Saturday, May 19, 2007

Birth of a Catchphrase

In 1978, I bought a new car, the only dealer-new car I’ve ever bought. I drove it for the next twenty years.

It was a Honda Civic, two doors, with a luggage rack on top that I used a number of times. I didn’t carry a weight equivalent to the car, but it sometimes felt like it. It got 35-40 miles per gallon, doubtless assisted by the fact that for much of the time, 55 was the speed limit, and I didn’t drive much above the speed limit, because I got the 4 speed model.

I got the Honda in part because I was impressed with the engineering of the CVCC engine. I’d just recently done a survey on nitrogen oxide emissions into the atmosphere, and part of that involved reading a lot of Society of Automotive Engineers publications on IC engines and emissions. The CVCC stratified-charge engine was one of the most intrinsically clean designs ever, low in hydrocarbons because it was “lean burn” but also low in NOx because of a very clever “slowly moving flame front” technique they’d developed, that kept the NOx from being “frozen out” by a sudden quench in combustion temperature that usually went along with the IC cycle.

Of course, the low emissions thing kinda stopped when I finally blew one of the valves and began running the thing on three cylinders for the last 18 months of its life.

Anyway, my own personal auto has been a Honda since that first one; Amy drives a minivan, because here show has a lot of stuff in it, and besides, minivans are handy for cross country trips. Still, I drove more times across the country in my ’78 Honda than I’ll probably ever do again.

I got my most recent Honda Civic about five years ago, and I didn’t drive it much for a couple of weeks, because I still hadn’t gotten rid of the previous one. When I finally did make the changeover, I noticed an odd smell in it, something that hadn’t been obvious when I originally test drove it. It took me a day or two to investigate, and when I did, I found a dead catfish under the driver’s seat.

I surmised that the last trip by the previous owners had been to go fishing, and one of them had “gotten away,” just not into the water. So it lay under the seat, probably buried in whatever freshener they’d used as part of the “clean the car so we can sell it,” endeavor. But the time I touched it, the catfish had gone slimy and, well, pretty disgusting, really. I got some paper towels to pick it up, then tossed it into some bushes behind where I worked. I looked for it the next day, but it was gone, I assume to some animal, domestic or otherwise. My workplace bordered a Bay Area Nature Area.

It took no small amount of effort to clean up the residue. I used soap, ammonia, vinegar, and bleach in sequence (not together, I’m quite aware of the hazards of ammonia and bleach), as well as substantial amounts of rinse water. The smell still lingered for a week or so, but then faded.

Some people say about some minor boon, “Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” I sometimes say, “Better than a dead catfish under the driver’s seat.” If you ever hear anyone else say that, they got it from me.

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