"'Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.' Are the Brave the ones who are afraid to come out of their homes at night because of the gangs and drugs and drive-by shootings? Or is that the Free? I always get those two mixed up." -Mario, on moving to Canada
Tom had blamed Mario, and Mario had blamed Tom, but in either case, someone had forgotten to fill the gas tank on the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen for that epic first crossing of Lake Erie, and so we had all spent a cold and wet night on the leeward beach, except for Tom - of course - who ended up with a new girl friend who tended bar in Geneva-on-the-Lake. But at least the Schwimmerwagen had not sunk that time.
The Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen is a remarkable watercraft devised entirely of junkyard materials and dedicated to the proposition that, all things being equal, vehicles should float. Of course, other adventures with the Schwimmerwagen have tended to disprove this proposition, but Tom Schwendlemeyer has always refused both defeat and logic where the Schwimmerwagen is concerned.
And so we found ourselves once again plying the waves of Lake Erie in a new and improved Schwimmerwagen in another attempt to reach Canadian waters from the American side. This time the vehicle represented the next generation in floatation technology, employing several old gas tanks mounted under the chassis for buoyancy. These, naturally enough, presented clearance problems when driving on the road, but gave the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen so much additional flotation that the number of 55-gallon drums welded on the periphery had been reduced to five and the Schwimmerwagen looked much more like a true vehicle than some flotsam or jetsam from the Gulf war.
Tom and the Schwimmerwagen have a long standing relationship with the law enforcement community. In fact, the Schwimmerwagen has been stopped by local police so often that Tom carries special document packages to give to the various officers that stop him, each document package containing photostatic copies of his title, registration, State Highway Patrol inspection report, boat registration, birth certificate, driver's license, and social security card, as well as an emission test certificate, photo of the Schwimmerwagen, and some individually wrapped hard candies for the wife or kids.
"Prevention," Tom says, "is the better part of curation."
Despite this, he has been arrested (but not charged) once and had the Schwimmerwagen impounded twice even though all his papers are in order. The arresting officer confided to Pam, when she went to bail Tom out, "I was just looking out for his own good. He'll kill himself in that thing."
Make note of that part. They were protecting him from himself.
Actually, that officer lost his temper when Tom acceded to his demand to demonstrate the window squirters on the Schwimmerwagen. Despite not having a windshield (not required by state law, although Tom does carry one around loose), the Schwimmerwagen DOES have windshield squirters (which ARE required by state law), and they are aimed right where the officer was standing and they will shoot 40 feet.
The tow truck drivers and impound lot attendants, on the other hand, always treat Tom with a bit more deference than the police do, in respect for a man who not only can weld together something like the Schwimmerwagen, but has the foresight to weld on those fine, manly brackets for the tow truck winch.
Unlike the original attempt on Lake Erie, we this time had a much smaller target. Where we would have been happy to haul-up on Canadian soil of any location before, this time we would have to navigate. Mario had bought a cottage on Pelee Island, which is Canadian, and so we were hoping to traverse the Lake from Cleveland to Mario's place. To this end, Kevin bought a compass and a roadmap from the Sunoco station.
Sea-faring men we were, stout and true. But in view of our last adventure on the lake, when we were forced to hide beneath the superstructure of the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen when the Coast Guard boat came around, lest they discover that
we decided to use the buddy system and enlist Jason and his boat, the Wellcraft, as an escort. The particular beauty of this plan was the fact that the Wellcraft - being a 45 foot boat - would allow us to bring a lot more people to witness the adventure than would otherwise be possible.
The drawback to this approach, however, became apparent shortly after the early morning launch of the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen from an empty lot in the industrial wasteland of the Cleveland Flats. We were to rendevous with Jason at the boardwalk toward the mouth of the river, where the old warehouse district has been supplanted with upscale yuppie bars and clubs. As soon as we tied up next to the Wellcraft, Tom checked the gas tank, then Mario checked it, then Tom checked it again, and this would have gone on forever except Kevin noticed that the dancer bar along the banks of the river was open, so guess what happened.
