chuck.goolsbee.org  goolsbee.org, serving useless content from an undisclosed location since 1997

January 30, 2018

Review: Using the ReachNow car sharing service…

Filed under: Cars,Review & Criticism,Technology — chuck goolsbee @ 1:26 pm

There is a lot of blather online about how the automotive industry is transforming into a “mobility” industry. From ride sharing to autonomous vehicles, we’re supposedly hurtling towards a very different future. Well, not really because as creatures of habit, we still drive our own cars, usually alone, about 99.999% of the time. But all the hype? It’s on self-driving cars.

I’ve written plenty elsewhere about how I’m very bearish on autonomous vehicles. I just don’t think it is a viable goal to be expending so damn much engineering focus and resources upon right now, given there are far greater problems to be solved. But becasue traffic in Silicon Valley, Seattle, and other technology hub cities, we have software people trying to engineer their way out of their miserable commutes… or at least allow them to spend more time on Snapchat and Netflix while they (don’t) drive to work – but somehow still do it in their own personal vehicles.

In the end the lawyers are likely to kill this baby in its crib.

Meanwhile however, the ways of getting around are changing, and mostly for the better. Ridesharing, which likely can trace it’s origins to the same traffic annoyances of yet another group of Silicon Valley software nerds… (“I bet we can use an app to optimize people into cars to reduce the number of cars that are slowing us all down.”) has effectively disrupted the entire taxi industry by making it a far better end-user experience. Traditional taxis, at least outside of places like London or Manhattan, have always been spotty, inconsistent, and in my experience, a frequently awful experience. Dirty cabs, often retired police vehicles, so you felt like a perp rather than a valued customer, and drivers who often lacked even basic communications skills. Add to that a largely cash-based transaction, or if they took credit cards it was far from frictionless. Apps like Uber and Lyft have made the transaction itself utterly seamless and swift.

I’ve mostly used ridesharing services while traveling, or to avoid the risk of getting a DUI. For the former it is now routine to use an app to get around in a city I am visting for a short time. For the latter it is a lifesaver in every sense of that word.

I don’t live in Portland, Oregon, I live about a three hour drive away from it, but I visit Portland often. In several of my recent visits I noticed various BMW vehicles scattered all around the city emblazoned with a “ReachNow” logo. Curious, I looked it up online and learned it was a sort of car sharing service. I downloaded the app, set up an account (which involves registering your Drivers License and a credit card), and… didn’t use it for months.

But last week Testa Rossa and I were in Portland for a family gathering and some appointments. Time to give ReachNow a try!

Default View
Default View

When you launch the ReachNow app the default view is a map view of your immediate surroundings, and an ability to sort vehicles by “All”, “BMW”, “MINI” and “BMW i”. BMW i is just i3 cars at this time, no i8s, sorry. But I imagine if they expand that product line more variety could become available. Initially it was the i3s I spotted with the ReachNow logos that piqued my curiosity. I can’t imagine buying one, but I’d like to give one a drive, but sadly in my week of using the app no i3 was ever nearby. Oh well. The MINIs all seem to be Clubman models, and the BMWs either 3-series sedans or X-series SUVs.

To grab a car you click on the nearest vehicle and it will tell you what sort of car it is, what it’s expected range available, and a few other details you might use to pick what works for you, such as how long it will take you to walk there. It also allows you to “reserve” it, which makes it not appear on other people’s searches. This gives you time to finish what ever your’re doing and start walking towards the car.

Car Reserved
Car Reserved
Walking to the car
Walking to the car

Once underway on your walk, the map updates live with your location and route. You’ll note on the app screen there are an array of buttons that include “Destination”, “Signal”, “Damage”, and “Unlock”. I’ll admit I never investigated the “Destination” function. The “Signal” button however I found invaluable. On every trip but one, it was after dark, and (shocking I know…) raining. When you press that button on screen, the lights of the car flash a few times, allowing you to see it from afar, or in our case in a dark and rainy night in Portland. I never used the damage button, again mostly because it was always very dark and I would not have been able to assess and report any damage anyway. The app does present you with a screen that points out an existing damage report, complete with a diagram of the car and damage called out. The unlock button is pretty self-explanatory. When you approach the car, it enables and you can see an LED in the windshield that changes color as your phone comes in range, and you press the Unlock to gain access to the car.

The first time I got in a ReachNow car (a 3-series BMW) it required a call to support to figure out how to start it. Normally the center console screen welcomes you, and you enter a PIN. Instead this car’s screen was stuck on something else. Thankfully support was able to clear the error and get me going pretty quickly.

