Monday, March 21, 2011

Some frustrations in charity work

I help out at a local food charity distribution charity. I wont name who to protect the guilty, associated party. The charity moves lots of food, including picking up day-old bread from grocery stores and similar for distribution. Some stores will throw away food that is a few days before the sell-by date just because they get new stock in -- that is the kind of stuff that is collected, and it can sometimes be very expensive things that the people we are distributing to are totally unused to being able to eat.

Sometimes there are emergency calls for donations -- if a freezer goes down at a store, a ton of ground beef or frozen chickens have to be picked up and immediately transferred to the donation distribution site before they thaw.

One time, at a rather high-end food store, during a pickup of day-old-bread, they they had a freezer go down, so they just started throwing all the prime rib, top round steak, etc right into the dumpster, still frozen and wrapped, right in front of the bread pickup people. They said "go near any of that and your contract with us is void." One of the charity workers was crying.

To this day I don't understand that event, or those similar. I had naively assumed people would be supportive, but things like this actually happen frequently.

Every so often workers at the stores will break yogurt containers inside the donated food on purpose to spoil it. I never understood why they would do that. I heard that out that one of the employees said they did it because they didn't appreciate that the charity was a faith based charity.

I do know that the job of ringing out the "spoils" and seperating the good from the bad is a horrible job that they can't stand doing - especially since they don't see the faces of those they feed.

Quantity and quality is luck of the draw. In one instance, there will be almost no food, in another, there will be so much food that not all of it can be distributed, even with every single needy person taking as much as they want or can carry. I hate waste, so I will call friends or acquaintances to come grab something, but almost no one comes -- cheese that would normally sell for $22 a pound or expensive breads -- can't even be given away. Somehow the value of this food becomes worthless simply because it is free.

If you're feeling discouraged after reading that, don't let it distract you from the main point, hungry people are getting fed. The above are only minor setbacks in a very effective effort to assist those in need.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Personal fun facts

FYI, in my past I:

1) was hit by lightning
2) have had brake cleaner, rust, soldering flux, and a liquid-core peppermint in my eye (not all at the same time).
3) was electrocuted to the point of throwing a circuit breaker (I interrupted an Uninterruptible Power Supply on a badly grounded rack).
4) have owned over 50 cars in the last few years, and the shortest time between buying and selling a car was 2 hours.
5) never dated my wife until after we were married.
6) got violently ill almost every year except last - to the point of multiple hospital stays - and no one has been able to tell what caused it.
7) have the ability to stick out my uvula past my lips (the hangy thing in the back of your mouth).
8) can't speak Spanish, but it was my first language.
9) am the only member in my entire extended family who does not wear glasses, and the only one who works in front of a computer all day.
10) got caught hacking into a BBS when I was 10.

Bonus: In third grade I kept the computers in the Media Center in good repair, and in fifth grade I taught a weekly class of 2nd graders computer skills, such as LOGO. I knew I wanted to fix computers for the schools since elementary school, and now I do that for a paycheck.

Got a list of random or unusual things about yourself? Post it in the comments!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mustang Magic

It's probably around the year 2001. I had taken my 1966 Mustang completely apart and put it back together and needed some extra parts to finish it up. Parts from a 1966 car aren't easy to come by, the Internet wanted lots of money, and shipping larger parts is no fun. I even went to NAPA to try to buy some parts. The clerk at NAPA flatly told me that "My car was old" and that I "needed to buy a new one." Good thing they told me or I never would have known.

I asked around and eventually found a place called "Mustang Magic" that apparently had been operating since the sixties. I had some trouble finding it, I had to drive through a bad neighborhood and fight through a congested autopark. I could tell it was the store by the sight of two long rows of classic mustangs, some of them in good condition, some not. There were four garage bays, two for mechanical work, and the rest for auto body.

The door to the old building creaked open, it smelled like motor oil and old paper. There was little light, and little room, as standing room was limited by a long desk directly in front of the store. The walls were plastered with faded vintage automotive posters. A snake in a wire cage contentedly worked on digesting a small mouse. An older fellow was sitting behind the counter, and I just started talking to him about cars.

For hours.

His name was Lew, he was a real character, always joking, cynical and more energetic then you'd expect. Whenever you needed a part he'd wind his way through piles of junk and pull out just what you needed. I hung out at the shop as soon as I got off work, and learned to work on some very nice cars. Vintage mustangs were special in their own right, but that all changes when you're turning a wrench on a Shelby 500KR.

One of my favorites was when we got one fantastic looking restored Mustang up on the lift, and the drivers side floor pan had been fixed by welding a stop sign in under the car.

Time passed, eventually the exotic European repair shop across from Mustang Magic started to build an addition. As the cinder block walls were going up, Lew commented on how the workers had no clue what they were doing. A day later one of the walls fell.

(Click for a larger image)

All those classic cars, crushed in a rain of cinder. Lew was understandably devastated, but he was still energetic and knew he'd make it out of this. The winter was harsh, the snake died in the cold.

Some time passed, I lost my Mustang as well, but I still visited Lew. He had grown more cynical, and didn't smile anymore.

The insurance company classified it as an "Act of God" and refused to pay him a cent. Not all of the cars belonged to Lew, and the owners were suing him for the price of their crushed cars. Business had dried up, and the city told him to move his junk heaps.

One day I came to visit, and the shop was gone. Lew, the cars, the tools, everything. No one knew where. I never saw him again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Welcome to Tofuball's Reading

I created this blog so I could keep the stories I wrote separate from my worklog, as the two topics are quite different. I intend to post both truth and fiction that I write here, but I don't know how much fiction I have left in me :) Enjoy!