A couple beers later, and the Schwimmerwagen, tied up along the boardwalk outside the air conditioned bar, was the center of attention among boaters, show girls, bar patrons, local residents, and finally, the Cleveland Police Waterfront Patrol.
I thought for a while that they would put the keebosh on the adventure by impounding the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen, and although they discussed that very action, they evidently had no cause to do so. "We're just looking out for your own good," the Sergeant told Tom. Watercraft in Ohio aren't required to have windshield squirters or even windshields, although Tom had brought his spare windshield along and did show it to them. Tom had even added copies of his passport to the Schwimmerwagen document package.
Despite expectations, the officers of the Patrol seemed like genuinely nice fellows who were worried about the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen. They did, however, fulfill their obligation to verify our boat registration number, check to see we had enough life preservers and weren't carrying any alcoholic beverage in the cooler, and they did warn Tom that some of the supercargo (and they were looking directly at Kevin when they said it) was pretty inebriated, but Tom assured then that the situation was well in hand, gave each of them a Schwimmerwagen document package, thanked them, and they continued on their way.
Which is exactly what we did as soon as they left.
But our brief soujourn had swelled the number of our company. Seven new passengers- 2 dancers, 1 barmaid, and 2 other young ladies of various persuasion along with their boyfriend/husband escorts - had been dazzled by either Tom's adventurous spirit, Mario's suave personality, or the rugged good looks of the Wellcraft gleaming in the nautical sun. In any case, they boarded with Jason and were coming along for the ride.
The Waterfront Patrol was ameliorated by the fact that the Schwimmerwagen would be accompanied by a real boat - in this case, the Wellcraft (even though they didn't count life preservers on that boat). But one thing that the Sergeant said before he left stuck with me. He said, "Steer clear of the Coast Guard, because they won't let you off so easy." I mean, it's not as though we were smuggling Zebra Mussels or something.
Why are all these authorities so interested in our well-being. Is there something in the Constitution that I missed that gives the government - any government - the obligation or right to look out for my welfare regardless of my wishes?
Back in 1951, a fellow named Walter Prescott Webb, a history professor at the University of Austin, wrote a book entitled The Great Frontier. His thesis was the following: for century after century during the Dark Ages, the population of Europe was stable, essentially as many people as the land could support. The political system during that time was feudalism - a King on top, a bunch of nobles, and all those serfs and peasants at the bottom: a pyramid, if you will.
However, with the discovery of the New World, everything changed. No longer need a man be a feudal serf; he could ship out to the great frontier and become autonomous, thumbing his nose at the King in the old country. As a result, a slew of completely new concepts were invented, among them the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These were ideas that had never been thought under the feudal system. They were new.
But, Webb calculated that around 1930 the world population had reached the same density (people/acre) as middle-ages Europe, and his thesis calls for a return to the natural human political order: feudalism. Making allowance for increased food production due to technology, Webb predicted that a return to that order would be evident before the end of the century.
Now before everyone rushes off to stand in line to be the next King, I would point out that the feudal pyramid doesn't necessarily require the titles 'King' and 'Duke' and 'Baron'. It operates just as well with a CEO or Commander-in-Chief or a Bill Gates occupying the cozy office at the top. The feudal pyramid exists upon the backs of the myriad legions of peasants.
If you start applying the concept of the feudal pyramid to global corporations, then the first question that leaps out is the identification of the serfs in that pyramid. The second question that leaps out is the means by which serfdom is enforced.
For instance, if British Petroleum is a feudal pyramid, then the gasoline customers all over the world might be the peasants, and the means of serfdom would be the consumption of gas. If AT&T is a feudal pyramid, then the flavor of the system moves to the telecommunications arena. "We're just trying to look out for you. We're just trying to get fuel for you. We're just trying to get your phones to work."
