Trends and how to avoid them…

There was a news report this morning that the number of pedestrians being struck and killed by vehicles is on the rise in America. Frankly I’m not sure anyone should be surprised by this. I drive a 40 mile round trip four days a week and I keep my eyes open for most of that trip. If you’re paying attention, the things you see from behind the wheel of your vehicle might almost be alarming if they weren’t such common occurrences.

The number of pedestrians who roam the roads in the pre-dawn darkness while wearing dark colored clothing is, frankly, a bit staggering. I see at least one and often several of them each morning as they skitter across a four lane divided highway. Sometimes they’re at least doing it at a relatively well lit intersection. Other times they’re crossing without the benefit of light or, seemingly, any concern that there could be a large, heavy, projectile approaching them at a high rate of speed. Sometimes if it’s really dark, you can see the phone in their hand long before you can see that the phone is attached to a person. Personally, if I were schlepping long such a heavily traveled roadway on foot, I’d want to have strobes, reflectors, and perhaps a 1930’s style searchlight broadcasting my location.  I may be slowly eating myself into the grave, but my instinct to preserve myself against such poorly matched contests as those between cars and people is strong.

I see more than just the pedestrians, of course. I see the drivers too – especially the ones who are distracted or entitled or in some way think of the highway as their exclusive preserve. In many ways they seem just as oblivious to their surroundings as their counterparts afoot. My driving record will show you that I’m not without sin as a driver, but I do consciously try to be aware. Admittedly, it’s much easier to focus when driving a manual transmission in my experience. I’ve found that you’re less apt to partake in extraneous activities when one hand is busy steering and the other is grinding through the gears.

Now I’m not a fancy pants big city scientist or demographer or statistician, but common sense seems to tell me that as there are more people in the country, more of them will be walking and more of them will be driving and the chances of those two activities intersecting at some point would also increase. That is to say it would increase naturally in the absence of some concerted measures to offset it. I guess in a pinch you could pass a bevy of new laws calling on people not to be stupid and limiting the amount of allowed asshattery, but as a country we don’t have a particularly strong track record of controlling for either one of those factors.

My guess is this is a trend that’s going to continue indefinitely into the future. In the absence of people acting like they have even the smallest shred of common sense, I think the safest place to be during human and vehicle interface will continue to be behind the wheel. There, even if stupid does happen, I’ve got a more of a fighting chance than the family of three who unintentionally have themselves installed as human hood ornaments. 

Winter of our discontent…

It was 10 degrees when I woke up yesterday morning. It’s winter, so that’s not unheard of here along the shores of the Chesapeake. I do have to wonder at the first settlers who arrived here and endured their first long winter. What compelled them to stay here rather than picking up stakes and opting for somewhere south of Norfolk. I can only speculate that they were stranded and without means to build a boat of their own to get the hell away to somewhere more temperate.

The poor bastards that lived here in log houses with mud insulation and wood heat and managed not to freeze to death were surely hearty souls. Far more hearty that I feel during the current unpleasantness. I don’t mean to imply that I heat the place excessively. I’m generally comfortable around 68 degrees. I try to get by at 67 as at least a passing nod towards saving fuel. Even at that my fancy new ultra high efficiency propane furnace was running flat out more often than it wasn’t.

I’m fortunate in that the house is well constructed and reasonably well insulated. Even at that, it’s teaching me a few details I’ll remember when I build the final version of Fortress Jeff. I’ll have more south facing windows with interior shutters to close at night. I’ll cut back the tree line far enough to get unobstructed sunlight. There will be in-floor heat for the bathroom. It’s going to be way more insulated than code requires. And there’s going to be zoned heating. I find myself here pumping hot air into parts of the house I only walk into a couple times a year.

Finally, I’m missing the one thing on my wishlist that I traded away because the current house ticked so many of my other “must have” items – a wood stove or fireplace. Let’s face it, if I can prop my feet up on a hearth with a good book and some coffee most of my basic requirements are already being met. Unfortunately, with every passing winter I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of the cold. The amount of time I’ve already spent devising ways to push the natural environment away by a few degrees just doesn’t bode well for what I’ll be spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about in the future.

My 16th year…

Yesterday marked the 16th anniversary of my life in sworn service to our mad uncle. People say that time flies when you’re having fun, but in my experience having fun is entirely optional. Time just flies. Well, more specifically, the years seem to fly. Individual days feel like they might well last for weeks on end. It’s when they get rolled up into their individual 365-count bundles that they race away from you.

From my vantage point here as a solidly mid-career bureaucrat, I won’t pretend there haven’t been some good times. A few of them are probably only good in retrospect and with the benefit of distance from the facts, but that’s probably to be expected. Over the last 16 years I’ve been privileged to meet some of the smartest human beings I’ve ever known. I’ve also met more than a few sniveling, conniving, climbers who I’d happily shank in a dark alley if I ever got the chance – and thought I could get away clean. Not one of that bunch is worth going to prison over, though I hope I’m still around when they inevitably overreach.

About once a year someone on the outside asks if I’d recommend government work. A decade ago I’d have said yes. Government work isn’t going to make you rich, but the pay doesn’t suck, the health and retirement plans are good, and you never have to worry about your employer going out of business. It was a haven for those who value stability – a place of low risk and correspondingly modest rewards. After a decade of living through multiple hiring freezes, multiple pay freezes, and multiple government shutdowns, though, I couldn’t recommend it with a clear conscience these days.

