I drive around from time to time looking for new places where the next interesting book to add to the collection could be hiding. The invariable part of every new town I pass through is that you can tell a lot about where you are by the kind of businesses occupying prominent or high traffic areas.
As a general rule, once I hit the part of town where pawn shops, storefront check cashing, and empty buildings predominate, I’ve probably gone too far. The likelihood of finding what I’m looking for seems to diminish with every payday loan processor I pass. Often enough, these are parts of town when I have no business being or otherwise stick out like a sore thumb. If there’s treasure hidden somewhere there, I’ll leave it to someone else.
Last week I had something of the opposite experience. Returning home from a successful book buying expedition, I found myself driving through a picturesque bit of Delaware – long lawns, gated drives, and the early 20th century impression of old money. Soon enough the residential gave way to the commercial – cheese mongers, wineshops, and a several block stretch of insurance agencies, understated banks, and “wealth management firms.”
Sure, I felt altogether more comfortable there than I do driving down a block of abandoned and burned-out row houses, but it was still very much a case of being a stranger in a strange land. Less likely to get mugged, maybe, but far more likely to be offered a “can’t lose” investment opportunity, so perhaps they’re not all that different, really.
I don’t suppose there’s anything particularly insightful here… just a musing on the oddities of finding yourself out of place.
So I get passed a lot in the morning on my way to the office. First, I’m usually driving a Jeep, which isn’t a vehicle anyone really associates with speed. Second, I’m driving to work. Why the hell would I be in any kind of rush? Ending up with a ticket on my way to work is the very definition of a situation that would just add insult to injury. A stead 60 in a 55 feels like laying on plenty enough speed for the occasion.
The reverse trip away from the office in the afternoon is something altogether different. That, you see, calls for every fraction of extra throttle that prevailing conditions allow. Interestingly enough, it’s during these afternoon drives when everyone else seems to be lackadaisically content with skittering around at or below the posted speed limit.
Maybe you can file this one as just another reason why I don’t really understand people or what motivates them. Given the option between racing to the office or racing home, I have no earthly idea why they’d choose the former over the latter. People are weird, man
As it turns out it’s monsoon season here in the mid-Atlantic. Something something climate change, something something global warming, something something fake news. I’m sure there are a wide ranging set of reasons this summer as gone directly from cold and rainy to oven baked, and is now shifting gears back to torrential downpours. I find none of those reasons particularly interesting. Mostly because none of them lead to a long stretch of days that we could reasonably describe as “temperate.” I think at this point I may even be willing to settle for “seasonal.”
We’re two months through “summer,” and I’ve only had the top off a handful of times – worse yet, the doors have been firmly installed since I put them back on last September. That’s no kind of life for a Jeep. I mean if you’re not going to drive it up to the fender wells in mud, the very least you can do is strip it down to the bare essentials and enjoy the open air. Except, sadly, you need the air to also cooperate with this plan.
We’ll see what August brings, but given recent history I’m not overly optimistic. I have a terrible feeling that the last, best hope for good Jeep weather this year will be in finding a long Indian summer and trying to hold on to it a little too long. This late in topless driving / monsoon season I suppose I’ll have to take what I can get.
In a world where automobile manufacturers chase ever more stringent fleet fuel standards and where soccer moms traded the Suburban for the latest “crossover SUV” (i.e. station wagon), I find very little to get excited over in the average production vehicle. There are a few exceptions and most of them don’t start looking particularly interesting until they are approaching the six-figure price point. Across most product lines, one sedan or coupe is pretty much only a few pieces of molding different from the next.
I’ve long suspected that sameness elsewhere is what brings me back around to the Jeep when it’s time to find a new vehicle. Sure, the edges have been softened. There’s a lot of plastic cowling where there used to be just tube steel. It’s got power locks and windows and a staggering amount of electronic toys in the dash. At its heart though, Chrysler has resisted the siren’s song of making the Jeep into just another crossover with a nameplate that use to mean something. Thank God for that.
One of the great joys of a Jeep is that you really can strip it down to the essentials – and engine, four wheels, and someplace to sit. In fact, once you’ve pulled the top away and unbolted the doors, you’re not so much getting into your Jeep as you are riding on top of it. All the while, everything rattles, you notice an unaccounted for whistle of wind crossing some newly exposed surface, every pothole rattles up your spine. You’ll slip out from behind the wheel knowing, feeling, that you were driving the machine instead of just being a passenger who occasionally made minor course corrections.
Man, stripped down and jamming through the gears, it’s a thing of real beauty… and only adds to my firm belief that doors are largely overrated (when the weather is good and you’ve got reasonably secure parking).
