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42 Things I Noticed While Driving Around Texas

A few months ago, I started a field technician job which requires me to drive around the great state of Texas.  Of course, while on the highways, byways, and backways of the Lone Star State, I noticed a few things:

  1. My company car is a Chevy Equinox which is a boat compared to my Honda CR-V

    #7 My road! (sort of)

  2. I have dubbed my company car: “The Leviathan.”
  3. I do like that The Leviathan has a BRAAP horn as opposed to the CR-V’s meep.
  4. That moment when you’re happy to be back on a properly paved road
  5. …with a middle stripe.
  6. Whenever I see a Choke Canyon BBQ or gas station I’ll always think: “Hey it’s those guys who tried to rip off Buc-ees”
  7. I vaguely remembered a ‘Solis Road’ as a child and found it.  Of course, I had to take a selfie.
  8. Rio Grande Valley radio sucks.
  9. Rio Grande Valley drivers suck.
  10. “Next services 45 miles” means it’s time for a restroom break.
  11. It’s always funny to see the road literally change from one county to another.
  12. See also: county deputies waiting for speeders.
  13. Dear GPS: Unless there is a significant delay, clam up and let me stay on the route I’m on.
  14. Company-issued iPhone meant that I got to rediscover how lousy Apple Maps is.
  15. What is it with small towns and Y intersections just outside of them?
  16. Note to self: ALWAYS check how much range your gas tank has left before leaving a small town out in the middle of nowhere.
  17. I always think: “Warp speed, Mr Sulu!” whenever I see that first 55 MPH sign outside of a small town.
  18. This beats being in a crappy open plan office while the fluorescent lights suck the life out of me: I’m on my own, I get to listen to music, and the company pays for gas, room, and hotels.
  19. Gas plumes from oil drilling operations look eerie at night.
  20. If you need super-bright LED headlights, maybe your blind tail shouldn’t be driving at night
  21. See also: Fog lights the size of headlights.
  22. You know a town is really small when they don’t even have a Dairy Queen
  23. I’m not sure I want to go to a restaurant who’s slogan is: Put some South in your Mouth
  24. The road is a good place to charge your smartwatch.
  25. Fueling up in a small town makes one appreciate the city, especially given that the gas is 50 cents less expensive a gallon there.
  26. Granted I’m not paying, but still.
  27. Remote start is awesome, makes me feel all Knight Rider and stuff.
  28. It would be even more awesome if I didn’t always get inside the Leviathan just before the engine cuts out.
  29. Where’s the KITT personal assistant?
  30. Construction, just the thing to make I-10 north of San Antonio worse.
  31. Funny how in small towns there are nearly always signs directing you to the football stadium and cemetery.
  32. I kinda get the whole ‘put a cross on the top of a hill’ thing but I kinda don’t.
  33. Nothing like passing the Whataburger you had breakfast at 14 hours earlier on your way home.
  34. Getting on the road early means seeing some of the wildlife out and about, particularly deer.
  35. Saw a gas station that was converted into a computer repair shop. At least it wasn’t a liquor store.
  36. That moment when your GPS reads: “230 miles remaining.”
  37. Nothing like doing a hasty 180 because you passed the one gas station in a town out in the middle of nowhere.
  38. Sampling the local flavor can be a mite harder on Sunday.
  39. If you could display state lines more prominently, Google Maps, that would be greaaat.
  40. You know you’re in a small county when the county road names consist of single letters.
  41. My company and personal phones are on different providers. Few things make the hair on the back of my neck stand up like losing signal on BOTH of them.
  42. God Bless Dairy Queen!
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300 Seconds Episode #94 “Highways and By-Ways”

Listen to this episode here!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 94, “Highways and By-ways,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

Owning a car is a requirement when you live in Texas, and when you’re raised in a small town like I was, it was a necessity, because just about everything significant was either in the larger town ten miles away or in the big city that was twenty miles away.  An interesting side effect of that experience is that driving around doesn’t bother me as much as it does my friends that grew up in the city.

