I Hate(d) Myself And I Want(ed) To Die

 

A sentiment you'd have too if you couldn't drive

A sentiment you’d have too, if you couldn’t drive

 

A couple of weeks ago your humble (now humbler than ever) blogger spent money on something so unspeakably foul, so indicative of a life gone wrong, that even confessing it here today doesn’t feel cathartic at all. It just feels dirty and shameful.

Street drugs? (Laughs.) No. Far, far worse than that. The services of a prostitute? Please. At least that would feel pleasurable, or ought to in theory.

I rode a bus.

An actual public bus. With a bench where you and the other losers wait, and a little box where you put your fare in, and everything. What’s even worse is that I should have ridden it twice. Here’s why:

A little background. Every December, CYC moves its operations to its seasonal headquarters on Maui. If you’ve never been to Maui, the island embraces a lifestyle unlike any other in the United States. Even if you’ve been to Hawaii, but only visited Waikiki, you still haven’t experienced anything quite like the soporific existence you get on the Valley Isle. The social norms that predominate on the Mainland and in most other outposts of Western culture just don’t apply. Hippies flourish here, and it seems every other Caucasian woman works as an energy healer. On the positive side, you can go into literally any establishment – 5-star restaurant, church, court – wearing clothes that you’d normally wear to wash your car or go to the gym in. Shoes are often optional, and no one looks twice if you happen to have forgotten your shirt at home.

Maui also embodies a famous directive about wealth, one of the very few pieces of received wisdom that isn’t a load of dross. It takes many variants, but our favorite is this: Live in the most expensive place you can afford. Drive the cheapest car you’re willing to be seen in. On Maui that means a 1994 Taurus with a wonky AM radio, hit-and-miss power windows, and 100,000 miles on it. The kind of thing you wouldn’t want to be caught dead in on the North American continent north of the Rio Grande, but on Maui it’s just a mode of transportation. Besides, there are no freeways on the island and just a sole 6-mile stretch of divided highway. It’s impossible to drive 80 miles an hour on Maui, which is why the locals laugh at the image-conscious visitors who rent sports cars that never make it into overdrive. CYC headquarters is close enough to shops and other businesses that the principals can make do with just the one car: they manage to share the Taurus without either ever feeling marooned.

Anyhow, one day the hit-and-miss power windows missed and stayed that way. The body shop is 5 miles away, and the car had to stay overnight, so the principals dropped it off and then walked a mile or so into town to catch a cab.

8 minutes and $40 later, we returned home dumbfounded. The idea to take a cab was reflexive – it’s too far to walk home, and you can’t fit one bicycle in the Taurus, let alone two, so what other option is there? Honestly, we would have thought about taking a hovercraft or the Space Shuttle home before contemplating public transportation. But still, $40. There’s got to be a better way.

Your humble blogger, who lost a coin flip and had to retrieve the car the next morning, broke down and looked at the bus schedule. There’s a stop next door? And a single transfer? And another stop a short walk from the body shop? How hard can this be, especially considering that any 15-year-old can do it?

Damned if it wasn’t just like riding a bus was back in high school, when one’s options and wealth are far more limited than they are in adulthood. The same dejected regulars were on board, the ones who stared straight ahead and seemed incapable of conversation anyway. Every ad on the bus – every ad, without exception – was for a government agency of some sort. If you acted upon every ad you saw, you’d have enrolled your kids on food stamps, taken your reusable cloth bag to the county liquor store, applied to be a police officer, conserved water, moved into taxpayer-subsidized housing, and enjoyed a more active life by quitting smoking.

The trip was uneventful, and that’s a good thing. So were the unbroken $20 bills in the CYC wallet.

There’s a reason why Rupert Murdoch doesn’t take the bus. Time is money, and the more valuable your time is, the faster you need to get where you’re going. But on a bucolic island when the day couldn’t be spent at the beach anyway (because the car was in the shop)? 20 minutes on a bus to save $38 was more than worth it.

Talk about your domain dependence. The same non-Sinophone traveler who had no problem navigating the subways of Beijing (remember the shapes of the logograms at the station where you got on, and note where the corresponding ones are on the route map) didn’t even consider taking the equivalent form of transportation in a town he was utterly familiar with.

How do you apply this to your own life? Don’t instinctively go with expensive convenience, when cheap won’t kill you and really isn’t that much of a hassle. We don’t hammer on frugality on this site, as most personal finance sites do, but taking a taxi when an uncomplicated bus route will do the job can be a stark waste of money. Still, try not to ride a bus more than once a decade or so.

A Thrilling Multimodal Friday Ride

Transforming the world, 33' at a time

Transforming the world, 33′ at a time

 

The Dow Jones Company creates dozens of indices. By far the most recognized and quoted of those is its Industrial average, 30 stocks that are supposed to comprise a representative cross-section of the American economy. Dow’s 2nd- and 3rd-most noted indices are its Transportation and Utilities averages, one of which we’ll discuss today and the other we’ll talk about Wednesday unless something more exciting comes along.

