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!

11 Things I Noticed After Oklacon

I would drive one thousand miles…

Of course, now that its all said and done, one last list.

  1. I heard more conversations about DnD this weekend then I have in my entire life up to this point.
  2. Not sure which is worse: watching the Dallas Cowboys nearly blow the game on TV or hearing them nearly blow it on the radio.
  3. I put 1,000+ miles on the Excelsior during the trip…whew.
  4. Three days of sleeping on the ground made me really appreciate my bed.
  5. I was fortunate enough to have only encountered one raccoon.
  6. No matter how tired I am, no matter how many hours I’ve spent on the road, no matter how badly I want to get home, there’s always time for a stop at Buc-ees.
  7. Gas at Buc-ees was $2.99 a gallon for regular unleaded, WOW.
  8. The logjam I hit on I-35 South going home had me wishing I’d taken 281 instead, ugh.
  9. RED DIRT EVERYWHERE GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF
  10. Lesson learned: if I come back I’m getting a tent spot away from the bathrooms and the campfire.
  11. I am so glad I took Monday off from work to recover.  After what happened the last time, I almost stayed home!

40 Things I Noticed During Oklacon

Have some corn squeezens!

I’ve never been to an outdoor convention before, nor to Oklahoma, so Oklacon promised to be a different experience.  Indeed it was!

  1. Parking on top of the hill made me appreciate having a Honda CR-V instead of a Dodge Neon all the more.
  2. Standing in the slow registration line wasn’t all that bad after 7+ hours on the road.
  3. I was a little worried about finding a decent radio station, then realized I should have been more worried about reception.
  4. Apparently only loud people stay up late at night…argh
  5. Chopping wood in the middle of the night?  SERIOUSLY?
  6. I know darn well there’s no signal, but I keep checking my phone. I may have a problem.
  7. About the only thing I could do with this phone was update this list.
  8. As is the custom, Artist’s Alley was located in Mos Isley.
  9. The hard ground kept me from sleeping at night, but at least I was warm. /shrug
  10. There were no smut writers at the artist’s meetup, or at least none willing to own up to it.
  11. The weather was pretty nice once the chill got out if the air…unfortunately it got a little too warm on Saturday.
  12. Doesn’t seem to be much concern about ‘breaking the magic’ here…then again there isn’t a ‘headless lounge’ either.
  13. I enjoyed the ‘Furry common sense’ panel, learned a lot of ‘good to know’ information.
  14. Love the little ‘codes’ they put on the badges.
  15. They had ‘predator’ and ‘prey’ designs for the baseball caps, clever.
  16. Bears are omnnivores, so I could go either way…fark it, I bought one with a predator design.
  17. Someone reportedly got cactus needles stuck in their hand, not sure if there was a mouse available to assist.
  18. What would a ‘redneck’ fur like Mr. Drunky up there be called?
  19. Bad Science was DEPRESSING, though Dr. Nuka kinda turned it around at the end
  20. Favorite new phrase, heard during Bad Science: “Animal Malfunction”
  21. Got my first badge commission done. I liked it, and I paid for another one.
  22. I really need to establish a fursona, the second artist I purchased a commission from had all these questions and I was all “I DON’T KNOW!”
  23. Some guy called me ‘Ed’ and totally confused me until I realized it was on the badge I had commissioned and was now wearing.
  24. Nothing like thinking you lost your wallet to make for an exciting evening.
  25. One benefit of being an early riser is there’s always hot water in the shower.
  26. Big thanks to whomever left the giant bottle of body wash in the showers.  Not that I was out, but ‘fresh mango’ wasn’t quite the vibe I was going for…need to check the label next time.
  27. I woke up on Saturday morning to find someone asleep on top of a hill…WTF?
  28. Finally realized what I had forgotten to bring: A roll of toilet paper.  Granted, they had plenty, but still, I always feel better having a spare roll.
  29. The bathrooms got progressively worse and worse as the weekend progressed, but I’ve used outhouses, so no biggie.
  30. Second thing I forgot: an air mattress.  I sleep on my side and my hip bone was constantly touching the ground as I slept…ow!
  31. The Mini Moon Pies were okay until the sun came out on Saturday,  oh well.
  32. Trebuchets are cool.
  33. Everything felt inverted: I eventually purchased a badge to identify myself as being straight.
  34. The fursuit parade got moved FORWARD an hour? They know we’re OUTSIDE, right?
  35. Never been to a con that had two fursuit parades, so that was cool.
  36. Sat in on a International Anthropomorphic Research Project group chat and learned a little bit more about myself.
  37. Someone made an interesting point: we use funny animals to entertain our children and expect them to forget about them once they grow up.
  38. When I heard they were making stone soup, I got a mental image of people throwing Cheetos, Pocky and M&Ms into the pot.
  39. Judging how much heat is coming out of a propane stove in the middle of the day is tricky.
  40. When the wooden handle on your saucepan catches fire, there’s too much heat.

