What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Snap decisions. I remember the first time I bought a house – way back in 2001 – and it felt like a much more civilized process. Sure, there was an endless supply of paperwork to make the offer, go through the negotiating rounds, and square away financing, but it wasn’t clogging up my inbox every day demanding immediate attention. The agent or mortgage guy would call, I’d find some time to stop by their office, sign off on this or that, and then go on about by business. In this latest version of the game I’m feeling a little hammered by incoming rounds of email from inspectors, mortgage brokers, my agent, my bank, preliminary calls to insurance companies, and the call sheet from hell which lists all of the other services and utilities I’ll need to build new relationships with between now and (assumed) closing. I’m making a lot of snap decisions and I’m fairly sure I’m making good ones, but this could be awfully close to a full time job if a guy let it… and one of those at a time is more than enough.

2. Broken dream. I’ve always secretly thought Alaska might be a nice place to live. Lots of wide open space between me and the next guy. Plenty of food on the hoof. Not needing to learn a needing to learn a second language like I would if I washed up on an island in South America. However, consistent morning temperatures hovering between zero and five degrees have now officially led me to believe that I am singularly ill equipped to deal with sustained stretches of stupid cold weather. That dream is officially over.

3. The morning commute. I get it. You ended up in the left turn lane, but you really wanted to go straight. You know what you shouldn’t do? You shouldn’t just sit there in the left lane with your right blinker flashing in hopes that some kind soul will let you correct your mistake while the turn arrow cycles through its all-too-brief green phase and 300 yards of traffic backs up behind you. That’s especially true when your dinky toy car is too small to be seen around Big Red and people behind me think it’s just me sitting there like a jerk off holding up their day. Next time go ahead and turn left, pop a u-turn, and let the rest of us get along with our morning without paying the price for your asshattery and inability to manage basic driving skills. People like you are the only reason I’ve resisted the temptation to add a bull bar to my front bumper… because if I had it, I know I could’t resist the temptation to just nudge your dumbass out into traffic and be on my way. I’m just not caffeinated enough at 7AM to deal with that level of foolishness.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Christmas shopping. I know the old saying goes “It’s better to give than to receive” and while I’m sure there are some very good socio-religious reasons for that adage, my own Christmas shopping does not in any way reflect it. After a week of hitting the sales at my usual haunts, it’s pretty much Jeff: 10, Everyone Else: 0. I’m shooting to get most of my list covered down over this coming weekend. Fortunately, in the finest tradition of 21st century man, gift cards are pretty easy to find and I can have just about all of that knocked out in about an hour. I’m sure I could go spend the next three weeks carefully pondering what the recipients might want, but in the end, shopping for other people is mostly a wild ass shot in the dark. It’s better all around to take my chances with them knowing what they want instead of giving it my best blind guess.

2. Arguing on the internet. I’m a regular member of several online forums. One of the best aspects of the internet is that no matter what you’re interested in, there’s almost guaranteed to be a group of people out there interested in talking about the same thing. From investments to tortoise keeping, there’s a discussion out there for you. What I don’t understand is why so many people spend an inordinate amount of time and effort on these sites arguing with one another over nitpicky details that really make all that much difference. There’s something about having an internet connection that imbues people with the sense that they alone are the herald of the One Truth. I’m of the opinion that there is room for smart people to disagree, for there to be more than one version of the truth, without everyone being a bunch of doucheknockers. Then again, that theory depends largely on it being a discussion between smart people. Which may be the ultimate flaw in my logic.

3. Thirty minutes. That’s how much later than normal I left work on Tuesday. I signed off on it in advance and for once actually wanted to go to a meeting, but that didn’t take into account the fact that apparently leaving 1800 seconds after the end of my usual duty day approximately doubles the duration of my drive home from 45 minutes to nearly an hour and a half. If I wanted to deal with that kind of asshattery, I would have accepted the job down at Ft. Myer and not here in the sticks, thank you very much. File that one under the category labeled “Mistakes I Won’t Make a Second Time.”

The thing I miss least…

Now and then I post about things I miss about working in DC. Today I was reminded about one of the great big hairy things that I don’t miss – trying to fight my way into and out of the city when the work day coincides with a major event or demonstration on the National Mall. Whether it’s a march on the Capitol or a memorial dedication, there’s nothing worse than being some schlub just trying to get to the office when there are roads closed all over town and hippies are packed into metro like sardines. When you’re just a guy trying to make a buck, thirty minutes of ye olde protest songs sung in an enclosed space and people dragging train cars full of kids to “see something historic” really just have a way of getting under your skin. Don’t get me started on the douchebaggery of not knowing you should walk to the left and stand to the right.

From those of us whose time in commuter hell is complete, all I can say is good luck and Godspeed you brave suburban voyagers. May your travels tomorrow not end in chaos and gridlock. If you can’t have that, at least try to remember it’s technically illegal to jump the curb, drive down the sidewalk, and run over the tourists. Sometimes staying out of jail is as much of a victory as you can expect.