When I was in my small town and I wanted to go to HEB, it was a ten-mile drive.  Blockbuster Video?  Fifteen miles.  The mall? Twenty miles. Heck, if you wanted something to eat that wasn’t Dairy Queen or the local Mexican place it was at least a ten mile drive.  My city friends are used to having everything close by and I’m used to having everything far away, so where the thought of driving to the other side of town horrifies them; for me, it’s a big deal.

I make a trip to see my parents about every month or so, and thus, I know Interstate 37 between San Antonio and Corpus Christi like the back of my hand.  It’s interesting to see it slowly change over the years:  Quirky mom and pop gas stations that had animatronic cowboys and sold ostrich eggs have been replaced by big shiny corporate twenty-pump monstrosities that can probably be seen from space at night.

I find it interesting how most of the newer gas stations are trying really hard to be Buc-ees.  One even tried a little too hard and ended up being sued over it.  (Buc-ees won, by the way) Try as they might, though, nobody has ever been able to completely pull it off, because they all forget the one thing that makes Buc-ees, Buc-ees:  It isn’t the massive store, or the kitschy souvenirs that they sell, or the friendly workers, or even the mascot.  It’s the guy cleaning the bathrooms.  When you walk into the bathroom at Buc-ees, not only is it huge, but it’s always super-clean, day or night.  The other guys try: They’ll put locks on the stall doors and solid walls in between them, but all it takes is one clogged toilet or not-working sink or funky smell to remind you that they ain’t Buc-ees.

A rival gas station, QuikTrip, recently took the title of favorite gas station in Texas from Buc-ees in a 2017 GasBuddy survey. That which had some folks, including myself, up in arms: “There is just no way some other lousy gas station could be better than Buc-ees!”  Everybody said.  Quik Trip recently began opening stations in the San Antonio area, and one opened up on my way to work, so I decided to check it out.  In doing so, I figured out why they won the title.  Much like Buc-ees, Quik Trip is a really nice gas station with a good selection of hot food, snacks, drinks, and friendly employees.

You see, Buc-ees is where you stop when you are on a road trip.  In Texas, it’s to the point where a stop at Buc-ees is almost a part of the vacation itself, but it’s where you stop when you are on your way to somewhere far away.  It’s where you make a pit stop to use the bathroom and get beef jerky, kolaches, tacos, BBQ sandwiches, sweets, sodas, beaver nuggets, and maybe even a T-shirt or maybe even an ice chest or even a grill.  And that’s great.  Quik Trip, on the other hand, is where you go to gas up from week in and week out for work.  Their gas is fairly cheap, and the station is always clean and has a pretty good selection of food and snacks.  Now, is Quik Trip as big as Buc-ees? No. Does it have fresh kolaches and beef jerky like Buc-ees?  No.  Souvenirs?  No.  But it is nicer than most other gas stations and  probably closer to home for most than Buc-ees.  So yeah, I can see why it is more popular, especially if the gas is just as cheap, and isn’t cheap gas what we’re all looking for?

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I top-up my SUV.  I am Eduardo Soliz, if you’d like to hear or read more of my words visit Eduardo Soliz dot com, and I thank you for listening!

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The Difference…

workOver the last week, my Honda CR-V (aka The Excelsior) had been starting up just a little more sluggishly with each trip.  Eventually, it got to the point where it just barely started, but as is human nature, I figured that it would last just long enough to get to get the battery looked at.

Of course, I waited one trip too many and eventually it didn’t start at all one night.  Click-click-click-click-click was all I heard.

After getting a jump-start from a neighbor (always have cables in your vehicle, folks) I went to the auto parts store where I had replaced the original battery a few years prior.  I had a strong suspicion that the battery was dead, but when the gentleman asked if I would like to have it tested, it placed just enough doubt in my mind to make me think that might not be the case.  I didn’t want it to be something else, because as far as car repairs go, replacing a battery is on the fairly inexpensive scale, and it can be done by one’s self, assuming the vehicle can be taken to a good battery or vice-versa.

