California Dreamin’

This is a guest post.  YAY Guest posts!  This one is, like all my guest posts (this is the first), written by my wonderful and tolerant wife, Laura.  We’re in Utah, winding up our winter trip from Kalispell through California and down all the way to Tucson, and then back.  Near the top to near the bottom.  Here’s a current map.  Click on it for a larger image:

Where the tesla has drivenAnd here’s the guest post (It might sound a bit strident, but I was there when she wrote it, and it’s meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek):

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

You could forgive me for expecting California to be a holier than thou showplace of energy and water conservation. After all, we had visited two summers ago and learned then that Priuses are as common as grass, but that you can play spot-the-Tesla with pretty good results. The state is known to be the home of Solar City and is also known to suffer from high electricity costs, rolling blackouts, a decade long drought, and uppity environmentalists. And smog. Also the state has more wealth and wealthy people than the nicer parts of Hell. So I was bracing myself to encounter…not much. Turns out the state has millions of inhabitants all competing viciously for the limited patches of road and real estate around San Francisco Bay. But they don’t really have that many solar panels on rooftops or in utility farms. And the number of electric vehicles is not yet a meaningful percentage of the total. I had been looking forward to an array of interesting designs for composting toilets and waterless urinals and I never saw even one such. Folks, I have a design for a homemade inexpensive sanitary odorless composting toilet and I have a design for a homemade inexpensive sanitary odorless waterless urinal. Do you realize how much better California’s millions could manage their water woes if they did not have to devote fresh water to handling sewage waste? None of our hosts were using household grey water (laundry to landscape) to water their yards. If they did, they could keep their landscapes green enough to keep from burning up in a wildfire. But a really irksome area of conservation that they are missing is that they run their furnaces to heat their homes in very mild weather. A standard well-insulated home such as is common in our home states of Idaho and Montana pretty well takes care of itself in such weather. Although California has cleaned up its air quality a lot the smog is just nasty. I don’t really hate California as much as it sounds like I do. The state’s scenery is just gorgeous and the weather is lovely. Probably nothing can be done about the traffic-clogged roads and the high prices of… everything. But come on guys… you can fix your smog problems with cars that run on electricity and bio-fuels. You can make your houses “net-zero” for energy use: With your delightful sunny climate you could generate most of your electricity from solar panels and you could learn how to not use much electricity during the hours of darkness. You can insulate and tighten your houses so they don’t need hardly any heating or cooling (although I will grant the need for cooling those valley homes in the summer is extreme). You could stretch your limited water supplies if you stopped fouling it with waste. You could allow your rivers to flow and your salmon to run. You could still have green pretty yards. You could stop having urine-filled toilets smelling up your homes (they are practicing ‘If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down’). You could have beautiful clear air and gorgeous vistas in all directions. You could have heaven here on Earth. Isn’t that one of the big reasons you all live there?

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New Yawk (Pt. 1 – Getting there)

Getting to New Yawk

So we drove from Idaho to The East. We’re children of The West and other than a few days of rather ordinary tourism in D.C, neither of us had any prior experience with cultures not our own. (The Midwest doesn’t much count. They are just Westerners who got stuck in farm country. Different, but not strange). We’d heard tales of the Very Different environment and habits of The East, were looking forward to experiencing some for ourselves, and were not disappointed. Our visit with the mad scientist went well, was immensely informative* and well worth the long trip. My cousin in Cincinnati, having learned of our proximity, suggested we show up at their house on Saturday for their once a year party (A beer fest that eventually developed into a sort of reverse AA meeting, the drunken denizens taking turns standing at a podium and telling stories about how much drinking beer has improved their lives). The trip to the lab took place on a Tuesday, and showing up at the party place a day or two early would only have resulted in us being put to work for the party prep, so we had a day or two to kill.

“Let’s go into The City!”.   ‘k. We needed a plan. Having lived on Earth, we’d heard rumors of the conditions in Manhattan, so taking our very expensive car there was obviously out of the question. The plan we developed was to take the train in, catch a show and spend the night, take the train out the next day. Roomkey.com said the cheap rooms push $300. no’k . Several decades ago when we’d vacationed to the Smithsonian we did it on the cheap and stayed in a youth hostel.   At the time, separate dorms for girls and boys was a bit of a drag since we were in our 20’s, but now we’re in our 50’s and don’t even bother to zip our sleeping bags together every night. So I checked for hostels. Bingo! $70 a night for a room with a twin bed, so we could be together without all that mood-killing fussing with the zipper! And $70 is within our budget. So now … reviews:  “Room is only 6 inches wider than the bed, but what do you expect”. ‘k.   “No roof, so you can hear everything in every other room and the shared bathroom down the hall, but can’t beat the price” …..‘k.…”I stay here every time I come to the city because I can’t afford anything else. There are literally thousands of bedbugs, but I don’t get any reaction from them, unlike some of my friends, so I don’t mind”.   *HARHK* DAYTRIP! HOW ABOUT A DAYTRIP INSTEAD? Skip the broadway show, it’s likely too expensive anyway. New plan: train in the morning, spend the day, train back the same evening.

Trouble is, we’d been warned about the pricey and unsafe parking of The East, and were hesitant to leave the very expensive car at the train station in New Jersey. We were staying 3.5 miles away from the station in Cheesequake State Park, a very nice place in the midst of the U.S.’s most population dense state, and very reasonable at $21 a night. Plus it turns into a gated community at 9 PM (So don’t forget the code if you go out to dinner). Laura and I are not averse at all to a 3.5 mile walk to the train station and back, but did begrudge the 50 minutes it would take us since we wanted to maximize the time we got to spend in NYC. So we unfolded the bicycles in the morning and quickly pedaled over, only to discover that SOME ONE of the two of us had forgotten the bicycle locks, and I won’t tell you which of us it was since it would embarrass me if you knew. But they are commuter bikes and we figured it would be handy and faster to tour Manhattan on bikes anyway.   Maybe it was a blessing.

Fold the bikes, get on the train. $52 round trip for the pair of us. Quite a lot of consternation to figure out which train to get on, except it turned out there’s only one destination for all of them, New York Penn Station. OK, good.

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Next Blog: Our Day On the Island of Manhattan

* Lawrenceville Plasma Physics is researching an alternative means of energy production with the ultimate goal of replacing electricity produced from fossil fuels. The average American uses 7 times more electricity than the average person in rest of the world (See “List of countries by electricity consumption” on Google). If there is any hope of bringing third world standards of living up to first world levels in a sustainable manner, we must have a cheap, clean, abundant source of electricity. LPP may be developing the answer. Go to Lawrenceville Plasma Physics.com to learn more.