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. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Home security. I’ve made a point to have an alarm system in ever house I’ve ever owned. Over the years and moving from house to house the systems have become progressively more complex, evolving from a few simple sensors towards something that’s constantly monitoring and able to show me the health and safety of the homestead in real time. In all my years of using a home security system, though, the only thing it’s ever actually alerted me to was various problems with the security system itself. It’s probably a good problem to have and I’m certainly glad it’s not constantly alerting me to real world problems at home… but I could have done with a little less time spent running diagnostics and troubleshooting earlier this week.

3. Better late than never. Ten minutes before 3PM, the powers that be expressed their concern about the weather and sent everyone home “two hours early.” That’s a fine gesture, of course, except that I would have had to travel back in time to take advantage of this generous offer. On my own authority I dumped in a leave request and departed the area at 2:30. It’s a safe bet to assume that I value my own neck a hell of a lot more than any of the aforementioned powers do anyway. My commute home took twice the normal amount of time and would have easily taken 3x as long had I waited around for others to make a decision and found 20,000 other people all trying to make a break for it at the same time. Thanks to the vagaries of the federal personnel system, though, even though I only took 90 minutes of leave and the powers subsequently approved a blanket 2 hours, I’m still out the 90 minutes I asked for because it was on file before the blanket leave was approved. Maybe it’s an even trade since I’m not stuck sitting on the road somewhere between here and there. Still, it’s just a helpful reminder that Uncle doesn’t put much of a premium on free thinking despite whatever lip service may be paid doing an “individual risk assessment.” That said, I regret nothing and will always use my own best judgement where issues of life, health, and safety are concerned – even if that means putting my money or my leave balance where my mouth is. It would just be nice if we didn’t play the same stupid game and win the same stupid prizes every single year.

4. Florida. I’ve mentioned the Sunshine State once already this week, but they can’t seem to keep themselves out of the news. I just find it mind boggling that all these years after the contested 2000 election any county in Florida has this much trouble counting little pieces of paper even when given the benefit of large and powerful electronic tools to do so. Surely if we line up enough Floridians they can account for enough fingers and toes to do the damned math, right?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Warehouse fires. You know what warehouses are good for? Storing large quantities of things. That’s what they’re designed to do. You know what they’re not good at? Letting large numbers of people get out of them quickly when something goes wrong. They aren’t designed for that. Trying to push a large number of panicked people through a limited number of available exits is the working definition of a death trap. Sure the building owner has fault. The event promoter has fault. But the individuals who found themselves caught in the trap are not guiltless. If you walk into any building or room, particular one that is stacked to the rafters with flammable material and don’t immediately identify two or three (or more) exit routes you’re as culpable for what happens to you as anyone else – even more so since no one has more responsibility for your personal safety that you do yourself.

2. Staff Meetings. Two hour staff meetings are about a 110 minute waste of time under the very best of circumstances. Jamming one into the very end of the day on Friday reeks of desperation, or need to feel in control, or just trying to give everyone a giant douche-tastic start to their weekend. In any case, late Friday afternoon staff meetings fall very far short of the best of times. A good leader might be tempted to say, “You know what, this week the meeting was just overcome by competing events so shoot me an email of no more than five lines and tell me what you’re up to so I can look at them over the weekend.” Of course that would require the person making the decision to fall into both the “good” and “leader” category. If it turns out to be just another manager, well, we’ll see you for your Friday afternoon meeting.

3. Stop fucking shouting. Walk your lazy ass to the other side of the room. Or pick up the phone if you’re really that lazy. Maybe try out an instant messenger app. Since the gods on Olympus decided we need need to be packed in to the office at a density that no sane person would consider reasonable, the very least you can do is try you use your goddamned indoor voice, show a touch of courtesy to those around you, and pretend, even if just for a minute, that you have the sense God gave the average Christmas goose.

The hood life…

My neighborhood has an internal Facebook-style social media site that keeps homeowners apprised of the latest news of our small slice of Ceciltucky. The vast majority of updates are made when someone is having a yard sale, there’s going to be an association meeting, or some other important civic event. This past week, though, the whole feed has been given over to a recent spate of crimes that threaten to drag our quiet neighborhood down into the gutter with Baltimore or the unfortunate souls who live in Elkton proper.

You see, over the last three days there have been empty bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade found thrown into several yards. One of these bottles had the audacity to land in someone’s driveway and shatter. On another thread, there is news of an unnamed presidential candidate’s sign that was stolen from someone’s yard. The neighbors are up in arms over the effrontery of the vandals, thugs, and hoodlums plying their trade in our usually bucolic subdivision.

There’s wild talk in the hood about installing gates, and cameras, and streetlights and I love my neighborhood for having such a massive hissy fit of an overreaction to a $5 crime. It’s one of the ways I know I’m among good people. After spending a few years living in a suburban Memphis neighborhood where car windows were regularly smashed and at least one burglary was reported a month, I just kind of chuckle to myself. This is probably the safest neighborhood I’ve ever called home so I’m cautiously optimistic that cooler heads will prevail before someone calls an association meeting to approve a special assessment for security upgrades.

My guess, if only based on the type of bottles involved, is that it’s local neighborhood kids being stupid. Sure, you’ll want to stop that before it escalates beyond a few thrown bottles and a missing yard sign, but in the grand scheme I don’t think we’re seeing the birth of a new and terrible criminal enterprise along the banks of the Elk River.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go back to living the hood life here on the upper reaches of the Eastern Shore.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Banker’s Hours. Let me start off by saying I general like my credit union, except for one little thing. When they upgraded their website a few weeks ago they required everyone to create about a dozen “challenge” question/answer combinations for security purposes. Fine. Good. Whatever. The problem, of course, is that I apparently don’t have a clue what the answer to at least one of those questions is. And that’s the one I got on Sunday morning when I logged in to pay the week’s bills. Instead of asking me an alternate question from the list, the site promptly locks me out and tells me to call customer support. Which is also fine. Except there is no customer support at 7AM Sunday morning (or any other time on Sunday for that matter). I appreciate network security, but it would be nice if it weren’t so secure that I can’t get into my own account. Like the universe, it’s my fondest hope that they will find a way to seek balance.

2. Scheduling. I get that schedules are hectic. The higher you get on the food chain, the more hectic they are. If I can offer any bit of unsolicited advice, it’s that out of respect for the host of people gathered together awaiting your presence rescheduling a meeting thrice before settling in a final-ish time is just bad form. If your schedule is so jam packed with very important things to do, maybe you could go ahead and delegate to an underling or just put it in a concisely worded memo. When you make it impossible for anyone else to schedule something because of inevitable changes, where you could have looked knowing and decisive, you look like a tool. Don’t look like a tool.

3. Going overboard. I set a lot of posts about car seats, the armada of safety gear that today’s kids are expected to wear out in public, and generally how fragile small humans apparently have become in the second decade of the new millennium. In that spirit, I’d urge all of us to remember that we grew up in a simpler time. For me, riding in the open bed of a pickup truck was a rite of summer. I clocked more time behind the wheel on the back roads at age 13 than most kids do today by the time they’re eligible for the draft. None of us wore bike helmets, knee pads, or “safety gear” thicker than denim. It wasn’t uncommon for us to run unsupervised through the woods using pointy sticks as guns and rocks as grenades. I broke my arm three times and still have the scrapes and scars of childhood to mark the memories. I survived. So did we all… and in a world that surrounded it’s children in far less bubble wrap.