Not in my backyard…

The local county zoning board is set to hear a request for a variance centered on our little corner of the Ceciltucky. This long stretch of the Elk Neck peninsula we call home ranges from protected wetlands, state park, state forest, conservation trust land, horse farms, and what in zoning parlance is “low density residential” housing. That LDR designation is what’s important here in that it’s what’s prevented all manner of undesirable development – things like condo blocks, giant houses on tiny lots, and, last year, a proposed “RV park” that got rolled back when property owners howled.

Now that county is considering what, at first blush, might seem to be a so what variance that would allow an additional 2500 square feet of space to be put under roof on that particular parcel of land that was once home to a now-defunct local convenience store. The wider issue, and there’s always a wider issue, is that the stated purpose of the variance is to allow Dollar General to develop the site as a commercial retail space squarely in the middle of what is almost exclusively a low density residential area. I say almost, because the Dollar General property is directly next to a small, locally owned convenience store where you can stop to get your lottery tickets, a fried egg sandwich, coffee, and as much of the local gossip as you can stand. This place is a community asset.

The request, of course, discusses all of the wonderful benefits of having a Dollar General come to “town.” As a consummate writer of bullshit memoranda, I can tell you whatever legal beagle put it together did a fine job off adding the bells and whistles to make an appealing case without saying much of anything at all.

I have great discomfort about telling a property owner what they can or can’t do with their property. That said, though, the owners purchased it knowing full well what was and wasn’t allowed based on the zoning in place when they purchased. I moved down to this quiet part of the county specifically because it was far away from the “retail opportunities” along major local highways. The last thing I want is to see some generic rubber dog shit selling baby big box store moving in just up the way. Based on the electrons I’m seeing being burned up online, the bulk of my neighbors agree. I guess all that’s left is seeing if we can pummel the county into submission one more time.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Emergencies”. We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating. The way people throw around the work “emergency” in the contemporary office is basically laughable. No one is bleeding. No one is about to start bleeding. The word you’re probably looking for most often is “embarrassing” as in you’re about to be embarrassed due to something you did, were supposed to do, forgot about doing. ​Alternately, you might be about to get blasted because of poor decision making skills. In any case, those things might represent a legitimate personal emergency to you, but to the rest of us it’s really just a shrug and a so what. Let’s try to leave the talk of “emergencies” to the times when there really are barbarians at the gate or brass hitting the floor, ok?

2. County taxes. The proposed Cecil County budget for FY18 includes increases in both the real property and income taxes. It’s made all the more noxious because it was proposed by a Republican county executive who ran less than a year ago on a platform of fiscal accountability and no tax increases. I know, lying politician isn’t exactly breaking news. Still, though, I’m left to wonder why at some point it isn’t perfectly acceptable to say that we have X number of dollars to spend against Y number of services and when there’s no additional revenue for new or existing services, some things need to be cut. The politicians first response is always to borrow or tax their way into all the revenue they need instead of being required to live by an actual budget in which they can’t always purchase all the goods and services they’d like to have. In the end the bastards always end up with their hand just a little deeper in our pocket. I suppose that’s just what you get when every level of government desperately wants to buy the love and affection of the voters and seeks ways to be all things to all people.

3. Keeping my head in the game. I’m probably expending at least as much energy just trying to keep my head in the game as I am actually doing any productive work. That doesn’t feel like something that’s going to be sustainable over the long term. It’s easier some days than others, but for the most part by the time mid-afternoon rolls around I’m dumping every bit of available effort into just staying awake and some delusory productive activities. Believe me when I tell you that you don’t want to read some of the written products that fly off my desk after 2PM. Unless I absolutely can’t avoid it, I hold them as drafts and then clean them up the next morning when I’m still relatively fresh. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Gas pump parking. I was pulling in to the gas pump at one of the 8,743 local convenience stores when an alleged person pulled in to the next pump over. The driver, his wife (or girlfriend, baby momma – who the hell knows), and a gaggle of kids pile out of the car; all in their pajamas and head into the grab-n-go. Figuring at least one of them was going to go put a $20 down to pay for gas, I didn’t think anything of it, until they came schlepping back out with their fists full of candy, big gulps, and chips, loaded back into their car and drove off. I missed the memo where parking at the pump to go grab a snack for you and your brood while people are lined up waiting for fuel on a busy Saturday morning is now a thing. If you’re really too lazy to walk the extra twenty feet from the actual parking spots at the side of the store, maybe you should just go ahead and stay home as to not tax your system unnecessarily. Fuckwit.

