Wednesday, June 30, 2021

An Open Letter to the Chevrolet Engineering Group

Dear Chevrolet Engineering Group,

I am in the middle of a series of very, very long family road trips this summer. I just spent eighteen days in our Chevrolet Suburban with my wife, mother-in-law, and three teenage sons. We traveled over 4000 miles across the southwestern United States in just under 600,000 hours.

We’re back on the road again now for the second trip of the summer. Yesterday a wildfire had forced the closure of our highway, which added two hours to what would have already been an eight-hour drive. We had to take a few “scenic byways,” one of which was getting restriped, so six hours into the drive we got to spend a half hour driving exactly eight miles an hour behind a paint truck. Did I mention the whole family was in the car?

Situations like that can cause a man to start thinking. Deep thinking about a number of different subjects. Like whether or not your life insurance policy would still be payable to your family if you faked your own death successfully. And how best to go about faking your own death while on a road trip. And car design.

This brings us to the reason for today’s letter. I have a few ideas for improving the Suburban.

I’m sure when you all designed the interior of the eight-passenger SUV, you were mostly concerned about leg room, cup holders, seat belts, etc. That’s all well and good, but let’s dive a little deeper. You gave us eight seats, but who’s in those seats? Answering that question opens a lot more possibilities for design improvements and add-ons.

For instance, in my case, three of the back seats are being occupied by my teenage sons. This is where a targeted individual seat Taser system would come in very handy. After the first zap or two, I suspect all I would need to do is hover my finger over the Taser control panel to get one of them to remove his hand from the other’s throat.

And why is everyone in the car so close to me? The Suburban is long, and that's great, but can we make it longer? I'm talking six, maybe even seven or eight rows. I’m talking long enough that an intercom system would be required. I don’t care about parking. We can gas up at truck stops.

How about an individual seat belt locking system, accessed with a password, to go along with the Taser control panel? I would like the option to lock one, two, or all of the seatbelts so I can get out of the car and no one can follow me, in case I need some alone time.

And how about one of those glass limousine partitions behind my driver seat? The only controls for it would be up front, of course, and it would obviously need to be soundproof. The option for clear glass as well as blackout glass would be great.

Come to think of it, that glass partition needs to be airtight as well as soundproof. This would solve some obvious problems and also open us up to a bunch of new ideas.

Teenage boys smell, so just closing it would be beneficial in many cases, but what if we added an aggressive air freshener option? Close the partition and nuke the back with a Febreze bomb! That’s what we need.

And as long as we’re exploring gas deploying technology, why not a menu setting for choosing a mild sleeping gas? Nothing major. Just enough to knock out four to six adults for a few hours. Quiet time for the driver at the push of a button.

I think that would be a top selling option on the new and improved Extended Length Family Road Trip Edition Suburban.

We just need to make sure that partition is really airtight. Eight miles an hour is already enough to make you want to nod off.

Thanks for your attention. I look forward to seeing the new improvements.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Google Maps Timeline Alert

From: Google Maps Timeline

Date: May 8th, 2020

Re: Your April 2020 Update

This Timeline email is an automated summary of places you’ve been, which may be fewer this month due to the COVID-19 response in your area.

Here’s your new Timeline update!

You visited (1) city and visited (17) places

You traveled (110) miles, totaling (8) hours

Hmm, looks like you’re staying close to home and following COVID quarantine guidelines. Thanks for doing your part. We’ll all get through this together. Stay safe!




From: Google Maps Timeline

Date: May 8th, 2021

Re: Your April 2021 Update

This Timeline email is an automated summary of places you’ve been, which may be fewer this month due to the COVID-19 response in your area.

Here’s your new Timeline update!

You visited (4) cities and visited (37) places

You traveled (460) miles, totaling (26) hours

Well, it’s been a year and it looks like you are getting out a little more. That’s great, but let’s all remember that we are still being advised to limit our travel to only the necessary trips. Take care!





From: Google Maps Timeline

Date: June 6th, 2021

Re: Your May 2021 Update

This Timeline email is an automated summary of places you’ve been, which may be fewer this month due to the COVID-19 response in your area.

Here’s your new Timeline update!

