New Jersey highway hell
Tuesday, June 17 2008
setting: rural Augusta County near Staunton, Virginia 38.100405N, 79.129447W
On the drive back to Hurley from Stauton we got off I-78 in eastern Pennsylvania to buy food at a Taco Bell, the first time either of us have patronized this miserable franchise in years. Things seemed promising in the Taco Bell bathrooms, which were clean and had actually been tiled in marble. Things continued looking up as we ordered; "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey was playing on the restaurant's sound system, and Gretchen and I were singing along. But the food, which we didn't eat until we got back on the road, was horrible. It was as if it wasn't even food. The hot sauce was clearly non-Heinz-ketchup-based, the rice was some sort of rehydrated San Francisco "treat," and the beans, well, they were just nastola. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Taco Bell Seven Layer Burrito is the closest thing to a dirty diaper that people willingly put in their mouths. Gretchen and I made a pact then and there that we would never patronize Taco Bell again.
As we approached the New York state line on I-287 from New Jersey, we thought it might be wise to get some of that cheap New Jersey gasoline. Big mistake! There's a problem with New Jersey highways that doesn't seem to plague highways in other states: all the roads are divided four lane highways, there's an endless concrete Jersey barrier dividing eastbound/northbound from westbound/southbound, and it's never clear from the map or from the signage how to execute a left turn. Gretchen asked the guy who'd just pumped our gas at a Gulf station how best to get back to I-287 north and he said we'd just have to go down the road we were on for a half mile and take a U-turn. Those instructions quickly proved useless, as the central concrete barrier had no gaps in it for miles. We had to exit that road, ending up on another road that might easily have the same problem. You find yourself exiting roads onto other roads and then exiting those roads onto still other roads, all in hopes of eventually finding a way to cross oncoming traffic and head the other way. The only way to drive in places like this is to be intimately familiar with the terrain, but that didn't describe us. At one point some guy was riding my ass as I looked around for what to do next and I just took my hands off the wheel and shrugged big enough for him to see from behind that I had no fucking idea what to do. In the end I had to pull into a parking lot to calm my Jersified nerves. First, though, I screamed out the window about how much I fucking hated New Jersey. I also gave the ugly concrete-rich scenery a pumping hand gesture starring a middle finger. Eventually I got us pointed in the general direction of I-287, and as we passed that Gulf station (which, from across the Jersey barrier I could see was festooned with American flags), we shouted angrily and made obscene gestures. Lesson learned: never take an unknown exit in New Jersey.
Back at our house, we were mobbed by the dogs (who had assumed, as always, that we were "never coming back"). We looked in dismay at the garden, which looked as if it had been descended upon by a cloud of locusts. Doug (our house sitter) explained that golfball-sized hail had fallen during a storm the other day and had shredded much of the local plant life. Hearing this, I immediately turned my attention to the solar array, but everything looked okay up there. The only other hail damage I could find was the shattered remains of the lightbulb that I had used to illuminate the laboratory deck at night.
On the road yesterday, Doug had told me that my solar collector was failing to heat household water, so this evening I spent considerable time diagnosing the problem. The problem lay in the Arduino-based solar sufficiency controller, which would reboot itself every few seconds and never get to the part in its protocol where it turns on the pump. I was able to improvise a solution tonight by switching to an older model of Arduino, one with a USB port and without the ability to automatically reset prior to receiving new programming.
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