January 13th, 2007

eliphas, napping

Fun with rental cars

This (Friday) evening I went to visit Snow's sister, T___, to give her some presents from her family, get the stuff I had stored at her place, talk some and pet the cat. The place where she lives is quite hilly, so what I feared from the moment I took a first good look at my latest rental car, a Chevrolet, happened: I had to use the parking brake.

Now, parking brakes. In my own car, this is a big lever between driver's seat and passenger seat, which is pulled and released with the right hand. That is how things should be, in my opinion. In the Audi, it was a button near to the driver's right knee, which had an "engage" and a "release" position. In the Ford, it was a pedal down left plus a lever slightly above it. You engaged with your left foot and released it with your left hand. I had seen that before in an old Mercedes, so, fine.

The Chevrolet had the pedal, but not the release lever. Optimistic as ever, I assumed that when the time came, I would find it. The "time" ought to have been the moment I wanted to drive away again. Which happened after a nice evening, only, what didn't happen was a sudden appearance of the release lever. I tried everything I could think of, then went back to T___ for help. She thought the whole thing very funny and was convinced that it had to be real easy and I was overlooking the obvious. (That's what I thought, too.) With the help of a flashlight we checked every square inch of the car within the driver's reach: Nichts, nada, nothing. The handbrake was engaged to be married, it seemed. And of course no manual turned up, either. I should make it a habit to ask for the user manual when getting a rental car and not leaving without one.

Finally we were really cold (it was freezing outside, in what is considered the coldest week in 40 years in this area) and decided that this was no use, and as it was a rental car from a big company, even close to midnight they must be some kind of customer service. T____ did the phone calls, much to my relief.

The first customer service guy we had on the line did speak worse English than I, but connected us to the next guy, and after about half an hour waiting in some line, we finally got someone with a clue and some answers. So I could drive off and wonder if these chinese-trick-box-like designs were done because the designers felt their lives lacked secret doors and secret codes, or if it just was a collateral annoyance because someone had decided that having another lever in the cockpit would spoil the aesthetic impression.

And in case you wondered: How to release the parking brake in a new Chevrolet
1. Step on the brake.
2. Now step on the parking brake
3. Release parking brake.
eliphas, napping

I saw a coyote today

How cool is that? A real-life red-grey bushy-tailed coyote, jogging out of the underbrush, half crossing the road, stopping, looking at my car, looking some more, and then going along on its business.

I had decided that, it being January and rather cold (freezing at night and in the mid-40s in the daytime) tarantula season had to be over and I finally could drive to Mount Diablo, which is overlooking the whole place, a single mountain surrounded by low hills. It was a sparkly clear day with frost on the grass when I left the hotel. My hiking guide recommended three routes on the mountain, however, one was beyond my ability, the next was recommended after rains, so that one could see waterfalls (and it hadn't rained yet), so I went for the simplest one and just drove through the main entrance and uphill for a long time: an enjoyable drive, and not really hard. (I still wouldn't want to drive in Tenerife!) I stopped twice to admire the view and the cool clear air, and take some pictures. Unfortunately, Tiassa's camera went weird on me, so I have to lock myself in the bathroom and check by touch if the film's OK, or get someone in a photo shop to look at it.

Mount Diablo is close to 1200 m high, and on the top it was pleasantly chilly, the temperature where you have to get moving now, but once you do it's very nice. I followed the Fire trail, which leads around the summit. My book said that there would be signs along the way to tell you about this and that, but there weren't. I passed a large rock on which a bunch of young folks were clowning about. While it still holds true that I've never seen a hill I didn't want to climb, I judged the rock well beyond my current capabilities (and isn't that immensely frustrating?) and didn't attempt it.

The view was incredible, even though the air was not entirely clear -- it was good-weather-air, where the horizon dissolves into contrastless blue. Yet, you could see the Golden Gate Bridge, and Sacramento, and snow-capped mountains far away.

After completing the trail, I walked up to the summit, bought some postcards, admired the view some more and walked back down to the car.

And on the way back down, I saw a coyote.