Dropping Plans for the "Mileage Maximizer"

I think I started thinking of a way to improve gas mileage about 5 years ago.  I have been tinkering with it on-and-off since then. One of the features of the Buick RoadMaster that Ali and I bought was the throttle-body fuel injection because I thought it would be easier to modify than the direct injection of newer engines. Despite learning lots about how I would tackle the problem, I don't think I'm going to worry about ever actually implementing it; instead, I'll focus more of my energy on human-powered vehicles like custom bicycles and such.

I read an article that included a graph of engine efficiency for a Volkswagen (I think) that plotted efficiency (horsepower per gallon of fuel) as a color against throttle position and engine RPM. In this particular engine, efficiency varied between about 5% and about 30%. One way to think of it is that for any given engine speed (i.e. 2500 RPM), the efficiency the engine converts fuel to mechanical power varies with throttle position. A rudimentary observation is that the engine is more efficient at 50% throttle than at either 5% or 95%. Also, there is a "sweet spot" — a throttle position that is the most efficient (or a range that's pretty close) — for any given engine speed.

Automotive designers have not done much with this information as far as I can tell. They try to make the "sweet spot" bigger for efficient cars, they try to set the top gear in the transmission so average highway speeds are in the sweet spot, and in a few cars, they switch off half the cylinders sometimes to try and change the sweet spot.

My idea is to change the fuel system more radically. First, switch to "throttle by wire" — make the accelerator pedal more akin to a "torque selector" than a "gas pedal". The actual engine throttle would be computer-controlled to try and maintain the most efficient engine output for its current output RPM. To control the amount of power the engine actually produces, the computer would disable fuel to suppress firing of certain cylinders at a ratio that approximates the desired power output requested at the accelerator pedal.

For example, if you're driving up a grade on the highway and need the engine to deliver 40 horsepower, the car might be running at 1800 RPM and you'd have the throttle at 40%. Let's say this gets you an engine efficiency of 12%, but at 1800 RPM, the "sweet spot" 60% throttle you can get 20% efficiency. At 60% throttle, though, the engine delivers 80 horsepower and you'd be accelerating. So the computer would turn off the cylinders half the time so the effective engine output would be 40 horsepower, but the engine efficiency would nearly double — and so would your gas mileage.

The trouble is, it's quite a time-consuming, complicated project. The first step is to measure the engine data — and that starts with building sensors and recording equipment to get a good set of efficiency and power output data for a spectrum of both throttle positions and RPM. Then it's a matter of analyzing that data to get the target throttle positions and ratio calculations to match the existing performance of the accelerator pedal. But then it gets complicated: you need a throttle actuator, an electronic accelerator pedal, and a way to send the engine computer corrected data from the exhaust oxygen sensor (i.e. turning off half the cylinders increases exhaust oxygen a lot) — probably more sensors too, and a computer to process all that information real-time. Of course you need to make it safe, and be able to record data so you can present it truthfully.

And if everything goes perfectly, it's a gamble as to how much improvement you'd actually get. The thing that kept me interested in the project was the prospect of doubling the mileage — going from 20 MPG to 40MPG. I think it's more realistic to consider a 10%-20% improvement. But without the big step of collecting data, I don't even know at all.

I promised myself this year that I'd put forth extra effort and really try to make it work. I made this promise for 3 years now, and I still have no system. So I'm relieving myself of pretending to get it done. At the end of March, I was supposed to have a working Controller Area Network (CAN) to reliably communicate data between the various microcontrollers in my system. It's now the middle of May and I have no such system. So it's time to zip up the body bag and pack this one away. I learned a lot in doing research, and I'm glad I did, but I just don't think I'm going to bother finishing it.

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Vacation to Acadia National Park

In case you hadn't already noticed, there was no blog activity last week, and the events list might have been a little more erroneous than usual. The reason was that Ali and I left on July 18 and headed to my parents' house in Schenectady, my friends Jan and Shannon in New Hampshire, Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) for 3 days, Ali's friend in Boston, a brief stop at my parents' again, and back home on the 25th.

