Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Land Rover Vegetable Oil Conversion

You paid HOW MUCH!? Why bother?

That's what some folks say when I tell them how much it cost to convert the Land Rover Defender to run on vegetable oil.

While most people (mechanics, environmentalists, and laymen alike) are simply thrilled to know that this kind of conversion exists and stand in awe of such an ingenious and beautifully designed engineering feat, there are a few who simply can't justify the cost with the return. And, I understand their concerns.

Now, I'll admit, this conversion was expensive. We removed the gasoline engine and stock transmission and replaced them with a diesel engine and a better transmission. That added a tremendous cost to an already expensive conversion.

So, if saving money is your goal, don't do what I did. You could do it yourself and spend as little as $200 converting a car that already has a diesel engine. But, we were after bigger game. We sacrificed some fuel economy and horsepower for reliability, torque, and automation (I didn't want to spend half my day scrounging and filtering nasty oil.)

So, I didn't gain much in fuel economy; The Defender's lack of pep will make you cry; Used oil is getting harder to find; And, that diesel engine is pretty noisy. So, with all these drawbacks, why on earth did I do this conversion?

Well, we actually had two different goals in mind: One - free fuel. And, Two - an earth-friendly fuel source.

Now, keep in mind that going "green" fits very well into my Vanishing America project. I can't, with good conscience, go around documenting a Vanishing America and be a carbon-belching contributor to it at the same time. So, the decision was largely an environmental choice. But, let's talk specifics...

Reason Number one: Free Fuel.
The free fuel issue does seem to be changing due to the fact that waste oil is becoming a commodity. However, at this stage, it's still attainable, and at $5 per gallon for diesel, it's rapidly paying off. As a matter of fact, I just got back from two round trips to Chattanooga, TN (a total of 500 miles solely on used veggie oil). That means, at a 15mpg average, I saved over $160 in fuel. Multiply that over the course of a 10,000 mile year (with diesel prices continuing to climb), and we're talking about a conservative potential savings of $3500/year. Not much compared to a $30,000 conversion, but it adds up over time. But, money wasn't the only reason for the conversion. Which brings me to...

Reason Number Two: Earth-friendly fuel source.
Petroleum-based fuels are bad for the environment. We all agree on that. And, they come from a limited resource. (It may take a hundred years or more before all the oil is gone, but eventually it will be gone.) Waste oil, on the other hand, is completely renewable. And, since it comes from restaurants, it has already been used once. That means we don't have to pump oil from wells, we don't have to use crops that reduce the food supply, and, most importantly, we don't have to burn other fuels to process this waste into something that can be reused. It's a beautiful, efficient system.

Now, what about the waste oil becoming more difficult to get. Well, that's definitely the case. Every day, I see evidence that the cycle is progressing. It began with restaurants paying to have the oil hauled away. When renderers realized they could profit from the oil, they began to pick it up for free. Now, with more competition, some renderers are actually paying the restaurants for the oil. This cycle was expected. But, the good news is that the engineers responsible for creating new biofuels have not been sitting idly by. They have come up with ways to get fuel from waste wood, plant waste, tree bark, and even algae. And their progress is phenomenal. I expect that right about the time that everyone has to pay for waste oil, these engineers will have perfected these new ways of obtaining fresh oil, effectively collapsing the bubble created by the demand for waste oil. And, that puts guys like me back in the driver's seat. And, I see all of this happening within 5 years.

So, yes, the conversion was very expensive. And, on the surface, seems like a waste of money. But, I'll save at least $3500/year on fuel, there are still literally tens of thousands of places all over the US who will give me free oil, and my consumption of this product actually has a positive effect on the environment. And, that, to me, is priceless.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Vanishing America's First Ever Gallery Exhibition!

Due to the tremendous interest in attending Vanishing America's first ever Gallery Exhibition, we've added a second day for the Open House!

Saturday, June 28th, and now Sunday, June 29th, 2008 mark the opening of the First Ever Vanishing America Gallery Exhibition, which will be on display through the month of July at Roswell's Ann Jackson Gallery.

Saturday's VIP reception will run from 6pm to 9pm and will feature live music from the Breeze Kings, Atlanta's hottest blues band! (See www. myspace.

Sunday's reception will run from 12 to 5pm.

If you are in the Atlanta area, I expect you to come. This will be an historic event, with a guest list that will include local politicians, representatives from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Georgia, local media, and possibly a celebrity or two.

RSVP to me as soon as you can.

Space is limited and going fast!

Please visit or for more information.

