Category Archives: the Opinion Angle

Rants, opinions, confessions, general spewing of words.

Texas…finally.

I am back from several weeks of traveling and glad to be home. The first few days of being here almost seemed like another hotel, but I’m settling back in. I had been on the road or away from here in the hospital with Dad, except for the week after Dad’s passing, since the third week of January. I returned here on March 27. That much time away from the home and business was a first. Plus, showing 3 cars at once was truly too much. I think two is plenty and will be my max from now on. Thank God for my crew of PAINTHOUSE guys (Bruce, Mike, Tim, Ramon and Craig) and, most importantly, my amazing wife…

We went first to Salt Lake City, then on to Boise, Idaho for their respective ISCA Autorama events (with a detour into Park City, UT, home of the 2002 Winter Olympics, beautiful little town). In case your mind is wandering, NO, the bald guy in some of the pics is NOT my gay lover that I found at a truck stop along the way, just Steve, one of our employees that drove one of the rigs for us; the beautiful lady with the silver hair is Penny, the owner of Blue Belle, the ’55 Tbird. We then followed that with a week in Sun Valley, Idaho at our customer’s home (’55 Tbird owners, the Weiss’s) for the kid’s Spring Break (Jenn and the kids flew up for that week).

Amid that week, one of the cars had previously become damaged in Salt Lake, so I had to beg/borrow/steal a shop in Sun Valley and repair it before I moved on to Omaha, NE for the ISCA Finals after our ‘vacation’. I would go in to the shop and work from about 4 in the morning until 8 or so, then get back to the house we were at before the kids awakened, so they would not know I was mixing our pleasure with some business. They wanted ONE vacation that did not revolve around cars. Somehow  I pulled it off (I think…) and was able to get the front right fender repaired/refinished/polished and ready to go to Omaha by the following Saturday without them being any the wiser. I hope they don’t read this…wait, they’re teenagers, they don’t read. No worries! We had a great time and the Weiss’ home and hospitality was amazing. I am sure you have seen some very nice places, but this house was the most amazing place I’ve ever seen, let alone stayed in. The Big Wood River is running literally 50 yards behind the home and teaming with Rainbow Trout. I plan to fish it on my next trip. We did snow board (after lessons!) and I actually made it down the mountain without falling, once, so I quit while I was ahead! The whole Sun Valley area has become my new favorite place. I will come back, and, just possibly, on a one-way ride…

After the family left for H-town, I then went on to Omaha, NE for the 2012 ISCA finals. We had qualified in Boise with two of the three cars for that exclusive event and decided to go, since I was already on the road. It added about 8 days to the trip for me, but was time well spent. We have had other cars qualify, but had never taken them to the event. This time we took two: the blue ’55 Thunderbird and the blue ’67 GTO. Here is another album from the Omaha show. We ended up with both cars taking 5th out of 9 cars. They give 1st – 4th, then every other car that is in the category (Custom) takes “5th”. No other category (Restored, Rod, Truck or Motorcycle) had 9 entries, some only had one. It was truly an honor to be there, and with two cars that really weren’t show cars, at least from the undercarriage standpoint. Ours are very nice underneath, but not to the quality of a TRUE show car. Our cars are ultimately going to be driven, as they should, so underneath is not usually totally smooth, polished and chrome. It is very nice and sanitary, but still useable. Someday we’ll get the first place award, but the fun is in the build for me, and the response from the fans.

My favorite award to win is People’s Choice, and not many shows have that one for some reason. When they do, we love getting it. It means more to me than any plaque or trophy does. To me, it says that if someone could take any of the cars home with them, they’d take one we built. That is the ultimate compliment to me. Even the judges have told us that out of all the mega-dollar cars at the show, they’d want one of ours in their driveway. I’ll take that any day…

While I was in Sun Valley, Dana Irvin, the ’65 Mustang (Night Mare) owner, her husband Noel (the ’67 GTO Blue Bayou’s owner) and Steve (not my lover), took  the car to Portland, OR (another unexpected twist of events) to attempt to get one more point and qualify for the finals as well. We really wanted to take 3 cars to the finals, but, alas, the Mustang was destined not to go. It was a valiant effort, and the fact that the car got off to a late start this season (two shows behind) was the only reason it didn’t make it to the “big show”. Dana is itching to drive it so getting it home was not a bad thing after all.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…we are continuing our existing projects (’72 leMans Convertible, ’63 Corvette Roadster, ’47 Hudson Truck, ’72 Ferrari, ’32 Ford Sedan, ’32 Ford Roadster, a ’65 Porsche Speedster and two custom Harleys) as we approach some local shows that will be a welcome relief from all the travel. They shows are: Concourse d’Elegance of Texas, The Houston Construction Show and Classy Chassis. We are off again in July to the big Goodguys Nationals in Columbus, OH and possibly some more TV exposure in Nashville (not sure on that one, we shall see).

