Road Tripping in the Tesla

My daily commute is only one mile, but I’ve managed to put more than 46,000 miles on my Tesla since I bought it in September 2013.

How?

Road trips!

So, given that many potential Tesla buyers still suffer from range anxiety—that uneasy feeling that your car’s battery will die before you get where you’re going—I’m presenting this account of my latest road trip, in which my wife and I not only got where we were going but enjoyed some fringe benefits from driving an electric car, too!

We started with a 3-hour drive from Salem, Massachusetts to New Haven Connecticut, where we had lunch at “The Study at Yale”, a hotel/restaurant that not only provided free valet parking to patrons but also had a Tesla High Power Wall Charger (HPWC). The result: after a good lunch and a visit to both of the college’s museums, we had plenty of power to drive first to JFK Airport, where we dropped my son off for a flight to Tokyo, and then to the 1 Hotel in the up-and-coming Brooklyn Heights neighborhood (braving the Van Wyck Expressway both ways).

Valet parking at the hotel normally costs $50 (Manhattan prices have crept into Brooklyn), but in support of Green living, it was free to us—as was the overnight charge on the HPWC.

Across the street, by the way, was the Watchtower Building, with a big digital clock on top. Long owned and occupied by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the building was recently sold to Jared Kushner, who has been actively investing in the neighborhood.

The next day we drove to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, the amazing botanical garden developed by Pierre S. DuPont and well maintained since thanks to a very healthy endowment. Comprising more than 1,000 acres of land, the garden last year completed a $93-million upgrade of the fountains area. Parking at Longwood Gardens is free for everyone, but electric cars get a preferred spot, as well as free charging.

And that night, our B&B also offered free charging, leaving us well prepared for the next day, as we drove down to Maryland to visit relatives, and then into Washington, DC for a publishing conference and a three-night stay. Parking at the Donovan, normally $50 per night, was half price for electric cars. The charging was free.

Three days later it was down to the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, where we paid the full $20 parking rate (for two nights), and once again got free charging between seeing the sights. These included the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, the Hollywood Cemetery (where Presidents Tyler and Monroe are buried as well as Jefferson Davis) and this mural from mid-2016. 2016 bernie sanders mural, Virginia

The first day heading back north took us to Annapolis for lunch and then to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the beautiful Brampton B&B in Chestertown. Parking was free for all, and charging was free for me.

And the final day, a 4oo-mile-plus drive, brought our first use of Superchargers, the free chargers made available by Tesla at strategic places around the country. While an ordinary household 110V outlet (a Level 1 charger in electric car lingo) will charge my car at perhaps 3 MPH, and a Level 2 charger (Tesla’s HPWC or other brands that support other electric cars) will charge at between 20 and 40 MPH, Tesla’s Superchargers (Level 3) will often charge at more than 300 MPH, if the car can handle it!

joyce kilmer service areaOur first supercharger of the day (after 137 miles) was at the Joyce Kilmer Service area on the New Jersey Turnpike. We plugged in (in the far corner of the parking lot), took a quick bathroom break, stretched for a minute or two, and then hopped back in the car, with enough charge to get to our planned lunch stop, 90 miles away.

But as we were exiting the service area, we noticed the lines at the gas pumps! In New Jersey, it’s illegal to pump your own gas, and these were the lines on Saturday near noon.

gas lines New JerseySo we avoided that. And we also avoided the congestion of Manhattan, instead taking the Garden State Parkway up to the Tappan Zee Bridge and across the Hudson River to the Tarrytown Sheraton, which has twelve recently installed Tesla Superchargers. I plugged in, saw that the charging speed was an astounding 379 MPH, and we had a bathroom break and lunch, while enjoying the sideshow of a wedding in the hotel.

After lunch came the familiar drive up Route 84 to West Hartford, Connecticut, where we plugged into the Supercharger and did a little shopping at Trader Joe’s.

And then came the final leg, 125 miles to home. We arrived with 20 miles to spare, a comfortable margin.

The total mileage for the day was 428 miles, with no real waiting for charging, as we used every bit of our charging time productively.

And the total mileage for the whole trip was 1349 miles.

If my car burned premium gasoline (like my previous one) and got, say 25 miles per gallon and I paid $2.94 per gallon (the average cost in the Central Atlantic states recently), the trip would have used nearly 54 gallons, costing $158.

Instead, I spent nothing on fuel. I dirtied the air less than other drivers. And instead of spending $240 on parking in New York, Washington DC and Richmond, I spent $115.

