As of Saturday the national average gasoline price was $2.59 at the pump, up 23 cents in just six days.

A week and a day ago, I paid $2.329 in Swanton, VT, on the last Saturday in August. I paid $2.559 in Swanton, VT, on Thursday and the price had jumped to $2.799 there by Saturday.

2008 Gas SignI tweeted Leaving the land of $3.94 gas! as I drove over the bridge into Vermont from New York State in 2013.
I drove 1,700 miles up the East Coast in 2014. I haven’t heard a peep from any of the usual suspects about the prices and there was no ineffectual Internet gas boycott. The House approved stiff gas-gouging penalties in 2007 but prices are higher than ever.
I drove the east coast in 2015. The cheapest gas I saw was in South Carolina.
Vermont’s gasoline price-fixing lawsuit grinds toward a jury trial this fall.

A lawsuit against Vermont gasoline distributors R.L. Vallee, SB Collins, Champlain Farms, and Champlain Oil Company alleges price-fixing to the tune of more than $100 million in improper profits. R.L. Vallee was founded in 1942 and is based in St. Albans, Vermont. SB Collins was founded in 1942 and is based in St. Albans, Vermont. Looks like the distributors have just added more fuel to the fire. The national average price is up 23 cents at the pump but these guys have more than doubled that.

Gas prices in Swanton, Vermont
are up 47 cents/gallon in a week.

Oh, I know the argument that some Texas refineries are down and a pipeline has slowed deliveries. Horse puckey. Some refineries and infrastructure are always down, usually for maintenance but sometimes like now for other reasons.

I have thought the world of Skip Vallee. He’s a nice fellow and good businessman who has banked a huge reserve of community spirit. That bank of good feelings is overdrawn. Mr. Vallee, Mr. Jolley, et al have an alleged history of overcharging Vermonters, particularly in the northwestern corner of the state and it appears they have a new excuse to do so.

It isn’t a very good excuse.




“Read this and beware,” Liz Arden told me. Follow the link below now. I’ll wait.

He Fell Victim to a Used Lens Scam

This scam is bigger than writer Ziemowit Pierzycki realized.

We already know about fraudulent ordering scams in which the scammer buys something from you with a fake cashier’s check or stolen credit card. Sometimes they pick up the goods but often the victim is expected to ship the merchandise via a fake shipper. If you get an offer for free money, there’s always a catch.

We already know about the very similar overpayment scam. Don’t send money to someone you don’t know.

This one is a biggie because the “Amazon” scam will work for any third-party seller on any mailorder system from Walmart to Sears to eBay to Craigslist and, of course, to Amazon.

Amazon lists more than 10 pages of used Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lenses including one for $1,250 plus $7.49 shipping from Products By Reily. They also have 31 used Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G Nikkor lenses including one for $909 plus $6.99 shipping from LuckyMerchant. “Every purchase on Amazon.com is protected by an A-to-Z guarantee” but now I’m afraid to buy even with that guarantee.

Walmart advertises “Researched. Trusted. Choose from more Every Day Low Prices and get the same great customer care. Shop one of our trusted sellers.” I just found that you can buy Mortal Kombat X (PS4) used for $15.84 from Walmart direct or $19.99 with free shipping from GameJiffy or $26.43 plus $10.06 shipping from UnbeatableSale. Beyond just the prices, now I’m afraid to buy from those “trusted sellers.”

I would hope that the folks at Amazon’s A-to-Z Guarantee department (Mr. Bezos, are you listening?) would be more on top of this but, sadly, Mr. Pierzycki will need a lawyer to make the rocket scientists in that department recognize that the scammer didn’t send the thing to his address in Gilberts.

Back in 1975, a Nordstrom’s customer in Alaska wanted to return a set of snow tires. Nordstrom’s sells a lot of things but the department store chain has never sold auto parts. Not even snow tires in Alaska. Nevertheless, the clerk took back the tires because that’s what the customer wanted.

Of course, these days it is easier to blame the victim (and lose the customer) than to prosecute the criminal.

I wonder if Nordstrom’s sells used lenses?