After that first time however, I never had another issue starting the car. I was always greeted by the PIN enter screen. Billing doesnt start until you either start driving, or select “begin trip” from the main screen. Just like a rental car, it always seems like I get cars that were previously driven by somebody well under 5 feet tall, so oftentimes I couldn’t even get in the car without making significant seat adjustments, so like using rental cars I tend to spend a bit of time adjusting things like seats and mirrors before I even think about driving, so it is nice the billing doesn’t start until you’re underway.

Welome screen.
Welome screen.

Parking is odd. Basically they allow you to park anywhere on a street where parking is legal. No need to feed a meter if it is a paid parking area such as downtown. Just park, lock, and go. You can also park the car and “keep” it by not ending your trip. You pay a reduced rate per-minute to park it, but the car remains for your sole use until you end your trip. So you could park it in a store parking lot, and use it to haul your groceries home after you shop. I never did any of that, because our trips in Portland were all simple point-to-point affairs. For example, we drove to a movie. Once the movie ended, I opened the app and found a car two blocks from the theatre.

Once your trip concludes, you are presented with a receipt, and an opportunity to provide feedback. Pleasantly, I found that the cost per-trip was usually about 35%-50% less expensive than a comparable one with a ridesharing service such as Lyft or Uber.

Over the course of a week we took several trips, and other than the first trip we never really had any problems. The last trip’s car did reek of weed (shocking I know… Portland) and the car was complaining about low tire pressure in the right rear tire. If there is any real problem with the ReachNow service I could think of this is an example, in that there is a shared resource that may not be cared for equally by all members. While I doubt anyone smoked weed in the vehicle, it was clear they smoked a LOT of weed before they got in, so the odor was VERY strong. I reported this and the low tire via the feedback tool in the app, and I hope the car was collected and cleaned/maintained… but who knows?

I certainly appreciate having the ability to grab a car and drive it pretty much on-demand.On the final trip of the week we combined ReachNow with ridesharing to mitigate the risk of DUI, as we drove to a social event that involved drinking, and rode home in the back of a Lyft.

Life takes me to both Portland and Seattle often, cities that are covered by ReachNow. I’ll certainly be making more use of the service.

September 15, 2017

Laissez les bons temps rouler! Bon voyage Jerry…

Filed under: life,Thoughts — chuck goolsbee @ 2:19 pm
Jerry Mouton, immediately after ascending Moki Dugway in Utah.
Jerry Mouton, immediately after ascending Moki Dugway in Utah.

I learned earlier this week that my friend Jerry Mouton passed away. I’m quite shocked at the news. Jerry was truly a gentleman. Always gracious, always helpful. Eternally smiling. I’ve known Jerry for over fifteen years, and he never hesitated to lend a hand or good advice, especially with regard to helping me keep my old E-type Jaguar running. Jaguars are how we met and it was the core of our friendship. Jerry and his wife Kate graciously hosted Christopher and me at their home in Palo Alto during our father-son roadtrip in 2009 and I would often meet him and other Jaguar friends when I was visiting the Bay Area.

He drove his Jaguar. On tours. At autocrosses. He drove it hard… as it was meant to be driven. It inspired me to drive mine.

Jerry has also been the driving force behind the “Oil Leak Tours” that a group of E-type Jaguar enthusiasts attend every year. I’ve been on one (and part of another) but Jerry never missed one, and in fact passed away while attending the latest tour.

Jerry's Jag on a switchback of Moki Dugway
Jerry's Jag on a switchback of Moki Dugway

The “oil leak” crowd have collectively decided to change the name of the tour to the “Yearly Mouton Memorial Vacation” aka “YMMV”. I know Jerry would get a kick out of that.

I’ll miss him. Laissez les bons temps rouler…

Jerry's Jaguar.
Jerry's Jaguar.

June 12, 2017

Vanishing Point. Focus Point.

Filed under: Cars,Thoughts — chuck goolsbee @ 8:08 am
The road to Area 51 in southern Nevada
The road to Area 51 in southern Nevada

I hate Las Vegas. 

Actually “hate” is not quite the correct term for my loathing and aversion for that place. Vegas is a blight on the otherwise wonderful intermountain west. I can appreciate what Las Vegas represents; a manifestation of liberty. A sort of place where the concept of “sin” is embraced as an alternative lifestyle. 

I’m not at all a religious person. Philosophically I reject the claim that there exists any sort of deity that rules or judges our lives and behavior. Virtue is its own reward, not some e-ticket to a post-mortem amusement park. So it isn’t the “Sin City” aspect of Vegas that repulses me. No, it is something far more simple than that: Las Vegas is just a revenue-extraction machine on a grand scale. It steals from the people who love it. 

