Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Turo turned me on to automatic gearboxes

A few weeks back I helped my younger brother move in back to UC Santa Cruz. This year he’s living off-campus so there’s plenty more to bring, mainly the stuff that belongs in the kitchen. His MK7.5 Golf GTI hatchback can fit quite a bit of stuff, but in the end we also needed a second car to haul to all.

Unfortunately, my first ever car, the family’s 2006 Toyota Corolla, gave up the ghost the same weekend. The car’s utterly weak C59 manual transmission (third gear has had a grind since I can remember) shattered a few gear internally, and it was making the most horrible noises when driving, akin to a racing car gearbox with straight-cut gears. The lever refuses to go into third or fourth gear, and we simply weren’t confident it can make the 130 miles round-trip to Santa Cruz.

We needed another car quite quickly, so to the Turo app we went the night before. 50 bucks on the credit card later the following morning, and we had ourselves a 2017 Honda Civic to use. What lovely convenience it is to be able to rent a car in that swift a timeframe; the traditional route would’ve found us at the SFO airport rental car complex because it’s be the only spot open on a Sunday. Not to mention it’d cost considerably more.

The Civic had an automatic gearbox obviously, because why would any sane person lend their manual transmission car out to a stranger. I did the driving duties, and it was the first time in the longest time I’ve driven an automatic car for an extended period. Perhaps it is because I’m getting old, but as an avid advocate of the row-it-yourself gearbox, I found driving the auto Civic to be an absolute pleasure. Automatic transmissions are actually okay!?

I get it now: in normal everyday driving, not having to do the clutch and gearstick dance at every intersection is a godsend for comfort. In a car with an auto ‘box you just push the gas and go. Manual transmission fanatics sticking to their dogma of daily-driving a stick-shift car being no more difficult than a car with an automatic gearbox are fooling themselves; I use to be that guy, but having driven to Santa Cruz and back in that Honda Civic, my position have changed completely.

Bay Area traffic isn’t going to get any better, mind.

I don’t think I’ll buy another manual gearbox car as a daily driver ever again. The bliss and ease in letting the car shift itself, particularly in traffic, is worth the “car enthusiast credibility” sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong: on an empty winding mountain road in a proper sports car, a stick with a clutch is still the choice for pure driving enjoyment.

Or you buy a 911 with PDK and get the best compromise of both worlds.

Look at the stars, look how they shine for… you.

Look at the stars, look how they shine for… you.

When even the buses are too crowded

One thing I realized in the contrast between taking the bus at night and taking the bus during "normal" commute hours is just how much more passengers there are in the latter. Honestly I was slightly annoyed the bus had to stop at every stop to let people off, compared to the bus at night in which it'll breeze through all the stops until my destination. Now that schools have begun Fall semester the negative effect is compounded: last Friday it took me a solid hour to get home, where it usually takes 40 minutes.

The population density of my neighborhood is only going to go up (there's two huge housing constructions happening on the western and eastern end), so if the buses are crowded now, I'm not sure how they are going to handle the additional thousands of people. There's but two main road arteries that leads out of the neighborhood, and even now it's already super congested during rush hour. Street parking is already impossible so let's add another hundreds of cars? Good luck with that. 

I sold my own car, electing to take public transportation, to avoid the above hassles. A few years from now however I can foresee that even taking the bus might be untenable due to the increase in passengers. Won't do me much good if I can't get on the bus and have to keep waiting for the next one (or one after that). I don't think I can live with the amount of wasted time if my combined commute to and from extends well beyond two hours.

For the sake of curiosity, I started to look at alternatives.

One would be the motorcycle. There are no laws prohibiting lane-splitting in California so a bike can simply weave through heavy traffic to get up front (as I see motorcyclists do all the time). Compared to cars, bikes are dirt cheap to buy and insure (no $21K Ducati Panigales in my future), get impossibly excellent fuel mileage, and are stupid easy to park. I plan to stay off the freeways so I don't think it'll be all that dangerous, either. 

I reckon an M1 license is in my future. 

 

At least it isn't busy on the weekends. 

At least it isn't busy on the weekends. 