The gentleman grabbed a tester and followed me out to my noble (if not currently unreliable) steed.  I popped the hood and proceeded to let the gentleman do his job.  He attached the clips to the battery terminals and proceeded to push some buttons on the device.  After a few moments he told me the battery was good and asked if I wanted him to test other ‘start the car’ parts.  I said yes, and he asked me to start the vehicle.  I made a crack about ‘I hope it starts,’ but much to my surprise, it started with no hesitation.  A few moments and button presses later, the man told me that the alternator and starter were probably okay, too.  I thanked him for his time and went on my merry (if slightly worried) way to the grocery store, where the car started again without issue.  What the heck was wrong with my car?

As folks are oft to do these days, I went onto social media to share my ambivalence over the situation.  Friends offered advice and their own tales of automotive experiences, both good and bad.  One friend mentioned that a similar problem had been caused by loose terminal connectors.  This idea sounded intriguing to me, as I had recalled my interior lights flashing during the process of having it jumped, and so I resolved to investigate them come the morning.  I didn’t park the Excelsior in the garage because I had a feeling I was going to need another jump-start.

The next morning, I hopped into my trusty steed to go have some breakfast and was greeted by the clicking noise again.  No big deal, it’s the terminals, right?  Wrong.  Nothing was loose and there was no corrosion to be found.  It has to be the battery, I thought, but what the guy last night told me it was good.  I frumped for a while as I searched for nearby mechanics and groused over the pile of money I anticipated I was going to have to spend.

Finally, I decided to get a second opinion.

I got a jump-start from a different neighbor, and observed that both times we had to let my vehicle sit for a while and charge up.  The thought of it has to be the battery kept bouncing in my head as I drove to a different auto parts store.  I walked inside and asked to have my battery checked.  This time around, the tech got a frumpy look on her face when she saw my terminals.  The connectors to the Excelsior’s battery have these plastic covers that were getting in the way of the clips, meaning she could only reliably attach the clips to the screws that kept the connectors attached.  “I don’t like taking a reading from the screws, the reading is sometimes wrong,” She said.  The tech did her best to adjust the tester clip, but was not completely satisfied with the result: “I’m not getting a good reading, can you take the battery out?” She asked.

I said sure, and proceeded to do so, with the tools I keep inside the vehicle.  I also had to borrow a pair of pliers, but eventually dislodged the battery and took it inside the store.  The tech did her thing, and sure enough, the battery was bad.  Fortunately, I had purchased the ‘three-year replacement’ battery the last time and I received a new one free of charge.  I installed it myself, which was only fair since I had taken the old one out, and now my trusty steed is trusty once again.

I figured that it would be a good idea to let the tech know about my experience the night before.  We both agreed that the other guy just didn’t know about the screws providing unreliable readings.

And thus we have the difference between somebody who only knows how to follow instructions, and somebody that actually knows what they are doing because they have learned how things really work.

Whether they are fixing cars or computers, a good tech will have more in-depth knowledge about the things that they repair than someone who is only taught how to fix things or is working off a script.  When the ‘usual steps’ don’t work, a good tech can think things though and improvise to find a solution.  A bad tech only knows how to follow instructions, and when those instructions don’t do the job, they’re stuck, and so are you.

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37 Things I Noticed After Having a Fender-Bender

My trusty CR-V (the “Excelsior,” because I name my cars after spaceships) recently got dinged in the back.  The damage isn’t too terrible but it’s in a lousy spot.  Thus, I had to deal with my insurance company (Progressive) and rent a car.  Along the way, I noticed a few things:

  1. ding

    #5. *Angry Bear Noises*

    The lady that hit me seemed to be pretty impatient while I got Progressive on the phone.  MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T CAUSE AN ACCIDENT IF YOU’RE IN A HURRY, LADY.

