Disaster Pies and the Manly Art of Automotive Repair, Redux

[Warning: remember what I said about long, pointless posts?]

“Hey Miranda, have I told you how awesome I am?”

“Yeah, yeah, Mom told me.”

“I think I need to write about it. Kind of a blogging brag. Or a bragging blog. There ought to be a word for it. ‘Brogging’?  Munro’s already taken ‘blagging’. So yeah, ‘brogging’.”

She looks at me with a touch of pity through the depth of 21st century wisdom that elders like myself will never be able to plumb.



“It’s just called ‘blogging’.”

So it is, so it is. And so, uh, here I go: Let me tell you just how awesome I am for triumphing, once again, in the manly art of automotive repair.

remains of the peach pieI guess it started earlier, with the disaster peach pie. I think I’ve mentioned before that I like to bake pies. It’s another one of those manly things. Almost doesn’t matter what kind of pie, but the ones that get eaten most quickly around here seem to be pumpkin (from our backyard), peach (also from our backyard) and meyer lemon meringue (a surprisingly tricky pie to get right, and yes, from our backyard lemons). I’ve got a few recipes I’ve adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, and everyone seems to be pretty happy with them.

The problem is that Clan Cohn is a bit particular in our pie intake: Miranda will only eat pumpkin and sometimes lemon meringue. Devon, who’s avoiding eggs and dairy, can’t eat any of the custard pies, and Jeremy will pretty much only eat cherry pie. So back when I had a day job, I’d tend to bring lots of excess pie into the office. Got a bit of a reputation for it, and started baking pies specifically for friends at the office. Have even kept it up now that I’ve left the company, sneaking into my old building every few weeks and dropping off a fresh-baked peach pie or apricot cobbler. Yeah, I’m such a maverick.

Anyhow, three members of my old team are lactose and/or gluten intolerant. So with every tasty flakey confection I brought in, I’d holler on out to everyone that there were treats, then sheepishly apologize to Tory, Abby and Kelly and promise that next time, I’d try to bring in something they could eat.

It’s probably been 9 months since I first made that promise, and two months since I left Google altogether, so I figured it was high time to pay up: I needed to commit, and learn how to make a gluten/dairy-free peach pie. To lock it in, I told Tory that I’d be bringing a pie – specially baked for her, Abby and Kelly – on Tuesday at 3:15. Once you’re committed, everything is easy, right?

is it really flour?The gluten-free thing does look pretty easy, in theory at least – there are plenty of recipes online and “all purpose gluten-free flour” made from rice, tapioca and sawdust. I’m kidding about the sawdust. But Whole Foods even sells pre-made gluten-free pie crusts. Still, in my manly determination, I was going to do this from scratch.

To make a long story short, it was a bit of a disaster. The crust held together about as well as if it really were made of sawdust, and the only peaches I could find were on the verge of still being green. But I’d promised, right?

There’s a story Charles Lindbergh was fond of telling, of one of his lesser known long distance exploits. He was a believer in air transportation, and didn’t think his NY to Paris hop had properly demonstrated its feasibility. It’s one thing to wait for weeks for just the right conditions to venture and leap through a narrow window of opportunity. It’s an entirely different thing to set a schedule, the way the trains do, and stick to it, regardless of conditions. To make air transport practical, Lindbergh thought he needed to do the latter.

So he set the date a few weeks in the future, and declared that on the morning of December 13th, he would depart Washington D.C., fly non-stop to Mexico City and arrive on schedule. No matter the winds or weather, he was going to demonstrate that air transportation could be done by the clock and calendar, not by staring at the sky and waiting for your chance.

Well, the weather was fine and he made it. But he got cocky at one point late in the flight and stopped paying attention to his maps. And realized – to his great embarrassment – that he, Lindbergh, the great navigator, was lost.

Fortunately, he had all that midwest barnstorming experience to draw on, and he remembered a trick from back in Nebraska. He found a railway and followed it south to the nearest town. Flew low – very low – past the station, and read the sign at the end of the platform. Climbed up to a safe height and looked to his map to find just where that town was.

But he couldn’t find it – was no town on his map with that name, so he figured it must have just been too small for the cartographers to have taken note. Turned south again and followed the tracks to the next town. Dropped back down low and buzzed the station to read the sign on that one. The climbed back to a safe altitude to puzzle the mystery: why on earth would there be two towns, a few miles down the track from each other, both with the same name? And why were both named “Caballeros”?

Fortunately, this time, at altitude, he noticed smoke rising in the distance. He headed toward it and was relieved to recognize it as Mexico City. He landed something like five hours late and was mortified at his tardiness, but was still given a hero’s welcome, and the flight was hailed by everyone else as yet another triumph for the intrepid airman.

Why was I telling you this? Oh yeah – the pie. It was kind of how I felt bringing the disaster pie in to the office. Everyone gathered around and had a slice. Said it was lovely, just wonderful, but honestly, I wanted to check whether the “all purpose gluten-free flour” really did list sawdust somewhere on the ingredient list. And tellingly, those of us who were not lactose intolerant weren’t shy about loading our slices up from the can of spray-on whipped cream I’d brought along. As always, chance favors the prepared.

