Saturday, November 8, 2014

I Got To The Stoplight First

Whenever I drive around Albuquerque in my pickup truck it's not five minutes before I start wishing there'll be a big Biblical flood that floats about 95 percent of Albuquerque drivers down at least to Socorro. Why is everyone in such a big hurry to get nowhere?

I had to pick up my check today on Chappell Street (or Chappel Street, depending on which street sign you're looking at) and afterwards cut across Montano to Coors so I could stop at my friendly neighborhood New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union near I-40, and I was crossing the Rio Grande -- and let me say the river is just amazingly beautiful right now and it's beautiful all year around, really, I mean this is a great treasure we have here--  but I'm crossing the river and this jerk following me was forgetting to take time to look at the river and wanted me to drive like he was, like a jerk. He wanted me out of his way, not impeding progress toward the fulfillment of his goal, which as far as I could see was not being where he was but being someplace else a few feet ahead of where he was.

You encounter these damn people all day long on the streets and expressways of Albuquerque. People tied up in what they're doing and where they're going and you're just in their way. When I'd gotten in the left lane, because I was going to turn on Coors, this little pissant had been a couple blocks behind me. I'd watched him, to see if he was moving up, and he wasn't but some people take it as an affront when you pull over in front of them, at least when I do, and they speed up and get on your tail.

He quickly tired of that fruitless endeavor and blew by me on the right, got ahead of me, then slowed down to the speed I was going.

It's remarkable how often this happens here, that people pull around you, blow your doors off practically, but they aren't really in a big hurry. They just want to be ahead of you. It's an indication, really, of how the human mind works, specifically the ego. To the ego, your status isn't a designated place, it's about where you are and what you're doing relative to other people, to someone else. And it's really not where you are or what you do relative to them but where you think they think you are. It's a strange characteristic of the human ego that as long as it thinks other people see it as it wants to be seen, it's fine with that.

My friendly fellow motorist, now having proven to himself that he was ahead of me and presumably of some kind of higher motoring or manly status than me and having lingered just ahead of me so that I knew that he was no trifle, finally sped up and took off and predictably was waiting for me at the Coors traffic light, where I had the left turn green and turned left, leaving him there. I doubt he even noticed.

I had a guy the other day pass me three or four times on Juan Tabo. I had the lights timed and was rolling along and he kept getting stopped by the lights, then he'd accelerate past me and slow down and drive just ahead of me. It was senseless, but there was no mistaking it that he always got to the red light before me, and I always came in a distant second.

Another remarkable thing is that I don't think the vast majority of people notice this kind of thing is going on out there, all day long every day, or they have a way of ignoring it. If they didn't they'd spend half their time pissed off, like I do. But I don't think, either, that people consider what effect all this aggressive behavior has on the overall state of the life of the nation. Hostility, aggression, rudeness, all get spread around, just like good cheer does.

I'd guess there might be ten people in Albuquerque who see the act of driving in this town like I do, as a travail, a chore, and a tragedy of human existence.  Those ten can stay but I wish the rest would jump in a kayak and float down at least to Socorro.


By the way, FYI, tell all your friends, most of the lights in Albuquerque are timed, and pretty well timed, and the timing on many of them is even adjusted at rush hour. Also, many lights here go to "trip light" status during off-peak hours. They turn green when you approach them and drive over a sensor under the concrete.

This is all done to keep traffic moving efficiently through town, i.e., to prevent traffic jams, but the general public isn't aware that once you figure out how the lights are timed, that is, at what speed you have to drive to make every light, which isn't hard to do -- it's always within a mile or two or three of the speed limit -- you can sail from one end of town to the other without ever having to stop or brake or accelerate. Pretty much. You will eventually run into a few lights that are off time, or you'll get a red because the street you're on crosses a bigger strteet and the timing of its lights is given priority, but if you learn to go with the lights you can really ease your driving day.

I feel for local truck drivers who don't know this, and many truck drivers don't know about timed lights. Many times I've been behind beside someone who's beating himself to death shifting through all the gears after the light turns green so he can rush up to the next red light and slam on the brakes, while I'm holding back and coming up to the light just as it changes and keep on cruising while he's doing a lot of stopping and starting.

