Douglas L Perry, The Author blog

December 30, 2008

When Rubber Meets Ice

Filed under: Stories — douglaslperry @ 3:40 am
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I learned to drive in one of the most cantankerous, hard to drive, pile of crap, vehicles ever. It was a late 1960’s Ford Econoline Pickup, basically the same vehicle as the junky Econoline Van, but with the back end cut off and replaced by a truck box. 

It was horribly designed and implemented. The engine, passengers, and most of the weight were located in the front of the vehicle. Since it was a rear wheel drive vehicle, having very little weight on the back wheels made for horrible traction, especially on ice. 

The design was so bad that the kingpins were too small for the vehicle. The kingpins sit at the end of each side of the front axle and represent the pivot points for the front wheels when you turn. These kingpins were so horribly under-designed, they continually wore out. The result was an incredibly stiff steering wheel. It took both of my 14 year old arms pulling hard to make it turn. 

That was an annoyance when the roads were dry, but it was downright dangerous in icy weather. When you drive on an icy road, it’s very important to be able to counteract sliding by turning into the slide. If you can’t turn fast enough, well you can guess what happens.

South Dakota roads, even the gravel mile roads, have ditches. These are deep depressions on each side of the road varying anywhere from 3 feet to 20 feet deep, usually depending on the width of the road. They remind you of what an English moat around a castle might look like. Ditches hold the snow that is removed by massive snowplows that clear the roads.

Farmers still need to get to their fields with their tractors, wagons, and other machinery. Therefore these ditches have small bridge-like structures made out of dirt, that span the distance between the road and the field. They’re called field access roads.

My brother and I were traveling to a town nearby in the Econoline Pickup, for a reason that escapes me, when we came upon an ice patch about a quarter of a mile long, spanning both sides of the road. I anticipated it by slowing and turning the steering wheel so that the front tires were as straight as possible. The last thing I wanted, was to get into a slide with this piece of junk. 

It didn’t work. Even though the steering wheel was straight, the wheels must have been slightly turned. That coupled with the fact that I was still slowing down, made the back end of the truck, try to catch the front, ever so slowly. It was like watching a movie in slow motion as the vehicle started drifting to the left. 

I quickly yanked the wheel left and I heard the front end make a popping sound. The truck slowly stopped going left, and accelerated to the right. The front wheels had stuck, then gone too far, sending the back end the other way. I manically tried to turn the other way, the front end popped even louder this time. The slide to the right stopped, but was immediately replaced by a quicker one to the left. 

Again I yanked the wheel back the other way but it was too late. The rear of the truck came around so that we were sliding down the middle of the road perpendicular to traffic flow, staring down at the steep ditch straight ahead. 

There was nothing I could do at this point but hold on. I saw my 12 year old brother put his left hand on the mid-engine cover, and right hand on the door, bracing himself for impact. He nearly lifted himself off the seat as the sideways motion of the vehicle subsided, and translated to forward motion down the ditch. 

I slammed hard on the brakes, but they were of no use. The rubber tires slid on the road as if they were ice skates. We plunged down the steep slope, the entire windshield filled with the image of the far side of the ditch. It was a forgone conclusion that we would impact the far side and be launched through the windshield. We weren’t wearing our seatbelts because the truck didn’t have them. 

Luckily the foot of snow on the down slope slowed our progress, and the deeper snow in the bottom of the ditch lifted the nose of that overweight junker just enough that we flew up the far side of the ditch and stopped with a barbwire fence stretched tightly across the windshield. Even better we had split the distance between two wood fence posts. 

We spun our heads to look at head other and smiles broke out. We were just happy to be safe. 

We backed down the ditch and tried to drive out, but the slope of the ditch was too steep. We could travel laterally along the ditch, but when we tried to go up the slope, the truck slid back down. One of the field access roads was about 100 yards ahead, so we gained as much speed as possible along the road side of the ditch and hit it about 20 mph. The truck got air as we flew out of the ditch and landed back on the road. We were slammed about the cabin as we landed, but we were just happy to be out.