That’s about all for now. Until next time…

Randy

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Blue Belle’s Travels

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The Grand National Roadster Show was a fantastic success. The trip home was quite a contrast to that. Under ‘normal’ conditions, it takes two 12-14 hour days to return (or one hell of a long non-stop trip, which I’ve done more than once). This return trip was much different, taking 4 days, and including some harrowing driving and even one “spin out” off of a very icy road (glacier would have been more apt).

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DAY ONE

Dick Weiss (the car’s “other” owner) and I left Pomona, CA, on Monday morning headed east on I-40 for Flagstaff, AZ, Albuquerque, NM and finally home. I must admit I am a sucker for driving through the mountains, so I chose this route on purpose. The drive out of California was as uneventful as the drive westward to the show. We approached Flagstaff with the knowledge that some winter weather lay ahead, but not really knowing its severity or exact location.

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As a side note, for several years, Flagstaff has been a favorite travel stop of mine. I have stayed there several times, with a couple of them including my family, and once with the family of $umday’s owners, the Keffelers. Our favorite haunted hotel is there, The Monte Vista, so ask me sometime about my ghost story from when we first stayed there several years ago.

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Flagstaff was awesome, as usual. We headed east out on to the plains and Albuquerque. As we drove on, the impending storm became obvious. We drove on into it, as the snow began.

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After a few hours of driving into the snow, we reached Albuquerque. At this point, the storm was on full blast, with the temperature down to 6 degrees and the wind blowing at 30-40 mph. The wind chill was down around –15 degrees. I love the winter weather, but that is way colder than my Houston-based butt is used to.

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After we settled in the room, I noticed a pile of snow on the floor near the door: the wind, blowing at 35+ mph was blowing snow through the door jamb and into the room. That’s not something you see in Houston very often, okay, ever.

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DAY TWO

As we left Albuquerque the next morning, we were greeted with a landscape covered in snow, and our newest traveling companion, Mr. Ice. It took quite some time to climb out of the valley Albuquerque is in and get to Santa Rosa, where we would exit I-40 and drive southeast down into Texas. By the Santa Rosa exit point, the icy roads had diminished, and traveling was at a somewhat faster pace. We made it through Lubbock and were heading toward Abilene on I-20 when our pal, Mr. Ice, returned. We had gotten to Sweetwater, Texas, about 40 miles west of Abilene when we decided it was time to stop. While fueling at a truck stop, we were told that I-20 going East was at a standstill from a significant layer of ice and the wrecks that were resulting from it. We found one of the few rooms left, and parked it for the night, as did literally thousands of Semi’s. They were everywhere: in parking lots, truck stops, down city streets, along the freeway, etc. I have never seen so many trucks in one place at the same  time.

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DAY THREE

The next morning, we left out with hopes of making it home, as we should have been there last evening, Tuesday, and were still several hundred miles away. Despite what seemed like a good omen, the snow rainbow did not bring us good luck. Our unintended passenger, Mr. Ice, had other plans for us, and many others, as the day wore on.

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Now, after we reach Abilene, a distance of about 37 miles,  several hours later, we head south on Highway 84 in an attempt to finally get home. At this point, we had seen over a dozen wrecks, driven for hours on a true sheet of ice at well over 10 mph and then…it was our turn.

While driving on Hwy 84, on a downhill slope, the truck lost its steering, started to veer to the left and then…around came the trailer, spinning the truck with it. As it all happened, seemingly in slow motion, (it only lasted about 4 seconds) we ended up parked on the opposite side of a 4-lane highway, pointed in the opposite direction, now facing uphill, unable to move the rig, but unharmed in any way. Just prior to and shortly after, semi trucks and passenger cars  passed us. How they were absent at the time of our spin further reinforces the fact that someone else is running this “show” we call Life.

