Tuesday, July 01, 2008

ToPA - The Long Drive Home

Monday morning I woke up somewhat refreshed, 7 hours of downtime enough to almost completely recharge my batteries. It would have been closer to 8 hours but we went to the world's slowest diner in Pittsburgh yesterday. I highly recommend walking out of the diner that has bright red seats (diner style) on Carson St. Great burger, horrible service (like 45 minutes to make a burger?). Third time in my life I actually shorted a waitress a tip. The first was when a waitress plopped down a few pizzas for a big table and walked away without offering to serve them or anything. She never came back except to give us the bill, and when we tipped her about $5 she actually chased us into the parking lot, screaming at us. Second time is when I never got an offer of more coffee at breakfast - the waitress spent the whole time talking to some guy a couple tables away. I think I gave a 14 cent tip that time. I don't know what sales tax on food is in Pittsburgh but my food was $10 so I gave $11.

Anyway, with that non-endorsement out of the way...

One of my initial tasks was to drive a caravan vehicle back from Pittsburgh. I was hoping for the Magnum but that didn't happen. The Magnum was an oddball car because the original one got broken into in Philly, and I guess that's what the guy ended up getting. Not bad but definitely not worth the hassle of the break-in bit. But, alas, no Magnum for me. Instead I ended up with a reasonable Chevy sedan. I loaded up, set up my laptop (for navigation), phone (hands free). Incredibly there were a bazillion 12v outlets - I could have still plugged in a couple more devices.

The reasonable Chevy I drove back to Philly. Tires weren't balanced properly so the car shook a bit, but otherwise very quiet, smooth, and reasonably predictable in its handling. Sufficient power too. I liked the gas mileage readings the best.

What's interesting is that almost every car and minivan I got into over the past week had tire pressure monitors, gas mileage displays, and various automatic headlights and turn signal type things. These cars are pretty feature laden. The controls weren't quite what I was used to so even on the drive back to Philly I'd turn on the wipers when I tried to signal to a truck that it was okay to change lanes.

I have to say the absolute worst car I drove was a Pontiac Vibe, a car that's actually shared with Toyota. Noisy, slow, weird seat position, just horrible. Digital gas pedal, on or off, so it was hard to drive smoothly. A manual version would probably be better, but the noisy engine was very distracting.

We hit out from Pittsburgh at about 9 AM on Monday, straight into a bit of rush hour traffic, straight through some dismantled-and-being-reconstructed highway ramps. After checking with my trusty laptop, we (Brian was following me in a less reasonable Chevy) navigated through the mess and got on our way.

With about 5 to 6 hours of driving ahead of us before Philly and another 5 hours after that, I had a lot of time to think about the race.

A nice interlude was when we hit our first (of two) rest stop stops. Lo and behold, the Magnum was there as well as two other directors and a bunch of riders. We said hi, hit the restrooms, got food, got gas, and left. I think those guys were still eating when we left.

I guess the most intense part of this whole Tour of PA thing was doing the lead car bit. I didn't have the wherewithall to take pictures in the midst of the craziness. If I do this again, I'd bring a helmet cam if the guy allows it (I'd just wear it like a cap). Much of what you see is less dramatic than what you see on COPS but it's still kind of interesting. I did take a few pictures in the calm before the storm, courtesy my relatively primitive cell phone cam.

My office for a few days.

The black car, to be precise. This is on the hard day, going to Pittsburgh. After thinking about it, I think a standard car would have worked better as a lead car. More recognizeable as a "cop". The lights are off in the picture but when we were underway the headlights "wig-wagged" (that's the label on the button, "wig-wag"), some red and blue lights flashed under the windshield sticker (which says "Command 1"), and after the first day he also turned on some white lights as well.

The radios we used.

The white buttons behind the front radios is the siren bar. It got used a lot. The flashing lights are controlled by other switches, just below the bottom of the picture (you can see some power lines going there too). I didn't peek into the other cars so it's possible this car had more radios than the others.

My cubicle.

There is a small 110v adapter in the footwell, the further forward of the two small light colored boxes down there. My laptop is connected there. Detailed route map is on the seat. The big screen bolted to the dash is the in-car, Windows XP computer which has GPS. The 15" screen (give or take) was much bigger than the 3-4" ones you normally see stuck to windshields. It was useful. It was funny to hear the email notification go off while we were driving around the countryside. The keyboard was a bit awkward to use but the guy managed okay (he didn't use it while in motion).