2. Bikers. The Thomas J. Hatem Bridge is a 4-lane span that carries 7,624 feet of east and westbound US Route 40 over the mighty Susquehanna River. Its lanes are 12 feet wide with a 1 foot shoulder. During peak traffic times, the bridge is a major bottle neck in traffic traveling to or from Cecil County and points east. On July 1st the powers that be in this great state of Maryland have decided that it’s a good idea to add bicycles to the mix by permitting them to use the bridge in the same lanes as motorized traffic. Now you can spout to me all day long about cyclist’s right to use public roads and that motorists have to be aware of their surroundings and give way, but the whole idea sounds ill advised to me. Putting a bicyclist on the same narrow span as tractor trailers and tens of thousands of rush hour passenger vehicles sounds more like a recipe for needing to hose some intrepid former bicyclist off the bridge than anything else. I’m sure lots of very nice people ride bicycles for fun and profit and I’ll feel vaguely sorry when one of them gets turned to goo on the bridge, but mostly what I’ll be is annoyed that their mangled corpse caused me to get home two hours later than usual.

3. Cecil County Government. The Cecil County Executive announced this week that the local animal shelter, currently operated under contract to a third party as a no-kill facility will be reincorporated as an arm of county government that will have a “no kill philosophy,” but not operate as a no-kill shelter. The translation here is that instead focusing efforts on working with local non-profits, other shelters, and concerned citizens, the shelter will hold animals for the minimum legal time and then begin euthanizing them when they “time out” if there is no extra capacity at the shelter. Here’s the thing, most shelters nationwide will tell you one story: there’s never extra space, but somehow many no kill facilities make it work. The government of Cecil County is in the midst of failing their citizens and their animals. Bringing back the “high kill” mentality to local animal control is the wrong answer. It’s fortuitous, at least, that this douchebaggery was announced during election season because it will certainly influence who has my support at the ballot box.

Wild Kingdom…

Back when I was growing up and dinosaurs roamed the earth, we got 12 television channels. We were a stage past turning the selector knob (although there were still one or two of those old sets in the house). It feels archaic in retrospect, but it was perfectly normal back then.

I don’t remember the channel number, but where that TV landed more often than not was the local Maryland Public Television station. At the time, it fired up the transmitters at around 5AM and signed off with the national anthem around midnight. Public broadcasting was my first exposure to a lot of programming that I consider formative and central to who I am today – most walmartnotably shows that taught me to appreciate the British sense of humor. But grainy Monty Python episodes aren’t what made me think about public television today. That distinction belongs to seemingly inexhaustible variety of “animal shows” they were fond of running back in the early 1980s.

While it doesn’t have the quiet, authoritative dignity of Wild Kingdom or a Jacques Cousteau special, there’s something of a flavor of these shows in my regular trip to Walmart. After pulling in on Saturday morning to see half the not insubstantial parking lot occupied by a car show, I knew I was in for something special. All I can tell you is Walmart didn’t disappoint.

The very next thing I saw after the visions of chrome was a geriatric man pushing his easily 600 pound wife/significant other/pet wildebeest and a fully loaded basket of groceries out of the store seated on one of those carts built to have multiple small children strapped to it. I’ll admit it, I was transfixed. My only regret is that I already passed the scene before realizing I should really have taken a picture (so it would last longer). Now, I’m not a small man in any sense of the world. I don’t make a point of mocking the obese, because by any legitimate standards I am one of them. But I still manage to walk my fat ass into and out of the grocery store without requiring a two man lift and a push cart to make it happen. Honest to God, it took me a good five to ten seconds to process and come to terms with what I was seeing.

You’d think it might be over once I got parked far, far away from the door with at least once side of the truck protected by a curb, but no, there’s more. Saturday at Walmart was the gift that kept on giving. Near the front door were three cars all attempting to occupy the same bit of the space-time continuum at once. As I drew near, I heard the unmistakable sound of the deeply inbreed female redneck screeching three kinds of hell in the general direction of the (most likely) equally inbred male redneck who had stopped his Clampett-mobile in the middle of the travel lane to let his female companion take the wheel. This was just seconds before the older, female Alpha Redneck leapt from her car with the agility surprising for a woman of her age and apparent state of drunkenness. And then she took a swing at the male driver for daring to block her way. This all led to three full sets of paired North American Rednecks swearing and threatening each other in full plume. Honest to the little baby Jesus the only thing missing was a banjo player.

