Archive for August 23, 2001

North Platte, Nebraska (Haven’t I been here before?)

August 23, 2001 Leave a comment

As a matter of fact I have. When I was moving cross country last summer, my Ryder truck had a tire with a fast leak and I had to bring it here to have it fixed. It was lunchtime and the mechanic lent me his car to go get some food while the truck was being fixed. Seemed like a nice friendly place and it does have a lot of motels, so here I am. I had to act pathetic to get a discounted rate on the room, but I guess I am pretty good at it because I am getting a coupon rate without a coupon.

This morning started with the Denver Yellow Pages open to Auto Repair. I found a place called Scandia Tek that fixes only Saabs. They were apparently very close to my motel, so I gave them a call.

“Hi. I’m driving through on my way from California to New York and I have a small problem with my car. The…umm…well the driver’s side door won’t unlock.”

“Hey!” not to me “Do you have time today to look at a door?” some muttering in the background “He’s from out of town.” Pause. “Yeah sure, bring it by – we’ll take a look at it.”

So I packed up the motel and brought the car to the mechanic and explained my problem. They told me to have a seat. I read my copy of the Denver Post while the guy took my door apart. Then I moved on to the books about the history of Saab motors. Not that interesting, but some of the old Saabs look really cool. And although I knew they made airplanes, I had no idea they made missiles and are a major military contractor. Who knew??

Eventually he comes into the waiting room holding the door locking mechanism.

“OK so there are two springs that are supposed to go here, and they are missing. I’ve hunted around the door with a magnet and they are just not there. Then it looks like someone tried to fix this before because these parts aren’t original Saab parts and whoever did it bent this piece here so that it no longer touches this piece here which it has to do to operate the lock.”

Now I had told him a friend of mine had worked on the car, but he had surely (I was there) not lost any pieces or changed any parts. So the previous owner of the car had been messing around in there and it had been screwed up pretty badly. This is why I hate used cars! Even getting them checked out before buying wouldn’t have caught something like this!

“Now I can get a used lock mechanism here in a couple of hours – it’s a little more than a hundred and with labor it would be $170. And you want the oil change so probably close to $200 before tax. The part won’t be here for a couple of hours so you can either go to the little park down the street or take the bus downtown and hang out.”

Well I decided to take the bus downtown. The people in the office went on the internet and got all the information I needed to take the bus to the art museum. You see, I decided it might be time to get a little culture in my life. So it was going to be the art museum and the Denver Mint. Supposedly, Denver has an impressive pedestrian mall downtown, but I have seen enough pedestrian malls for now.

The Denver Art Museum costs $6 for general admission and when you pay you get a little museum button. If you know what I mean, you know what I mean, but it is this little cheap metal thing that never actually stays on. I managed to attach it to my baseball cap and gladly remembered to take it off before I got on the bus later. But what I like about this button is that it says “DAM” right on it. Too bad they don’t have a Denver Art Museum North or a swimming center, the Denver Art Museum Natatorium, or even oh…heck I’m embarrassingly out of ideas.

The museum is nice, but not impressive or anything. I particularly like Bierstadt and they had a couple of his paintings. They also have a Monet water lily painting that they bought in 1934, which was smart because it doesn’t look like this museum would be in the running for one of those today. Their walls had quite a bit of contemporary art on the shelves, and when I say contemporary, I mean painted in the year 2000 by 25 year olds. Nice stuff, but not the stuff you normally find in a Fine Art Museum.

A nice touch, however, was the free audio tour on the American & European painting floor. It is a new program there and it is something I would like to see more museums do. It is not so much a tour as a guide. When you get to a work of art with a number on the tag, you enter the number into the system and it either plays an interview with a curator or an expert about the painting, or even in some instances it just plays mood music! For example, press the button for one of the two Monets and it introduces a piece by Debussy to listen to while contemplating the painting. Slightly cheesy, but as I’ve already said, a nice touch.

