Stuff about me
My name is Keith Michaud and this is “Letters From Away,” a blog written by a Mainer living outside the comfortable and sane confines of New England. The blog is intended for Mainers, whether they live in the Pine Tree State or beyond, and for anyone who has loved ’em, been baffled by ’em or both. Ayuh, I am “from away.” Worse still, I live on the Left Coast – in California. Enjoy! Or not. Your choice.
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- How Maine Became a Laboratory for the Future of Public Higher Ed | The Chronicle of Higher Education
- Angus King Urges Interior Department To Reconsider Offshore Drilling Proposal | Mainepublic.org
- Maine Voices: Higher education, employers must work together for bright future | Portland Press Herald
- Stunning reversal: McDaniels turns down Colts’ job to stay with Patriots | The Associated Press via the Portland Press Herald
- Kennebec River water levels could stay high into next week | Bangor Daily News
Tag Archives: car
[This is the sixth of eight or so blog entries on the cars and other vehicles I have driven. It may or may not be of interest. Enjoy. Or not. It’s your choice. – KM]
Working at smaller newspapers usually means – besides not making a lot of money – that you mingle with people in other departments and you develop relationships throughout the newspaper building. Reporters and editors become friends – and more – with photographers, advertising representatives, graphic artists, circulation workers, and the press crew.
That was the case when I worked at The Reporter in Vacaville. Some of my best friends were from outside the newsroom, especially the ad department.
And knowing that my Nissan was on its last legs, several advertising representatives were on the lookout on my behalf for a vehicle. One day I received a call and on the other end of the line was an ad rep telling me that I should get down to a nearby auto tent sale, which I did. That is where I picked up my Suzuki Sidekick.
A Sidekick was a poor-guy’s option for a sport utility vehicle. It was red, small, boxy, somewhat under-built, and very underpowered – I seem to recall that the horsepower was at sub-100, which is not very much. It was fine on the flatlands, but was no fun to drive into the Sierra Nevada. I joked that it was so small and underpowered that it was much like driving a golf cart, which my friends readily – too readily in some cases – accepted as the true name of my ride.
The Suzuki built the Sidekick as part of a joint venture with Geo – remember Geo? – and later Chevrolet. The Sidekick was the same as the Geo Tracker – later, Chevrolet Tracker – except for different emblems used by the carmakers.
I don’t hear about carmakers working jointly with competitors like that anymore, but it is a bit ironic that my next vehicle, a 2000 Isuzu Rodeo, was a joint-venture vehicle. The Rodeo is the same as the Honda Passport. More on that later.
As I think back on the Sidekick, I don’t recall very many stunning moments with the vehicle. It was an OK vehicle and I suffered a bit of buyers’ remorse, but it eventually passed.
I was having dinner at friends Rick and Michele’s home in Vacaville about two weeks after purchasing the Sidekick. Our friend and co-worker Cliff was there, too. Cliff’s vehicle – I think he was in the red Dodge pickup by then – was parked near mine. A lovely evening was marred by the fact someone had keyed both our vehicles, which we discovered later. I hate that! Why does anyone have to do something like that? (It’s a rhetorical question. I don’t really expect an answer.)
The Sidekick was convenient for when I house- and dog-sat for Rick and Michele and Cliff. The backseats folded down and Lucy, a German shorthaired hound, and Lexe, a Springer spaniel, fit nicely in the back. The dogs – collectively known as Da Girls, Goombahs, and other assorted names – did not seem to mind the low horsepower of the Sidekick. All they wanted to do was be along for a ride and to plaster the inside of my car windows with dog slobber.
The other animal-related thing I recall about the Sidekick is that I was driving back to the office one day after lunch and I was following too closely a cattle trailer carrying pigs. Um, yeah, it was a mistake and required plenty of quarters at the local self-serve car wash.
And I changed out a starter motor on the Sidekick, just as I had a couple of times in the Nissan pickup. But in the Sidekick, the engine compartment was so much smaller and the starter motor jammed in so very tight that it took me several hours and several scuffed knuckles to complete the task. It was a miserable experience and it may have contributed to me developing the urge for a new ride, which turned out to be the Rodeo.
Rides of My Life … so far
Part 6: Suzuki Sidekick
[This is the second of several blog entries on the cars and other vehicles I have driven. It may or may not be of interest. Enjoy. Or not. It’s your choice. – KM]
A cousin and his wife moved into the log cabin next to my childhood home and one of the vehicles they owned was an orange Volkswagen Bug. I don’t recall the year. I just recall that the heater in the VW Bug my father owned years before wasn’t much of a heater, a necessity in the cold, dark North Woods of Maine.
Anyway, it came time for Phil to buy a new vehicle and my family bought the Bug.
My father painted it a grayish color and made repairs, including tacking up the floorboards that had corroded over the years under the onslaught of salt and sand distributed on the winter roads to make them passable.
