Gas in New Jersey: A Three-Part Odyssey

New Jersey gas isn’t as cheap as it used to be, but I still plan trips around buying it there whenever possible. That’s how I found myself in the middle of New Jersey on Father’s Day night looking for gas. And also caffeine. I wasn’t on the turnpike with its oh-so-convenient rest stops, so I was relying on the blue GAS and FOOD signs that show up before each exit. I don’t like those signs, because I’m always convinced I’m going to get lost before I find the gas (or food). Not that that’s ever happened. Usually the gas station is within sight of the exit, and things proceed swimmingly.

The First Trial

The first sign I saw indicated that both Exxon and Shell were available at the next exit. A short time later, a second sign indicated four different restaurants. I didn’t recognize three of them, but the fourth was McDonald’s. A drive-thru would be optimal, and I just wanted a Coke, so I made the decision to take this exit. The exit ramp indicated McDonald’s was 3.0 miles to the right. Exxon was 0.1 miles to the left, while Shell was 2.7 miles to the right. With vague thoughts of using my Stop & Shop discount and under the assumption that the two were likely near one another, I went right. I saw the Exxon station’s lights to the left as I made the turn. Even considering what I’d discover about Exxon shortly, I wish I had just gone left right there.

That’s not what I did, though. Instead, I noted my current mileage, added 2.7 to it, and determined when I should be in the correct vicinity. I was surprised to find that the road I was on ended abruptly in a T-intersection with a major road before I saw either Shell or McDonald’s. I had gone less than a mile. No signs indicated which way to go, so I figured I’d double down and go right again. My GPS did not agree, desperately begging me to make a U-turn (or what passes for a U-turn in New Jersey) and go the other way. I refused.

Two miles of sparse buildings and no gas later, I capitulated to my GPS. It indicated a jug handle unlike any I’d seen before. I’ve driven through New Jersey enough to have strong opinions on the liberties their civil engineers take, and I’ve seen and even used a jug handle or two in my day. But this time, the right was after the intersection I was trying to make a U-turn at, with a circular ramp like the inside of a cloverleaf. It seemed like a reasonable enough idea conceptually, though driving past the left I could have easily made in most other states before turning right to come back to it was strange, even by New Jersey standards.

I assumed that I’d pass the point where I’d decided to turn right, go another few miles, and find that Shell station. Instead, I found myself back on the Interstate I had started on almost immediately. I had failed to get gas (or caffeine), but I still had 90+ miles of range left. I did want to get home sooner than later, but all I had to lose was time. So I tried again.

The Second Trial

The blue signs were so similar to those I had seen during my first attempt that I checked the remaining time on my GPS to confirm I hadn’t gone in a big loop. It was 10 minutes shorter than before, so I took that to mean this wasn’t the same exit. I almost wish it had been. This time, the exit ramp indicated that Exxon was in 1.7 miles, while Shell was further on at 2.4 miles, both in the same direction (once again to the right). McDonald’s was listed at 2.7 miles, also to the right. I expected to be diverted to yet another road long before I saw any of that, but this time things went smoothly and I saw the Exxon station come into view right on schedule.

Relieved that gas was in my future, I looked ahead and realized things were more complicated than I thought. The Exxon station was on my left, but there was no entrance from the road I was currently driving on. Just ahead, it did split into a four-lane highway, complete with concrete median divider. From what I could see, I had to be heading the opposite way to enter the Exxon station. Still, signs indicated that McDonald’s was to the left, and my GPS was telling me to go left and make a U-turn on this road to continue on my trip. I figured I’d go left, head to McDonald’s, then come back this way and hit up the Exxon before getting back on the Interstate. It was the perfect plan. It was, unfortunately, not what I actually did.

I found the McDonald’s at the end of a strip mall. I had only seen two previous strip mall McDonald’s before, and they always seemed a bit odd. As I pulled into the parking lot, I thought I recognized this particular McDonald’s. Perhaps this design was common in New Jersey, but I’m fairly sure I had stopped at this very McDonald’s a year earlier, learning how to use my phone as a hotspot to deal with some work issue or another. In any case, they had Coke, which was what was important. They didn’t have a drive-thru, but even at this point I was happy to take what I could get.