You visited (6) cities and visited (56) places

You traveled (800) miles, totaling (54) hours

OK, let’s all remember that we’re not out of the woods yet. We still need to get a lot of people vaccinated before we can put this thing behind us, and you seem to be getting out quite a bit more. Looks like it’s mostly carpool type stuff between school and home, but we see you’re taking more trips out of town as well. Be aware that we all haven’t been advised that unnecessary travel is OK yet. Take care!




From: Google Maps Timeline

Date: June 23rd, 2021

Re: Emergency June 2021 Intervention

This Timeline email is an automated summary of places you’ve been, which may be fewer this month due to the COVID-19 response in your area.

Emergency June Timeline update!

You visited (54) cities and visited (232) places, a lot of which we’re not even sure were actual places.

You traveled (4385) miles in just the last 18 days, totaling more hours than we could count, even with our giant supercomputers.

We really need to check in with you! You seem to have gone crazy. We have record of you being at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, so “bat guano crazy” might be a real possibility for you.

Look, man, Carlsbad is so hell-and-gone in the corner of New Mexico that there is no way you can convince us that was necessary. And speaking of unnecessary – the Roswell, New Mexico International UFO Museum? Really, bro?

You also stopped in a place called Cuba, New Mexico. Not sure what business you could have had there, but we have record of a post from your wife, laughing about “peeing in Cuba,” so it doesn’t seem like it was a work-related visit.

Speaking of peeing, we also have record of a post about your whole family peeing “on the middle of Hoover Dam.” We certainly hope there was a restroom involved.

Capital Reef National Park in Utah? How could that have been essential? According to our maps, there is no actual way to even get there from anywhere. We don’t even know what that place is. A reef in the middle of Utah? Sure, pal!

And what the hell is Dead Horse Point State Park? That sounds cheery. Looks like it is near Canyonlands National Park in Utah, but who has ever even heard of that place. Why, man? Why?

And then there were a bunch of places we thought you had just accidentally dropped your phone until we realized you were staying there.

Taft, California?

Glendale, Utah?

Primm, Nevada?

Dolores, Colorado?

I mean, what could possibly be in a place called Dolores, Colorado that you needed to go to? A cattle ranch? An alfalfa field? Besides being close-ish to Mesa Verde National Park, those seem to be the only two things happening in Dolores, according to our satellites.

Look, we’re glad you’re home safe and sound, but you need to settle down. Based on your phone movement, it doesn’t look like you’ve even left your living room today, so that’s a step in the right direction.

We also want to take this opportunity to introduce a new feature of Google Maps Timeline – the Family Factor Adjusted Equivalent Milage Calculator. Your actual map milage in the last three weeks was over 4300 miles, but based on the fact that your wife, children, and mother-in-law were in the car with you, that is the equivalent of driving across the United States, coast-to-coast, 78 times.

Congratulations on a record year!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

I Herd You're on Vacation

We are still on our road trip. Our long, long, long road trip. So far, we have seen every national park in the entire United States, and somehow, there are four more left on the schedule we haven’t been to yet.

Our family travel agent, aka my beautiful wife, is very good at her job. She is a master of finding us unique and interesting places to stay. With six of us (remember – try to curb your jealousy – my mother-in-law is with us), hotels are really not an option, financially. Also, our teenage boys, when confined together in small spaces, become feral beasts that can easily get us banned from entire hotel chains.

Thankfully, because of the existence of Airbnb and Vrbo, we are still able to travel. And as educational as our tour of the gas stations and national parks of the southwest has been for the boys, our Airbnb experiences have been even more so.

One case in point was the animal husbandry aspect of our rental property in Glendale, Utah. Our Airbnb was described as “a rustic farmhouse” on a ranch. Upon arrival, it became apparent that our accommodations were actually in a barn. The inside of the barn had been renovated to look and act just like a regular old house, complete with non-barn stuff like a working kitchen and bathroom and beds and such.

The outside of the barn, however, had not been moved from its original pasture-side barn location, so the twenty-five head of cattle (that’s ranch talk for a bunch of cows), would still instinctively come to our house every evening around dusk. And by “come to our house,” I mean walk up to the raised, covered concrete porch we were sitting on, and stand right next to it, so that, if there was no fence separating us, I would have been able to step off the porch and walk across their backs. (I was told that would not go well, so I did not attempt it, no matter how tempted I might have been.)

We would retreat into our housebarn at night, and the cows would sleep six feet from our front door. Literally six feet. You don’t get that at a major hotel chain. You also don’t get the chance to spend a late afternoon on the porch, smelling fresh cow poop and pondering with your family whether the cow that was continually mounting the other cows was in fact a cow (female) and not a bull (male), and if so, why a cow would do that.

