Monday, February 20, 2012

An iPad and a Glass of Wine

It was Valentine's Day.  It's not exactly a day when one can call a friend to hang out because most folks are paired up.  And for those who aren't and want to be, it's a night to try to find someone.  And like I tell my husband, I feel single sometimes, but I just can't date!  So there we were, just a bit more lonely than usual.

You know how cell phones have a slight delay that tends to cut off conversation at times?  They just weren't working for us that night.  But I had an idea.  We each have an iPad, so I suggested we give up on our phone conversation and try something new.  Face Time!  It's an incredible tool.  I called him, he answered, and there we were, virtually face to face.  We each poured a glass of wine, and spent the next half hour or so tapping our glasses in a toast and chatting.

This incredible app has been a godsend.  We have had dinner together, though three hours and three thousand miles apart.  We set it on the table in front of us as we eat, and chat as if we're across the dinner table.  We can carry it from room to room as we go about our evening.  I can show him new things in the house or the view outside as the season changes.  Last week, the grandchildren got to talk to Grandpa, too.

As my aunt used to say, we just took a tuck in the country.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Breakfast Club

There are lots of homeless folk in my neighborhood. I started going to a Burger King just down the street and over off the main drag (Rosecrans). About the time I pass there every morning, about a dozen people Begin to gather in that Burger King, eat, talk and catch up with each other for a while before they begin their business on the street.

I've been going there off and on since I arrived last month. At first I listened to the conversation and banter. Then I joined in a few times. Eventually I got to know some people. Today, I sat down with Kevin (not his real name) and had an amazing and much too short chat.

Many unexpected things happened in my encounters there. for one, nobody has ever asked me for anything. In fact, everyone in this ad hoc community is more likely to share rather than beg. Almost everyone is clear headed, aware and articulate as anybody. The conversations are lively, and very enjoyable. I find it hard to pull myself away.

I am not there to give handouts, I'm there to know them. They are my neighbors, and know this neighborhood better than I do. We have something in common. We all live here. And I want to know them as friends and neighbors. I want to know their stories. I think that If I became another friend in that community, I may get an opportunity to help somebody when the need arises as a fellow, trusting and in trust.

Imagine being in a restaurant having breakfast with your friends. A highly affluent person comes up interrupts your conversation, handing you things he thinks you need without even asking. Imagine this person, who knows nothing about you, chiding you for not being affluent like him offering condescending criticism and advice.

What would you think? A person walks up to you in the assumption that you are a moral and practical failure and yet does not know you. This may be true to a point, but, surprisingly, it often is not the case. If it were you, this could be very offensive.

Isn't it strange that someone can make assumptions about homeless people without even knowing or speaking to them. it happens all the time and I have even done it myself. I will never do it again.

To me, it's like a being in a car accident, and while you are hanging upside down bleeding, a state trooper drives up and lectures about your driving without knowing what really happened. Everybody has a story. Everybody has reasons. We don't know until we ask and listen.

So, I connected again with Kevin this week. I learned more about this street community than ever imagined.

Stay tuned. I'll be giving details in an upcoming post "Breakfast Club 2"

Sunday, February 12, 2012

While I Was Sleeping

I tend to be in a different orbit nowadays. "Left field" is home. This is where I live. I was reminded of this over a week ago, when my Prius died.

I've owned this hybrid car for over 11 years. It was from the third shipment in 2001. I was one of the early adopters. In San Diego, during that first year, in any given parking lot, mine was the only Prius in the lot. I bought the car because I have always believed in "alternate" vehicles. I purchased the this car (my only and last new car purchase) because I believed in it, the technical design (which I know in detail), and its potential.

But while I was busy driving and enjoying this hybrid car, things did not go quite as I thought they would. After 217,000 miles and $7000 in botched, incompetent service I woke up to find the hybrid car dream never materialized. Let me explain what I mean by that.

I had hoped that the design would catch fire. I hoped that Toyota would open the hybrid design to after-market manufacturers. I imagined there would be an explosion of kits and upgrades and speciality repair shops and hybrid hackers (like hot rod enthusiasts of the 50s and 60s). But that never happened.

Instead, I saw Toyota still hoarding its design and trying to dominate the hybrid market. I experienced dealers charging me exquisite repair fees and leaving my car just as was when I drove in. Every time an alarm light went off, I had to take the care to the dealer and spend $75 to $104 just to have them hook up and read the code.

