Monthly Archive:: February 2013

NHTSA Fitting Station Locator Woes

I’ve operated a private fitting station for about 9 years now.  Most of my clients are expectant moms, who are due within weeks or days and can’t find an appointment in time elsewhere  Most of my business is home service, often for the same moms who are too busy, on bedrest or otherwise don’t want to drive when they are 9 months pregnant.  A few past clients had just delivered and needed service in the hospital parking lot, in order to be safe at discharge time.  Unless they are delivering at the single hospital in our county [of 1 million people] that has a few techs on staff, I don’t think any other area fitting station is going to be able to help these parents!

In 2011, about 30% of my business came from Google  searches, another 30% from the NHTSA fitting station locator and the rest via referrals from other area departments, organizations and past clients.  By the end of 2012, very few clients indicated they found me on the locator.  My business, that had been growing slowly throughout the recession, instead had a significant downturn in contacts last year.  It took me quite some time to figure it out.

What happened to my business?  Government happened.  NHTSA changed to a map-based fitting station locator.  Previously, you typed in a zip code and a list came up with results in the same zip code and state.  Granted, only those in the exact zip code typed were emphasized, but mine could easily be found from nearby zip codes if you scrolled down or searched the page for the city name.  Now, you instead see a handy map with pins showing nearby fitting stations.  This is a lot more user-friendly for caregivers and a nice improvement to the locator overall.  Many search engines have this type of display.  My area looks like the image at the right.  I’m located roughly in the middle, where no pins are shown.   With budget cuts in recent years, most pins in my county no longer actually accept any appointments at all, and most of those that still do will limit inspections to residents of that city only.  Just a handful remain that accept appointments regardless of your city of residence.  I wonder how many other fitting stations in the entire Chicago area may be able to accommodate caregivers with next-day or possibly even same-day appointments, sometimes even on evenings and weekends?

The reason many parents can no longer find my fitting station is because NHTSA’s map pins are tied to a physical address.  So, my information is not shown at all, even if you scroll down or search the page for my city’s name.  Since I am not a police, fire, healthcare or other taxpayer supported organization, I do not have a brick & mortar location that can be published as a business address.  I operate out of my home, mostly traveling to parents’ homes and places of business.  Even though I state my service is by appointment only, publishing my home address means walk-ins.  These may come when my teenage children are alone in the house, when we have a babysitter or some other inconvenient time of day when I am not present or available.  For privacy and security reasons, I simply don’t want this information to be made public on the fitting station locator.

I’ve contacted a couple people at NHTSA over the last six months, but apparently there is nothing they are willing or able to do.  Not too shocking, considering my fitting station is fairly unique, probably one of a handful that provides service to the home.  So, my business will continue to suffer.  I just wish they could use a placeholder pin or use cross streets or some other way of including me on zip code searches, without requiring my exact street number.  For example, I have a Google Places listing that provides my information in a very similar map format, but Google smartly gives me an option to keep my address private! (see photo, right)

So, I have a choice.  List my address to the public to be included on the locator, or keep it private and lose clients.  It’s not really a great choice.  I wish it had not been forced upon me by the government.  What would you do?

Stuck in the 80s?

You see them.  The “cool” people, stuck in gridlock every day along with everyone else, clogging the expressways.  They refuse to take public transportation, refuse to carpool, and insist on being the only passenger in their gas chugging smog factory.  Yet, for years, they’ve been fuming about the cost of gasoline, having done nothing at all but fuel the problem at the rate of under 20 miles per gallon combined city/highway fuel economy.  Here’s a quick primer on how to spot them, the ones that are still living in the 80s!


1980s Cool: Dual/Quad Exhaust

2010s Cool: No Exhaust




1980s Cool emblem:

2010s Cool emblem:

The Great Escape.

Well, it finally happened. The moment I’ve been dreading for 2.5 years. I’m actually watching it unfold for the millionth time over the baby monitor as I type this.

He learned to climb out of his crib.

It just happened out of the blue one morning. I woke up around 8 (Liam usually wakes up between 8 and 8:30) and went out to the living room. His bedroom door was closed like it always is when he sleeps, so I didn’t think a thing of it. I entered the living room and had a cross between a heart attack and a reflex to kick some arse, because some man was sitting on our couch.

Except that man was 37 inches tall, wearing firetruck pajamas, and playing some cop game on the iPad, totally ignoring me.

With no prior practice or warning, he had climbed out of his bed, shut the door behind him and gone out to play games by himself. That afternoon he climbed out of his crib 4 times and after the fourth time of me saying “No. Go to sleep.” he finally gave in and took a nap. That was a month or so ago and he didn’t try to climb out again after that till Saturday. Saturday he was napping as usual and a couple came by to buy a stroller I had listed on Craigslist. Liam came walking out of his room like it was no big deal, handed the guy his sock, and climbed up in the kitchen chair demanding a snack. From that day on, it has been a battle of the wills. Last night he climbed out of his crib twice at bedtime, the first time catching me eating cake and freaking out that I had kept it a secret and waited till he was in his cage to eat it. This morning I woke up in bed, opened my eyes, and noticed that I had his pillow, Elmo, and 7 cloth diapers piled on my back. Apparently the Escape Artist Fairy had visited me in my sleep before heading to the living room to catch bad guys on the iPad.