Thus, road-tripping in the Tesla is not only smooth and enjoyable (providing you plan ahead), it’s also a great way to save money!

Uber vs. Fasten

Everyone knows Uber. It’s the 800-pound gorilla of the ride-sharing business, operating in 570 cities worldwide, and enabling more than 40 million rides per month. Uber has changed the world in a good way.

Old Uber logoBut Uber has been under pressure lately.

Most fast-growing companies hit bumps in the road as they grapple with the demands of managing a mushrooming workforce

But Uber’s troubles include charges of sexual harassment, insufficient employee diversity, and a very aggressive corporate culture that prioritized growth over everything else.

New Uber logoStill, most people will keep using Uber because it’s better than the alternative, taxis.

In some cities, though, you can’t use Uber, and one of those cities is Austin, Texas, where I spent a few days last week.

You see, in May 2016, Uber (and Lyft) stopped operations in Austin, Texas after citizens voted to institute a background check system on all ride-sharing firms that included fingerprinting drivers.

So very quickly, alternatives popped up, including RideAustin, which is a non-profit homegrown product and Fasten, which was originally developed in Boston (Cambridge) and is still an alternative to Uber there.

FastenI used Fasten five times while in Austin and here’s what I found.

Fasten is just as easy to use as Uber. The main differences from the customer’s point of view are that you see the fare running in real time on your phone as you ride, and you can leave a tip for the driver through the app at the end of the trip.

The main difference from the driver’s point of view is that Fasten is less greedy. Fasten takes a fixed $0.99 commission for every trip completed by a driver, while Uber takes 20-38% of the fare. Perhaps this is why the drivers I had in Austin seemed happier!

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Robert Mapplethorpe

A recent visit to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux Arts) included a visit to two shows featuring the above artists—shows that were not designed to relate to each other, but that in my mind did.

On the surface, the artists are quite different.

Toulouse-Lautrec was a post-impressionist whose biggest sale was “La Blanchisseuse” (The Laundress), which went for $22 million in 2005.

La BlanchisseuseMapplethorpe was a photographer whose greatest sale was a portrait of Andy Warhol, which went for $643,000 in 2006.

Andy WarholToulouse-Lautrec worked in Paris while Mapplethorpe worked in New York.

Toulouse-Lautrec died 45 years before Mapplethorpe was born.

But what struck me after seeing the two shows were the similarities between the two men.

Both lived on the periphery of society.

Toulouse-Lautrec was dwarfish, as a result of breaking two legs in accidents when he was 13 and 14—also, his parents were first cousins, which seldom helps.

Mapplethorpe was homosexual.

Toulouse-Lautrec found comfort among the performers and prostitutes of bohemian Montmartre.

Mapplethorpe found comfort in the homosexual subculture of the art world of New York.

Both documented the world around them.

Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized the singers and dancers of Le Moulin Rouge with his quick pastel drawings and his advertising lithographs.

Mapplethorpe immortalized friends, celebrities and sexual adventurers with photographs that ranged from formal to erotic.

Laid low by alcoholism and syphilis, Toulouse-Lautrec was committed to an asylum and died in his mother’s house at the age of 36 in 1901.

Mapplethorpe died in 1989 at the age of 42 due to complications from HIV/AIDS.

Despite having died young, both left behind large bodies of work, which we can enjoy (or at least view), today.

The exhibit “Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque” will be at The Phillips Collection in Washington DC from February 4 until April 30, 2017.

The Mapplethorpe exhibit, “Focus: Perfection” will be in Montreal until January 22, 2017.

But now I get to the hard part. Having described the basic differences and, more important, the similarities in the artists’ circumstances, what does it mean? Where is the value?

Is it enough to say that these men, unable to adapt to normal society, became flaming candles that illuminated their dark worlds and were prematurely extinguished?

If each had been born a bit later, he would found a society more accepting of his differences.

But then might we have been denied the art that was born out of those circumstances?

I don’t have any answers, but I do think it will be interesting to see what the art market is saying about Mapplethorpe’s photographs a century after his death.

Boston’s Swan Boats

One of the best ways to spend $3.50 in Boston is to take a ride on the Swan Boats, which have been plying the waters of the lagoon in the Public Garden since 1877.

I did recently, and here are some pictures.

Boston Swan BoatsThe Swan Boats were a revolutionary development back in 1877, marrying the romance of small-craft boating with the excitement of the bicycle. Basically, a Swan Boat consists of two pontoons spanned by benches and driven by an underwater propulsion system that is powered by a healthy pedaller who sits in the body of a swan.

