fordHaving to take our 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid (with a whoppingly low 12,600 miles on the odometer) into the dealership for service this week, I’d been meaning to write about the odd temporary malfunction that prompted the visit and what was determined (more like “best guessed”) to be its strange cause — essentially a street-level variation on the principle as to why you’re not supposed to use your cellphone during flight.

So we were coming back from our Eastern Sierra vacation two Saturdays ago, southbound on the 14 Freeway in the HOV lane in Santa Clarita a few miles from the 5, when I went to accelerate into the lane to the right to get out from in front of a tailgater and encountered no response. I pressed on the pedal a little more and more until it was all the way to the floorboard, but nothing. All systems were operating: the engine was running, the A/C was blowing, but when I’d give the vehicle gas it wouldn’t respond. Noticing a “What the hell does that mean!?” wrench icon light was now illuminated on the dash, I let Susan know we had a problem and began carefully transitioning to the far outside lane in case everything suddenly quit. But since we were on a good downhill portion of the freeway we were able to continue with the flow of traffic. It was when we started to go up a slight incline and the car quickly its momentum that I knew we had to get off the freeway.

Exiting at Sand Canyon with the vehicle idling uncharacteristically high but the accelerator now a bit more responsive at low speeds, I crawled us into a service station and stopped. After a few moments of the engine still revving in park I decided to turn it off and let it rest for a spell. Starting it back up, she revved high again for about 10-20 interminable seconds before the electric motor kicked in and all ran silently. The wrench icon on the dash was now no longer lighted. Hmmmm.

Susan took Ranger for a leg-stretch down Soledad Canyon while I popped the hood just to make sure nothing looked wrong/broken/disconnected. And in fact other than making the surprise WTF discovery of  accumulations of old-ish looking rat poop in the wells where the front suspension/shocks bolt to the vehicle — proof that our garage rats had taken to nesting/resting there (perhaps moreso during the colder months) — everything else looked fine.

Not confident about getting back on the freeway, the decision was to plot a surface-street course home via “Gladys” (that’s what I call the GPS), cross our fingers and see if we can get there. At worst if the car quits, at least it’s in a safer, slower environment where we can pull over, call AAA, and get towed.

The good news is that it worked and we arrived home without further incident (and in the process I was happy to discover the long unknown street route between the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita (you know, in case I ever want to bike between the two places). The bad news is that we knew we had to get this curious incident examined.

So fast forward to this last Wednesday when I take the Ford to Sunrise Ford in North Hollywood, where I explained the above to the service manager, and in response he was curious of either my wife or myself have iPhones. I told him we both do, that my wifes iPhone5 is paired with the car via bluetooth and that at one extended point about 120 miles before the incident she was also using her iPad to surf the internet. He explained somewhat sheepishly that there’s apparently a conflict between the Apple devices and Ford Hybrids that can produce interference resulting in similar situations.


He explained that he’s personally seen cases involving the city of Burbank’s hybrids fail to start as a result of their operators packing iPhones. He added that Ford’s aware of the problem but so far there’s been no solution.


In my looooong history with a variety of motorized vehicles, this was my first time hearing a powertrain problem caused by a possible “programming glitch.”

Brave new world.

Of course, he took the vehicle and put it through a panel of diagnostic tests, wherein he said he failed to recreate the loss of acceleration. The best he could do was recommend a series of software upgrades that may or may not eliminate future incidents and of course was not covered by any warranty. Oh, and by the way, I also needed a new A/C filter. Total estimate: $180. Sigh… sold.

I asked: Does the new software include a “pre-flight” warning to turn off all Apple devices prior to departure?

He chuckled.

I didn’t. And now basically all we can do is cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t happen again. That’s tolerable for short city trips. But you can bet during our next longer drive there’ll be some pins and needles in the driver’s seat I’ll be sitting on throughout the journey. NOT the way I like to roll.

Susan and I didn’t get to take a full-blown vacation this year. No two weeks spent in the Far East or, on a 4,500-mile road trip around the western United States. Not even a long weekend anywhere. So when the end of my recently completed first module of training started to draw near she emphasized how much she needed a weekender with Idyllwild as her chosen destination — a place I’d only been to once a looooong time ago (as part of a church group back when I was a churchgoer).

Of course I said of course. She made the arrangements, did the research, and off we went. It was absolutely lovely. We stayed at the rustic Silver Pines Lodge. We ate at a variety of wonderful restaurants. We explored a cornucopia of little shops. We hiked. We liked. We saw more gray squirrels than we ever thought we could. And we greatly enjoyed the all-to-brief opportunity to swap fresh mountain air into our lungs for the city stuff embedded there. There is something about the smell of pines and the wind’s whisper through their boughs that is distinctly medicinal.

