Tag Archives: driving

The Long Road Home

View from our hotel room on the last full day of our vacation.

We departed our resort at Walt Disney World yesterday morning at 8:15 am and arrived home just before 11 pm, 860 miles of driving. We have driven too and from Florida more than a dozen times, but this is the first time we attempted to drive all the way home in a single day.

The first time we drove to Florida, in 2012, we made the trip over 3 days, spending nights in places like Florence, South Carolina, and Kingland, Georgia. We’d do the same on the reverse run, stopping in places like Savannah and Charleston. After several years of these trips, we slimmed them down to just one night on the road, stopping at a roughly midway point in South Carolina. We’ve done that for years, and indeed, that is what we did driving down in December.

But we visited Walt Disney World at the end of our trip this time, instead of the beginning. We are normally in southern Florida, and being three hours closer to home made it tricky to decide where to stop for the night. I suggested we try to make the run all the way through. So we left Orlando at 8:15 am, drove through some rush hour traffic on I-4, and then onto I-95 where we encountered no traffic for the entire drive.

It wasn’t that hard. It might seem like a small thing, but I am always impressed by the good state of the roads, the quality of the rest stops, and the friendliness of the people at gas stations and restaurants along the way. We stopped in Walterboro, South Carolina for a late lunch, but other than a couple of pit stops, I drove and drove and drove.

I finished 3 audiobooks on the drive: I was almost finished with Ted Chaing’s Exhilation before the drive, and finished it while we were still in Florida. Next, I turned to Chuck Palahniuk’s new book, Consider This: Moments in My Life After Which Everything Was Different. Having finished that, I was still craving more on the writing life, so I re-read John McPhee’s Draft No. 4. That audiobook came to an end as we pulled into our driveway, right around 10:50 pm.

Listening to the audiobooks made the time fly by. So did the lull of the road. I remember when we stopped for lunch, around 2 pm, thinking that it didn’t seem like we’d been driving for nearly 6 hours already.

860 miles is the most I have driven in a single day. I think the runner up is in the 500 mile range. It made sense to do this, coming home, because it gives us the entire weekend to get the house back in order, do laundry (we were gone for 21 days) and settle back into our routines before we are back to work and school on Monday. I’m not sure I’d do this driving down to Florida.

The photo is a view from our hotel room on the last full day at Walt Disney World. We stayed in two different resorts this time, but I’ll have more to say about that in a future post.

After being gone for 3 weeks, it feels good to be home. It does not feel like we just left on the trip, or that the trip flew by. 21 days is a long time by any measure. It’s nice to be back in my office surrounded by my books. It’s nice to have 2 days to settle back in before work starts again.

Automobiles

The open road

I have owned four cars since turning sixteen and getting my drivers license. I got my first car, a used Ford Taurus, after graduating from college. Since then, I have bought three more cars, all of them new: a Saturn, which lasted me 14 years, a Kia Sorento, and most recently, a Kia Sedona. Each car has been a step up from the one before it, each adding more features and comforts that help offset the frustration one feels from sitting in traffic.

My grandfather called movies “pictures” and he called cars “automobiles.” Automobile is a better word than car, just as railroad is a better word than train, archaic though they both may be. Automobiles give you a freedom that few other forms of transportation can offer. As a youngster, new to driving, I remember thinking how I could get in the car and go anywhere I wanted. There was always a road that would take me to where I was headed. I never took much advantage of it then, but today with my own kids, our primary mode of travel has been by automobile.

In the summers, we pack up the minivan and drive up to New England. In the spring and winter, we drive down to Florida. These are long drives, but they are comfortable. There’s nothing like climbing into the car on a cold winter’s day, sealing yourself in and heading for the freeway south. Early in the morning, especially south of the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, the traffic is light. I can set the progressive cruise control on the car, and not have to touch the gas or brakes for hours at a time. Everyone has a comfortable space to sit. Kelly has a bag of snacks, juice and water if anyone gets hungry or thirsty. The kids stare out the windows, or play on iPads. I listen to audiobooks as a I watch the countryside roll by.

On these trips, we never worry about how much we have to pack, or how much it will cost to bring out bags along. There are no baggage fees and what we need aways fits into the back of the minivan. As we drive, we can pull over if we see something interesting. Sometimes we do. On our trips down to Florida, we routinely stop at new places on the way down or back home. We’ve stopped in Charleston, Savannah, St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville Beach, the Kennedy Space Center, Kingsland, Georgia.

On our drives to New England, we’ve stopped at many places along the way as well: Albany, NY and Saratoga Springs, Mystic Seaport and Aquarium, Sturbridge Village, Warwick, Rhode Island (to visit my old house), Freeport (to visit the L.L. Bean store) and Portland, Bangor, and Acadia. We’ve also stopped at many roadside places, little ice cream shops, and big barns with hand-painted signs with two of the most alluring words in the English language: “Used Books.”

