Blog of Stories

There are 35 blog entries within the category of Stories

The Gas Caps
Story circa May 4th, 2007 | View Post

A photo of N733CP, the plane I was flying in this story. Note that this picture was not taken at the same time
The following story takes place at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the Lockhart Municipal Airport, and 3,000 feet above the ground between those two locales.

On the second flight I ever made during my flight training, I was responsible for the pre-flight inspection. Though neither Dustin nor myself had a great deal of experience with these sorts of procedures just yet, I decided that I'd be able to figure it out one way or another. Of course, the 'or another' part of that was preparing to reveal itself to me.

We had been taught in the previous lesson that there is a very specific methodology to doing a pre-flight inspection. The formula is mainly just geared at making sure you don't overlook any obvious steps and so it's important to always go in order. For a person like myself who likes to do many things at once, this linearity took a little getting used to. Nevertheless, I did the flight inspection as requested and was ready to get going.

Upon completion of my pre-flight inspection, our new instructor Garrett came out to greet Dustin and I just prior to the flight. We were planning a short comfortable afternoon voyage out to Lockhart (50R) as we had done the week before. For those who don't know, Lockhart is a small town located about 30 miles south of Austin. From ABIA, it's a straight shot and thus makes for a great training facility.

I taxied out of ABIA and took to the skies, heading south towards Lockhart. When we got into the area, Garrett had me doing all sorts of aerial drills. I was mostly working on turning around a point, controlling my altitude, and some basic navigation. After about 20 or so minutes of this, we entered the pattern at Lockhart and touched down.

Garrett instructed me to taxi the plane over to the gas pump there (gas is sold much cheaper in Lockhart than at ABIA) and was planning on having us gas up the plane. As I parked and killed the engine, he got out and climbed onto the sidestep to see the top of the plane. When he came down, he very calmly asked me to step out of the plane. I did. He asked me to walk around the plane and take a look at the top of the plane and see if I noticed anything of interest.

I climbed atop the plane as requested and much to my great surprise, the plane was missing both of its gas caps!

I could tell that Garrett was pretty angry at the situation, but he did his best to remain in good spirits and was not too outwardly angry with me. We called in the problem to someone back in Austin and as it turns out, I had simply left them on top of the plane and they must have fallen onto the ground as soon as I engaged the throttle. We had to wait about 30 minutes, but someone brought them to us and all was well.

Months later I was speaking with a flight instructor who was adamant about the fact that planes cannot fly without gas caps since the lack of pressure would simply suck the gas right out of the wings.

While I'm sure it's ideal to have them in place, I had to respectfully disagree with this person's analysis.
The Subway Worker
Story circa July 5th, 2006 | View Post

A yellow New York Transit work train
When I was visiting Eric and Amy in New York City (as I tended to do each summer), I often spend some time filming subways. I don't know what my fascination is with subways, but I find them very enjoyable to photograph and film.

On this one very late Wednesday night (technically Thursday morning) I was waiting at the 42nd street subway station to catch the uptown 'A' train. On the tracks behind me was one of the work trains. Having never seen one of these before, I snapped a few photos of it. After getting a few pictures of it, I started shooting some film of it as well. I wasn't even looking into the screen to see what I was filming at the time and so had no idea what I had accidentally picked up.

Laying down in the driver's seat of the train was a transit worker. When another worker walked past him on the outer part of the train, he glanced back to see who had walked by and evidently caught a glimpse of my camera. What happened next was frustrating.

He walked off of the train and approached me with quite the mouth on him. He was yelling at me how it was illegal to film subways, that I was going to go to jail, and that I needed to give him my camera. I told him this was not true and I would not give him my camera. The truth of the matter was that I didn't know if New York had passed some insane measure barring trains from being filmed and so after about 30 seconds of arguing, I showed him one of the pictures in the camera and told him that was all I had. He seemed to be okay with this and walked away, all the while reminding me not to take more photos.

It wasn't until I walked away and actually looked at the film that I had any idea what he was concerned about. As it turns out, he had been sleeping on the job. When he caught the glimpse of my camera, he assumed that I had been filming him asleep on the job, jumped to feet, and then proceeded towards me (albeit he never left the edge of the train).

Here is the actual film:

I filed a report with the New York Transit Authority as soon as I got back to Eric and Amy's apartment. Here was my email to them:

Customer (Kevin Ludlow) - 07/06/2006 02:17 AM
To whom it may concern,

My name is Kevin Ludlow and I am currently on vacation visiting some local residents and otherwise enjoying this lovely city.