Aside from some disbelieving comments from the employees that people were still coming in at this hour, my order was filled without incident. I got back to my car and realized this was going to be more complicated than I had thought. The only exit to the strip mall took me on the same road I arrived at, going the same direction. With the median still in place, I was going to have to make a U-turn. Well, no biggie, I thought.

I proceeded up the road to a pleasant surprise: I was actually able to make a normal U-turn here, no crazy New Jersey traffic patterns needed! Things were looking up. I hadn’t seen the Shell station on the way, but the Exxon was still waiting for me. My GPS, however, was telling me to turn right off of this road almost immediately. I considered ignoring it to ensure I ended up at the one gas station I had actually seen so far, but the prices at that Exxon were 30 cents higher than anywhere else I’d seen in days (what happened to you, New Jersey gas prices?) and I still had plenty of range, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to listen.

The GPS told me to turn right almost immediately, but I was confused because to my right was some sort of non-freeway rest area. It looked like a park, not a driving route that would go anywhere. After missing that turn, it re-routed and told me to turn right up ahead. I ended up in a residential area, which would have been alarming, except I knew Google did that sort of thing sometimes. It usually worked out well. I’m struggling to make out the correct turn up ahead, and I see an SUV making it, so I assume I’m in good company. I turn left, and find myself on a surprisingly narrow road. It had no lines and seemed like it could barely fit two cars, which I quickly confirmed by having to nearly pull over to allow traffic to pass me in the other direction. I took a look at the GPS. I was supposed to turn in 1.9 miles and not before. This was going to be interesting.

Fortunately, I saw very few cars aside from the SUV I was following. I did see some deer, though, and proceeded to keep my speed to a bare minimum. I wondered whether my car’s obstacle detection would detect and brake for a deer in the road. I wondered what would happen if anyone was coming when we crossed the one-lane bridge. And I wondered where the side of the road was when I was trying to let the Jeep with the blinding lights pass me on a particularly narrow stretch.

Somehow I survived, and the tiny rural road spit me out right near the Interstate. That explained why Google thought it was a good idea to take me on this route, and I assume the same was true for the driver of the SUV I had followed for the full length. I had my caffeine, but I still needed gas.

The Third Trial

The next exit had no blue GAS sign that I saw, but the one after that did. Like the others before, it listed Exxon and Shell. This time, one had an A above it and the other a B, which I thought odd but didn’t think to keep in mind. It turned out that there were two different exits, A and B. I couldn’t remember which one was which, but I thought B was Shell, and after seeing Exxon’s prices I wanted to roll the dice on them.

For once, my guess turned out to be correct. A sign indicated that I should once again go right to reach my destination. And for the third time, I ended up at an intersection with an unexpectedly large road. Fortunately this time I caught the sign that told me Shell was to the left. The road was kind enough to give me another indication of the remaining distance to Shell, just over a mile, shortly before splitting with no indication of which way I should actually go. It seemed like the road itself was bearing left, so I did the same, my second consecutive correct guess. Not long after, I saw the Shell station. It was on the left side of the road, but I couldn’t tell if the cross street before it had an entrance to the station. The station itself was open to the road going to the other way, so I figured I’d just turn left into it.

That’s when I saw the police patrol car sitting in the parking lot, ready to head out onto the road. I was about to make a left right next to him, not only over an unbroken double yellow line, but one of those diagonal line-filled median areas. Was that illegal? It seemed like it might be, even thought it made no sense for it to be here. And that cop was right there, presumably waiting for some idiot to do exactly what I wanted to do. So I drove on.

I had slowed down to make the turn before aborting, and now the SUV behind me was right on top of me. His lights were blinding, and I was on a windy road with a lot of driveways and very few lights. It was hard to tell what was going on. I knew that I could turn on any side street and make the U-turn I needed, but I kept passing by them before I saw them. I checked my GPS, and the first “street” it indicated turned out to be a driveway. I was nervous with those SUV lights in my eyes, so I kept hoping, to no avail, for a traffic light. Even a second lane would have been a godsend, but it was not to be.