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We sat there nervously joking about what had just happened, then got out and surveyed our condition and checked on Blue Belle and the trailer’s contents. Too our amazement, not a thing was out of place. The car was exactly as we had last seen it at the last fuel stop, all the display components were where we had put them and suddenly life was very good! We returned to the truck and attempted to move back on the road, but to no avail. Even with 4-wheel drive locked in low, the wheels just spun, unable to move the trailer (7000#, maybe more) out of our thankfully soft grass landing pad (albeit frozen, snow and ice covered). The picture above may look very tame, but it was 8 degrees, the wind was blowing at 20+ mph (wind chill down in the –teens, ouch!), the incline was steeper than what you see indicates and the ice was over 2” thick. It was like trying to drive uphill on an ice rink. I have lived in Colorado Springs, and Mr. Weiss lives in the mountainous area of Idaho, and neither of us have ever been this cold or seen this much ice cover this much geography.

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There was no shortage of people (good Samaritans) that offered to help, or take us somewhere, which was a welcome sign that the world is not such a bad place after all. They just couldn’t really do anything. One local fella stopped, and attempted to reach a tow truck driver he knows, but he could not reach him. After about 30 minutes of calling, with no results, we assured him we were going to be fine, and he went on his way, promising to check on us as he came back by later.

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We decided we had to unhitch the trailer, lock it up, and try to reach the next town, Coleman, in search of a wrecker or anything that might help. We also knew that we may have to leave the car/trailer on the side of the road until this frozen landscape thawed enough to get the trailer out. We hunted around to find something to put behind the trailer tires, just in case it should decide to continue down the slippery slope under its own gravitational power. We finally found an old tire, and a broken tree limb, to hopefully hold our precious cargo in place until our return.

Once we were back under way, trailer-less, we headed south toward Coleman. After a few miles of slow driving, we came upon a Heavy Duty wrecker (tows semi-trucks) and a local Sheriff, working to get a tanker rig back on its way. We spoke with the wrecker crew, and they said they had two more commitments, then they would meet us at our truck, in 1-2 hours. We went back to wait. Also, the Sheriff let us know that the ice continued for at least two more counties to the South. Lovely.

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In our downtime, we had to idea to take one of the trailer’s torsion springs and see if we could break up the ice and get the truck’s tires back down to pavement, and ultimately, traction to pull out the trailer. After about 30 minutes, we managed to crack away enough ice to allow us to back up to the trailer, re-hitch, and attempt to pull it out. As luck would have it, with the truck in low 4-wheel drive and as much throttle as the slippery blacktop will allow, we were able to release the trailer from some of Canada’s finest ice and the glacial grip of our unintended roadside destination.

Despite the simple nature of it, the next challenge proved to be turning around, as after getting back on the road, we were headed the wrong direction. The concern was that if we had tried to turn around on any kind of a slope, the heavy trailer would slide downhill and drag us with it. We crawled along until we found a relatively flat spot near a road intersection and were able to manage a successful U-turn and regain our momentum southward, and ultimately, home. By the time we reached Coleman, it was dark, we were tired, hungry and ready to stop for the night. The day’s progress: 13 hours, 83 miles, one ‘spin-out’, near frost-bitten and, thankfully, zero damage.

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To add to our good fortune, we found a new Best Western and an fantastic “log cabin” steakhouse, The Way Station. If you’re in the Coleman, Texas area, try it, you won’t regret it. Their breakfast the next morning was equally as impressive.

DAY FOUR

Our trip the next morning proved to be less eventful. As we traveled further south, the ice continued to lessen, and once we were near Austin, the roads were clear and we were again traveling at the posted speed limits (no faster, not us!). I have to say, after crawling around at 10 mph or so for the last couple of days, driving at 60+ seems like we’re hauling butt.

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Ahhh, the exit to the house. After 1600 miles, 4 days, 3 motel rooms, countless cups of coffee, borderline frostbite and one minor miracle, we made it home. I will be the first one to admit that someone WAY above my pay grade made sure we got here. Because of other weather events in the Houston area (more ice!), we chose to not attend the Waco Autorama that we had previously committed to. We will instead travel back into the frigid North this next weekend to the Wichita Falls Show (February 12-13, 2011).