The rest of the trip was made without further incident, but to this day, whenever I see an icy patch on a road, I remember that barbed wire fence stretched across the front of that truck and remember what could have happened.

December 23, 2008

Boys will be Boys

Filed under: Stories — douglaslperry @ 9:01 pm
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This has to be one of my favorite stories from the midwest. Perseverance in face of great danger. 

I worked for my father’s electrical business while going to school, so I never really got a chance to take the summer off. So, we would save it up for a big blowout during some of the last weeks before school. This one year we decided to take our dirtbikes out to Sturgis, South Dakota, sight of the now infamous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. I think today’s attendance figures number in the hundreds of thousands, but at that time, it was more like 20 thousand. 

We stayed at a cabin in a little town called Rochford, SD. A town so small that you can count all of the buildings using just your digits, and that doesn’t include toes. It is located out in the Black Hills at the conjunction of Rochford Rd, and North Rochford Rd, basically the middle of nowhere.

Early one morning we decided to ride our bikes out to Castle Peak. (I find it amazing that every mountain range no matter where I go, has a Castle Peak). The peak was located up tree lined slope that rose a few hundred feet above the valley road. At first we thought we might be able to take our dirtbikes to the top, but a quick reconnoiter of the slope revealed that it was much too steep, had too many trees, and there were large boulders that would be difficult to get around. We decided it wasn’t possible. 

However, that didn’t stop the explorer urge in every one of us to conquer the mountain. We parked our bikes on the far side of the road, and took off on foot. The lower part of the slope wasn’t too steep and we made good progress. As we neared the halfway point though, we were slipping and sliding on the remains of decomposed rock. We pulled ourselves up using the trees that ranged from six inches to eighteen inches in diameter stopping to catch our breath every few minutes. 

From time to time we came upon small rocks in the trail, that jutted out from the ground. We found that with a little effort we could break them loose. We made sure everyone was out of the way, then pushed the rock down the hill. It was great fun to watch them start slow, then roll faster and faster until they hit a tree or another rock, and stop. 

You’ve heard the phrase boys will be boys, and this was a clear example, but of course what we were really trying to do was validate the laws of physics. Uh huh, sure. 

As we got nearer to the top the trees started to thin slightly and the loose gravel became more loose. The slope also became increasingly steep. It was almost to the point that we had to climb on all fours, but not quite. We came into an area where there were almost no trees, and in the middle was an enormous rock perched precariously on top of another flatter one. 

At once we identified it as a target and set out to push it down the hill. However, it really was enormous. We were five young strong men. Some of us were wrestlers, others football players, all of us were physically in our prime. We got behind the rock and pushed with all of our might. It rolled up, but only a little. We turned around backwards, put our backsides against the rock so that we could use our powerful legs. It moved a lot farther, but still not enough. We were stymied. 

We tried to work out other ways to push, but nothing worked. Then I saw it. A large tree trunk of a newly fallen tree up the trail about fifty feet. I quickly explained my plan and we set off in pursuit of the tree. Even with the five of us, and the fact that it was downhill, it still took a half an hour to muscle the tree into place. We placed the end of the tree under the edge of the massive rock, rolled a smaller rock underneath the tree, and all five of us hung off the far end of the tree trunk. 

It was a comical scene as we levered the rock up almost to the tipping point, but it would fall back down. We needed to get the tree further under it. On one session we levered the rock up, and one of the guys ran down and rolled a smaller rock underneath to hold the big one up. It gave us the room we needed. On the next push, the massive rock rose up, tipped over, and started rolling down the hill. 

It started slowly, making a thump, thump, thump, as the uneven shape dug into the slope on every turn, but it rapidly gained speed. It ran over smaller rocks either as if they weren’t there, or smashing them out of the ground to roll with the big one. The smaller trees were like toothpicks and flew in the air like leaves as the rock cut them off in its wake. Even the larger trees were no match and the rock blazed an eight foot wide swath down the mountain while we whooped in delight. 

