Monday, December 19, 2011

Double Parked

Parking Meter

I’m sitting at the desk in my office, and it’s snowing outside. Monday morning, a normal day off for me (I have a strange work schedule), and there’s jazz playing on the radio from the local public radio station (KUNM). I’m writing with a new gizmo (for me), that being iWriter on the iPad2.

Oh, one more thing: the parking meter is counting down, even as I write these words. No, the meter is not out on the street; that would be silly to have to pay for parking at your own residence, wouldn’t it, ha-ha. No, the parking meter I speak of is at my side, on the desk adjacent to the pens and pencils and Corona 4 under its colorful dust-cover.

Not everyone has a functional parking meter on their desk, you see. It’s a long story, best to start somewhere closer to the beginning. Funny thing is, the beginning is kind of hard to define, sort of like deciding where the fog starts.

I suppose I could go back to the mid-1970s, when I was a young lad newly enlisted in the U.S. Navy (a.k.a. “Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club”), where I received some training as an Interior Communications Technician, a rating that’s not around anymore, but which encompassed all shipboard interior comms like telephones, intercomms, sound-powered battle phone circuits, signals and indicators, closed-circuit T.V., etc.

As it turns out, my training in closed-circuit video did me well later in civilian life, while my experience with old rotary-dial telephones stood me well when, a few months ago, my brother-in-law brought me an old, bakelite rotary-dial phone that was in need of some repair. He promised to recompense me in the form of some cool gadget that he had recently acquired. Overcome by curiosity, naturally I bit at the offer, and so a while later he dropped the phone off to me, indicating that it didn’t work.

As it turns out, the phone just needed a replacement earpiece element, the old one having an open coil. I found an exact replacement from an online site in Canada that specializes in old phone parts, and in a matter of a few weeks the old phone was sounding like new, with the additional inclusion of rewiring the phone cord to a modular-style plug.

The next time we met, at a family gathering, my brother-in-law exchanges the now working phone for my payment in kind: a classic, old-fashioned parking meter. Minus its support pole, of course. 

I was partly impressed and partly thinking “now, what the heck am I going to do with that?” I was also thinking that my dear wife would soon be wondering where, in our cluttered little cottage, would I find room for Just One More Piece of Junk. 

My brother-in-law, he had acquired the meter at an antique store somewhere in Arizona, and it takes pennies, nickels and dimes. It even rattled with a few coins in the coinbox, the evidence of the meter having been tested out for functionality. Yes, Virginia, it did work. Only problem was, I couldn’t open the coin box to retrieve my test coins, and therefore sought the services of a local locksmith.

They were anxious to work on it, the folks at the locksmith shop were, and so I happily left it for them to either pick the lock and rekey, or drill it out and replace it with a working lock. I only had to wait a day when they called that it was ready to be picked up.

When I payed, I thought it funny that the guy asked me if I was just going to use it for decor, but thought nothing of it. Once home, I tested out the new lock and key, noting with satisfaction that the coin box could now be easily accessed. But, what was this? The needle on the dial was stuck at the 12-minute mark, nor did I hear the mechanism ticking away.

I took it out to the shop and investigated further. It turns out that when the locksmith drilled out the lock, he drove too far with the drill-bit and succeeded in damaging the clockwork mechanism. I could clealy see, once I had dismantled my way into the guts of the device, that the little brass cog that drove the escapement was bent and its shaft was off its bushings, along with the fine spring being deformed. There was also, I noted, a plethora of metal shavings jamming the remainder of the gear-train, evidence of the difficulty they had in drilling their way through what was obviously a high-security lock.

I fiddled with the thing for awhile, cleaning out the metal shavings and straightening the bent brass cog, then degreasing the brass parts, but couldn’t get it to reliably work because the brass cog now slipped freely on its steel shaft, as did the tiny actuator pin mounted to the cog.

Then today, because I was homebound by the arrival of a snow storm, I took the clockwork in from the cold shop and began working on it from the comfort of my warm office. I succeeded in making the hole in the center of the brass cog, and that for the tiny pin, a bit tighter by the application of some concentrated force with a steel tool, and was able to get it properly reassembled and the escapement’s timing adjusted so that, wonder of wonders, the dang thing began to oscillate back and forth, making its wonderful little ticking sound once again. What had once been a modest boat anchor was soon restored to its former glory, that of the humble parking meter, normally an object of our scorn and derision when out in public, but now the object of my pride and joy, almost like a proud Pappy and his newly arrived bambino. Almost.

I have a few ideas about what to do with a functional, full-sized parking meter. For one, it’s sitting at my desk right now, counting down the minutes as I write. So, there’s one possible application: as a handy writing timer, a method of disciplining oneself (or one’s grandkid) into so many minutes of uninterrupted study.

Then there’s the idea of a time-out meter. When the little ones get a bit too rambunctious, just slip a penny or nickel into the slot, twist the knob and announce with satisfaction “Okay, mister, you’re in time-out until the red flag pops up.”

I did present to my wife the idea of using it as a kitchen timer, but it just doesn’t go with our decor (which is surprising, given that our kitchen badly needs a remodel, the 50-year-old, original insert-oven sporting an analog temperature dial which once inspired a guest to comment that “it looks like an old car radio...”). No; however impressed Mrs. Van Cleave was with the prospect of owning a functional parking meter, using it within the confines of the kitchen was not anywhere near the top of her priority list. I’d have to find another use for it.

Really, it doesn’t look all that bad sitting here in the office, next to the old manual typewriter. But, it’s not in its original element. Birds were meant to fly, fish were meant to swim, and parking meters were built to reside out-of-doors. So, I figure that I’ll just wait until the weather warms up a bit and mount the old meter out in the front yard, like yard art, on a well-secured metal pole. The kids and visitors alike can have fun putting their spare change into the thing, and who knows, perhaps I’ll be able to save up enough cash to go on vacation (though I’m not holding my breath). 

But, I probably won’t mount the meter at the curbside. Governments, even modest city governments like ours, don’t find much humour in direct competition.

Oops, the meter’s expired, time to get moving on outta here. See you soon, and don’t take any wooden nickels.

(Posted via iPad)

Post-Script: this is my first blog post with my recently-acquired iPad2. I wrote the piece on iWriter, my first purchased app, and shot the photo on the iPad's camera which is, as you can tell, rather point-and-shoot-ish. I also don't yet have a photo editing app (there being, like, 10,000 or more from which to choose from), and so all I did to the picture after capture was to crop it to square format, then upload to Flickr. Which was another interesting challenge. I ended up emailing it to my Flickr account, a rather round-about method because the regular uploader isn't iPad friendly, but it works. Then, grabbing the BB code to link the photo to my blog was also a challenge, the iPad lacking anything that could be construed as a right-mouse button click. And, highlighting individual letters in each paragraph to be bolded is also a bit klunkier, hence the lack of spit-and-polish to this post.


Blogger Rob Bowker said...

Joe, a well-spent morning. Pretty sure you can crop square with Picasa too.

5:00 PM  

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