I proceeded for nearly two miles, frustration at the tailgater building, before my GPS told me to turn left up ahead. It looked like it wanted me to make a U-turn on that road, but something was odd. Very rarely has Google Maps told me to make a straight U-turn on a road without a median, and only when I was already on that road. It looked like that’s what it wanted, though. And mercifully, the intersection had a traffic light. Relieved that my gasoline odyssey was almost over, I got in the left turn lane to wait for a green.

The road I ended up on was another windy road through residential areas, though less trafficked than the one I had been on. It had a double yellow line, though, so I knew I couldn’t just make a three-point turn, even if Google seemed to want me to. The road was not wide enough for a U-turn, either. The GPS indicated I should U-turn at an intersection ahead, so I figured I’d turn onto that street, make a three-point turn there, then retrace my steps. So instead of a U-turn, I turned right. I was very surprised to see the “Private Drive” line in my lights as I did so.

Rather than a wide residential street, I was on a small dirt path barely wider than my car. I could either proceed into private property, or blindly back out onto the road. I weighed this decision for a few seconds, then made a little prayer that my backup camera cross-traffic detection was up to snuff and put it in reverse. As you may have guessed by the fact that I am writing this, I did not in fact end up killed right then and there. Instead I managed to retrace my steps and find that Shell station with upwards of 70 miles of range left to go.

I was so relieved I didn’t even look at the price. And no one asked for my Stop & Shop card, so I got no discount. As an aside, I did pass a few gas stations that were closed during the night, which gave me a new reason to resent New Jersey’s stance against self-service gas stations. I guess only the big ones were willing to pay people to man the pumps all night. I was fortunate and ran into no significant traffic for the rest of the night, but I did degrade New Jersey from the top spot in my Where To Get Gas rankings. And I got a dumb story out of it, so there’s that.

Final Fantasy VI Walkthrough Complete

Yes, it only took me… wait, let me see the calendar… how many years? OK it’s been a while, but I finally got back to the FF6 walkthrough and finished it. It was left hanging for far too long. I think the walkthrough is pretty good. I write these walkthroughs primarily as a way to really analyze all the available data, and if the performance of my party in the playthrough I finished while writing it is any indication, it should be pretty useful.

One aspect I struggled with during the writing is just how far to go. I touched on almost every monster’s elemental weaknesses and strengths, but paid little attention to status vulnerabilities. There are a few reasons for this. One, I have to admit, is laziness. You could point out which monsters can be Muddled or who are vulnerable to death or whatever forever, and it’s a lot to write down. It would be a lot to read, too. Reason number two is that my favorite thing about playing FF6 is taking advantage of esper level up bonuses, and your stats don’t actually affect status ailments. Stop is going to work or not work whether it’s cast by Cyan with no Magic Power boosts or Strago at 110. As a result, really powerful status ailments almost feel like cheating to me. But then, I’m crazy when it comes to what I think of as cheating. The third reason is that, assuming you are paying attention to your stats, elemental spells are just more uniformly effective. Sure, I could cast stop on some boss that happens to be vulnerable to it, maybe re-cast it if it misses, and then kill it with impunity. But I can also smack it with three shots of Bolt 3 or whatever in that time and just end the battle outright. That said, there are a few enemies that are virtually impossible to defeat without status ailments (like the Intangir), so I did mention them in those cases.

Anyway, finishing FF6 is a big moment for me, because it was the last in a long line of games I felt obligated to replay. Baldur’s Gate II, which I also finished recently, was the last in an even longer line of games I promised myself I’d replay. And now I’m left, for the first time in years, with no particular game hanging over my head waiting to be played. It’s freeing, but also a bit paralyzing. It’s not like I haven’t played new games in this time, but now there’s no obvious “next” thing to play (or to procrastinate about playing). That’s why I’m writing a blog post!

So I don’t know what’s next. The FF7 guide is still hanging out there, half-done, and I would like to put that up before the remake comes out. Though at the rate Square is going, I could still have years. I’ve quit FFXIV for the sole purpose of having time to play other games, so I may start another deluge of retro reviews. Or, I don’t know, get some kind of outdoor hobby. We’ll see.