It's like this. You're not going to get through town any quicker than those lights want you to. It's about traffic control. It cuts down on traffic jams and helps the streets clear out quicker during rush hour, and it's something governments do that make our lives easier, so remember, when you're sitting in traffic, conservatives want it that way.

A traffic engineer once told me how they time the lights. This was before everything was computerized. Computers probably do it now, but then, they'd just have a big map of the city on a table top and set little wooden blocks down where all the traffic lights were and at the times they wanted the lights to change they just rotated all the blocks, then went out and set each light accordingly.

I wish the city would educate drivers about the lights being timed and about how you can drive a lot easier when they are, and I wish drivers would proceed about town in an orderly, cooperative and friendly manner, because remember, if you rush from one side of Albuquerque to the other side of Albuquerque, you're still in Albuquerque. You haven't really gone anywhere.

Peanut Butter News

After I stopped at the credit union I made a peanut butter run to my local, union, Smith's Supermarket at Coors and Central. My peanut butter supply was at the crises level. I like to say that if you are what you eat I'm half peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's not all that true but I like to say it, or write it.

This is my new pickup truck, a 2003 Chevy S-10, at Smith's.

I don't really like that tool box in the back so if you need one you can have it. I can't see the tailgate when I'm backing up and it doesn't hold all that much anyway.

This is why I had to get a new pickup.

I ran into the back of a big SUV on I-40 as you approach I-25, where traffic is often backed up in the morning. I was looking at my cell phone instead of where I was going. That was a 2006 Dodge, a nice truck I'd bought from Craigslist from a retired guy out at the end of Rio Rancho almost to US 550. When he and I got in it to test drive it he slid into the passenger seat and reached over with his key and started it. I put it in gear. He put his hand on my arm and said, "Let's wait a little while 'til the oil gets up there." Meaning get to the top of the engine from the pan. He took care of that truck. It had 107,000 miles on it when I bought it but it was still tight and I was sick when I wrecked it. He gave me a good deal, too.

It's hard to find a pickup on Craigslist that doesn't have 100,000 miles on it, and that's also in my price range. My price range is I'm not paying an arm and a leg and I'm not making a house payment for some sleazy car dealer and another one for his sleazy car salesman.

I always wanted to try one of those little pickup trucks so this time I did. This S-10 had around 69,000 on it. I bought it from a young Middle Eastern guy who, I think now, might buy and sell  vehicles on Craigslist to make a few bucks, because I noticed when I saw his title that he'd only titled it a month before I bought it, which was roughly how long it was on Craigslist.

It runs alright but has some electrical system quirks that I didn't notice when I looked it over. I did notice that the ignition lock/key is loose and works hard. It needs to be replaced but it's no big deal. But I didn't notice that when you turn the key on, the head and tail lights come on. But if you turn the dome light on and off a few times the head and tail lights go off and then they operate normally with the head and tail light switch until the next time you get in the truck and turn the key on.

I tried squirting some graphite into the ignition lock, hoping to make it last at least until I get around to having it replaced -- you need a wheel puller for that -- and since I squirted graphite in there the warning dinger dings as soon as you open the door, before you even put the key in the ignition. It stops when you close the door.

It's an automatic and I when I buy something with an automatic I usually change the fluid and filter as soon as I can. This one works pretty good but can be a bit slushy when it's hot. My old truck mechanic Adrian said he'd do all that and tune it up, and told me to get the parts and he'd be over when he was finished with what he was working on. He never showed, which is typical of Adrian and why I had to find other truck mechanics. I'm trying some guys who have a shop across from the Flying J truck stop on 98th Street. So far so good. It's also right next to my favorite taco wagon, where I get some mean steak tortas.

I decided to do the work myself, but I've been thinking that for four of five weeks and haven't go to it.

I also noticed after I bought it that it didn't have a spare tire. No rim or tire. But it has two jacks. The spare tire was priority number one for me, but as it turned out a rim for that truck is hard to find. Even within the GM family of trucks, that are based on that same basic body, there are different bolt patterns for different years, and even if the bolts line up the rim may not clear the disc brake -- it's not deep enough, there's not enough offset.

