Scenes From a Jeep

Scenes From a Jeep

Friday, May 22, 2015

I Gotta "Weeee!"

It's almost summer! That means it's time to find the thing that makes you go "Weeee!"
Some people ride roller coasters for their "Weeee!" Others surf, bike, boat, hike, or run. Still others find a shady spot with a hammock and a cool drink. Their "Weeee!" is more low key. 
Whatever it is, you have to start planning and preparing now. If your "Weeee!" is the expensive type, start saving for your tickets, permits, pro-level gear, clothing and accessories. Maybe your "Weeee!" is more economical, but you have to schedule the time, dig your stuff out of the basement, and get it cleaned up for another summer.
So get ready and get your camera, because we all want to see you go "Weeee!" on Facebook and Instagram. Sharing your "Weeee!" with others is all part of the experience.  
We have a few things that make us "Weeee!" We got our mountain bikes and a nearby mountain. One day I'll make it all the way to the top. If we can get to a beach and rent standup paddle-boards, we'll "Weeee!" that way. And we got the Jeep, a delicately balanced combination of our travel and recreation budgets, both of which we regularly go over.
About this time of year we put on the soft top, and open it up anytime the weather allows. For extra "Weeee!" on a hot day we take off the doors, buckle up real good, and go fast on the curves.

Check out our demonstration video on how to pull the doors of your Jeep. If you don't have a Jeep, check the doors on your car anyway. You never know; maybe they do come off easy for a little extra fun. Either way, don't immediately start running your car A/C. Roll down the windows, open the sunroof if you have one, and head out for an ice cream, all the while, yelling "Weeee!"

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Green Trail

Fish swim, bees buzz, Jeeps go off-road. And that's exactly what the Jeep is doing in this scene. I'm proud to announce that me and the Jeep have graduated to the next grade of off-road school. But believe me, summer school was no walk in the park.
It was instead a ride in the off-road park. Yes, there are such things. Here in the northeast, public land open to off-road wheeling almost doesn't exist. That has stunted my education. I have to wait for a good snow storm, a field and friendly farmer, or a trip to a beach that issues 4x4 permits. Real trail runs are quite rare. 
But my friends found this off-road park a few hours drive from home, and surprised me with a weekend trip. Think of an off-road park as a regular amusement park with long legal waivers, a bring-your-own-ride policy, and a whole lot less maintenance.
When I found out we were going, I was very excited. This would be great! Off-roading in a controlled environment, marked trails for each level of vehicle and driver, a relaxing day where one could cruise easy or choose to up his game on a more difficult run. 
Our first step was to sign our waiver forms and get our park membership cards. No problem. Legal forms are always written in scary worst-case language. Wrecked vehicle, injury, death, alien abduction, blah, blah, blah... So we signed, got our cards, and were briefed on park rules. We were also given a collection of local business cards for towing companies, mechanics, taxis, hospitals, and behavioral therapists. Nothing to worry about, just standard precautions.