At about 12:40am on July 6th (just about 1.5 hours ago), a yellow work train (engine #67) pulled up into the 42nd Street / Port Authority stop on the Uptown 'A' track.

As I had not seen one of these large yellow work trains, I took a picture of it with my camera and actually wound up filming a bit. Though I had not thought of it, the 'working' MTA passenger in the train was asleep, his feet up upon the window. The conductor exited the train walking right past me as I continued to film. The MTA passenger eventually woke up, looked towards me, did a double take, and finally jumped up from his lying down position - apparently startled by me.

Normally I would not mention such a thing, but what happened next appalled me. He signaled for me to come near him and asked me what I was taking a picture of. I explained the train. He said (rather unpleasantly) that it was illegal to take pictures and that he needed to see what I had taken a picture of. I told him I did not know that and that I would not show him my camera and then proceeded to ask a person next to me if this was true [that I couldn't take pictures]. The nearby person didn't know and the MTA worker proceeded to tell me he would go and get the police and let them deal with me. Not wanting to cause a scene, I showed him a picture of train - naturally not the video of him asleep which I am almost certain is why he was so angry with me.

Truth be told I actually thought he was going to exit the train and attempt to 'stop' me. Is this a common thing a city tourist should expect from the MTA staff and if so, why?

I have provided the video I described above for you in both AVI and MOV formats. Please feel free to view them from my website for reference to my story.

Thank you very much,
Kevin Ludlow

The next after noon I received the following email from the New York Transit Authority people:

Response (Melissa Glasgow) - 07/06/2006 01:49 PM
This is in response to your recent e-mail to MTA New York City Transit reporting an employee at the 42nd Street-Port Authority station.

We sincerely regret the incident you describe as having occurred at the 42nd Street-Port Authority station. Please be assured that the type of behavior you described is not indicative of the high standards of professionalism set forth in our guidelines. In response to your complaint, we have referred your e-mail to supervision in the appropriate operating department for review and investigation. Based on the information you provided, we hope to identify the employee you encountered for questioning and appropriate further action. Supervision will also closely monitor our employees at this location and take the appropriate measures to prevent any recurrence of this incident.

If you have any further transit-related questions, concerns or problems, please contact Customer Services at (718) 330-3322, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or write to Customer Services at 2 Broadway, Room A11.146, New York, NY 10004. In order to investigate the situation properly and take the appropriate further action, we may need to contact you by phone or mail. Please provide your phone number and address to us for forwarding to the Department of Subways.

The Tunnelweb Spider
Story circa December 15th, 2003 | View Post
I had an encounter with a New Zealand Tunnelweb Spider. To anyone who knows me, it's a well known fact that I am more or less terrified by most anything of the arachnid variety. It's entirely an irrational fear, this I know, but I can't seem to get over it for whatever reason. Thankfully, I think spiders are about the only things that I am afraid of.

Of course I also think most anyone would be afraid of a tunnelweb.

The Tunnelweb

A tossed a quarter next to the spider to give it some perspective
The other day while still living in my flat in Dunedin, I strolled into my bathroom (or toilet) for a quick pee break. So far there was nothing unusual about this sudden urge to urinate. I began peeing and as I looked down to my left, just near the upright shower, was a GIANT New Zealand Tunnelweb spider. Now that I was in a state of complete terror, not to mention mid-stream, instinct kicked in and I immediately stopped my flow and jumped about 6 feet to my left far, far out of harms way.

Once I calmed down a bit, I ran to get my camera and though I usually get pretty close to the subject in my nature pics, I kept my distance for this one. These were zoom lens all the way. I tossed an American Quarter on the ground near the spider to give it some perspective. FYI: an American Quarter is just under an inch in diameter. This spider clearly spawned about 2.25 of them.

A Peaceful Spider?

Is there such a thing? Though the Tunnelweb is about the size of a Tarantula, like the Tarantula, it is not poisonous. Don't confuse it's name with the Australian Funnelweb spider. The Funnelweb, on the other hand, is quite deadly. Also like our Tarantula, however, this spider can inflict a very painful bite if provoked to do so. If you look between the small front two legs, you can see the very large black fangs touching the ground below.