The way the Prius is designed, there is a network called CANbus. It contains almost every detail of the car's status and operation right down to the component level. All of this data can be displayed on the car's touch screen for the owner to see. But it isn't, and that is very costly for the owner. It's also very a convenient cash-cow for Toyota and their dealers.

In fact, there are few gauges in the Prius. There is not coolant temperature, no oil pressure, no tachometer, no battery voltage or charge status or anything else. You have a fuel gage and a speedometer and odometer. The rest is just a few idiot lights that are there to tell you to take the car to a dealer. One is a big orange triangle with an exclamation mark in the middle, the other is a turtle, yeah, you read it right, a turtle.

Even the most savvy user can't get enough information to make a decision. You could even do major damage just trying to get the car to the dealer. The car's displays tell you almost nothing. Even in my case, the fatal code that they read on my car was a fault in the electrical inverter (the car's electric drive) and its coolant pump.

Variable frequency drives like the one in my car are my trade. When it fails, you loose all electric power to the motor. But I can still drive my car, and the fault seems to be temperature related. But the dealer wants $5170 to replace the drive and the coolant pump. This was my moment of clarity. This is where I woke up and found out that my dream of hybrid cars never materialized.

My Prius is now in storage until I can repair it...and dump it. Ironically, I now drive a 2007 Prius (fully loaded) which is my company car. My boss drives a PriusV. I have already replaced my Prius with a 2003 Toyota Tacoma.

Please don't misunderstand where I'm going here. I believe in hybrid cars. I still think Toyota have the best design on the road. I would buy another hybrid in a heart beat, but something is wrong with the market which has grown up around this technology. That problem is that a healthy market not appeared.

The hybrid market has stagnated. As I said earlier, there is no after-market. The Prius remains locked-up by Toyota. They are controlling it with a death grip making themselves the only source for repair and diagnostics. Nobody else, to date, who offers a hybrid of this type has ever opened their product. In essence, you don't really don't have any option. You pay Toyota and you ask no questions.

When I bought my Prius, it was odd. Everybody was holding back. Since then, the price of a Prius has risen significantly and a mystique has been built around it. It has become a status symbol and a "green badge of honor."

Because of this, it has become a car most people can't afford. It has lost its technical aspect and become a status symbol. Almost nobody I have met in 11 and a half years understands how the car works or even knows how to drive it to the best effect. It doesn't matter to them. They purchased the car for its status appeal. The Prius has become a consumer prize and a consumer toy. This will be its undoing because it is becoming less accessible to the general market every model year. Even as a used car it is far too expensive to purchase and maintain. Let me explain this.

I bought an old Toyota Tacoma truck. For the cost of all the maintenance I have done on the Prius, I can completely replace the entire power train of that truck and have enough left over for a paint job and tires. The difference in fuel economy as it relates to cost is erased by the sheer cost of maintaining the Prius; not to mention its initial price.

Everybody works on Tacomas and I can shop for parts and service. I can also work on it myself. I can buy after-market equipment that can upgrade and enhance the Tacoma. in short, I can control the cost of ownership, and I am free to modify and improve my vehicle.

What I have spent over the last 11 years on the Prius exceeds the purchase price of the Tacoma. I could buy a good used car for the price they want to replace the drive in my old Prius. All of my fuel savings were erased in the last 8 months of ownership with costly and incompetent service. Do you see what I mean?

Have you seen the documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car"? Well, the electric car is rebounding. But unless the hybrid car gets out of its cage and into the market, it will die. It will be marginalized as a "niche" for affluent status seekers and it will eventually fade.

It's time for 21st century "hot-rod" enthusiasts to emerge and start hacking used Priuses and developing that after-market. This will make the used Prius market viable and perhaps conversions and new affordable and repairable hybrids will emerge.

In the mean time, my Prius goes up for sale as soon as I can guarantee it's safe to drive or it will be scrapped. Either way, I probably will never own another Prius.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I was stopped at a traffic signal the other day, and in fact had to sit through two cycles waiting for my turn, as often happens in the big city. So I had a lot of time to ponder the situation. There was a young woman holding a sign stating, among other things, that she was hungry. Now,. this is not an unusual situation. Street people can be found anywhere in a warm city. What made the difference was the prompting I felt.

Since I still had a moment before the signal would hail me on, I rolled down my window and said, "I'm on my way to the burger joint across the street. Meet me there and I'll buy you lunch." Her answer surprised me. She look like she wished, with everything she had, that she could join me. But she told me that she had to stop meeting people like that because the last time she did, she ended up in the trunk of a car.

