On the Road Home: You Know You’re Getting Old When . . .

I can hardly wait till March 10th when Daylight Savings Time returns.  I live for evenings when there’s still enough daylight that I don’t feel like bedtime comes right after I arrive home.

These days when I leave the parking garage at work, it’s still sunny, but on days like today when I have extra things to do and don’t get out there on the freeway like usual, the sun has gotten beyond the horizon by the time I’m slogging my way those last miles home.  Thus, I generally flick on the headlights before I head out on my evening commute.

Since it was about a half hour later than usual when I looped off 290 to W. Little York, dusk had already settled in, but I noticed that a number of cars had yet to turn on their headlights.  Just to be sure, I reached to the dashboard to check.  Yep, I had already flicked my little Fiesta’s lights on.

With my mind still on tomorrow’s work, I accelerated and braked almost in sync with all the other drivers just trying to get home.  After only a few more stop signs and turns, I pulled my car into the garage and grabbed the back door key out of my pocket.

Once in the house, as always, I flipped on the light switch over the cooktop.  What ‘s up with that florescent light?  Dim.  I guess I  need to head to Lowe’s for a replacement.  Oh, well.  And so I reached for the switch at the back hallway.  What?  Dim too.  What happened to the electricity today?

Then.  Ahaa.   

I was still wearing my sunglasses.

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The First Ripe Tomatoes Do Make for a Good Monday

There's no better find than the first tomatoes of the spring!

As Mondays go, this one wasn’t all that bad.  Work was nothing other than ordinary, even for the first day of the work week.  Getting home was probably the worst part of the whole day, with a number of slow spots on my route.  I take most longer-than-usual commutes pretty much in stride.  I do like my SiriusXM radio, and though I normally stick with OutQ’s Derek & Romaine Show, I don’t mind hittin’ Channel 51 for some electronic dance music, when the talk radio goes astray.  Why the last three miles of my tree-lined suburban drive got into bumper-to-bumper mode tonight, I have no idea, but the satellite radio and knowing that I was inching nearer to my home got me through it.

With the car in the garage and the dog properly picked up and hugged, I headed out to check on the garden, just to see what effect last evening’s soaking from the sprinkler might have had.  First glimpse showed peeking sprouts of the yellow beans that I had planted about eight days ago.  Other plants seemed to have stretched a few more inches.  When I headed around the corner to check on the four tomato plants in containers, I spied a bit of red among the velvety green leaves.  Though I knew that there were already cherry tomatoes on that plant, I had no idea that some would be ripe before the end of March!  Yet, there they were: one nearly ripe and another already turning yellow.    There are other small ones on that same plant, and other plants have blooms, but I know that it will be awhile before I can stop hitting the produce section at the supermarket for tomatoes for salads.

Misinterpreted Conservation Levels of Some Texas Reservoirs May Be the Reason the Experts Won’t Get Us Out of This Drought

I keep wondering if the drought is over for the longterm; there’s no question about the short term.  Despite all the wet, the U.S. Drought Monitor* has kept our area (Harris County) in the moderate and severe drought categories for some time.  This monitor, put out by a number of governmental agencies, uses many factors, such as climate changes, ground moisture, and lake levels, to indicate current and predict  future drought conditions.  With all this in mind, I have started to look at sites that indicate the levels and capacities of lakes across Texas since more rain has come.  (Check here if you too are interested.)

By looking at the charts, one can notice that lakes in the middle part of Texas are quite low, especially Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan.  However, many lakes in southeast Texas, which has had considerably more rain, are at 100% conservation level or nearing conservation capacity.  If the lakes are full and the ground is saturated, why are we still considered as being in a drought zone?

Possibly, some of those making these designations may only be looking at figures on lists and not looking at how some reservoirs function and the amount of water they generally contain.  For example, I live very near

The dike-like Addicks Dam extends for nearly 12 miles.

Addicks Reservoir, which is located west of Beltway 8 and north of I-10 in Harris County.  This reservoir, along with the corresponding Barker Reservoir on the south side of I-10, were built as flood protection for the city of Houston.  But to think of them as high dams with a lake behind would be a mistake.  The Addicks dam is more of a raised dike, L-shaped and running for about 12 miles.  Behind it are rough, wooded areas, some of which are swampy.  Highway 6 and Eldridge Parkway transverse this area from north to south, and Clay Road crosses it from east to west.  Bear Creek Park and Bear Creek Golf Club occupy some of the reservoir area.

An aerial view shows that behind the dam (highlighted in red) are wooded areas, not a water-filled reservoir.

Although there are some lower parts near the long dam that do hold water in the normally wet climate, the reservoir never reaches 214,150 acre-feet, which the Texas Water Development Board says is conservation capacity.  The reservoir’s record capacity was 60,190 acre-feet when nearly a foot of rain fell in the west Houston area.  After a 2009 storm, the exceptional amount of water in the reservoir covered park areas and roads as well as into homes in neighboring sub-divisions.  Even now, with the reservoir at only 3.5% of conservation capacity parts of Bear Creek part are inundated.