1. Baby on board. It takes a special kind human being to believe that installing a small yellow “Baby on Board” sign is going to imbue their vehicle with some extra protective abilities. As if someone would be driving along and otherwise decide to drive into them until the moment when they realized that a baby might be involved. When the driver of one of these vehicles decides that they’re going to weave in and out of traffic, tailgate a dump truck, and jump a curb because they cut a turn too short, well, I’m just not sure how much I or anyone else should care about whatever baby you happen to have on board. I mean if the driver doesn’t have any regard for their own health, safety, or welfare or that of their offspring, asking their fellow drivers to be careful sort of defeats the purpose.
2. Reorganizing. One of the best parts of any reorganization is learning all about the new tasks you’ll be doing. As everyone shuffles their seats you’ll be picking up new assignments and passing along some of your old work to other people. That’s always how the concept is pitched, anyway. In reality though no specific method of casting off those old duties is ever really defined so if you’re not paying attention you just sort of end up doing all the old jobs plus all the new ones too. If you don’t mind being an obnoxious little shit, though, you can feel free to start making unilateral decisions about what activities get thrown over the side and what you keep doing. In the absence of clear guidance from leadership, it has always been my policy to create my own. Eventually someone will notice that some percentage of things aren’t getting done and start asking questions and shuffle that work off to the appropriate person… or they won’t. In business school that’s what we learned to call a win-win solution.
3. Political party conventions. Once upon a time, party conventions met to do important things like actually select their nominee for the presidency. Our pesky habit of voting has largely made the selection of a candidate a foregone conclusion long before the party loyalists show up in the designated city. In fact no major party convention has selected a nominee outright in my lifetime. That leaves the conventions as largely a four day, made for TV pep rally. That’s fine, I suppose, but even major news outlets are spending less time covering “events” the outcome of which are a foregone conclusion. So I say spend the money on something more effective like direct mailers or TV spots in contested states… and leave the awkward hugs between people who hate each other in the dustbin of electoral history.
Many years ago on the day I got my driver’s license my father sat me down and offered a few last minute words of instruction. It had nothing at all to do with the rules of the road, but instead the unwritten rules that apply when being pulled over by the police. You see, even though I’m white and he was a cop, those rules, however unwritten, applied to us too. Frankly, anything that might help mitigate the potential for being accidentally shot for being a non-compliant douchebag during a traffic stop is welcome information as far as I’m concerned.
The advice I got wasn’t anything earth shattering. Wait quietly with your hands on the steering wheel while the officer approaches the vehicle. Follow his or her instructions precisely and answer questions respectfully. Don’t make any sudden movements and don’t get out of the vehicle unless told to do so. For the most part, what he was telling his teenager was not to get stupid and cocky with the cop whose main concern is making sure he gets to go home to his own family that night. Put another way, it’s always best to remember that the life you save may be your own and try to behave accordingly.
See, as far as I can tell, having “the talk” with your kids about how to interact effectively with the police – or with anyone else for that matter – doesn’t make you a saint or a martyr. It makes you a normal parent looking out for the best interest of your kids. It’s just the responsible thing to do.
Early in the commute this afternoon, Big Red’s odometer rolled over 100,000 miles. That’s not quite as big a deal with these fancy new vehicles as it was say with a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass, but it’s a personal milestone for me. It’s the first time I’ve ever held on to a car long enough to rack up that kind of mileage.
It’s one of the few times in life I can honestly say I’m not really even interested in looking for a new car (though I wouldn’t say no if someone dropped a Ferrari or a Koenigsegg in the driveway). I thoroughly enjoy driving this over sized red beast of mine. Sure, she’ll never sip fuel like a Prius and there’s the occasional rattle of indeterminate origin, but I just plain like the old girl. I don’t suppose it hurts that she’s bought and paid for either.
It’s inevitable that at some point something new and shiny will catch my interest and replace Big Red as the objective of my automotive affection. Until then, though, I think I’ll be perfectly content traveling the highways and byways in my Tundra/living room on wheels and watching the Smart cars scurry out of my way.
1. Flint River water. Look, if I open my spigot and the resulting water is brown and filled with particulates, I’m not going to drink it no matter what local officials tell me about its safety. That’s exactly what I don’t hear from news reports coming out of Michigan. There are plenty of reports though of people who continued who were drinking away, despite what some might consider an obvious problem with the water… and now suddenly they’re surprised by the spate of health issues that have resulted. I’m afraid these Michiganders have fallen victim to two fallacies: 1) The government is looking out for your best interests and 2) Anyone else has ultimate responsibility for what you put in your body. While there is very clear blame to be laid on the state and local government in this case, there’s more than enough to spread around to individuals who failed to exercise their own personal responsibility in protecting their health and wellbeing.