Recently I attended an event in Vegas. It was one of those rare gatherings of far-flung folk with whom all of our interactions are online. Vegas was chosen as the location primarily due to it being a relatively cheap and easy place to get to. The organizers/hosts are from Los Angeles, but attendees came from all over North America. The SoCal contingent drove, but most folks flew in and made a long weekend of it. I’m still seeing all their photos posted on Facebook. Famous Vegas locales where they went, things they did, etc. 

Me? I drove. I drove there, I attended the event and a bit of socializing afterwards, then I drove back. 

It is about nine hundred miles from my home in central Oregon to Las Vegas. Why the hell did I drive it? Well, because it is some of the last remaining true wide-open driving territory left in America. That is why. 

The Great Basin

If you look at a map of the USA, the Great Basin is just sort of a big empty space. A blank part of the world that ancient cartographers would have filled with dreadful monsters and nameless fears. Terra Incognita. “There be dragon here” To the west lie the Sierras, to the east lie the Rockies. The philosophically polar opposite cities; Las Vegas and Salt Lake City lie at its edges. In between there is seemingly nothing. Interstate 15 cuts across it’s right side marking a route from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City via Las Vegas. Interstate 80 is the sole artery that dares to go directly through it east-to-west running from Salt Lake to Sacramento via Lake Tahoe. Otherwise this vast emptiness is devoid of superslab. It’s few small towns and settlements connected by a thin web of two-lane highways through giant valleys devoid of civilization. Empty blue highways. 

Perfect driving country. 

Before 2000, my only times spent in Nevada were an adult-league hockey tournament in Reno, and a middle of the night layover in the Las Vegas airport. It wasn’t until I drove Martin Swig’s crazy “La Carrera Nevada” car rally that I discovered the real Nevada. Not the smoky, white-trashy, sleazy Vegas or smoky, white-trashy, slightly less sleazy Reno… but the wide open and largely beautiful Basin & Range territory that makes up the rest of Nevada. It is vast. It is empty. It is awesomely scenic in its austerity. 

It is also the last place you can truly “stretch your legs” in an automobile. Yes, there is the autobahn, but no, I don’t live in Europe. I do live at the very northern edge of The Great Basin however. 

Safety Nannies might clutch their pearls and gasp, but… fuck ’em. Hemingway famously said:

There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.

True mastery comes from standing at the edge, looking into the abyss of death, and backing off just enough to truly understand where that edge lies. I’ve played two out of Hemingway’s three sports, and a failed at the basic task of herding some cattle into a pen before being branded, so I’ll take a pass on walking into a ring with an enraged bull.  Suffice to say I have a good handle on my limitations. I know and trust myself behind the wheel. 

What I can’t trust are the other humans on the road, who are so bored to tears that they have abandoned the act of driving so much that they yearn for self-driving cars to allow them to stare at their phones as they are shuttled from place to place. 

Out here in the American Outback, the roads are empty. Those drivers-who-would-rather-be-passengers are all either west of the Sierras, East of the Rockies, or are droning across the Basin on the Interstate. 

I chose my route to avoid even US highways  where I could and stuck to the most remote of the paved roads, state highways and county roads. It was bliss. 

Empty roads. Empty skies. Objective hazards measured largely in open range cattle and roadkill-feasting buzzards. 

There were stretches of road I traveled where I never saw another vehicle for hundreds of miles. I was utterly and completely alone for most of the trip.

What this sort of driving brings to the driver is FOCUS.

Well, that is if you choose to actively participate. One could set the cruise control and pass the time the same way I did in my childhood rides across the west, watching out the windows into the sagebrush for Pronghorns and Jackalopes. (I saw plenty of the former, and none of the latter.)

Or you can DRIVE.

I drove.

Due to some scheduling issues my trip to Vegas was split over two days. Friday I drove from Prineville, Oregon to Ely, Nevada, then Ely to Las Vegas Saturday morning, to attend the Saturday afternoon event. On Sunday morning I woke up and drove the entire return trip in one go, with only about an hour’s stop midway for lunch. Mapping software said the trip should be over thirteen hours long. I set out to see how many hours I could shave off that estimate.

I arrived home after about 10.5 hours of driving, alert and feeling fresh. How? I drove in a manner that many would describe as “reckless” or “dangerous” but is in reality exactly the opposite. I focused like a laser on the simple act of driving.

I played by a very simple set of rules:
1. When in or near any town, drive at or very near the speed limit.
2. When near any other vehicles, drive at or near the speed limit.
3. At all other times drive at the maximum comfortable speed I felt confident doing.