Despite the heavy rains that the gulf weather often brings, it would probably take some kind of Noah’s Ark storm to bring Addicks Reservoir up to conservation capacity.  If that were ever to happen, many of the developed areas surrounding it would probably flood too, because the terrain in is generally flat.  Therefore, if the climatologists who are determining the severity of this drought (now I would say so-called drought) are using the conservation capacity of Addicks Reservoir (and other similar reservoirs) as part of their calculations, they should look at them realistically, rather than just as a set of arbitrary numbers.

*A more optimistic view is shown by the Keetch-Byram Drought Index at Texas A&M’s Texas Weather Connection.

On the Road Home: Try Something French, and It’s Neither Fry Nor Poodle

Some days I’d like to write a post, but the evening is just too short.  I feel a bit guilty of neglecting my housekeeping duties around here.  Recently, I mentioned liking the station Latitude Franco from SiriusXM on my car radio.  Well, I’m still likin’ it even though I understand next to zero.  I tried looking at the French lyrics to this song “À pas de géant” by Alexandre Desilets.  I’ve always felt a bit sorry for those trying to learn English because of all the different vowel sounds and silent letter.  However, as I tried to match the sounds of the words I was hearing and those written in the lyrics, I very quickly began to respect those learners who have conquered French.  It doesn’t matter; I still really like this song from up Quebec way.

On the Road Home: Those Sirius XM Channels Can Lead to a Place . . . Well, a Place where the Music Is “Musique”

How the 9 button got pre-set to 155 I don’t know, but luckily this mystery put me onto a kind of music I probably wouldn’t have tried.  My car came with 6 month’s worth of Sirius XM satellite radio on it, and I liked more than enough channels to renew it when the free time was over a couple months ago.

There are so many choices in music and talk that I only randomly switch over to a local Top 40 station these days.  Anyway, how many of the repetious songs about gettin’ drunk at the club or seein’ what’s hidin’in somebody’s CK briefs can a person listen to?

This Channel 155 was a refreshing change almost from the instant my fingertip hit the button.  And I couldn’t understand a word of the lyrics.  Latitude Franco is a French Canadian channel with just fun, pleasing-to-the-ear, mostly pop music.   I don’t know if all the songs are Canadian or not, but they are all in French.  I’m enjoying the music so much that I would almost start studying another language again.  I did say “almost”.
Un Jour Sur Deux by Stefie Shock

Québécois singer-songwriter, Stefie Shock

I can’t get the song above out of my head.  Of course, I could use a translator to get “Every Other Day” from “Un Jour Sur Deux”, but I’ve tried to find the full lyrics; so far no luck.  However, I’m almost certain this fun song by Stefie Shock doesn’t have much to do with getting trash-faced in the neighbor’s pool last summer. The sound and the voice do make me think of David Bowie, or even more, Miguel Bosé of Spain.

Give it a play and you might get hooked like I did.

When Your Car Is Totaled and You Have To Replace It, Beware of “Apple Pie” Marketing Along the Way

It has been just a bit over a month that I got involved in what most would have seen as a “fender-bender” (details in previous post); nevertheless, my car was totaled.  Luckily, no one was hurt, nor was I the driver who caused the accident, but unluckily, my car got the worst end of the deal.  I’ve been driving since I was about 13 years old, and I’d never before been in an accident in which my car had to be towed, not to mention having one totaled by the insurance company.

I really liked my old car, a 2007 Mazda 3 GT hatchback, and was heart-sick when I went to talk with the insurance adjustor at the collison repair shop.  I really didn’t recognize it, with the front half sitting all bare to the engine after having the hood, fenders, grill, front bumper, and lights all peeled off so that the internal damage could be determined.

Now that I’m driving a new car that I also really like, it’s easier to look at the entire episode as a learning experience, some of which might be valuable to others.  Above all else, whether it’s the rental car agency, the insurance company, or the car dealership, it’s all about marketing:  everyone has a “Would you like an apple pie with that?” line, and some try to sneakily add the “apple pie” without politely asking “would you”.

Here are a few things I found out, some of them pure aggravation, some not so bad:

The Tow Truck

  • The driver will probably want to tow your car to a lot at a repair shop that he has some financial connection with, not the one that you and your insurance company have agreed upon
  • In Houston, the tow truck driver will give you a ride home, free of charge (probably the insurance company picks up that tab)

The Car Rental Company

  • Beware that car rental companies have both calendar day rates and 24-hour day rates.  You will pay for an extra day on the calendar day rate, even if you return the car earlier in the day than when you picked it up.  See here for more details.

The New Car Dealership Finance Officer

  • This person will try to force you to finance through them even if you come with your financing already lined up.  They will also push you to add extras, like window-tinting and longer warrantees, in order to jack up the selling price.  (In my case, dealing with the car salesman and the finance officer was like dealing with good cop, bad cop.)

