Deluge…

I knew it was going to be a bad drive back to the rental casa this afternoon when it took half an hour just to make it from the parking lot to the turn off for the highway. It seems that while the marshland of the upper Bay is good for waterfowl and blue crabs, it’s decidedly ill equipped to drain off large amounts of water. In fact, five of the roads I use during my daily commute would probably have ranked as “dangerous” under most circumstances.

The worse of them was US 40 between Aberdeen and Havre de Grace. A large portion of that stretch of road was under swift moving water to a depth I’d estimate at 10-14 inches (or not quite up to the bumper of the Dodge Ram I was happy to have acting as a pilot car) with locally deeper spots if one were unfortunate enough to venture too close to the “downstream” shoulder. At it’s deepest, the impromptu river was throwing enough kinetic energy at me to feel the tail end very much want to slide out. It didn’t, fortunately, but that was some of the most white knuckled driving I’ve done in my 20 years behind the wheel.

The other four crossings were less tense and covered much shorter distances, but nonetheless, cranked up the pucker factor of the commute considerably. I’m left thinking that powering my way down 40 relying less on skill than on the V8 power of 4-wheel drive and new tires was probably not my best decision even though it ended well enough. Seeing that the occasional Prius was making it ahead of me, though, assuaged most of my concerns. Still, I’m not sure I’d do it again under the same circumstances.

If I drive out of here tomorrow morning and find high water in the same places, it’s a good bet that I’ll waive off and take a pass on the day. All I’ll say is the risk analysis yields different results depending on whether the destination is home or some other place. You can draw your own conclusions on that one.

Garden of Allah…

Don Henley released the song In the Garden of Allah in 1995. That would have made me a high school junior or senior depending on the date. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it before. I’m willing to bet that most people haven’t. I spent a lot of time driving around – because that’s what you do when you grow up in the sticks – and there was almost always music on the radio. It was a catchy tune back then and mostly I forgot about it until about two years ago when it started popping up when I told iTunes to shuffle. I must have been listening to a lot of Eagles tunes then, because it kept coming around. It’s one of the very few seven minute songs I don’t get bored with halfway through. After a few times through, it really got stuck in my head… and that’s about the time I started writing.

It wasn’t anything coherent at first. Maybe a few scribbled notes, a sentence here or there, but nothing with substance. Then a funny thing happened. It evolved and coalesced into the nucleus of an idea. I started off with the idea of writing something political and ended up with something clearly more religious. Blatantly so as it turns out.

So there’s the inspiration behind the short story I’m heroically trying to edit. It’s all there on paper now not because I wanted to explore than nature of good and evil, but because a really liked a quirky Don Henley song back in high school. Clearly the muse works in strange ways.

Six P’s…

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred when you see me, I have a plan. It may not always be a good one, but it’s there informing the decisions I make throughout the course of the day. Even if I know the plan is going to be blown to hell and back by 9AM, I feel better starting the day with a semblance of an idea about where I want to be when the day ends.

That’s true except in the one part of my life where it feels like a plan is currently most needed – the writing part. You know, the part I really, really like. More days than not I find myself sitting at the keyboard after dinner flailing around hoping to strike on a decent topic for the night’s post. That stroke of good luck feels like it’s getting harder to come by lately. That’s pretty much how I know it’s probably time to sit down and look at this thing like an actual professional – planning out posts in advance, working to deadline, and generally not waiting for the good idea fairy to drop ideas in my lap at the last possible minute.

I think I’ve always worried that having posts pre-planned might take away some of the ebb and flow around here. It could make me less responsive to the breaking news of the day that’s just crying out for a heavy dollop of cynicism. It’s getting to the point, though, that I’m feeling like that’s an acceptable level of risk to take so I can try to get the most out of the limited keyboard time I have available. So from here on out, I’m going to do my best to see if the Six P’s are still true. I’ve I’m lucky, I’ll find all these years later it’s still a stone cold fact that proper planning prevents piss poor performance.

Getting above the bullshit…

Everyone has a few items that fall into the “don’t leave home without it” category – wallet, watch, phone, keys, knife, whatever is in your pockets every day when you walk out the door. It’s the stuff that you turn around and go back for even when you’re already halfway to work on a Monday morning. I’m no different, except I tote one thing that has absolutely no actual functional purpose whatsoever. The only reason I keep this one thing close is that it serves as physical reminder to me of a couple of universal truths.

CoinMy 1900 Morgan silver dollar doesn’t have any great intrinsic value. You can pick them up on eBay for $20-odd bucks, but every time I run my thumb across the rim of the coin I remember that “my” Morgan came to life in Philadelphia 78 years before I was born and unless I trip and fall into an forge or smelter, it’s going to be here long after I’m gone. The men who minted it in 1900 all had important jobs. They had their worries and their troubles. They swore, they fought, they loved, and they lived more or less the same way we do. The biggest difference between them and us is every single person involved with minting “my” Morgan is dead and gone as has been for probably half a century. I’m willing to bet that not one person reading this can tell me a single thing about the life they led, the work they did, or the dreams they dreamed. It’s almost tragic, except it’s really not once you’ve had a chance to think on it.

