Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I'm ba-ack

I'm home with the new puppy. We found out that her previous owners put her in a crate every day when they went to work, and then were too tired or otherwise preoccupied at the end of the day to play with a puppy that had all day to charge its batteries. She wants to play, play, play and will chew anything in sight. She has already improved, thanks to a rolled-up newspaper and my Drill Instructor voice. This is gonna take some work (did I mention that she's smarter and a lot faster than me? Heh.), but she's just adorable and very affectionate and sweet in between times of trying to chew her way to freedom. I think it will be well worth the effort.

The drive to L.A. was in inclement weather the whole way, which is a little less than 500 miles. It was snowing when we left, and we got on I-80 under chain control over Donner Summit. Chain control was only up for about twenty miles. It's a pain in the ass to chain up and 'sling iron' for short distances, so that's why everybody around here has 4WD with snow tires. Also to get to work or the store, unless somebody important lives on your street so they keep it plowed.

A few words about chain control: There are three conditions, R-1 - chains or snow tires; R-2 - chains or 4WD with snow tires; and R-3 - 4WD with chains on all four wheels, aka stay home. There is a Caltrans check point at the place where the chain control starts and on freeway on-ramps. This is a guy or gal with an orange van and a bunch of flashing lights who may check your tires for an "M + S" (Mud + Snow) or to see if you have chains installed. Sometimes there's a CHP there to chase down idiots who run the chain control. They're serious about this shit, because a spin-out or accident can close the Interstate for hours. Jackknifed big rigs are the worst, because a lot of times they'll tip over and are hard to remove to get traffic going again. I've seen traffic backed up, stopped stock still, for twenty miles. There's usually no place to turn around, although CHP tries to close the road at ramps when they can so folks can go back the way they came. It's a mess. In a snowstorm, people run out of gas trying to keep warm, get asphyxiated in their cars for the same reason, freeze to death, get out of their cars to play in the snow and get run over, all kinds of shit. I'm fairly sure there have been whiny kids stuffed head-first into the snowbank during a three-hour road closure. A lot of 'em are on their way to play in Reno or Tahoe and don't even bring a jacket. I got stopped for over an hour once because folks who got by the chain control who should have chained up and thought they could "make it", or were just lazy, couldn't climb a hill on the freeway and were using three lanes to slide and spin backwards to the bottom. Finally they got a bunch of tow trucks in there to tow 'em to the CHP scales at the top of the hill, located precisely where the trucks they want to weigh and safety-inspect are going their slowest, where the drivers were charged for the tow and then ticketed for no chains.

I could go on for hours about that stuff, but I'm leading up to something. The speed limit under chain control is 25mph, 30 on the Interstate. Chains, particularly the four or eight sets on a big rig, are hard on the taxpayer-funded road surface and higher speeds are unsafe for folks who hardly ever drive in ice and snow, not to mention what can happen when - not 'if' - the chains break at high speeds. A lot of folks will get past the snow and not want to stop and take 'em off. They do, however, try to keep up with traffic, but not for long. I've seen chains put themselves back in the trunk of a car, through the wheel well. If you're idiotic enough to be following too close under those conditions, they can come right in through your windshield. They can wrap themselves around axles, brakes, etc., break fluid lines, in general just fuck shit up. This stuff all happens anyway, but 60 mph just exacerbates it. I think you get the picture: Do what the nice chain control person tells you to do, and obey the law for the well-being of yourself and those around you. Take the chains off when they're no longer required.

Sometimes, when folks just don't use common sense, the worst result is a little entertainment. It was R-1 condition and you couldn't see the road, but the snow wasn't deep, mostly a little wet, heavy snow on top of packed. It was snowing pretty good. Mrs. G and me were just pluggin' along in 3rd gear at 32mph (we've done this before and feel we can fudge a little since we're locals) when a gal (sorry, ladies) in a bright yellow VW, one of the new Beetles, sailed past us at about 50. She must have had snow tires 'cuz she wasn't runnin' chains. She gave us a rare, exquisite moment about five miles later when we got to watch her, at the end of a really 'modern art' lookin' set of tire tracks, back out of the snowbank in the median. Priceless! No damage done, but no doubt embarrassing. Naturally, I tooted the horn as we chugged past, just so she'd know she didn't get away with it unseen. She had her windows rolled up so I have no idea what the inside of her car smelled like. I can only hope!

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, just 500 miles of varying degrees of rain. I would like to compliment Toyota for the best 5-position windshield wiper stalk I've ever seen, and you barely have to move your hand from the steering wheel to operate it. Settings for every kind of rain we encountered. The stalk is broke in now, trust me.

Please pardon the length of this nonsense, but my pup is asleep on my feet so I just kept typing. I'll end now because my feet fell asleep and I need a fresh cuppa.

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