We also got a park map showing all the trails. Green for easy, then blue, then red, and finally, for extreme rock crawling, black. Great, we'll start with the green trails, there's plenty of those! The park office then showed us where some sections of green trails have been "upgraded" to blue. We asked what they do to upgrade a green trail to blue. The answer was, "Nothing, they upgrade themselves." What a great business model... your park gets better by letting it deteriorate naturally. Ok, we'll watch out for those sections.
Just outside the park office we saw what they call the "Camp Course". This is a series of natural and man-made rock piles, some reaching 20 feet or higher. A competition was under way with all types of Jeeps, modified trucks, and buggies crawling up and over giant boulders. What I should have realized at this point was that the people on the Camp Course are the same ones that determine which trails are green, blue, red, or black. We were soon to face an issue of differing perspectives. What really is a "green trail" to you?
Our plan was to hit a nearby green trail leading to a picnic area inside the park. Woo Hoo! Picnic! Our group included my semi-stock Jeep (I bumped it up a tire size), a Jeep Sahara, and a Toyota FJ with a 3-inch lift. Nothing it seems that couldn't handle the bunny-run.
Within the first 50 yards we hit a patch of unyielding, sharp, jagged rocks. Whoa! This is the easy stuff!? We were bouncing like a 747 in a thunderstorm. I was trying to pick good lines through it, but the rocks had other plans. I heard metal smacking the underside of the Jeep, not unlike the sounds my grandfather heard slugging-it through Italy with General Patton. Oh, man, this is going to cost us big! I got out and did the first of many checks under the Jeep. Just then, a park veteran drove by and said, "It's too early to be looking under there." True, I thought, but I was looking anyway. This was my ride home.
We kept going, and came upon a series of murky water holes with submerged pointy rocks. We'd get through one, just to get to the next hole with deeper water and pointier rocks. My friends reminded me that from inside the Jeep the rocks look bigger. They're from Colorado so they know rocks, and they were right. I could see my friend's Jeep ahead, and it was able to clear most of the rocks just fine. But this was my first real day at school, and everything was new and bigger than reality.
The pointy water holes made the picnic area seem real far away, so we switched to some more-greener trails on another side of the park. These trails also had water holes and rocks, just not at the same time. I found that to be a positive game changer.
Overall, it was a great day. We all had a good time. Nobody had to be towed out, airlifted to the hospital, or made subject of a YouTube crash video. And the worst damage any of us suffered were a few scratches on some wheels. I'd definitely go again, but maybe with some bigger tires and a slight suspension lift. Phone lines are open, so make your donation today to the Lift-My-Jeepathon ;-).
But the real lesson here is to never take for granted the difficulty rating applied to any activity, be it an off-road trail, hiking path, ski slope, corn maze, or whatever else. Go out and do what you enjoy, but first find the people that rated the course levels, and ask, "What exactly does 'green trail' mean to you?"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Should I Wheel?

