Adventures In Busing.

It’s A Gas, Gas, Gas.

My father used to drive me crazy, which, admittedly, isn’t a long distance trip, because he’d go for miles with the needle of the gas tank firmly pointed at “E”. When I was in high school he had some kind of large car that also had a yellow warning light that came on when the fuel was low. It often seemed like every time I got in the car that yellow warning light was on and I’d be in the back seat sweating over the thought of having to get out and walk. And yet he was a master of timing. The engine never even sputtered; drawing on fumes it always managed to get us to the store, or to school, or wherever, then home again without ever once stopping for gas. I suspect that whenever I wasn’t around he’d stop somewhere and put exactly one gallon of gas in the car and calculate the mileage in his head so he’d know exactly how far he could go.

I’ve never been able to master the skill myself, and yet I find all the time I get the warning light that the car is running low on gas. That’s because I get distracted by other, more important things, like whatever’s on the radio or, hey, look, there’s someone out walking their dog. And also I believe my father is responsible. If just once he had run out of gas while I was in the car, if we’d had to walk to a gas station or, worse, push the car somewhere, I might have something to make me more focused on the fuel level.

Although he did run out of gas once and ended up having to walk about a mile to the nearest station. Which he enjoyed telling me a few weeks after it happened since of course I wasn’t there.

Survey Says…

Because I worked for three lousy months at a call center I know what it’s like for customer service people. I know how it feels to be on the other end of the phone when some angry, frustrated person calls. Maybe I’d be nice to customer service people anyway but experience makes me especially nice to them because while I have no idea what their day so far has been like I assume it hasn’t been good. So I had to call a customer service person the other day and it was even more of a relief that she was friendly and understanding, apologizing for the problem even though it wasn’t her fault. She also took down all my contact information in case we got cut off. That also turned out to be helpful because the issue was too complicated to resolve over a phone call so she promised to email me a follow-up when she had more information. During this conversation I could hear a baby babbling in the background and I thought it was great she got to work from home, which can be a real stress relief, and I was grateful that the dog three feet away from my desk didn’t jump up and bark like he usually does whenever I have to make a phone call. Instead he stayed curled up, sound asleep and farting, which I was really glad the customer service person didn’t hear.

Pictured: The dog. Not pictured: The farting.

She did send me the follow-up message, the whole issue was resolved, and then I got a survey that asked, “How did our customer service person do?” I don’t know if these surveys really make any difference or if the results even get back to the person. When I worked in customer service there were a few repeat customers—it was a small company—who told me they always appreciated my professionalism and courtesy, and all I ever got was a lousy coffee mug with the corporate logo. And even Kevin, who sat in the corner station with his phone turned off playing solitaire got one of those. But just in case I always fill out the surveys, especially when the person I talked to did a really good job. That’s what I said, too: “Great, five stars, and not too shabby!” Or something like that.

That’s when things took a strange turn. I got a follow-up to the survey that said, “We’re always happy to hear that our customer service people do a good job. How would you like to reward the person who helped you? (a) Treat them to a nice dinner (b) Give them a night out at the movies (c) Send them on vacation”.

At first this seemed like a great idea—a concrete way to reward someone for a job well done. But now I was faced with a choice. I hadn’t gotten to know the person I spoke to well enough to know what she might like. A nice dinner, maybe, but does she like to go out? Would she have to get a babysitter? If she ordered delivery would the cost mean she’d be stuck with a burger and fries? A night out at the movies came with similar concerns. Even if she’d rather watch a movie at home it didn’t seem like much of a thank-you. Could she get that and dinner delivered? I finally opted for the vacation, but I still had concerns. Did she have enough time off to take this vacation, whatever it might be? Would she be able to take the baby with her? Was it even her baby?

I spent more time sweating over this than the problem I called about in the first place. I wish they’d sent me a survey asking what I thought of their survey so I could say, “It sucks. Whose idea was this? It was Kevin, wasn’t it?”

Open Doors.

I like to explore. Most of the time this just means wandering around the neighborhood where my work building is located because the businesses are always changing—the cupcake place now serves hot chicken, there’s a new spot that used to be a law firm and now sells bagels, and so on. Sometimes too I like to explore the insides of buildings but because just wandering around can lead to uncomfortable questions I usually only do that if I have some legitimate reason to be in the building. My dentist used to be in a multistory tower and once when I had an appointment and arrived really early I decided to wander around the other floors and see what else the place had to offer. My dentist’s office was on the twelfth floor and I was on the ninth and, with my appointment time getting closer, I decided I’d just take the stairs up. For some reason this was one of those buildings where the stairwell doors are locked from the inside so once you’re in the stairwell the only way out is the first floor. Side note: the building where I work used to have the stairwell doors locked on both sides so you couldn’t take the stairs as all. The doors were supposed to unlock automatically in the event of an emergency which seemed reasonable as long as the emergency didn’t knock out the power.