Staying at the Hilton almost never presents the opportunity to Google “why would a female cow mount another cow?” and I would venture a guess that no one at a Marriott ever learned about the phenomenon of female cows “bulling” when one or more of them are in “oestrus,” or to use the technical scientific term, “ready for some action.”

I gotta tell you, if you are sitting around the pool at the Hyatt with your family, instead of counting how many times Mocha Latte Cow has mounted Dark Brown Cow versus how many times she has mounted Small Tan Cow, and theorizing why she is focusing so much of her energy on Dark Brown Cow, you are really missing out.

On something…

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Can You Desert a Road Trip?

We are on a road trip. For many, many days, spanning many, many miles.


I don't want you to be jealous, but our first leg was over five hours and we ended up in Taft, California. What's that? You haven't heard of Taft, California? That's not really much of a surprise.

You don’t go through Taft unless you are going there on purpose, so no one ever goes there. It's the kind of town where you stay at THE hotel and eat at THE restaurant.

We stopped at the Taft hardware store to buy some duct tape and when the woman at the register asked me how I was doing, I said, "Living the dream."

She laughed out loud and said, "Yeah, right. In Taft?"

Why Taft, you might be asking, like the lady at the hardware store apparently asks herself every day? Taft exists solely because of oil. When you drive into and out of Taft, you drive past forests of oil derricks on both sides of the road. Some are pumping. Some are still. All of them are stained dark brown. The whole town is the same hue – crude oil brown.

My wife's grandfather worked the oil fields in Taft as a young married man, and my mother-in-law lived there when she was little. She wanted to see the town again.

Oh, did I not mention that my mother-in-law is with us on this long, long, long road trip? Like I said, I don't want you to be jealous.

We stopped in Taft for an overnight and went to the West Kern Oil Museum. Again, please attempt to curb your jealousy. Does the West Kern Oil Museum have an exact life size rebuilt replica of the Old Jameson #17 wooden derrick, you ask? You can bet your sweet ass it does! What color is that derrick, you ask? Crude oil brown, of course. It is located in Taft, California, after all.

I was kidding about the only one restaurant thing, though. There are actually two. We ate dinner at the other one – the Black Gold Brewing Company. They serve their own brewed beers, cook burgers, steaks, and Thai food, and sell guns and ammo. I am not making that up.

Speaking of places that are both crazy and all brown, after we’d had so much fun in Taft we couldn’t stand it anymore, we drove another five hours through the God-forsaken Mojave desert to the depression in the Nevada desert where they keep Las Vegas, for some reason.

Las Vegas happens to be on the way to all the Southwestern national parks that are the actual reason for this road trip, and when my wife was planning the route, she thought it would be cool if we took the boys to see Matt Franco, a magician that they all liked from America’s Got Talent, season 217.

So, she booked us for two nights in Vegas, but when it later came time to get the Matt Franco tickets, it turned out that we would have to choose financially between having two and a half of us go see the show and then live out the rest of our lives in Taft, or do the whole road trip and see all the parks.

So, instead of a magic show, we saw an acrobatic gymnast act and two juggling plate spinners for free at the Circus Circus midway. Both acts were really solid, but just to make sure our boys got the full flavor of Vegas, we spent an entire morning walking the length of the strip to show them why staying in school and not doing drugs is important.

I’m not sure if it was the two fights on the sidewalk, or the homeless woman bathing in a fountain at the Venetian that did it, but they all promised to stay clean and get a good education. I’ll bet Franco doesn’t offer that kind of impact from his little magic show!

We escaped Vegas with our lives and most of our dignity and drove through – you guessed it – more God-forsaken desert. But we made it to Zion National Park yesterday, and as you enter the park the landscape changes almost instantly from hellish desert to red rock canyons and rivers, like nothing you’ve ever seen. The scenery is so breathtaking it can almost make you forget you ever stayed in Taft or saw a homeless fountain bather on the strip.


The next two weeks promise to be a whirlwind of long car rides and more amazing sites, and I’ll give you another update or two if I live through it all.

Until then, stay in school and stay off the drugs, kids.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Unpredictable Text

I have a problem with how my phone works. I’m not talking about the part where it somehow makes me pull it out of my pocket every 35 seconds to stare at it. That is a separate problem that we can deal with as soon as we can set our phones down long enough to concentrate on how to solve it.

