Friday, May 26 2023
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, NY
This morning during standup I told my colleagues in the remote workplace that I'd be sneaking out a little early at the end of the day to get a jump on the weekend because I'd be driving to Virginia. I then gave a quick synopsis of the situation, which I hadn't told them before (because, despite my many stories, I try to remain something of a man of mystery): that my mother is in an old folks' home and actually in "memory care," but that she and I are "estranged." "It's a sad story," I said, "but I have to go down there and see her." My colleagues were all sympathetic and agreed.
I didn't end up doing all that much workplace work done except getting the skeleton of a new module working in that mapping web app from hell. After getting something of a "hello world" overlay to appear and disappear with a click on a UI element, I considered my work done. Meanwhile, I'd been laying aside all the stuff I'd need for my trip to Virgina. This included all my usual drugs such as kratom, diphenhydramine, pseuodephedrine, and a fist-sized lump of weak homegrown cannabis. I also took a hardcover book about ants that I'd accidentally had delivered to me in Hurley instead of my brother Don down in Staunton.
When Gretchen headed off on a social call to meet up with Fern (our February housesitter) and her possible new boyfriend, a not-too-interesting gentleman from New Zealand, she accidentally took the keys to the Chevy Bolt, the car I was intending to drive down to Virginia. (At least she didn't take the Bolt itself, something I feared she might absent-mindedly do.) I managed to find the second fob and a battery for it (since its battery was dead), but then Gretchen ended up returning home between social calls anyway.
I began my drive at about 3:00pm, though there were a few things I wasn't sure about that I needed to stop at a rest-area/text-stop on I-84 between Newburgh and Scranton to figure out. One of those things was the entrance code for the AirBnB I'd be staying at in Staunton, as there had been some confusion after Gretchen reserved a place for me on my behalf. I also needed to be sure there were working charging station in Scranton when I got there. As a bonus, the Bolt's MP3 player suddenly started playing music from a thumb drive I hadn't been able to get to work, though no matter what I did, my phone refused to connect to the car's bluetooth functionality, something that used to fucking work, sometimes unexpectedly (such as the few times when a person called my cell number while I was on the road).
The drive to Scranton was fairly straightforward, though I did get stuck in slow-moving traffic in one of several long stretches where the I-84 is being worked on. I'd forgotten how unpopulated most of this route is, particularly the Pennsylvania part. And it doesn't make up for it much by being beautiful either.
After taking the Joe Biden Expressway and getting a little lost in Scranton, I made it to the Sheetz station with the ElectrifyAmerica chargers. As often happens, the first didn't recognize my phone via near field communication (NFC), so I changed to another charger and got a different message, causing me to actually call the hotline. ElectrifyAmerica chargers are pretty unreliable as consumer-facing devices, but they hire the best most soothing-voiced tech support people (or AIs, if that's what they're doing). Ultimately I think all that was wrong was the NFC circuitry in the charger wasn't working.
Sheetz is convenience store with a built-in fast-food restaurant that, these days, is all mediated by flatscreens. I decided to go through the ordering process to see if, at any point, the burger could be made without animal products. This is not an option they provide, though I could've had a fried egg in my burger had I just suffered from a stroke and found myself to be a very different person from the one I am.
For those willing to cross a not-too-busy four-lane highway, there is a much bigger option nearby, a supermarket called Redner's. This one looked a little run-down on the outside, though it boasted about being employee-owned, which sounded pretty woke in a humble blue-collar Pennsylvania way. Not unsurprisingly, it felt like the 1980s inside the store. They didn't seem to stock any hummus, for example, which is the staple vegans survive on when traveling overland through fly-over country. Eventually I found some "hot" salsa, guacamole, and Late July sea salt dippers, which I figured I could make into a meal. I carried these back to the Sheetz and had my "dinner" while sitting on the ground leaning against a chain-link fence. (I keep having ideas for how stores near ElectrifyAmerica chargers could capitalize on all the wealthy people coming through with time to kill as they wait for their cars to charge, but for now such people wander through Walmarts or stare in dismay at self-serve Sheetz kiosks.)
After my car was about 80% charged, the fast-charger dropped down to only supplying 16 kilowatts of power, which is a third the speed the Bolt could be charged at. But I needed more miles to comfortably make it to Carlisle, the next charger on the route. So I sat there watching the miles slowly climb while, in an inversion of roles, an Indian gentleman strugged for much longer than he should have with his charger and dulcet-toned ElectrifyAmerica tech support specialist. (I've noticed that people charging their cars at ElectrifyAmerica chargers, none of whom drive Teslas, are disproportionately from South and East Asia.)
On the drive to Carlisle, I started out with about 30 miles more than the most-pessimistic prediction for my range. But but kept my speeds low, often below 60mph and only very rarely hitting 70mph, and over the course of the drive I managed to increase that 30 mile buffer to a little beyond 50. When driving a gas-powered car, it's easy to ignore the nature of the landscape, but in an electric car, where fast-updating estimates of the range give you a clear sense of how much power the vehicle requires, you tend to notice the ups and downs. I don't know how many ridges one crosses between Scranton and I-76, but it's something like a dozen, as that part of Pennsylvania is like too much carpet laid on too little floor.
Early in that drive, I drank my first of what was to be only two road beers. To limit the possibility of drinking too much, I decided to drink one road beer every other leg (as delimited by chargings), which would mean only two beers for the whole drive. That's well below the rate that would impair my ability to drive. (If anything, a small amount of alcohol helps keep my anxiety in check, which likely improves my driving.)
I should also mention that for the entire drive I listening to the following soundtrack: Jessica Lea Mayfield, Sunny Day Real Estate, early-solo-career Ozzy Osbourne, and a few other things. I love the country-goth weirdness of Jessica Lea Mayfield; her song "I Wanna Love You" makes the creepiest use of the chorus pedal I've ever heard.
I rolled into the Carlisle Sheetz at about 9:30pm, so when I strolled to the Japanese place nearby where I'd gotten vegan sushi back in 2021, I found it closed. I ended up buying a 24 ounce coffee and noodling around on my laptop. To my surprise, there was an open WiFI hotspot that provided very slow (but free) internet. Later I moved from sitting on one of the concrete footings for the massive transformers (which supply the ElectrifyAmerica chargers) to an outdoor table in front of the Sheetz.
I continued by fairly low-speed driving for the third leg of the drive. Since Pennsylvania and West Virginia are the two states on my route where cannabis is still illegal, I felt a little delight each time I crossed a state line away from them (remember, I had a fist-sized mass of crappy home-grown with me).
My last charging station was in a Walmart parking lot in Woodstock, Virginia, where I arrived at around 1:00am. Walmart parking lots at night aren't completely dead; there are always the homeless and nomads who park their cars or RVs in the spaces out on the fringe. And the Walmart itself, though closed, is still a bustle activity as a night shift restocks shelves and cleans up the messes from the previous day.
I went on a stroll around the adjacent commercial area to kill the time while an orange-yellow quarter moon hung overhead, its lit side pointing downwards in the direction of where the sunrise would be.
It's only a little over 60 miles from Woodstock to Staunton, so I didn't require a full charge. So when the charger eventually crapped out at a charge of about 60% and decided not to charge (other sense of the word) me any money, I was good to go. For the final road-beer powered leg, I was more profligate in my use of electricity.
At about 3:00am, I parked at my AirBnB (technically it's a VRBO) on a steep stretch of Madison Street above Stuart Hall (a private school for girls) and then found my way into the apartment. It was a nice loft space with nothing but a brick chimney dividing the bedroom from the living room area. The bed was big and clean. Surprisingly, though, I had a little trouble falling asleep.
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