The kids are back in school

San Francisco Unified School District is back in session for Fall so just when you thought traffic couldn't get any worse around here, out comes thousands of parents driving their young ones to school joining in on all the fun. 

Must. Be. Nice. Right from the start of elementary school onwards I either walked or took the bus to school. Granted the grade school I went to was a 10 minute walk up the hill, I bet you parents of today would drive their kids to school given the same distance. Wasn't crime much worse back in my day? My immigrant parents were to busy at work earning money to stay afloat in this new country of ours to care. 

I don't begrudge them an ounce. 

If I had kids I'd drive them to school too, no matter how short the distance. I probably won't let them roam freely until after puberty. You should all thank me then for not having kids and therefore not contributing to the traffic calamity. It isn't just highways that gets jammed up: on my usual commute bus there are tons of parents, who otherwise can't afford to drive, taking their kids to school. Good on them indeed but the buses are packed enough as is. 

You'd think the transit agency would add more buses when school is in session, but that sounds way too logical for SFMTA. They can't even get enough drivers to fulfill the usual quota! On my route there definitely is not a bus every 8 minutes as prescribed in the official schedule. Far too often I encounter 20 minute(!) gaps between buses during rush-hour, and those days are the worse. 

I'm looking forward to returning back to night-shift next week so I can take the bus at 1 in the afternoon and it'll be empty as can be. Until then, this week is one of the very few times I really miss having a car. 

Perhaps I should try biking to work...

Perhaps I should try biking to work...

The petty games

A few nights ago I was driving home stopped at a intersection. The street has two lanes so there was an SUV next to me. The light turned green and the car behind the SUV immediately honks at it to get a move on. I take off while shaking my head because it seems to be an epidemic these days with impatient people honking at the lead car as soon as the lights change. 

As I look in the rear-view mirror I smiled because I saw the SUV playing the petty games: it purposely continued to go in order to piss off the honking driver even more. Even when it finally took off the SUV went at a slower pace than other traffic. The honker was also boxed in by the faster moving cars on my lane, unable to skip out of the mess. 

Karma is so sweet. 

I personally would never play the petty games because this is America and you have no idea who has got a gun. I live in not exactly the finest of neighborhoods so it is best to be avoided. If I'm at the head of the line at an intersection I treat the lights like the starting grid of a Formula One race: as soon as the lights turn I am off.  

Not everyone needs to be like me and treat traffic lights like a racing driver, but I think if you are the first car in line then you have an obligation to move as quickly as possible. Likewise, those queued behind should exercise more patience because not everyone or every car is capable of moving off the line so fast. 

That said I do enjoy watching other people play the petty games.  

First rainy day of the season

Today was the first truly rainy day of the season, and with great predictability the traffic conditions were absolutely atrocious. A friend texted in a group chat to advise working from home if possible. Traffic in the Bay Area is bad enough on a good sunny day; mix it with heavy precipitation? Forget about it.

Late fall and winter is the time it rains in San Francisco, fairly consistently, so what I don't get is how are people not ready for it? Lack of preparedness is the only possible explanation for the slowdown that always happens when it rains, right? 

Remember a few years ago when it snowed in Atlanta for the first time in never and drivers were caught off-guard? San Franciscans don't have that excuse. 

Perhaps people are too squeamish about going at a normal pace in sight of the rain. Don't think Bay Area drivers skew towards the hesitant side? I bet you've never got stuck behind someone who refuses to merge out unless the oncoming car is a block away. One thing I admire about New York City drivers is that if there's a gap, they go for it. Quick and unobtrusive.  

Anyways, for sure one shouldn't be blasting beyond 70 miles an hour when it's pouring down, but 50 shouldn't be the correct answer, either, and I definitely got stuck behind a few folks doing 50mph today. Unless a monsoon is coming down, going vastly slower than the speed limit on a major metropolitan highway is hugely detrimental to proper traffic flow. 

Good news, though: everybody got a free cash wash today, and many more to come in the season. One of the little sweet joys of life is seeing the water beading off the car's sheetmetal: because it let's me know I've done a good job keeping it consistently waxed. To watch the pooled water glide off as I get up to speed on the highway is a always a treat, in a supremely childish way.