On Monday, July 7, 2008, after enjoying a “one-day vacation” with my family in Big Bear Lake, CA I embarked on a 3 hour and 21 minute, 205.5 mile journey to Bakersfield. There I was scheduled to start teaching another session at DeVry University that evening.

view-of-big-bear-lake

I am only just now able to share the photos from this trip because the past two months were exceptionally challenging, but rewarding. Adjunct teaching is similar to walking a tight-rope without a net: high risk, but high reward. There is no paid leave, sick leave or traditional benefits.

I taught three classes at DeVry:

  • BUSN-115, Introduction to Business and Technology
  • COMP-100, Computer Applications for Business with Lab
  • ENGL-135, Advanced Composition

I also facilitated four to six concurrent online sessions for Axia College of University of Phoenix of:

  • COM-140, Contemporary Business Communication
  • COM-220, Research Writing

Amidst all that I was juggling some consulting projects and myriad responsibilities as the father of two amazing young boys. Despite the limited amount of free time I have, it was important to have some kind of a vacation with my family, even if doing so involved driving 350 miles in 6.5 hours during a 24 hour period.

Had I been able to spend more time on vacation I would have done so. However, my circumstance did not permit it — so I appreciated the time I did have, not the time I didn’t. Although my time in Big Bear was short, it was priceless.

We rented a pontoon boat and spent several hours driving around on the lake just relaxing and taking in the fresh air. I don’t step back and take a break much, especially these days, but it was a wonderful chance to partially recharge my batteries.

After spending the morning of July 7 on the water once more I loaded up my car, filled up the tank (at $4.73 a gallon!) and got what I thought would be a cheap automated car wash (it was $10!). I got on the road at almost exactly noon and was off on my big adventure.

My route included California Highway 18 north (through Apple Valley) to Interstate 15 North (briefly) to Highway 58 West (the starting point is near Hinkley, CA — made famous/infamous in the movie “Erin Brokovich”) and ending on Highway 99.  My stopping point was the Vagabond Inn (North Bakersfield).

The photos below document this pleasant and, thankfully, uneventful road trip.

Fueling up in Big Bear Lake ($4.73 a Gallon!)

Leaving Big Bear Lake on Highway 18

Some kind of processing plant at the base of the mountain

Decisions, Decisions…

Apple Valley (where are the apples?)

Getting onto Interstate 15 (it is the overpass in the distance)

Interstate 15 North

Highway 58 to Bakersfield

Highway 58 Near Hinkley, CA (made famous/infamous in “Erin Brokovich”)

Mojave (home of SpaceShipOne)

Leaving Mojave and heading up the mountain on Highway 58 West

Nearing Tehachapi

Nearing Bakersfield

Smoky skies from various wildfires (see YouTube video below)

The video below was shot during the last leg of my journey. The overcast/discolored sky that was the result of soot and smoke in the air from the Piute Fire (near Lake Isabella, CA) and, possibly, the Gap Fire that was burning in Goleta, CA (near Santa Barbara).

The music in the background is the theme from the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.”  For the music buffs out there it is called “Music For A Found Harmonium” and can be found on the album “Irish Times” by Patrick Street.

It seems to fit the video quite well. Don’t you agree, Napoleon? Gosh!

The “Bond” in all its glory – actually for $40 it is a great value

Scenic view of Highway 99 South from my luxury suite at the Vagabond Inn

All things considered it was a (thankfully) uneventful, yet interesting adventure. There was something unique and invigorating about seeing parts of California many people overlook.

The following day I filmed this video as I drove to the DeVry University Center at 3000 Ming Avenue.

The video below is of me approaching the DeVry campus. The music that accompanies this clip is called “Say Hello” off of the “Centuries Before Love and War” album of the group “Stars of Track and Field.” Notably, I went to elementary school and grew up with one of the members of the band: Dan Orvik.

Despite the often odd adventures I have driving to and from DeVry, one thing is for certain: my commute is never boring!

Since 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, July 1, 2008 the California Vehicle Code (CVC) mandates that all drivers use a “hands-free” device when driving and talking on a cellular phone.  The state actually passed two laws which are now active as Section 23123 and Section 23124 of the CVC.

According to the new laws, drivers caught talking on a hand-held cell phone will be subject to fines of $20 for the first ticket and $50 for subsequent tickets. Additional fees can potentially more than triple the fine — I have heard that the average first ticket will cost $76!

One silver lining in this dark cloud: although the infraction will appear on your driving record the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will not assign you a violation point.

Below is an instructional video about the news laws followed by Q & A about them (courtesy of the DMV):

Q: When do the new wireless telephone laws take effect?
A: The new laws take effect July 1, 2008.

