The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why Parker won't swim in the Pacific this summer

(I mean, other than because he loathes water.)

No, it's about gasoline.

I'm taking a summer vacation this year for the first time since 1992, and I had planned to load Parker and his smelly blanket into my Volkswagen and drive to San Francisco with him. Only, I just filled up my car this morning, and for the first time ever I crested $50. For gasoline. In my bleeding Volkswagen. Which caused me to whip out a spreadsheet and determine conclusively whether driving with Parker out to California makes any sense at all.

It does not.

In fairness to the car, (a) this is Chicago, home of the highest gasoline prices in the country, and (b) the car, a GTI, has a high-compression engine that requires premium gas. But premium gas is only 20¢ more per gallon than regular, as it's always been, so that is no longer the differential expense it used to be.

To crack this nut, I did two calculations. Here's the estimate for driving. Distance comes from Google Maps; fuel economy comes from actual data with this car; fuel cost is an educated guess:

Now compare flying (airfare from American Airlines—I'm a frequent-flyer so I don't have a bag fee—using flexible dates, best price ORD to SFO in July):

Except, driving is worse than that, because owning a car entails other expenses. Over the life of my car, it has cost me 18.4¢ per mile to operate. Note that this includes those halcyon days of $1.25 gasoline, and does not include car insurance or the cost of actually buying the car, so it actually has cost me more than 18.4¢ per mile. Even with those obvious shortcomings, a more realistic calculation of driving to San Francisco looks like this:

Now the difference is $553, almost half the cost of the trip. And it gets even better if you consider that I have a big wad of unused frequent-flyer miles that can, if I choose, bring the airfare down to $5. Yes, five dollars (plus 25,000 air miles), making the difference between driving and flying $828—enough to do the trip again by air and still save significant cash over driving.

(Someone should calculate the CO2 costs, too. How much CO2 am I putting out by flying instead of driving? I think it may be a wash, but I'm not sure.)

I could take him in an airplane, but this really stresses dogs out, so I don't consider that a realistic option.

In any event, as fun as it might be to watch Parker run along a beach in California, it's just not going to happen.

Airfare annoyances

Living in Chicago, air travelers have two easy options: American and United, both of whom have hubs here (United is headquartered here), and both of whom are two of the top-ten airlines worldwide using just about any measurement.

Astute readers will already know both airlines (accidentally just typed "airliens"—Freudian?) have made news lately. American is just getting around to applying an airworthiness directive to its aging MD-80 fleet, and United just announced serious fare increases that American will no doubt follow as soon as they can update their databases.

<Rant>

Both of them, however, have gone out of their ways recently to demonstrate why we used to have regulated airfares in the U.S. Now, I'm not advocating a return to regulation—in today's dollars, Chicago to Los Angeles would cost around $1,000—but it really irks me that an upcoming trip to Richmond, Va., would cost more than double if I actually flew into Richmond instead of to Washington, even including the $55 to rent a car for two days.

</ Rant>

Well, that's traffic, I guess

As I woke up this morning to Abby Ryan's traffic report on Chicago Public Radio, I didn't know what to make of this: "...Inbound Stevenson, it's 35; if you're going to Midway all ATA flights are cancelled today because it filed for bankruptcy; the inbound Edens from Lake-Cook, that's 42..."

I'm just imagining what it's like to hear that your company doesn't exist anymore—on the morning traffic report.

Unrelated to that: yesterday's Cubs game started with the first pitch launched onto Waveland Ave. Guess who won.

Finally flying again

After six cancellations due to weather, I finally got up in an airplane today. I flew 1.9 hours of just maneuvers and landing practice with an instructor. I'm a little rusty, but they can use the plane again, so that's all right.

Long-time readers know that I have a GPS-enabled bike speedometer. Today, I brought the little bugger along in the airplane, so you can see where I flew. (Google Earth 4.x required to view the file.)

Flying in winter, Chicago style

"I'd rather be down here wishing I were up there, than the opposite." So goes the aviation axiom. But this morning, with its 3 km visibilities and 30 m—yes, thirty meters—ceiling, I have postponed a checkout flight for the third time in a row.

Here's how weather can be really frustrating. I kept track of my flights (or lack thereof) during the summer of 1999 when I was trying to get my certificate, and put together a Web page to chronicle the frustration.

Two notes about the page: first, I haven't maintained the page since 9 December 1999, so all the links to the actual flights are dead (I used to have an online log book, and I will again someday...); and second, information about anything in 2008 may not be current, like the flight school's rules.