Not Quite Unprepared

Quite a few people have written to me about my recent travels in adverse conditions, mostly talking about the SHTF stuff (or lack thereof) that I was carrying in the car. Let me say that I was not wholly unprepared — I generally make at least some preparations when I travel, as you will see — but my unpreparedness was mostly psychological: mostly, I suspect, because I had been used to traveling around the mild climes of Britishland and the Midi.

So let me itemize what I did have in the car; and if anyone has any suggestions for additional items, have at it in Comments.

  • Weapons: as you can imagine, no problems there; Springfield 1911 and S&W 637, Taurus pump-action .22 rifle and an AK, each with the appropriate quantity of ammo.
  • Cold-weather clothing: one heavy coat, one insulated waistcoat, heavy socks, thermals, insulated boots, one wool blanket, one thermal waterproof blanket. What I forgot: gloves (but I seldom leave home without them in winter, even in Texas; this was a one-time omission). Also, even though my heavy coat had a hood, I should have packed a wool cap, but didn’t.
  • Food: Several cans of food — enough to keep me fed for about 3-4 days, five at a stretch — as well as a jar of peanut butter and two large bags of biltong. Fruit, sugar and six 500-ml bottles of water made up the rest of the grocery bag.
  • Tools, etc.: camp shovel, three flashlights and spare batteries, Anza knife and a couple of folders, screwdriver- and socket set, Swiss Army and Leatherman tool-knives, 100′ nylon cord and a small first-aid bag.

It sounds like a lot but it isn’t, really. What was I missing?


Update:  a cigarette lighter.

Stupidity, Part 2

(For Part 1, see here.)

So I woke up In Socorro NM after the previous night’s harrowing near-miss with an empty fuel tank, and you’d better believe that before leaving Socorro I filled the tank up again (even from 7/8 full), just to be sure. Then I set off, heading west along U.S. 60.

The outside temperature in Socorro was about 25F (-4C for my Furrin Readers); cold, but I was in the southern United States, right? so I figured it would warm up as the day went on.

Wrong. As I crossed the Continental Divide (altitude about 5,000ft), the temperature was 0F (-18C) but the day was clear, with no snow falling or anything.

As I drove on, I was a little worried because with cold that extreme, a car’s parts can easily start to break — and I hadn’t seen another car (in either direction) for about half an hour. So I was a little nervous, even though all the gauges looked fine.

Then, about twenty minutes later… ice on the road.

At this point, the road was no longer the arrow-straight highway in the above picture: it had become twisty and hilly, and the shade thrown by the hills was preventing the ice from melting. I slowed down, gradually of course (I’ve driven on icy roads before), but even at 30mph, I felt the car slip occasionally — all-wheel drive doesn’t help on ice.

Now I was really worried. Had I gone off the road, and crashed into a roadside ditch (or worse, off the road into a valley) and the windshield had shattered, I would have been exposed to the elements — and at 0F, even with blankets and warm clothing, death from exposure can take only minutes — and with the paucity of traffic, there was no telling whether there’d be any chance of timely assistance.

As I’ve said, my phone had “bricked” (gone completely dead) the day before. I was, to all intents and purposes, completely alone and isolated. And the temperature fell still further, to -4F.

It was as nerve-wracking a drive as I’d ever made, and only when I was finally able to head north towards the interstate, along a straight road with lots of traffic, did my stress level start to subside.

And I never thought I’d ever say this, but I was glad when I finally got onto I-40 — ordinarily a terrible road to drive on — but on this occasion, something to be welcomed with open arms.

Two things: under such conditions, I’m never going to take a long road trip along back roads without either a companion or else an accompanying car. And if I do have to take such a trip alone, I’ll stick to the poxy interstate highways.

Dying under such circumstances is tragic. Dying unnecessarily is stupid. And I’m not a stupid man — at least, not in this regard, anymore.

The World’s Greatest Snack Food?

Some background: in German, the word “Imbiss” is loosely translated in to English as “snack bar”. One of the best examples was this one (apparently a temporary structure because a friend looking for it later couldn’t find it):

It was located at the beginning of the Graben, Vienna’s premier pedestrian mall in the Old City (Altstadt), just across from St. Stephan’s Cathedral (Stefansdom). (I’m translating so that future visitors can find them on a map or on signposts, because this is how they’re commonly listed.)

Anyway, what set this particular Imbiss apart from all the others was their bratwurst hot dog sandwich — not so much for the food, although it was delicious, but for its preparation. Allow me to explain.

The footlong (or whatever that is in metric) buns are kept warm in a steam oven, just as they are in the U.S. What’s different is that when it’s time to put the brats into the bread, they aren’t slit open lengthwise, oh no. That would make it a messy sandwich, which would be unerträglich to the neat ‘n tidy Austrians.

Instead, the bun is impaled on a very hot spike, which does two things: it makes an opening for the bratwurst to be inserted, and it toasts the bun on the inside.

Now for the bratwurst. It’s not just any old sausage, oh no; it has great hunks of cheese embedded in the meat, and the brats are heated on rollers similar to the one you see at 7-11 — only these rollers are really hot because the cheese melts inside the sausage, in some cases even bursting through the skin, making a crust of burned cheese around the sausage. (Are you drooling yet?)

The vendor will ask you if you want the burnt cheese scraped off (the answer of course should be “Nein, nein! Bitte lassen Sie die Käse!”), whereafter he will insert the sausage into the roll after first squirting some wondrous German mustard down inside the opening.