But really, that whole disaster pie thing wasn’t even the point of the story. The point of the story (if you’ve followed me this far) was to talk about how awesome I was for Fixing the Car.

You see, yesterday Devon had mentioned that, you know, the Subaru was making an odd noise. Kind of a faint, intermittent squeal. We went around the block a couple of times, and I couldn’t really make it out, but volunteered that hey, if she felt better driving the other car, I’d drive the Subaru until we got it all sorted out.

This afternoon, I didn’t actually hear the squeal until I was coming off 101 on the Rengstorff exit, about a half mile from Google, on my way to deliver the dubious pie. Yup, there it was. Seemed to depend on wheel speed, not engine speed (so not a fanbelt), and not affected by braking (so not a dragging caliper). A little more pronounced on right turns, especially that slow turn in the parking lot, and GREEAAEAEAEAEAKKKKKKKKK!!!!!

the offending wheelIt suddenly sounded like one of the wheels had fallen off and I was dragging the axle on the pavement. I stopped flat where I was in the road, put on the hazard lights, and climbed out to investigate. Nothing actually looking like it had fallen off, and there was nothing dragging on the asphalt. There was a parking space about 20 feet away, so I decided to chance that getting the damned car out of the middle of the road wouldn’t cause further damage. GREEAAEAEAEAEAKKKKKKK!!!! GREAEAEAEAEAEEEEEAAAKKKK! THUMP. Made it. Put the car into park and figured I’d deal with it after I’d delivered the promised pie.

[Insert the bit I already told you about the pie here, and we’ll get on with the story.]

Now, the car’s under warranty and we have AAA Roadside Assistance, but AAA will only tow you seven miles. You can upgrade to “AAA Plus” for $30, which gives you a 100 mile towing radius, but it only activates 48 hours after you buy it. So. Leave the car here for a couple of days? That’s not a practical problem – I’m well-parked in the Google lot and Jenny, blessed Jenny has already pressed her keys into my hand and insisted that I take her car, that she’ll get a ride home with Jeff.

Mostly it’s the annoyance of having my car not working, and the nagging (and admittedly, often dangerous) suspicion that I can figure out why it’s not. Besides, I’ve got a half an hour before I really need to be home – what harm could come from a little experimentation?

I corner an old friend who’s passing by to help me narrow down the source of the grinding noise to the front left wheel, then scootch myself under the car and probe around the innards with my hands. Disks and calipers seem firmly in place, and there’s nothing obviously wrong. But you know, I could get a much better view if I could see behind where the wheel is, couldn’t I? So out comes the jack and lug wrench, up goes the car, and off comes the wheel. I run my hands around the disks, eye the shoes, and give a slight twist to the hub. GREAAK. There it is: between the inner brake disk and the stamped metal guard, there’s a pebble wedged, right in there near the axle. I can see it shift when I pull on the hub, and I can feel it grind when I tug a little harder.

“Well, that’s not something you see every day.”

He introduces himself as Adam. He’s waiting for his girlfriend, who works in B47, and we reminisce about cars that you can actually work on yourself. His first was a mid-70’s Buick, mine was a Dodge Colt. He helps me dig through the shrubbery for a thin enough stick to dislodge the offending stone, but it’s wedged in there pretty well. Anything we poke it with snaps. If either of us had a badge, we could get into one of the microkitchens and nab a plastic knife, but for the moment, there are no friendly familiar faces I can call on, and I feel too embarrassed to call on Jenny yet again today.

So what do we have as tools? The lug wrench, the jack and its handle, the contents of my knapsack, including various bits of plastic and… a 10 inch ziptie.  Hmmm. I manage to poke at the pebble with the ziptie, but it’s not stiff enough. Still, it looks like I can thread it all the way through between the pebble and the axle. I get a hand on both ends and saw on it, like dental floss – there’s a “pop” and the culprit pops out onto the pavement. Really? It couldn’t have been that straightforward, could it?

the pebbleIt could. Twisting the hub now produces no sounds. Adam helps me put the wheel back on – more from the opportunity to be involved in this little enterprise than from any actual need, and I roll the car back and forth a few feet to verify the welcome silent(ish) rolling of the vehicle. Manly art of car repair, level two: achievement unlocked. We high-five and revel in our awesomeness.


Sorry this was a little long. But you know, nowadays we guys aren’t called on to stalk wooly mammoths or fight off sabertooth cats. Overall, I think it’s better that way. But still, every once in awhile, a guy needs some way to satisfy that primal urge to demonstrate his fitness by doing battle with nature. Even if it’s in the form of a 2009 Subaru Outback. Oh, and a pebble.

3 responses to “Disaster Pies and the Manly Art of Automotive Repair, Redux

  1. Pingback: Sara | David Pablo Cohn·

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