20 Things I Noticed While Driving to Oklacon

Smiles?  What? Oh, its FIVE MILES, derp

My trip to Oklacon 2012 is now over and I had a fun time.  Due to a lack of access to the tubes while I was there, everything is going up late, so ‘bear’ with me as I get caught up. 🙂

  1. I have to start off with the oddball store names I saw on US 281: “Aristacats,” “City Drug,” “Mr. Cut Rate,” “Stop-n-fetchum,” and “Feedlot Restaurant.” Best one? “Scooter’s Adult Bookstore.”
  2. If you are in a small town, isn’t it presumptuous to call yourself a National Bank?
  3. Taking the scenic route was a good idea, lots of beautiful country to see.
  4. “Mountaintop Land Bargains” – not sure if company name or actually selling land on mountain tops.
  5. If the speed limit sign outside of a town has a red border around it, it means they ain’t fooling around!
  6. Best thing ever: “Pie happy hour”
  7. I was so happy to finally see a “Speed Limit 75MPH” sign.
  8. I think my heart skipped a beat when I first realized my cell phone signal was gone and it wasn’t coming back for 3 days.
  9. Passed by a store called “The Store.” And I thought the HEB marketing department was lazy.
  10. I’ve seen town names on water towers, but a silo?  I guess you have to work with what you have.
  11. Stuck behind a slow pickup after about two hours, surprised it took that long.
  12. A restaurant named “Hamburger Hill?” REALLY?
  13. I saw a bunch of classic cars pass by at a stop light in a small town.  It must have been Homecoming Night.
  14. Cutting horses?  Its a cry for help, methinks.
  15. Dear Dairy Queen, please make all of your restaurants like the nice one south of Mineral Wells. Thanks.
  16. “Keep Mineral Wells crazy?” Maybe they should have a furcon. NOTE: The next few are after I entered OK.
  17. “Bridge ices before road?” Thanks for the science lesson, roadsign.
  18. A lot of casinos here, hmm.
  19. Dafuq are ‘jake brakes’ and ‘engine brake?’
  20. When I first saw a 25MPH speed limit in a little town, I expected to see a horse-drawn buggy somewhere. I never did so I concluded that they were just being jerks.

Oklacon 2012 Journal #3: Road Trip!

I will drive 500 miles

One of the bigger challenges of my trip to Oklacon is going to be the drive: according to Yahoo Maps, the shortest route from San Antonio is more-or-less a 500 mile straight shot up US Highway 281 to Roman Nose State Park.  While I will be bypassing the messes to be found in Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, there will instead be lots of stopping at lots of small towns along the way.

Being from a small town myself, I’m okay with that.  It is going to be nice to be out on the road seeing things besides gas stations and fast-food joints.  Also, given my intolerance for spending long times in the car, there will also be plenty of opportunities to stop for rest, drink, food, and attending to certain biological needs. 🙂

This will be the first true test of my new vehicle.  Just going to Houston was a pain in my 2005 Dodge Neon (aka The Reliant) and I was not looking forward to taking longer trips in it.  I’m hoping that the increased interior space and more comfortable seating found in my 2012 Honda CR-V (aka The Excelsior) will make the trip more pleasant.

The thought of the fun to be had at my destination should be enough to keep me going, but if all else fails, there’s always coffee.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: Found Good Mechanic

New (or new to you) cars are great.  The smell, the shiny exterior, the pristine interior and smooth ride make driving a joyous experience.  Of course, all good things come to an end, and years later, the honeymoon is over.  You find that your once noble steed has become a pack mule that smells funny and doesn’t always obey your commands.

Such was the case with my 2005 Dodge Neon.  I purchased it new in 2006 and christened it the “Reliant” during those halcyon days when it was nice and shiny.  Fast-forward almost six years later, and it now has some ‘personality quirks’ such a the stains on the driver’s seat, dent on the back where I punched it one particularly bad day, and yeah, I haven’t been washing it nearly as frequently as I should have been.  It also started running fairly loudly a few months ago, sounding more like a Cessna than a car.  After almost being driven insane by the noise during a drive up to Dallas a few weeks ago, I decided to get the thing fixed and started asking friends and acquaintances if they knew of a good garage in town.  Nobody knew of one, which was more than a little aggravating.