Monday, May 12, 2008

For Jay Nowak

I'd known Jay Nowak since I was a kid. He was my father's friend, and later, became my friend. When I was 15, he took me to the Road Atlanta racetrack to ride with him on a warm-up lap in his Datsun 260Z. (Unfortunately, he had to take the lap without me.) The officials said I had to be at least 16 to ride in such an event. But, my dad and I watched him race. It's one of those memories that will never fade.

Today I attended Jay's funeral. He was only 57.

It's still a bit surreal to me, for I had seen him just last week. Jay had had a heart attack about a month ago. I was with him when the pains began. He had been recovering well, and getting on with his life, but it had weakened his heart so much that the second time it failed completely. I'm going to miss him more than I thought I would.

Jay's death got me thinking about my own mortality (as friends' passings and funerals are likely to do). It got me thinking because Jay was a lot like me -- independent, still single (after all these years), a bit impatient, quick-tempered, and in love with the outdoors. He was also very kind. If anyone ever needed a hand, Jay was there -- no questions asked. And, it was these similarities that made me take his death very personally. I began to consider the short time we are here on this earth, and what each of us decides to do with that time. It made me think that I need to make more of my days than I have been. To love more, to play more, to enjoy my time and to share that enjoyment with the people I love. Situations like this usually have that effect on people.

But, more than that, Jay's funeral got me thinking about how we choose to remember, and choose to honor, those that pass before us. His funeral was held in a church, in the traditional, dignified, Christian fashion. And, that's what many people want.

But not me.

Those kinds of ceremonies make me sad. They depress me, make me cry, and do nothing for remembering how great that person was.

When I go, I want a party. Maybe a big bonfire on the beach with all my family and friends. I want my favorite band to play. I want everyone to tell stories to each other that all start with "Remember when...". I want people to get drunk and divulge secrets, get pissed off, then laugh about it. To me, it's a time to celebrate a life, not mourn a death.

In New Orleans, traditional funerals start with a parade that runs through the streets to the cemetery. Music plays, people dance, and a life is celebrated. It's like a congratulatory salute saying, "Hey man! You did it! You gave your all and we appreciate you for it!"

Send me off with a raucous "Yee Haw!" And, remember me fondly. Save the sadness for someone else.

Jay had requested to be cremated, which I admire. Everyone has their own idea of how to be laid to rest, but I agree with Jay. Set me aflame as in the days of kings. Let my spirit ascend into the heavens with the smoke and the flames. There is no need for a pillow-lined coffin -- I won't be sleeping. I'll be dead. Honor my death by returning me to the natural elements from which I was made. It was this decision that made me recall a poem I had seen many years ago...

When I was in college, taking art classes, one of the requirements was to take a figure drawing class. And, one of the requirements for the figure drawing class was to visit the morgue so we could see how the human body was actually put together. I remember a lot about those visits, but what stands out most in my memory is a sheet of paper tacked up on the wall. It was a poem by Robert N. Test and it sums up my feelings on what to do with me when I go...

"To Remember Me - I will live forever"
by Robert N. Test

The day will come when my body will lie upon a white sheet neatly tucked under four corners of a mattress located in a hospital; busily occupied with the living and the dying. At a certain moment a doctor will determine that my brain has ceased to function and that, for all intents and purposes, my life has stopped.

When that happens, do not attempt to instill artificial life into my body by the use of a machine. And don't call this my deathbed. Let it be called the bed of life, and let my body be taken from it to help others lead fuller lives.

Give my sight to the man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby's face or love in the eyes of a woman.

Give my heart to a person whose own heart has caused nothing but endless days of pain.

Give my blood to the teenager who was pulled from the wreckage of his car, so that he might live to see his grandchildren play.

Give my kidneys to the one who depends on a machine to exist from week to week.

Take my bones, every muscle, every fiber and nerve in my body and find a way to make a crippled child walk.

Explore every corner of my brain.

Take my cells, if necessary, and let them grow so that, someday a speechless boy will shout at the crack of a bat and a deaf girl will hear the sound of rain against her window.

Burn what is left of me and scatter the ashes to the winds to help the flowers grow.

If you must bury something, let it be my faults, my weakness and all prejudice against my fellow man.

Give my sins to the devil.

Give my soul to God.

If, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you. If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.

That poem sums it up completely. Follow that poem to the letter, throw a party when I'm gone, and celebrate my life.

Thank you, Jay, for showing me the way to go. I'll miss you, buddy.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Save the date!

Well, it's official!

Saturday, June 28th, 2008 marks the opening of the very first Vanishing America exhibit, which will be on display through July at Roswell's Ann Jackson Gallery!