2. A report out of the National Transportation Safety Board calls for the total ban of cell phones while driving, claiming it’s a distraction. Well bugger off. Everything inside the passenger compartment of a vehicle that’s not the steering wheel, gear shift, accelerator, and brake pedal is a distraction. The radio is a distraction. That drive-thru grease-burger is a distraction. Crying children in the back seat are a distraction. Bees flying through an open window are a distraction. So while we’re going, let’s ban all the distractions and save so many, many lives. We’ll do away with radios and drive-thrus, crying children and roll-down windows. We’ll cover the damned cars in bubble wrap and install an engine governor ensuring they can never go faster than 15 miles per hour. Fine, safety is important. While hurtling around in a one ton metal bullet we should all be paying attention to what we’re doing. What I don’t understand is what on earth anyone thinks passing one more law making a specific subset of distracted driving illegal (which in many jurisdictions it already is) will really do. Prohibition didn’t stop drinking. The war on drugs didn’t stop drug use. I have a hard time believing a ban on cell phones is going to stop people from checking that next text message. Don’t even get me started on the jackassery of how anyone might plan to enforce such legislation once it’s law.
3. The choices. Despite my personal preference for one of the other alternatives it appears more and more likely that 364 days (plus a leap year) from today, America is going to inaugurate a socialist, an unindicted felon, a megalomaniac billionaire, or a former Canadian citizen as President of the United States. Let that sink in for a moment if you will. I could launch into a long rant about how we got here, but frankly we’re more or less stuck with this band of misfits in 2016. My real question, the one that’s going to haunt me in my sleep, is how we get well from here. What’s it going to take to find some legitimate leadership in America in 2020 or are we henceforward and forever doomed to have such pretenders enthroned as the heirs of Washington and Jefferson?
1. Atrophy. I’ll admit it, I’m not as good a driver as I use to be. I spent five years mastering the art of running nose-to-tail at 90 miles an hour on I-95 between DC and Baltimore. There’s not an every day call for that kind of driving in most other places. There wasn’t in West Tennessee and there certainly isn’t here in Ceciltucky. Every now and then, though, the situation presents itself where those long unused skills would prove useful. It’s only when you reach in to that old bag of tricks that you find out you’re not quite as quick at the wheel as you use to be. That’s disheartening… particularly when it leads to the inevitable question of whether it’s just a lack of practice time or if it’s a truly diminishing skill set.
2. Just Don’t Do It. Years ago I worked (indirectly) for a boss who’s philosophy was summed up by a Just Do It card that he passed around to employees at every opportunity. It read something like “If it’s ethical, legal, and you’re willing to be held accountable for it, don’t wait for permission, just do it.” It’s a pretty good rule to live by if you’re the kind of person who has any kind of reasonable judgement. I’m never going to argue that all decisions should be made at the lowest level, but I known damned well that all of them don’t need to be deferred to the highest levels, either. There’s a middle ground. More people should find it instead of deferring every decision for days and weeks in hopes that someone else will take responsibility for it.
3. The Cycle of Mediocrity. A wise old Warrant Officer once told me that “nobody does what the boss don’t check.” He was mostly right about that. In most offices the boss down’t check much – and the results are predictable. We all claim to want excellence – but in reality the objectives are usually targeted at achieving mediocrity. The rules are set up to achieve a minimum acceptable standard and performance tends towards achieving that standard. It’s what the bosses check so it’s what the people produce… and the cycle of mediocrity rolls on and on and on.
1. Driver’s Ed. Was I seriously the only person why learned anything from Driver’s Education when I took it way back in caveman days? The way I understand it, when you come to a controlled intersection in which the traffic light is out (not functioning at all), that intersection is treated as a 4-way stop. Given the car behind me that was doing a good job of trying to crawl into the engine through my tailpipe and the guy in the next lane who fishtailed two feet into my lane, apparently I’m the only one who remembers that little tidbit. I’m assuming the rules are the same on a road two lanes in each direction divided by a median as they are for any “normal” four lane intersection. If I’m wrong and the vehicles on said divided highway in fact have uncontested right-of-way, then consider this my apology for being so badly informed. Still, I’m pretty sure I’m right and other people are morons.
2. Sensing sessions. Yeah, look, I’ve sat through at least of dozen of these in a career that’s lasted as many years. The thing about “sensing sessions” is that you bitch and complain to someone who can’t do anything about your problems, they write it up in a nice report and then nothing happens. They might give the barest of illusions that someone is trying to do something but the reality is they’re about as useful as the portholes on a ’77 Continental.
3. The telephone. This month we’re apparently cracking down on unauthorized, unofficial phone calls. There’s a stiffly worded group chastisement email and a spreadsheet and everything to damn our collective useless hides. As usual, instead of singling out the perpetrators, which would be easy enough to do, we prefer the passive aggressive approach of making sweeping general announcements and indicting everyone across the board. Damn me, but doesn’t it feel good to be a trusted professional.