Then we saw it. The path down the mountain led straight to our bikes. Even worse, a car appeared on the road from our left. Our delight turned to horror as the car approached from the left and the rock bore down on it. Sickening glances shot between each one of us as we started yelling at the car to stop. We waved our arms and shouted as loud as we could, but they didn’t seem to hear us and continued toward their doom. 

Luckily the hill leveled out toward the bottom. Luckily the dirt was sandy and loose. As the rock reached 100 feet from the road, it started to slow. At about 50 feet it thumped about as fast as a heartbeat. Not ours, but a normal one.

Just before the road the rock rolled up on one edge, teetered for a moment, then fell back the other way, and lay still. It was only then we could breathe properly again.

We traced the path of the rock down the hill and marveled at the devastation. It was as if a bulldozer had driven through the trees. 

Was it dangerous? Yes. Should we have done it? No. Was it fun? Absolutely.

To this day whenever I see those friends, all I have to say is the rock, and they know exactly what I mean.

December 21, 2008

Another Story from the Midwest

Filed under: Stories — douglaslperry @ 7:23 pm
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In South Dakota you can drive at 14. I know that sounds nuts, but South Dakota is very rural. I am sure you can imagine what would happen if that were the case everywhere, but in my hometown there is a total of 6 stoplights. There’s a simple reason this was put into place, so that farm kids were allowed to drive farm machinery and help out their parents. 

Before you wonder if the South Dakota lawmakers are crazy, there are restrictions. Since I haven’t lived there for a long time, I’m not current, but when I was there the license was restricted so that you could only drive from 7am to 7pm. Not that it stopped us, but that was the rule.

I got my first car, a 1966 Dodge Charger when I was 14. A lot of you muscle car guys would kill to have that car today, and I had it when I was 14. Incredible. I got it for $650, which at the time was a good sum of money, but I had traded in a motorcycle that I had fixed earlier. 

I worked as an electrician for my father’s company and made pretty good money so I was one of the few, other than the rich kids, that could afford a car at that age. 

The car itself was pretty much a piece of junk. The body had a severe case of cancer, also known as rust, from the salt that’s used to keep ice off the road. The engine had seen many miles, but the biggest problem was the brakes. They barely worked. 

They were the old drum style and made an annoying metal on metal screech every time I used them. I knew it wouldn’t be long until they stopped working all together. 

Since I didn’t have that much money I decided to fix them myself. I hadn’t done much car maintenance, but I was mechanically inclined. The system was pretty simple when you got down to it, so I figured I could handle it. 

I installed the new brake shoes, connected all the crazy springs, installed the manual adjuster, and buttoned everything back up. I backed out of the driveway and took off down the street. The brakes didn’t make any noise and actually worked well. I was darn happy with my work. 

After a couple of turns, stops, and 3 more blocks I reached the stop sign at the only four lane major highway intersection near my house. I pressed on the brakes as I neared the stop sign. To my surprise the brake pedal went all the way to the floor and the car didn’t slow in the least. Luckily there was no one coming to my left, but when I looked across the freeway an 18 wheeler was bearing down from the right. 

I stepped on the emergency brake, but it also went all the way to the floor. It was connected to the rear brakes, which seemed to be the problem. 

I tried to judge whether the truck would beat me through the intersection or not, but at 14, I wasn’t a good enough driver to know. I slammed the shifter into low gear hoping that would slow the car a little, and luckily it did. I reached the far side of the intersection as the 18 wheeler filled my entire windshield. I steered hard to the right and missed the rear of the truck by a couple of feet. 

I rolled through the intersection and killed the engine. The car rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the road. 

With the adrenaline pumping like a fire hose, I think I probably sat there for at least five minutes trying to calm myself down. I walked home and got my brother to help me tow the car. 

I took it apart again and after some careful examination, I finally figured out that I hadn’t installed the manual adjuster properly. After a few times using the brakes, it had popped out, letting the brake cylinder go too far, and release all the brake pressure. Since they were all one system, I had no brakes on the front or rear. 

I continue to work on my cars to this day, but now I always get the shop manual so that I make sure the proper procedures are followed. 