Road Trip XVI-11

In our prior episode, I drove out of Arizona and through New Mexico where I still didn’t find my drivers’ license.


Oil Well

Texas has the most farms and the highest acreage in the United States. The state is ranked #1 for revenue generated from total livestock and livestock products and #2 for total agricultural revenue. Beef cattle represent the largest single segment of Texas agriculture bringing $7.4 billion or 56.7% of the state’s annual agricultural cash receipts. Texas leads the nation in the production of cattle, horses, sheep, goats, wool, mohair, hay and cotton. Cotton earns $1.9 billion and dairy products make “only” $947 million.
Ever since the discovery of oil at Spindletop, Texas has grown to be the sixth largest oil producer in the world. The state has known petroleum deposits of about 5 billion barrels, which makes up about one-fourth of the known U.S. reserves. The state’s refineries can process 4.6 million barrels of oil a day. Texas also leads in natural gas production, producing one-fourth of the nation’s supply. Petroleum companies based in include Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Conoco-Phillips, Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, Marathon Oil, Tesoro, Valero, and Western Refining.
Despite the extraordinary mileage many Texans drive, they consume, on average, only the fifth most energy (of all types) in the nation per capita and as a whole, following behind Wyoming, Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Iowa.

I chatted with a gentleman in Amarillo who had driven across the state. He had a trailer-load furniture coming from his home in Houston to his “summer house” near Amarillo.

“I’ve already driven halfway to California,” he said. That was a Texas exaggeration but only by about 100 miles. Since I opted against El Paso and San Antonio for this trip, I’ll drive only 700 miles across Texas instead of 1,000.

My first view of the Lone Star State was a cotton field with oil derricks and there were almost uncountable horsehead pumps/nodding donkeys filling the fields the rest of the way in. The drive to Midland was mostly pretty desolate so I was surprised to see an orchard as I left one small town.

I made it to Midland in time to spend a couple of hours at the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum. Natch, I started at the Chaparral wing where I “test drove” the 2E and had my picture taken and drooled over all the other cars. Every one except the model I sat in is in running shape and kept that way purposefully.

Test Driving the Chaparral 2E

Mr. Hall was a founder and charter member of the West Texas Region of the SCCA in the 1950s. He raced the cars he built in Midland and competed in Formula One from 1960 to 1963 but his place in motor sports history came because he was the engineer and driver and part owner, with Hap Sharp, of Chaparral Cars.

Business End of the Chaparral 2J, the Famed 'Goer-Blower'

Chaparral built the most innovative racecars in the United States Road Racing Championship and in the Can-Am of the ’60s most obviously because his aerodynamics shaped the coming generations of racing. He drove in SCCA Trans-Am Series and won the 12-Hour at Sebring in the ’70s, then took over as a team owner in CART and Champ Car Racing.

Rutherford's Chaparral_2K

His cars won the Indianapolis 500 with Al Unser driving in 1978 and Johnny Rutherford in 1980 in the radical new Chaparral 2K, the first ground effect car to be raced at Indy.
Chaparral 2K Ground Effects TunnelsAfter reading Zuckerman’s The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, the museum’s “this is how it works” exhibits showed me the actual iron used from the earliest oil fields on. Many of the exhibits were created to teach kids how great oil and oil exploration is. Mythcrackers is one, with an introductory film that dispelling common petroleum myths in a Family Feud-style game show because “it’s what you think you know that just ain’t so.” They have a large display of paintings by artist Tom Lovell.

FlareThe industry museum shares the energy story and its impact on our daily lives with a journey through millions of years of history starting with the vast sea that covered the Permian Basin 230 million years ago.

Lightning chased me from the outdoor drilling and pump exhibits, though.
Early Mobile Drilling RigI had reserved a room in America’s Best Value Inn because when I called ahead to make sure I could check in with my passport, the desk clerk reminded me to book online because it was cheaper. I was quite pleased to have the real frig which froze my ices solid in the room. I left just three in the coolers overnight to keep them reasonable, so I had only a little ice to get. On the other hand, I could.not.make.the.shower.work. The tub had no obvious diverter on the spout and no valve. I went to the front desk.