First off, why is the New York Stock Exchange stuck in the 19th century? Why “Industrials”, “Transportation” and “Utilities”? Shouldn’t they have given way to something like “Telecommunications”, “Software”, and “Health Care” by now?

Well, because industry (however you define it), moving stuff and people around, and keeping the lights on are still pretty important.

The Transportation index was created 129 years ago. Originally it was nothing more than the total of the stock prices of 9 railroad companies, a steamship company and Western Union. With the exception of Western Union – which is now exclusively in the business of transferring money – and Union Pacific, every one of those companies is defunct.

Of course, Dow Jones added and subtracted other companies to and from the index over the years. Much like its Industrial counterpart, the Transportation index consists of the prices of several (30 for Industrials, 20 for Transportation) stocks, summed and multiplied by a constant. The Transportation companies are as follows:

  • 5 airlines
  • 4 trucking companies
  • 4 railroads
  • 3 deliverers
  • 2 shippers (as in ships)
  • 1 rail lessor
  • 1 truck lessor.

The airlines, you’re probably familiar with. Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska, which are respectively America’s 1st-, 2nd-, 3rd-, 6th- and 7th-largest by passenger volume. 4th is American, which filed for Chapter 11 last year and was thus replaced on the index by Alaska. 5th is US Airways, which filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and again 3 years later.

The trucking companies have a more direct effect on your life than the airlines do, yet it’s doubtful you’ve heard of more than a couple.

C.H. Robinson, based in the Twin Cities, is what they call a “3rd party logistics” company. They don’t actually own trucks, but instead agree to ship customers’ freight using other companies’ trucks. And ships and planes. Also railcars, which C.H. Robinson does own. But the vast majority of C.H. Robinson’s revenue, $7 of every $8, derives from trucking. Landstar, headquartered in Jacksonville, is similar to C.H. Robinson in that it doesn’t own vehicles. Two of the other trucking companies, Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Con-Way and J.B. Hunt (based in Northwestern Arkansas), you’ve seen proof of up close if you’ve ever driven on an interstate.

The 3 delivery companies probably need no description, or at least 2 of them don’t – FedEx and UPS. The 3rd one is Expeditors, a Seattle-based company that specializes in international cargo shipments. (Is that redundant? “Cargo shipments”? Could we just say “cargo”? And why do shipments often involve a car while cargo involves a ship? Also, why do we park on a driveway and drive…)

The railroads on the Dow transport cargo, rather than passengers, because a) there’s a government-mandated passenger railroad monopoly in this country and b) that monopoly loses obscene amounts of money. They include the nation’s largest railroad (and, as we pointed out, the only one that’s been on the DJTA since Day 1) –Union Pacific, which is headquartered in Omaha. If you live east of the Mississippi, you’ve probably never heard of Union Pacific. Trust us, it’s huge. Vice versa for Jacksonville-based CSX, whose operations transverse the eastern United States and select parts of Ontario and Quebec. Crossing much of the same territory is Norfolk Southern, which covers the eastern states save New England and Florida, and whose western terminus is in Kansas City. Speaking of which, Kansas City Southern is the final railroad, with operations in the south central United States and much of central Mexico.

The two shipping companies are Matson and Kirby. Matson, based in Oakland, has one core and lucrative business – shipping stuff to and from Hawaii. Matson also ships to Guam, Micronesia, and a few ports in China. Kirby, with operations based in Houston, is the nation’s premier tank barge operator. They transport oil throughout the Mississippi and its tributaries, along the Gulf Coast, and to Alaska and Hawaii (the freak states.)

That leaves two, including the rail lessor, Chicago’s own General American Transportation. They lease railcars throughout the U.S. and Europe, and operate American Steamship, which crisscrosses the Great Lakes.

The truck lessor is Ryder, based in Miami. Yeah, they rent trucks, but they’re also “a FORTUNE® 500 provider of leading-edge transportation, logistics and supply chain management solutions. “

(God, does anyone working in the communications department of any major corporation know how to, y’know, communicate?) That means Ryder leases commercial fleets. The company also manages warehouses and drivers for companies that own their own trucks but want someone competent to handle the (sigh, hate this phrase) “supply chain”.

Which ones should you invest in? Primarily Kirby, but that’s not the point. We’re just trying to avail you a little of how a lot of the stuff you take for granted helps the economy roll. As the XXL t-shirt says, “If you bought it, a trucker brought it”. And picked it up off a dock where it was delivered by a container ship that was loaded from a railroad.

Everything they tell you about gas mileage is a lie.

