Archive for May, 2009

Timelines, Accountability, and a New Spot for the TV

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Today was a somewhat of a D-Day. My car has been in Francisco’s lot for exactly eight weeks. I am sick of being asked when the car will be done, and consequently, he and Admir are sick of me asking them when the car will be done. So I called a meeting in attempt to answer this burning question.

I called Francisco this morning and asked him to have Pablo come pick me up, and would he mind if we stopped by Central Auto Sound to pick up my head unit? Pablo and I talked about our families on the way to Art’s shop. He told me about his daughters moving back to Mexico because they didn’t like it here.

Art was around and not busy, and I was surprised to find him so interested in the status of my car. He asked thoughtful, detailed questions that I would not expect (and haven’t gotten) from someone who hasn’t seen me in awhile. I explained to him my frustration with the lack of established timelines and accountability I was seeing. I didn’t think I was going to have to manage this project on the intimate level I was about to. Art said he’d “light a fire under Admir’s ass,” which is all well and good, but I made it clear that I didn’t go over there to tell on him. (I did not make clear, either, that I went over there to retrieve my head unit because no one was keeping an eye on it.) I left Art’s shop feeling slightly empowered, like I had a knowing party to practice on before I delivered my hammer-dropping speech.

I may look like I’m on vacation wearing my giant sunglasses and floral print tube top, but I don’t feel like it in the slightest. Every day, I wake up feeling frustrated and without recourse as time ticks by and I don’t have a car to drive. I told myself at the beginning of the Barbie Dream Hearse blog that I would write only about the car, the mechanics and perhaps the business. I didn’t want to get personal.

But after eight weeks with no clear end in sight, this project has gotten seriously personal. I can’t reasonably move anywhere and establish myself professionally and socially until this is done. I want a permanent home, job, and friend-base right now more than anyone can imagine. I have been staying at the apartment of a man with whom I am not romantically involved. I have been traveling to other cities periodically in attempt to stay out of his way. My friend did a really nice thing allowing me to stay at his place for so long, but eight weeks is an incredibly long time to spend with anyone. He didn’t sign up for this, and frankly neither did I.

I explained the situation to Francisco and Admir as best I could without sounding upset. I told them we needed to establish timelines and an order of operations to make sure that no more time is wasted. I’m sure plenty of cars have spent much longer in the shop to have much less work done on them than mine, but that’s not important now. If I had known it was going to take this long, I would have rented an apartment month-to-month, and perhaps bought a beater-car that I could ditch here when the project was done.

I’m not going to lie, at one point I almost lost it. Frank and Admir were being understanding and light with the excuses, which I appreciated. While it’s not their fault that I am homeless and not local, I told them this before I turned over the car. I tried to explain my living situation in such a way that it was strictly a list of facts and they could draw their own conclusion about how much it sucks, and for a brief moment I choked and couldn’t say anything. I concentrated on not breaking down into some weepy pile of shit that would gain me some short-term sympathy but no one could ever respect again. Then Admir politely attempted to finish my sentence and a strange wave of relief washed over me. And then I got the status and set a schedule.

The A/C tubing is in place:

And the wiring is 80 percent done:

There are a few more shots of the contents of my future amp rack in the photo album. In addition to all the wiring, you can see the A/C tubing going from the front and up into the car. Now for everything else.

Who What How Long
Admir Last 20 percent of A/V wiring 0.5 day
Frank Padding/carpet 3 days
Frank Cover side panels 3-4 days
Admir Hang the headliner 0.5 day
Frank Put in molding to fit the headliner 1 day
Frank Build rear-facing seats (wood and fiberglass) 4 days per seat (8 days)
Admir Put amp rack under rear-facing seats (only the base needs to be done) 1 day
Frank Build right-facing benches 5 days per bench (10 days)
Frank Build divider 3 days
Frank Assemble components 5 days
Frank Fit components 3 days

These estimates are approximate, but they made me feel a lot better than I did before we talked about them. This conversation opened the floodgates for finding out which tasks were contingent on other tasks being done. It all needed to happen, and now I can have a realistic expectation for a completion date. I’m crossing my fingers for the beginning of July. I’m almost cringing as I write this because I know it’s going to be a little longer than that.

Also, I’m second-guessing my planned placement of the TV. I was going to put it on the left side, but then it’s going to be hard to view from the rear-facing seats, which are the best seats in the car. I have two options, both of which will probably provide a better viewing experience, but I can’t decide which is best.

a) A 19″ mounted TV on the back door. We could make it secure enough so it doesn’t jiggle around as long as I can keep my use of that door to a minimum. I would be able to remove the TV too. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even buy one until I got where I was going.

b) Two 10″ embedded TVs. I think this would look nicer, but I’m afraid they might be too small. The viewing distance will be about five feet.