What you will have (as Daughter exclaimed loudly upon tasting her first one) is the world’s greatest hot dog, and quite possible the world’s greatest snack food, period. It also makes no mess when you eat it — unless you bite into the brat too quickly, which will make melted cheese and sausage fat run down your chin. Here’s the finished product (from the excellent Philosophy and Madeleines blog), but I’m afraid the pic just doesn’t do it justice:

(And of course, keine Coca-Cola, bitte; you have to eat it with a beer — sold at the same outlet.)

I have no idea whether this is a Viennese style of preparation or a common German one. I do know that I’ve never found its like anywhere I’ve looked, whether in southern Germany, the Rhineland or even in Salzburg.

I would hesitate to recommend visiting Vienna purely to experience this wonderfully-delicious snack, but then again there are about a thousand equally-good reasons to go to Vienna. Just add it to the list of things to experience in the Austrian capital, one of my top three favorite places in the whole world.

Next time: Gulaschsuppe and where to find it.

Stupidity, Part 1

I could have died, twice, on my drive from Plano to Las Vegas — and both times were from my absolute and utter stupidity.

Day 1 — last Sunday — saw me leaving home at about 8am, day’s end destination TBD, looking forward to a drive through small-town America.

By late afternoon, I finally cleared West Texas. I won’t say it was a boring drive — I did hit a tumbleweed full-on somewhere outside Plainview; terrible mess, cleaning twigs and such from my front bumper and license plate — but it was when I got to New Mexico that the fun started.

Normally, I travel very carefully and with much preparation so that I don’t have to worry while on the road. This trip was a little different. Maybe my mind was still in Britishland, where no trip lasts longer than a couple of hours, and if it does, there are always villages and such where one can find gas and such — and even on the small byways, there’s traffic.

This was not the case on US Highway 60 in New Mexico. Whoa. I could drive for an hour without seeing anybody — couple of trains, but few cars and even fewer people. So when my gas gauge showed a quarter-tank, I looked at the map and saw that the next town was 30 miles away — easy, because even when my gas warning light comes on, I get 40-odd miles, as my car’s handy lil’ trip calculator showed. Except that the next town wasn’t a town, per se, but a few houses; and no gas station. Okay, the next town was only 15 miles away, so no problem, right?

By now night had fallen and the temperature had plummeted from Texas’s warm and friendly 56F to much less: about 28F with, as I was to discover, a biting wind which put the chill to about 15F.

As I got to the next town, I looked for a gas station, but nothing was visible. According to the calculator, I now had 20 miles’ gas left. Shit. There was also (surprise, surprise) no cell phone coverage along that stretch of road.

There was a motel on the east side of town, and I decided that if there was no gas station in town, I’d turn back and stay the night there, and deal with the fuel issue the next morning: in that kind of weather, sleeping in the car was right out.

Luckily, however, I turned a corner, went under a railway bridge, and there was the blessed sight of a 7-11. I dad to pop an aspirin tab, my heart was racing so fast by that point.

I stopped, filled up (nearly freezing to death in the process, because — idiot! — I had forgotten my gloves at home), and set off again. Right before I filled up, though, I checked the trip calculator one more time, and saw that I’d had 12 miles’ of gas left. Way too close for comfort.

Anyway, just as an intellectual exercise, I looked to see where the next gas station showed up — US 60 was about to join I-25 shortly, according to the map, and there had to be a gas station there, right?

Wrong. The next gas station anywhere came up a full 30 miles after I’d filled up. Without that 7-11, I would have run out of gas in the middle of Fuck Nowhere, NM. I wouldn’t even have made it to I-25.

And with no traffic to be seen anywhere, I would have had to stay in my car and wait till morning. Where I would have been found, probably as dead as a doornail and stiff as a board — even though I had a blanket and warm clothing.

But that was nothing, compared to what happened to me the next day. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

Mind The Gap

…or rather, mind the passengers on the Paris Metro:

A man was stabbed to death on the Paris metro as witnesses filmed and posted photographs on social media instead of helping, it has been claimed.
Andy Brigitte, from Martinique, was knifed in an attack at the Châtelet-Les Halles RER station in Paris after a row with another passenger.

Just so we’re clear on this: Châtelet-Les Halles is not some little craphole in the northeast (see below); it’s the Parisian equivalent to London’s King’s Cross or New York’s Times Square stations. (It’s also a rabbit warren if you don’t know where you’re going; a buddy once spent two hours down there trying to change trains.)

But that’s not the point. As one commenter acidly noted: “Oh ok. In 2018, we die in front of a camera without any help.”

Disgusting. I can understand (a little) why people wouldn’t want to get involved in a knifing, because that’s how you become a co-stabbee. But just to take happy snaps of the occasion?

Still in Paris, the linked article has some more cheery news:

Paris metro drivers are refusing to stop at some stations in the capital amid fears over crack-fuelled violence, it has emerged.
A number of train operators have opted not to stop at stations in the city’s north east in order to ‘protect passengers’, according to union bosses.
Some stops are increasingly being used as places of business by crack dealers with Marx Dormoy on line 12 and Marcadet-Poissonniers on lines 12 and 4 said to be among the worst hit.

So if you’re going to Gay Paree in the near future, you’ll want to avoid those two stations, at least.

Unfortunately, there’s no way of avoiding Châtelet-Les Halles because it’s so central a hub. Be careful out there.

It sucks, because the Paris Metro is one of the best subway systems anywhere, and I love using it.