Saturday, March 31, 2012

#119 - An Experiment in Driving

When we have the opportunity. we like to take our fifth-wheel trailer out of town and get away from the traffic, the mall, the everyday world. Thanks to the fifth-wheel, we have all of the comforts of home, just with better scenery.

Because we have a fifth-wheel, and because we don't have a three-car garage or the desire to buy, insure, and maintain a third vehicle, our second vehicle is a truck. This isn't your run-of-the-mill, everyday Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram, or Ford F-150. No, our truck is a 2006 Ford F-350 Crew Cab with dual rear wheels.

Needless to say, this beast does not have the fuel-sipping characteristics of your basic compact. However, it can just about pull a house. Or, in our case, a house on wheels.

For the first year or so that we owned it, this truck averaged around 12.5 miles per gallon. The price of diesel being what it is, that translates into a real financial kick in the stomach every time I would fill it up.After the odometer passed 75,000 miles (just getting started for a diesel), the fuel mileage improved to a shade over 13 mpg. Still not all that good.

A few months ago, I heard a story on some public radio program talking about a concept known as hypermiling. There is even a website devoted to the subject and offering tips for successful hypermiling.

Basically, the concept involves taking every opportunity to not press on the gas or brake pedal. Part of that involves anticipating traffic signals and stop signs, taking your foot off the gas, and coasting as far as possible before applying the brake pedal.

Another aspect of hypermiling I recently began to employ involves letting your vehicle begin to move of its own accord before beginning to press on the gas pedal. (Obviously, this only works with automatic transmissions unless you are headed downhill.) The theory is that it takes less fuel to move an object that is already moving.

I also use gravity to boost fuel mileage, coasting down hills whenever I have the opportunity. I have gotten better at anticipating traffic signals, which means less need to use the brake pedals and an added maintenance benefit.

None of these things, nor any others I might come up with, is going to give my truck the fuel efficiency of a Toyota Prius. However, I have seen close to a ten-percent improvement in mileage in each of the last two tanks of fuel. I now average around 14.2 miles per gallon driving around town.

As I get better at employing the ideas and concepts involved in hypermiling, I have hopes of nearly 15 miles per gallon in town, and that's without any after-market. additions or other alterations to the truck itself. If I can get the truck to 15 mpg, I will truly be a happy camper.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

#118 - Friends and Foibles

"But you got to have friends" - Bette Midler

It's good to have friends. I've never really thought of myself as being all that likeable or as having many friends, and compared to some people maybe I haven't. After spending some time on Facebook, however, I've found that more people touched my life than I realized and have remembered me more kindly than I had any right to expect.

For a long time, I came across as distant and maybe aloof (maybe I still do). At least that was always my perception of myself. Truth was, I was painfully shy and afraid to let people in to get to know me, afraid they wouldn't like what they saw because I didn't like what I saw. Because of that, I always tended to keep people at arms' length.

I think of the people who passed in and out of my life during those years and wish I had been able to break down the walls to let them in. Thankfully, I have been able to reconnect with some of those same people on Facebook. In the case of a select few, I have even managed to go beyond the typical superficialities that often come with posting on Facebook.

From these select few, I have received kindness, encouragement, understanding, and, as needed, a swift kick in the pants. They have also caused me to think about what might have been in my own life and to wonder a little about what might yet be in the life of my son.

My son is in some ways a lot like me in that he is hard to get to know beneath the surface, hard to pin down. In my case, that slipperiness served as one of my defenses. For my son, it may also do the same. However, it may also be a by-product of the fact that he is autistic.

My son can be both endearing and exasperating at the same time. He will hug the dickens out of you one moment and the next invite you to leave the room so he can be alone. Although he mentions the names of others he goes to school with, I don't know that he has many friends. He's never really had other children come over and never really asked to.

He and I are different in many ways but very similar in terms of our difficulties in connecting with other people. Because of that, we are not perhaps as close as we should be. On the other hand, he and I are closer than my father and I were.

Earlier today, I did some thinking about the emotional similarities between me and my son. I was inspired to write the following lines which are not quite about him and not quite about me, yet they are in many ways about the two of us.

Between The Lines

Cold - no feeling showed there in his eyes
He kept his true self in disguise
Hidden away

Still -there was a kindness in his smile
It was hard to reconcile
In the light of day

In his world, he was protected
His true feelings unsuspected
There inside his shell
Hidden all too well

He - wasn't like all of the others
It would take more to discover
What was in his heart

Fate - had given him a kinder soul
But had made him not quite whole
A missing part

That could never quite explain
What went on there in his brain
What was in his head
Never quite got said

He wasn't quite what others hoped he'd be
Not quite a product of his time
Nobody saw quite what he hoped they'd see
They never learned to read between the lines