Naturally, when we got to Schenectady, we got a late lunch/early dinner at Jumpin' Jack's Drive-In (5 Schonowee Ave., Scotia) for their highly prized fast food. Afterward, we took a drive out to Frosty Acres (150 Skyline Dr., Schenectady) which is a local campground that I've seen signs for since I was a kid. By the time we left, we dubbed it "Shady Acres" — not only was the site that was recommended for us to check out a mud pile (and $25 per night), the clientèle was a mix of people residing there and/or passing through with no other living options. In essence: a bit of a rough crowd. Topping it off was the strict, literal enforcement of the 51⁄2 mile-per-hour speed limit. We ended up staying on the land in back of my parents' house, giving us a chance to fully test the tent and its set-up and take-down.

On Sunday we left for New Hampshire; this time taking the Turnpike through Massachusetts and forgoing the scenic, slower, and shorter trip through Vermont and New Hampshire. We hung out with Jan and Shannon, and my friends John and Michelle visited from Boston as well. We stayed through Tuesday before heading out to Maine.

Despite the rain, we decided to continue with the plan of following scenic Route 1. We got off Route 95 (which I guess now is 295 as 95 is now the toll road once known as 495 … thanks, Maine) at Freeport. We stopped at Classic Custard (150 Lower Main St., Freeport, ME) and had a hearty snack before continuing into town to visit L. L. Bean (10 Depot St., Freeport, ME) … I mean, how can you not, especially on a camping trip? I can only assume that L. L. Bean was there first and the shopping nightmare of "outlet" stores cropped up sometime later, but at least their store was competent … in my opinion, not worth a trip out of your way, but if you're a fan, it's worth it to at least stop.

Anyway, travel was excruciatingly slow and Route 1 is not nearly as scenic as it implies. That said, it's far more interesting a drive than Rt. 95, but the time cost is pretty high. We arrived at Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) around 8 p.m. in steady rain. We decided to sleep in the Roadmaster after putting the coolers outside. Ali also wanted to get some dinner more substantial than the snacks we had; she settled for cheese and wine. We also got a chance to check out a Ranger lecture on the geology of the area at the park's outdoor amphitheater, giving us a taste of just how engaging the park really is. The rain kept the crowd light and most of us joined the Ranger on the covered stage. The rain got heavier as we left and we were confined to the car for the night.

Wednesday proved to be much better. We got the tent set up and had breakfast at camp. We took the "free" [paid for by our $20 car fee and L. L. Bean; once again] shuttle from the campground to nearby Bar Harbor. We signed up to go to Baker Island on Friday through The Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (1 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) — apparently a family of 12 lived on the remote island some considerable distance from shore during the 1800's. We stopped by Alone Moose (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) and chatted with the owner Sherry, stopping at the gallery upstairs, The Gallery Upstairs (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) to check out works by J. Stan Mason that greatly appealed to me.

Sherry recommended The West Street Cafe (76 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) which was excellent — and refreshingly inexpensive. I had the Cafe Special which was lobster and shrimp tossed with mushrooms over linguine; Ali had the lobster special which included a 1 pound lobster, clam chowder, and a slice of blueberry pie which we shared á la mode. Everything was excellent, and with 2 local beers, we barely cracked $50.

We headed back to our campsite then walked to Sand Beach — pretty much the only substantial traditional beach in Acadia, and a place where you can go swimming. The water temperature is claimed to be around 50°F, and I believe most adults (like Ali and I) experience pain from cold by letting the water wash over our feet. However, I couldn't resist playing in the ocean as it's so rare that we get there, so I used the technique the Ranger from last night suggested: run at full speed into the water. It turned out to be not as bad as first expected, and I stayed in for the better part of an hour; my body apparently adjusted much better to total immersion.

We used the park shuttle once more to get back to camp. I couldn't get much of a fire started, but neither could anybody as everything was so damp. We ended up eating what we could cook on the camp stove instead. I stayed up for a while trying, but I never could get the wood to stop boiling off water enough to ignite.

Thursday was also a nice day. We hiked up Beehive: one of the small mountains in the area, although much of the climb is quite steep. So much so, in fact, that iron rungs were installed to assist along the trail when it went vertical. The climb isn't all that high — only 500 feet or so — but it does yield a dramatic view of the coastline. There's also an easier trail that leads through the woods past Bowl Lake which was startlingly serene.