I drove that Bug for a while, when the weather was not too cold or too wet – despite my father’s welding job, water would splash into the passenger compartment when I drove through puddles or streams.
It was a rough ride for the frost-heave-formed Maine roads, but it was mine.
Childhood friends Jeff and Todd came along with me for a ride one summer day. We loaded the Bug with snacks, fishing gear and beer – we were all 18, the drinking age in Maine at the time. Jeff or Todd brought along a battery-powered 8-track player – yes, I am old enough to have listened to music on an 8-track player – and some tapes. We rolled through the North Woods in that Bug, splashing through puddles and streams, fishing for brook trout, listening to the Steve Miller Band on 8-track, and sipping American lager.
We made it all seem a bit classier by pretending the Bug was a Porche and the player was a Jensen.
That Bug didn’t have much of a heater either. And every so often I had to crack open the hood – yep, at the rear of the car – to gap the points in order to start the car.
I don’t recall to whom my parents sold the car, but it may have gone directly to the Portage Hills Country Club to be used as a tractor. Yep, a golf course tractor.
Rides of My Life … so far
Part 2: VW Bug
[This is the first of several blog entries on the cars and other vehicles I have driven so far in my life. It may or may not be of interest to anyone other than myself. Enjoy. Or not. It’s your choice. – KM]
Far too often a car is seen as a status symbol, a measure of the total man or woman driving the car.
An expensive car denotes success. Or, at least, it symbolizes money, whether it be old money or new.
A compact car, economy car or one that is broken down denotes failure, hard times, a lack of resources, when perhaps it really should symbolize a concern for the environment or thriftiness.
An expensive car denotes confidence and financial freedom.
A compact or economy car denotes insecurity and frugality.
An expensive car denotes virility.
A compact car … well, doesn’t.
Far too much weight is put on the type of car or vehicle a person drives.
I have had a couple of cars and other vehicles since the time I took driver’s education at Ashland Community High School in the late 1970s. None are particularly spectacular and most were either hand-me-downs or used vehicles.
But they are the rides I have had over the years.
Here’s a multi-part drive down the memory lane that are the rides of my past.
The first vehicle I was able to claim as mine was a Jeep Commando. So, I suppose the Jeep Commando – descendant of the vehicle that helped the Allies win World War II and took generations of woodsmen into the backcountry – is my first status symbol. I’m not sure what that says about me, but there it is.
OK, I really couldn’t “claim” the Commando since it belonged to my parents. It was used for plowing the driveway in the winter and woodland excursions in the spring, summer and fall.
Living in the Deep Dark Woods of Northern Maine means long, dark, cold, snowy winters. The driveway to my family’s home was a fairly long piece of gravel and shale, especially if you were using a shovel or snow scope to clear it after a significant snowfall.
Add to that, fairly steep front and back stairs from the house to the driveway, and you have some pretty significant snow removal going on.
You can imagine how pleased I was when my father brought home the Commando, complete with a small plow on front. I don’t recall where he purchased it or even if my mother had a say in it. All I know is that seeing that rig meant a little less work for me and my aching back.
It also meant I had a ride to various extracurricular activities – soccer, baseball and basketball practices and games, mostly. It is about 11 miles from Portage to Ashland and trying to catch the activity bus was a large hassle, so I was allowed to use the Commando from time to time.
I don’t recall the model year of the Commando, but it had a removable hardtop – in other words, it was a convertible – and pretty fun to drive around. I recall that my Dad ended up getting a broken down Commando for parts for the one we actually used, which he painted a metallic gray and added a blue softcover for the summer. He also added a rollbar, which was pretty cool.
According to Jeep-Commando.com – yes, there is a website – the Commando was manufactured from 1966 to 1971. Here’s a bit of what can be found at http://www.jeep-commando.com/.
Because of the short time of production, the Jeep Commando is a rare, hard to find Jeep. A lot of people say the Jeep Commando looks a lot like the International Scout and the Ford Bronco.
In 1966, Jeep, then owned by Kaiser, launched the Jeepster Commando to compete with the Bronco and Land Cruiser. The Jeepster Commando was available only in three models: a convertible, pickup truck, and a wagon (like the Jeepster, this was a really cool looking vehicle in my opinion). The (Kaiser) Jeepster Commando stayed in production until 1969. In 1970 AMC bought Jeep from Kaiser, and then in 1972 AMC shortened the name to just Commando and changed the grill design to look more like that of a Bronco, but it didn’t catch on. The Jeep Commando was taken out of production in 1973. Check out The American Jeepster Club for more on these cool Jeep spin-offs.
I don’t recall when or how or why my parents got rid of the Commando. All I know is that I enjoyed driving that thing.
Rides of My Life … so far
Part 1: Jeep Commando