Swan BoatsThe whole arrangement is quite silent; the main sounds are the comments of the passengers, who marvel at the behavior of the ducks and other fauna and flora. The whole trip takes 12-15 minutes and is totally worth it, especially if you can enjoy it on a beautiful spring day.

Swan BoatsInterestingly, the Swan Boats are still operated by the Paget family, whose ancestor Robert Paget built and operated the first Swan Boat way back in 1877. Over the years they’ve become an iconic Boston attraction. If you visit, don’t miss them!

Lawn Bowling

Lawn bowling has been an English sport for centuries, and all the former English colonies have clubs that organize and promote the sport.

But I’d never had a chance to try lawn bowling myself until I found myself in Queenstown, New Zealand. Queenstown is best known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. Bordering a long, deep lake and surrounded by tall mountains, the town attracts hikers, mountain bikers, bungee jumpers, paragliders, parasailers, jet-skiers, snow skiers, snowboarders and more.

But for me, the biggest thrill was lawn bowling. The English (as well as Kiwis, Aussies, Scots, Canadians and Indians) just call it bowling. But as an American, I’ve got to call it lawn bowling, to distinguish it from the bowling that we practice indoors, which involves attempting to knock over ten pins.

Bowling, for the uninitiated, is a bit like bocce, in that the object is to get your balls close to the little white ball at the other end of the lane. However, the balls you’re rolling aren’t perfectly symmetrical; as they roll, they want to curve a bit to one side—sort of like the stone does in the sport of curling, which we watch in the Olympics every four years. Which brings up the question of why curling is in the Olympics and not bowling, and which I won’t attempt to answer.

Bowling is a sport for all ages. The physical exertion is minimal. And if you wish, you can partake of your favorite adult beverage at the same time, as we did.

Queenstown Bowling ClubFor our purposes, the Queenstown Bowling Club, which recently celebrated its 100th birthday, was an ideal place to learn the basics, including the policy of keeping your adult beverage on the beer bench and not carrying it onto the green.

Interestingly, the green in Queensland was artificial, and smooth as a billiard table.

Here’s a video of my wife demonstrating fine bowling form.

But a few days later, we had a chance to play on natural grass (the shortest flattest grass I’ve ever seen) at the St. Clair Bowling Club in Dunedin. Both were wonderful.

St. Clair Bowling Club Sadly, the sport of bowling seems to be in slow decline. It’s an old folks’ game. But I did enjoy my two outings (not least because I won), and if I ever get another chance to play, I’ll take it!

The Trulli of Puglia, Italy

Puglia encompasses the “heel” of Italy, and is notable for:

  1. Its olive oil. The region produces 40% of Italy’s olive oil.
  1. Its rusticity. It’s one of the least-developed parts of Italy
  1. Its trulli.

What are trulli?

Trulli are houses with distinctive conical toppings made of stone, like this.

Trullo 1 or this

Trullo 2 or this

Trullo 3

The origin of the trulli (the singular is trullo) is lost to history. They’ve been built in the region since roughly 500 AD, and appear to be indigenous to the area. They were neither copied from elsewhere, nor copied by others.

Still, the trulli work in Puglia, where rocks are plentiful, wood is scarce, and the total rainfall is light. (The region’s name in Italian is Apulia, which means “without rain”.)

There was a period when the trulli was neglected. The stigma of living in primitive conditions led to a flight to the cities and the construction of numerous more modern homes. Without care, trulli fall down, and when down, they resemble nothing more than a pile of rocks.

But since the region has been enjoying a boom in tourism by people, like us, who want to enjoy a less touristy part of Italy, the trulli have been preserved, and many restored.

Here’s the one we stayed in for a week, which was restored seven years ago. Note how uniform the cone is compared to the older structures above.

Trullo 4The inside of our trullo was quiet as a tomb, with only two small windows on the back side. It stayed cool all day, as long as the door was closed.

 

And the front doorway, bracketed by flowering lavender bushes, smelled heavenly, while the doorway echoed with the sound of buzzing bees.

 

Heavenly.

The Best Pizza in Italy?

On our recent trip to Italy, I was looking forward to eating pizza in Naples; after all, Neapolitans are said to have not only created the dish but also to have perfected it.

So I had pizza three times in Naples, and all three were wonderful.

