Friday/ decoding a road trip, from long ago

I have a pair of photos from May of 2000, taken when I had made the trip up from Houston to Seattle in my 1996 Toyota Camry.
I had long wondered at which rest area the one picture is taken, and now I know.
Here is how it went.

It was the year 2000, and there was no Google, and no Google Maps. I used my trusty 1999 Rand McNally Road Atlas to put this route together (demonstrated on Google Maps). I remember driving through the south of Wyoming. The Matthew Shepard murder of 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming was still fresh in the memory, and (irrationally), I was not going to stop for anything in Wyoming. On to Salt Lake City, which I had been to before then, and through Idaho to get me to the border with Oregon.
Here is the picture of me at the rest stop. (Yes, a very plain photo. I had used my 1997 Olympus D-320L 2-megapixel digital camera on the grass, with its 12-second timer). Really not much to go by in the picture, right? .. but I knew from my route, that I had taken Interstate 84 through the northeast of Oregon ..
.. and NOW it is the year 2021, and I can google ‘Interstate 84 rest areas in Oregon’, and a list comes up right away. Just check them out one by one, with Google StreetView, and voila! there is the wooden utility pole, and the hills in the back that look the same. It is no other than the Weatherby Rest Stop, at Milepost 335.9, I-84, Weatherby, OR 97907. (That’s a nice truck & trailer combination that was caught by the Google camera).
So right here is where my car was parked, in one of these spots. If I have it right, that is Pedro Mountain and its peak in the left center of the picture.
One mystery remains: exactly where on Interstate 84 this photo was taken. The ‘Deer Crossing’ sign is not much help, but with a little patience, I should be able to use the surrounding landscape to find it. Stay tuned. 🙂

Saturday/ three more stations

Today marked the opening of the 4.3-mile extension of the Seattle area’s Link light rail system towards the north, with three new stations: U District, Roosevelt and Northgate. These are the final stations in the system that was proposed to voters in 1996. So it took twenty-five years to get it all planned and built, a lot longer and much more expensive than planned, but it’s here at last. The price tag for this last phase was $1.9 billion.

Central Line is now called Line 1 with its 19 stations. Line 2 to Bellevue is under construction and will open in two years in 2023.

Bryan, Gary & I made a run to Northgate and back. (I will stop at the Roosevelt and U District stations some time later and take some pictures. These latter two are both underground).
Here’s the elevated platform of the Northgate station. There are escalators and stairs to street level, and a connection to a new, large pedestrian/ biking bridge across Interstate 5 to the Seattle North College campus.
Roosevelt and U-District are underground, and Northgate is above ground. Construction to the north continues, with the extension to Lynnwood slated to open in 2024.
The Kraken Community Iceplex (the training facility for the Seattle Kraken) is nearby Northgate station. The Northgate shopping mall is getting a make-over, and some 4,000 new apartment units are under construction as well.
Northgate station is elevated above street level. Changes to existing bus routes have been made to stop at the three new stations.
A new train with four cars entering Northgate station. Sound Transit has started to purchase these newer technology train cars from Siemens Mobility (they entered into service in May 2021). The model name is S700, and these cars cost around $4.5 million each.
The new John Lewis Memorial Bridge (pedestrian/ biking bridge) across Interstate 5 to the North Seattle College campus spans some 1,900 feet.
This weird rotary-dial phone was set up as a curiosity (I think), at the entrance of the bridge.

Friday/ a trip to Ellensburg

It was time for the Will-o-Watt Wagon (my car’s name on the Tesla app) to get out of the city and take the long road for a trip to Ellensburg today.

I used my car’s standard Autopilot functions extensively for the first time, on today’s drive. Standard Autopilot means letting the car steer, accelerate, and brake within its lane. It was a good learning experience —and definitely a little hair-raising at times, such as trusting the car to stay in the lane on a curve in the road, with vehicles in the lanes next to you, and oncoming traffic as well.