As I write this he is standing in his crib, one leg flung over the side, yelling “I WILL get out Mama! I WILL!!”.

I know the solution is to buy him a big boy bed. Which we are, in a few weeks when our tax return comes through. He’s getting the Kura bed from Ikea so I’m hoping the cool factor will help him stay in it. But basically my heart sinks because I know a bed is just going to increase our battles. His crib has been my haven for 2 years. A place I can put him where he can’t get me. He is the most demanding, loud, intense child I have ever met, and the idea of no longer having a place where he lays down quietly and goes to sleep frightens me. Yes, I could put a gate in his doorway but he will just scream on the other side of it and that doesn’t grant me any breaks. It just fries my nerves.

So to the next milestone we go. Bye Bye Crib, Hello Big Boy Bed. Transitions. It’s all about transitions. This whole thing reminds me of car seats. You know the whole, “Each step forward is a step back in safety”? For us it’s, “Each transition forward is a step back in my sanity.”

Just wait. As soon as my eyes open, I will make a break for it.


Chicago Auto Show: What’s New?

Darren and I recently spent a day hard at work at the Chicago Auto Show. We had hoped to discover a lot of new, innovative designs for families, especially in the mid-size SUV or minivan range. Sadly, there isn’t really much to report.

We thought Kia might have a prototype of the rumored new Sedona, but alas, there were no minivans in their showing.

I really looked forward to seeing the passenger version of Ford’s Transit Connect Wagon. Until now, the Transit Connect van and wagon have been geared toward cargo-hauling businesses, but Ford is now going to market a version for families. It will come in a two-row model (to seat five) and a three-row model (to seat seven). Unfortunately, they only had the two-row passenger version on display, and I wasn’t very impressed.

First, there was very little cargo room behind the back seat. Second…it’s not attractive. It’s a minivan with the looks of a slightly more modern cargo van. Not very aesthetically pleasing.

Before I saw it, I thought it might serve as competition for the large Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Nissan NV, but it likely won’t. Those two dwarf the Transit Connect in size and passenger capacity. There might be some benefits, though. The seats fold flat for great cargo room (if you don’t need them for passengers), and it will come with Ford’s Ecoboost engine, which should result in great gas mileage.

Beyond that… I found a couch I’d really love to have.

Also, Darren did a great job pretending to be scared by the zombies at Hyundai’s display.

So, those are my observations from the Auto Show. Just between us, I think the Transit Connect would be a way better choice than the Elantra during a zombie apocalypse.

Apt Apps

Are you planning a road trip soon and want some apps to help you on your way? Here are a few I’ve found particularly useful on our travels, and you likely will, too. (Disclaimer: It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Interactive features of any apps should be used while parked or by a passenger in the vehicle. Don’t app and drive!) I use all of these apps on an iPhone, but many are available for other platforms, too.

This is a paid app, but worth every penny for long road trips on interstates. It gives you a list of amenities available at each exit on every interstate in the country. Need biofuel or diesel? You can set it to pull up just stations that offer those. Sick of fast food and want a sit-down restaurant? You can see that, too. Need somewhere to stay? This will tell you which hotels are at which exits. You can even filter by specific businesses. Kids feeling restless and need a McDonald’s with a playplace? You can set it to show those. Are YOU feeling restless and need a Frappuccino? You can set it to show Starbucks. You can view results on a map or as a list.

(Note: searching by typing in a city hasn’t been working for me lately, and I’m not sure if it’s me or the app. I worked around this by looking up the particular interstate and scrolling, which isn’t quite as convenient, but served the purpose just fine.)

On major trips, we use iExit all the time to figure out where our next stop should be. They must do a good job maintaining the database, because we’ve used it for a couple years and have always found things to be exactly where the app said they’d be.


Gas Buddy
Find the price of gas near you or wherever you’re going. Great for finding the cheapest fuel. People using gas buddy can input prices, and the app lets you know when individual stations were last updated, so you have a good idea how current the info is.


Trip Advisor
There are lots of review sites/apps out there, but for hotels especially, I really like Trip Advisor (the app also reviews restaurants and attractions, I just haven’t used it for that much). The reviews tend to be thorough and more intelligent than what you’ll find in some other places, IMO. The app came in especially handy on our recent cross-county trip in which we had no idea where we’d wind up each night. That meant not a lot of advance planning, and meant last-minute research while sitting in gas station parking lots at 7:00 at night.