Stay tuned, as we continue the saga of Blue Belle’s Travels.

Until next time,

Randy

Raw talent…

I am not a fan of American Idol. I almost never watch it, unless the family has it on and I am in the room at that time. I have probably seen 2 full episodes since it originally aired.

So as I am finally sitting down at my computer this evening, after some ‘post dinner’ painting, I stumbled into a news ‘blurb’ on my browser’s homepage. It mentions a magnificent performance on tonight’s American Idol show.  I clicked on  the link, not really knowing why. It took me to an article about a young singer named Crystal Bowersox that intrigued me. I went to the normal place, YouTube, and sought her out.

For the next hour I sat mesmerized, as I clicked on any of her performances that I could find. Its almost as if for a small moment in time, the world stopped and I was allowed to witness something "real". In this age of digital movies, studio recorded music, plastic surgery and general materialism and “superficialness”, it was like a breath of fresh air to see someone with such God-given talent, and apparent humility, just do what they were truly meant to do.

She is not the most beautiful woman to grace the American Idol show, or the most flamboyant, but she is the most naturally talented performer I can remember seeing in a long time. For me, it reminds me of Elvis (the skinny version), as he came to fame (I’m not that old, but I can read). Or maybe, watching Nolan Ryan pitch a no-hitter. In my case, it was like looking at a perfectly smooth and polished black paint job that allowed a reflection as deep and far as you dared look as it drew you in.

Every once in a while, seemingly fewer and fewer times as the years go by, we are granted a look into ourselves through someone like Crystal Bowersox, or Nolan Ryan, or even Elvis. I believe that music is connected directly to our soul. And, I believe sports are one of the best teachers of life’s lessons, especially to our youth.  By watching Crystal, it reminded me that we all have a natural gift, and precious few of us really get to find it, and even fewer are able to put it into action and live because of it.

I am one of those privileged few that has found my ‘gift’ and an pursuing it to its fullest. I get to live, and provide for my family, because my "gift" has allowed me to do so. Who knew that building scale models as an elementary age kid would ultimately lead to what we do now?

I hope Crystal stays humble and real. Fame is coming to her, and at a fast pace. Like a freight train, she can get on and ride or get run over. I hope her experiences have made her ready for the maelstrom that is about to envelop her. If not, I hope she has wise people around her to help her transition into her inevitable new life. She has a son, and is, I believe, a single mother; therefore, I can only hope she stays grounded and doesn’t go ‘off the deep end’ like so many other famous, talented people have done, with Elvis (the fat version), or more recently, Michael Jackson, being a prime example of how life can take you to places you never imagined you would, or could, go, and they’re not always good. Ultimately, it is always a personal choice of ours that takes us either right or left at the forks in the road of life.

I can only hope, as success continues to come to my business and family, that I  stay grounded in what, and whom, got me here. If I ever get full of myself, someone (hell,everyone): set me straight. There are a few true people in my life that can, and will, do that if need be; you know who you are.

I know this has not been a normal PAINTHOUSE blog, but "something" moved me to sit down and write this. Just like that Nolan Ryan no-hitter, or an early Elvis performance, or even the first glimpse of the Chip Foose-built piece of automotive art, "Impressions", I was taken back to a place of pure admiration, and inspiration, by this young singer.

Tomorrow, the world will be back at it again, and life will be as hectic as ever. I am glad I found a small escape into one of the most pure facets of life: raw talent. Don’t blink, you may miss it.

Take care, Randy

Boxing?

My son threw me a curve ball this year. He requested to take boxing lessons.

I have no problem with that, it’s just that I never really considered it as an option. In Texas, you certainly think football, baseball, basketball, even soccer or martial arts; but boxing was not a sport I thought he would like to try.

He has taken lessons two times now, and seems to be enjoying it. I am glad to see him work hard at this. He is our youngest of 3, and the least “athletic”, at least until now. I love watching my kids play their sports, so I was worried that I wouldn’t get to continue that self-serving past time with kid #3.

I asked around and found an ex-heavyweight professional fighter that is coaching at local gym, and we so far really dig him. He is very “northeastern” and is from Philly, the same city “you know who” is from (at least in the movie). I would not want to be on the wrong side of this gentleman.