And then I had my little accident…

So I was stuck when the tow truck guy was asked where to send my car to.  I asked the insurance guys for a suggestion and they gave me an address, which I then gave to the tow truck guy.  I then saw my car hauled off to who-knows-where to have who-knows-what done to it.  A week and a half later, I had my car back without a working air conditioner and it was still shaking, so not only was I back to square one, I now needed to have my car looked at before the triple-digit Texas heat kicked in and turned my car into an EZ-Bake oven on wheels.

Luckily my friend Kate finally came around with a recommendation: Alamo Heights Garage.  She spoke highly of them so I figured I’d give them a shot.  I went to their website, and filled out their online form asking for an appointment on Saturday.  I got a response back in a few hours saying that they weren’t open on Saturday.

What is it with mechanics being closed on Saturdays?  Sundays I can understand, but come on, it sucks to have to take time off of work to get my car looked at, and it’s never a short visit.  Anyway, I set up an appointment for the following Tuesday morning, guessing that I would be waiting a half-day while the A/C fixed.  I figured I’d ask them to see just what was making the shaking noise as well.

I arrived at Alamo Heights Garage early Tuesday morning.  I had bought my laptop along so I could work on some writing while I waited.  The first thing I noticed was that the waiting area was very clean, there was a table and chairs where I could sit and work, a television tuned to the local news with some more comfortable seating in front of it and most importantly to me: coffee. 

After describing what was happening to the woman behind the counter, I grabbed a cup of coffee, opened up my lappy and did some work.  I was glad to discover that they had WiFi available.  About a half an hour later, I got the diagnosis: the air conditioner’s discharge hose was bad, and the shaking was caused by three worn engine mounts that would have to be replaced.  The total cost to get  both things fixed was going to be $800: $300 for the A/C and $500 for the mounts.  I figured that since the Reliant had not given me any major problems in the past, I would get the work done and hopefully have a better-running car that I could hold onto longer as well as be easier to sell once that time came.

The work was going to take most of the day, so I was offered a ride to work and was told that I would be contacted once everything was done.  I gratefully accepted the ride and spent the day at work as usual, that is, except for having to hitch a ride to lunch.  As four o’clock arrived, I waited to get a call from the garage letting me know my car was ready.  I started getting nervous, because my job is answering technical support calls, and a bad call could easily last an hour.  Our lines were open beyond the garage’s closing time, so if I got stuck on a long call, I might not be able to leave work in time to get to the garage to pick up my car before they closed.

If that isn’t a setup, I don’t know what is…you can just guess what happened next.

My next call was a customer with a Big Nasty Problem, and of course, five minutes into the call, my cell phone started ringing.  To make matters worse, the customer was dumber than a box of rocks, and I kept looking back and forth at the time while repeatedly trying to tell the customer how to open up a web page. My anxiety only increased as the phone kept ringing about every ten minutes, and I started looking for an opening where I could close out the call.  Luckily, I didn’t have to, either the customer hung up out of frustration or their phone battery died.  Either way, I didn’t care, I immediately called the garage and let them know I was on my way.

I could have been picked up by someone from the garage, but a friend had offered to give me a ride as it was on his way home, so I took him up on it.  I was dropped off, paid the bill, got my keys and hopped into my should-now-be-running-like-new car.  And you know what?  It really feels like a whole new car now, because the guys at Alamo Heights Garage did a great job on it.  The Reliant’s ride was nice and smooth, and the air conditioner worked like a champ.

Did I pay too much for the repairs?  I don’t know enough about cars to know if I did or not.  All I know is that I am happy with the excellent service I received, and the follow up call to see if everything was still work the week after and the 12-month/12,000 mile warranty on the repairs tell me that these guys are going to stand behind their work.

I’d like to thank the folks at Alamo Heights Garage, not only for doing a great job on the repairs to my car, but for making the process as pleasant as it could be.  I didn’t have to take much time off from work, either.  This was easily the best experience I have ever had with a mechanic that I didn’t personally know and I feel more comfortable knowing if my noble steed should ever be in need of repair in the future I know where to take it.

That’s right, almost six years later, the Reliant is my noble steed once again.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: Mad as Hell at Insurance Company

My car after being repaird
Looks nice, but it'll be an oven come August

This is a follow up to my original post, click here to read it.

3/21/2012 UPDATE :  After taking it to a real mechanic, it turns out that the A/C wasn’t working because there was a bad hose that had to be replaced. While they don’t believe it was caused by the accident, it means that Progressive’s grease monkeys misdiagnosed a problem TWO TIMES.  I will definitely be shopping for a new insurance provider now.