Uncle is no longer a stable employer – pay and benefits are just another political football at risk every year. If you’re going to live with that much uncertainty, you might as well go work in the private sector where you might have a chance at making some real money for assuming the risk that your company or contract won’t be there a year from now. I won’t go so far as saying that both options are equal – but the assessment of whether public service or the private sector is a better place to have a career feels like more of a dice roll now that it has in the last 16 years.

In a few months I’ll climb over the halfway point on the long road to whatever retirement might look like in or about 2035. That feels like a far more important milestone than yesterday’s just passing another year on the job. Who knows, maybe my mood will even improve. Probably not, but it would be a neat trick if it did.

Predicting the future…

Now that I’ve spent a day at the office, it feels like 2019 is well and truly underway. The meetings, the phone calls, the email, the regular and recurring requests to change “happy” to “glad” on every piece of paper leaving my desk… the calendar may be changed, but the new year feels reliably like the old. It is, if nothing else, the devil I am extremely well acquainted with by the point. 

Everyone wants to start off the new year drunk on champagne and optimism – believing in spite of themselves that surely this year will be better than the last. I’ve always thought such optimism was a funny attitude with which to go through life – especially after living through a few decade’s worth of new years and finding that the only thing that ever really changes is the date.

I’m not saying that the new year needs to be welcomed with doom and gloom, just that we collectively heap the time of year with mounds of unreasonable expectations. I try to be a bit more circumspect in acknowledging the arrival of 2019. Taken on average, some things will be marginally better. Other things will be marginally worse. A few things will swing wildly in one direction or the other. Mostly I expect that things will muddle through largely unchanged year over year.

So far my ability to predict the future is remarkably prescient. 

And we’re back…

Assuming I keep up with it so long, I think I can safely say that this blog will expire on or about the day I retire. It turns out that when I don’t have the job sucking every ounce of fun out of five days each week, I really just don’t have that much to say. That explains the spotty schedule of posting I maintained over the last couple of weeks. Not only didn’t I have much to say, but I had virtually no interest in sitting down and writing up whatever was rattling around in my head. It turns out you don’t need much catharsis when you don’t have something agitating the hell out of you on a regular basis.

The good news, or bad news, depending on your perspective is that the days of not needing to vent my spleen on a regular basis are still far off in the future. Now that we’re back on the normal schedule, I have a feeling that my notebook will soon be refilled with all manner of angst-causing stories just begging to be told.

Look, I’m thankful for the pay check – and glad I’m not one of those poor bastards at State, or Treasury, or Homeland Security either working for nothing or stuck sitting around waiting and wondering when the next direct deposit is going to hit. That shouldn’t put anyone under the delusion that there’s nothing I’d rather being doing than clearing two weeks worth of emails from my inbox while scouring them for the one or two nuggets that might need some actual attention.

We’re back… and that’s probably a good thing in that long march out towards the back half of this career… but don’t think for a minute I’m not missing the long, lazy days when a few critters and a good book was more than enough to fill the passing hours.

Something to look forward to…

I hadn’t really planned the long winter break to also be a break from writing, but as it turns out being away from the office reduces the amount of things I have to bitch and complain about to unnaturally low levels. Being away has been a great thing for my blood pressure, but a horrible thing for blogging. It’s a sacrifice I’d be perfectly willing to make if it wasn’t for the need to actually produce an income.

The break is all but over now, so I fully expect that we’ll have ginned up a full head of steam before long. Just knowing that the end is near is more than enough to set off an occasional eye twitch. It turns out quiet time with the books and animals and an occasional trip out for fresh produce really is a lifestyle choice I could sustain indefinitely.

The real pity is that there’s still so much time on the clock before I can put that ideal into practice. At least I have something to look forward to.

A rambling post at the end of the year…

Looking back, I’m forced to admit that I have something of an uneven history of New Year’s Eve posts here on WordPress. It seems to weave between the extremes of overly sentimental on one side and barely acknowledging the changing of the year on the other. It’s easy to slip down either path, depending on the mood that strikes me when I sit down at the keyboard.

Today’s mood is decidedly introspective. I’ll just assume it has something to do with the rain falling again in what feels like a year where it hasn’t really every stopped falling. In spite of the introspection, I’m afraid I really haven’t come up with any deep year end message to leave you here. Instead, I think I’ll use the opportunity to just say thank you for reading along with whatever crackpot ideas and personal screeds show up here. Screaming into the internet’s void is a fairly inexpensive form of four or five day a week therapy for me. It’s always gratifying to find that others may also have a passing interest in whatever it is that’s rattling around my head on any given day.

Those numbers are up a little from last year, but a still off the heyday numbers back in 2013. I can’t bring myself to feel badly about that. The sheer amount of online content created in the last five years makes the fact that anyone finds my slice of it a bit remarkable, really – especially when you consider that it doesn’t involve embracing videos, porn, memes, or even pictures most of the time.

It’ll be 2019 in a few hours. I expect I’ll be asleep by then, but it means I’ll be able to catch the first few peaceful hours of the new year while the average revelers are still tucked soundly into whichever bed they’ve poured themselves or face down drooling on whatever floor they’ve happened to collapse onto. I’d like to think those early hours will give me a first look at a year bound to go better than the one we’re ending… but we’ve been given the opportunity to live in “interesting times” so I expect 2018 is just scratching the surface of what we can expect once the collective hangover starts to lift in 2019.