Thanks in part to Trip Advisor, all of our stays were pleasant. Thanks entirely to Trip Advisor, we found what turned out to be our favorite place of the trip: A renovated Route 66 motel dating back to 1964. When I saw that the cost per night ($44 per room!) was less than half of what the major chains charged, I thought for sure it would be a flea-bag place and almost dismissed it completely. But the Trip Advisor contributors gave it rave reviews, so we gave it a try. It wound up being a great motel, and a nice change from the chains we stayed in the other nights.


Road Trip Weather
Enter your starting point, your ending point, and a stop along the way if you wish. Then choose what time you want to leave. This app will show you the expected weather along your route at the time you’ll be driving through. The route is color-coded to show potential weather hazards along your way. You can also click on individual cities to get more detailed weather info.


History Here
Looking for something educational to do at your destination or along your way? Find historical points of interest at History Here. Some locales seem better covered than others, but for a free app, it’s not bad.


State Lines
Not sure about the maximum speed limit in the state you’re about to enter? Is it Sunday and you want to buy a bottle of wine, but you’re not sure about liquor laws? Need to know if there are statewide leash laws? Find about about basic driving regulations, seatbelt rules, sales tax, and lots of other info with this app.

State Lines is a database compiled by full-time RVers, but it’s great for anyone who travels to new states. (It does have specific information on towing, overnight parking, and other things that might be useful to RVers.)

Update: The developers just released another update that includes even more categories, including child passenger restraint laws! Unfortunately, I noticed that the information they have for California is more than a year outdated. (I haven’t checked other states yet.) I did email them about it, and they responded right away. They made the correction immediately, and have submitted the app for approval. I love responsive app developers!


Food Network On the Road
Do you ever watch shows on Food Network and make mental notes of places you want to try if you ever get to Baton Rouge or St. Paul, then promptly forget? Not to fret: You can look up restaurants featured on Food Network shows geographically on this app! I just recently downloaded this one, so we haven’t actually eaten at any of the places we’ve found, but there are a lot we want to try. Downside: The app’s intro is animated and graphics-intensive, and I’ve found that it sometimes takes a while to load or freezes entirely.


Roadside America
This isn’t necessarily the most useful road trip app, but it’s by far my favorite. (I’ve never claimed to be normal, though.) Everyone knows about Mt. Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial, but what about Al Capone’s silo hideout, houses shaped like UFOs, or a gas station that now marks the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes?

This app lists strange, quirky roadside attractions that you won’t find in every guidebook. Sure, a 45-foot tall cactus sign in Massachusetts might not be quite as awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon, but, hey, it’s a 45-foot cactus sign in Massachusetts.

Yeah, it’s a little strange, but very fun. If you need a break anyway, why not take it at the World’s Largest Ball of Barbed Wire?

I fully anticipate that people will stop being friends with me now. That’s ok. I’ll go find new friends at the strawberry-shaped water tower in Poteet, Texas.

Funny Road Trip
This is a fun road trip game everyone in the car can play. Just plug your phone into the AUX jack and follow the directions.

I actually have a like-hate relationship with this app. On the positive side, it’s really amusing. Each instruction is a question or activity for you to do, like “Count all the buttons in the car,” or, “If you could travel to a really dangerous place knowing that nothing would happen to you, where would you go?” (My 3-year-old answered “jail.”) At one point my imitation of an angry goat almost sent my husband driving off the road.

On the downside, the app features different characters who “host” the game. The free version (and the first level of the paid version–as far as I’ve gotten so far) features “Señor Tortilla,” a sombrero-wearing man with a Mexican accent. He’s a nice guy who doesn’t convey any blatantly negative traits…just stereotypical ones. It’s very “Taco Bell Chihuahua/Speedy Gonzalez,” you know? I find it off-putting; others won’t. You’ll have to decide for yourself.


Auto Bingo
Another travel game, this one is totally non-offensive. An update to those old cardboard games with slidey red windows, Auto Bingo features modern photos of things you’re likely to encounter on a long trip. Play collectively on one device, or download the game onto additional devices to play against each other.


Waze is an interactive navigation app. The app detects your speed to let other users know when there might be traffic congestion. You can report crashes, road hazards, bad weather, and police presence to make other drivers aware. There’s a whole social aspect (that I’ve never used) where you can connect with friends and “chat” (hopefully not while driving) with other users.

Like any navigation system, it sometimes sends me on me bizarre routes to my destination, but it’s actually been pretty good, especially for a free app. My favorite part is that you can choose different icons for yourself based on your mood. Mine is permanently set at “sarcastic.” Because.

One thing that concerns me a lot about this app is that many of the features are NOT good to use while you’re driving (as in, using as the driver). You can report hazards, traffic, etc. by waving your hand over the app and speaking, but whether or not it actually works is hit-or-miss. It’s much easier to enter via the screen, which *I* do only when I’m the passenger, but I’m sure there are plenty of other people driving and tapping. Used responsibly, it’s a cool, useful app, though.


Because you need something to read during your long journey, right?