Old dogs…

People will spend a lot of time telling you about the trials and tribulations of life with a new puppy. Poke around Google and the internet is littered with Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to the foibles of puppy ownership.

You’ve got to dig a little deeper to find the blogs and message boards that talk about what it’s like to live with an elderly or ailing dog. It’s not the wide-eyed adorableness and puppy breath side of having pets. It’s the astronomical vet bills, fists full of medications, and a body slowly wearing out even when the spirit is still more than willing.

Old pets are heartbreaking not just because we can sense that our time together is growing short, but also because their compressed life cycle points us inexorably towards our own fate at some point in the future. It’s one of the reasons I’m always a little bit perplexed by people who give up and give away their old pets. They have no sense of the broader context of life.

My dear sweet Maggie had a bad morning today. After years of perfect behavior, I knew she was embarrassed and upset. I could read it all over her face – and especially in her eyes. Climbing out of bed to scrub the bedroom carpet wasn’t exactly on my list of things to do today, but looking at those cloudy brown eyes I couldn’t even bring myself to scold her. Going on 11 years together she’s earned the benefit of a few hundred doubts.

Maybe this morning was a one off. Maybe it’s a warning sign of things to come. I’m trying not to let the first thoughts of my sleep addled brain read too much into it. I hope beyond measure this isn’t something that will become the new normal… but if it does, we’ll cope. Maggie is the grand dame of the family I got to pick for myself. She’s entitled to expect that level of effort in her golden years.

I wrote most of this before seeing the bloody urine this evening that set my alarm bells clanging – and before I took off to the local emergency vet to have my girl checked over. Maybe I’m paranoid or at least a bit too cautious. I’ve also seen how fast things can go bad and when warning signs start stacking up, it’s not the moment to prioritize time or money.

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. 

Anteres…

I was logged in to the NASA public affairs web stream to watch the launch of an Anteres rocket from the Wallops Island facility this evening. In my part of the mid-Atlantic region, about 60-90 seconds after liftoff, if they weather cooperates, you can watch the craft scrambling for altitude. Tonight what we saw was what is generously described as a catastrophic systems failure – an explosion six seconds after launch.

The launch was unmanned, its payload resupply materials for the International Space Station. Although there was apparently no loss of life, its a stark reminder that no matter how commonplace it’s come to seem, hurling manmade objects into orbit is an inherently difficult and dangerous activity. The fact that it almost seems normal is a testament to the ongoing hard work and dedication of the men and women of NASA and its contract partners.

P.S. You’re welcome, Jess.

Magnetic…

From the time I got my license in June 1994 until October 2011, the only accidental damage I ever had to a vehicle was the occasional cracked windshield. Admittedly, the Jeep’s flat glass seemed to have an unnatural attraction to rocks kicked up at highway speed, but still that was just the cost of doing business. Since October 2011, the tide has turned. I can’t unnamedseem to go six months without the telltale screech of rending sheet metal. A parking meter jumped out and tagged my left turn signal, a crease appeared in my rear bumper shortly thereafter for reason or reasons unknown, an old man in an F-150 faked me out with his turn signal and cost me a new front end, and today I’ve got a softball sized dent on the left bedside from an unfortunate run in with the grill and hood of a Chevy.

Big Red is a trooper, though. Dents, dings, a new front end and she just keeps doing her thing. Now we’re off tomorrow morning to the body shop for the latest repair estimate. Given the relatively recent completion of my new front end, I’m trying to keep this one off the books at the insurance company. Unfortunately I can already hear my credit card screaming in protest. 2013 was basically punctuated by one headache after another. It’s becoming more obvious by the day that 2014 isn’t going to offer much in the way of relief, but just more of the same.

I love my Tundra, but she’s a rolling accident magnet… and if she wasn’t so damned close to being paid off, I’d think hard about trading her in on something that might not have so much bad mojo attached.

So that’s the good kind of damage?