  2. I didn’t even think about calling the police. This was a low speed accident and not worth their time.
  3. She eventually gave me her info and drove off in a huff because “I have kids in the car.”  I don’t know about y’all but I tend to drive extra-careful whenever I have passengers…just saying.
  4. Insurance company Ding #1: To be fair, I was getting impatient with Progressive too.  Pick up the phone, guys!
  5. It wasn’t a bad dent, but in just the right spot for water to get into the hatch.
  6. I’ll get a call back in 24 hours. Cool.
  7. Ding #2: The claims rep was supposed to call me ‘within 24 hours.’  2 days later and still no call.
  8. I posted an angry tweet about that lack of communication and got a response within a few hours. Modern times and all that.
  9. Lady’s insurance is taking full responsibility (as well they should) Woo-hoo!
  10. Stuffed a plastic bag into the hole to keep water out. Lucky it hasn’t been raining lately.
  11. I was initially going to pick a shop to take it, but decided to punt and the insurance guys handle it. I have other things to worry about.
  12. Ding #3: The last time this happened, I got to pick a rental.  This go-round they threw me into a Toyota Corolla. :/
  13. I got everything I needed from the CR-V…except for the garage door opener. >.<
  14. The heck with giving me both car keys on a key ring that I can’t remove them from?
  15. It’s a little bit of an adjustment going from a small SUV to a car, but I’m (mostly) handling it. Lucky for me I don’t have any long trips coming up.
  16. When did car air conditioners get so complicated?
  17. tennycar

    15. Me in the rental

    This is a newer vehicle, yet the backup camera looks terrible compared to my 2012 CR-V.

  18. Having an in-car touch screen does not work very well. At the risk of getting technical: The user interface is poop.
  19. Ding #4: The repair guy was supposed to call me ‘tomorrow’  Didn’t happen.
  20. Yeah, it’s probably time to start looking for a new insurance company.
  21. Thing I miss most about my CR-V? Legroom.
  22. I’ve given up on getting any calls from my insurance company at this point, just going to check their website every so often.
  23. If you are going to tell somebody you are going to call them and you don’t, that is rude and unprofessional.
  24. Unless you’re a recruiter, then it’s par for the course. (obligatory job-related item)
  25. Auto headlights should NEVER turn on the high beams…just sayin’
  26. Had a funny moment when it rained and I tried to turn on the rear wiper that wasn’t there.
  27. Also, the ‘beep’ it makes when I turn on the alarm can barely be heard.
  28. The day before the repair is due to be completed, the app says “2 days left until repaired.” Huh?
  29. (Finally) Got a call that afternoon saying it will be ready when scheduled, woo-hoo!
  30. 4pm and the app now says ‘Repairs complete.’ Maybe I’ll get lucky and get my ride back a day early?’
  31. Ding #5: Of course they call me 15 minutes before they close (and I’m already at home from work) to schedule the pickup the next day, grr.
  32. Since the lady’s insurance is taking full responsibility, this little adventure isn’t going to cost me any money, just a little time and aggravation.
  33. I also got a blog post out of the deal, too 😀

    newcar

    35. Looking good!

  34. Ding #6: Scheduled the appointment for 1230, get there at 1231 and I have to wait 😛
  35. Holy cats, the Excelsior looks good when it’s cleaned up.
  36. Feels good to be in my own vehicle again. I had to re-learn some habits, like having cruise control settings on my steering wheel instead of on a stick thingie.
  37. Time to shop for new car insurance!
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10 Things I Noticed About Getting A New Car

Old car next to new car

Upgrade!

My 2005 Dodge Neon, lovingly referred to as the “Reliant,” has been a pretty dependable vehicle since I bought it back in 2006.  Recently, the only issue I’ve had with it is that well, its a Neon.  As I’ve been taking more trips to Dallas and Houston going to conventions and events, I’m finding that a Neon isn’t a very comfortable place to be for an extended period of time.