This marks the first in a series of exhibitions of Fine Art photography from the Vanishing America project. Future exhibits will be held in cities all over the United States, each one showcasing new work as well as some original favorites, but this is the first!

All of the images are in signed, limited editions of 25 and vary in size from 8x10 inches to over 5 feet. And, once an edition sells out, there will be no more. What that means to the collector is that each image will not only retain its value, but that the value of each image will actually increase with time.

The opening night of the exhibit promises to be a blast, with music from Atlanta's best blues band, The Breeze Kings, a wine tasting from local vendors, and barbecue from Alpharetta's own Smokejack restaurant, all accompanying 25 of Vanishing America's best images to date.

If you are in the Atlanta area, and would like to attend... hell, if you're within 200 miles of Atlanta, you have to attend!... please RSVP to as soon as you can. This is an historic event. Space is limited and though this event is free, it will "sell out" very quickly.

Celebrity has its perks...

I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille...

I know. I know. I'm not even close to being a celebrity. Yet. But, the attention I get from fans of my project can sometimes give me a taste of what celebrity must be like.

About a month ago in Athens, Tennessee, I parked BABS in an empty lot near a busy highway. Mom was with me, and we had just decided to take a few moments to grab a quick lunch before we continued back to Atlanta.

As is usually the case, cars were cutting through the parking lot to get a closer look at BABS. But, this time one of the cars actually stopped. A nice lady got out, and knocked on my door. I came out to talk with her and found out that, even though she didn't have internet access, she was actually a big fan of what I was doing! She was so tickled to have met me that she kept giving me hugs and kisses, introduced me to her granddaughter, and even asked for my autograph. Me! Go figure. It was actually a great experience. Not only did it make me feel good, but it gave me a little affirmation (if that is the right word) that I was doing something that was as important to other people as it was to me. I got to meet one of my fans. (You know, that sounds funny... "my fans".) But, I think it's just a small example of things to come.

Tonight, while having dinner with a fellow artist at Pure in Alpharetta, a nice young woman named Heidi approached me. She asked if I was Holt Webb. And, once again, I felt that sense of "celebrity"... of being admired. That must sound conceited, but I mean it in the purest sense of appreciation. People are interested in (and in some cases proud of) what I am doing. And, that makes me feel good. It reinforces the idea that I am doing something worthwhile.

As it turns out, Heidi is actually friends with another friend of mine, Jenifer, a girl I grew up with. And, they wanted me to give a presentation to their school. Since school is almost out, that might not happen, but I am flattered nonetheless. They thought enough of what I'm doing to want to share it with their children and their school.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that celebrity doesn't have to be all about getting attention or being famous for the sake of being famous. Sometimes, celebrity can mean that you have a fan base that supports what you do and what you stand for. And, that's a real boost when you're alone, out on the road like I am, trying to make sense of the world around you. You realize that you're not the only one. You realize that there are other people who feel the same way you do, and who are grateful that you are out there telling their stories, and making sure that their voices can be heard.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Second Annual Pink Bandanna Ball

Fun with Fundraising!

I just got back from another wonderful weekend in Chattanooga promoting the Vanishing America project. And, it didn't cost me a dime. I drove all the way on used veggie oil! How's that for saving a buck?

This time I had BABS on display at Saturday's Second Annual Pink Bandanna Ball, helping raise money for Neuroblastoma. Check out their website at

It was a great time. BABS was parked inside the First Tennessee Pavilion for all to see, and one of the images from the Vanishing America series was donated to their silent auction. They had live music from Love, Peace and Happiness, fantastic BBQ from The Butt Stop (their brisket and cornbread casserole were amazing!), casino games, and a badass mechanical bull (which loved the Nancy, Wendy, and Melissa, the event's coordinators, but had no reservations about kicking my butt)!

Jennifer, who rode the bull with me, has ridden some feisty horses in her day, and managed to stay on for another three minutes, looking like she belonged at a real rodeo. I think she could have outlasted any of the guys there.

And, thanks to the efforts of Nancy, Wendy, and Melissa, and the wonderful sponsors who donated their time, money, and prizes for the auctions, this year's event raised over $116,000! Next year's event promises to be even bigger. Heck, if they keep up this pace, they'll be selling out the baseball stadium!

After cleaning up and sleeping in until 10am, I joined the Cromie family out on Tennessee's Lake Chicamauga. (Nancy Cromie is one of the angels who helped organize the Pink Bandanna Ball.) We even did a little fishing. However, I was the only one who caught anything...

Marc and Nancy wouldn't let me keep it, though. They said we had to throw it back. Something about "catch and release", or it being too little... whatever.

But, before I threw it back, I named it Will.