Being chased by a Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) cruiser.

We were on the correct side of the road here, and we weren't going fast. I think it was C4 behind us, I don't remember. The black car was C1 (Command 1), the forward 4-6 motorcycles were C2, there were some cars (C3-C6), then some other stuff like follow motorcycles and such. CP was a big mobile command post (an RV) with a radio relay.

We'd try and wave forward people going the same direction as the race. This way they wouldn't have to wait for 30-45 minutes for the race to go by. But sometimes they'd drive so slow that we had to have them move over anyway. The sight of such a scene would be pretty odd to see as a uninvolved spectator. Just imagine the phone call:

"Hey, you wouldn't believe what I just saw! I was going to the store to do some groceries and then there was this slow speed chase of some old guy and there were like 2 cop cars and 6 motorcycles chasing him. Then, a few minutes later, I saw this huge bike race go by. Incredible!"

Ronald McDonald made an appearance on the first day.

Lots of money went to the charity. He was quite a character. He got into the team photos and there may be a picture of me with said character out there somewhere. A local Connecticut official is there, looking down at the papers in her hand. Her husband officiated at the first half dozen years or so of Bethel.

YouSahDah chaperone badge. And my standard "back stage" pass.

I used the USADA badge twice, didn't use it once. The distinctive black clipboard you have to carry around is the giveaway though, the riders look at that, look at you, and resign themselves to not being able to cool down like normal.

I'm surprised the anti-doping is not very organized on the USADA side. It's up to the promoter to line things up - room, bathroom, drinks, cooler, etc. The numbers are just taped up in a somewhat random place (usually by the finish line booth) by a USADA person, just like the results at Bethel. I got asked by quite a few directors where to find the numbers (since there were always two random riders selected). A little sign post with a flashing light on top (maybe five or six SuperFlashes, who could sponsor the sign post) would be an easy way of posting numbers in an easy to find way, and the numbers can be clipped to the sign.

The Canadian rider on Kelly Benefits got an unexpected prize after the finish of one stage.

A local came up and gave this book to him after he won the day. The thong-man on the cover was a bit unusual, and the bemused rider gave the book to the bemused soigneur to hold. A bemused Jonas Carney, director, looks on.

Jonas murmuring orders to his riders.

Jonas, contrary to some of the other directors, never looked animated or uncomposed. I only ever saw him animated when describing tactics to his rider and Jonas was simply enthusiastic at that point. His rider had just won based on Jonas's assessment of the last 500 meters and his observations of the riders at the front at the moment - the rider even said that he was going "10k faster" because of the timing of the move.

What is interesting about this picture is the man with the blue/white striped shirt is a director of another team. I'm sure he was very curious about what Jonas was saying into the mouthpiece. I'm sure because he kept looking over at Jonas, then at the big screen TV, then back at Jonas. Jonas was about to go to a different corner but ended up parked in this "Staff Only" area. It was clear, he could speak into the radio without any problems, and he could see action all the way around the longer-than-normal crit course. His riders didn't win the day but they won the overall.

You may notice that it looks pretty sunny and dry. Incredibly this is the last day, the Pittsburgh Crit, and it ended up an absolute wash when the area got drenched only a few laps later.

During the ride back I got to talk to a few people on the phone. I didn't know Pennsylvania had tunnels but I think I went through four. Incredibly my cell phone worked through three of them.

I also used the Seek button on the radio a lot. If I do something like this again I'm going to bring some CDs.

After doing a switch and loading up my blue car, I set off on the second leg of my trip, another 5 hour drive. The blue car has a much louder and harder riding style and it took me a bit of time to reacclimate to it. I did like cornering better in it, and I got a good 6-8 mpg more than the sedan (24 vs 30-32 mpg), and it was my car, not someone else's. The trip went smoothly except for some traffic on a part of my former commute (which meant I also knew which lanes to take when).

Almost 12 hours after I left Pittsburgh I was home.

The missus was waiting and we opened the front door together, me from the outside, her from the inside. Smiled. Said our hellos. And caught up with all the stuff going on. The cats were a bit suspicious of me, not sure if I was the same person that left a week and a half ago. But after a nice relaxing shower I went to the bedroom to find Tiger waiting for me.

I guess he remembers me.

1 comment:

suitcaseofcourage said...

Welcome Home!! What a week - and a great summary of the happenings.

Glad Tiger didn't forget you!