“This would have been a better night if you had a shower that worked or even a plug for the tub.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. You just have to pull on the thingie,” the desk clerk said.

Uh huh.

We eventually figured out that she meant to pull down on the aerator on the spigot. Like that’s intuitive.

It was going to rain so I had a waffle and headed for Shreveport.

Crossing the rest of Texas was a mostly boring, wet, ride. The rain started in earnest shortly after I left Midland, hammering down so hard some of the time that I used the fastest wiper speed and slowest truck speed, and continued until I was 50 miles from Louisiana. Traffic flowed at about 50 mph several times.

The highest speed limit I saw was just 75 and I don’t think anyone drove by at faster than 80 or 85. The rain meant I didn’t see all that much and wasn’t particularly enticed by any side trips. The rain also meant the NASCAR Cup race in Fort Worth turned into a night race, finally getting underway after a rain delay of nearly six hours Sunday. Reed Sorenson drove the #55 Trump-Pence Toyota which may have clinched the election although he finished the race in 35th.

Speaking of speed, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still driving fast, even though he has been sidelined from NASCAR because of a concussion. Junior was pulled over for speeding while driving to Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday morning. His fiancee who was in the car with him tweeted a picture of a police officer writing out a warning for NASCAR’s most popular driver. According to her tweet, Junior didn’t get ticketed. She didn’t say how fast he was going.

Sweetwater Wind FarmI passed the huge Sweetwater wind farm in Nolan County but just one turbine out of 346 was turning. Sweetwater was built in five phases with GE 1.5 megawatt S turbines, SLE turbines, and XLE turbines plus Mitsubishi 1.0 megawatt turbines and Siemens 2.3 megawatt turbines.

I also passed an LA Fitness right next to a Golden Buffet.

Gas was consistently above $2/gallon across the state and seemed to average between $2.09 and $2.19. I filled the tank with Sunoco in Midland for $1.999.

Next stop the J Bennett Johnston Waterway, Dave Robicheaux’s house on the Teche, and a po’ boy.



Note to self: put Band-Aids in the new truck

South Puffin is in the middle of the glorious Middle Keys1 and more than 50 miles to Key Weird. We don’t go to mile marker 0 very often but we had to on Saturday to pick up a new backpack for SWMBO’s upcoming trip to the frozen north.

First we stopped at the Flea Market where Larry had scratch-and-dent tomatoes which is always a good find. He had more fresh beans, too, picked just Friday afternoon.

The Parade of Paws is the Florida Keys SPCA Animal Care Fund‘s third annual fundraiser. The pets didn’t have the over-the-top costumes of Fantasy Fest but it was still practically perfect. The day started when a local minister blessed the pets. We chatted with a woman who was afraid this would be her 11-year old Goldy’s last blessing. Lots of fun fur. We met Deputy Dawg in his own dress green uniform blouse with a Monroe County Sheriff deputy’s patch on the sleeve. His personal deputy carried him in the parade. Several people carried signs to “Give rabbits a voice.” I have no idea. One 12-ish-year old girl walked around with a rat on her shoulder. Plenty of smallish dogs in Santa outfits and others with red antlers.

All good projects require blood to be shed, right?

We also saw Santa himself. I know it was Santa because his beard was real. He said he had fake padding, though, because he had lost 100 pounds.

And we did well at shopping. Sears had the backpack and the pickup process is even easier (and more robotic) than it was back in the catalog days. The Sears robot read my credit card, displayed the order, and notified Hector. He pulled the backpack and had it in my hands in a couple of minutes. We also saw the Tempur-Cloud Supreme Breeze mattress for 1,000x the price of the backpack, $9,996.00. We didn’t buy that.

Hanging out in the Hood

SWMBO noticed the big nest platform on Summerland before I did. Someone was home: a largish black bird with a white head. That was enough to swing a U-ie on the chance it was a bald eagle. It was an osprey. I had the 400 lens mounted on the tripod so I flipped a camera onto it and used the folded up tripod as a “steady cam” with the feet in my belt and camera body in my hand. Worked a treat. I ran the power winder and got a bunch of closeups of the bird in the nest, taking off from the nest, flying with a mate, and Fat Albert. Ahhh.

