Thursday, July 26, 2007

Car troubles... again... oh car why do you do this to us?

On Monday I drove to Palo Alto for a business development seminar (on storytelling, yay! Soomething I love.) Then I drove down to the city before it, Mountain View (aka Home of Google) to pick up Amita so we could go shopping in San Fran. Only, as I approached the downtown area where we were to meet, the car seemed to be goign slower and slower. Looking down, I saw the "check engine" light on. Flooring the accelerator only yielded a crawl from the car, although there were lots of revs. I quickly found a place to pull over a couple of streets off the main one.

Burning my fingers opening the bonnet, I discovered the car had no oil. Strange, since we'd only put some in about two months before. So I called the AAA (AA in NZ) to come and tow me to the nearest service station. While I was waiting, I decided to try and find Anita since, as it turned out, I was exactly two blocks away from the station where she was waiting (sans cellphone). And only one block away, I discovered a tiny mechanic's. So we bought oil and trundled back to the car, again burning our fingers trying to open the bonnet.

With oil inside, I hoped the car troubles were over. Hmmm, no. Several phone calls later, we were heading down El Camino Real (historically the first road in the area and technically highway 82, but it's full of traffic lights) lookiing for a petrol station. Right next door was an In-and-Out burger place, which is both Anita's and my favourite takeaway burger place, so we had lunch. We decided to take the freeway home since the car refused to accelerate at any speed at all, and this way we could avoid traffic lights. It worked OK on the freeway - I got it to 70 mph no problem. We obviously had to cancel our trip, which I was disappointed about. They leave in about two weeks!!

We really don't want to have to find a new car, after all we just had some more work done on it recently!

So today I took the poor little car to the first garage down the road. He gave me a litany of problems with it, not least being a.) the fact that he couldn't work out why the "check engine" light was on, the most important thing but he didn't have the right diagnostic computer program so we needed to go next door; b.) apparently it has a bad exhaust problem and needs two new catalytic converters - one would cost $600 and the other would cost $250; c.) it's leaking oil and has already lost almost all of what we put in it two days ago(!); d.) the brakes need replacing soon (which we knew about) and e.) the CV joints are going (which we already know). Lastly, f.) our little boyracer friends have been busy in the car and it has the wrong spark plugs as well as a few other oddities thanks to them.

So at the garage next door, I discovered this "diagnostic" would cost $109. For it to be hooked up to a computer for a little bit. I was not impressed, and told them so. But I left it there, and two hours later we got a phone call: a wire had come undone from a sensor connected to the transmission, and it wasn't changing gears properly. (We'd noticed that when it did change gears, the entire car shook with a noticeably large bang.)

So overall, we still have a lot to do to the car, and it's going to be expensive. I much prefer being without one, they seem to eat money. But hopefully I can drive to San Fran in the next few days for an interview. (My recruiter forgot to tell me it was today! :( I guess it worked out better though since we couldn't have driven the car then anyway, and it's more like a 3-hour journey by various trains etc to the same place otherwise.)

Take me out to the ball game....

Tuesday 24th July - my church was giving out a few tickets to a minor league baseball game, so we went with Emy whom I met at church.

The teams were the San Jose Giants vs. the Oaks - from somewhere like Fremont? The San Jose spectators weren't very nice to the opposing team, yelling out "miss the ball!" and other rude things. But I was assured by Emy that when they play at the Oaks' home base, they will get the same thing. Still... ah, boys....Tina and Brendan with the SJ Giants mascot - the team are reserves for the SF Giants

The first thing we noticed was the food! They sold the traditional peanuts and cotton candy etc etc in overpriced stalls under the seats. But they also had people come around and pass around menus, which you ordered off and then passed money from person to person down the row to the salesperson waiting patiently at the end of the aisle. I have no idea how they worked out who got what, or why people didn't hold on to the money. But the money was being very carefully watched. Emy told us half the people don't go for the dame, they go for the food. She ordered some pork chops covered in sauce - what must be the most messy meal ever!! She and Brendan were covered in sauce by the end.

There was also the beer batter. Brendan and I naturally assumed it was something that came on your fish and chips, but no. Far from it. The Beer Batter was actually a person. It was a member of the opposing team (the Oaks). When he batted, if he got "out" then a certain type of beer cost half price - people booed him all the time when he came up to bat to try and make him miss. Way to be supportive (or not), people! I felt sorry for him.

At the half-way point during the game, everyone did something I had seen in movies, but though it only happened in movies - all the Americans actually sang! "God Bless America", a very patriotic song, started blaring over the loudspeakers. Everyone stood up, opened their mouths, and sang. Then they sang, "Take me out to the ballgame". Seriously. I am not kidding. I thought it was so funny: I can't imagine Kiwis doing that. The national anthem is about as close as it gets, and that's done grudgingly.