If the federal government is a feudal pyramid, then tune in C-Span to see the Royal family. You and I are down here on the bottom rungs. And, naturally, the control over the peasants is exercized by laws, but in particular, I think, by laws to protect you from yourself.
Air bags in cars are intended to protect you from accidents and from the actions of other drivers. However, the laws requiring air bags and anti-skid brakes to be installed in cars are intended to protect you from the consequences of your own actions, which might otherwise include buying a car without such safety devices, especially in view of evidence that each of those devices kills innocent people every month.
In the land of the free, a brave man might opt to buy a car with no side impact protection, no 35 mph bumper, no seat belts, air bags, anti-skid brakes, or automatic fuel pump shutoff mechanism. And he might spend a lot less money than his safety-minded neighbors.
But in a feudal society, there is no room for the individual to take responsibility for his own life and actions. That is one of those concepts that appeared with the wide open spaces of the New World, and - like the concept of individual liberty - is soon to be archaic. In 500 years, Webb predicted, nobody will be able to make sense out of the Declaration of Independence.
But we weren't worried about that as the coastline of Ohio disappeared below the horizon and the Schwimmerwagen putt-putt-putted alongside the Wellcraft for about an hour. Everyone was having a good time and a grand nautical adventure when the engine in the Wellcraft began to sputter.
At first we ignored it, but as the boat became unable to keep up with the Schwimmerwagen, it was evident that there was trouble, so we hove to (that's sailor talk) and broke out the tools.
Jason had just removed the fuel injection from the motor, after being stranded by a faulty sensor. Instead he had installed a distributer with real points and actual carburetors. Our first suspicions were that the fuel injection fuel pump was too powerful for the check valves in the carbs, but this did not seem to be true. Poking and prodding the carbs did nothing to get the engine going again.
The first clear evidence of the nature of the problem was the puff of smoke that came out from under the distributer cap when it was removed. Closer inspection showed that the points were completely fried - not even little nubs left to work with. The spare points that Tom had brought along for the Schwimmerwagen were completely inappropriate, so the consensus was that the Wellcraft would have to be towed by the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen.
And so it went, and for another hour the Schwimmerwagen chugged along with the Wellcraft in tow, and after a bit, the danger factor diminished and we all were having fun again.
Until Tom saw the Coast Guard boat. And he knew right away that they would be worried about our welfare, so he jumped into action.
He shut down the Schwimmerwagen and shouted to Jason to move the tow rope from the bow (that's nautical for front) to the stern (that's back), and to tell the Coast Guard that the Wellcraft was doing the towing.
And moments later that's exactly what Jason got to tell the the Commander of the Coast Guard vessel. Tom stood up in the Schwimmerwagen and, railing at the Commander, claimed salvage rights on the ... whatever this thing was, and eventually a story got concocted that we had discovered the abandoned Schwimmerwagen floating in the lake, a hazard to navigation, and that we were claiming it as salvage, and we'd tow it to shore with the Wellcraft, and this was international waters anyway, and UFOs were real, and did the guys from the Navy ever invite the Coast Guard guys to any of those parties, and the two dancers on the Wellcraft started putting on a show for the crew of the Coast Guard boat and so on and so on until the Commander decided that whatever was going on was of no interest to him, so after searching the Wellcraft for proper life jackets and lack of alcohol and marijuana seeds, he steamed off to the east.
When the Coast Guard was completely out of sight, Tom fired up the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen again and within an hour we had the Wellcraft moored just off the beach from Mario's cottage. As it turns out, the problem with the Wellcraft was that Jason had not replaced the ignition coil when he removed the fuel injection. The coil for fuel injection evidently uses a tremendous amount of current to create the spark, far more current than the points could handle.
So remember, if you change from fuel injection to carburation, you MUST change the ignition coil, too.
Believe me, I'm just looking out for your own good.
c 1996 Air Cooled Volkswagen Junkyard of Richfield, Ohio http://www.acvwjyro.com
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