For the most part, my experience with Progressive has been fairly positive, except for a few bumps in the road: they had me send my car to the wrong repair shop, the repair shop they did send it to incorrectly diagnosed the alternator as being bad when the battery was the issue, it wasn’t ready on the day I was told it was going to be ready, and despite not being found at fault, I am out $500 for my deductible, but that’s a philosophical issue I’ll discuss some other time.

Now, call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first) but I thought part of the point of having insurance was so that your vehicle would be restored back to the state it was in before it was involved in an accident. Except for running a bit noisy due to an issue with the manifold, everything in my car had been working just fine before I had my little accident a few weeks ago. Indeed, upon getting my vehicle back, I was satisfied to find that it seemed to run as well as it did before. I also checked to see if a new battery had been installed, and yes, it had been.  I had grown suspicious after realizing that my radio presets hadn’t gone away as has been the case in the past when I have replaced batteries.

So everything was fine and dandy until I hop in my car to go somewhere on Sunday. It was warm out, about 80 degrees, so I figured I’d turn on the air conditioner to give it a test run. Air came out of the air conditioner but it was not much cooler than the air outside. I left the air conditioner on for the duration of the short trip and there wasn’t much happening. Now I’m worried, because if the battery went bad due to the accident, who’s to say that something else didn’t go wrong somewhere within all the coils, tubes and who-knows-what-else that make up the air conditioning system?

I don’t go running to Progressive just yet, though. Monday was also going to be a warm day, so I figured I’d give it another test run before calling them. I started up my car during my lunch break, at about 1 in the afternoon on another warm day and I ran it for about ten minutes with the air conditioner set to maximum. It seemed as if it was trying, but the air coming out was not cooler than the air outside. As it was a warm day, it was easy to tell that it was not working.

I now knew for sure that the air conditioner wasn’t working, so it was time to contact Progressive and get it looked at. I scheduled an appointment to drop off my car this morning and pick up a rental. The temperatures on Thursday morning were pretty cool, in the mid-60s; thus, I wasn’t entirely sure that the cool air coming into my car at the time wasn’t just the product of the outside air combined my not-quite-warmed-up car, but I was now certain that my air conditioner wasn’t working as well as it had been before.

I arrived at the claims center and let the person there know what was happening. The woman said that they were going to have someone check it out and then let me know how we were going to proceed. I said okay and waited for her to return. Not even fifteen minutes later, she came back and let me know that they were not going to look at it. Apparently I had given the impression that my air conditioner was completely out, and since the air coming out was just a little bit cool (which may have been due to the outside temperature) I was going to have to get it fixed myself. She cheerfully let me know that it probably just needed refrigerant and that any mechanic could probably fix it.

But it was WORKING JUST FINE before the accident, I said. She ignored that statement, gave me my key back, and bade me farewell.

I am not very happy with Progressive right now. I now have to take time and money to have a real mechanic check my car’s air conditioner. If he finds something wrong, I then have to convince Progressive that there was no problem with it before the accident, then drop it off, get another rental, and essentially go through the same thing I did this morning. As I type this, I am getting ready to talk to my claims rep and let them know how I feel about this development, but right now I am all but ready to dump them.

Half an hour later…

So I spoke with a second agent (the one that I’ve been working with is not in the office and I won’t hold that against her) who told me that I needed to have it looked at by a mechanic…

WELL, NO KIDDING, SHERLOCK, THAT’S WHY I TOOK IT TO YOU THIS MORNING!

Apparently, they don’t have mechanics at the claim centers. So some paper-pusher turned on my AC, felt cool air coming out (remember, it is a cool morning today) and used her 1337 paper-pusher skills to deduct that I had a Freon leak somewhere.  Aw, HELL NO.

Agent #2 is going to look into it and I now get to wait for his phone call.

Another thirty minutes later…

Agent #2 said that he was very sorry and let me know that yes, a mechanic did have a look at my car this morning  (as you can see above, I was not told that) and he was the one that said the AC was fine except for being low on Freon.  I told the guy that I was skeptical because the last shop couldn’t even properly diagnose a bad battery.  So now I need to take my car to a (hopefully competent) mechanic to look at my air conditioner.

So in the best case scenario, I get to pay to get my AC recharged with Freon, which I may have had to have done anyway.  Worst case scenario is that I get to deal with Progressive again and have their grease monkeys bang on it with giant wrenches.

I know that sounds backwards, but I think I’m going to be shopping for a new insurance company now.