It's a good idea to extinguish your cigarette before doing this

It’s a good idea to extinguish your cigarette before doing this

  • If your tires are underinflated, it can cost you 1 mile per gallon for every pound per square inch.
  • Slow down. Driving under the speed limit can save you 5 miles a gallon (and get you where you’re going later than you’d otherwise get there, but whatevs.)
  • An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle can reduce your miles per gallon by up to 2%.

And our favorite, from the taxpayer-funded functionaries at the Department of Transportation, presented here verbatim:

  • Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33%

(The obvious solution? NEVER BRAKE.)

People love to repeat this nonsense as Holy Scripture, because it comes with the veneer of respectability. And why would the government lie to us? Governments always tell the truth, don’t they?

You don’t lose 60% of your body heat through your head, you don’t need to (and almost certainly shouldn’t) drink 8 glasses of water a day, you don’t need to chew each mouthful of food 100 times before swallowing, and being fanatical about gradual acceleration and gentle braking doesn’t make a difference to your gas mileage. (And the last one can kill you if you apply it uniformly without regard to the situation.)

There are hundreds of online threads in which drivers try to get to the bottom of this confounding problem, without ever reaching a conclusion. Instead, there’s a lot of talk about trivial variables and a stunning ignorance of how to gather data. To wit:

I usually hit 100-120 miles by the time it hits F (filling puts it past full)
250ish by the quarter mark
350ish by the half mark
475-500 on a tank.

those are summer numbers but you get the idea. we all deal with that.

…the last few days (minus monday) have been pretty warm so I have been seeing close to summertime numbers for fuel economy.

Hey genius: instead of looking at the analog marks on your gas gauge and estimating from there, how about keeping a log?

Not sure if you noticed this, but the pump measures fuel dispensed in thousandths of gallons. Your odometer measures tenths of miles. Divide the latter into the former, and you’ll have a reading accurate to one decimal place. Most of us, even the public school students, learn division by the 4th grade.

For the last month, your humble bloggers inadvertently conducted a fuel economy experiment. We drove the same vehicle, on essentially the same route, with the same cargo, and the same octane level of gasoline, through multiple fill-ups. We record our fuel economy on every tank as it is, and here are our miles per gallon readings in chronological order (taken to 2 decimal places, in our iconoclastic fashion):

29.87
21.42
20.55
25.02
22.34

You want to improve your fuel economy? Our experimentation indicates that there isn’t a thing you can do. (With one exception, which we’ll get to in a second.) We keep track of this stuff largely to look for any egregious movement: a 14 mpg tank would mean something is glaringly wrong. Smaller fluctuations don’t appear to be subject to any kind of improvement – again, with one exception.

It would appear that fueling up on a Tuesday can cost you 2.68 miles per gallon over doing so on a Wednesday, if you’re the kind of person who believes in fairies and tommyknockers.

Right now, some gullible and pedantic idiot is reading this and wondering, “Well, did they control for time of day? The tanks are full of condensation first thing in the morning, etc.” We didn’t control for the speed of the cars in front of us, either (which often dictates our own speed), nor did we control for battery cold-cranking amp capacity (which fluctuates). Sometimes we filled up with the car facing north, other times with it facing south, so yeah, that could change everything.

The only way to control for every single variable would be to take multiple models of the exact same vehicle, right off the assembly line, airlift them to the Bonneville Salt Flats, and drive one a day at the same time every morning until we had enough data points to plot.

Our conclusion: people love to mire themselves in easily understandable minutiae instead of looking at grand, tangible ways to improve their lot. There are several compelling reasons to keep your tires properly inflated anyway. Also, very few of us enjoy slamming on the brakes (and compromising the pads) for the sheer fun of it. The standard fuel-economy improvement advice is tired, ineffectual, pointless, and pays microscopic benefits if any. Aside from that, it’s very helpful.

Here’s what you can do, and it’s the only thing we’ve found that pays benefits of more than a few inches per gallon. You ready?

Don’t let the tank get too low. The numbers above positively correlate perfectly to the size of the fill-up. The 29.9-mpg fill-up was on around 3/8 of a tank, the 20.6-mpg fill-up when running on our last few molecules.

So why is this? Who cares? The most convincing argument we’ve heard so far is that the gas you fill up with displaces the vapor that fills the evaporation system. This goes into the intake. The more gas you have in the tank, the more powerfully the vapor is passed through the evaporation system, thus improving your gas mileage.

Some people argue that no, driving as long as possible on one tank is better because it means you’re spending more time driving a lighter car (i.e., one with less fuel in it.) These people can hypothesize all they want, but the data says they’re full of it.

Test your battery. Don’t strap pianos to your roof unless you’re delivering them somewhere. Stay out of 1st gear on level roads. But most importantly, fuel up as often as is conveniently possible.