The park shuttles transfer at Bar Harbor's town square, so we spent some time once again there. We had another good meal at The Thirsty Whale Tavern (40 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME): I with a fish fry club sandwich (fried haddock, bacon, lettuce, tomato), and Ali with a lobster roll (big pieces of lobster held together with a bit of mayonnaise). We shopped for souvenirs and provisions: particularly, fire-starting sticks such that I might be able to get a fire going that would be capable of cooking something.

We decided to get ice cream and Ali joked that was going to get lobster ice cream so I said if they had it, she'd have to get it. As it turned out, Ben and Bills Chocolate Emporium (66 Main St., Bar Harbor, ME) had lobster ice cream and it wasn't all bad, although I let her off the hook and just forced her to taste it. We also stopped by The Bar Harbor Brewing Company (8 Mount Desert St., Bar Harbor, ME) which we'd had at the West Street Cafe and picked up a sampling of brews.

We got back later than we wanted, but still with plenty of daylight. I set to getting the fire started which went much better with the fire-starting sticks, but the wood was still too wet to yield good coals to cook over. We used it anyway, and had steak tips and corn for dinner along with some beer. We decided also to take down the tent as it was supposed to rain that night into Friday. And it did: starting around 2 a.m., waking us with its drumming on the roof of the car.

Friday was the day of the cruise to Baker Island, and we had set alarms to get up on time. No shuttles run that early, so we drove to Bar Harbor around 7 a.m., leaving the waterproof items behind for the time-being. We had a mediocre breakfast at Jordan's Restaurant (80 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME), forgetting that in most areas, diners are a "theme" restaurant and as such, expensive. Ali couldn't get over the fact that an unassuming vegetable-and-cheese omelette ran $11 … I almost had to take away her placemat menu! Further, the ship to the island was cancelled due to dangerously rough seas.

Instead, we decided to drive around the park loop. We drove up Cadillac Mountain — the highest peak on the Atlantic Coast north of Brazil — although it was essentially a steep grade in a blanket of fog and rain yielding a view of the sides, tops, and bottoms of clouds. We got back to camp and the rain had subsided as much as it was that day so we packed up and headed out.

We had our eyes out for those famous Maine blueberries. We stopped at a farm stand but the berries in the area were still too tart. Nonetheless, the guy also baked pies and had a blueberry one in the oven right then. Ali wanted it but I didn't want to wait for it to cool. After much disagreement, we finally decided to get it: as it turned out, it would cool fine in the car even if it wasn't perfectly level (it wasn't going to slop out as I thought). We made our way through Maine on I-95 (the new one, including the toll part) and hit Boston right at 5 p.m. The remaining 10 miles to Ali's friend's place took another hour and a half, but we ended up having a really nice time.

Saturday we got up and hit the road, stopping one last time to visit the ocean. We got to Schenectady by 4 p.m. and arrived at Ali's parent's at 8 p.m. to pick up our dog, Lucy. By 10 p.m. or so, we were all done and ready to take some time off to recuperate.

I was kind of expecting Acadia National Park to be like Stony Brook State Park (10820 State Route 36, Dansville), but alas, it's more like Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) — only smaller in size. It would probably take a month to hike all the trails, attend all the Ranger discussions, and otherwise sample the whole place; much longer to savor it; and much longer than that to know it. I greatly enjoyed the "fractal effect" — that you could look at a grand-scaled wonder, then at the lay of the land and its geological history, then at the vegetation and stones nearby, then at the individual plants and the details in the individual pieces of stone, then at the lichens and mosses and their diversity — each time, there is something interesting to catch your eye.

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Taking the Bus

I've been working on migrating my travels to alternatives to the car — as you'll recall, I took my Civic off the road (so now I've got our Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon and Ali's Saturn, neither of which I want to rely on for day-to-day tasks). Tonight was The Rochester Speculative Literature Association (R-SPEC) meeting at Barnes & Noble (3349 Monroe Ave.) so I thought I'd try taking the bus. I've used the buses on rare occasions in the past, but this was the first trip that required a transfer and that I didn't really have a backup plan (aside from calling Ali, even though she loaned her car out to our friend Christina for the day).