What’s the lesson here for us? Hell, I don’t know. It could be there isn’t a lesson. I like to think the big “so what” of it all is that this Morgan dollar reminds me not to get too worked up about the shit I can’t control – the briefings that flop, the jackass three offices down, the one great love who got away, whatever it is you spend your days dwelling on. In 114 years, there won’t be anyone around who remembers any of that.

Now, this isn’t your kindly Uncle Jeff giving you a blank check to go out into the world and rape, pillage, and burn, because nothing matters. In fact, this little dollar coin sends me in just the opposite direction. You see, the boys in Philly left us with what is arguably the most recognizable coin ever produced in this country. That’s what what remember them for – not whatever petty bullshit they had to deal with from day to day. I think that’s the higher purpose. We owe it to ourselves and to the future to find our “big thing” and make sure we’re not so beaten down by the bullshit that we lose sight of it.

I’m pretty sure I’m finding my big thing, slowly, word by word. So the next time you see me with a 1000-yard stare and my hand in my pocket, just know that I’m communing with some long gone Philadelphians. The gears are turning and I’m trying to remind myself to get above the daily bullshit. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t, but I’m trying. I’m trying. Maybe that’s all that really matters.

I’m apparently a hippy…

As one of my furlough cost savings measures implemented last summer, I cancelled my trash collection contract, opting to spend about 1/8th as much money and take my trash to the dump myself. As I loaded the truck this morning in preperation for the monthly trash run, I couldn’t help but notice that it included two bags of actual “trash”, but four bags and a 45 gallon can of paper and plastic recyclables – no metals because I can cash those in separately at the scrap yard down the road from the dump. I have to admit I was surprised by how the volume of trash to the volume of recyclables has shifted. Ten bags of trash a month was the pre-furlough norm.

I didn’t start any of this because of any actual altruistic motive, rather I did it because separating trash from recycling saved half off the “regular” dump fee – more furlough savings. Now that it’s part of my regular routine, though, it seems to have become a self sustaining habit. Add that to the edibles/biodegradable items that get chunked out under the bushes in a makeshift compost pile, and apparently I’m a tree-hugging hippy… for all the wrong reasons, of course.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The inconveniences of middle age. Knee problems. Back problems. Shoulder problems. Wrist problems. Mercifully they all come and go, but I know deep down they’re all there lurking under the surface and waiting for the perfect excuse to put in appearance. I’m really beginning to hate the mornings when I wake up with a sore “something” for no apparent reason. I can see an injury if I were out toting, lifting, or hauling, but an injury from just laying there for six hours? Yeah. That happens more often than I want to admit. It’s definitely a problem I didn’t have 20 years ago… and it makes me a little nervous about what it’s going to feel like 20 years from now.

2. Tharp’s Law. For me, a full work week consists of 40 hours on the job. Now generally, I’m at my most productive – that is, actually generating usable products and service – when I’m actually at my desk doing a little bit of what we like to call analysis. Reading, writing, distilling information from multiple sources into a consistent and coherent thread of an idea. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. When I’m not so productive is when the scale tips and I’m spending more than half my time preparing for, attending, or writing summaries of meetings. This week, it’s been well over half the available time. Therefore, the fundamental truth of Tharp’s Law is as follows: For every hour spent prepping for, attending, or summarizing a meeting, you’ve lost an hour of productive time that you’re never going to get back and in which actual work will never occur. It’s a simple 1:1 ratio and it’s constant as the speed of light (in a vacuum).

3. Third things. Sometimes there are no third things because the first two are exhausting and one of the two makes your wrist hurt.

Home stretch…

I was in the home stretch this afternoon. Four turns and maybe 2 miles from the house. I was even running a few minutes ahead of the normal arrival time. It was good right up until I approached the start of a sharp series of turns running alongside the state forest and saw the flashing lights blocking the road. Apparently some doucheknocker took the turn a little fast and a little wide and ended up getting his machine mangled for his trouble. I know from experience that the turns in that spot are tricky. The road is narrow, with guardrails and 20 foot drop offs on either side. It’s precisely the kind of turn you don’t want to be in when you realize you’re driving beyond your meager abilities. I’d be hard pressed to tell you the number of days a year I pass through that stretch and see fresh damage on the guardrails, thrashed car parts off in the woods, or the shimmer of freshly broken glass dust catching my headlights in the morning. It’s easily in the double digits. Those days are going to get more frequent now that the trees are filling in and you can’t see what’s coming in the opposite direction.

I wasn’t able to tell the full story this afternoon, but there’s a good chance I can read the road and tell you what happened when I drive through there in the morning. It’s not so much that care if someone outdrove their abilities. It’s not so much that I care they closed the road at just the moment I was trying to go through. It’s mostly that based on where I decided to live, a road closure in that one stretch of road causes me a 20-odd minute detour because there’s really no other good way to get here from there. Sure, that’s more of an inconvenience for the driver who smashed up his ride than it is for me, but it was just one more in a series of reminders today that this week has been and apparently plans to continue being one pain in the ass after another.