Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Vehicular Recollections of a 2017 Marine Mammal Stranding Network Coordinator

As my time at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) comes to a close, I cannot help but remember the adventures I’ve had in this new home in the Pacific Northwest. As far away as I am from my home state of Texas, there were countless experiences that comforted me adapting to this new and different place. The open arms of caring people, happily greeting an out-of-place and chilly southerner, bathed me in countless opportunities to widen my horizons with new stories to tell. I have spoken to a lot of the PTMSC staff and volunteers about my focus, marine mammals, but most of my adventures stemmed from cars or relationships with folks over cars.


Those of you who know me know of my obsession with cars, old and new. The nature of how things work, living or mechanical, is a fascination of mine and determines my two outlets: physiological ecology of marine mammals and car mechanics. While pursuing my marine mammal career here in Port Townsend, I met a man named Denis Keyes, a gentle, knowledgeable soul, who helped set aflame my infatuation with turning wrenches on cars. We met while Denis was volunteering in the Natural History Exhibit, and by visits to his property where former PTMSC intern Tim Weissman lives. Soon, we began to work on Denis’s 1974 SuperBeetle, moving over many months from a disassembled engine on the floor to nearly driving it from the garage.
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Denis's Super Beetle gets an engine
When I met Tim Weissman, he was in need of a car. After weeks of pouring over ads, and about nine hours on the road, he came home with his new blue Subaru. The catch was I had pulled for Tim to purchase a type of car he had yet to learn to drive – one with a standard transmission. I taught him the ropes soon thereafter.
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Tim and I sporting our off-road vehicles
Tim’s girlfriend at the time, Sarah, who was also an AmeriCorps at PTMSC, wanted to learn how to change the oil on her Ford, and we also replaced the tensioner pulley.
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Sarah completing her first oil change
With encouraging mechanical outlets through Denis, Tim, and Sarah, and my desire to put my mind and hands to work, I decided to purchase my own project car.
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The "Metrocity" in January after a wheel refurbish
I bought a 1990 Geo Metro Xfi for $100 in Edmonds in the dead of winter. The car had an open back due to surly modifications and no heater, providing a true test of commitment and wool socks. Over some months, I replaced the heater and restored the floors, and my plan was to replace the transmission, which had blown 5th gear. I had even gone to a junkyard and retrieved a new-to-me transmission and was gearing up to install it. I was moving towards this and other projects before I hit a dead stop.
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The restored floors
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Supporting the weight of the engine/transmission with a spare junkyard radio
In a playful moment, I decided to drive my unregistered, uninsured, and non-road legal project car six blocks to show fellow AmeriCorps, Juhi LaFuente. I was pulled over and given a ticket for $686 – one and a quarter my salary and a simple, youthful, foolish mistake which I successfully contested. I then sold it to a hopeful and excited teenager for $300.


Working at the  PTMSC has opened many doors for me professionally and made me many friends. I greatly enjoyed working with all the helpful and hard-working volunteers, teaching youth in marine science classes or running a fascinating exhibit open to the public. These experiences and others I will carry with me through my life, telling stories of the time spent in Washington and how I wish I could have stayed longer. To those which made this time spent so wonderful, I thank you.

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