The primary skill to master with standard Autopilot is to allow the car to steer itself, while still having one’s hands on the wheel. If the driver holds the wheel too firmly, the car interprets it as an override, and cancels the Autopilot steering. If, on the other hand, the car cannot detect that the driver is holding the wheel, it issues a message— a series of messages, actually, ending with an alarm and a screen with red hands on the wheel that says ‘Autosteer Unavailable For The Rest Of This Drive’.
I managed to avoid ending up in that dog box and state! Success! 

P.S. News broke today that Tesla has officially launched its Full Self-Driving subscription package for $199 per month. Full Self-Driving is really ‘Almost Full Self-Driving’, since the driver really still needs to hold the wheel. However, it is a really big step up from standard Autopilot, in that the car will stop, start and navigate by itself. So it will stop at intersections and traffic lights, wait for traffic or the green light, and go by itself, and turn on the turn signal for turns and lane changes where needed.

Bryan, Gary and I are ready to go. I punched in the destination address (Bryan’s dad’s in Ellensburg) and up pops the navigation map with the superchargers highlighted in red. It’s only 110 miles to Ellensburg, so we did not need to stop to charge the car on the way there. The screen says there is 248 miles on the battery, and that there will still be 28% of charge left by the time we arrive at our destination.
Here’s the rest stop at Snoqualmie Pass (elev. 2,726 ft) off of I-90. The low clouds we had in the city are really low here! Those slopes in the background, on the left, are the ski slopes of The Summit at Snoqualmie ski resort, and would be covered in snow come winter time.
Stepping into The Tav in Ellensburg for lunch. A ‘down-home watering hole offering American pub grub, tap brews, simple cocktails, pool & pinball’, says the restaurant’s online description.
Frontier Tavern with its Wild West style lettering and red-white-and-blues is right next door to The Tav.
Downtown Ellensburg is full of charming old red brick buildings. This one on West 3rd Avenue is dated 1889 and down below is the Brix Wine Bar & Restaurant.
So now we’re on our way back, and we took State Route 10 into Cle Elum where a Tesla supercharger was located, to add miles to my car’s battery. The charging screen shows that the charger is working at 137 kW, and adding miles at a rate of 625 mi/hr. So it can add more than a 100 miles of range with just 10 minutes of charging (wow). We stayed for 15 minutes and that was more than enough to get us back to Seattle.
I had to pose for a classic Tesla charger picture at the Cle Elum supercharger, of course. There are 8 charging stations. That first charger (on the left in the picture) is positioned so that a car that is towing something, can just pull straight into the bay, instead of backing into the bay the way I had to.
Making our way back over the mountain pass. This is the animal crossing over I-90 that was completed in 2018.

Monday/ the lost wallet

Apple announced today that iOS 15 will enable the iPhone wallet to store ID cards and driver’s licenses (and maybe vaccination records?).
That’s good news for people like me and Willie Geist of NBC. (See below. He lost his wallet today).

It’s great that Willie Geist got his wallet back. The worst ‘lost wallet’ event that had happened to me, occurred in Aug. 2011, when mine was stolen out of my backpack in The Landmark mall in Hong Kong. An accomplice distracted me on an escalator, while the thief stole my wallet. My wallet should not have been in my backpack, of course! They must have watched me withdraw cash from an ATM, and saw exactly where I had put the wallet away. So $400 of cash gone, driver’s license and credit cards. In the hour or so it took me to get back to the hotel and call American Express, the thieves had spent $2,600 at the Louis Vuitton store. (AmEx credited the money back onto my card, dollar for dollar, and apologized for my distress).

Sunday/ the ‘gas station’ of the future

Here’s a little Chevy Bolt from Oregon getting charged at an Electrify America charging station here on East Madison Street on Capitol Hill.

It’s early days for building out the charging network. There are 612 of these EA stations across the country with 125 more coming online soon. (There are 168,000 gas stations in the United States).

These charging stations are for out-of-town or out-of-state travelers. In general, it’s much, much more expensive (up to 3x, 4x more) to charge one’s car at these stations, instead of at home.
On top of that, we have the cheapest electricity in the country here in Washington State at 8.53¢/ kWh (source: At this station, the charging cost is $0.43/ kWh, or $0.31/ kWh plus a $4 monthly fee.
Tesla cars can be charged here, but Tesla has its own charging station network (cost is about $0.28/ kWh).

