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.