What a tough choice... to wheel, or not to wheel? For those needing a vocabulary catch-up, "wheeling", among the four-wheel drive folks, means to drive off-road. And when a wheeling opportunity comes along like the one in this picture, you have to ask yourself the tough question... "Should I wheel, or should I go?"
But why not? Wheeling is fun! And during a tough winter like this one, more opportunities present themselves than usual. Your average country road can transform itself into miles of unplowed trails. Snowy fields become a giant canvas for your all-terrain tires to paint (provided, of course, you have permission to drive on said canvas). And then you come across a beauty like the one pictured here. A dirt trail, covered with snow, and packed-down by previous travelers. Your inner voice screams out, "Let's do it before we come to our senses!" At that very moment, however, your training kicks in. What training, you ask? Youtube.
Yes, Youtube. The great educator of our times. If you want to know how to do something, or how not to do something, search Youtube. Being the novice wheeler that I am, Youtube is my 4x4 university. I've learned basic Jeep maintenance, the science of lift kits, tire upgrades, and differential gear ratios. I understand that if you're not a Jeeper, you may not want to watch a video about proper drive shaft angles following a 4-inch coil lift. But no one, and I mean no one, will be bored watching a Jeep flip straight backwards as it tries to climb out of a giant hole in the Utah desert called the Devil's Hot Tub. Why, you say, was the Jeep in the "hot tub" to begin with? Because it can, and you don't want to miss seeing it. To test my theory, do your own Youtube search for "Jeep Flop", “Jeep Flip", "Jeep Roll", or "Jeep Rollover". It's amazing stuff, and you're gonna love it for hours and hours.
But this is about education, and after watching a few videos, you'll be impressed at how fast a Jeep can go from upright to upside-down... and sometimes back to upright, then upside-down, upright, and upside-down again. It happens on rocks, in snow, on beaches, on mountains, in rivers, on desert dunes, in parking lots, and suburban back yards. You name the place, a Jeep can roll over on it. 
As you progress in your Youtube curriculum, you'll see that smart wheelers have a buddy standing outside the Jeep. He's called a "spotter". His job is to tell you how you're doing, where to turn, how fast to go, and what obstacle is up next. Yet his main job as seen in many videos is to repeatedly yell "Oh no! Oh no! No! No!" Followed by, "Hey buddy, you OK in there?"
My all-time favorite Jeep edutainment video is simply entitled "Jeep". This video has everything... an enthusiastic Russian-speaking spotter and cameraman, camouflage pants, a successful river crossing, a failed river crossing, a rescue, a rescue attempt that needs rescuing, and a happy ending. You don't need to speak Russian to follow this waterway drama. After the first vehicle crosses the river, listen for the cameraman to say "Cher-o`kee". That's the queue for the Jeep Cherokee to enter the river, roll over, and float down stream with its submerged driver and passenger.
Don't worry, everybody makes it out OK. But look for this bonus lesson as the rescue gets under way... Taking precious seconds off the clock, their buddy on the far side of the river strips down to his undies before he's ready to dive in and help. When he finally does, he's immediately swept away by the current, flailing as he goes out of frame, unnoticed by the others. He recovers himself and is later seen helping to upright the Jeep, still in his undies. By the end, I think the only things permanently lost in the whole episode were the "Cher-o`kee", and the brave rescue swimmer's pants. Let's hope the water was warm. This one video has so much valuable information, that I would trust my own mother to spot me over a steep, muddy hillside, provided she had watched the misadventures of our Russian friends.
How, though, did all this video instruction help me in the snowy Jeep scene shown here? It was a beautiful day, and the trail was tempting. But the Jeeper ahead of me was hesitating, so I asked him what he thought. He wisely replied, "It looks good, except that the hill is facing South and getting a lot of sun. That'll make it pretty slick. Also, look at those tracks... Someone tried to make it earlier, but stopped halfway and had to back down. If you get turned sideways, you'll flip and come rolling down on your side." In conclusion he added, "I'd rather not do anything to alter the course of my Sunday."
Wow. It was like Solomon's wisdom in a Jeep. That educated tone let me know one thing for certain. I was speaking to a fellow 4x4 Youtube University graduate. I nodded, and we both drove off unfulfilled but unscathed, and resolved to wheel another day.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When Life Gets Small