P.S. I see that Associated Press reports there are roughly 42,000 public charging stations in the United States, but only about 5,000 are considered direct-current fast chargers. The Biden administration is looking at incentives to encourage companies and governments to build 500,000 charging stations nationwide by 2030.

The Electrify America charging station at 1300 East Madison St here on Capitol Hill. The station offers two charging protocols: CHAdeMO which is a DC fast-charging protocol for Japanese vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi iMiEV, and CCS (Combined Charging System) chargers which is also a DC fast-charging protocol, but for European and American cars. The “combined” term in the CCS name designates its capability to incorporate the Level 2 (J1772™ standard) plug and DC fast-charging connector into the same larger plug.

Friday/ playing with number plates (again)

If I don’t get a personalized license plate from my new car, a plate number will be drawn for me from the current series.

Washington State started issuing 7-character license plates in 2011.
At that time the 6-character series of 001-AAA to 999-ZZZ had been exhausted.
The current format is AAA0000 to ZZZ9999.
It takes 5 to 6 years for one letter in the first position to be exhausted. So at this point, all Washington State cars 10 years or younger, have plates starting with A or B.  We’re nearing the end of the B numbers, though. As far as I can tell, the latest plate numbers issued are in the BYT7000 range.

So that makes it possible to play a guessing game, to see what plate number might be drawn for me (see the table below).

BYT (byte) is cool, but I will be too late for one of those. (My car will be delivered around mid-June).
I do not want BYU. People might think I am associated with Brigham Young University in Utah.
Maybe I will catch a BZA number. ZA is the old international country abbreviation for South Africa. Long ago, drivers touring southern Africa would add a separate oval plate or sticker, with ZA on, to their vehicle’s standard number plate.  Some still do, to this day.

That third letter in the plate number changes roughly every three days (so that comes to 10,000 new car registrations in WA state: a series of say, BYW0000- BYW9999). Some time in June, BYZ9999 should be issued, and BZA0001 will be next. BZA3141 has the first four digits of π. Getting that exact plate would be like winning the lottery, of course!

Tuesday/ round trip to Kitsap peninsula

Here are a few pictures from the round trip that Bryan and I made out to Paul & Thomas’s place on Kitsap peninsula, today.

We drove south to Tacoma on Interstate 5, crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to Kitsap peninsula, and then up, up north to Hansville. On the way back, we took the Kingston-to-Edmonds ferry, to get across Puget Sound and back to the city.
The Tacoma Narrows bridge on State Route 16 is a twin-suspension bridge; the 5th longest suspension bridge in the United States (5,400 ft /1,646 m). We are on the old 1950 bridge, westbound for Kitsap peninsula. On the left is the newer eastbound bridge that opened in July 2007.
Beautiful cotton-candy cumulus clouds on Kitsap peninsula. The yellow blooms on the side of the road is Scotch broom, a non-regulated Class B noxious weed. The evergreen shrubs grow 6-10 feet tall and form dense stands that crowd out other indigenous greenery.
A Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) in Hansville. These are pine squirrels found in the Pacific Northwest. I have never seen them anywhere in the city, though.
On the central part of the lower deck and crossing Puget Sound on the ferry called Spokane. Passengers are still advised to stay in their cars as much as possible, and not walk around on the ferry. Hopefully that will change in the next month or two. That is Edmonds in the distance.
Leaving the ferry, at the Edmonds ferry terminal.

Friday/ State Route 20 now open

SR 20 is the northernmost route across the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington State.


State Route 20, commonly referred to as the North Cascades Highway, opened for traffic on Wednesday.

Crews removing the last stretches of remaining snow on the road surface. [Pictures tweeted on Tuesday by WSDOT East @WSDOT_East on Twitter]. 

Saturday/ electric car, circa 1973

It’s official: my Toyota Camry is going to be written off, and not be repaired.
I’ve told everyone I know for four years that my next car is an electric car, or no car at all*.