The meeting was at 7 p.m. so I wanted to get there a bit early. According to The Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA)'s trip planner on the website, I should take the #24 bus at 5:56 p.m. downtown to Court and Clinton, then take the #7 bus to Pittsford Plaza at 6:40 p.m. — total trip time: 43 minutes. I did my own analysis of the schedules and decided instead to take the #19 bus at 5:38 p.m. to 12 Corners then take the #7 bus to Pittsford Plaza at 6:09 p.m. — total trip time: 31 minutes. I arrived early enough to get some dinner at Benucci's (3349 Monroe Ave., in the Pittsford Plaza) … nothing particularly exceptional, but still perfectly fine.

So after the meeting, the RGRTA trip planner suggested I leave on the #7 bus at 8:54 p.m. (or a similar trip starting at 9:38 p.m.) and take it to — get this — Irondequoit Plaza (2133 Hudson Ave.) to get the #5 bus back to my house at 11:51 p.m. — total trip time: 2 hours, 57 minutes. I analyzed it myself and determined I could take the #7 bus at 8:54 p.m. (or an identical trip starting at 10:02 p.m.) to Clinton and Main then hurry to meet the #5 bus going south at St. Paul and Main and get home by 9:37 p.m. — total trip time: 43 minutes.

As it turned out, the meeting ran a bit long and I stayed to try and find that book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbuilt which they did not have. I took the 10:02 bus which arrived pretty much on time. I made it to the #5 which didn't leave for a few minutes anyway and made it home fine.

All told, it worked out okay. I bought a "Freedom Pass" which gets you rides for a day for $3 (as far as I could tell, I would have had to pay $4 for the 4 bus trips … there's probably a secret to transfers or something, though). The bus stop nomenclature is confusing — for instance, the stop nearest my house for the #19 bus is "Crittenden and East" which identifies an intersection. There are 2 stops within 20 yards of that intersection and I wasn't sure which one was right. The trick is that the first street is the main street and the second is the cross street, so it would be much clearer to say "Crittenden at East" but once you get used to it, it makes sense. You also have to know which direction your bus is going — for instance, there are 4 stops at the Elmwood and Mt. Hope corner.

It's also annoying that the stops have advertising on them rather than information: the bus stop signs only specify how much the trip will cost. If only one route uses a particular stop, the sign will identify the route number, but if the stop serves multiple routes, it will just say that it serves multiple routes and not specify which ones. There are no maps or clues as to where to go or when.

But it's that routing system that is the worst. What good is it if you can do it yourself and get better results — and with relative ease at that? The biggest obstacle is to get the bus route information from the site as it is no longer available as tidy PDF's of the route tables, but as dynamically generated pages where you can specify your stops. It would make much more sense to, say, get all the bus route tables for stops within a few blocks of your starting and ending points and figure it out from there.

It's too bad that RGRTA has a government sponsored monopoly because with a little competition, it wouldn't be hard to come up with a better system. One thing that I've been toying with is the idea of a "superway" — a system that's like a subway, but instead puts buses on the network of highways to cover the large distances quickly. So, for instance, there would be stops along each exit on 490, 590, and 390 with buses running frequently along those routes. I could walk 15 minutes to 390 and East Henrietta Rd. then take a bus to the Monroe Avenue exit off 590 in 3 minutes (maybe more like 6 minutes counting a stop at Winton), finishing up by walking the remaining 19 minutes to Pittsford Plaza. All told, it would take about about 40 minutes but I could do it pretty much any time I wanted to; the walking time on my trip out there added 10 minutes for a total of 41 minutes on the way out and 53 minutes on the way back and also limited to the whims of the bus schedule. Throw in a few extra routes to cover the parts of the city farther than a mile from a highway exit, and you're in business.

Anyway, the bus is now an alternative for me to use. But once I get a bike ready, I can cover the 5 miles to Pittsford Plaza via the canal path in about 20 minutes or so. And do it any time.

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The Wagon's Grinding Gradual-Slowing

Ali and I were out running around in our Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon to every furniture store in town looking for her perfect couch. Thus far, we had found one that was nice but very expensive, and several others that were cheaper but not quite what she was looking for. We went to Charlotte Furniture and Appliance (3200 Lake Ave.) and the salesperson asked what we were looking for. They had exactly one couch with furniture buttons on the back. When we went to see it, Ali saw the love-seat and thought, "that's perfect if only there were a sofa" just as she saw the sofa. It was perfect. And as cheap as the couches we didn't like. It was great. She ordered it on the spot, picking out the fabric and getting set up with financing.