Jeep scenes typically show something exciting or unique just beyond the iconic hood. By that standard, this scene is admittedly a dud. It's just a parking lot and a building. But before you click away, there is something special happening here. We're at the nursing home, and inside among its residents is a 101-year-old great-grandmother. Her whole world is in there, and lately she's down to about two rooms at that. But when life gets small, granny gets creative, and without having a clue herself, gives us all a little lesson.
Let's first get our heads around 101-years-old. There was no Internet, no jeep blogs, no smartphones, television, or even radio. They didn't have the words for that stuff in 1912. Counting world wars hadn't started yet. The Titanic was floating. The Beatles and Rock-n-Roll sounded like gardening problems, and the Brooklyn Bridge was still a relatively new thing. Travel was rare, and soon after the boat docked in New York City, granny was born. She grew up, went to school, got married, worked, and retired all in the same square-mile town.
It was a small life by today's standard, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It's really a matter of perspective. We all do a small life, at least to start. As babies we know just a few key people, notably mommy and daddy, one or two familiar locations, and some noises that come in handy when we want stuff. No one ever complains that they want more out of life at this point. That's probably because we have what we need, and don't know anything about the other stuff that's out there. And therein lies granny's secret to nursing home living. She's well cared for and has what she needs, and she no longer knows much about anything else. 
Now don't panic just yet thinking we're on the train to depression-ville. There's an upside to what's happening here. Extreme old age certainly has it's sad side, but the way some people adapt to it, knowingly or not, can reveal something good. When a life that starts out small gets that way again when we're really old, our frame of mind can let us still enjoy the ride. As granny would confidently say when she still knew how to do things, “Here's how I do it...”
First, not knowing exactly where she is, or even that she's in a nursing home, she sometimes talks like she owns the place. The theory being, if your world is small, you might as well be the boss. Sitting in the day room, she'll point at the paintings on the wall and say, “I just got that, you like it? We went there last week, and had a lovely time. Next time we go, I'll take you.” Now when you visit in the day room you sit on one of its fine vinyl-upholstered metal chairs. She'll sometimes point to one and say, “I bought two of those. One there and... I don't know where the other one is. I should get more. They're nice. I only get the best.”
 And when the maintenance man comes to change a fluorescent light bulb, she'll pretend she remembers him and the light bulb, saying: “Oh, thank you sonny! I don't know what I was going to do about that!” Then she'll turn to me and say, “He does so much for me whenever I need work done. I'm going to give him a raise next week. You know, I can get you a job here too. I know the head honchos – there's a fat guy and the tall one. Would you like that?” Wow, a job offer! I usually nod yes so we can move on to other topics, but I've considered bringing my resume in case I do ever meet “fat guy” or “tall one”. 
Next, let's say you prefer the good old days when you were the star quarterback or prom queen, but alas, those days are gone. For that, granny uses what I call “geriatric time travel”. When you want, you can just go back. It's that simple. A few years ago when she was still understanding and responding to questions, we'd ask things like “What year is it?” - “1943!”, and “Who's the president” - “Roosevelt!” Baffled at first, we realized that 1943 was her happy time. Her son was born and her husband hadn't yet gone off to war. And that's where she is now. Not a bad deal.
Finally, when your world gets small, try to think like it's still big. We saw her demonstrate this advanced technique with a flower arrangement. Granny always loved gardening, so on one visit we brought a vase with some spring flowers. We knew she'd enjoy it, but had no idea how much. We put the vase on the table in front of her. She grabbed it immediately, almost pulling it off the table to get in closer. “Ooooh! How beautiful!” She then gave it a quarter turn and did a double-take: “Oh, I can't believe this! Look at that one!” Another quarter-turn, another reaction. Then again, and again, until she had spun it around several times, seeing the same flowers as if for the first time on each spin. This went on for hours as she almost forgot we were there. We simply kept the vase on the table as she pulled on it like she wanted to jump in. That bouquet appeared to her as 2-acre garden terrace. I probably could have used that trick in my old studio apartment. “Ooooh! So spacious with many rooms and closets!”
Despite this unexplained ability to adapt, seeing what old age does to once young and vibrant people naturally makes us a little sad. But it's encouraging to see someone like granny take a small life and somehow make it a good one. So remember her ways and learn from them. They'll work in your big world now, and later on if your world shrinks back down. Always act like you own the place, make now your happy time, and find ways to make a small life feel big.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Wood Peace