I went on my way, saddened that she had been treated badly, so sad that she was not seen as a human being, someone's friend, daughter, mother, wife. I did not want to go back and just hand her money, because I believed she needed more.

I bought her a take-out bag and took it to her. I let her know that if she could not accept food from strangers either, I understood, but she was grateful. And hungry. Then I stayed awhile. We stood on that median strand together, talking, sharing stories. She told me how she came to be there, what she would like to be different, what is important to her.

What she needed was respect, and she got it that day. I hope she gets respect today, too, but it seems to be in short supply.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Redemption, Restoration and Vacuum Cleaners

There's a big swap meet just down the street from my Left Coast home. This is very convenient since I need things for this apartment.

I can afford to buy new things, but most of what I need does not have to be new. So we went to the swap meet and I picked up a vacuum cleaner for $5.

It was an "interesting" purchase from a "dumpster-diving" vendor. He was a colorful guy who assured me that the vacuum would work fine. Of course, when I got it home, I found it had no belt, a bad brush bar, and two rusted casters.

I had it cleaned up in no time at all and went out to find a brush and belt. I found a vacuum repair shop just a short bike ride from home. It turned out to be an even shorter drive...I haven't found a bike yet.

At the Vacuum shop, there was "Christian" music playing. The lady working there got me all fixed up and we talked briefly. I told her that I have followed Jesus for many years now and that I was new in the area. She offered me a brocure from her church (which was not local) and asked me if I found a "church home."

I told her about my plans to embed in the community and look for things to do to honor Christ and help people here. I said that I do have involvement and relationship with other disciples in the area, but this is important that I work at our common mission.

She looked doubtful and replied:

"Well, we have to get fed."

I must have looked doubtful, so she continued:

"How else are  we going to grow?"

I've both said this myself and heard it for years. In my "evangelical" days this translated into treating the world like a toxic waste dump and retreating to an attractive and safe church to "get fed" as often as possible. All of this coming out of a popular, but misbegotten belief that isolation and endless sermons will result in growth. I considered this for a moment and replied:

"I understand what you saying, but I'm not so concerned with getting fed. In 42 years I've learned how to cook."

Unfortunately, our conversation ended when several other customers came in. she is just as I was not too many years ago. I used to think that teaching was the key to maturity. But I know better now.

In Hebrews 5:12-14, the writer moves off-topic to address the immaturity of the readers. He points out that they are not growing. Indeed, they are in a state of arrested development. And note that the issue is not a lack of teaching. They seem to be going through the same stuff over and over (look how chapter 6 begins). Teaching is only part of the solution.

In Heb. 5:14 the writer seems to be saying that practice is the catalyst for growth. This is how it works. We practice, try, develop, and mature. Discipleship is not a theory we all sit in church and talk about. It is what we do, and in doing it, we become the Church, developing skills doing the good works we were made made to do.

As for the vacuum cleaner, that was an exercise in restoration and redemption. It serves as a reminder of those things. It works beautifully now. But just a month ago it was almost crushed in a garbage truck and dumped into a landfill. As I write this, it is standing next to my refrigerator ready to go.

Just a five dollar purchase and twenty dollars in parts...restoration.

I am wondering what God will do in this community with my small investments?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Apart Together...Here We Go

Monday, my wife and I separate. There is nothing wrong between us. We are we are going to try to manage a bi-coastal life together.

I landed a dream job in December and started as of January 1st this year. So, we decided to keep our home in the East (which is paid for) and maintain another out here on the West Coast. So we packed the car the day after Christmas and drove across country to the new West Coast Digs.

My wife leaves Monday and the adventure truly begins for both of us.

This blog is for old and new friends who we have invited into our adventure. They know who we are. We remain anonymous for those who happen to stumble into this blog and don't know us.

My wife and I came from this area so we already know it. But it is strange to spend over 7 years away and then come back.

My wife and I are committed followers of Jesus Christ. We live to do as He does. Love as He loves, and to practice the things He does. We endeavor to heal, restore and renew everywhere we find ourselves. We are about life, and this odd time of living on both coasts offers chances to stretch our skills and grow in so many ways.

This is our practice. We are "practitioners in the messianic arts", so to speak. This goes way beyond church attendance and what would conventionally be called "Christian." It is discipleship. It is the thing that makes us Christ's "body" right here, right now.

So, these will be our stories as we go. Come and share our journey.

Yours in adventure,

BC Left