Adam Ruins Everything with Rachel Weil

The most recent edition of the Adam Ruins Everything podcast (Rachel Weil on Femicom and the Value of Preserving Classic ‘Girl’ Video Games) really struck a chord with me. The topic, preserving retro ‘girl’ games, is particularly appropriate for this blog on International Women’s Day. I’ve spent a lot of time retro game shopping, and have rarely (if ever) come across any games that were marketed towards girls. Given the clientele at these stores, this is not surprising, but it is disappointing. I know of a number of efforts to preserve old video games, but aside from Rachel’s Femicom Museum, I don’t recall any so much as mentioning ‘girl’ games.

Almost as upsetting as the way we’ve casually dismissed the history of these games is the way many, including myself, thought of them even when they were new. That is: barely games, a waste of time, simple pandering. Somehow I doubt many guys formed such opinions based on hands-on experience. I’ve heard there are a number of gems hidden among games most guys wouldn’t be caught dead playing, and I can vouch for at least one series (Style Savvy) myself.

I’m neither qualified nor inclined to get deep into gender politics, but this discussion really made me think about how we judge both games and each other. Rachel’s discussion about how, at one point in her life, she stopped playing ‘girly’ games because she felt she had to makes me wonder just how often this has happened. I know how many times I’ve avoided something I was interested in because it was ‘not for me,’ and how rarely that turned out to be a good decision.

I am running low on retro games to review, it might be pretty fun to pick up some of these lost games and give them a shot. That is, assuming they can be found anywhere outside of a museum.

26 Years Later: Blaster Master Completed

In what I believe is the longest-term goal I’ve ever successfully completed, I beat Blaster Master legitimately for the first time last weekend. (I’ve beaten it before with a Game Genie and on the Wii U using save states, but this was on original hardware with no cheats.) I don’t know exactly when I originally got the game, but it was before I had a Super NES, so it’s been at least 26 years. Seeing the final boss explode immediately filled me with a sense of pride, followed shortly by a realization that no one I know actually cares about this accomplishment. Ah well, such is the lot of the retro gamer. But at least I can yell about it into the void of the internet!

Your Name Timeline

In talking to people and watching videos about Your Name (reminder: it’s amazing and you should see it if you haven’t), I noticed that there’s a lot of confusion on the specifics of the timeline. On repeated viewings I have noticed that events are generally closer together than I initially assumed, so I took it upon myself to use cues from the movie to construct a timeline of exactly when everything happens. Obviously there will be massive spoilers for the movie, and this isn’t a movie you want spoiled, so beware!

Continue reading “Your Name Timeline”

My Gaming Philosophy

I’ve been playing Stormblood, the new FFXIV expansion (and before anyone asks, no, I will not be making a guide for it; sorry), and there has been a lot of consternation among the player base based on combat and job action changes. I main a White Mage, the job most commonly referred to as broken or useless based on the early released changes, but so far my experience (through level 66) has been nothing but positive. Indeed, the more I read, the less I understand where these complaints are coming from. It’s important to note that I’m not a raider: I have no interest in playing on a schedule, nor am I the sort of competitive that would make me care about things like world firsts or even completing the most difficult challenges. I just want to see all the content, so I’m content (for example) to have completed Alexander (normal) in Heavensward and never set foot in Alexander (savage).

The more I read about these complaints, the more I think they have a much more fundamental basis than I originally assumed. I don’t think the core problem here is people’s jobs being nerfed (or not made good enough to keep up), particularly since there is no Stormblood raid to actually test jobs against yet anyway. I think the problem is that Square Enix’s intent with the combat system redesign was to pull players back towards playing the game they way the creators intended. (Most obviously in making massive pulls harder to pull off.)

That brings my to my gaming philosophy, which has a heavy influence on the guides I’ve made. I’m not looking to find the best exploit, or determine the absolute best path towards a goal. Rather, I like to gather all the information I can on a game and use it to answer a different question: how did the creators mean for this game to be played? That’s also how I tend to play games, especially single-player games. But I’m starting to realize it even affects how I play FFXIV. I seem to be much less inconvenienced by these changes than the most vocal complainers simply because I already played the game the way Square Enix seems to want people to now.

