Thursday, April 29, 2010

Springtime in Buffalo

It's been beautifully sunny and chilly for a few days. Just in time for warmer days now, I've finally figured out how to purge the air out and get heat back into my old VW. My timing isn't always perfect. But I'm getting ready to leave town, and with 300,000 miles on her, I want to be sure that air in the cooling system isn't a sign of something worse.

The dealer thought the heater core must be clogged, but I found out that the dealers all think that. All on my own - with help from Samaritans on the Internet - I discovered that if I purged the air I would get heat. I struggled for just a minute with mistrust for the VW shop. You know, where you nurse the assumption that they were just trying to sell me the expensive procedure to put in a new heater core.

In the end, I opted for open questions. After all, they're the ones who helped me get the car this far. And "advisors" on the Internet are as often people taking advantage (although I couldn't tell how in this case). Anyhow, I did find out that this is one among several notorious weak points in the VW design when I chatted with the guy who runs the shop today. They're going to do the power purge for me tomorrow morning, no charge! I'm happy.

All the other manufacturers are benefiting from Toyota's woes now. They built their cars to perfect Consumer Reports specs, but it turns out that there are other things which can go wrong when you over-engineer. Do we just enjoy the fall of the too big? Not too long ago, I ran into a friend who owns my identical VW, and he considers his a lemon. He would never get another one!

I guess I overlook the weak points and find myself pleased with the overall package. I like VW's emphasis on sound basic materials engineering. Lots of little stuff might go wrong, and even cause a catastrophe with the big stuff, but if you keep it from going that far, the car is built to last forever. That just wasn't true of a Toyota I once owned.

But, to each her own. I know my car has a Nazi pedigree, but I don't root for anyone's downfall, no matter what their difference from me.

Everyone seems to know who they hate these days. I was lucky enough to watch the Sabres beat the Bruins at the Arena in their second-to-last game of the season. It was a thrill which spilled out onto the street beyond the last-minute rule-challenging glove-flying exclamation point fight on the ice. The thrill was marred only slightly by "let's go Buffalo" horn tooting drivers who yelled "where's a Bruins fan to run over?" out their windows. Hey, it's all in sport.

Before that, I'd tried to make a clever point when New Orleans won the Super Bowl, about how only sudden disasters get sympathy from the crowd. Although New Orleans, and the nation, had prepared for Katrina by neglect over many many years, the actual event defined our generosity as a nation. Just as it contributed to bringing down a presidency. Just as Haiti's earthquake brought out the best in us, even though we couldn't be bothered for so many years while the ramshackle disaster waiting to happen got put together.

I used the analogy of the frog in the slowly heating kettle. He likes the hot-tub, and by the time he realizes it's getting way too hot, his energy is sapped and he's cooked. Despite the wooden carvings I walk by each day on Elmwood, left over from our great October tree-smashing snow storm, Buffalo's emergencies are all slow motion. Nothing to bring out the best in the crowd of people making fun of us.

But still, the other day, riding my bicycle back from watching the big orange ball drop off the Peace Bridge (along with maybe half a dozen others) at the start of Boom Day festivities, I rode past that home-makeover house on Massachusetts Ave. There's a sign out front which looks like a for sale sign. I was slightly outraged until I realized it was just the builder exercising bragging rights. There was something to cheer for, wasn't it, even from the rest of the country. Extreme home makeover, Buffalo edition.

Boom Day, chicken wings, wide right, we make lemonade from the lemons handed us. But we have water and power and infrastructure and beautiful surroundings and are the very setting for the whole "if you build it they will come" idea. Nice thoughts while leaving town in search of a job.

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