Then my feet went right out from under me. I slipped on the marbles and uneven surface where we parked and went down on my hands and knees. Scuffed my knees and punctured my hands. All good projects require blood to be shed, right? Sheesh.

It was the shoes, darn it.

Ancient History from 2011
Five years ago, I had just “holed” the walking surface of the heel of a pair of high tech, ultra light sports shoes by stepping on a pebble.

“Wonder if brand name walking shoes have more durable outer soles,” Liz Arden asked back then.

I have only one data point (my Reeboks) but I would think so. That said, any relatively thin, soft rubber covering that bridges a honeycomb is the most vulnerable design.

We went to the now-gone Reebok outlet in Essex Junction, Vermont. I had a coupon and, since my then-current “good” sneakers were 10 or 15 year old Reeboks, I have a definite brand preference.

I wanted cross trainers that felt good in a brief walk around the store. Shannon the saleslady did a nice job of showing and demonstrating the features and guiding me into the right shoe (she threw in the left one, free).

She first wanted me in the air bladder sole, but I ‘splained about the stones I walk on that caused the holiness of my current soul so she moved right over to a solid foam core. I was predisposed to Reebok but the initial prices scared me. That’s when she showed me they were priced at $10 off and the store was running a Buy One, Get One for Half price or Buy Two, Get One Free deal. On top of that I had the 15% off your first purchase coupon and Vermont doesn’t charge sales tax on clothing. With all that, they cost $25 per pair and I was “all set for the next 10 years or so” I thought.

So. I AM™ now the proud owner of 3 (yes, THREE) pairs of Reebok cross-trainers, two for down south and one for North Puffin.

“Why on earth do you need three pairs of shoes?!?” SWMBO asked then.

Have you counted yours, my dear?

I walk about two miles at a fast pace every morning. I swapped shoes in the middle of walkies and it was a good experiment. The new shoes tended to give me a straight heel-toe strike so I think I land more in the center of my heel than on one side or the other. The old shoes both have the hole blown into the heel on the outside and yet I found that they pronated me (is pronate a verb?).

I wouldn’t mind having shorter laces in my new sneaks but they have funny fabric slides instead of holes-and-eyelets for the laces and I don’t really want to spend the rest of my life threading the darn things.

I looked after the fact and saw that the soles on both shoes are about worn out. The uppers and the rest of the shoes are still in good shape. They give good, firm support and comfort. Click the pic to see.

Reeboks Started with Plenty of Sole

That’s just wrong. I actually have four pairs of walking shoes, all about the same age, that I walk in on alternate days. Since I spend about half my days in South Puffin, each pair of the shoes here probably gets pounded about 85-90 days annually. That adds up to just 850-900 miles in five years. I do mostly walk on pavement and some loose stone down here but I’m pretty sure we got better mileage out of our sneaks when we were kids.

The one Reebok store in Vermont evaporated three or four years ago but the Florida Outlet Center in Florida City may still have a Reebok outlet. I hope so because I like the fit and support I’ve gotten with that brand. I just hope they come with Kevlar soles.

The Band-Aid brand covering on my finger has lasted through walkies, food prep, raking gravel, the beach, and at least two showers.


Dear USPS:

Regular readers may recall that the Post Office had a little trouble forwarding mail from North Puffin to South Puffin earlier this year. That’s not the only difficulty the Post Office has caused.

I tried to order a body cap and rear lens cap from Canon to replace the ones I’ve somehow lost track of. They’re not lost, darn it. I know they are in this house somewhere.

Canon doesn’t pay me to use their brand (don’t I wish) or even lend it to me for free (ditto), but I have standardized on Canon gear. I use a different brand of printer, though.

Canon Body & Lens Caps

The Canon site wouldn’t ship to me. See, their USPS address confirmation system doesn’t recognize my address. Amazon does. Adorama does. 47th Street Photo does. eBay does. UPS does. FedEx does. DHL does. Paypal verified it. Even the Post Office manages to ship things to me.