*Use Uber and the train or bus here in the city.

Since we’re still in a pandemic, and it would be so much more convenient to have a car, I am about to pull the trigger and put in my order for an electric car. (It’s from a company that is named after the last name of Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist Nikola Tesla).

Seattle City Light Superintendent Gordon Vickery with prototype electric car, 1973.
The vehicle was a modified Gremlin powered by 24 rechargeable six-volt batteries. It could run for approximately 50 miles at highway speeds before needing to be recharged. [Item 181150, City Light Photographic Negatives (Record Series 1204-01), Seattle Municipal Archives].

Friday/ ‘a prisoner, released back into society’

Dottie from San Francisco, commenting on a New York Times article that mentions a few countries in Europe that Americans may be able to travel to, this summer:

‘After over a year of lockdown, I thought I’d be itching to travel but actually I feel the opposite. I’ve been working from home in practically solitary confinement, only broken up by daily walks in the park and weekly grocery trips, and it has made me anxious and stressed to be in crowds. I doubt I’d want to go anywhere after getting vaccinated.

Often I feel like a prisoner who’s been released back into society taking baby steps to do things that were once normal, routine. I haven’t eaten inside a restaurant in over a year. I can’t imagine getting on a plane and being surrounded by people. Let’s all hold off and wait until 2022, when most of the population at our destinations are vaccinated and we ourselves have acclimated back to normal daily living’.

My sentiments exactly, I’m afraid.

Here’s my December 2019 picture of the old Harajuku train station building, on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo. I went there to take a last look at it. It was the oldest wooden train station building in Tokyo, and was scheduled for demolition just a few months later.
Even with no pandemic, four of the 27 people in the picture are wearing masks.
Here’s the new Harajuku station building, all glass and steel, of course. It opened on March 21, 2020, amidst the chaos of a worldwide pandemic. When will I get to ride on the Yamanote Line again, and hop off at this station to check it out? Only time will tell.
Everyone is wearing a mask, except the dude in the middle with his Michael Kors tracksuit.
[Picture from Wikipedia]

Sunday/ Miami’s vices

It’s spring break. In these times there should not even be a party, but this weekend young people travelled to Miami in the thousands, anyway. They crowded close together on the beaches, and in the streets on Ocean Drive, and then they brawled in the streets, and trashed some of the bars & restaurants.

‘Seemingly undeterred by the police presence on Sunday night in South Beach, two maskless men in their 20s, who were wearing board shorts and clutching hard seltzers, took turns snorting white lines from a postcard. Around the corner, a group of police officers stood calmly, talking with one another and shouting for people to go home.

A man who was part of a maskless throng of people walking toward Ocean Drive sipped from an almost empty bottle of cognac and nodded at the officers.

“I’m throwing it away,” he said, pointing into the distance. “It’s my birthday.”
“Hurry up, man,” one of the officers said, cautioning about a police detail nearby.
The officers stayed in place and continued their conversation as the group headed toward the bars that were now shuttered’.
– reported by Neil Vigdor, Michael Majchrowicz and Azi Paybarah in the New York Times

A man danced on top of a police car on Saturday night despite the 8 p.m. curfew in Miami Beach. [Photo Credit- Marco Bello/Reuters]
(Dude. 1. I would not dance on a police car, even if I were smashed-up drunk/ correction: especially not, if I were smashed-up drunk.
2. You have no friends, looking out for you, to pull you off from that car? Looks to me like you’re about to get shot dead.)
Miami-Dade County, which includes Miami Beach, has recently endured one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. The state is also thought to have the highest concentration of B.1.1.7, the more contagious and possibly more lethal virus variant first identified in Britain.

Tuesday/ welcome on board

Cabin crew dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) await passengers before a flight from Amsterdam to China. [Photo: Justin Jin for South China Morning Post newspaper]
We still have airplane passengers here in the States that get away with wearing no mask on the airplane. Why is that? They need to be removed and added to the no-fly list for 10 years, with the rest of the FBI’s domestic terrorists.