Given that well over 90% of my drive was on empty, well-paved, two-lane highways, with visibility often measured in tens of miles, it was very easy to drive the car at 80% of its true capacity. Being a modern, high-performance machine with tires rated well above my speeds, I felt very confident driving this way. I think I could have shaved more time off my trip had my car had a larger gas tank, or at least if I knew exactly where I might find gas along the route. Fuel consumption at higher speeds and “next gas in XXX miles” signs (which turned out to not be factual) forced me to slow down on two segments. It also rained on me for a short section through mountains in southern Oregon… for that I slowed down to well under the limit. Limited visibility and wet pavement is not the place to go fast.

Otherwise, I only made stops for fuel, food, and bio-breaks.

When I arrived home I felt oddly energized. Not at all tired. It was those hours of 100% focus. They don’t even allow you to become fatigued. So instead of covering ground at such a slow rate that the driver becomes bored, distracted, and fatigued, perhaps we should raise speed limits rather than keep lowering them.

It’s all about focus.

May 11, 2017

The Coupe is now on BaT.

Filed under: 2017 - Texas to Oregon,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 2:45 pm

The Coupe on BaT

After our road trip, and some attempts at cleaning the New Mexico Road Construction Dust out and off of the car, it has been listed on bringatrailer.com.

As I predicted the wheel whiners came out in force, but have since settled down. With a day to go, I’m not sure yet who is serious and who is just a lookey-lou, but I’ve been trying to be helpful as possible to all questions, online and off. Really hoping this one goes to a good home.

For the folks wanting a serial re-telling of the trip from Texas to Oregon, here is a clickable menu that takes you day by day, with each in a new broswer tab:

Prologue.
Day One: Houston to Comanche.
Day Two: Comanche to Lubbock.
Day Three: Lubbock to Santa Fe.
Day Four: Santa Fe to Kayenta.
Day Five: Kayenta to Ely.
Day Six: Ely to Home.

Enjoy!

May 1, 2017

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 6, Ely, Nevada to Powell Butte, Oregon

Filed under: 2017 - Texas to Oregon,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 7:54 pm

No matter how you look at it, we have a long drive ahead of us today. The space between Ely and home is vast, largely empty, and unavoidable. Both of us are feeling a tad road weary as well. We can “smell the barn” as they say and really want to be home. I’ve done drives of this distance many times before, but not since the Cannonball Classic in 1999 have I done them in serial, day after day after day. Mind you this car is far more comfortable than any car I have ever driven long distances, with the possible exception of my 2007 BMW M Roadster. But comparing those two cars is very apples-to-oranges. The BMW is a modern car, built with modern materials, and most differently, it is a very small GT/sportscar. This car is a luxury coupe. Sort of a class that no longer exists. If you think about it, how many two-door cars even exist anymore, outside of the sports/muscle/pony-car realm? The traditional manufactures still make luxury cars, but all of them I can think of are four-door cars. They even have the gall to call these four-door cars “coupes” Back in the day however, two-door luxury coupes ruled the roads, like Tyrannosaurs. Cadillac Eldorados, Ford Thunderbirds, Buick Rivieras, and of course BMW 6-series, and Mercedes-Benzes such as this one. Big, V-8 power, seats that would feel at home in your living room. Indeed, a living room on wheels. Our road weariness doesn’t come from the car, so much as hotels, and that unsettled feeling that comes from staying in them. While there is a daily routine, it isn’t our daily routine. Our longing is to be home and back into our normal day to day lives.

The route

If you are at all familiar with the region displayed above, you know there is a whole lot of nothing along that route. The largest towns along the way are Winnemucca (~9000 people), Burns (~3000 people), Battle Mountain (~2000 people), and Eureka (~900 people). The area between Winnemucca and Burns is vast, and once to Burns, we’re just two and a half hours from home.

Add to this, the weather doesn’t look good either:

Weather

(more…)

April 30, 2017

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 5, Kayenta, Arizona to Ely, Nevada

Filed under: 2017 - Texas to Oregon,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 7:16 pm

The Middle of Nowhere

We have a long way to go today, so I set an alarm for pretty early. We hit the road without breakfast, and based solely on our experience last night, why would we torture ourselves further? The plan is to head for Page, Arizona and have our breakfast there, then check the weather and adjust our route. The roads to Page are US 160 and AZ 98. This will be my first time on the latter. Always love ticking off another blue highway off my list!

Leaving Kayenta

(more…)

April 29, 2017

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 4, Santa Fe, New Mexico to Kayenta, Arizona

Filed under: 2017 - Texas to Oregon,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 5:23 pm

I didn’t sleep very well last night. Between the GI distress and being a tad weary after driving for three days… and then there was this:

Outside our hotel window

Did I add that it was backlit by a strong light. Right. Outside. The window.

I guess this serves as decor in New Mexico.

(more…)

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress