Is it just me or does the Dodge Charger remind anyone else of a shark? Seriously, every time I see one -- and I've been seeing a lot of them lately on Sweat Sock City highways -- I hear the "JAWS" theme. Please tell me it's not just me.
I've upgraded my hurricane preparedness kit after last year's boondoggle. So in addition to all the things I had last year, I've added an LED lantern that allegedly lights up an entire room and will work on battery for 1 1/2 months at 5 hours a day, and also a crank cell phone charger. The LED light has actually come in handy as I don't think our electric grid was properly repaired and we lose power during storms quite often these days. It's never for long -- maybe 5 to 10 minutes, and one day, while I was at work, it was nearly the entire day (no biggy -- I was gone). Other people I know have been losing power regularly and for longer periods of time. So I guess it's always good to have these things "just in case".
Layoffs have started here in Sweat Sock City. I say this with a bit of awe because until about two or three months ago, we were pretty well insulated from the financial malfeasance that was virally spreading across country and through the global market. But all good things must eventually end, and it was only a matter of time. Friends are losing their jobs to layoffs now and it seems every day, there's one more person without work. It reminds me a lot of 2000-2001 when a lot of people I knew got laid off and it was hard to know what to say, what to do. Everyone eventually rebounded, got back on their feet, and are/were doing well. It's just a job, it's not who you are. Still, it's hard. I guess the old adage of hoping for the best and preparing for the worst was never more true than it is today.
1. If you sleep in a walk-in closet, chances are, you'll sleep through the whole thing and wonder what everyone was talking about. And then you feel a little miffed because you did indeed miss the whole thing.
2. Three days without water is a long time.
3. Twelve days without power means you learn how to fumble around in the dark really well. Even now, I can walk around my apartment without the lights on just about perfectly. And oh yeah -- you remember to move things out of the way so you don't inadvertently step on them.
4. When you're without internet or satellite television for fifteen days, you feel disconnected. There's a world out there that's functioning and somehow you're not a part of it.
5. Twenty days without functioning traffic lights is really very scary.
6. Lines for gas get really, really, really long. It's best if you top off before the hurricane. Especially since they ration it afterwards. And string yellow police tape around the gas station. Did I mention the lines are really long?
7. Lines for fresh coffee at the gas station are also really long, but oh so worth the wait.
8. It's amazing how much you don't know about the world when the only source of news is the radio and all they can tell you is what FEMA is or isn't doing. They don't tell you what you really want to know which is when is life going to be normal again?
9. People do some insanely stupid things after being cooped up for 24 hours and with no electricity, water or internet, like jump into flooded street ways from bridges, never mind that there might be snakes, alligators, downed power lines, gasoline, dead bodies and other icky stuff in that water. Don't be stupid.
10. It is possible to forget how to turn your television on.
11. Cupcakes make hurricanes better. I recommend buying cupcakes to anyone in a similar situation.
12. Rechargeable electronics are great until you realize you can't recharge them when they die.
13. There's no such thing as customer service in the aftermath. It doesn't matter if you don't want fruit with your Belgian waffle, you're going to get it. And dang it, you will enjoy that waffle because it's the first hot meal you've had in five days.
14. When the lights go out, all the people come out. They come out to sit on balconies, on doorsteps. They talk, they drink beer, they play cards, they read books, and listen to music. When the lights come back on, they all disappear.
15. Calling your land line multiple times to see if the answering machine will answer doesn't make the power come on any faster.
16. Also, stalking the electric company trucks and kidnapping the nice landman who came down from Canada to turn the lights back on for you doesn't help either.
17. I was just kidding on number 16.
19. It feels really good when the water comes back on. Even when it's cold. Because it means you can pull the plug on the water in the bathtub, which starts to take on a funky aroma on day 3. Even if you did clean it out with bleach beforehand. It also means you can take showers again. And believe you me, by day 3, you are smelling a wee bit funky.
So I have to eat my words from yesterday as I decided to try traffic wave experiment aka "traffic jam reduction". I was convinced it wouldn't work in Sweat Sock City because honestly, whether it's a car or real estate, every free space in this city must be occupied; no two molecules of oxygen may flit and float without hindrance. I intentionally left about 15 seconds between my car and the car in front of me; my driver's ed teachers would be so proud. So I drove the speed limit, all the while maintaining the space. The space never really disappeared. It got smaller sometimes as I got closer to the traffic, but it never was less than 6 to 7 seconds in size. For the first time in months, I didn't need to apply my brakes at all on my commute home.