Thus, I began looking for a new vehicle in earnest. I didn’t need a “urban assault vehicle” as I like to call them, instead I wanted something just a bit bigger and more comfortable than a compact car.  I ended up buying a new 2012 Honda CR-V (pictured at right next to the Reliant and dubbed the “Excelsior”) and noticed just a few things during the process:

  1. As I mentioned previously, car shopping has changed just a bit since I bought the Reliant in 2006, and I think for the better.
  2. “Base model” doesn’t mean what it used to.  The base model CR-V includes Bluetooth, USB, rear-view camera, and automatic transmission.  Wow.
  3. The hardest part of getting a CR-V was well…getting one, as they are quite popular.
  4. Used cars are also popular; the Reliant was worth quite a bit more than I had expected.
  5. Of course, all I was going to get for it on the trade-in was some magic beans.
  6. Its good to have a man on the inside, hopefully my friend that sold me the CR-V stays at the dealership for at least a few years 😉
  7. Actual conversation with my friend: “Its not my car yet.” “Of course not, you haven’t paid for it.” “No, I haven’t farted in it yet.”
  8. I’ve barely had the Excelsior a month and its already been called ‘cute’ a few times. Here we go again.
  9. Having a camera in the back that turns on while I’m in reverse makes backing into parking spots like a videogame.  If I ‘lose’ its going to cost me more than a quarter, though!
  10. Hooray for modern engineering: despite being larger, the Excelsior gets at least as good gas mileage as the Reliant did and over 30mpg on long trips.
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ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: First Accident

Just after the accident

Ouch!

Well, there goes that bragging right.  Up until Monday, I was one the few people in my circle of friends to have never been involved in a car accident.  That proud status changed after I was involved in a fender-bender this past Monday.  I hit another car that was pulling out of a parking lot just down the road from my apartment. I then spent the next three hours in the misty afternoon directing traffic, and talking with the lady I hit, the police, the people at my insurance company, the folks at the rental car company, the tow truck guy and most of my immediate family.

It was my day off too  :/

The good thing is that nobody got hurt, but both of our vehicles are a bit worse for wear.  I hit the other vechicle square in the driver’s side wheel (as you can see in the pic), which is going to cost a few beans to fix, and while the body damage on the Reliant is limited to the front bumper, it wouldn’t start at all, so there’s that.  The lady I hit was actually pretty cool about it, as was I, so I at least didn’t have to deal with some mad-as-hell person jumping and screaming at me.  Before the fire department and police showed up to direct traffic, I was directing people to get out of my lane with my Flashlight of Smiting.  Even though we didn’t hit hard enough for either of our airbags to deploy, I was a bit discombobulated after the fact.

Dealing with my insurance company (Progressive) wasn’t too bad, not too long after everything was hauled away, I was picked up by the rental car company and am now riding about in a Hyundai Santa Fe.  I was considering a small SUV before this and now that I have had a chance to drive one, I am sold on the vehicle type.  I may not get a Santa Fe for my next vehicle, but will definitely consider something like it once all this hash is settled.

If there is one thing that does bother me about the whole thing, its that there were NO witnesses.  The accident happened just in front of a bus stop, and of course, those folks hopped onto the next bus that stopped by.  I don’t blame them, I’m sure they had work or other places to be, but the fact that no one that driving around stopped AT ALL kinda sucked.  I’ve witnessed an accident myself, and I made sure I stuck around to see if they needed assistance or witnesses.

Now I get to wait for the insurance guys and repair guys to get everything figured out.  I’ll probably be out some cash when its all said and done, but in the bigger scheme of things, everything turned out as well as could be.

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Un-Reliant

Well, the Reliant now has over 36,000 miles on it. It went over the hump while I was driving down to my parents’ on Saturday. I guess this is where it starts to fall apart. Granted, I wouldn’t have gotten there so quickly (27 months) if it hadn’t been for my crappy job in New Braunfels, but that’s neither here nor there. Time to start thinking about that next vehicle. 🙂

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