After this whole encounter (with death itself), I did a bunch of research on the particular spider. Though I had seen them around outside, I had not seen one in my bathroom, but that is apparently somewhat normal. As I read, every so often a Tunnelweb spider will find his way into a house and when it does, it becomes severely dehydrated (usually to the point of death). The spider will immediately seek out a source of water with it's sensing tools and this usually lands it either in the bathroom or the laundry room. Apparently sometimes they are able to sustain themselves for awhile in the bathroom as they can live off of the leftover humidity from showers, and drops of water on the floor. Usually though, they wither and die pretty quickly. This one was obviously somewhat resourceful.
The Death of Sparkle Motion
Story circa November 15th, 2003 | View Post

Sparkle Motion after I painted the flag of New Zealand on her
If you are not already familiar, Sparkle Motion is the name given to our mighty Kiwi-flag bearing Subaru. Rather than bore you with details, we will get right down to her last voyage.

From Dunedin to Queenstown
Sean, Tisa, and myself left Dunedin on Wednesday afternoon, amazingly enough right on schedule of 3:00pm. Before taking to the road we aired up the tires (tyres in N.Z.) properly and filled the pipes with oil to ensure a safe trip to Queenstown (about 4 hours to the southwest of Dunedin).

Within about 20 minutes of passing Mosgiel (just outside of Dunedin) the car started smoking from the right part of the hood. We continued on for a short while longer with small bursts of white smoke every so often until eventually pulling over to find out that the radiator had sprung a leak and was steaming hot smoke onto the battery. We were not concerned with the battery but knew without a proper cooling system the car would overheat. After trying to go a few more kilometers the temperature began rising and we were forced to turn back - with the intent of heading back to Dunedin.

About 10km back towards Dunedin, we stopped in at a B.P. and had a look. Not only was the radiator pressure not holding, but there was no coolant left in it. Worse off is that they seem not to use anti-freeze in this country and so the radiator has small rust deposits here and there from water erosion. Much to our surprise we were able to pick up a small bottle of radiator solder. We added this magic potion into the radiator pipe as instructed by the package and the serviceman and within minutes, the hole had disappeared and the radiator was fixed, or at least holding for the time being.

We drove to Queenstown monitoring the area and car temperature all the way without any problems. Upon our two days in Queenstown and Wanaka, much hilarity and shenanigans ensued, but thats a different story.

From Lake Wanaka to Ranfurly
After an afternoon of fishing in Lake Wanaka (we reeled in 1 salmon and 1 trout), we began heading back for Dunedin at about 5:00pm. Sparkle Motion was running quite well as we passed through Cromwell. Upon getting to Alexandra, we decided that we would take the scenic route between there and Dunedin so we could see more of the country. This took us down Route 85. Upon traveling down Route 85 for an hour or so we noticed that the car had begun smoking again. The problem was the radiator leaking once more and so steam was shooting out from the right side of the car (the drivers side in NZ).

We continued driving but kept a close eye on the temperature. We finally came upon a town called Ranfurly which is about 130km from Dunedin. We stopped in Ranfurly to check the radiator but also noticed a worse smell. As it had happened, some oil had begun dripping onto the engine and was being burned off. This of course created even more smoke and smelled terribly. After checking the oil level and thinking that everything was A-OK, we took back to Route 85. After about 10km of driving we were noticing heaps of white smoke shooting out the rear exhaust and then a bit more coming out of the front. We deduced that we had put in too much oil and it was overspilling and furthermore burning. We continued on but with extreme caution but at about 7:00pm and still 110km from Dunedin, the car began handling poorly as we had just turned off of Route 85 and onto Route 87 which is the even more scenic route into Dunedin.

Sean and I got out of the car to investigate the matter but could see nothing more than a small cloud of white smoke coming from the engine block. There was white smoke coming from the engine, hot steam spraying from the radiator, and a small oil leak on the concrete below. We decided to start the car with the hood up to get a better idea and as I turned the key a bucket of oil fell onto the concrete below. We had located the problem, the Exxon-Valdez was nothing compared to our car.

Assuming that the oil would hold, we decided to head back to Ranfurly as we obviously needed repairs. About halfway there the car became entirely inoperable as clouds of white smoke covered the air and we left a trail of oil behind us. We pulled over at the entrance to a farm and began looking to fix the car. We realized fairly quickly that the pressure sensor connected into the oil well that reads the oil pressure had blown apart and thus created a large hole for oil to drain. Of course as we drove, the oil would get pushed by the wind and hit the hot engine block causing it to burn and produce copious amounts of white smoke. Add that to the already existing radiator steaming.

