Hybrid Driving

Driving a hybrid car is definitely a different experience. Witness the following:

– My car offers a lot of information to a driver. I can, by toggling a single button, get access to my tire pressure (which is important for hybrids), what my average MPG is for each of my last five gas tanks, what my average MPG is in total (this was reset when I bought the car) and of course, my current MPG for the current gas tank.

– I also have access as I drive to my efficiency. What I mean is that I can see, in real time as I drive, what my MPG is. This is an interesting phenomenon. On one hand, it’s amazing to see how efficient I’m driving – while I drive. I can, and do, make adjustments based on the meter. On the other hand, I’m not sure I want to be made aware every single time I touch the gas that I’m gulping petrol. Life has enough guilt trips, so I’m not sure I need my dashboard computer giving me more. In the end, though, I have to remember why I bought the vehicle.

– The car has two driving modes that help enhance MPG. One is ECON. I don’t know the nuts and bolts of it, but I can tell you that it reduces power at low speeds when you hit the gas. This is, perhaps, where you notice the largest difference between a hybrid and a traditional gas engine car. In ECON mode, you are conserving quite a bit of fuel by not feeling that instant gratification you’re used to with a gas burner. Since I purchased the car, I have not taken the mode out of ECON. Again, remembering why I bought the vehicle.

– There is also EV mode. This seems like more a marketing feature to me, but if you’re in EV mode, it means the car is running on no gas whatsoever. This is ideal for 92 year olds who drive under 20mph all the time. After 20mph, it switches automatically to the gas/hybrid engine. So it doesn’t really do much for the average driver.

– So here’s what I’ve learned about driving efficiency: cruise control is your best friend. You get optimal efficiency by NOT pressing the gas. So don’t think of the cruise control as a traditional old-school highway tool. I use it everywhere now, to prevent me from going 35 to 40 to 35 to 30 to 40, which I have historically been prone to do. I’m really learning to drive patiently, which I think my wife will just love. It is a little amusing to set the cruise control at 25 or whatever, but the amusement or I guess the embarrassment of doing the speed limit is far overshadowed by the little readout that tells me I’m averaging 60 MPG’s by doing so.

– Embrace neutral. Drop the car into neutral on large downward hills and slopes and Earth will love you. It some cases it will throw the car into EV mode automatically, which will immediately qualify you to be Al Gore’s cousin. And you can smile as your readout again tells you you’re at 60 MPG’s.

– Warm up the car. Better efficiency when you drive a car that’s been running for a few minutes. That’s true with any car, not just hybrid.

– I haven’t driven during hot weather yet, but the word is that air conditioning detracts from MPG. Sigh. This will be a battle, given that I would probably fork over my life savings to be comfortable and cool during the summer. We will see how much it affects MPG in the summer of ’11.

So what are the results? I’ve had 6 fill-ups thus far and my average MPG is 26.9. I’m pretty sure I can do better, because on my 4th tank I put up a 27.7. This is roughly equivalent or possibly a slight improvement on my old Camry. Given my car is a 7 seat Highlander Hybrid with double the cargo space, I’m generally satisfied, but striving to improve that mpg!


Christmas Tree Smackdown

I’ll be the first to admit to you, anytime, that I’m not handy. If you need something fixed, I am not your guy. I can go about as far as changing doorknobs. I once replaced an outlet in our house and before I flicked the switch, had shaking visions of explosions, sirens and a caved-in roof. I’m just not handy. I’m at the compete and utter whim of the multitude of contractors out there. Something broken? I don’t have the time, know-how or confidence to fix it. So I do what almost every red-blooded, middle class American does – I embarrassingly throw money at it. Until it’s fixed. It’s honestly not something I’m proud of. It doesn’t help my self-esteem a bit, either. My brother-in-law, it seems, can build, fix, repair and do a lot of other really important stuff. Me? I can probably give you decent advice on hockey sticks, good guidance on music and perhaps hook up your home theater. Now, if a nuclear bomb goes off, you’re gonna want my brother-in-law around. OK? Just want to get that out of the way.

This morning we piled the family in the car and headed off to get our Christmas tree at Durkee Farm in Littleton, MA. We usually just go to a local place, but an already cut tree, have them tie it to the car, then we always drove it home and put it up. By the way, ask my wife sometime about some of the years when I’ve tried to put up trees. You’ll get a laugh, though I must admit the last 1-2 years I’ve shined. My poor wife. Alas, Durkee Farm is a whole different ballgame. It makes men out of boys. They don’t cut the tree for you – oh no no – they just grow ’em. YOU have to cut them. And YOU have to tie it to the car.

So the idea was hatched in our house, on a recommendation from a friend, that we would pile in the family truckster, head to Durkee Farm, cut down our own tree and bring that home. A feeling of victory would fill the air! And so it was that I envisioned a beautiful crisp morning, hats with ear flaps, flannel shirt on, SAW in my hand, the oh-so-familiar holiday scent of fir wafting through the air.  Our kids would run around, smiling, laughing, full of Christmas joy, I tell you! My wife and I would walk, snug together in warmth and find the most perfect tree in the world on a beautiful farm. It would be pristine. The day glorious memories are made of. I’d feel like a MAN! Cutting down my OWN TREE, dammit! Like the lion who crushes the life out of a small defenseless animal and drags it home by it’s throat. Durkee Farm, man! Where you feel like Grizzly Adams!

The truth, well, that’s somewhere south of that glory. The whole kids-running-around thing actually happened and was quite cute. Steph and I did in fact walk around pleasantly and we did find a tree that we thought was near-perfect for our house. It WAS actually beautiful and cold out. I didn’t have the ear-flap hat, but I still felt ready, saw in my hand, challenge waiting.