Maybe I’ll take a poll. I’m not going to be sitting back there much.

The First Barbie Commercial (1959)

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Times certainly were simpler 50 years ago. Perhaps I would have been just like Barbie: married to an anatomically correct Ken, sans crotch fruit, living in a cosmopolitan city, buying new dresses while Ken goes to work every day to do a job I don’t understand… instead of just like anti-Barbie, living out of a suitcase and going half-insane over my Dream Hearse.

I like that the featured one has black hair like mine. But the rest of the Barbie scenario is totally unrealistic. I mean, who does that stuff?

Something to See

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

I stopped at Frank’s before leaving town to check on the progress of my car. It’s been a little while. Someone had to have done something, right?

I’m happy to report that yes, Frank had constructed a sample of my driver’s seat ready for me to approve and called me late this morning to make plans to meet. Pablo picked me up and took the long way into Glendale because of an accident. For about 30 minutes, I grasped for the correct Spanish words to tell him how I’m liking it in Pasadena, what I like to cook for dinner, and where I’ll be going this week. I enjoy this practice, but several times, Pablo has tried to speak Spanish with me in front of other people, a situation with which I am not entirely comfortable. I appreciate that he thinks my skills are up to snuff, but I’m not ready to stutter in front of an audience.

When I arrived, half of his garage was filled with pieces of my car. I looked at the seats first, which the guys had quickly sewn together using white vinyl. I think they look okay, but we’re going to use pink piping all around instead of the black shown in the picture.

Although the white leather is nice, and there is still decent amount of pink on the seat, I’m afraid it’s not going to tie in with the significantly darker dash. I thought the dash turned out looking beautiful, but of course when Francisco tried to stand it up so I could view it straight on, he dropped it on a piece of the console, leaving a big pink scratch on it. *facepalm*

He tried to spit-shine it, which I knew would be pointless. The guy who made the dash told me that this matte finish was prone to scratching and hadn’t put any coating on it. *facepalmfacepalmfacepalm*

Francisco assured me they would touch everything up before they attached it. I don’t want to throw a shit-fit, but I feel one brewing. I have a good eye, and I want a flawless dash. If anyone is going to fuck up something I paid hundreds of dollars to have made, it’s going to be me.

On the way back, Pablo told me (in Spanish) that some Chinese people were working on my A/C last week. Whaaa? I guess Admir looks kind of Chinese (I don’t think he is though), but people? I don’t mind if he has help, but I’d like to know about it so if something gets ripped off, I can cover all my bases. I hate that I have to think about this, but it only had to happen once for me to be wary forever.

Later, Admir came through Pasadena and billed me for the speakers. We’re going with Infinity Kappa pro series 6-by-9s for the front. They’re made of titanium, which sounds like it would be a good idea. I don’t have much to compare them to but my factory speakers in my old Camaro, which crapped out after a few years. And all of my friends have factory speakers, so they’re less annoying people, but I can’t use their cars to compare quality.

I asked Admir about the A/C and we shot the shit about that for awhile. Then I mentioned that Francis didn’t follow up with me, just in case he was planning to recommend him to someone else. The guy sounds like he has a lot on his plate.

Admir also mentioned that the head unit, which I had sent to Central Auto Sound about a month ago, was just sitting out on a work bench somewhere.

“And I was like, ‘Hey! This shouldn’t be out. Someone could just come by and swipe it.’ So I hid it in the back behind… blah blah blah” *FACE. PALM*

I could not believe he was telling me this right before I had to leave town. I can’t get over there until I get back, so I guess I’ll just spend every day I’m gone hoping and praying that someone doesn’t make off with my shit. I really, really could have gone without knowing that until I returned.

I’m pretty frustrated right now. I’m writing this post late because I needed to step away. It was either that or have a full-blown freak-out, which accomplishes nothing. But hope springs eternal: Maybe I’ll see some major headway when I get back.

Plans

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Admir came by this afternoon to collect funds to keep working on the car. I told him when we talked on the phone that I want him to itemize and bill me for everything: the ceiling, the A/C, and the audio/video. I think he’s been walking on eggshells about it for awhile because it’s a lot of stuff and it’s going to cost a lot. I keep telling him I’m aware of this and that he just needs to draw up an invoice. Francisco did it over a month ago and I survived. Well, today he finally did most of what I told him to, so he’ll be able to do what he should have been doing the last few weeks while I’m out of town next week.