That's a lot of wood. The Jeep came across this pile of recently felled trees stacked at a local saw mill. A nearby site had been cleared for construction, and the logs were being milled for use as lumber on the project. The saw mill workers were giddy with excitement, since it was the biggest job they had ever seen. However, my reaction to the giant log pile was a bit different. It triggered a flashback to the summer of 1980, a small tornado, a university professor, thirty international graduate students, several kegs of beer, and possible proof that all men could actually live together in peace. Care to read on?
I was ten years old in Baltimore, Maryland, and just getting my summer vacation started. The university professor in question was my father. Coming from New Jersey, he was a different kind of professor than was the norm in Baltimore. He too was starting his summer off right, introducing Jersey-rule stick ball to the neighborhood kids, and making his grad students, grown men, cry as he would hurl their thesis drafts at them, cursing with words that required a stoic Italian translator. Nothing, we thought, could ruin this summer of fun. But our summer plans were about to change...
We had seen plenty of Baltimore's afternoon thunderstorms, but this one was particularly nasty, taking out several of the 200-year-old oaks that dotted our neighborhood. Some say they saw a tornado come right up the street. Whatever it was, it ripped the trees out of the ground like you would pluck daisies from the garden. Two of the massive trees were in our back yard, and had fallen domino-style onto our newly built shed, which if I ever find a Jeep scene of a shed would merit its own story. Dad, the do-it-yourself professor, later paid the tree man only enough to cut the trees into large sections measuring 8 to 10 feet around and about 3 feet high. This is where the graduate students and beer enter the story.
For a few weeks, my brother and I did what you're supposed to do with giant logs. We built a fort, and covered it proper with a roof made of bark – there was plenty laying around. But the fort was doomed. Dad woke us up one Saturday morning and said “Fellas, it's time to split the logs”. I asked how we were going to do that, but I should have known the obvious answer that followed... “We have to go to the liquor store and get the beer”.  Never question the wisdom of a New Jersey college professor. He has a rare combination of accredited book knowledge and Animal House ingenuity that can be found nowhere else.
You see, Dad had told his graduate students that he was having a beer garden party at the house, and that they were all “invited”. There was just a little yard work to do first. He set up the kegs of beer, along with a variety of wood splitting instruments such as axes, sledge hammers, iron wedges, and something called a Monster Maul, which I believe is illegal in many states that are otherwise fine with things like assault rifles.
His plan was perfect. There are two things that a graduate student cannot refuse... free beer, and the request for help from the one man that holds their life in his hands, the professor. Dad had them cornered. They all arrived on time, like bugs to a light, and soon had a beer in one hand and an ax in the other. Genius.
Soon, the wood splitting and beer drinking began in earnest, each student trying to out-split and out-drink the other. My brother and I were ordered to stay and help. We could barely lift a Monster Maul, so our job was to hold the iron wedges steady while the students with sledge hammers swung those over our heads. As the afternoon wore on, their aim steadily worsened. I would try to balance the wedge and run before the hammer came down. I don't remember seeing my mother for much of the day. She probably couldn't bear to watch. It was the kind of scene that would today result in child welfare outrage, but we didn't care. Child Social Services wasn't as big a thing back then, and we were having a good time. And that's when I saw it... the potential for all men to live together in peace.
Present that day were representatives from all the world's major conflicts. Dad's students came from all over. There was an Orthodox Jew from Israel, and a Muslim refugee of the Iranian Revolution. There was an Englishman telling me “Stupid Irishman” jokes. When he got up to re-fill his beer, the Irishman came over and told me the same jokes, but his were about the “Stupid Englishman”. There were Russians that escaped the Iron Curtain, Germans, Greeks, Africans, Asians, and even the occasional American.
All of these representatives from warring nations were gathered together, having available to them all of mankind's most basic and primitive weapons... the stick, hammer, and ax. But there was not even a hint of animosity or threat of violence. But why? 
It was because there were three things there that day, any one of which by itself could prevent war and make friends out of enemies. But in his wisdom, or more likely by accident, Dad had all three at his wood-splitting beer garden party... there was a strong authority figure, a manly show-off job to be done, and free draft beer. World peace. Nailed it!