What fascinated me most was the fact this space was rarely taken advantage of by other drivers on the road. Even an 18-wheeler in the lane next to me didn't seem interested even though he could have easily fit. On the 25 miles to downtown, I saw maybe 5-6 cars take advantage of the open space and for the most part, they came from the lane on the right. It's as if the wide open space scared the other drivers; we're so used to being a culture where we try to jam as much as possible into a tight space that this concept of a 15-second space was foreign.
Of course this is all unscientific, based on one trial, and traffic for these past two weeks in Sweat Sock City has been light. I will continue to experiment and monitor. If this is indeed a true phenomena, then... WOW. Never (well, almost never) get stuck in traffic again.
I'm intrigued by this concept of hypermiling -- getting the most possible out of a gallon of gasoline. I read a story over the weekend where one guy got something like 150 miles per gallon, which completely blows my 32 miles per gallon right out of the water. Of course, he probably takes 80 million hours to get to work, and some of the techniques are not safe on a 70 mph (ha!) interstate, but I've been attempting some when it seems feasible, such as cruising to a red light or letting my foot off the gas on a "potential" slope. Since I drive about 50 miles RT a day, even a 10 percent reduction would be of benefit to me. I haven't tried reducing traffic jams yet, but boy if that works...*
* It's a fact that here in Sweat Sock City any open space, regardless of its size, will be immediately filled with a vehicle. If the vehicle is larger than the space, then tough cookies to the vehicle just to its rear. Passing on the right is also acceptable when a space immediately opens up, especially if it means crossing across four lanes of traffic at 80 mph.
One of the hardest parts of the new job is getting used to the commute. This is the longest commute I've ever had. Combine that with the fact Sweat Sock City highways give me a nervous breakdown every 32 seconds, I'm not necessarily the happiest camper first thing in the morning or right at quitting time. Today, it took me an hour and fifteen minutes to get home. And keep in mind, this is going against traffic. Of course, today was special circumstances -- a truck had overturned on the overpass near my exit and hence, the entire freeway had been shut down to clear out the mess. I didn't hear any mention of injuries, so that's a Good Thing (tm).
I detoured prior to my exit, otherwise I'm pretty sure I still wouldn't be home. The alternate route is much less trafficked and one I use when the weather is bad (read: torrential downpours with zero visibility and street flooding what you might call a daily occurance here in Sweat Sock City this year). This route also takes me through one of the poorer sections of town. It's an odd juxtaposition -- dilapidated houses held together by paint and willpower, yards overgrown with weeds, the road a patchwork of different colored asphalt because no one cares enough to redo it against the soaring silver and glass skyline of one of the country's largest cities. In this neighborhood, time seems to stand still.
Dogs languidly creep across the street, pausing to check both ways. Once, I saw a dog standing on the low roof of a back yard cottage. People cross the street, slowly, and anywhere they wish to; crosswalks don't seem to mean a thing here. Every other block has a lot overgrown with weeds. There are many abandoned buildings with black signs with "For Sale" printed on them in red block letters. The billboards are all in Spanish and promote local health care clinics and the community college. The cars parked on the street and in driveways are late models, usually Fords or Chevys, their color dulled by a coat of dust. There's only one metro bus line that runs through this area and the bus is always full. Occasionally I see a taxi drive through, but I've never seen one stop. One auto repair shop seems to have given into its surroundings and graffited its own walls with a list of services available. It's the only business open on this three mile stretch of road.
There's a yellow apartment house (complex?) that gets me every time. There are two buildings, and one of them looks like it has been condemned. The windows and doors have been boarded up. The other one is open for living, yet the windows are broken, the doors to the staircase are perpetually open revealing rickety stairs and the yard is littered with trash. There are always people sitting outside of this house, no matter the weather, and occasionally they have beer. There are always children in the group. Once, I drove by and saw Sweat Sock City's finest in the yard. They had two of the teenagers facedown on the ground, and one of the cops had his gun drawn. In three months of driving through this neighborhood, that's the only time I've seen the cops.