But the one that sticks in my mind was from Pizzeria Le Sorelle Bandiera, which according to what I read on my place mat, had a special advantage over the others, thanks to what lies under the restaurant.

pizzeria le sorelle bandiera menuTranslated, the place mat reads:

The First Geothermal Pizzeria in the World

Neapolitan Yellow Tuff benefits from an extraordinary thermal insulation and moisture control system. These special features are attributed to both the vacuous structure of the rock and the absorption properties of zeolites, special minerals in tuffs; the latter can absorb and release water molecules, making tuff cool during hot weather and warm during cold periods.

This physiochemical phenomenon makes tuff an excellent thermal insulation, allowing minimal changes in the environment’s temperature and humidity. These constant conditions of temperature and humidity are favorable for the rising process, allowing the leavened pizza dough to confer the unmistakable organoleptic characteristics and digestibility of Neapolitan pizza.

Microclimate measurements and urban studies conducted between the Decumani and Cardini have shown that the “belly of Naples”, once a Roman forum and today Piazza San Gaetano, is an “island microclimate”, where the average constant temperature and humidity guarantee full leavening (maturation).

Inside the monastery of Teatini, once the temple of Castor, was born the pizzeria La Sorelle Bandiera, where leavening is constantly monitored by observing environmental parameters that have been identified to make our pizza unique. Le Sorelle Bandiera is the first geothermal pizzeria, the only one where the mixture has a natural leavening process approximately 24 hours in an environment made of tuff using products exclusively made in Italy. The secret, then, is geothermal energy, which is built into the tuff of this city.

A stone that has the ability to maintain a constant temperature creating a sort of microclimate that ensures the dough will rise in the ideal conditions.

But could I actually taste the difference imparted by that underground microclimate?

It’s hard to say.

Anyway, it’s a good story, and the pizza was delicious. Here’s Julie and Michael after receiving theirs.

julie and michaelNow, you’ll notice the pizzas aren’t cut. Perhaps it’s because doing so before the actual moment of eating would destroy the integrity of the product, allowing the juices to make the crust soggy—perhaps it’s simply the pizzeria passing on the work to the customer. That’s the way it is everywhere in Naples.

Note: The basic margherita pizza was five euros, and prices went up from there, but not much.

Also, Naples as a city was more enjoyable than I expected. It wasn’t crawling with tourists, like Rome, Florence and Venice. The people were friendly, helpful and full of life. And after a while, I even got used to the graffiti, a plague that I optimistically think will run its course.

Next week: Puglia

Lutts, Tennessee

There was no logical reason to visit Lutts, Tennessee.

With a population of just 530 people, it has no tourist attractions.

We didn’t know anyone there.

And, it was in the middle of nowhere, 149 miles east of Memphis (where we were) and 127 miles south of Nashville (where we were booked that night). In fact, it was almost in Alabama!  The detour would add 64 miles (much of it on back roads) to our day’s drive, and necessitate a brief mid-day charge of the Tesla so we could reach Nashville.

But ever since I learned about the existence of Lutts, Tennessee a few years ago (thanks to Google Maps) I’d wanted to go there.

First, because it’s the only community named Lutts in the U.S. (there are a couple of roads named Lutts in other states).

And second because it might not be named Lutts much longer (more about that later).

So it was an easy choice to opt for the beautiful back roads in and out of Lutts over the direct and less scenic Route 40 that could have taken us directly to Nashville.

The first sign of the community was this.

Welcome to Lutts Community

Then came a small cemetery, followed by a handful of houses—well spread out, a small gravel pit, a small auto body business, a church, and the post office.

Here’s the post office.

United States Post Office Lutts, Tennessee

The post office was interesting to me because it was the postal service that “created” the community of Lutts.

According to what I found online a few years ago, when the U.S. postal authorities first established a post office there in 1888, they asked the first postmaster, John D. Stricklin, to come up with a name for the location, and suggested that it be a short one. So Stricklin suggested his physician and friend, Dr. Alexander Lutts.

No, Dr. Lutts was not related to me (except in the sense that we are probably all related to each other if you go back far enough).

But I spent quite a bit of time on genealogy databases a few years back looking at Dr. Lutts’ genealogy (looking to prove or disprove that) and here’s what I found.

Alexander Lutts was born in 1828 in North Carolina, he married a Tennessee girl named Margaret Weatherford when she was about 17, and they had five children.

His great-grandfather, Johannes George Lutz, was born in Germany (near Stuttgart), and immigrated to North Carolina, where he married twice, had at least six children and was killed in the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill in 1780—part of the American Revolution.