Discount Tire sold me this wheel, a new wheel -- $55 for the wheel, $25 for the tire. The kid looking it up on the computer said it was the right one but I'll be surprised if it is. I haven't got around to trying it yet.

Getting back to the peanut butter...

The world is right again, with a good peanut butter supply, and extra jelly.

Experimenting with the Jim Baca style.

Trucking News

There's a new camera at the Arizona weigh station on I-40, 20 miles into Arizona, this one in the median and looking more straight at you, not from the side like the others. This makes, by my count, three cameras at that location, at least some of which are surely hooked up to the NSA's massive PRISM domestic spying program, as I discovered cameras at all New Mexico's weigh stations are when I was writing a blog post about license plate reading cameras.

Diesel fuel, like gasoline prices, is still in decline, even, now, at the big chains which were keeping their prices up there. I usually fuel up at one of the Laguna truck stops. These pictures are from Sept 11 and Nov 7. I'm saving $20 or so a night over what fuel cost last winter, which is nice, but I can actually save $25 or $30 per night by driving with fuel economy in mind. The key is to keep the turbocharger from kicking in and not let the cruise control pull you up an incline. The cruise control boosts the turbo pressure even more than the pedal does, and boosts it more quickly which not only uses more fuel but is hard on the turbo. I also pay attention to the local wind speed and direction. My cell phone is nice for that.

Do you remember during the oil embargo, when fuel economy entered the national psyche, they would sometimes publish graphs showing an energy use curve. Energy use goes up faster than your road speed does and it's because of wind resistance. So a three mile per hour tail wind is the essentially same as driving three miles per hour slower, or, with the wind behind you you can ease the speed up and not use any more fuel.

Winds, of course, fluctuate with weather patterns. Sometimes you head west from Albuquerque into a 20 or 30 mile per hour wind. But it also fluctuates with things like time of day and geography. It seemed that during the summer I'd always leave Albuquerque in the evening heading into a good westerly breeze, which would die down after midnight, or when it was time to head back from Holbrook. Then it would often reverse itself so I had to drive back into the wind, too. I attributed that kind of wind to the heating of the earth as the sun moved from west to east. The wind lagged behind the sun, but the wind was caused by air rising as the sun went along, and then reversing that as the earth cooled. I don't know if that's right, but a "sea breeze" does work on that principal, reversing itself as day becomes night.

There are a places along my route where rows of hills, or rock cliffs, narrow into canyons, and the highway always heads for that gap. The wind picks up there because it's a narrower space. And when you crest certain rises you're met with a stiffer breeze. I think the air may also be compacted as it flows up and over the hill and has to move faster for awhile.

Since the weather has cooled off, though, the wind direction has almost been the opposite, so I find myself driving with the wind more often now. It's not only cheaper that way but quieter, and smoother and easier on the nerves. The truck and the air inside the cab don't vibrate as much when you're going along with even a slight breeze.

When it comes to weather, Albuquerque is usually on its own wavelength. Every other place else on my nightly route often has similar wind speed and direction but Albuquerque is often just the opposite of that. The balloonists who come here for the town's unique wind patterns could probably tell you why.

Also, my cell phone has two different weather readouts for Albuquerque. I get one set of conditions on the screen I set up for Albuquerque. Another set of conditions shows up on the screen that tracks the weather by your location. They must be hooked into different weather stations here in town. One is probably at the airport, and the other may be what the NSA is picking up from Jim Baca's iPhone, probably the weather at the golf course.

Ortega Road

I criticize other drivers all the time but I'm not always Mr Nice Guy out there. I've posted before about some examples of new driving behavior in the truck driving world. Such things eventually become part of the culture of truck driving.Certain practices and conventions get spread throughout the whole country, certain trucker etiquette. But more and more now, trucks that come up behind you that are going faster than you arre, will get out in the left lane and then stay out there and not pass, or they slow way down so as to pass you very gradually.

I'm not sure what this is. It could be several things. Some truckers, like some car drivers, are afraid to pass a truck, and there is sometimes good reason to be afraid. You need to watch a truck as you pass it, but it was always common courtesy not to act like you were watching. Ifthey start to drift over there are several things you can do to avoid a collision.