The Insurance Company

  • You don’t have to take what the insurance adjustor first offers you for your car when it is totaled.  You can negotiate.  Look what comparable cars are selling for locally at places like Carmax.  Check sites like Bluebook and Edmunds.  Also keep the window sticker from your car when you buy it in your records.  It can help show all the extras that came on your car.
  • When you’re changing your insurance to your new car, beware of the insurance representative adding items on to your policy, even when you tell them you want the same coverage as you had on your previous car.  Mine had a slick way of not asking me if I wanted these items, but announcing it as if it were a matter of fact.  (Everyone these days, it seems, from the credit union to the dealer to the insurance company wants you to add more coverage of the car’s engine.)

The problem with all this pushy marketing is that they do it right when a person is the most vulnerable–immediately after an accident–or when you’re getting your new car–and bring down what what should be an exciting day.  However, if you just anticipate that most everyone in the entire process is probably going to try to get more money out of you, you can be ready for it and not get sucked in.

I’m not mentioning the specific names of any businesses that I dealt with, because aside from these, what I call aggravations, in all other respects through this bit of a rough patch in the road (trite expression, but we are talking about cars here), I was treated pretty well.

 

On the Road Home: When Getting Off the Crowded Freeway Is Not the Best Bet

Considering the nearly 50 miles I drive in heavy traffic every day, perhaps it was bound to happen.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that my blog posts here have been almost nil for a month because I’ve felt like I wanted to write about what happened, but just haven’t been able to:  1) because I’ve had quite a few other things to take care of; and 2) it’s not that easy to write about.

It was exactly 4 weeks ago, Friday evening, and I was driving home thinking about what I was going to do on the weekend.  I had taken my normal route, 290, or Northwest Freeway, as most of us call it, when the traffic got balled up, so I decided to get off on the next exit I could.  Once off the freeway, I got on a cross street in order to take Hempstead Highway, which was the predecessor to 290.  Although there are many stoplights and businesses alongside that road, the traffic usually moves on that route.

After I’d driven about 10 blocks, a car zipped out from  a small super market and crossed over two lanes of traffic, clipping the pickup in front of me.  (If this sounds like something from a police or insurance report, I’m sorry.  I’ve had to tell what happened a few times since that evening.)  Because both the pickup and I had just gone through an intersection, neither of us were going very fast, and I thought I was going to be able to stop in time.  It was like slow motion; my car kept moving forward, and then the front end of my lower Mazda 3 crunched into the back bumper of the higher, double-cab pickup.  In the couple of minutes it took me to pull myself together, and then get out of the car, a police cruiser and even a tow truck had arrived.

This is really the first time I've looked closely at this picture that I took right afterwards.

I could see the damaged hood and coolant running out from the radiator.  There were three vehicles and three drivers (no passengers), but, thankfully, no one was hurt.  The police officer came over and asked me what had happened.  I thought I might get a ticket, but the officer didn’t even hint at anything like that, but I’m pretty sure the driver who crossed in front of oncoming traffic got one.  (I still haven’t seen a police report.)

I thought I was going to be stranded there, but thanks to Houston’s towing ordinances, after pulling my car to a nearby, secure lot, the tow truck driver brought me home. 

Freaky, but I was in my house just one hour later than my usual arrival time.  The whole thing–the balled up freeway traffic, the detour to the old road, the accident itself, talking on the phone with my insurance company, being interviewed by the officer, dealing with the tow truck, being harrassed by the repair company which housed the lot where my car was taken, and the ride home–had all only taken 1 hour!

After such a barrage of happenings, I was glad to back in the familiarity of my house, glad to take Annie on her well-deserved, late walk.

When we got back from the walk, I called the insurance company again in order to give them the details of the accident, and find out what was going to happen with my car.  I knew also that the next morning, I’d have to try to get a rental car somewhere out here in suburbia, where the agencies are only open from nine to noon on Saturdays.  It wasn’t until I tried to pull something together to eat that I realized how shaken I was by the whole thing.

I thought I’d be driving a rental car for a couple of weeks while my car was being repaired.  “Three or four thousand dollars of damage,” I thought.

I was way off the mark.  The followingTuesday I found out that the insurance company was going to total my car.  The damage was more than a crunched-in hood and a messed-up radiator.  The trailer hitch on the back of the pickup had acted like a battering ram, causing a lot more damage than showed from looking at the front of the car.  So there it was.  My 2007 Mazda 3 GT–the one that I had spent almost a year deciding on before I bought it, the one with just 40,000 miles on it, the one that was almost paid off–was totaled.

A lot of things happened over just one hour that Friday evening four weeks ago.  But, again, fortunately, nobody was injured.  I’ve had to deal with a lot of people since then, and it’s been a learning experience, which I’ll write more about.

But right now, it’s a beautiful Saturday morning with nothing involving cars to worry about, so I’ve had my coffee and am ready to go out to the garden and plant some beans.