A word of advice to anyone planning on visiting the Denver Mint – bring a book! (Ok that’s three words). Now I had brought a book, as I always bring a book, and I also made a couple of phone calls (one to ask Joby if he thought the Mint was worth an hour in line and one to ask Aaron what Japanese language CDs to buy for listening in the car) But after an hour in the afternoon sun, I finally got to go through the metal detectors and into the mint. While waiting for our tourguide, we are greeted with little museum-like displays direct from Wells Fargo. They are of a similar nature although not as impressive as the displays in the actual Wells Fargo museum in San Francisco. We are finally led upstairs where we can look at coins being produced. You don’t get to see much of the process, but the speed at which they are being made is ridiculous. They have machines that make 750 quarters a minute!!! That’s crazy!!!
What I didn’t know is that the US Mint is run as a for-profit business. They actually give money BACK to the government every year. They make the coins and sell to the Federal Reserve at face value, which to them is a profit. In the first year of the state quarters program, they had to double production from about 6 billion coins to 11 billion coins and last year they made something crazy like 15 billion coins. But they are not recession proof and with the drop in the economy, fewer people are using coins and therefore they actually had a round of layoffs.

The tour is extremely short and not all that interesting, apart from the economic aspects of how the mint works. OK one interesting thing is how when errors are found in the minting of the coins, a mint employee travels with the errors back to the company that produces the raw materials and watches the coins being melted. Our tour guide, who briefly worked in production (he said he hated it), says that watching coins melt is fun for about a minute, but after a while that is a really boring job to have.

At the end, we’re led into the store (imagine that) where you can buy $1.75 in pocket change for $20. And heck, it probably only cost them $1.22 to make. What a profit! I was willing to buy a die set (the actual stamp used to make the quarter) for a Massachusetts quarter, but all they had left was New Hampshire and South Carolina. So any South Carolinians or New Hampshirites who would like a cool souvenir from their state should head straight to and buy one!! I exit the doors onto whatever the hell street I am on right now and there is a woman with two carts selling coins! To people who had just left the US Mint tour (and this is the only way out). She says she has had that spot for 37 years and she is there with the full permission of the mint, but that she can only sell things of which the mint is sold out. What a marketing genius!! I asked her if she wanted to manage a college a capella group in Boulder . . .

So I got back to my car to find out that I have the best and coolest Saab mechanic in America working on my car (I’ll add this to my “best in America” list with Powell’s and Funagain). The bill was $222.34 with a full breakdown of parts including full description with part numbers and manufacturer and all the jazz. Plus, he had gone over my entire car and although he knew I wasn’t staying in town, he had given me estimates on everything my car needed done, told me what I need for scheduled maintenance at 95,000, checked my brakes, told me that although they were at 30%, I ought to let them go down to the rotors because they’ll need replacing, too. I said “but I won’t be here to get this stuff fixed” but he told me that now I’ll know what these things should cost when I get them done. He warned me against using the brand of cap and rotor I had bought as they tend to fail quickly – he has seen it happen a lot. He told me I should just pay the extra and use Bosch as they will last longer and just work a lot better. Heck, he even told me why my fan motor had broken (in 1992, they tried Delco fan motors and they failed left and right, so they went back to Bosch). He did assure me that my car was in great shape and that if I just keep up with this stuff, I’ll have no problems.

And get this . . . when I got in my car, there was a little package of cookies with a little sticker thanking me for letting them service my car!!! Oh I took the little license plate frames they give away, so next time you see my car it will have a Scandia Tek license plate frame on it. (OK maybe not next time, but next time I can get to a screwdriver).

So for the first time in a while, I felt good and comfortable driving my car with abandon, so . . . I drove all the way to North Platte, Nebraska, 263 miles from Denver, and got in at 9:10PM (lost an hour to changing to Central Time of course). I’m giving up Carhenge, but I just couldn’t see going about 350 miles out of my way on mostly 2 lane highways for a bunch of cars stacked up. Some day I’ll make it to the original (the one Spinal Tap sing about).

Oh! And of course I stopped off for Powerball tickets before I left Colorado! I’m gonna get me 300 million smackers!! And then I’m gonna get a Saab and whenever it breaks, I’ll just fly the Scandia Tek guy to one of my homes and have him fix it. (Or maybe I’ll just get a new one!! 300 million is a lot of Saabs!!!

This was a good and productive day. Tomorrow will be another day of almost pure driving as I make the trek into Iowa towards my weekend in Chicago!!

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