One new addition is an 8-inch PVC pipe that he’s going to cut and use to cover the A/C tubing. It’s going to make a little hump in the floor, but it’s going to run alongside a larger hump that’s part of the frame of the car, so I’m not too worried about it. He’s also using a flange that screws the A/C tubing into the front of the A/C instead of welding it on, which also seems like a good idea if it ever needs to be fixed or replaced.

He’s also getting a couple of fuses to protect the electronics in the car. The stereo, TV, and cameras are going to function using the battery, so in the event my battery dies and I need a jump, that energy spike could blow out one or all of the things I have hooked up to it. The fuses will keep that from happening. Sounds good to me.

The parts Admir didn’t quote me for were the amps, speakers, and subwoofers. I’m glad he at least covered the wiring because that needs to happen right away, but I’m done browsing. It’s time to start buying and building. I told him to spend some time this weekend getting price quotes for the Infinity models we talked about and have an invoice ready for me on Monday before I leave.

I said I was going to buy a TV and haven’t yet. I’m definitely going with a 19-inch now. They don’t seem that big after doing a little window shopping. The issue still remains that a flat panel sitting perpendicular to the two best seats in the car (the ones facing the rear) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m wondering if he can install a TV in the casket-loading door without it looking too cheesy. We talked about making the TV tiltable from its spot on the right side, but I’m afraid it won’t have enough range to be enjoyed by the people sitting furthest away from it.

I also talked to Francisco, who suggested putting white leather on the face of the seats now, using the argument that vinyl gets very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I had leather seats in my Camaro and they were still hot and cold until the car temperature was regulated. (They were mostly hot since I lived in Austin!) Still, he said he’s going to make an example that will be ready for my viewing pleasure by Monday morning. Incidentally, the white leather is immediately available in large amounts. Of course.

So this weekend leaves me in relative peace to ponder the TV and prepare for a week away from what is quickly becoming my faux-home in Pasadena.

No, I Was Right the First Time

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Another week has gone by and very little has changed. For those of you keeping track, I’ve been without my car for exactly 6 weeks now. My friend from out of town came to visit, so we stopped by Frank’s Upholstery to look at it. Here’s the status:

Ceiling
There’s sound-deadening material installed on the roof of the rear cabin. Admir informed me earlier today that he hasn’t even ordered the tinted glass to begin drilling. Every time I see this guy, I make him tell me a game plan and then ask him if there’s anything he needs from me. Seriously, I’d almost rather be pulling teeth. He’s supposed to come by tomorrow with the detailed invoice I requested so he can do whatever is necessary to finish his part of the project while I’m out of town next week. I am beyond sick of dealing with this.

A/C
Admir also told me he needs to buy more tubing. Right now, there’s a 6-foot tube coming out of the air duct toward the back, and there’s another 6-foot tube running along the right side of the rear cab. They’re not connected and should be. Vents will be installed to point the air at the passenger seating along the left side… someday… preferably before I’m on my deathbed.

Dashboard
When I talked to Francisco yesterday, he said the dash was almost finished. In addition to covering that, we also need to cover the wood-lookin’ part of the door consoles. One of them was off when I looked at the car, the other wasn’t. Things that make you go, “Hmmmm…”

Decals
I’ve been getting the run-around from Francis from D Only Son for a week now. We talked once and he said he’d set up a meeting with an artist, but like everyone else I’ve been dealing with here, we discuss something, we break, and then nothing happens. He also asked me to email him and he doesn’t have an email address listed on his business card or website. I just can’t deal with one more person who doesn’t have his shit together right now. I would like to have a logo drawn up more than anything so I can start designing a homepage and printing business cards, but I’m going to have to find someone else to do this later.

Seats
I had to change courses a little bit with this one. I finally got sick of waiting and put my foot down on Tuesday. I told Francisco if the leather wasn’t delivered and satisfactory by EOB Wednesday, he must cancel the order and just use vinyl. If I had known that leather seats would be this much of a clusterfuck, in addition to costing thousands of dollars extra, I would have stuck with vinyl all along. This is getting ridiculous. Of course, I had to call Francisco EOB Wednesday and he said he cancelled the order. They weren’t too happy. We both sort of agreed that their happiness is irrelevant. I emphasized once more the urgent need to get started. If there’s anything that’s keeping you from getting started, tell me right away.