At this point all parties turn to look at the guy who was holding his chest and laughing his damned fool head off while walking past the commotion and staring at the shambles of six utterly wasted human lives as they further shattered on the hot asphalt of Walmart’s parking lot. It was truly one of the most monumental displays of redneckery I have ever seen in person… and had you grown up where I did, you’d know that’s really setting the bar quite high.

So there you have it, my friends. I hope it’s clear now how we got from basic cable in the 80s, to public television, and back around to how Walmart is possibly the 5th circle of hell. Like the African savanna, it’s an interesting place to observe wild creatures in their natural environment, but the moment we start interacting with them, we’ve endangered them as well as ourselves. The best and safest course of action is for all of us to avoid contact and allow this devolution to run its course, hoping that in time these roving bands will slaughter each other into a state of relative equilibrium allowing those who have more than a handful of firing neurons to complete further field studies.

Emissions Inspection…

One of the things that apparently changed here in the great state of Maryland while I was gone is a requirement for a regular vehicle emissions test. Since I’ve never seen a smoggy day here in Cecil County, I’ll assume that little gem and its $14 fee is one of the governor’s non-tax taxes. I’m not even going to go into the general ridiculousness of needing to get an emissions test on a vehicle that passed the invasive state vehicle inspection less than a year ago and that’s only 2 years old with less than 40,000 miles on it to begin with. I’d honestly feel better about it if the MVA would just send me a letter saying send us $14 or we’re going to suspend your license. Admitting that the state wants money for nothing would at least be honest, but that’s probably too much to expect when it’s so easy to just give the illusion of doing something productive. According to the print out, I’m good now through August of 2014, or until they decide they need to look at some other pointless thing and bill me $20 for the privilege.

Like caged animals…

In Memphis, the occasional leaving of the dogs at the kennel was pretty much unavoidable. Surprisingly, friends and neighbors are a little hesitant to take on two 70 pound dogs at a time. Since I made it back home I haven’t really had any reason to travel. When it has cropped up, I was going places where I could take them with. No problem there. I know I could theoretically take them up to the farm and they’d be more than welcome, but a three hour round trip drive in the wrong direction seems kinda dumb when I’m only going to be gone for 18 hours and the round trip travel time (assuming I go only in the correct direction) is less than three hours to begin with. Yeah, I think I confused myself with that math, too. The point is, turning a 3 hour drive into a 6 hour drive isn’t going to happen.

Anyway, tomorrow morning the kids are off for a 24-hour stay at one of the fabulous local kennels in Cecil County… and as usual, I’m guilt ridden at leaving them somewhere new. I don’t have much of a soft spot when it comes to people, but these dogs are a different story. If it weren’t for local health codes and army regulations, I’d pretty much keep them with me 24/7.

Even though I’m sure to be racked with guilt, I think I’ll still manage to enjoy some quality time in the land of Boardwalk Empire. I’m sure the my heathens will be in good hands while I’m gone… because if they aren’t, whoever’s responsible for the deficiency will find themselves without hands at all. That might be an exaggeration, but there’s a pretty good chance they could expect to receive a tire iron to the face if some ill fate befell the pups while I’m gone. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Detail orientation…

I spend a lot of time around here calling out people for doing dumb shit. In the interests of full disclosure, I need to make this confession. As it turns out, I’m not always the most detail oriented person in the room. I was reminded of this last night when I went to the basement to install a few A/V components before the Comcast guy came by this weekend with my new cable box. As you might expect, there’s a back story here just waiting to be told.

I was very pleased with myself last weekend because I’d finally managed to rearranged everything in the basement and haul out a truckload of trash and sundry useless crap I’ve moved all over the country. After almost a year of trying to figure out exactly what to do with the 1/3 of the house that’s below grade, I’d managed to set up what would pass for a media room in most 1200 square foot rentals.

It seems I’ve neglected one small, but important detail about setting up a TV, DVR, blueray player, and Apple TV. As it turns out, they all require electricity. Sadly, the wall I’ve decided to build my home media center around is lacking in that one particular feature. Even though the coax is right there poking through the wall, the closest electrical outlet is about 12 feet away… and in another room. Clearly, I’d lost the trees for the forest.

I’m not about to cut into the wall and put in an outlet. This dump is a rental after all. Instead, I ordered the surge protector with the longest power cord I could find (Special thanks to Belkin for the 10 foot cord option). With that, and hopefully some slack in the individual component power cables, I might, just might, be able to rig something up without dragging the orange extension cord in from the shed.

This should be ghetto fabulous. Then again, this is Cecil County so there’s a fair chance no one will notice.