The switch in spelling from Lutz to Lutts was part of the process of Americanization, which also yielded Leutes and Lutes among Johannes’ descendants.

My ancestors traveled a parallel path, with my great-great-great grandfather John Lutts born in Philadelphia in 1764, to a man who was almost certainly named Lutz in Germany.

Back in the present, as we were taking photos outside the Lutts post office, the door opened and out popped the postmistress, Pam Warrington, as she was closing for the day!

It was about ten past noon, and she explained that the post office hours had recently been cut to four hours a day, four days a week (thus my speculation that if the trend continues, the community may cease to exist—at least as an official entity.)

She also revealed that the pronunciation there is Loots, as in lutes, and that there are no remaining members of the family left. The last to live there, Elmer Lutts, had two daughters, but they both married, took their husbands’ names, and moved to the east and west parts of the state.

The whole time we were talking, I don’t believe one car passed by.

So we said our good-byes to Pam.

We took a picture by the church next door (this was just after Mother’s Day.)

A mother's steadfast love was fashioned by the angels and sent from god above

And we drove out of Lutts, stopping to take one more picture at the final official sign.

Lutts Unincorporated

If you ever find yourself there, let me know!

Skiing Aspen

aspen-ajax

Aspen Mountain

The winter of 2014-2015 was tough for Aspen; it brought only 88% of the mountain’s regular snowfall. (At least that’s the number that was mentioned by several locals I rode up the gondola with when I got the chance to combine a few days of late-March skiing in Aspen with a business trip to Denver.)

But for me that was plenty!

And while the locals were complaining about the spring skiing conditions (hard in the morning, soft in the afternoon), I enjoyed it all. As an easterner, I was raised skiing in sub-par conditions, and I relished the chance to ski in warm sunshine.

Of course, many of those locals can afford to be choosy. Many of them, especially recent retirees, ski 100 days a season, and they’re accustomed to skiing only during the best hours of the day.

But on both days I skied, I was waiting for the gondola when it opened, just before 9:00. And I skied all day, interrupted only by a long lunch with my wife in the middle of the day.

Technically, Aspen is composed of four separate ski areas. The original, known as Ajax Mountain, borders downtown Aspen and has no beginner terrain, only intermediate, advanced and expert, while a few miles away are the expansions, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk, which feature a wider variety of terrain as well as features like snowboard parks.

I stuck to Ajax, because it was very convenient to our hotel, and I could lunch with my wife. Plus, it has plenty of steeps, which I love.

Here’s a photo I took from the top of Walsh’s, a double-black diamond trail that featured big bumps softened by the morning sun.

Walsh TrailThe picture doesn’t do it justice. Suffice to say that I had a barrel of fun and I didn’t get hurt. And after returning home, the only lingering discomfort is from the effects of two days of sun on my face at 11,000 feet!

The Hippest Michelin Star

“How many hipsters does it take to change a lightbulb?”

“Some obscure number, you’ve probably never heard of it.”


Maybe the joke is already passé—I’m no judge of what’s hip.

But I did eat recently at one of the hippest restaurants in Brooklyn!

We started at the bar in front named TØRST, which is the Danish word for thirst.

TØRST serves only beer, mainly in draft form, and most of it is obscure!

Check out the list.

Torst beer menuWe had the Steeped Emperor’s Lemon Saison, the Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge, and the Duet. All were unique, but the Cuvee was quite sour, more than expected.

As for the bar, the décor was classic barnboard, equally at home in Denmark, Maine or Brooklyn. Behind the bar were 21 beer taps, with the beer names written on a mirror behind them, where they could be easily changed.

Having wet our whistles, we were ushered through a back door to LUKSUS, a restaurant so cool it has no sign on the door. LUKSUS, of course, is the Danish word for luxury.

But this was not luxury in the usual sense.

The décor, in fact, was the same as in the bar, barnboard. There were eight small tables, a small bar that seats six, and a view of the kitchen staff—all young and hip.

And here’s what they served!

Luksus menuThere was no choice; the restaurant serves only a prix fixe menu.

But everything was delicious, if often unfamiliar. There were also amuse-bouches between courses, as well as two desserts course, not listed here.

And we washed it all down with more beer—because there was no choice! Well, there was water, but there was mainly beer. My last was a Yin & Yang, quite good.

And here’s a surprise. LUKSUS, which has been open two years, has a Michelin star—the first (and only) in the world given to a restaurant that does not serve wine or liquor!

If you like new beer, and you’re in the neighborhood, give it a try!