A map of the country shows just how much our cars lets us get around. Kelly got me this map for our 10th wedding anniversary. It came with a tin of pins that we use to mark places we’ve been together, or as a family. Every single pin you see along the east coast from Bangor down to Fort Lauderdale and as far west as Nashville, Tennessee, we’ve visited during one of our many roadtrips.

A map of our travls

Automobile travel isn’t always fun. When I lived in Los Angeles, I commuted from Studio City to Santa Monica, a 20 mile drive. Traffic was terrible. If I left the house at 5:10 am, I would be at the office around 5:30 am. If I left the office at 5 pm, I’d be home, on average, at 7 pm. I did this for eight years, and when I moved back to the east coast after that, I didn’t drive into my office again for another 6 years. I took the railroad.

Traffic in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area is bad. I don’t like driving around here during rush hour. But once we are outside of the area, the roads open up and the scenery quickly changes. I love it when we head down to Florida in the winter. It is either very cold, or gloomy and damp, sometimes snowing as we make our way onto the Interstate to head south. The traffic is often bad from Arlington all the way down to Fredericksburg, about 45 miles south. That can be mitigated by taking the HOV lanes, if they are open, and if you are willing to pay the surge pricing. I’ve sat in enough bad traffic in my life that I am usually willing to pay.

As we drive south past Stafford, the traffic begins to thin out, and past Fredericksburg, the roads open up. The weather changes as we head south. We stop for the night at a halfway point in southern South Carolina. The next morning, as we cross the border into Florida, I usually open my window to feel the warmer air on my skin. It’s a wonderful transition. Of course, we experience the opposite on the drive home.

Sometimes it rains, and even downpours, while we drive, but being in a car while it is raining out is comforting. You can hear the rain pelting down, and watch as it is whisked away by the wipers, but you remain dry and comfortable.

There is a pleasure to driving that I just don’t get flying by plane or riding the railroad. Part of it is being in complete control of where we are going and when we decide to go. Part of it is being close to one another as we travel. And part of it is the joy of the open road and where it might take you.

Left turn yield on green

left turn.jpeg

Virginia drivers are not particularly bad, but there is one thing I’ve noticed that drives me just nuts: they seem to refuse to make a left turn on a green light (no green arrow), even when there is no opposing traffic; even when there is a sign above the light that says “Left turn yield on green.” What’s with that?

I learned to drive in L.A. In L.A. you creep out into the intersection in the left hand turn lane, until your car is completely in the intersection. If there is no opposing traffic, you make your turn. If there is traffic, you wait until the light changes and the traffic stops and then make your turn. In parts of New York, some people will make the left turn as soon as the light turns green, jumping ahead of the opposing traffic. (In New Jersey, there’s no such thing as a left turn.)

But in Virginia, the cars don’t creep into the intersection, they make no effort at turning when the traffic is clear. They just sit there until they have a green arrow. I suppose there is a certain safety in this, but it is almost like they don’t understand the sign that’s sitting right in front of them. It’s not really a big deal one way or the other, but it’s one thing about Virginia drivers that I’ve found to be generally consistent and generally annoying.

California bans cell phone use for teens

Yes, the sunshine Golden state has passed a law which goes into effect in July that bans teens from using cell phones while driving.

It’s amusing to look at how various states and municipalities tackle this problem. First, it was that using one hand to manipulate a phone was dangerous. Now, even talking on the phone is distracting to teens. I wonder if they will ban teen talking period. I could dig that.

While I believe cell phones are a distraction while driving, I don’t believe that the distraction cannot be overcome by better training. In fact, auto accidents could be greatly reduced by better driver training. But it probably won’t happen because it’s too expensive. Of course, so are accidents.

It took a minimum 40 hours of flight training to get my private pilot’s license (I think I had 52 hours when I got mine). A portion of that goes to the basics of flight, another portion goes to weather, another to navigation. But a sizable portion goes to what’s called ADM and cabin resource management. ADM, or aeronautical decision making teaches situational awareness. How to be aware of your surroundings. How to focus on multiple tasks at the same time. Cabin resource management is how about how to efficiently manage those tasks in the flight environment.

Granted, there are not as many planes in the air as cars on the ground, but in a busy airspace like Los Angeles (where I flew), things could get dicey. You have to be able to pay attention to half a dozen things or more at the same time–including talking on the radio. At any given moment (kevnyc might recall from his one flight with me) you have to listen for your call sign, look for landmarks, watch for other aircraft, keep an eye on 6 key instruments, chat with your buddy in the seat next to you–oh yeah, and fly the airplane. ADM and cabin resource management teach you how to do this in a way that makes sense. One example: the first rule of flying is aviate, navigate, communicate. That is, fly the airplane first; know where you are and where you are going; and then, when there is time, talk to the control tower.