So we headed out toward 390 via Stone Rd. From Ridge Road we went to get on 390 but as soon as we hit 45 miles per hour or so, we suddenly heard a sound like we were dragging a plastic barrel under the car so we pulled over. We looked under the car but saw nothing — not even from the driver-side rear wheel area. We tried driving again but it made the terrible noise again when we got to 25 MPH or so.

We called the service I signed up for: Better World Club — sort of like AAA, but without all the lobbying for bigger cars and more roads [heck, they even offer roadside bike assistance.] They contacted Towbuster Towing (510 Hudson Ave.) for us and said it would be about 45 minutes. We decided to limp the car to Ridgeway. We checked under again, hoping that we might be able to get it home on our own. Alas, it kept making the noise and I found a chunk of metal all ground down that was warmer than the cold ambient temperature — evidence enough for me that it came out of the car.

We got it to a parking lot on Lee Road and waited. Towbuster called us and said they were 20 minutes away and they had no room in the cab of the truck so we'd have to get our own ride. We wrangled a friend of ours to pick us up — the tow truck even arrived at the same time. Well, despite telling them what kind of car it was, they brought a truck that was too small. The distance from the rear axle of the wagon to its bumper was too long for the truck to accommodate. Well, it was just big enough, but they couldn't do anything more than a really gradual turn. The flatbed truck was another hour away so we decided to just leave the car and go home.

Actually we went out to dinner: Paola's Burrito Place (1921 South Ave., formerly Big Dog's Hots). We received the worst news in the world: Arturo is moving back to Austin in 6 months or so to be with his family, closing Paola's. So, if you like the place, go get your fill because it'll be gone soon. The Upper Mount Hope Neighborhood Association sent out a note that he was leaving in two months, but we're hoping he was correct. Naturally dinner was great.

Anyway, we had our poor wagon towed to Integrity Auto Repair, Inc. (241 E. Henrietta Rd.) As it turned out, the flatbed would have had the room for the both of us to ride along so had Towbuster sent it first, we would have had an easy way home.

As it turned out, it was probably good that we had the wagon towed. The brake drum had been machined beyond specification and the liner finally disintegrated. Had we driven home, we probably would have totally ruined all the brake parts inside. Integrity did a nice job with it and it's fine now. My wallet … well, not so much.

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FrostBurn Day 4

So I got up around 10 a.m. on Monday — the last day of FrostBurn.  I got ready to go and discovered that my car keys were missing.  It was oddly just my car keys too: I still had my house keys, but I had somehow unclipped the car keys the night before.  Since John and I were the last ones up, and we got no snow the night before, they must have been sitting right on top of the snow.  I searched along the paths between the car, my winter shelter, and the bathrooms to no avail.  I took down the winter shelter and packed everything up, checking every pocket and nook.

Still nothing.

I gave Ali a call on a borrowed phone and let her know what was up.  Although she's so awesome that she would have traveled the 5 hours out to get me, she's smart enough to get me to try other options first.

I had signed up for Better World Club last year and finally got a chance to use it. They tried contacting some locksmiths, and decided that the best bet would be to get the Buick Roadmaster towed to the nearest dealership. Lizzy called her friend and we thought a better option would be to bring the VIN to the dealership and have them make a new key. We got hold of Better World Club and called off the wrecker. They called contacted the nearest dealership and found it would cost all of $4.

As I walked around the car to fetch my hand-held GPS to give directions for people, I couldn't believe my eyes.  The keys were sitting right out in the open, just a few feet in front of the car.

It might have been there all along, or it might have been kicked free by someone during the four hours of searching.

So I called Ali and got packed up and headed home.  Once again, the snow sucked on the roads: all the way from Erie, PA to just east of Buffalo.  I did make it home safely, though, and — overall — had a great time.  I also got to be remembered as "Jason Who Lost His Keys" rather than (or "in addition to", perhaps) "Jason Who Passed Out in the Snow".