Sean and I tried to fix the car for about 2 hours with my Leatherman but we just could not wedge anything in there with enough force to combat the 60psi of pressure that the well was yielding. About 8 cars had asked us if we needed assistance by now and with an huge windstorm coming in and nightfall upon us, we had the 9th car take us back to Ranfurly.

To make this long part of the story short, we found a mechanic still available but after several attempts at fixing the car, it needed to be towed back to Ranfurly. We gave the hotel manager the fish that we had caught and he put the three of us in a room without charge. When we got up the next morning the car had already been fixed and went on our way. Minus $150.00 kiwi dollars.

Driving From Ranfurly to Dunedin
If this were an epic drama, this is the part where it would all come together at once.

We made it back to Route 87 and casually drove along for about 20 minutes or so until slowing for a one-lane bridge. To those not familiar with one-lane bridges (a common New Zealand site), they are simply one lane bridges where one side yields right of way to the other. If the bridge is long enough, it will typically have midpoint nooks for cars to wait in while another goes by.

As I slowed for the bridge, I proceeded to down-shift in the usual fashion. The bridge appeared clear and so I began to accelerate and enter it. I accelerated past my next gear speed and as I stepped on the clutch to up-shift, both Sean and I heard a loud pop.

So now here we were, driving down a one-lane bridge in the south of New Zealand with a flag-bearing, twenty year old Subaru which now had no clutch, and consequently no way for me to control the car's speed.

Again, we tried to fix the problem but could barely tell what it was. All of the springs seemed to be in tact. We finally decided to put the car into first gear, start it up while pressing the gas and power shift it into the other gears. In case you are not familiar with power shifting, it is shifting gears without the use of the clutch. This worked. But - I could neither down shift nor start from a stopping position which posed some problems driving through a mountain range. We made it back to Mosgiel (about 20 minutes south of Dunedin) and when we got to the first traffic light, I turned off the car, put it in first, waited for the green, and started it up once again.

Everything was going fine until we got into Dunedin where there is a giant mountain the highway goes up. About 5/6 of the way to the top, the car would go no more as smoke began pouring out every which way. A passerby had a tow rope and pulled us to the top of the mountain through the speeding traffic. The problem was now that we could no longer start the car in gear as something had gone wrong in the gearbox apparently.

Sparkle Motion getting towed away
So for the next two hours, Sean and I worked as a diligent and slightly frightened team to get the car back to my house. The procedure worked by having me put the car into first gear and turn the key while Sean pushed. This would generate enough spark to get the car going but Sean would have to run along and manage to jump into the moving car as there was no way for me to stop. Up and down hills and mountains, through yield signs (technically "Give Way" signs in New Zealand), traffic, and stoplights, we eventually got the car back to my house where it stunk of a burning transmission. The car let off a light smoke for several hours afterwards from the oil we had burned and there was even a small puddle from all of the radiator fluid, a.k.a. water, that had leaked out of the rusting apparatus.

Suffice to say, this would be the last time Sparkle Motion was ever started.
The Das Avonni
Story circa August 1st, 2002 | View Post

The wooden frame of the Das Avonni
To anyone not familiar with disc golf, it is more or less the hippie form of playing golf. Basically you go to a disc golf park with some friends, start at the tee, and throw your disc towards the basket. The discs are not exactly Frisbees as they tend to be made out of thicker plastics and are consequently always much heavier than regular Frisbees. Just like golf, you see where your disc lands, go to it, and throw it again. There are about 18 disc golf parks in the greater Austin area and I have played around 7 of them. To date I have no hole-in-ones, but I have been pretty close and have made a few birdies. As you can probably tell, the game is scored just like golf, and scores are typically in the same range as a normal golf game.

Building the Das Avonni

The only drawback to disc golf is that it's pretty hard to practice it without actually going out to a course. At least in golf you can purchase a small hole for your backyard for practice putting and chipping. Disc golfing companies have offered a similar product for the sport though it is obviously much larger and expensive. Because of that, I decided to build my own.

All it took was a metal pole, some ply wood, a bunch of wooden dowel rods, and some spray paint and waterproof cloths for the aesthetic.
The first part of the project simply consisted of cutting a circular top on the band saw. This was probably the hardest part of the whole thing though it turned out just fine. After this, I created the box bottom and used the drill press to make a few dozen holes around the base in which to fit the wooden dowel rods. Atop the dowel rods were narrow strips of plywood, simply to hold the dowel rods together. The entire apparatus had 1.5" holes drilled through it's center pieces in order to fit the metal pipe into it.