Today, I’m talking about the predictive text feature. I have a Samsung phone which is more or less completely powered by Google. At this point, Google, I think you own and/or control at least half to three-quarters of the free world, so I’m guessing you have the money to make the predictive text function work slightly better than it does.

Shouldn’t be too hard. I think a third-grader could improve it. One small example happened on my birthday a week or so ago. A friend of mine from high school posted a birthday greeting on my Facebook timeline that read, “Happy Easter.”

I obviously responded with “and Merry Christmas to you.” He liked my response and then told me, “I used predictive text after ‘happy’ and I had just wished someone else a happy birthday.”

Keep in mind, Google, my birthday is in May. Easter is not in May. Ever.

If you’d like an easy place to start that doesn’t involve simple holiday calendar math, how about idioms? Shouldn’t be hard. You could have a big list of all the American idioms, with the program just waiting for those first few key words. You could pull that off in one afternoon with your resources.

Idioms are easy, because they are very unique phrases and each one is always the same. They are so rigorous in their structure that John McClane was able to justifiably shoot a fake German bank guard in Die Hard 3 on the sole grounds of the man saying, “It feels like it’s going to rain dogs and cats later.” It is ALWAYS “cats and dogs.” No exceptions. Case closed. Shoot him. Totally fair.

Here’s what you have to offer with that particular idiom:

I typed: It’s raining

You suggested: (here) (and) (rainy cloud icon)

OK, that’s fine. Not enough information yet. I get it.

But then,

I typed: It’s raining cats

You suggested: (and) (but) (cat icon)

I will give you partial credit for suggesting “and,” but the main middle suggestion was “but.” You think I was going to type, “It’s raining cats, but…” But what? “But I don’t think it’s the end of the world just yet. Wait until it’s raining sheep, then we’ll panic.”??

But now here’s where I know you are not even trying.

I typed: It’s raining cats and

You suggested: (I) (cats) (dogs)

Yes, Google, giving me the middle suggestion of cats here was fantastic. “It’s raining cats and cats.” Nailed it.

I thought I would try one more, just to see if raining cats and cats was an anomaly. I decided to stick with the feline theme and go with “Look what the cat dragged in.”

I typed: Look what the

You suggested: (hell) (heck) (most)

OK, again, not enough info yet.

I typed: Look what the cat

You suggested: (is) (says) (cat icon)

“Look what the cat says.”?? I realize you guys have a basically unlimited amount of money, but if you have secretly developed talking cats, please stop that project immediately. The world does not need that. (But please do talking dogs!!)

The moment of truth…

 I typed: Look what the cat dragged

You suggested: (me) (on) (skull icon)

Yes, Google. “Look what the cat dragged (skull icon)” is exactly what I was not going for.

Complete and total predictive text failure.

Not only could the “predictive” function be better – a LOT better – but it could also be more helpful. For instance, when I am saying “got it” on a text, I will usually type “Roger, Roger,” because I speak in movie quotes, and Airplane! was one of the best movies ever made, obviously. Predictive text has never once suggested the second Roger for me. I’ve only texted that a thousand times.

Predictive text has also never suggested that I stop typing “Roger, Roger,” because I am drastically overplaying it. That would also be helpful.

Predictive text could also be used to prevent communication problems. A simple note to me in the middle of a text that says, “This person does not respond well to sarcasm,” would be helpful in so many situations. I know you store everything we write anyway, Google. Help us! Use that data mining for some good.

Predictive text could suggest more hip slang for me. I’m forty-nine years old, dammit. I stopped trying to stay current a long time ago. (Note my use of the adjective “hip.”)

If I’m texting, “Did you see [insert athlete’s name here] last night? He was on fire,” it would be great if you would suggest “poppin’ off” instead of “on fire.” I don’t know what it means, but my kids would think I was marginally cooler.

And speaking of my kids, any help you could give me in the reverse would be great. Meaning, I would love it if you could use the predictive feature as a translator as well.

As an example, when I text them to be home by nine and they respond with “bet no cap,” it would fantastic if you could quickly show me that that means, “I will. I am telling the truth.”

Help out! You’ve got the money. You’ve got the people. You’ve got the computers. C’mon, Google. We can predict better than this!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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