There Ranger and me are at right (click it for the bigger picture), somewhere along the popular and ultra-scenic Ernie Maxwell Trail (Ernie is the town’s leading conservationist and the founder of its newspaper: The Town Crier). I have a timelapse of the entire 5.2-mile out-and-back trek as well as some real time clips of us along Strawberry Creek that I might try to upload to YouTube, but in the meantime are our respective photosets can be found here on Flickr:


When we entered the south end of Joshua Tree National Park early yesterday morning I wondered rather hopefully but doubtfully to myself if Susan and I would be so gifted as to see both a bighorn sheep AND a desert tortoise during what was our inaugural visit.

Then we went about making our way north through the park awed at the amazing scenery and solitude. By the late afternoon it was time to head home and pretty much as expected we hadn’t encountered either of the two animals. But then, at the last opportunity we literally intersected paths with a desert tortoise crossing the road about a mile from the exit at Joshua Tree.

Being a huge fan of Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” I immediately drew a parallel between this tortoise and the metaphorical one found crossing the highway in that book’s third chapter.

With a crowd of other passersby gathering there was concern the creature might stress and void its bladder (aka “drop its water”), which can often be a dehydration death sentence to a tortoise out there in the dry and wild. But any drama as to what to do with the tortoise who was really in no hurry to get off the warm asphalt, was nicely resolved when a park ranger happened upon the scene and moved it safely (and without dropping its water) well away from the other side of the road. What an awesome way to end our first visit to this amazing place. Next time: camping, for sure!

December 23, 2011: It's days began to feel numbered. During our final evening at the Anantara Resort about 55 miles north of Chiang Rai,  Thailand, on March 25 last year, on a hilltop overlooking the Mekong River and beyond it the countries of Laos and Myanmar in the area known as the fabled Golden Triangle, Susan and I were among our group of travelers who participated in a traditional ceremony in which a village elder ties a simple piece of string — called sai sin — around your right wrist, and offers with it blessings of good luck and good health and safe travels.

We were told to wear the strings for a minimum of three days. I kept mine on a wee bit longer: 331. There it is pictured at right, wearing thin, but still intact on December 23, 2011.

I’d been hoping the string would make it a full year, but it broke Saturday evening. Arriving home from the Watts Happening Ride I peeled off my right bike glove and the string came with it.

There was a pang of regret that its journey with me had finally come to an end, and in the two days since I’ve found myself reaching for it as I had done so many times to adjust it on my arm, only to be remember too late that it’s gone.

But there’s relief that I avoided the bigger pang that would’ve come had I discovered it gone after having broken and slipped off unnoticed somewhere out there.

Because I’m a sentimental sap I can’t just throw it in the trash, and considered keeping it for the next time I’m near enough to the ocean or the LA River to toss it in. But I’m not that sentimental a sap, so instead I burned it in a simple backyard ceremony involving a couple matches and an ashtray.

Goodbye, sai sin.


Yesterday, Susan forwarded me an amazing video (embedded at the end of this post) sent to her that captured an unbelievable interaction with mountain gorillas and a trekker visiting Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest last month.

Reveling in that magnificent experience I dove into my external hard drive in what I figured would be the latest in a series of attempts in vain over the years to find the Quicktime version of a DV tape made of one of our most memorable mountain gorilla encounters when Susan and I visited Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park during our honeymoon in 2005.

Well, the 453rd time’s the charm because this time I found it in all its low-res glory (who knew that cryptically naming a movie file “” would make it next to impossible to find when searching for logical keywords like “rwanda,” “gorilla” and “africa”).

Of course, the close encounter Susan and I shared above doesn’t come even close to the hands-on (literally!) interaction that luckiest man in the word got to experience as seen below, but if nothing else it was the catalyst in me finally re-discovering and sharing ours.

Stumbled on this photograph Susan made of Ranger, me and Shadow as we wandered around one of my favorite places that we had pretty much all to ourselves on November 12, 2007 (click it for the bigger picture):

2011 was one of those rare years since discovering Death Valley in 2002 when I didn’t get out and get me some of that old desert magic. We won’t make that mistake in 2012.

One of the highlights of our 2007 visit to Paris was the discovery of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore, across the street from the Hotel du Notre Dame where we stayed.

I just learned that its founder, George Whitman, died. He was 98. What an amazing life he led.

A set of photos inside and outside the shop are here. The full chalk writing visible on the panel at the left edge of the frame of the image above is transcribed verbatim as follows:

Paris Wall Newspaper
January 1st 2004

Some people call me the Don Quixote of the Latin Quarter because my head is so far up in the clouds that I can imagine all of us are angels in paradise. And instead of being a bonafide bookseller I am more like a frustrated novelist. Store has rooms like chapters in a novel and the fact is Tolstoi and Doestoyevski are more real to me than my next door neighbor, and even stranger is the fact that even before I was born Dostoyevski wrote the story of my life in a book called “The Idiot” and ever since reading it I have been searching for the heroine, a girld called Nastasia Filipovna. One hundred years ago my bookstore was a wine shop hidden from the Seine by an annex hotel dieu hospital which has seen been demolished & replaced by a garden. And further back in the year 1600 our whole building was a monastery called La Maison du Mustier. In medieval times each monastery had a Frere Lampier whose duty was to light the lamps at nightfall. I have been doing this for fifty years now it is my daughter’s turn.


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