My Own Story, Part 3: One Nagging Question

This is part three, click here for part two.

Because I come from a broken household, I never thought I had a really good idea of the role a man played in the family. I was always looking at other families to see what to mimic . . . or what not to. I was always thinking and reading about how to be a really good husband or father, and what to look for in a wife. Any time I was over at a friend's house, I was judging their parents.

Every single evening that I was at Jon's, he and his family invited me in for dinner. I was there for a very long time because of the work on the RX-7 (seriously, months), so I got a very good snapshot of his family life. Though it was rather interesting, and near the end, scary, that he was never angry at me for taking up his garage for so long; when I asked him about it he just shrugged.

I met his kids, four of them (I don't know about you, but that's a lot of kids), and they struck me as odd, I couldn't quite put my finger on why. I graduated high school in 2000, and still worked for the school system, and I didn't usually meet kids as well behaved and bright as this. I'm more used to them being cynical, or more often, stupid.

I also met his wife, the first stay-at-home mom I can ever remember meeting. She also home schooled the kids. At one point during conversation she mentioned how she was always looking for ways to better submit to her husband's leadership. I really didn't know how to take that other then thinking she was very strange.

I first learned they were religious when someone told me, and then when they invited me in for dinner the first time I saw them pray over dinner, so I stopped cursing when I was around them. He never once preached at me. We usually talked about mechanical or construction related things, and in turn I told his kids stories about giant hamster powered cars. I learned that he had built his house himself, with his father.

Jon was a good mechanic, a father to his kids, a loving husband, an Oracle programmer and a home builder. Great traits I'd want to mimic, except there was one nagging question . . .

How could someone as smart as him be Christian?

"How can you possibly believe the Bible" I said to him "Man pollutes everything he touches, there is no way this book is authentic after thousands of years."

I was expecting lines, excuses, maybe even the old "you shouldn't question God," But Jon didn't say any of that.

"Have you read it?"
"Read it." He said.

I didn't really have an answer to that.

My Own Story, Part 2: Jon and the Blue Vert

This is part two, click here for part one

I was a network field technician. Basically, my job was to drive across the county to one of our 215 sites, find the problem, flip a switch, and get back on the road. I needed a car to do my work, and having the mustang turned into a Candy Apple Red accordion was not helping things.

A friend of mine (Trevor) mentioned that there was an RX-7 Convertible sitting in the front of a dealer lot. He took me to the dealer, and the first thing I did when the salesperson came out was look at an older used Lexus. Talked about needing space and a back seat. She showed me a few other cars and we talked about practicality. After a while I mentioned that it would be fun to own that RX-7, but I really should be more responsible.

We went over to look at it and I saw it was covered in dust. I always thought those cars were interesting, especially since I had just read an article about rotary engines at How Stuff Works. I told the dealer I'd think about my options and I went back to work. I asked my boss if he knew anything that would help because he can be knowledgeable about cars. He said that he didn't know anything about those crazy rotary engine powered cars, but he knew someone who did, and he introduced me to a fellow named Jon, an ex-mechanic, lanky with glasses and a mustache, and apparently eager to come look at this car with me.

He takes his lunch break and we hop into his red RX-7 Turbo II and head over to the dealer. He tells me the deal with the car, that it needs a clutch, and that I'm free to use his garage . . . that's equipped with a lift and almost all the tools I could ever need. That is a very generous offer, considering the tools are probably worth $100K.

The dealer wanted $8995, I talked him down to $5000 after tax tags title. I drove it till the clutch went, and took Jon up on his offer. I put the car up on the lift and, for different reasons, it remained there for months. (The parts took too long to come in, stuff broke, things came up, and I made the mistake of (trying to) rebuild the differential at the same time. This was all before I knew about the RX-7 Club.)

Click here for part three.

My Own Story, Part 1: The End of the Mustang

I think it was some time in the spring of 2001, give or take a year. I was dating a super cute Russian girl, who happened to be sitting right next to me in my candy apple red 1966 Mustang. This is the first car I ever bought with my own money, and I had restored it from the tires up.  In fact, I had just picked it up from the shop, it was in for brake work that I was too paranoid to finish myself. The weather was great, the windows were down, and we were cruising along I270. Life was really pretty good.

Now, enters the catalyst, a Pontiac Sunfire, cutting off a semi-truck from a merge lane. A Lexus cut in front of me to dodge this mess, I hit the brakes hard, and the Mustang pitched right. The brakes were adjusted wrong. I cursed. Time stopped.

I had all the time in the world to think. I took stock of the situation, I was calm. I did not fear death, but for some reason I was sad. I was faced with a choice, plow my American steel into this Lexus that had cut me off and stopped, and maybe kill everyone in both cars, or stay on the brakes and pitch the car into the cement barrier and kill only myself and this screaming girl. I chose the cement barrier. Don't ask why.

"Why was this so depressing?" I thought, "This is it? Life?" The car was pitched sideways now, I might be able to get it all the way around if I try hard enough, if I can get the rear driver's side wheel to hold . . . Screw it, it's too late, lets go. Time started back up. The car slammed into the wall and that huge front hood became a whole lot shorter. The back end swung around and obliterated itself on the back end of a semi truck, network cables and tools flew across the highway in a spread. The gas tank took off, skittering down the highway like a giant mutant hockey puck.

The dust settled, I was fine, she was screaming. The ambulance came, and I watched from the back window as the mangled wreck faded into the distance.

(Click here for part 2)