When you only have nine lives, you don’t want to squander them by being stupid.

December 19, 2008

Stories from the Midwest

Filed under: Stories — douglaslperry @ 11:51 pm
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I’m one of those transplants from the midwest living in California. I grew up in a dinky little town in Eastern South Dakota, right near the border to Minnesota. While there are still some things that I miss, there are lots that I don’t. One of the things that I don’t miss is the winter weather.

When you are a kid, winter weather is great. You get to frolic in the snow, play hockey on the ice, get your tongue stuck on the monkey bars when it’s really cold, basically all the things that are good about cold weather. 

As an adult, cold weather is a royal pain in the ass. You may have to shovel snow to get the car out, scrape the windshield before you can drive, and warm up the car for 20 minutes so that your teeth don’t chatter while you’re driving. 

My hometown is a university town and I got my BSEE degree there. Most of my classmates stayed on campus. The cold weather didn’t bother them too much, other than they had to dress warmer. Living at home, I drove to class. 

One morning in particular I remember an nasty ice storm swept through during the early morning hours. The streets were treacherous as I tried to park my big American car near class. I found a spot about two blocks away and set off to walk the rest of the way. 

The experience of walking to class was incredible. The trees looked like living crystals as the bright sunlight shone through the thin layer of ice that covered their branches. My breath made a light mist as I exhaled the pristine air. The sunlight warmed my coat as snow crunched under my boots. It was the perfect morning to be outside and I didn’t want it to end. 

As I came around a corner danger lay in my path. It wasn’t a slippery downslope, or an out of control car, but a large black wire that lay on the ground near the sidewalk. The wire was about the size of a large garden hose and broken in two. At first I thought it was just a telephone cable, but as I got near, I heard a sound like frying eggs. A small blue plasma of electrically charged air flowed from the center of the wire into the ground below. Seven thousand volts of electricity was taking the shortest path to ground leaving only a dangerous spark at its end. 

Working around electricity in my fathers’ electrical business I knew the danger. Touching that cable would mean nearly instant death from electrocution. As the ice around the wire slowly melted even touching the water could be lethal. I gave it a wide berth and ran the rest of the way to class as best I could given the icy conditions.

I went to the office of the first professor I could find and told him that I wanted to use his phone. When he asked why I told him what I had seen. The color nearly drained out of his face as I told him about the cable. I thought he was going to pass out. It took him a moment to gain back his composure so that he could tell me what was going on. He was the engineer that had designed the cutoff system that would kill the power to any cable that broke and lay on the ground. What I had just told him was that his system didn’t work. 

He told me he would take care of it and not to mention it to any one else, and I haven’t to this day. 

Turns out, I got an A in his class after that.

The Book Process

Filed under: Books — douglaslperry @ 1:32 am

Everyone author has a process that they use to create their work. Those who have written a lot have processes that have evolved over time. As I am in the middle of my third novel I have evolved the following process which works well for me. 

First of all I write longhand. I started using pads of paper, but decided that I didn’t have enough room for notes. I like to write down notes about upcoming scenes or ideas that come to mind as I write a current scene. I migrated to composition books because the left side would be filled with notes, and the right side with text. I found those too hard to keep steady while typing, so I have now made the evolutionary change to spiral bound notebooks that allow me to lay the book flat while typing it in. 

Why longhand? Because ideas seem to flow out of my pen, and get stifled by the keyboard. I haven’t really figured out why that happens yet. I have tried many times to type on the keyboard, but I will get a few tough scenes out on the keyboard and quickly go back to the notebook. 

It seems like double work to some people, but most of the time while typing the manuscript in, I am doing a first level edit. This doesn’t happen all the time, because sometimes I am typing while watching the TV. When that happens I usually just type what I wrote. 

The next step once I have it all typed in, is to do a first level edit. This I can actually do on the keyboard. I read the entire story through and fix the major flaws, move things around, fix typing mistakes, etc. Once I get this completed I print the whole thing out double sided. 

I read the entire manuscript through and scribble changes with a red pen. I go through the manuscript on the computer one more time making the changes that I found on the read thru. 