Anyway since I couldn’t get to my dentist’s office by going up I went down to the first floor where I was met with a sign that said EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY. For me this was an emergency. I really had to get to my appointment even though I wasn’t looking forward to the cleaning. So I pressed the bar on the door and suddenly there was the loud wailing of an alarm. The exit also took me out of the building entirely and into an alley and fortunately once the door closed behind me it muffled the alarm or I would have been looking for an otolaryngologist next.

I went around the building and into the front entrance where a confused looking security guard asked if I’d seen anyone coming out from behind the building. “No,” I said, and this was true—I hadn’t seen myself.

This is just an extremely roundabout way of saying I appreciate that a local dive bar decided to open their emergency door making it easy for people to get out in case of an emergency. And it makes it easy for people to get in although if you look closely you can see that’s where the dart boards are so if you do go in the emergency might be you.

Source: Film Experience Blog

Parking Far Out.

Even in lousy weather I like to park in the far reaches of a parking lot, especially if I’m going to a big store with a big parking lot. For one thing I need the exercise and I always enjoy a good walk, and unless it’s absolutely pouring the rain isn’t going to hurt me. Even if it is absolutely pouring the rain still isn’t going to hurt me—it’s only going to hurt if it’s really large hail, and if it’s doing that I’m hopefully not out driving around anyway. I also like to park far away from other cars because we have a blue Honda CRV and there are a lot of those on the road. It’s reassuring, really, that they’re so popular. Our neighbors saw ours and liked it so much they got one too. Theirs is a slightly different shade of blue but still in crowded parking lots there have been so many times when I’ve walked up to a blue Honda and taken out my key, only to look in and say, “I don’t remember having Kermit the Frog in the passenger seat.” Granted that hasn’t happened that often but it has happened enough times that I’ve wondered what confluence of events causes the person whose copilot is Kermit to show up at some of the same places as me.

Anyway the third reason I like parking far away from other cars is that even though the Honda is a pretty good size there are a lot of cars, and a lot of trucks, that are much bigger, and parking spaces aren’t always big enough for them to open their doors without hitting my car. Or they have a small car but still didn’t park far enough over and bashed my car while they were getting out. Or back in. Or both. It hasn’t happened often but the Honda has a few scratches and dents in the side that remain a mystery because I’ve come back to find the spaces on either side empty, although once there were some pretty dramatic skid marks on the asphalt that I’m sure weren’t there when I went in. Parking far away from other cars just minimizes the risk of damage.

When I saw that white car in the parking lot my first thought was, well, there’s someone who had the same idea. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for them. Looking at it more closely now I see there’s a lot more going on. Something terrible happened to that front tire and it caused a lot of collateral damage. I’m glad they were able to get it parked before anything worse happened, and that they were able to park far enough from other cars that the tow truck could get to them easily.

Sky Lights.

I missed the recent auroras that lit up the sky even down here in Tennessee. My wife and I drove up to a hill where on a couple of occasions we’ve gone to watch the International Space Station zip across the sky at twenty-eight thousand kilometers an hour, just a tiny dot crossing from one horizon to the other, but the combination of light pollution and a high horizon and maybe even just bad timing meant we didn’t see the auroras. And it wasn’t until later that a friend had invited us to come see the auroras at her farm, well away from the city, with a very dark sky, though she’s also surrounded by trees so I don’t know if the visibility was any better there.

And maybe one of these days I’ll have another chance to see the auroras. Maybe I’ll get a chance to travel north—of course I’m happy to travel anywhere. One of the jokes my friends say about me is if someone offered me a chance to fly to Paramaribo right now the plane would be halfway over the Gulf Of Mexico before I’d think to ask, “So, wait, why is it we’re going? And did I pack my toothbrush?” Paramaribo gets picked because it seems like a random place—it could just as easily be Poughkeepsie—but also Suriname doesn’t seem to even make the top ten on most people’s desired travel destinations, even though it sounds like a really cool place with an amazing history, but that’s another story.

I missed the auroras this time but they will also come again. Even if I didn’t see them they reminded me that the Earth keeps spinning around the Sun, that our little planet isn’t a closed sphere but it’s part of, and affected by, the universe we occupy. We live small, brief lives on a world that’s constantly in motion, constantly changing. I couldn’t see the auroras but up in the sky there was a slender crescent moon, like a chalice without a handle cupping a few stars, and I was reminded of the beginning of the Wallace Stevens poem The Auroras Of Autumn:

This is where the serpent lives, the bodiless.
His head is air. Beneath his tip at night
Eyes open and fix on us in every sky.

Or is this another wriggling out of the egg,
Another image at the end of the cave,
Another bodiless for the body’s slough?

This is where the serpent lives. This is his nest,
These fields, these hills, these tinted distances,
And the pines above and along and beside the sea.

This is form gulping after formlessness,
Skin flashing to wished-for disappearances
And the serpent body flashing without the skin.

This is the height emerging and its base
These lights may finally attain a pole
In the midmost midnight and find the serpent there,

In another nest, the master of the maze
Of body and air and forms and images,
Relentlessly in possession of happiness.  