Q: What is the difference between the two laws?
A: The first prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle, (Vehicle Code (VC) §23123). Motorists 18 and over may use a “hands-free device.” Drivers under the age of 18 may NOT use a wireless telephone or hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23124).

Q: What if I need to use my telephone during an emergency, and I do not have a “hands-free” device?
A: The law allows a driver to use a wireless telephone to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or other emergency services agency.

Q: What are the fines(s) if I’m convicted?
A: The base fine for the FIRST offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. With the addition of penalty assessments, the fines can be more than triple the base fine amount.

Q: Will I receive a point on my driver license if I’m convicted for a violation of the wireless telephone law?
A: No. The violation is a reportable offense, however, DMV will not assign a violation point.

Q: Will the conviction appear on my driving record?
A: Yes, but the violation point will not be added.

Q: Will there be a grace period when motorists will only get a warning?
A: No. The law becomes effective July 1, 2008. Whether a citation is issued is always at the discretion of the officer based upon his or her determination of the most appropriate remedy for the situation.

Q: Are passengers affected by this law?
A: No. This law only applies to the person driving a motor vehicle.

Q: Do these laws apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws?
A: Yes.

Q: Can I be pulled over by a law enforcement officer for using my handheld wireless telephone?
A: Yes. A law enforcement officer can pull you over just for this infraction.

Q: What if my phone has a push-to-talk feature, can I use that?
A: No. The law does provide an exception for those operating a commercial motor truck or truck tractor (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicle or tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by a “push-to-talk” feature. However, a push-to-talk feature attached to a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is acceptable.

Q: What other exceptions are there?
A: Operators of an authorized emergency vehicle during the course of employment are exempt, as are those motorists operating a vehicle on private property.

 

Drivers 18 and Over

Drivers 18 and over will be allowed to use a “hands-free” device to talk on their wireless telephone while driving. The following FAQs apply to those motorists 18 and over.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law prohibit you from dialing a wireless telephone while driving or just talking on it?
A: The new law does not prohibit dialing, but drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving.

Q: Will it be legal to use a Bluetooth or other earpiece?
A: Yes, however you cannot have BOTH ears covered.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow you to use the speaker phone function of your wireless telephone while driving?
A: Yes.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow drivers 18 and over to text message while driving?
A: The law does not specifically prohibit that, but an officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely. Sending text messages while driving is unsafe at any speed and is strongly discouraged.

Drivers Under 18

Q: Am I allowed to use my wireless telephone “hands-free?”
A: No. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use a wireless telephone, pager, laptop or any other electronic communication or mobile services device to speak or text while driving in any manner, even “hands-free.” EXCEPTION: Permitted in emergency situations to call police, fire or medical authorities (VC §23124).

Q: Why is the law stricter for provisional drivers?
A: Statistics show that teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks. Teen drivers are vulnerable to driving distractions such as talking with passengers, eating or drinking, and talking or texting on wireless devices, which increase the chance of getting involved in serious vehicle crashes.

Q: Can my parents give me permission to allow me to use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. The only exception is an emergency situation that requires you to call a law enforcement agency, a health care provider, the fire department or other emergency agency entity.

Q: Does the law apply to me if I’m an emancipated minor?
A: Yes. The restriction applies to all licensed drivers who are under the age of 18.

Q: If I have my parent(s) or someone age 25 years or older in the car with me, may I use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. You may only use your wireless telephone in an emergency situation.

Q: Will the restriction appear on my provisional license?
A: No.

Q: May I use the hands-free feature while driving if my car has the feature built in?
A: No. The law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using any type of wireless device while driving, except in an emergency situation.

Q: Can a law enforcement officer stop me for using my “hands-free” device while driving?
A: For drivers under the age of 18, this is considered a SECONDARY violation meaning that a law enforcement officer may cite you for using a “hands-free” wireless device if you were pulled over for another violation. However, the prohibition against using a handheld wireless device while driving is a PRIMARY violation for which a law enforcement officer can pull you over.

It is hoped the laws will reduce distractions to drivers, thereby mitigating the 4,000 traffic accident deaths that occur in the state each year.

A study released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute documented 80 percent of accidents are caused by driver distraction, and 65 percent of near-crashes resulted from driver inattention three seconds before the event. The Public Policy Institute of California anticipates 300 fewer traffic fatalities annually once these new laws take effect.

Yet, there remains great debate as to how much using a hands-free device improves your ability to pay attention to the road beyond what you would experience by simply holding the phone to your ear.

In a June 28, 2008 a Daily Breeze article, California State University, Dominguez Hills psychology professor Larry Rosen, a specialist in the psychology of technology, is quoted as follows:

“Hands-free phones are no safer than handheld – it’s all an issue of cognitive load, or brain power. If you talk to somebody on a phone, you only get a limited number of cues, as opposed to looking at someone when you can see their demeanor, their facial expressions. When you don’t have those cues, your brain has to work hard to fill them in and having to work extra hard means you’ll be paying little attention to the road.”