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FrostBurn Day 1

Today I headed out from Rochester and drove to Cooper's Lake Campground (205 Currie Rd., Slippery Rock, PA) to attend FrostBurn.  Last year it was during President's Weekend in February but they mentioned that they planned to change it to Martin Luther King weekend this year.  Ali and I realized we'd have to rearrange her mom's annual visit to accommodate the trip — but we forgot and, although I remembered again in November, it was too late.  So, it was just me this year.

The trip out was not bad, except for lake-effect snow around the lake near Buffalo.  I slowed down to 45 MPH or so and was getting frequently passed, but after 80 miles or so I did successfully drive out of it.  I arrived around 4 p.m. or so and got settled in.  The commercial campground where the event is presently held is located on a hill, and the organizers decided to split it up so there were people camped on top and at the bottom. Initially I was placed at the bottom of the hill.  Since I had the rear-wheel-drive Buick Roadmaster, I figured it would be impossible to drive down.  And since I also had a 180-pound base to the winter shelter I made, I really had no desire to try and make that happen either.  Thankfully there were some spaces available at the top so I camped there.  Also, I had access to electrical power: even though my winter shelter was pretty good, the predicted sub-zero temperatures would have been overwhelming without use of the electric heater I had at-the-ready.  As it turned out, I never even got to try it out that night.

Because of the cold — it was, after all, no warmer than 5°F outside — I decided to consume and share the two bottles of homemade wine I brought rather than let them freeze.  I got to meet lots of nice people and check out the whole event. Along the way, I met another Jason who ended up … umm … overdoing it, and ended up in bed early.

By the time all the drinking and debauchery was done, I was leaving the lower section and really don't remember much of what happened.  Based on legend, I became "the guy who passed out in the snow," "almost died," or "got frostbite."  As it turned out, this guy Tony helped me up the hill and let me stay in his heated RV overnight.

So now as you all cluck your tongues and "tsk-tsk", let me add two things.  First of all, I didn't go out with any plan whatsoever to end up passing out.  And second, this event isn't like day-to-day life: it's more like a village or an extended family.  Rather than stepping over somebody passed out, anyone there would have stopped to help.

That said, it got down to -11°F in nearby Slippery Rock, PA and, depending on who you asked, it got as cold as -14°F or -18°F — so there was some real danger of getting injured out there.  Thankfully I had on a full 4 layers on my legs and 6 on my torso along with chemical warmers on my hands and feet that were still working by morning.  For the most part it was pretty comfortable.

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Wintry Mix and Spin

Ali and I headed to The Blue Horizon Restaurant (1174 Brooks Ave.) for breakfast. The place is definitely an ideal diner. Anyway, this morning it snowed a little — maybe an inch or so — and we didn't think it was a big deal, so we decided to drive out to check out gas fireplaces. Ali mentioned a place on Hudson [which I think is Fireplace Fashions (1936 Hudson Ave.)] and we also wanted to head out to Pettis Pools; the waitress helped us out and found the address in the phone book and we decided to try and find Pettis Pools and Patio (1186 Manitou Rd., Hilton) first.

We headed out on 390 and noted that we were at the Blue Horizon when the big car crash happened that closed it back in February of this year. I was driving the Roadmaster and when we got to the turn onto 490 West, I slowed way down, expecting that there might be ice as it was exactly 32°F outside. The turn was pretty clear, though … until I went to accelerate onto 490. The big wagon started fish-tailing but I managed to reel it back in and avoid either spinning out or hitting anyone else. The highway was pretty much wet with a slushy mix, but there was something wrong: there were dozens of cars spun out and off the road.

The mystery was solved on the first bridge we came to as the wagon fish-tailed a bit again. Since it was straight road and only for 50 yards or so, it wasn't hard to keep things under control.  We forged ahead, but saw more and more cars spun out. Apparently every single bridge was covered in solid ice, albeit giving the illusion that it was just more wet slush. We decided to give up our quest and get off at the next exit, but there was one more surprise.