And then I had to cut the tree down.

Here’s the deal. I have some tools at my house. They work very well-  the three times a year that I use them. My dad gave me most of them many years ago, maybe when I got my first house. I can’t remember. I can tell you that when it comes to fixing shit, the apple fell VERY far from the tree there, because my dad can fix a LOT of stuff. Anyway, I do have a saw. I’m pretty sure that the only time I’ve used it is when I’ve cut hockey sticks and I remember it wasn’t very good for that purpose. So what EVER made me think it would be enough to cut down a tree?

So there I lay under the tree. Back-and-forth. Zip-zap-zip-zap. The initial cuts were actually ok. Then and there I’m thinking this won’t take too long. But hell, I’ve never cut a tree down. It seems like when I get about 3/4 of an inch in the damn saw just won’t cut anymore. And even though it’s 32 degrees, I’m starting to sweat. No worry. Attack from another angle, I proudly say! You are the predator! Same deal. Now I’ve basically got a tree with half-inch cuts all around – and no budge. Poor Steph. She knows I’m frustrated and all she wants to do is help. She asks the question that no dude wants to hear – “should I get help?” My mind screams “YES! Get help!” But Grizzly in me says no way. I’M gonna do this. But the saw is clearly not the answer, so she goes and gets one from the Durkee folk.

This one works better! But I’m still struggling. I’m asked if I need help. I lay on the ground, dirt all over me, hot, bummed out. I admit yes. Please go get help. She goes off with the boys to bring back someone who knows what the hell they are doing. I lay there and say to myself “what a failure.” I really said that to myself. That is not something I’ve really ever said to myself. I’ve never been afraid to fail, don’t get me wrong. I don’t prefer it, but I do think failure in general (personal, professional, sports, etc) is a very good thing to learn from. But this wasn’t one of those cases. I try again and lo-and-behold – progress. In the next minute, the tree is on the ground. Victory. Not what I envisioned, but victory nonetheless. The man walking with my wife turns and heads back. Damn right dude! Turn that shit around and go back! The kids say “good job Daddy!” I’ve saved face, I guess.

Did I feel like the predatory lion dragging that tree back to the car? A little. I suppose. Now, tying it to the car is another story. I’ve never really tied anything to a car, given my penchant for letting others who know better perform those tasks. But I’ll tell you this much – that tree didn’t budge on the ride home.


Take Two

Given how sad I was that the Keith Richards book had to end, I thought I’d catch lightning in a bottle with famous English guitar players, so I dove headlong into “Clapton – The Autobiography.” Now, this is the second consecutive book I’ve read about English guitarists I’ve never really cared for, so I guess I thought if the Richards book was that good, than the Clapton book must also be, at the very least, interesting.

It’s funny, because I really can’t stand Eric Clapton’s music. I hate his voice. I dislike his version of the blues. If I want to hear blues, I’ll listen to the original guys. Now, I’m not saying Clapton isn’t a good guitar player. It would be ridiculous, in fact, to say he isn’t. I also can’t say I hate ALL his songs. But I do hate 95% of them. There are 2-3 Derek & The Dominoes songs I like. A sprinkling of Cream songs as well. Okay, two Cream songs. Maybe 2 Blind Faith songs, thanks to Winwood (another guy I’m not a fan of, which probably means I’ll be reading his biography soon, I wonder if he has one?) Anyway, other than “Let It Rain,” I simply hate ALL Clapton’s solo stuff. I mean it. All of it. I just thought, given his history, the book might be entertaining.

Well, it wasn’t entertaining. Clapton seems like an ass. He seemed like a grade-A ass when he was a drunk, a grade-A ass when he was a junkie and now, sober, I’ll cut him some slack and say he seems like a grade-B or maybe grade-C ass today. He’s history is one of being horribly demeaning to women.  His faithfulness to bands (and women) is laughable. He’s also a bad writer (of books). One of the biggest reasons I was interested to read his story was to hopefully get a logical explanation of why he jumped from band to band. I mean, for the most part, he was one-album-and-done with bands. His explanations for this were weak and pithy. He seems like a guy who just blamed everyone else for everything except himself – and he was a disaster. He doesn’t seem to respect fellow musicians very much, either, though I did find it amusing that he did seem to respect Keith Richards, who sent him a nice note after Clapton’s four year old son Conor fell out the window.

That’s the other thing – the Conor story. Heartbreaking, of course. I guess I always thought Clapton had cleaned himself up by then, but he was a disaster at that point as well. He was never there for that kid. Barely knew him, really. “Tears in Heaven” wasn’t written solely for Conor, though the song was borne from that tragedy, Clapton said the song was really written about all the people in his family who he wondered if he’d ever see again. I guess I always thought Clapton, like all those other musicians from that era, cleaned up and turned it around in the ’80s, but he didn’t.

Anyway, major disappointment. My one satisfying moment in the book was towards the end, where Clapton basically admits he’s a miserable curmudgeon. So at least he knows it.

Well, what’s the very best way to put an end to my “streak” of reading about legendary English guitarists that I don’t particularly like? READ ANOTHER ONE! That’s right! I’m now about 4 chapters deep into the Ronnie Wood biography. See, the difference here is that I LIKE Ronnie Wood quite a bit because he’s a character. I don’t mind his guitar work, but he’s not somebody I fawn over musically. You just know he’s a fun guy. I didn’t even have to think about the idea of not liking a book written by Wood, given his history. The book probably wrote itself. So far it’s a riot. I’ll post a more detailed review when I’m done, but I’ve already laughed out loud at a few stories, particularly the ones of his days touring around with Rod Stewart. Hilarious stuff. I don’t think I laughed once while reading the Clapton book.

So there you have it. My old English guitarist update.