The drivers who hang out in the left lane and keep running just behind you could be trying to annoy you, or they may be doing it because it's easier to drive off another moving vehicle than to drive by your own reckoning. There are things like that in the trucking culture. There's courtesies, but there's also a vein of hostility, of fear and loathing, running through trucking, and always has been.

One thing that's always been there is that if you are approaching a weigh station and a truck comes up behind you, he absolutely will not pass you. Almost never. A truck driver would much rather follow another truck into a weigh station, which is a scary place where nothing good can happen, only bad things.

Sometimes you'll have a driver follow you for ten miles if he knows there's a weigh station ahead, and truckers know where the scales are after they've driven for awhile. I've had people follow me from Holbrook all the way to the New Mexico weigh station in Galliup, 85 miles, because they know the New Mexico weigh station is always open. On that one, I let them follow me. New Mexico is different than other states. At most weight stations, if they are looking to stop someone to do a random inspection or log book check, they'll just pick off the next truck that comes in.

But in New Mexico, at least at the Gallup Port of Entry, as they call weigh stations here, if two trucks come into the weigh station one after the other, it's been my experience that they always stop the second one, w might be following you out of simple nervousness, or he might over on his log book or have something wrong with his truck. The New Mexico Transportation Police in Gallup appear to operate on the principal that if the second truck is afraid of something they want to see if they can find out what it is.

Many times at that weigh station I've been waved through, and then look in my rear view mirror to see the truck behind me stopped at the booth. Sometimes the officer there just wants to take a quick look at your log book or see your registration and sometimes the other truck will just sit there awhile and then heads back out to the highway, but sometimes I'll see him heading around to the parking area in the back, which means he's in for an inspection  -- log book, permits, bills of lading, driver's license, DOT physical card -- they inspect all your paperwork there, and sometimes do a quick inspection of your truck in the parking lot, and sometimes they pull you into the garage and give your truck a going over plus the paperwork.

The Arizona weigh station is different. It's rarely open when I come through there at 11 p.m. pr so, and even if it is, they rarely do inspections. They just want to see your registration and see if your fuel tax sticker is on the side of your cab, so when someone starts following me miles from out, from that weigh station I get annoyed. There's no need for him to be back there.

On the open highway I'm pretty good at getting someone off my tail, but as I mentioned, when it's a weigh station it's almost impossible to shake someone, using the normal means, and it's a longstanding thing in trucking that people simply will not pass you if there's a weigh station ahead.

It's not just the fear of the weigh station, but of some truckers who, if you start to pass them just before the weigh station, will speed up and block you from getting back in the right lane and make you miss the weigh station, which can mean big trouble for you. I almost had that happen to me in Indiana. I had to quickly back off and pull in behind him.

But at this Arizona weigh station there's a way to get someone off your rear end. Just before the weigh station there's the Ortega Road exit. The off and on ramps are straight shots. The off ramp heads up a slight grade  to the overpass for Ortega Road. There's a stop sign at Ortega Road, but it's a pretty deserted area, and there are big floodlights on the tourist store there, so you can get a good look in all directions and be pretty sure someone isn't parked on the entrance ramp or coming up the frontage road. It's late and it's a rural area so there's never anyone around. So you take the exit ramp, let the incline slow you down a little, run the stop sign at the top, accelerate a little as you go down the on ramp, and file right in behind the guy who was just following you.And let him go past the weigh station first.

There's a risk to it, and I've only done it a few times and when I was in a certain annoyed/mischievous mood and willing to take a chance. I've never talked to any of the other drivers to find out what they thought, but I've imagined what they think, what I would think; Not only have I just gone from a feeling of relative safety to one of much scariness, not only am I headed into grave danger, alone, with no one to go before me, but it's because that guy behind me just pulled a fast one on me.

My number one rule out there is, I don't follow you, you don't follow me. That's the rule, buddy. On that one, I always get to the stoplight first.


  1. I too love peanut butter. Someone once said it is the only food you need to survive. I agree, especially when it is on Ciabatta bread. Of course one needs red chile to survive too.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I had Ciabatta bread for the first time a week or two ago, from Fastino's sandwich shop on 4th Street, and it blew me away. Agreed on the red chile, too. Now I'm hungry. Wait, I'll be right back.