Enough with the politics. Let’s talk about something important.

One of my pen-pals I quoted on this post said,

You seem like a nice man Brad– but you need an education in real people.  Put down your latte, your copy of the NYT, and park your Saab.  Now take a walk somewhere around real people, the real other side of America.

Well, I drink my coffee black, and I don’t drive a Saab. In fact, I need me a truck. I need a truck on account of what happened to me last year. See the above photo. My ’89 Ford Ranger was tooling along up I-77, just short of the Forest Drive exit, when all of a sudden it caught fire for no good reason.

This happened to me because I was doing a bad thing: I was on my way to play golf during the working day. I had never done this before. I have certainly never done it since. All of a sudden, a mile or so short of the exit mentioned before, I lost power — the truck just couldn’t mount the hill. Smoke starting billowing from under the hood.

I stupidly assumed the smoke was steam, and that it signaled a busted hose. But it was smoke. After I pulled over, I made a couple of phone calls to let folks know I would be late for the golf game (which in truth was in a good cause — a golf game with Executive Editor Mark Lett and me had been auctioned off for United Way, and surprise of surprises, a couple of people had actually paid for the experience), and to get a tow truck on the way.

Anyway, after I’d made the calls, I noticed the "steam" was still pouring from under the hood. So I got out, and opened it — there was a fire around one of my spark plugs, bigger than the flame from a candle, but smaller than a flaming breadbox.

So I did what anyone would do — I blew it out. And it worked. Then I poured a bottled water on it. That meant I would be quite thirsty as I waited for the next two hours. You can see in the photo at right where a portion of the actual engine block burned away around the plug. Ugly.

Anyway, I’ve been making do with a sedan that I’m about to turn over to my wife, and seeing as how we don’t have a subway system around here (which we should, but nobody listens to me on this), I need transportation, which means I need a nice, small, used pickup.

So I’m looking at two, and I’d like your advice. I think I’ve made up my mind, but I haven’t quite, so your advice might be helpful. I’m going to buy one of the following (both advertised in The State by their owners):

  • Photo_080407_002A 1999 Toyota Tacoma, single-owner, "lady-driven" (I loved that detail), 175,000 miles, but in beautiful
    condition — not so much as a speck of rust on the undercarriage. Being sold from a parking lot of a Food Lion; the owner’s ex-husband meets me there for tire-kicking and test-driving. No toolbox or hardcover over the bed, but a plastic bedliner $5,995
  • 2002ranger004
    A 2002 Ford Ranger, second-owner (current owner has a Carfax report from first owner), 74,000 miles. Owned by a state official (I didn’t figure out who he was until after my second test drive, which was embarrassing, because he has an important job). Beautiful paint job. Hard cover over the bed, which I don’t need, but could use or remove as I saw fit. $5899

I test-drove the Ranger first, and felt like I had a little trouble getting it into first and second gear smoothly. I didn’t know whether that was the truck or me, as my last truck (unfortunately) had automatic transmission, and it had been seven years since I had driven a stick regularly. (Both trucks are 4-cylinder manual, 5-speeds, which is what I’m looking for, seeking the best possible gas mileage.) Other than that, it seemed fine, although I’m used to an extended cab and bucket seats, and this had neither.

The Toyota seemed to shift more smoothly for me from the start, reinforcing my impression that the Japanese are better at trannies than Americans or Germans (my wife’s 1982 Mazda GLC shifted much better than the ’78 Rabbit I was driving at the same time). But I keep worrying about the mileage. Yeah, I know you can give a Toyota at least 100k over most American cars, but that’s still a lot of driving during which something that is thus far undetected could go wrong.

I went back and drove the Ranger again, and guess what? It shifted beautifully, so it was just me the first time (I think). Also — I took it on the highway, and it stayed smooth in fifth gear. The one place where the Toyota was NOT smooth was over 60 mph ("lady-driven," and the lady never went over 55, I’m told), when it developed a very noticeable shimmy — you can see the steering wheel shaking.

The Toyota’s passed the ultimate test — my mechanic looked at it a couple of days ago, and pronounced it good. I’m about to leave the office to go pick up the Ranger and take it to the mechanic. Assuming it passes, too, I think I’ve made up my mind.

But I want to know — what would you do?