It seems to me that some sort of equivalent should be taught for driving a car. When I took drivers ed, back in 1986-87, I was never taught any such thing. Instead, I was taught how to merge with traffic. How to come to a smooth “California roll” at a stop sign. How to to parallel park. These days, with GPS’s, cell phone and all of the other gadgets we put in our cars, there are plenty of things to distract us. But instead of teaching us how to properly manage those distractions, we are taught to eliminate them instead. This is bad because from a practical standpoint, no kid is going to stop talking on a cell phone while driving just because there is a law that says they should. Especially for a $20 fine. If that were the case, we would never see teenagers speeding.

So while I think that cell phones are a distraction to driving, I think the proposed solutions have been and will continue to be ineffective because they don’t address to the core issue: better training.

5 years in the Washington area

Today, August 1, 2007, marks the 5-year anniversary of my time in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. In some ways, the time has zoomed by. Nevertheless, though I arrived in the D.C. area a few days before August 1, 2002, it was not until August 1 that I had my first official day of work in this office, and since August 1 is a nice, round number, I use it as my official anniversary date.

On an interesting note, during these past five years, I’ve never driven my car into the office–a striking difference when compared to the 8 years of constant commuting from Studio City to Santa Monica. Whereas I was driving around 16,000 miles/year in L.A., I have averaged 6,000 miles/year here in the D.C. area.

110,000 miles

Yesterday, my 1997 Saturn passed the 110,000 mile mark. Today, as I pulled into the driveway after work, the odometer read exactly 110,011, which has a nice symmetry to it, and also happens to be the number 51 if you convert it from binary to decimal.

It amounts to about 9,400 miles/year. Keep in mind, however, that I had about 85,000 miles when I moved out to Washington. So in the first six year, I averaged about 14,000 miles/year. In the last 5 years I’ve averaged 5,000 miles/year.

And as a side note, I have the first stomach ache I’ve had in a couple of months.

Lazy Nanuet Sunday

I was up at 7 AM and everyone else was up shortly after 8 AM. After various showers, we decided to head over to Friendly’s for breakfast. Eric and Ryane headed home around 11 AM. I debated when I was going to leave and finally decided that I would wait until Vicky got back from her work meeting she had Sunday afternoon. Norm, Vicky and I lazed around until Vicky headed into work, and then Norm and I headed over to Dave and Busters. I’d never been to a Dave and Busters before, and so I really didn’t know what to expect. It is a kind of Chuck-e-Cheese for grown-ups. One of the games I played three times was Sega’s Airline Pilot Simulator, which allowed you to fly an airliner. It was a pretty good simulation. I played all three levels, beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and I managed to successfully takeoff and land the airplane each time. Norm played Police 9-1-1- and was frustrated because the game did not seem properly calibrated.

I had a snack at the mall and then we headed back to Norm and Vicky’s place and waited for Vicky to get home. She got home at about 4 PM and I got on the road at about 4:15 PM.

It was absolutely miserable driving home. It rained most of the way, and at times the visibility was down to almost nothing. I was tired. Also, there was once again about an hour’s worth of traffic in Delaware so that while I left Norm and Vicky’s at 4:15 PM, I didn’t get home until about 9:40 PM. All-in-all, however, it was a fun weekend and as always, I had a really good visit.


I received the December/January 2007 issue of ANALOG in the mail this weekend. It had the conclusion (part 4) of Robert J. Sawyer’s serialized novel, Rollback and I am anxious to read it in the next day or so. Also in the mail was the latest issue of F&SF.

I’m getting ready for bed now. Working from home tomorrow…

Pull over

About a month ago, I complained about all of the people running stop signs in my neighborhood. This morning, I was sitting in the front yard, reading, and I noticed that two local police cars were pulled into some trees at the end of my street, by the park. I was curious and so I watched. In the space of one hour, those cops pulled over 3 cars for running the stops signs at the end of my street. One of the cars didn’t have plates and the driver apparently didn’t have a license–and the car was towed.

It’s a small thing, I know, but it was satisfying for me to see the police enforcing the rules at this particular intersection.

Warning!

In the 18 years 1 month and 1 day that I have been driving a car, I have not received so much as parking ticket. Until yesterday. Yesterday evening, while racing to the airport (after being stuck in traffic) to meet my Dad’s flight, I got picked up on laser doing 50 in a 35 zone. It was completely and totally my fault and I expected to be ticketed for speeding. Lucky for me, the officer let me go with a written warning. In Maryland, a warning is just that–no fine, no points–just a record that I was stopped. So my own record stays in tact. For now.