The art and science of the commute…

I think of myself as a fairly seasoned driver. I cut my commuting teeth on the DC beltway, it’s safe to assume there isn’t much traffic can throw at me that I haven’t experienced before. A 90 minute delay because the drawbridge was open? Check. Snow-induced gridlock on 95? Done it. Five hour office to home drives because a tractor trailer hauling gasoline fell off an overpass? Yep. Run a line of red lights at 5 AM on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast because certain unsavory characters got a little too close? Did that too. Snow, sleet, hail, rain, wind, all manner of natural factors have conspired against my daily commute at one point or another and I’ve bested all of them.

It’s been a long time since I’ve run the beltway gauntlet and you’d think that living in the backwoods of Ceciltucky would leave me free of most of the urban and suburban commuting hazards I faced while fighting my way into and away from the District every day. Commuting is an art and a science, but the one thing making the drive down 95 every morning prepared me for was the complete asshattery of the people who stop in the middle of the road during a driving rain storm. I don’t mean that they slow to a crawl. I mean they come to a full and complete stop right there in the travel lane as if nothing could have prepared them for the sight of liquid falling from the sky.

Look, if you need to pull off to the side and wait it out, good on ya. God bless. But for the love of Pete can we at least agree that stopping in the middle of the road, when by your own actions you’re admitting that visibility is less than ideal, is a very bad idea? And if, for some unknown reason, you do feel compelled to stop in the middle of the road, how about cutting the rest of use a break and flipping on your hazard lights so we have a fighting chance of seeing you before your cute little toy car becomes my hood ornament. Yeah. That would be just great.

Oh. And I had to drive over a tree today. A tree. Right there in the middle of the road. That was a first in 19 years of being a licensed driver. Surely that adds something to my cachet as a recognized power commuter… like earning my “Rural Living” merit badge.

Some days leaving the house serves no purpose other than reminding me why I do it as little as possible.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The Prius. I’m sure you’re feeling very smug and superior about the gas you’re saving, Mr. Prius Driver, as you tool along at 40 miles an hour on a major commuter artery. What you really need to do though is either a) Buy a car that can actually keep up with the flow of traffic; b) Leave at a time other than when 10,000 people are trying to get home for the evening; c) Die in a horrible, fiery crash. It doesn’t make any difference at all to me which option you decide to exercise.

2. The election. I love politics, but can we seriously just shut up and vote already. Is there really anyone out there that hasn’t already made up their mind about who they’ll vote for in November. Admit it, the presidential election is the big draw. We’re no more likely to know more about the down-ticket candidates in November than we do now anyway. It’s ok, I’m not going to judge you for not knowing jack about the candidates for county commissioner, judge, or dog catcher. Let’s just save the time, effort, and hours of blathering on television and get on with it already. A hot mess now, a hot mess later, either way it’s going to be a hot mess. I’d rather just get it out of the way sooner rather than later.

3. In what universe does it take 14 hours to respond to an email that requires a simple yes or no answer. I’m not asking anyone to transcribe A Tale of Two Cities with their thumbs, just type in a two or three letter response and hit send. I know the Blackberry you’re carrying is an arcane bit of technology, but if memory serves, it’s pretty good at receiving and sending email, so unclench you sphincter, remove your head from your rectum, and keep up.

4. Being a Landlord. If there’s anything that sucks more than being a renter, it’s being a landlord. It’s even worse when you’re a landlord by proxy because that means you have to make decisions on the fly based on grainy pictures and not much information. Don’t believe me? Let me know how you feel when your property manager tells you that you need to spend 1/75th the “post correction” value of the house you’re already losing money on every month to fix the driveway because the slab is cracked and sinking at odd angles. I should have just asked him how much it would cost to hire an arsonist

Law of Unintended Consequences or: Why Gasoline Should Be Expensive…

So anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last six months has either watched the increasing cost of gas or at least seen it’s continuing coverage as a “news” event. The minute-by-minute tracking of the price of gas is about as useful to most people as the minute-by-minute stock ticker. It’s kind of interesting to know, but there’s not much that you can do about it.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have noticed one interesting thing, though: My afternoon commute, once a spot on 40-minute trip is now down to a svelte 34-minutes from door to door. Though not scientific in any way, I’m taking this to mean that at least in my little part of the world, the afternoon “rush” (such that it is in West Tennessee) is not quite as busy as it was a few short months ago.

Could it be that there are actually fewer cars on the road? Just released Federal Highway Administration data shows a decrease if almost 10 billion miles driven in May, so maybe this is the beginning of a trend. For those of you thinking this is the beginning of my new life as a tree-hugging, sandal-wearing, granola-eating hippy, fear not… As far as I’m concerned, this is great news because it means more room on the highway for me, less time committed to the daily drive, and gas that’s down a few pennies from it’s highs at the pump. It’s the law of unintended consequences at work and the reason I don’t bitch too much when the price of gas goes up a bit.