I called the 800 number and related all that to a rep. I also told him that I’m a Canon pro and wondered how they would get me a lens or a body if I broke one on a shoot in East Dumfuck. I didn’t ‘splain that I would never, ever pay the price to get a replacement in the field.

He suggested I send it to another address. I told him I had the same problem with my South Puffin address because the Post Office doesn’t recognize South Puffin street addresses either, because they don’t deliver mail there. We have P.O. boxes or carrier pigeons or nothing at all. Not to mention shipping it to Florida didn’t do me a lot of good.

I asked the rep to escalate me to a supervisor.

Yes, steam was coming out of my ears. I hate having to micro-manage this crap.

I ‘splained it all over again. He was adamant that he, too, could do nothing. He said he could try to escalate it to the marketing department to have them do something.

The supervisor told me he looked it up on Google and couldn’t find it.

“Wait a minute,” I said. I plugged in my address. “There it is. Has a satellite view and a little arrow pointing to my house and everything.”

He was abashed (at getting caught) but still wouldn’t do anything.

That’s when I told the supervisor I’d probably have to move to Nikon.

After we hung up, I tried to get Canon to ship to a friend’s address on a private road in St. Puffin Bay. Nope. USPS doesn’t recognize that, either, because she gets her mail at a P.O. box.

Interesting aside: I later updated my address on my actual Canon account page. Even Canon accepts it there.

I did get some underwear ordered successfully but that came from Walmart.

Lifeline phone service provides free cell phones to America’s “financially disadvantaged.” You can’t get the phone if you have only a P.O. box, though.

And then it happened again.

I tried. I really did.

I found a nice Garmin GPS with the nice pinch-to-zoom, capacitive multi-touch screen, that comes with lifetime NA Maps, voice-activated navigation, route avoidance, speed limit, and lifetime HD traffic. It’s manufacturer refurbished and was a great, great price.

I put that puppy in my shopping cart, you betcha.

Then Garmin said I had to change my shipping address.

I mined the Garmin website and Google for a Customer Service number (took many pages, many clicks). I sat through the Garmin Customer Service disconnecting me. I finally talked to Brittany. She couldn’t ship to me either.

“We use the USPS to ship our products.”

“Great! Put in my P.O. Box in the shipping address.”

“We don’t ship to post office boxes.”

I pounded my head on the desk.

I asked for a supervisor. And waited. And waited. I had been on hold 10 minutes when I found the same GPS at Amazon, shipped free, no tax, for $3 less.


Oh, yeah. Amazon had the lens caps too, so I’m all set.

USPS Address ManagementThe only hope is to convince the USPS to update its address list for about 21 million folks like me.

Addressing made easy? Address changes made easy? Riiiiiight.

Post offices in small areas often have fewer than 100 boxes, but stations in a  Central Business District may offer over 100,000. The USPS has over 150 million delivery points: residences, businesses and post office boxes. The longest regular rural route is Route 2 in Gridley, KS. The carrier travels 182.8 miles daily and delivers to 258 households, farms, and businesses.

Some people opt to rent a P.O. Box at the post office for convenience, security, or exclusivity but sometimes the USPS requires people to sign up for a box and have their mail exclusively addressed to that box. In either case, their home and business addresses aren’t even on file with the USPS and the address validators built on the USPS data fail.

The U.S. Postal Service has over 21 million P.O. Boxes.

21 divided by 150, carry the eight … That means that up to 14 percent of all delivery addresses people give to online sellers aren’t “in the system.” Millions of people are struggling to get their packages. The entire populations of Jackson, WY, Key Colony Beach, FL, and hundreds of other cities do not have home or business mail delivery service. Residents are required to use a P.O. Box to receive their USPS mail.

It wasn’t that long ago that I could get mail addressed to


and it arrived no problem. Now I can’t get a package and it is the Post Office’s problem.

All the Post Office needs to fix it is to include the physical address line in their database even if they themselves ignore it (they do).