Additionally, as reported in a July 2, 2008 Daily News article, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University discovered listening to a conversation while driving reduces brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent!

So, as was echoed in the quote by professor Rosen (above), it’s not how you are talking on your cell phone that matters — it’s the fact that you are talking on your cell phone. You could have two extra hands on the wheel while wearing your headset and still drive like an idiot.

That being said, I think using a headset is a nice option while you are in the car — though I think it actually has the opposite effect: it makes me want to talk more. I find myself more engaged in the conversation because I don’t have to think about holding the phone. I am unsure if I am in the normal or abnormal category for this issue, but it is how I feel.

For nearly the past month I have been using the Plantronics Explorer 350 with my Palm Centro — mostly as I drove to and from DeVry University in Bakersfield, but also around town on short errands. It works very well and it is reasonably comfortable. I like it because it sits in my ear, making it easier to hear the person with whom I am speaking.

I recommend this device to anyone looking for a Bluetooth headset. I do, however, not recommend wearing it outside of your car — you can get away with looking like a dork/Borg from Star Trek in your car, but once you are outside of it, the same cannot be said!

I initially tried a Motorola H500, but either the unit I had was defective or the design doesn’t suit me — becasue I could almost never hear anyone whether I was at highway speeds or even on side streets.

In any case, the results of this new law remain to be seen, but if it has the same effect as most other laws related to driving — or even most laws for that matter — I doubt it will have much of an impact beyond generating additional revenue for the state that can get misappropriated.

I am encouraged by the portion of the law dealing with drivers under 18, as that seems to make the most sense: completely outlawing the use of cell phones while driving is the only way to (at least legally) ensure that drivers are no longer distracted by them.

At the same time I am a realist: making something illegal does little to prevent someone determined to do it from doing it.  I also know that if you aren’t distracted by your cell phone while driving there are plenty of other things to do the job: kids, pets, people, iPods,  the stereo, makeup, food — the list goes on. I once even saw a woman reading a book while driving down the 405 Freeway Southbound in the Sepulveda pass!

But, if you live in California, it is now law, so unless you want to waste a lot of money you need to “get assimilated” and find yourself an earpiece that works for you. Just look at the bright side: now you will have an extra hand free so you can hold your coffee and your breakfast burrito while talking on the phone!

On Saturday, June 14, 2008 my family and I decided to visit the incredible Travel Town Museumin Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. We headed out at approximately 10:00 a.m., but once we left the house realized we needed to get gas. So, we stopped at a Shell station on The Old Road, near Rye Canyon and a stone’s throw away from the Southbound 5 Freeway.

When I got out of the car to gas it up, I nearly fell over when I saw that the cost per gallon of 87 octane fuel (the “cheap stuff”) was an astonishing $4.65! I could barely believe my eyes and had to check again to make sure I had read the numbers correctly. Yep, $4.65 a gallon!

 I was in shock and quickly cycled through the five stages of grief:

  • Denial: There is no way gas costs this much!
  • Anger: This is outrageous, I am being robbed!
  • Bargaining: Well, maybe if I just get $10 worth the prices will drop and I can fill up the rest of the tank later at a lower price?
  • Depression: I can’t believe this, I will never be able to afford to drive anywhere again….the world is conspiring against me!
  • Acceptance:It will be ok, gas prices will eventually even out – I have no control over the prices so why get riled up by them?

I filled up the tank with 9.123 gallons, resulting in a grand total of $42.50!

A few days earlier, on May 31 through June 3 (the last two days I filled up) the per gallon cost of 87 octane fuel was $4.23 at a Mobile and 7-11 down the street from my house — which was bad enough, but crossing $4.50 a gallon seemed like an entirely different level of extortion.

I’ve often heard the argument made that in some European countries gas can cost $8 to $10 a gallon, so we should be grateful that our prices are so much less. However, this argument is a fallacy, because these same European countries that have gas prices double our currently ridiculous rates are socialist — meaning that the additional cost of the fuel is intended to cover any number of social programs designed to benefit citizens of that country.

Therefore, in those cases, it makes sense that gas would cost so much more. But America, being a capitalist economy, the additional cost we are now paying for fuel does not result in any equivalent increase in services made available to the citizens of the country.

So, until I get free healthcare — that I would likely not want anyway, given the propencity of anything run by a government agency to foul things up — I will fail to feel “grateful” that we don’t have it any worse.

Although, there is a chance I qualify for dual Italian/American citizenship — so I might just ride out this “oil storm” living with my family in a Tuscan villa zipping around on a Vespa and exclaiming “Ciao!” to everyone (props to Eddie Izzard!)! I think I am liking the sound of this!