Now the manuscript is in pretty good shape. Good enough that I can start to read it aloud. Reading it aloud is very important because it allows you to hear the rhythm of the words. You hear when you stop and start so you know where you need to make changes. I print it out one more time and read it aloud to my wife. 

Finally after this whole process is done. I put the book away for at least 3 months. Long enough for me to forget all the details and start on something else. After the time is up I drag the manuscript out again and read it all the way through. That read is usually an awesome experience as reliving the things about the book that got you excited is a great feeling. It also points out the areas that need to be tossed if they don’t inspire you. 

After all those changes are finally complete, I submit it for publication. 

Coming soon. Pre-publication editing.

December 16, 2008

Book Proof is here!

Filed under: Thoughts — douglaslperry @ 11:06 pm

img_0102Yippee, yahoo, and all those other exclamations, the book proof finally came. The cover looks great, the formatting is about what I expected, not great, but not bad. The paper looks good, the size, the look, the feel, everything actually looks pretty darn good. 

I started reading through it and the text looks correct. I did a quick read through the chapters and its seems that all the fixes are in there. All the edits look correct. Then I got to chapter 53. Crap…

In the process of updating the book, I changed the name of one of the characters. I made the interior changes first, then the cover changes. In the process the back cover change didn’t get made properly. The text on the back cover has a different name for the character than the interior text.

*&^%^&

How did that happen?

I don’t remember except that I had a hard disk crash in the middle of the process, and I think that I lost one of my change emails where the interior change was made.

Oh well, nothing to do but fix it. I told the publisher to make a one word change to the back cover text and that should do it. I hope they can turn it around quickly. I was hoping to be ready for Xmas, but alas, it’s not to be.

December 11, 2008

Dirty Little Deuces

Filed under: Thoughts — douglaslperry @ 4:27 am

I like to play Texas HoldEm on my iPhone when I am waiting. At the doctor’s office, on hold, at lunch, pretty much anytime that I have some free time. I usually win, it is a computer algorithm after all, and once you figure out it’s weaknesses, it’s pretty easy to exploit them.

I was playing a game against the computer. I was one on one with the final computer opponent. Things were going great, I had the chip lead, I was well on my way to kicking the computer’s butt.

Then it changed. I was folding hand after hand feeling my chips being sucked away by the inexorable rising blinds. I no longer had the chip lead and felt like I had cut my wrist. I was watching the blood slowly drain out of me.

I was about to put the phone away and try later when my luck suddenly changed. I got double Aces. Aha, finally a hand that I can bet on. This time computer I will make you pay. But I decided to slow play, make it look like I had nothing, fool the computer into thinking I was a sap, then trap him. I covered the rest of the big blind, sat back and waited. The computer checked. 

The flop was a dream, Ace, King, King. A full house, and not just a full house, the biggest baddest one you can get. OK computer, you’re going down. I’ve got you by the short ones now.

Keeping with the slow play plan, I checked. The computer checked. 

The turn card was the 2 of diamonds. Just to keep it interesting, I made a small bet, the computer matched it. OK computer, you didn’t raise it up, you got nothing….. heh, heh, heh

Things were definitely going my way. 

The river card was another measly 2 and I knew I had it beat. No lousy twos are going to help going up against my Aces and Kings. I decided to drop the bomb. I moved all in. 

The computer matched my bet and I nearly jumped for joy. I thought here I go, I’m going to double up. I’m going to leave you virtually chipless. I was doing a little victory dance in my head as I waited for the cards to be revealed. 

The game showed me my opponent’s cards and my joy turned to pain. I couldn’t believe it. I lost. I lost by the only two cards in the deck that could possibly beat me. The odds were in my favor by a landslide, but there they were. The last 2 deuces….

December 8, 2008

My Book Cover

Filed under: Books — douglaslperry @ 3:29 am

new-cover-21

Larry Evans stared wide-eyed at the GPS display. It couldn’t be true. He had to be seeing things. But there it was in bright colors on his laptop screen.

