Cross-Country Driving to Attend the 2012 USITT Conference

USITT Conference in Long Beach Convention Center

Thanks for bearing with this blog while I took a couple-weeks hiatus from the primary subject of technical theatre and lighting.  I just arrived back home Thursday evening after traveling to Long Beach for the 2012 USITT Conference.  Partially to save money, partially to visit my daughter, son-in-law and grandkids and partially just for the fun of it, I chose to drive.  I broke the trip up into two segments each way driving from Des Moines, Iowa to Grand Junction, Colorado, then Grand Junction, Colorado to Long Beach California…and vise verse.   Following are some of the basic statistics of the trip:

  • Total Round Trip Distance:  3443 miles
  • Total Gas Used:  122 gal
  • Average Gas Mileage: 28.22
  • Total Cost of Gas: $490
  • Driving Time: 50 hours
  • Average Speed: 69 mph
  • Route:  I-80/I-76/I-70/I-15

Some Observations That I Made Along the Way.

  • There is a spectacular 10 or more mile section of the westbound lanes of I-70  near Glenwood Springs, Colorado which pass through Hanging Lake Tunnel.  The road seems to cling to the south face of the mountain and  to cantilever over the eastbound lanes (which go around the mountain instead of through a tunnel)
  • I-70 Eastbound in Utah

    When I drove I-70 westbound through Utah, I did so in the dark.  Navigating that stretch of interstate at night was like riding Disney World’s Space Mountain roller-coaster.  The same stretch of highway eastbound in the mid-afternoon revealed a roadbed winding among a crazy-quilt of exposed rock strata escarpments.

  • I was struck by the brutal majesty of the landscape along I-70 and I-15 through  Utah, Arizona and Nevada.
  • Approaching Las Vegas on I-15, the city appears in a slight bowl about half-an-hour before you get to it.  On March 27th, from that initial vantage point, Vegas appeared to sit in an indentation and to be surrounded by a smudge of brown air.
  • White-out in Nevada

    It snowed much of my return trip along I-15 between Las Vegas and I-70.  At one point, the snow was so bad that I was experiencing near-white-out conditions.  Luckily the air temperature stayed above 32 degrees and the road-bed didn’t freeze!

  • The landscape along I-15 through much

    Landscape east of LA

    of California reminded me of the movie Holes.

  • On the return trip along I-76 through eastern Colorado and I-80 through Nebraska I must have passed thousands of fields with pivot irrigation systems.  I didn’t notice them so much on the western trip, but one field in Colorado caught my attention.  It was an arc of bright green along the highway and literally covered with hundreds (maybe thousands) of black cattle.
  • Iowa windfarm along I-80

    On both sides of I-80 through western Iowa is the remarkable and stunning testament to the quest for renewable, green energy in the form of forests of behemoth wind generation towers.  They loomed out of the mists and darkness on my westward journey, and stood  simultaneously windmilling in stark profile against the eastern sky.

  • Every improved rest stop that I had the fortune to stop at along the route was clean and well-appointed.  A far cry from the pit toilet rest stops of my youth.  Many of them seemed brand new…perhaps one of the most useful legacies of the economic stimulus package.

Speaking of rest stops, I made a disturbing discovery on this trip.  In my experience, roughly 80 percent of the men using the facilities at rest stop and gas stations exit without washing their hands.  I don’t know about you, but I become somewhat queasy at the thought of  where those things have been and the funkiness being left on the handles, products, counters, and currency along the way.  I wonder what their wives, girlfriends and mothers would say to them if they but knew.  Another pet peeve that I have is related.  I appreciate the fact that public facilities are gravitating to paperless drying methods for those who do wash their hands, and I applaud policies that require employees to wash their hands before going back to work. I just wonder what is wrong with this logic when I have to open a door handle with my newly cleaned hands in order to exit the facility…remembering that 80 % of the patrons have exited without washing hands already.  Yuk!

The truck traffic was less dense than I expected.    I don’t know if it was the route that I have very little experience with, the downturn in the economy, or changes in laws or rules governing drivers of big rigs, but  they also seemed more courteous and more mindful of the speed limit than has been my experience in year’s past.  On the other hand, my fellow vehicle drivers were often cause for concern.  As a rule the vehicle traffic drove faster than the big rigs.

My biggest gripe though was with what I consider the misuse of the left lane.  Often referred to as the “passing lane” I consider that it should be used predominantly by traffic that is overtaking slower-moving vehicles in the right lane.

One of my pet peeves is the motorist who has cruise control set for just lightly faster than the slower traffic and who just inches up or even maintains station off the rear corner of a semi or another vehicle in the right lane.  I believe that it in incumbent on that driver to make an aggressive effort to pass, even if he  must accelerate to 5 or more miles per hour over the speed limit to complete the passing maneuver.   That seems to be much safer than staying in the blind spot of the other driver and effectively blocking the road from other overtaking traffic.

Once the maneuver is complete, the driver should not continue in the left lane, but should return to the right hand lane, leaving adequate clearance between the other vehicle before doing so.  Once in front of the other vehicle, the driver who has passed  another is obliged to create a safe stopping distance between the vehicle he passed and himself, and should maintain a speed equal to or slightly faster than the vehicle that he passed.  Otherwise, he had no business passing in the first place.

Nor do I appreciate the driver who overtaking traffic in both lanes rides up and tailgates a driver in the left lane in an attempt to intimidate them into driving faster.  That is just irresponsible and likely to lead to catastrophe.

Then there is the ridiculous appearance of the Mazda 2  that followed me for about 50 miles on I-70 eastbound into Denver.  It appeared to have a face on it with the headlights serving as eyes, the vehicle emblem seeming to be a nose, and the grill resembling a hideous mouth with a demented rictus grin.  Positively an unnerving view mile-after-mile in the rearview mirror! Shudder.

That’s enough for now! Have fun!  Be safe!

SJM

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