The Road to Edmonton

Morning came in Calgary and I worked hard right up until checkout time, when I sent an email to Deena (oddly, I think that’s the first time I’ve mentioned her name. She’s the producer on the project I’ve been working on) saying that I would be unreachable for a few hours and I gathered my stuff and quit the room.

Outside is was blowing hard and steady out of the north. I was tempted to drive with the top up again, but while the sky was filled with puffy clouds it didn’t looke like they were going to manage to combine up and amount to anything. I watched them for a few minutes, because they seemed to be forming up in long north-south ranks. I wondered if it was a trick of perspective or of perhaps there was some gigantically long-wavelength resonance in the atmosphere that was pushing the clouds into their slots. That’s the way I was thinking that day, in my interlude between fixing software bugs.

It’s always windy in a convertible, so the top went down and off I went, north. I’m not sure why I chose Edmonton except that I knew I could get the Internet, it was reasonably close, and it was a hockey town. OK, when I put it that way, it’s pretty compelling, but still it would have been wiser to head south, more in the direction of my next destination. Toward where I won’t be racking up hefty roaming charges when the client calls. Wiser, schmiser. I went north.

The highway between Calgary and Edmonton is what you would expect between two large cities, wide, easy, and under construction. When I turned north into the wind I turned off the tunes. The roar of the wind was so fierce that even with the stereo up pretty high I couldn’t tell it was on at all. I wondered what the roar was doing to my ears. Many of my peers have rock ‘n’ roll deafness, I think twenty years of convertibles may have had a similar effect on me (along with the rock ‘n’ roll, of course).

That’s what I did on that drive. I wondered things. On a small highway I’ll turn my headlights on, but on a road like that in the bright sun I won’t. Why? To save electricity. The logic goes like this: You turn off your lights at home to save energy, and your headlights take just as much energy as the lights in your house. That energy has to come from somewhere. Turning off headlights should improve your mileage. And I’m sure it does. Just not measurably. That got me to thinking about how people, when energy is very dear, will diligently turn off lights before driving half a mile to the convenience store for milk. So I’m thinking about the amount of energy a car cruising along the highway consumes relative to a lightbulb. If our engines were rated in watts instead of horsepower, the relationship would be easier to see. But then I thought some more. You can’t compare them outright because the efficiency of producing the energy and transporting it are different. then I thought some more. And some more.

I passed a gas station sitting right next to a refinery with the same brand name. I thought they should put out a sign bragging about how fresh their gas was. “Straight from the refinery to you!”

I thought about thinking about stuff. I thought about thinking about the American Road Myth. I shouted my thoughts into my dictation thingie. “The farther north I go,” I hollered, “The easier it is for me to imagine that I am on a ball, scrambling up the curve of it’s surface.”

“It’s all in my head,” I added.

6 thoughts on “The Road to Edmonton

  1. It looks like you were east of the rockies. May have been a wave train set up in the atmosphere by the air passing over the mountains. Then at the crest of each wave the altitude is high enough, and cold enough the water vapor condenses and forms a cloud. As the air travels through its wave form on into the next trough the condensed water evaporates and the cloud disappears in the trough.

  2. Speaking of physics equations, it seems the offspring has had a seriously delinquent education, in that he would not be able to keep up with some of the sort of dialogue we had growing up.

    We were discussing an article in the newspaper, about how a local drag raceway was providing a place for teenagers to take their hopped-up cars for a place to race without getting tickets or wiping out some innocent motorist in an accident.

    The article included an interview with a kid who drove a ’74 Suburban and typically beat all his opponents because they underestimated the 454-cubic-inch V8 under his hood. And we also got into discussion of what destruction was being avoided by the Suburban being on a dragstrip and not on Montgomery Boulevard.

    So we got into a discussion, first about momentum (simple enough) — if the mass of the Suburban is 3000 kg, and it’s going 100 m/s, what happens if it runs into a liberal lunatic in a Yugo, and she has sufficient passengers to make the mass of the Yugo 1000 kg.

    You can go on from there — if the Suburban accelerates from 0 to 60 over a quarter of a mile (converted to SI units), what’s the force of the engine’s output?

    Such was dinner table conversation when we were growing up, but, alas, our local public schools aren’t giving the offspring enough background to deal with it.

  3. As for gas prices, there’s a town called Refinery, along I-40 near Grants, that consists of an oil refinery and nothing else. Gas prices there are almost always the highest in the state.

  4. Oh, and on the headlight issue, did you know Canadian law is why all General Motors vehicles have daytime running lights? GM decided that it was too much trouble to make some cars with running lights for Canada and some cars without for the US, so they decided to make all cars with and advertise it as a safety feature. A couple of years ago, enough people had complained that the running lights were annoying, and Congress was actually on the verge of passing a law outlawing daytime running lights. GM lobbyists shot that down.

    Totally weird — GM lobbying in FAVOR of a safety measure?

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