Here are a few excerpts from photojournalist Justin Jin’s recent visit to Shanghai (to visit his cancer-stricken dad in the hospital), as described in the South China Morning Post:

To get on one of the few exorbitantly priced flights, I have to pass two Covid-19 tests. One will draw a sample from my nose and the other from my blood, with both needed to be taken within 48 hours before departure at a lab approved by the local Chinese consulate. When I get my results, I have to upload them together with a long list of personal data via a phone app to the consulate, which then activates a QR “health” code on my phone required for boarding my plane in Amsterdam.

Many of the mostly Chinese passengers come fully protected, too. Since each of us carries double-negative results to get on the flight, this cabin must be one of the safest places in Europe. The Chinese passengers also follow instructions to stay in their seats as much as possible, even avoiding the toilet during the 12-hour flight. I also avoid the bathroom, my confidence shaken by the behavior of those around me.

Upon landing, customs officers comb through the plane to see if anyone has fallen ill. Our flight gets the all-clear to disembark, and we file into a Covid-19 testing station, getting another QR code and passport check along the way. Almost everything is shielded and contactless, a precise choreography of anticipated human movement.

Even though I have by now three certified negative test results, I am still a suspect in China’s eyes. There’s always a chance of catching something on the way. And since the tests I have had are not perfect, I shall endure a 14-day strict quarantine at my own cost. (At the hotel, Justin describes the severe cleaning procedures at the hotel. The hallway is disinfected every time a person had entered it, for example).

. . .

In free and democratic Europe, people live under the repressive shadow of Covid-19. In China, the system is restrictive, but people are almost completely safe from the virus imprisoning much of the world. They are free to hug, to party and to prosper.

The same night my brother takes me to a crowded wine bar in Shanghai with friends. There are no masks, no talk of vaccines and, for a moment, no worries. It feels so 2023.

Saturday/ the new stations on Berlin’s U5

Here’s another reason for me to go to Berlin again some time (first reason is the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport): the expansion of the U5 U-bahn* line that had started in 2010, is now complete.

*Short for Untergrundbahn, ‘underground railway’.

I took this picture of the Rotes Rathaus (‘red town hall’, opened in 1869) on Rathaus-straße near Alexanderplatz in 2015. Construction of the U-5 line extension and stations were already well underway.
Here is the ‘Bärlinde’ tunnel boring machine they deployed. It is somewhat similar to the Bertha boring machine (dia. 57.5 ft/ 17.5 m) that was used in Seattle for the SR-99 tunnel, but this one is not nearly as big (dia. 22 ft/ 6.7 m).
The new part of the U5 line dips down from the Brandenburg gate to the station called Museum Insel (museum island, an island in the Spree River), and then goes up again to Alexanderplatz.
Inside the brand new Rotes Rathaus station on the U5 extension. [Picture credit: Der Tagesspiegel/ Annette Riegel]
“The U-5 crackles with History”  Come in! With 50,000 people that will be able to change between lines 5 and 6 in the new Unter Den Linden station, according to BVG, the city’s mayor hopes for a revitalization aboveground. He imagines concerts on Museum Island with fewer cars that are driven, and people can converse undisturbed.
Here is the history of the U5 line that now stretches back almost a century, to 1927. [Graphic from Der Tagesspiegel]

Monday/ here comes the Colosseum

The completed LEGO® Creator Colosseum set. The structure is the largest ancient amphitheatre ever built. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir, Titus. It could hold some 60,000 spectators.

Move over 2017’s LEGO Millennium Falcon (7,541 pieces) and LEGO Taj Mahal (5,923 pieces)!
The up-and-coming LEGO Colosseum (on sale this Friday) clocks in at a colossal 9,036 pieces, making it far-and-away the largest official Lego set ever.
And yes, it comes at a high price for that many bricks:  US$ 550.

Am I tempted to go for it? Well, I would rather spend that kind of money to buy bricks like I did for my Doon Drive House creation.
Maybe I can design and build a LEGO Castle of Good Hope  – the one in Cape Town, with its brick walls and five-pointed footprint. Now that would be a challenge.