Finishing Touches

The finished Das Avonni sitting outside in front of my Explorer
Once the initial design was completed, and as you can see by the pictures, I hung chains from the top which ultimately ran together to form a three-dimensional parabolic shape to the basket (as is pretty standard with the disc golf baskets). In addition, 4 extra chains were strung along the Z-Axis of the paraboloid to aid in slowing down the disc once it hit the chains. All in all, the chains still proved a bit too thin for the project, but it was not that often that a disc would fly through them without stopping.

Once these chains were attached, I bored a 1/4" hole through both the top and bottom portions of the metal pole which allowed me to add lock bolts to the apparatus, thus securing the basket to the pole.

With that in place, I decided to add a bit of feel to the basket and with cans of red and yellow spray paint available in the garage, I painted the bottom portion of the basket red, and the top part of the Das Avonni yellow. Finally, the cloths that were added were actually disposable rain slickers. The material was perfect for this project as it easily stretched to my liking and was very easy to staple-gun it to the painted plywood.

Naming the Das Avonni

Anyone who is rather keen with the small disc golf world may have already picked up on where this thing got its name from. One of the leading manufacturers of disc golf products is a company named Innova (I believe pronounced in'-uh-va). Avonni is simply Innova spelled backwards. Perhaps this helps: innovA. The Das part just came from my usual game of adding such the word to a noun and pawning it off as a German influenced design.

What happened to Das Avonni?

After I had the Das Avonni in my front yard for a couple of days, I decided that I would give it to a few of my good friends (then roommates of one another), Mike Crockett, and Dreux LaViolette. I brought it over to their house and we dug a hole in the ground in which to mount it. From what I understand, the Avonni was used from time to time in the backyard until they both moved into seperate homes and then I think it was either left there or ultimately dismantled and thrown away. ...a sad fate indeed.

Can I get my own Das Avonni?

Yes. The units sell for $2000 each (or $25,000 for an 18-hole course) and can be hand crafted and delivered to you within 7 business days. We require that the monies be transferred into an escrow account before any construction begins. If you'd like one, contact me.
The Applejuice Pregnancy
Story circa May 4th, 2002 | View Post
Tisa and I had been dating for about 4 months when she signed up to participate in a clinical study for wisdom tooth removal. Basically it was one of those deals whereby they pay for all of your expenses in exchange for you testing out new post-operative pain medications. Of course you always run the risk of being in the placebo group or having the medicine not work (or worse, work adversely), but of course the cost of not having to pay for wisdom tooth removal makes it highly worthwhile.

Anyway, I woke up very early one Saturday morning so that I could take Tisa to the clinic around 38th street and Kerbey Lane so that she could get on with the procedure. It was probably around 6:30 in the morning that I dropped her off. I drove back home, got into bed, and quickly fell asleep. It probably wasn't more than forty minutes later that I was awoken by my phone. It was Tisa and she needed me to come and pick her up at the clinic. I asked her what was wrong and she said we would talk about it later.

I was very concerned at this point, and worse was that I was exhausted and had a summer school final to take later in the afternoon.

I went and picked her up at the clinic and as we started to drive home, I asked her what had gone wrong. She told me she had failed the obligatory pregnancy test that they give everyone. Naturally my heart stopped beating. I'm not sure how long it took to resume normal function.

After some brief period of time, she exclaimed to me that she was not pregnant. At least not that she knew of. I was utterly confused.

A couple of weeks prior, Tisa had been out with some of her friends and at some point a little pot-smoking may have occurred. The clinical studies are very specific in that you can't have any type of prior drug intake to participate. Of course most rational people recognize that smoking pot weeks earlier is not going to alter the chemistry of a pain narcotic weeks after the fact, but that's how they operate.

Evidently when Tisa went into the bathroom to fill her urine sample for both a pregnancy AND drug test, there was a bottle of apple juice sitting atop the toilet. Although we argued about it quite extensively, I contended it was just accidentally left there by someone else, but she swore that it was specifically there so that people had "something else to use". Whatever the case, she did in fact use the apple juice. She mixed some of the apple juice with warm water and turned that into the doctor for her test.

So the punchline to this entire story is that I have no idea how this happened, why it happened, or if it is in any way scientifically relevant, but evidently a watered down apple juice can alter the chemistry of a clinical pregnancy test to show a false positive.