Sunday, March 10, 2013


This is DaVinci. And this is DaVinci's Jeep. Traveling with DaVinci in his Jeep is probably the closest I'll ever get to touring with a rock band. In DaVinci's Jeep, he is the rock star, and every stop along the way is a public appearance and photo opportunity for him and his fans.
First, since DaVinci has no money, cannot drive, nor claim title to anything such as a Jeep, how can we say that this is DaVinci's Jeep? We make such an assertion based on net volume. When DaVinci and four adults travel in the Jeep, he occupies the largest interior space. DaVinci gets the entire rear cargo area while the rest of us pack light and sit in our seats with our luggage on our laps or under foot. Any thought of throwing our bags in the back with DaVinci is quickly dismissed by taking note of the amount of hair and drool found in his private space. If you do put something in his space, he gives a look as if to say, “Really? You're putting that there?”. So we dare not challenge.
Besides his travel arrangements, what else proves DaVinci's celebrity status? Well, a true celebrity needs the right name. Since Beethoven was already taken by some other popular large dog, “DaVinci” seemed the next best choice, and possibly a better one. Sure, Beethoven is named after a classical master, but DaVinci is the proper name of a true renaissance dog. His name also puts him in the elite realm of those known only by a single word, like Cher, Madonna, and Fabio.
Of course, celebrities need a following. DaVinci's following is second to none. Wherever he goes, people rush to meet him, often before he can get out of the Jeep. They call his name to get his attention and snap his picture endlessly. For the most part he rolls with it, but like true Hollywood elite, when he's had enough, he walks off and finds some quite spot to get away from it all. Wouldn't you?
And finally, what greater mark of celebrity status is there than being able to get into places the rest of us can only dream of? “No Dogs Allowed” is no problem for DaVinci. Restaurants, hotels, shopping malls... you name the normally “no pets” venue, and DaVinci simply walks in like he owns the place. On our last trip, we both stayed in the same “no pets” hotel, but naturally he got a better room.
So if you ever do get opportunity to meet DaVinci in person, don't get star stuck. You'll only embarrass yourself.  He's really a regular guy like you and me. He just does things with a bit more style and class. If he's in a good mood, he'll let you have a picture with him, and may even look into the camera. Offer him a doggy treat, and if it's up to his standards, he may eat it. Pet him on the head, and if he likes you, you may walk away with the best DaVinci souvenir of all... some signature drool. Never wash it off. Treasure it forever.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chocolate Chunk Trail

For a slight change of pace, we present a “Scene of a Jeep” rather than a “Scene from a Jeep”. At a recent party with friends we were given this creative cake with a 1/18th scale model Jeep climbing what I like to call the “Chocolate Chunk Trail”. As a result of this thoughtful gift, I now have two Jeeps – one big one that guzzles the gasoline, and a little one that I have to push with my hand get it moving. Actually, when I neglect to put gas in the big one, both Jeeps require pushing. So except for relative size, they are proving to be quite similar. As the evening passed, I came to discover a few other universal truths that apply to all Jeeps both big and small.
First, everybody wants a ride in your Jeep. We've been taking friends for rides in the big Jeep for a while now. When we get visitors in New York City we offer them our standard top-down Manhattan tour complete with a few passes through Times Square. Once in a while someone gets the idea to stand up and stick his head out the top. I discourage that, but it's hard for some to resist. When in the country, like this past week, we'll take some friends four-wheeling in a snow storm. By comparison at the party, mini-Jeep was constantly getting pushed back and forth through the choco-mud and over the fudgy-boulders. The cake's baker reports that the children were not the only offenders. Some people always have to stick their fingers in the cake. Put a Jeep on the cake and forget about it.
Second, in all cases, when you clean off the mud after a run on the trail, you'll always find some later that you missed. Big Jeep and I once took a ride through the cow pasture. As mentioned in a previous story, the farmers call the mud that cows make “gravy”. When it dries on your Jeep, I call it cement. In some parts of the world I hear that people actually cover the outside walls of their houses with it. It's that tough and water-resistant. I tried to blast it away with a power washer that could cut your hand off, but it wouldn't budge in some spots. A month later I was still finding cow-gravy-cement stuck under the hard-to-reach places. It was no different with mini-Jeep. After the party, the hostess presented me with mini-Jeep and said she tried to clean off the chocolate, but couldn't get it all. I said, “I know. I've seen that happen.” I'm still finding chocolate on mini-Jeep, but in this case I'm OK with just licking it off.
Finally, no Jeep is complete if it doesn't at least occasionally go off-road. Imagine if my friends simply gave mini-Jeep to us in it's original box. It still would have been a wonderful gift all by itself. But instead, there it was on top of the cake – buried up to its rear axle in frosting and hung up on a boulder, just as it should be! Today, mini-Jeep is all cleaned up and sitting in its space on my book shelf. After the snow, storm big Jeep is also now safely parked in the garage. Two clean Jeeps resting on solid ground... for now at least.