So of course, I get to the upholstery shop in the middle of the day with several of Francisco’s guys humming away on a bunch of other people’s cars, but not mine. (As an aside, there’s always at least one high-end or classic car being worked on when I go. They’re neat to look at, but you know, NOT MINE.) Since I had someone with me, I did an excellent job of acting like nothing was wrong even though I’m very dismayed by the lack of progress.

Francisco wasn’t there, so I didn’t even get a chance to see what the difference in price would be now that I’m using vinyl. We talked a lot about this earlier in the week, but he never quoted me an exact difference. The time factor is more important anyway, and there’s not a huge discrepancy between the two materials when they’re going on car seats.

I want to note that I understand Rome wasn’t built in a day, but this project should really be at or near completion by now. I’ve been watching the show “Street Customs” and paying attention to the timelines that the man in charge sets for certain projects. I recognize my low spot on the foodchain (many WCC customers are famous), but even without special exceptions being made for me, people who do this kind of stuff regularly can be in and out of a car in a couple of days to wire sound, a couple more to build seats, etc. They wouldn’t want a car sitting in their lot for 6 weeks and could do something about it.

I blame myself for not interviewing more auto shops before committing, but I also feel somewhat taken. If someone tells me they can do a job, I believe them. These people were recommended to me by the person who sold me the car, with whom I had a positive experience. It makes sense to go with a personal recommendation rather than look online or in the phonebook. So let’s say they are halfway decent auto-repairmen. Still, why would you take on a project you can’t do?

I don’t want to use the term, “end of my rope,” but I’m having a hard time staying cool about this. I would really like to get my own place and sleep in my own bed again. I’m also tired of people asking me when the car is going to be done when the short answer is obviously “Never.”

Note to Kat: Chill the Fuck Out

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I’m going into the weekend feeling much better about things than I was earlier this week. Admir and I had a nice conversation earlier, and he’s been working hard the last couple of days to install everything before Francisco is ready to put in the carpet and seats. He sounded like he had a better handle overall on what he’s doing and what needs to happen.

He’s done a few square feet of the ceiling, which is great. More importantly, he assured me that he tested the fiber optic lighting against the tinted glass so you can’t see the cables except where there’s light.

He also found a spot on the driver’s side back panel where he can run the A/C without having vents sticking out near the top.

I’m still working on getting him to draw up an invoice that includes a specific list of parts. Yeah, that’s kind of a big deal, but I’ve decided to worry about it next week. No need to make myself crazy(er) right now.

Not Fast Enough

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Yesterday there was some minor drama involving some “miscommunication” among major players. I hate that word, but it’s a great corporate copout when you don’t want to point fingers. Suffice it to say, someone said someone else told him to start working on something Thursday, even though it is decidedly feasible for work to begin earlier. This particular someone is getting a little sick of my car being in his lot and told me he said no such thing, and I believe him. It sounds like someone wants to slack and blame his procrastination on someone else.

I really don’t like being lied to.

Admir came by again to show me a tinted piece of glass called Lexan that he wants to use for my ceiling lighting. At first, he said the Lexan would be the glass covering the lights. WTF? Why would I bother getting Very Expensive lighting if I was just going to put it behind tinted glass?

So after some circular discussion, we decided on a clear acrylic glass. From the beginning, we talked about using plexiglass, but acrylic is a little cheaper and easier to bend. This is good because my roof and ceiling have a slight curve.

We’re also going to put a large sheet of accumat, a sound-deadening insulation, between the ceiling and the roof. I think that’ll make the car more pleasant to ride in and passengers won’t get that harsh jarring feeling every time a door shuts.

The thing that’s weird, that I may need to discuss some more (gag) is the tinted glass being used to flush with the lighting instead of fabric. Fabric made sense to me, since it would cover the cables and stretch and bind according to where the lights poked through. I don’t want any part of the cables to be showing that aren’t shining light, and glass is, ya know, see-through.

I’m getting really sick of dealing with this, since it wasn’t even part of the plan anyway. And what annoys me even more is that throughout our discussions, I’ve been the one drawing the diagrams, doing the math (crazy, I know), and making sure the plan is logical.

I haven’t even owned a car in years, let alone built a custom ceiling for one. I SHOULDN’T BE DOING THIS.