The Colosseum appearing in the 1975 movie Mahogany, as seen by Diana Ross’s character Tracy Chambers, fashion designer in Rome ..
.. and here is my own encounter with the Colosseum. It was in the summer of 1981, during my very first overseas trip. I’m on the left; my mom & dad in the middle.

Friday/ Berlin’s new airport

Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt airport (code: BER) is finally, at last, open for business. Its opening this Saturday is 9 years late. Numerous scandals had devoured huge sums of money and ruined many a reputation.

I am eager to go and check it out, and I will definitely put the airport BER on my list of destinations to fly into, once this pandemic has subsided.

Architecturally, the airport is a three-wing complex with colonnades. Reviewers like its great viewing terrace, and lots of parking spaces and restaurants. Its destinations are somewhat limited, though, as are the power outlets in the waiting areas. (Ouch. It helps that more and more airplanes now have USB ports or power outlets in the seats of their planes). [Photo: Marcus Bredt/gmp]
Inside Terminal 1. There will be no fuss, no big party, no fireworks – just a small reception. The opening date has been pushed back so many times, and we are in the grip of a worldwide pandemic, after all. (Is that red artwork a network of blood vessels?).
[Photo: Markus Mainka/imago images]

Tuesday/ meanwhile, in Wuhan ..

.. partygoers packed the Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park this weekend. Wuhan ended its 76-day lockdown in early April, and no new domestically-transmitted cases have been officially reported there since mid-May [Bloomberg Business News Quicktake on Twitter].

Saturday/ a 4×6 escape to Kaunas

Here’s another ‘4×6 escape’ card from my neighborhood, featuring Kaunas, Lithuania. This is the old town square, and the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas rivers is close by.

Kaunas is a city in south-central Lithuania at the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas rivers, with a population of about 300,000 people. Lithuania is one of the Baltic states, situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the southeast of Sweden and Denmark.

Here’s the Google Street View image of the picture, from 2012.
P.S. Lithuania has a population of 2.8 million people, and has reported 81 fatalities from Covid-19 as of Aug 7. If Lithuania’s number is a true count, that’s about 1/15th of the fatality rate recorded in the United States so far (on a per capita basis).

Wednesday/ Rancho Mirage, 30 yrs ago

I discovered this bird’s eye view picture of the Pete Dye Challenge golf course (north of Rancho Mirage, in the greater Palm Springs area), in my scanned archives.
I took it from my seat in a propeller plane, during my very first visit to the United States, in March 1990.
My brother lived in nearby Palm Desert at the time. ‘Just so you know‘, he said, ‘Palm Springs and its golf courses are not what the real America looks like’.

March 1990: The Pete Dye Challenge golf course at Mission Hills Country Club north of Rancho Mirage, was completed in 1988.
The curved road at the bottom of picture is Dinah Shore Drive.
At the very top edge of the picture runs highway Interstate 10, going to Phoenix, AZ, and all the way east across the country to Jacksonville, FL.
The tracks of real estate in between the greens of the golf course would be developed soon enough ..

July 2020: Fast forward 30 years later to today, and we find the Pete Dye Challenge golf course temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Mission Hills North/ Gary Player Signature golf course was added in 1992.
The tracks of land have been filled up with houses/ golf course condominiums.
Rancho Mirage High School at the top left of the picture was founded in 2013.

Tuesday/ another 4×6 ‘escape’

Here’s another 4×6 ‘escape’ photo that I found on a lamp post, of the Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland.  It’s about 50 miles (80 km) as the crow flies from the capital of Reykjavik, and 75 miles (120 km) to drive out there with a car.

Friday/ a ‘4×6’ escape to Prague

I found this picture of Prague on a lamp post here on 13th Ave.
Regrettably, I have not been the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic — at least not yet.
I had a chance to go there while I was working in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 2008. Bratislava is a 4 hour train ride away.

The stone arch bridge in the photo is the Charles Bridge. Construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and was completed almost 50 years later! The river is the Vltava. The light green dome just to the right of the bridge tower is that of the St Francis of Assisi Church.  [Screen shot from Google Street View].