A Honda Pilot started to go out of control in front of us on the next overpass.  It swerved left then swung right and ended up skidding sideways down the road and slamming into the right guardrail, coming to rest right in our lane.  Ali wanted me to stop, but I was on the icy bridge and was just barely touching the brakes until we cleared the overpass and I braked hard, stopping in time to avoid T-boning the poor guy.  The driver of the Pilot got it out of the way and I decided to just run over the piece of plastic bumper laying in the road.  Unfortunately it was dragging under the car.  Fortunately we ran it over when I got onto the shoulder and we got the hell out of there.

We were passed by a car going far too fast and then likewise by a charter bus (which was also half into our lane, the prick).  The exit to Rt. 386 was next and I couldn't bear to watch the bus careen across that overpass — and, naturally, also couldn't avoid watching.  However, they successfully slowed down for the cars that had already spun out.  The trip home was much slower and safer — amusingly taking us right past the Blue Horizon once again.

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Rochester to Glenwood Springs

So I headed out on Wednesday night, stopping at Paola's Burrito Place (1921 South Ave., formerly Big Dog's Hots) with Ali before saying our goodbyes. I drove until I got tired around Cleveland, then got up on Thursday and made it just inside Kansas. Of course, things took a downturn when the air conditioning in the Roadmaster gradually stopped working with a warning signal on the heating controls. At least I made it through the worst of it.

On the way through otherwise-dreadful Kansas, I saw a billboard for a GM dealership in Hays, about halfway across Kansas. Crap. I guess they do work. Anyway, I went to James Motor Works, Co. (108 E. 13th St., Hays, KS). I talked with Dan and they got me right in to check out the A.C. It turned out there is a leak (which I knew, having added more coolant before I left) and the ventilation system computer shuts things down when the compressor cycles too much. I got it recharged there — they were really nice and it was "only" $100 or so. Afterward I got a recommendation for lunch, and I went to Gella's Diner and Lb. Brewing Company (117 E. 11th St., Hays, KS) right around the corner. I had a really good Oatmeal Stout and a great Patty Melt: a "beef patty topped with mushrooms, schmeltz (caramelized onions) and provolone cheese on buttered marbled rye toast". Mmm. I met this guy who happened to be from Colorado and we chatted a bit before I got back on the road.

I made it to Colorado around 2:30 p.m. and managed to snap a self-portrait along the way:

Self-portrait (sort-of)

See the wagon? To be honest, it's larger than it appears.

Unfortunately, my timing was such that I got to Denver at almost exactly 5:00 p.m. Yeesh. It wasn't too bad, but getting up the mountain took a while. I made it to Sondra and Will's around 8 and got settled in. We'll be leaving on Sunday morning in a little convoy for Burning Man. Hopefully in air-conditioned comfort.

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Firestone and Jitters

Well February is coming to a close and since we bought the Buick Wagon last year at the beginning of February, it was time for its inspection. Since I had a coupon I decided to go to my usual garage of Firestone (369 Jefferson Rd.).

I also brought along a coupon for "free coffee" at Jitters CaféMySpace link (3333 W. Henrietta Rd., in Southtown Plaza) since it was in the same plaza. It was a snowy day and it appeared that there was only one person working. They were hidden in back making someone else's sandwich — for around 3 or 4 minutes with not even an acknowledgment of myself or the woman who came in after I did. This didn't bode well. When the solitary employee finally got to me, I ordered a breakfast sandwich and the free coffee. She pointed out that the free 12-ounce coffee [I didn't notice whether the coupon even specified a size] would probably not fill my travel mug — all 14 ounces of it..

Ok, now I don't know everything about running a coffee shop, but I do know that the cost of a cup of regular coffee is almost completely labor — coffee for a whole pot (even fancy coffee) might cost 50 cents.

Me and the woman behind me got our food at the same time, presented collectively with bland indifference. Fortunately they were different kinds and it was clear whose was whose.  In all, I'm not very impressed.

But to top things off, the Buick needed a few things. I had intended on bringing it in soon anyway for a regular shakedown but today I just wanted to get the inspection done quick. It passed — but the power steering pump was leaking as was the pinion bearing on the rear differential.

I thought it funny that I had to step back and rethink the day. I had originally planned to stay and wait, but the repairs would take until early afternoon. I almost stayed anyway but decided instead to get a few things done at home. They offered me a ride back to my house. Later in the day I returned and paid for the repairs, and then Ali brought me back when she got out of work to collect the beast.

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