There Will Be Bugs.

Most mornings are quiet when I set out for work, especially this late in the year. The summer solstice is still six weeks away and the days getting longer means the sun is now well up when I leave. There might be a few lingering crickets, a katydid or two, maybe even a tree frog, though I mostly hear those at night when I take the dogs out for one last trip around the yard before bed.

This morning I was hoping for a sound I’ve been looking forward to for thirteen years.

Nashville isn’t one of the lucky areas that’ll get overlapping cicada broods, that miracle that only happens every two-hundred and twenty-one years, but already I can’t walk more than a few feet with finding shells or the little red-eyed beasts themselves. This morning the car’s tires were covered with shells. Tree trunks I understand–they climb up from the roots they’ve been feeding on so a tree seems like a logical place. Why crawl another twenty feet and up a car tire to finally molt? Unless they’ve got a fiendish plot, like something out of a bad ‘70’s horror film, only without any real threat, unless you’re afraid of the bugs even though they can’t bite or sting. Not that bad ’70’s horror films are a threat to anything but good taste. And speaking of taste they–the cicadas, not the films, are even fine to eat, except, possibly, for people with a shellfish allergy. During the last great invasion some of my coworkers blamed me every time they found a cicada in their cubicles. I’m not sure why they blamed me—aside from the fact that I was the one who kept bringing the little winged wonders in.

Mostly they just bumble around and I’ve already had a dozen or so land on me when I’ve been out walking. And I understand. If I’d been asleep for thirteen years I’d be a little groggy and probably bumping into people too.

It’s been a cool May so far, though, and there have been heavy rains, which seems to have muted them. For all the cicadas I’ve seen out and about it’s still eerily quiet. Or at least it was. Right now, in my seventh-floor office, through the window, I can hear them tuning up. I lean back, close my eyes, and say, Children of the noon, what music they make.

Now it’s time to go and bring some in.

The Only Constant Is Change.

Several years ago a friend of mine was visiting Nashville and, unable to find another place to park, we stopped next to a parking meter on a sidewalk. It wasn’t an ideal spot with cars zipping by, but my friend avoided the risk by slipping out the passenger side door and then we stood together and dug into our pockets for change. The parking meter was still the old style, with an oddly shaped head on a metal pole, but instead of the old pointer that showed how much time you had left it had a digital display that was blinking. We pondered how long we thought lunch might take, adding in the fact that where we were planning to go was about six blocks away, and then started shoving quarters into the slot.

We’d put in about thirty-seven quarters, including one I found on the ground, but hadn’t turned the handle yet so the display was still flashing. We were speculating about whether that was enough or if maybe we should also throw in some of the nickels and dimes we had when someone walked by and said, “Hey, don’t you know the parking here is free on Saturdays?”

In retrospect I could have been a smart-ass and said, “If we knew that do you think we’d be putting all this change in the meter?” Instead we both laughed at how ridiculous we looked.

And as I walked away I said I hoped the next person to use that meter appreciated the fact that we’d probably just paid for a day and a half of free parking.

The new parking meters seem much more advanced, as well as much more expensive, but I was surprised they still take change. So far I haven’t seen any cars parked at one of them but just in case I’m carrying around about thirty-seven quarters. I just really like helping out anyone who’s had so much trouble finding a place to park.

Not So Manic Monday.

It’s another Monday. For a moment it felt like my work weeks had become routine until I started thinking about what this time last week was like. It was cloudy with a threat of thunderstorms later in the day, and warm enough that it almost felt like summer. Because of the threat of rain I parked in a lower level of the parking garage and hoped I’d remember which one it was in the afternoon. This week the morning temperature was close to freezing, even as I seemed to be driving right into the sun. I parked on the roof of the parking garage and I hope I’ll remember that this afternoon.

Between last Monday and today I’ve gotten either allergies or a mild cold. I’m allergic to very few things that I know of, none of them plants, but our bodies change over time. Maybe there’s something in the air that’s got me sneezing and coughing. To be on the safe side I took both an allergy medication and a cold remedy and let them sort it out. That worked though I’m no closer to solving the mystery of what I have, and there’s enough overlap between the symptoms the two drugs treat that further testing hasn’t cleared things up even if it’s mostly cleared up my nasal congestion.

Last Monday I rode the elevator up to my office alone, which isn’t unusual. Most people who work here, I think, arrive later, when the building has automatically unlocked, so they don’t have to deal with the extra step of scanning their ID card to get in. This morning, though, when I got in there were five other people already in the elevator, and one of them motioned for me to come on in so I didn’t feel I could wait for the next one. I stepped in and hoped I wasn’t crowding the others with my backpack with my laptop, my folio bag, my lunch, and my ukulele. I said, “I know I’ve got a lot of baggage but I’m seeing a therapist.”

I thought this might at least get a chuckle instead of the uncomfortable shifting and one person murmuring affirmatively, but maybe next week I’ll have a chance to try it on a different group.