This must have been a pretty area once. I see the echoes of history as I get closer to downtown. There are buildings that look at home in an episode of "Little House on the Praire", there's an old church, a rundown general store building, and all around, this lush, lush greenery courtesy of this summer's crazy weather. But it's as if the whole area has given up and boarded up these beautiful old buildings, letting the elements take their toll on structure and foundation. Somehow, the financial success of Sweat Sock City and its enormous growth in the last five years haven't filtered down to this neighborhood. Soon, the investors will move in and tear down these feeble structures, essentially evicting the current residents. And as much as I want this area to be cleaned up, brought back to life, I can't help but wonder what will happen to the people who live there when the change comes.
Here in Sweat Sock City, it's become a rage to have valet parking at restaurants, upscale ones and the not so upscale ones. It actually makes me a little crazy because I can park my own car -- an act I engage in at least four times a day. And then I show up at this restaurant and I have to give my keys to some guy I've known for about 2 seconds and trust them to park my car for me. It especially aggravates me when the restaurant in question has a huge parking lot -- such as the newest, hip spot just down the street from me. Huge parking lot and it's all valet. And not free valet either.
I don't get it. Is this some service that people really need? I understand in cases where the weather is bad or parking is hard to find, but in places with their own lots? I don't get it. It especially irritates me because most of these places, you'll spend at least $15/person for dinner, probably closer to $30, and then you have to also pay the guy to do something you can do yourself. Depending on the place, you're lucky if you can get by with $5 to the valet. It's just like a local big movie theatre complex here -- they charge you $3 to park there.
I no longer frequent places with valet parking or if they do have valet parking, I check around to see if I can park on the street. In a couple of cases, the weather was so bad and the only option was valet, I drove out and went to another restaurant entirely. Needless to say, I also don't go to the movie theatre where you have to pay to park (another movie theatre in downtown where you do have to pay to park, validates your parking ticket for you, so it's all good).
I bet valet parking adds some kind of 'status' to a restaurant and probably attracts a up-scale crowd. I'd really like to see some studies on it, because I'm pretty sure I'm not the only who is aggravated by this particular growing trend. I'm also curious to know how many people choose not to go somewhere because you have to pay for parking.
It's been raining non-stop for weeks now and it can stop at any time. There's this funky smell hanging over the city (hence my endearing name for it) because the storm drains are backing up pretty quickly and the drainage ditches that criss-cross the city overflowed their banks today. Fun all around. I'm watching a line of storms right now coming up from the south and whether it comes here or turns northward, it doesn't really matter. It's soggy no matter where you go.
I steered clear of any water on the streets on my way home from work today. I had to detour a lot because so many roads and intersections were under water, but that's okay. I had a high water experience about 10 days ago and I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown right there and then in the middle of a flood intersection. I got through it and pulled into a parking lot to wait it out, but once is enough for me. It's not worth the risk -- not to me, not to my car, not to anyone around me. Waiting*, as far as I know, has never killed anyone. But yet, I keep seeing truck after truck going into water that's at least as high as their grills. It's mystifying to me.
I used the Cell Phone Lot of Sweat Sock City's international airport this evening while I was waiting to pick up a friend. I'd seen signs on previous trips and I was always like, "What's up with the Cell Phone Lot?" I finally learned on my last trip that it's a gigantic parking lot where you can go and park for free and wait for the person you're picking up to call you, thus eliminating the endless circling (a nightmare at big international airports) or actually parking your car and making the long haul to the terminal.
So this evening, I pulled in to the cell phone lot for the first time ever and took my place with about 30 to 40 other vehicles. At the far end of the lot was a little vending machine hut so you could get food if you needed to. Some people were walking around, including a father with his little boy who was wearing little sneakers with red lights on it. That was really fun to watch. Every now and then, a car would start up, its headlights streaking across the lot, and then it would pull out. I thought it was incredibly cute, because each departure from the lot signified an arrival.
My resolution for this year is to be a nicer driver. I mean, I don't think I'm a mean driver and road rage isn't something I experience (though I have been a victim once) but I do occasionally get impatient and once in a while, cut people off because I'm in a rush. So for the last couple of weeks, I've been trying to be nicer. I've been slowing down and letting people merge into traffic. What I'm learning though is that my actions are so foreign to people that they often don't get the hint, even when I blink my lights at them. They'll just sit there and eventually it gets to the point where I just give up. But still, I'm making the effort. My hope is that someone will remember that I let them in and they'll pass the favor on to someone else. Anything to make driving in Sweat Sock City a less miserable experience!