stopping a car when brakes don't do the trick
Wednesday, March 9 2022
I definitely had some work I needed to get done before tomorrow, but, as I often do, I procrastinated most of my morning away, confident that I would buckle down at some point and get shit done. But then, at around 10:40am, the power went out. There was a light snow falling at the time and it wasn't windy in the least, so there was no reason to have feared for a power outage. I first checked to see if perhaps there was a nuclear war underway, and when the Washington Post homepage loaded on my phone without problems, I checked the Central Hudson outage map. Our outage hadn't yet been reported. (There's a form for reporting an outage, but you have to log in for that, and I don't have any account with Central Hudson.) Since I hadn't actually gotten any work done today, I was in a bit of a pickle. My laptop batteries might allow me to work for a time, but I really need access to the internet to do any serious work, and my current phone cannot do internet tethering. So it was looking like I was going to have to drive somewhere to work. As I was collecting the things I'd need to use my work-issued laptop in the Red Hook office, I checked the Central Hudson outage map again and saw that the outage had now been reported and that it affected over 1600 customers.
At the time there was maybe an inch and a half of fresh snow on the ground, but the road itself looked clear. Fearing today's snow, Gretchen had driven the Prius to her bookstore job in Woodstock, and that left me with two possible cars to drive: the all-wheel-drive Subaru Forester, or the Chevy Bolt, with its known terrible performance in snow. But gasoline is now $4.50/gallon (thanks Obama!), so I decided to take the Bolt. If the roads were as clear as Dug Hill Road in front of the house, I wouldn't expect to have a problem.
But as I rounded the curve just below the driveway of our downhill neighbors, I saw Dug Hill Road was covered with a visible layer of white snow. I was driving very slowly at the time, but this made me want to drive even slower. But when I gradually applied the brakes, the car did not slow at all. It seemed destined to slide like a one horse open sleigh, probably into the delivery van stuck in the middle of the road about two hundred feet downslope. I didn't want that to happen, but there was no way to stop the car using brakes alone. So I steered off the road and up a part of the embankment that wasn't too cliff-like. I don't know what I would've done had I been hemmed in by guardrails or steeper embankments, but I would've destroyed the car if that was what it had taken to bring it to a quick and safe stop. In any case, this brought the car to a rough though seemingly non-destructive stop.
My experience of requiring a tow after getting stuck near the cabin caused me to buy a set of tire chains, which I had to order online. (The local auto parts places don't carry them, claiming they're "illegal" in New York State.) The chains were in a bag in the back, so I got them out and then tried to make sense of the instructions for putting them on. I managed to get one of the chains sort of on the driver's side front tire, though it was difficult because of the cramped space around the Bolt's tires and the fact that the chains are designed to cover the whole road surface of a tire, part of which is always pressed hard against the ground. But even with the chain put on in an imperfect way, I was able to drive down off the embankment and onto the roadway, where I then put the chains on the other drive wheel. Once I'd done that, I could carefully turn the car around so that it was pointed uphill and begin my slow drive back home. This went nicely for about fifty feet and then I lost traction and could drive no further. The chains had fallen off. So I got out and did what I could to put them back on. But somehow it was now harder than it had been.
While I was doing all this, several cars drove very slowly past in both directions. One woman leaned out her window and asked if I was okay, and I assured her that I was. Other drivers in other cars avoided eye contact. That tells you all you need to know how a zombie apocalypse can be expected to play out. At some point an old woman on foot came walking up the hill and we chatted for a bit, mostly about the utility of four-wheel drive. I told her that I live at the top of the hill in the red house and that I'd foolishly left my all-wheel-drive car in favor of this two-wheel drive Bolt. "Gus' house?" she asked. I said yes and that I was indeed Gus. She'd never met me before, but evidently she'd heard about me from Andrea. She lives nextdoor to her, one mailbox to the north on the same side of the road in a house that looks to be entirely surrounded by forest (there is little if any lawn).
After some more futzing around, skinned knuckles, numb fingers, and soaked knees on my trousers, I had the chains on about as well as I could manage. In that state, I was able to drive all the way back to my house at the top of the hill, maybe 600 feet away. In my driveway, I unclipped the chains (one of which got stuck in the axle and brake hardware as I tried to remove it). My verdict is that tire chains are no fun to use, but their ability to extricate a car with poor traction from a quagmire is reason enough to keep them handy.
As I was posting this tale to my colleagues via Teams, the power came back on. This allowed me to crank through all the work I'd been procrastinating. In the process, I gained further understanding of subjects that came up along the way, such as how to reference two different repositories from a single MVC controller. For most of this time, I was drinking kratom tea, which was working well as a work lubricant (something it often is not).
At 5:00pm I was on such a roll that I wanted to continue working, but on Wednesdays I typically cook dinner. So I went down to the kitchen, started cooking a cup of long-grained brown rice in the Instant Pot while sizzling cubed tofu, onions, and mushrooms together in a frying pan. The plan for tonight was chili, but I was still sizzling these things when Gretchen returned home. It's not unusual for Gretchen to prepare additional food as I'm preparing dinner, and this evening she fried up some spears of asparagus.
After dinner, I returned to my workplace work, continuing to work until the 150 mg of diphenhydramine I'd taken at a 7:00pm made it hard to continue. I also drank a single Hazy Little Thing IPA. I was proud of myself to do so much work and so little drinking on a Wednesday.
TalkingPointsMemo.com is one of my preferred news destinations, mostly because it opens my eyes to complex ideas I'm never going to learn about in a mainstream publication. Today it pointed me to a fascinating series of Twitter posts (this seems to be how one publishes article-length documents on Twitter, misspellings and all) about the relationship between mafias (and the nation-scale mafias we call keptocracies) and the complexity of the industries they control. A good example is the production of avocados. Evidently they're a simple product that any mafia can understand, and that is why most of the avocados imported into the United States are produced by farmers kept in some state of terror by a mafia. Similarly, oil production is a fairly simple industry, and often oil-producing countries are run by thuggish leaders, simply because their industry is hard to destroy even when the nation around them is ruled by a selfish, brutal despot. The Twitter posts propose that governments exist on a continuum from roving terrorist bands (such as the Huns or the Vikings) to settled nation-states ruled by written laws, and that it often happens that that first form of "government" transforms over time into the latter as the complexity of what is administered increases. (This has happened many times in history. Obvious examples include the Turks and the Mongols.) We're then told that Russia is essentially a mafia-controlled state, something made possible by the fact that crude oil and natural gas are its chief exports. This is an industry that the oligarchs closest to Putin control, and this actually puts them in competition with the older oligarchs who control more complicated industries (such as rock mining) and the "nerds" who run high tech industries. These other industries are more directly affected by the depreciation of the ruble, since they depend on the import of tooling from other countries. And, because they are so small-scale and not given much regulatory relief, they often cannot compete with products made in the West. A particularly delicious example was that of a Russian tractor company tasked with sourcing necessary resources within Russia. Ultimately, they ended up simply buying tractor kits from the Czech Republic and basically assembling them the way you might assemble a flatpack from Ikea. All of this makes Russia extremely vulnerable to the freeze-out that came in response to its invasion of Ukraine. It might be able to produce oil, but it has little infrastructure to produce much else, and this is all a result of the simple-minded, kleptocratic nature of its government.
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