to simplify 2.0    notes from the open road

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Back in the desert southwest at last, where those forgotten patches of land way out on the edge of things are always so easy to find. We societal misfits have a thing for the edges.

It hasn't been so easy getting to this point, between my somehow getting sick twice in a week and a half, and then spending the better part of the past week troubleshooting a sudden 30% loss in gas mileage. On the upside, chasing down this sort of problem is a lot easier when you're burning through at least a tank of gas every day, so in a way, the timing was good.

In an impressively all-encompassing display of on-the-road diagnostic prowess, I replaced the spark plugs, spark plug wires, and air filter, tested both the oxygen and mass air flow sensors to ensure they weren't faulty (check), removed the catalytic converter to make sure it wasn't clogged or damaged (check), ran a compression test on all four cylinders (all are popping at 150 psi -- byoodaful), checked the fuel injectors to be sure one wasn't stuck open, checked the thermostat and coolant temperature sensor (false readings could cause the engine to run rich), and probably a couple of other things that I'm forgetting. All of which did little more than prove that the spaceship's engine is in amazing shape.

You know, except for the fact that it was getting around 14 mpg – down from an easy 20 to 21.

Then late yesterday afternoon, just before knocking off the last 100 mile push into Arizona, I got the brilliant idea of resetting the engine computer – as simple as disconnecting the engine battery's negative cable for a few minutes and then reconnecting it. Hey, if it's the first thing we do when laptops and phones act up, why not spaceships too? Lo and behold, while I'm only halfway through this tank of gas, early signs look very good.

I sure wish I had thought of this reset sooner. Testing engine compression in frigid 35 mph winds in an El Paso AutoZone parking lot was not fun.

Friday, November 25, 2016


Alabama and Louisiana fade into the distance with little worth mentioning other than the above average number of pot holes and the thick-as-a-brick humidity. That I battled a 101 degree fever for two days may have something to do with my lack of detail, but regardless, good riddance to all of it.

Onward into the Lone Star State, where my fever breaks as the ramshackle buildings lining the highways of the deep southeast give way to one old brick town after another. This just might be state highway travel at its finest – a 75 mph speed limit on wide open roads through the country, slowing every forty miles or so for one lone traffic light in the middle of another historic town, and then back up to 75 again.

Interesting how good ol' brick and corrugated steel, left to the ravages of time, become more and more alluring while all those cold 1960s-era attempts at modernism only get uglier.

Thanksgiving scene:

A rowdy East Texas bar, beers, a burger, and the Cowboys – possibly as American a tradition as we have left anymore. Watching the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, that is, not (necessarily) watching them in a rowdy East Texas bar. Anyway, the female bartender, probably young enough to be my daughter, alternates between calling me "baby doll" and just plain "baby," the fat bubba on my left can't make up his mind whether the Redskins' tight end is black or white (I want to tell him black, but I'm honestly not sure how he'll take this news), and an actual cowboy sitting on my right is glued to his damn smartphone.

Texas. Who needs reality TV when this is reality?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Just as I was beginning to think it was time to wrap things up beside the Gulf and get moving west....

There are, after all, only so many fresh oysters and empty beaches a man can take.

Westward ho now, my desire to get back to wide open desert tempered by a general aversion to interstate highway travel. Especially around the Thanksgiving holiday.

State roads through small town America, stopping along the way for whatever compels me – the only way to see this land.