About an hour ago he had boarded a routine flight from Los Angeles to Denver. Just for fun he had consulted his GPS to calculate what time they would arrive. The position shown on the GPS shouted an ominous warning. Not only was the plane off course, but they were flying the wrong direction. They should be nearing Denver ready to land. Instead, they were 1000 miles West of Los Angeles heading for an unknown destination, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

Something deep in Larry’s gut tightened like a guitar string, and only he knew the truth. If they stayed on this path, it wouldn’t be long before the plane ran out of fuel, and crashed into the sea. The passengers on this plane had one chance. It was up to Larry to get into the cockpit and turn them around or die trying.

December 7, 2008

Driving a cellphone

Filed under: Thoughts — douglaslperry @ 7:02 am

I am straying from my usual topic of writing because I have noticed an increasingly annoying trend. People driving like idiots with a cellphone attached to their head.

 

Today I was running a few errands that took me into the downtown area of San Jose. I was traveling on I280N approaching the 7th street exit and tried to merge to the offramp. There was a line of at least 10 cars all following one moron on his cell phone going about 50 in the far right lane. As I passed them more than half were on their phones and leaving very little space for me to merge. They were like a giant rolling roadblock that I couldn’t get around.

 

At the bottom of the ramp I was behind 4 cars turning left. The light turned green and we waited for almost 5 seconds because the front of the line was yakking on the phone and didn’t notice that the light had changed. After sloooowly turning the corner he stopped at an intersection where there wasn’t a stop sign in our direction. After a few seconds of honking from frustrated people behind him, he finally moved, but in the process we all missed the next stoplight.

 

I saw at least three more idiotic moves by people driving with phones, a guy nearly hit a bicyclist, a woman backing up in the middle of the street, etc. You get the idea.

 

Do I talk on the phone while driving? Sometimes. Do I drive like an idiot while talking on the phone? Probably. So what gives me the right to complain about these others? Because I limit my phone time in the car, I tell people I will call them back, or I wait until I get to the office before calling. Also when I am on the phone I purposely concentrate harder on driving to the detriment

of my phone call. People don’t like to talk to me on the phone while in the car, because I don’t

respond like I do in the office. They may have to wait for a response from me, but that’s too bad. Call me later. I’d rather be safe.

 

It especially concerns me while riding my motorcycle. I give any car, truck, bus, whatever, a wide berth when they have a phone on one ear. They have a hard enough time seeing me when they are paying attention. When they are on the phone, I know they don’t see me.

 

So if you have to talk on the phone while driving, remember, you’re first responsibility is to be safe on the road, not to talk to the other person. Don’t be an idiot. Call them later.

 

Ride Safe

Sometimes being a writer sucks

Filed under: Writing — douglaslperry @ 6:41 am

I used to love going to the movies to watch the latest Sylvester Stallone flick, but now I don’t enjoy them anymore. And it’s because I became a writer. Maybe some of it is a result of maturity, but I don’t think so. What I’ve noticed is that I only like shows whether TV or Movie, that are written well.

 

It’s not that I am drawn to more literary movies, or chic flicks, though I do seem to enjoy movies with more human interaction scenes rather than just blowing stuff up. Don’t get me wrong I still enjoy movies where stuff gets blown up, but it’s just that there better be some story behind it as well.

 

To give an example I really like motorcycle riding and so one would tend to think that I would enjoy a movie like Torque. However I found it the most worthless piece of drivel to ever grace the screen. The characters were completely unbelievable, the story was idiotic, the dialog was ridiculous. That is one area where I know that I am much more sensitive than ever, dialog. If the dialog is bad, the rest of the movie typically cannot make up for it.

 

The problem is that there just are not as many well written movies as there used to be, so becoming a writer has made my movie going experience a lot worse. I find myself looking at my watch when I should be enjoying the movie. The difference is that in the past I would have been into the movie.

 

That being said, I really enjoyed Iron Man. There were some moments of questionable dialog, but overall it delivered, the comic elements with his robots were just awesome.

 

Keep writing

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