Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Go where you want when you want -- and pay for it

The first part of this post's headline comes from an television ad I remember from the 1950s, a time before the National Defense Highway System was built. The roads were known as the Interstate system after the public relations types got hold of the title. The part of the headline after the dashes is today's reality.

Back in the day when highways and railroads were fighting it out for transportation primacy, a sports announcer did ads for the auto industry promising that owning a car would allow you to go where and when you wanted without having to wait for the bus, the train or the few trolley cars that were left at that point. I can't remember who the spokesman was for sure, so I won't guess, but he had quite an effect on the nation.

It's funny: I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can remember that ad, complete with a happy family heading off to the beach or the mountains, the driving father smiling with satisfaction.

In Europe, I guess, they didn't see that ad, so highways took second place to railroads, to the point where you can get to nearly every city, town, village, hamlet or crossroads by train or light rail or bus. Not here. Oh, you can get to major cities if you have enough patience, but service to smaller communities is rare. In Connecticut, service along the I-95 corridor is plentiful west of New Haven or, west of New London on the Shore Line East if you travel during normal commuting times. Service to the state capital is spotty and forget about getting to the state's university or main airport by rail.

Now gas is north of $4 a gallon and doesn't look like it's coming down any time soon. Thank you, Mr. Bush and pals.

That's the "pay for it" part of the headline. I drive a pretty small car that takes, if it's nearly dry, 14 gallons of gas. That's $59 worth of gas at the $4.25 per gallon that most stations charge today. I get about 30 miles to the gallon on a highway trip. I can't even imagine what it's like to drive a Hummer or a big Ford with a V8 that gulps gas at three times the rate my car does. From reports, dealers are giving puny trade-in offers for those cars because they can't get rid of them.

Talk about the chickens coming home to roost. The folks in these cars, from my observation, drive as if they own the road. For what they pay to tool those behemoths around, I can see their point.

Page 2

Let's go from problem to solution.

A lawyer I know is now tooling around on a moped. He says it gets 75 miles to the gallon. Not too good in a thunderstorm, I would guess.

Enter the Aptera. You may have seen this three-wheeler on a television news report. If not, here's what may be the future in cities. Read about it here: or at As is my habit when I'm pushing something, I am not getting anything for this, Aptera doesn't know I'm writing about it and I have no connection to it. So there!

The thing looks like a gull-winged motorcycle, seats two, gets (are you ready?) 300 miles to the gallon in the hybrid version or about 120 miles on one charge on the electric-alone model. According to the NBC news report yesterday, you can drive from New York to Los Angeles on one tank of gas. The todaysgizmos Web page is a little mixed up I think. The headline is right, according to the NBC story...the story isn't.

Let's has a top speed of 90 mph in the hybrid, goes from a standing start to 60 mph in under 10 second and costs less than $30,000. Before you run out and buy one, however, I would wait. This has a little ring of "if it's too good to be true it probably is"" to it, but I trust that's not the case. Trust but verify.

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Speaking of cars and foibles, you must get a look at Paul Bass' story in the New Haven Independent on parking near the Hall of Records in New Haven. A citizen parks there, gets a ticket. A city car parks there, no ticket Paul came upon this know, let him tell you the story.

Seriously, you must get a look at this. It's journalism at its best.

It reminds me of the work that the Journal-Courier of New Haven and New Haven Register used to do 20 or 25 years ago. Catching the suburban cops dumping homeless people in downtown New Haven, following city recycling trucks to see if they were hauling recyclables to the city dump (as I recall, they weren't), catching former mayors working for developers whose projects they championed, catching cops on disability pensions playing semi-pro football and hauling cases of liquor around for bars they owned and chasing a boxer named Midge Renault (born Salvatore Annunziata) who went missing, We never found Midgie, who was reputed to be sleeping with the fishes.

It was fun. We had the resources then to spend four or five days sneaking around a private university in West Haven too see if they were using the federal grant they received for a solar hot water system was being used for that system. No solar panels anywhere....hmmmm. I was in on a few of those, either working on them or, as a supervisor, encouraging the reporters and photographers. The local newspaper doesn't have the resources now. It's a shame because there are so many good stories lurking out there.

Until next time...

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