None of this is to say that my way is any better than another, of course. But it is to say that my guides are generally not focused on exploits. They won’t be much use to the guys doing AGDQ, for instance. But I’d like to think they’ll be useful to anyone trying to understand the design of these games at a fundamental level.

Switch Shopping

I’ve been looking for a Switch since launch, though I haven’t been looking that hard. I’ve actually seen the one with the gray joycons at least twice recently, but I was holding out for the neon red and blue one. And I got it today! It reminded me of my, let’s say diverse experiences with different retailers and asking about the Switch.

Toys”R”Us

After seeing no switches on shelves here several times, on one visit I see exactly two: one of each color. Suspicious, I ask the nearest employee, “Do you guys have Switches, or are those just display boxes?” He explains apologetically that they are display boxes, and immediately starts giving me advice on when they tend to come in to have a chance at one. Which I appreciate, but ignore, because I wasn’t looking that hard.

GameStop

The first time I peeked in at Game Stop (which I do rarely, I really am not a fan of their store), they had a hand-written sign saying “Sorry, we are sold out of Switches.” Going back one weekend, there is no such sign, and there are several boxes on the wall. Highly skeptical, I ask, “do you guys actually have Switches?” The cashier condescendingly tells me that no, of course not, and basically says good luck finding one. He tells me they get a handful every few weeks and they’re sold out within half an hour. Basically, he tells me not to come back. Which is what I wanted to do anyway! So I guess this was a win.

Target

“Are those Switches real?” “Yeah.” “Nice, a lot of stores have empty boxes on display.” “We don’t display empty boxes.” He said that last one with a hint of disgust at the idea. While it’s not my primary game shopping store (I need those 20% discounts!) I have to say, the employees at Target, at least where I live, tend to be the most personable, least condescending, and often the best-informed across all the gaming stores. I’ve had interesting gaming conversations with a diverse cast over the years. And it’s also where I found my Playstation VR back when that was still hard to locate.

Which is all just a long-winded way of saying, Target is pretty good, and GameStop sucks.

Digging Into Your Name. (Massive Spoilers!)

I loved Your Name to a degree I’ve rarely loved a movie. Though it’s probably on par with Episode VII, so maybe this is just me getting sentimental in my old age. In any case, my pleas to get anyone to watch this movie so I could discuss it largely failed, so I’ve decided to scream into the void of the internet with my thoughts instead. This will consist almost entirely of spoilers, so beware of reading on.

Continue reading “Digging Into Your Name. (Massive Spoilers!)”

Halfway Through Final Fantasy XV

Based on hours played and chapter, I’m about halfway through FFXV now. Since the game just told me I’ll be losing access to the open world for a while, I figured this was as good a time as any to give my impressions on that open world.

FFXV feels a lot like FFXII (which I love), with a lot of Uncharted and a dash of GTA mixed in. Some of the cinematic exploration reminds me very strongly of Uncharted, which is a good thing since that game had excellent presentation. The flow of combat also feels similar at times, where things can be quite chaotic than suddenly end. Plus the banter is fantastic, and with a fairly consistent party of four there’s a lot of room for character development there.

The GTA aspect is basically just that there’s a map with objectives on it, and you often have to pay attention to roads instead of going directly to them in a line.

The one aspect of FFXII I never loved is the chaotic combat, because I’m actually quite terrible at it. Sometimes I’d just get my butt kicked by a fight and have to use a dozen consumables to survive, or just spam some cheesy abilities. My only real complaint about FFXV so far is that it feels exactly the same in this regard. It doesn’t help that the camera is awful in combat, particularly if you’re fighting in the woods. I don’t particularly like the targeting, and I generally have no idea why I’m winning or losing a fight.

That said, this really only applies to packs of wandering monsters. Whenever you’re fighting set pieces against human troops, those fights are amazingly fun. Warp striking never gets old, and those fights set you up perfectly for it. I’ve also started getting better about magic (now that I realized you can mix items in for cool effects, like self healing of max HP).

Combat complaints aside, I love this game. The presentation is amazing, the characters are great, and I’m interested in where the plot is going. I do have one worry about the plot, which is that the party seems way too easily bamboozled repeatedly, but I guess I’ll see if it actually plays out that way. If I end up liking this game as much as FFXII, that will definitely be a win for me.