Here’s what I hope is a somewhat accurate representation of the arrangement of components to my ceiling galaxy:

Of course, getting all this stuff apparently just occurred to him, so there’s going to be a slight wait for the ceiling parts too. I’m going to have to call him tomorrow and light a fire under his ass to list absolutely everything he’s going to need to complete this, and also the wiring for the cameras and stereo. I shouldn’t have to tell him to do this, but his lack of organization is causing my trust in him to evaporate at warp speed.

Some of you might think I sound like a heinous bitch right now. The guy is doing the best he can, right? All I can say is if you knew how much this is going to end up running me (in time as well as money), you’d get it.

Lights… Camera… Now Let’s Have Some Action

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

The fiber optic cables and accompanying engine were delivered last week, so Admir can finally start working on this ceiling galaxy we’ve been carrying on about for so long. If it were a progress-blocking issue, I would have lost interest and told him to forget it by now. But considering the fact that Francisco doesn’t have the materials he needs to make the necessary components, like seats, we might as well do some pimpin’ in the meantime. So Admir came by yesterday afternoon for a quick show-and-tell and to answer my usual endless stream of questions.

The control box itself was surprisingly small, about 1.5 by 2.5 by 5 inches. Admir said he was expecting something much bigger, but the guy who made it said that for such a small area (roughly 9 by 5 feet), we wouldn’t need much power, or even that many cables. The final result is a 9 V box connected to 12 feet of fiber optic cables, which will keep the heat level down considerably. There are about 250 individual cables bundled together, and right now they only light up at the ends.

Admir said that he’s going to cut a few notches in each cable to distribute points of light throughout them. For example, if he cuts 3 notches in each cable, we then have an extra 750 lights, plus the initial 250 at the ends. I hope Admir can do this up nice because the fiber optics dealer recommended about 20 lights per square foot. We have bit of room for some practice cuts, but not too much.

When the lights are ready to be hung, they’ll be poking through a thick but breathable black cloth and covered with a sheet of plexiglass about one-eighth of an inch thick. We also talked a little bit about where the air vents and cameras would go in relation to the ceiling, since the the vents are going to run along the side opposite the vertical bench seating, and we’re going to place a camera in the rear cabin so I can always see what’s happening.

Right now the box is programmed to fade from blue to white and back over the course of about 20 seconds. I’d also like the ability to make them simply glow and manually toggle between white, blue, and off. Admir said he could open the box and reprogram it, which makes me a little nervous, mostly because I told him what I wanted a few times over the phone, and he should have just told the guy making the box in the first place.

Anyway, here’s a picture of how the box came to us:

I’m aware of the contradictory “LED” labeling, since we explicitly decided against using LEDs.

And here’s a picture of me being pissed that my car isn’t anywhere near done yet:

Revisiting a larger version of that picture, I think I look downright scary. It kind of reminds me of that low grumble my dog Zoey makes when she’s about to put the smack down on another animal. I’m definitely not that tough, but something needs to happen.

Mad Dash

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Today I went back to Francisco’s to pick out a color for the curtains and look at some paint samples with Carin from Dr. Vinyl, who will be constructing my dash.

And then… nothing happened.

Francisco didn’t have much in the way of fabric samples. He told me where to find the garment district in downtown LA and about how much fabric I’ll need to make curtains for the three back windows. The last garment district I visited was in Shanghai. I have yet to write about it, but it went from Awesome to Kill Me Now in exactly four visits. Still, I’ll give it a go. I used to sew, so I might still enjoy a shopping venture like this.

Then Carin showed up with a piece of my dash. It was one of the wooden panels covered in a matte black paint. Unfortunately, that’s ALL he brought with him. No other samples; not even a piece with the glossy stuff over it to compare.

So the meat of our conversation went like this:

“That looks nice, but I want to make sure I get the deepest black possible. Do you have any samples of other shades?”

“Nope.”

“Um… okay?”

We still stood around outside and bullshitted for another 20 minutes, and I went to astronomical lengths to hide my annoyance. What a fucking waste of time. I had my friend drive me all the way out there to look at paint samples that I was supposed to see the last time I went over there, and I still didn’t get to see them. Fantastic.

The shade of black didn’t look bad, but if I knew this guy was just going to do his own thing anyway, basing his decisions on my color scheme and his experience (let’s hope), I could have waited and then bitched if it looked wrong. Apparently that’s what I’m going to have to do anyway.

The random hearse-related thing on my mind is the fact that it’s been sitting outside for a month and still needs a bath. I’m sure I sound paranoid, but I don’t want specs of dirt baked into my top when I finally get it back. I need to get over there and wash it sometime. I’m not exactly sure what to use, although everyone seems to love giving me advice on what not to use.