Friday, December 18, 2009

personal stuff and air conditioning

When I was writing about the Mayor's marital situation, weighing heavily on my mind was my own situation. I don't believe I have written about this here, but my wife asked me for a divorce over four months ago (and we have been going through the process ever since). Any random divorce does not have anything to do with politics, except if I am getting one and also talking about a public official's marital state. Of course we are not allowed to talk about the Mayor's situation on pain of legal action. The public should not be allowed to bad things about a (this) politician's character, only the good things he wants you to know. Because even though any random male politician might lie to his wife, he would never lie to the public.

But now you could be wondering what caused my divorce. Did I lie to my wife? Do I lie to my blog readers? How can my blog readers ever trust me again, and after they have given me the best minutes of their days ... they need a minute ...

Well, my short answer is that my wife and I fell into a sort of passive aggressive communication trap, sorta like I go for days without posting here. And the short answer is all I am prepared to give here for now.

One of the spinoff effects of my situation was the unlikely prospect I might date again. My brother helped me move many of my possessions one weekend, and he commented that he thought I would need a car with air conditioning. This, I thought, was good cover for looking for a different car (no midlife crisis me).

My old Hyundai Accent was, perhaps, the very definition of a perfectly adequate car. Using an aftermarket device called a scan gauge, I was able to get 33 mpg overall over the life of the car. Since I got the scan gauge a few months after I bought the car, it might have been really 33.5 mpg or 34 with the toy.

But it did not have air conditioning (the better to save gas with) and in fact the fan blew warm air towards the passenger side during summer (maybe that was just my car, or maybe a design flaw). Plus, it was, you know, a Hyundai. Fine for me, but even the most enlightened, non-materialistic woman might think "a Hyundai?"

So I took the excuse to look for a different car. I looked online for TDI's, for recent vintage Cobalt XFE's, for stick shifts. I might have bought a Metro, if I could have found a three cylinder stick with air and less than a 150,000 miles. And I looked for the legendary hybrid stick shift, the Insight (generation one up until 2006) that got 60 mpg according to the EPA (some drivers get 99 mpg) and the line of Civic hybrids that had a stick up until the 2006 model year.

Of course, you can buy a used hybrid, although I think it is largely a seller's market. The CVT (continuous variable transmission) hybrids like the Prius, the new Insight and the Ford Escape (and most Civic hybrids) are smarter than the driver, shifting at optimal intervals to regenerate the battery and protect the environment from the driver (whom the intelligent car suspects is insincere about his professed concern for the environment, after all, he must have lied to his wife, otherwise why would she have ... excuse me, bit of a tangent). But with a manual transmission, the driver might be able to control some things that the car doesn't know about, like down shifting as you go up a hill or approach traffic.

So anyway I found and bought a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (manual transmission). It has air conditioning and is supposed to get good mileage, so it meets some minimum requirements of mine. Of course, a Civic is the uninspired choice of so many University and/or progressive types, so at least I will fit in.

But it is an interesting car to drive. Before I describe why, let me say a thing or two about driving a stick. When you want to slow down, you can either put in the clutch and coast (and perhaps brake) or you can let up on the gas while in gear and even downshift. On automatics that is the equivalent of shifting into the two or the one setting on your shifter. That is effective for slowing the car (essential if your brakes aren't working) but uses more gas and is hard on your engine. Part of what got me good mileage in the Accent was coasting up to stop lights and stop signs.

With the hybrid, I thought that when I was driving, and approached a traffic light or maybe just went downhill, I would put in the clutch, apply the brake and the battery would charge a bit as the car slowed to a stop. The whole regenerative braking thing. What I have discovered is that this hybrid is more sophisticated. If, when I want to slow down, I leave the clutch up (leave the car in gear), it will I believe disengage the gas motor on its own on the fly, engage the electric motor in charge mode and use the resistance of charging the electric motor batteries to slow the car. This has the effect of pushing the little gas mileage bar way up, by the way, I guess because the engine is either in neutral or perhaps even off. If the car is warmed up, as you slow to a stop still in gear, the car will go into "auto stop" mode and turn the engine off. We used to call that stalling out. But if I put the car into first in this auto stop mode (which is indicated by a little light on the dash board), it starts right up again. By the way, I have actually stalled the car as well. If you apply brake, while the car is in gear but your foot is off the gas, it charges the batteries more.

So this car wants me to do things I always thought were bad for stick shift cars, like using the motor to slow that car and leaving it a higher gear as you get to a traffic light. But so far, even with Pittsburgh's punishing hills, I am keeping the electric motor battery charged. I haven't programmed the scan gauge yet for the hybrid (I think there are some tricks to it to get accurate readings) so I don't have a feel for the actual gas mileage so far. And it is interesting that this car does not have much in the way of power, the electric assist merely makes a car with a tiny engine seem more like a car with an adequate engine. But damn if it isn't a hybrid. That's like air conditioning plus.

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