Tag Archives: driving

Four Travel Lessons Learned at Chicon

A few lessons we learned the hard way on our recent trip to Chicago for Worldcon/Chicon 7.

#1: Don’t count on laundry being easy. The hotel we stayed at didn’t have a laundry room, but they did have a laundry service…for $8 a shirt. Fine for the business traveler who needs one outfit cleaned, but a family of three could spend hundreds of dollars on a single load. No problem, you might think: find a laundromat. No such luck: As near as we could find, there are no laundromats in downtown Chicago. I ended up spending $12 each way for a taxi out to the suburbs so we could have clean clothes for the second half of the trip. The most expensive load of laundry I’ve ever done, but an order of magnitude cheaper than the hotel laundry service.

What do people who live in Chicago do if their washing machine breaks down? Or do the high-rise buildings have extra laundry rooms for residents?

#2: Having your toddler’s own car seat on the airplane is great. Lugging it around the airport, hotel, shuttles and taxis? Not so much. J slept through the first ⅔ of the flight out and the first ⅓ of the flight back. Despite the unfamiliar circumstances of the plane, he was in a familiar, comfortable seat, and I’d recommend it for any parent who can afford to buy their toddler his/her own seat. But it’s still a pain to drag it around. Update: We’ve since picked up a tiny folding luggage cart. We can roll the seat all around the airport, then fold up the cart and put it in a carry-on bag. I think it cost about $15-20.

#3: Remember to factor in parking when evaluating the cost of car rental. Since we were bringing the child car seat anyway, we figured we’d rent a car and just snap it in. It worked well enough, but when we got to the hotel we were faced with a $52/night parking charge. Over 9 days, that added up to more than the cost of renting the car! And the first place we drove to, Lincoln Park Zoo, cost $30 for parking – more than cab fare would have been.

It became clear that most of what we wanted to do was going to be within walking distance, and it would be cheaper to return the car early and take taxis to the places farther out. That’s exactly what we did.

#4: How much Internet access do you really need? Our hotel had a nice setup: A) $12.95 for 24 hours for up to three devices for in-room wi-fi. B) Free wi-fi in the lobby. C) Convention areas were paid for by the con. Over 9 days we pulled out the laptop maybe three or four times, and we used the tablet every day.

The thing is, my heaviest online use of the tablet was in the convention, not in the room. In the room, I was mostly checking email/social networks or playing offline games, or one of us was reading (either to ourselves or to J). These are low-bandwidth activities where high latency isn’t a problem, and it would have been fine to fire up the phone’s mobile hotspot for a few minutes or even read email offline & let it sync the next time I was in the lobby. (I caught up on email on the airplane on the way back, then let the changes & replies sync up after when we landed.)

Obviously this will depend on how connected you want or need to be, and what other devices you have. In our case, we paid for 7 or 8 days of internet and probably only needed 3 or 4.

The Phantom City

Years ago, when I’d drive along the 405 freeway late at night, I’d catch glimpses in the distance of what looked like a cluster of tall buildings in a city center. Not knowing the area well, I’d wonder whether I was seeing glimpses of Long Beach, or some other city in the area that I didn’t know. And then the freeway would curve, and I’d never quite figure out where those buildings were, and I’d mean to look it up on a map, but by the time I got home I’d be so tired I’d go straight to bed, and I’d forget all about it in the morning.

It always made me think of the kind of fantasy story inspired by mirages, where someone sees something from a distance, but when they get close it turns out not to be there, or to be far less grand than expected.

Somewhere along the line I realized that those lights I was seeing in the distance weren’t a city far off from the freeway. They were the lights on the oil refinery right next to the freeway a few miles down in Carson. I’d just catch glimpses of it between trees and closer buildings. With no reference points and no sense of scale, it wasn’t clear that I was looking at a compact cluster of small towers, not a larger cluster of taller buildings. By the time I got close enough to see the actual refinery towers, they looked different enough that my sleepy and driving-focused brain didn’t make the connection to those distant lights.

The South Bay is dotted with oil refineries, built here in the days when it was a major oil producing region, and I assume kept here because it’s so close to the Port of Los Angeles. [Edit: Actually, the area still produces quite a bit of oil, but the remaining wells are much better hidden.] Every once in a while I’ll be driving or walking over a hill and catch a glimpse of a too-regular “skyline” where all the lights are yellow, and I’ll think back to the time when I wondered about a vanishing city.

Photo: Exxon/Mobil Torrance Refinery, seen from a hill up on 190th St.

50,000 Miles

This morning, I hit 50,000 miles on the Prius. We’ve had the car for four years now, and it still feels like a new car — or at least, it doesn’t feel old yet. That’s why, though I’d love to have the plug-in hybrid model launching next year (and Toyota keeps sending me ads for it), I don’t feel any need to get onto any waiting lists. There’s plenty of life in this one yet, and no reason to trade it in early.

For the record: Typically around 43 MPG on an eight-mile commute that mixes city streets and freeways, plus errands and occasional longer trips. It was a bit higher when I was commuting 25-40 miles each way, mainly on freeways, but I don’t remember exactly how much. I think it was around 48 MPG.

Do You Really Need THIS Space?

Parking structure sign showing 264 open spaces on level 5, 326 on level 4, 469 on level 3, 247 on level 2, and level 1 full.

It’s astonishing how many times I’ve seen drivers stop near the entrance of a parking lot or structure and wait for someone else to load their car, get in the car, start the car, fumble around for sunglasses, make a phone call, put the car in reverse, check their messages, and then back out…even though there are 1306 open parking spaces on the upper levels, and a line of six cars behind them waiting just to get inside.

If the other driver is actually ready to back out, then yeah, it’s nice to pause and let them out. But if they’re not even inside the car, or if they haven’t even started it? The only thing you’re accomplishing by waiting for this space is annoying the people behind you.

Though I suppose for some people, that’s reason enough.