Sometimes balls flew over the top of peoples' heads, and half the crowd tried to catch them. They often flew right over the top and landed on the roof! One batter in particular hit the ball three times, and each time the ball flew backwards to land on the roof right behind us. I was very disappointed.

The funniest thing was the little sub-games as the innings changed. These included things like having tug-of-war, little kids holding giant colanders over their heads and a guy trying to throw water bombs into the colanders (when they hit, they soaked the little kids!), and a nine-year-old dressed in adult-sized gear with a hockey stick trying to hit a ball into a goalpost guarded by a real ice-hockey player (on the grass of course) - he succeeded when the mascot tackled the hockey player to the ground!

So all in all it was a good night, topped off by the British guy and his American friend asking us as we left the carpark, "Do you call the back of the car the boot or the trunk?" We agreed "boot" 'cos we're Kiwis, and the British guy turned to his friend in triumph. And then, the American guy made a very funny analogy, but I can't remember it. Except it involved Elephants and trunks, and was hilarious. Ad the British guy countered with a shoes analogy, and I also can't remember that. Cos it was all a bit long ago now, so you'll have to take my word that it was funny. Sorry.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

4th of July - Independence Day! Part 1

4th of July, for all the hype, was surprisingly calm. Alex, Brendan and I drove up to San Francisco in his little red Mirage - all was quiet on the roads. Apparently everyone stays home and does BBQs. On the way there, I could hear an odd scraping, thumping sound, but we ignored it until we got to Anna's house in San Francisco. Upon inspection, it was a large piece of plastic mudguard that had come loose and caught on the road and scratched the tyre every so often.

First stop (after Anna's place in SF) was across the Oakland Bridge to the halfway point, Yerba Buena Island. Tacked on to it is man-made Treasure Island (find an aerial photo of it or click on the link above and you'll see why). We wandered around there for a while and took photos.

Here is one side of the island where we parked, and then the other directly opposite. Look, it's us and San Francisco!

It was quite cold and windy there on the beach. People were preparing for a concert next to a restaurant. An ex-naval base, a lot of people still lived there. It was very run-down (perhaps because of the salt water more than anything), and reminded me suddenly of Porirua. I love how they all sat on their chairs on stilts with beers in hand....

While getting something to eat later in a Berkeley Mexican taqueria, I spotted this car next to ours. Berkeley being the most quintessentially student town (the leaders in the Vietnam War protests). Note how the artist has taken a fresh fish, covered it in paint, and slapped it on all over the car. The figurine on the bonnet is an example of the artist knowingly re-appropriating and reinventing corporate brand to make a statement.

Berkeley Uni was quite nice, I liked it. Formal buildings mostly. I won't bore you with those. Here is our webshots album if you have a sudden rush of blood to the head. There was a cute squirrel that Brendan pretended to feed with a leaf - it was most disappointed.

look out for Part 2 (when I am less sleepy.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Harry Potter on the IMAX screen

A flower market just off Market Street

The other day we got to see a special screening of the new Harry Potter movie which had just come out, courtesy of IBM. It was in San Francisco, at the IMAX theatre there which is the largest on the West coast of the US. And as a special treat, the last 20 minutes of the film were in 3D. So we put on our dorky glasses, which used polarized light to separate the images. It looked great - starting right at the point where Harry and friends go flying on the invisible horses to London.Downtown San Francisco

In front of the IMAX theatre, we got stalked by "bums" as Geoff calls them. The thing about the homeless people here, apart from the sheer volume, is that they're extremely persistent and will follow you around, after you've already said, "No".Brendan in downtown Market Street

Afterwards, we spent a long time wandering around the downtown (Market Street), lower pier areas and the Embarcadero, all of which we hadn't explored yet.Fountain at the Embarcadero Centre

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

They Might Be Giants... but they're smaller on stage

Recently San Jose had 4 concerts over the course of about a week, with heaps of local /international bands. However, the only band we recognised was They Might Be Giants (TMBG), from the "Day on the Meadow" show July 3rd. They sing the theme song to Malcolm in the Middle, "You're not the boss of me"... and for only $15 for a whole pile of bands, that's pretty much a steal here. So we went in time to see TMBG. They ere really great - they have a huge kid following, I think, and are very energetic. but their songs are very kooky and about things like the sun, dragons, different countries and things like that. Weird.

The band before them I am newly converted to, I think they're a local band from Chicago - they're called Madina Lake and here is their website. The lead singer and the other guy with blonde hair (and the black stripe) are identical twins.

Funny things seen:
The coffee girls gave out free coffees from little coffee-brewing packs on their backs. Novel. They also stood in front of us and danced to the music. (Brendan took enough photos at key points that we could make a little video of tehm dancing if we wanted.) The girl in the white top also danced and swayed a lot.

Signs: How many funny things can YOU spot?