The body shop I’m using comes highly recommended from several sources. Even the internet says they do good work and as we all know, the internet never lies. Now that they’ve had a chance to give the truck the once over, they’ve arrived at the strangely specific repair estimate of $7.968.00. I don’t know, it just feels like that would have been an appropriate time to just round up and announce it would be about eight grand. Lower than eight and I’d have been happily surprised, higher then eight and they covered themselves by making it an “about” statement. But rounding to the nearest dollar just seems like overkill.

I almost enjoyed talking to the guy, but that could have had more to do with the memo I was trying hard not to write than anything interesting he was saying. That was until he threw in that I had “the good kind of damage.” Say what? I’m pretty sure there’s nothing about an $7,968 repair bill for a crunched in front end that I’d consider “good damage.” I’m pretty sure he ment that the damage was largely cosmetic and didn’t foul up the drivetrain or frame, still, not what I think of as good damage. Then again, if I were about to get a $7,500 check from my insurance company, maybe I’d think it was good damage too.

Left turn, Clyde…

To help give a little insight into how I spent most of the day yesterday, I wanted to provide a public service announcement to all the drivers out there. In most vehicles these days there’s a toggle switch on the steering column that controls the left and right turn signals that alert drivers around you to your intended course of action. For instance, when you’re in the turn lane with you blinker flashing, the rest of us assume that you are actually going to go ahead and turn in the direction indicated by your flashing signal. Well over 99% of the time, that’s exactly what happens. It happens with such regularity that it’s one of those things that the driving public just assumes to be true. They assume it to be true right up until the moment when it’s not true and they find themselves pummeled by a face full of airbag. You see, fellow drivers, when you signal one intention and then do something else, bad things tend to happen to everyone involved.

In case anyone is wondering, I’m fine. The dogs are fine. The Tundra, however, is distinctly not fine. We’ll find out just how not fine it is next week when the insurance adjuster and body shop get a look at it. In the meantime, I’ll go ahead and write that check for the deductible so we can get on with getting Big Red back on the road. Nothing like doing $20,000 of damage to two vehicles because the asshat in the turning lane is perplexed by the concept of a turn signal. Meh. It’s safe for everyone to assume I’ve gone from the thankful not to be hurt stage to the throughly annoyed because my truck is torn up stage of the process.

Despite being throughly annoyed, I do have a few shout outs. Special thanks to the Maryland State Police for a professional and rapid response. Of course it helps that we were less than 500 yards from their parking lot. To my dad, thanks for the loaner car. I’ll do my best not to get fooled by anyone else’s signal while I’m driving your ride. Mom, thanks for not freaking out too badly when I called to give you a heads up. She doesn’t think this is a blog/Facebook-appropriate topic, so don’t give her too much crap about me posting about it ok? Thanks. And finally props to my evil stepmother – thanks for driving over and hauling me and the dogs halfway across the state yesterday.

So that’s the short version of my Saturday. It’s safe to say this is not the relaxing and restful three day weekend I was anticipating.

Feeling guilty…

Occasionally, when the veneer of my being a civilized member of society is especially thin, I find myself sitting in traffic thinking “the only reason that justifies this foolishness is someone being mangled up there.” It’s usually followed by a quiet prayer that they broke something so the holdup isn’t just them being a particularly bad driver. Ninety-nine percent of the time, traffic is just jacked up because everyone wants to slow down and look at the guy changing his tire on the side of the road or because someone was texting and missed the guy in front of them laying on the breaks. The other 1% of the time, some schlep seriously misjudges the speed of oncoming traffic and ends up getting thrown 60 yards across a divided highway and plugging himself head first into a tree. I’d guess I missed that excitement by less than a minute. For a while tonight, I felt bad about wishing ill on the poor driver. Then I read a news report that he was a suspect in a robbery a few minutes earlier at a nearby store. I should probably still feel bad about another person’s suffering, buy all I can really think of at the moment is that sometimes karma doesn’t waste any time in getting even. Suddenly I find myself feeling less guilty.