Maybe boxing will stick. Rocky is one of my all-time favorite movies, so at the risk of sounding cheesey, I love the fact that my son has taken up such a fascinating sport. Of late, boxing has taken a back seat to its own controversy in addition to the MMA phenomenon. At least for now, we have gotten him away from a TV or computer and into something not only physically, but mentally challenging.

Time will tell….until next time,

Randy

CLARITY: Operation Interdependance

Well, the wife has done it again. Done a great thing, that is.

She is part of the National Charity League  (NCL), along with our daughter. This is a fantastic philanthropic organization consisting of moms and daughters that go out into our ugly world and try to bring a slice of normality to it by donating their time, efforts and, occasionally, monies, to deserving charities and causes. One of their projects is to work with Operation Interdependance (OI), an organization formed to gather and send needed supplies to our troops stationed overseas in harm’s way.

Our humble task this last Sunday was to volunteer at our local ‘branch’ of OI. It was Father/daughter day for NCL, which is an annual occasion for the normally female group.

We met at the local packaging/shipping center for OI and were quickly integrated into their process of receiving, packing, weighing, labeling and shipping things to our men/women overseas. Things that we take for granted  and usually don’t even think about like baby wipes (since bathing is a luxury for much of their duty), notepads for letter writing, candy, shampoo, soap, snacks, toothbrushes, gloves…I could go on and on.

Each box is packed to it’s fill with as much as possible. The boxes are a specific size (about 18”x18”), for shipping uniformity, and would provide goods for 50 troops. No box was sealed until 50 handwritten letters had been placed at the top as well. For many of the troops, this is the most needed and appreciated supply.

The letters are not long, or personal to anyone except the hand writing the note. I found myself out of duties for awhile so I  found a pad and pen, and wrote some myself. I first did not know what to write, or to whom, but quickly decided to just write what I really thought, and not to try and manufacture a perfect letter. One might have read :

Dear American Hero,

Yes, that title is correct. We want to thank you for being something we sorely lack in this world: a true hero….someone that sacrifices him/her self for the greater good. We also want to thank your family, as they share in your experience as you are away from them guarding our liberties.  We know that our precious freedom is not free, you are paying that price for us. God Speed to you all. Come home safe.

I found this process both satisfying and angering at the same time.

I am proud to be part of a nation that has become a light to a dark world (although we seem to be getting dimmer as each election passes). I am proud to be able to help our troops, although they deserve so much more (as do our police, fire, teachers etc). It is because men and women before me were willing to do the hard thing, set aside their lives and defend our borders, as well as our values, that  I have the opportunity to pursue my life’s dream and create beautiful automobiles.

The angering side comes from the fact that we have to send such seemingly basic items to our troops at all. They “should” have WHATEVER they need to do their job, including some stress relieving things like a candy bar, or a movie, or a toothbrush. This presumes that they have all the protective gear, weapons, ammo and support that we can possibly give them. Thank God we live in a country where we have the freedom, and prosperity, to pitch in and provide such things to our real Heros.

Our resident Marine, Cliff, can attest to the fact that these simple shipments of everyday throw-away items are like gold to our troops. He served recently and remembers well what it meant to get something from home, even if it is just an anonymous letter or a pack of baby wipes to wash with. Our other vet, Bruce, could only wish for this kind of support during/after his tenure in Viet Nam. Despite all the flaws, we have coma a LONG way.

I urge any of you out there that may read this to find some way to pitch in, if you haven’t already. It doesn’t have to be a big commitment of time, or money. I can be as simple as a few hand-written letters, or a donation drive at your company that purchases things our troops need. Heck, just pray for them. They are in harm’s way on a daily, if not hourly, basis. If you have ideas, or need some, feel free to contact us  through our website. We will help, or welcome your help, anyway we can.

I meant this to be a quick little blog while I waited for my daughter’s volleyball practice to end. You can see how that turned out! For a man of few words, I sure can type a lot.

It is not my intention to write this as some rant, or to cast dispersions against the present, or any previous, administration. I guess I am writing because for a few hours, on a non-descript Sunday, I was given  clarity. Clarity about my purpose and how I can fit in to the bigger picture; about our Nation’s purpose in this world and how I can help and, also, clarity about how selfless and awesome my significant other is. Her picture should be next to the word “give” in the dictionary.

‘til next time,

Randy