Adventures In Busing.

Bad Timing.

Back when I rode the bus regularly there would be at least a couple of times each week when I’d stay at work slightly longer than I should have. This was my own fault; my boss would sometimes stop by and say, “I’ve got one thing for you to do but it can wait ‘til tomorrow if you have to go,” and I’d say, “I can do it now!” This was partly because I knew that if I waited I’d forget what it was in the morning, and in most cases it would take me at least as long to write a detailed note to myself as it would to just go ahead and do it, but also because I have really lousy time-management skills. And the whole time in the back of my head there’d be a voice saying, “You can either hurry up and leave and wait for the bus or you can wait and have to hurry,” although most of the time it didn’t matter because Nashville buses are always at least fifteen minutes behind schedule. That is, even if I stayed at work an extra five or ten minutes I’d still get to the bus stop in time to stand around and watch traffic go by.

Most days my lousy time management skills aren’t a problem because working from home has cut down my commute to a few feet but Mondays are my day to be in the office. By now I should have gotten used to that, and I did get up early this morning. Maybe I got up too early. I finished taking the dogs out and feeding them, then took a shower and got dressed, the whole time thinking I was running late.

In retrospect it was that thinking that was my undoing. With everything done I went into the kitchen to get my keys, ready to go, but when I checked the time I was about fifteen minutes ahead of my usual schedule. Fifteen minutes to relax, let the sun come up, maybe even have  a bite of breakfast. By the time I’d done all that I was, well, a couple of minutes behind. But I thought I could make that up on the way. Then I was out the door and in the driveway before I realized I’d forgotten something so I had to go back.

Once I got on the road at least I managed to make good time, and it looked like my habitual procrastination wasn’t going to be a problem. At one point it even looked like I’d get to work early.

Then I got stuck behind a bus.

I was fifteen minutes late.

Radio In-active.

There was a crash on I-40 last Monday, and it wasn’t just any crash. A semi-truck carrying radioactive waste caught fire and somehow the description of it as “low grade” just made it sound even scarier to me. My wife said, “It was just alpha radiation so that’s not so bad.” Sure, tell that to Marie Curie or the women who painted the luminous numbers on clocks. At least, as far as I’ve been able to find out, none of the radioactive material spilled out so that’s good. And for me the other bright side is I didn’t know what was going on. All I knew was that, because I was driving home from the office that afternoon, no one was going anywhere. I’ve never seen anything like it. Every street was backed up with cars creeping along at only a few inches at a time. And when I say every street I mean every single street. I’m familiar with all sorts of side streets—I take ‘em all the time, sometimes because there’s heavy traffic on the main street, sometimes just because I’m not in any great hurry and just out of curiosity I’ll turn down a side street I’ve often passed but never been down before. I like to take scenic routes, and side streets, by their very nature, eventually lead to main streets. I don’t always know where I am but I know where I’m going and so far have always managed to get there.

This was not a day I wanted to take the scenic route, though. I wanted to get home and all I knew was that apparently every single car in the world between 1995 and 2023 was on the streets of Nashville and no one was going anywhere. And my knowledge of side streets didn’t help me because, as I passed them, I could see every side street was just as jammed as the main road I was on—filled with people who’d probably taken a side street a few miles back and were now trying to get back on a main street.

I could have walked home faster, and was tempted to, except for most of the trip there was no place to pull over and park, and even if I did I’d still have to walk back and get the car eventually. So I stuck it out. I turned on the radio but there was no news about what was causing the traffic backup. I did find one station playing Queen’s “Radio Ga-Ga” which seemed amusingly appropriate. Most of the time, though, I sat in silence, focused on the traffic, watching the needle on the gas tank steadily creep downward with the yellow warning light on. It reminded me of how my father used to make me crazy driving around for seemingly days, even weeks, with the yellow “Low fuel” warning light behind the steering wheel blinking, then glowing. I watched the monitor go from “51 miles to empty” to “48 miles to empty” and I’d only moved three inches.

I had a lot of time to think. It took me more than three hours to go less than ten miles.

Bird Brain.

Source: Wikipedia

There was a package on the porch so I stopped at the gate in our driveway and left the car door open while I ran and got the package then opened the gate and got back in the car. The whole operation took less than two minutes—maybe even less than a minute. I didn’t time myself since I wasn’t in any great hurry. I only ran to get the package because, well, I don’t really know why except habit. Also I didn’t want to leave the car idling any longer than necessary even though it was in park and not going anywhere. Back in the car I glanced in the rearview mirror. I also did this out of habit but it’s a lucky thing I did because that’s when I realized I was not alone in the car.

There was a Carolina wren perched on the backseat.

I like birds. I really do. But I only like them from a distance. Birds, any birds, up close make me nervous. I will happily admire your pet parakeet, parrot, or Cooper’s hawk as long as it stays in its cage. Don’t invite it to come out and perch on my shoulder or hand or I will freak out. I realize “birds” is a very broad category but the one thing they all have in common is they all have beaks and their beaks are very sharp and that makes me nervous. I was pretty young when I saw Hitchcock’s The Birds and it made a big impression on me, as did Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes*, but that’s another story.

I should also say that Carolina wrens are one of my favorite birds. They’re tiny little birds and I see them at my feeder all the time. They have long, pointy little beaks and because they’re too small to eat the safflower seed I put out they dig through it, flipping seeds everywhere, looking for little bugs and other tasty bits. I love watching them because we’ve got a solid pane of glass between us. But up close, with no protection, I was terrified that little wren in the backseat was going to stab me in the neck with its pointy beak and not only would I bleed to death but I’m driving a rental car and there’d be a major cleanup fee. It’s all I could do to not floor it while driving the approximately twenty feet from the gate to the back of the house where I park the car. But I managed to make it safely, then jumped out. The wren stayed where it was. Maybe it was slightly confused about who I was and why the car was moving. This might be one of those cases where people familiar with animals will say, “It was probably more afraid of you than you were of it” and I can honestly say NO IT WAS NOT. Once out of the car I immediately opened all the doors and ran away to go close the gate and let the wren decide if it wanted to leave or if I was going to have some documents drawn up so it could take over the ownership which someone else would have to get it to sign because there was no way I was getting near it again. After the gate was closed I carefully checked the car. The wren was gone. I could relax.

But checking the car for birds every time I get in is now added to my list of things I do only out of habit.

*Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes opens with the following message:  “In 1963, Alfred Hitchcock made a motion picture entitled The Birds, a film which depicted a savage attack upon human beings by flocks of the winged creatures. People laughed.  In the fall of 1975, 7 million black birds invaded the town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, resisting the best efforts of mankind to dislodge them.  NO ONE IS LAUGHING NOW.”

Not Retiring.

Most of the time I don’t think about retirement because it’s still several years away for me, and hopefully I’ll have plenty of time to think about it when I get to it—more time than I have now, anyway. A few years ago a retired guy wanted me to work on a project with him which I agreed to do but when I didn’t have at least a couple of hours a day every day to spend on it he told me I wasn’t managing my time well. I replied that, unlike him, I already had forty hours a week committed to work and he said he didn’t have time to listen to excuses. So that was the end of that.

This weekend, though, I ran into a friend from work who retired in 2019—she really timed it perfectly. We’ve seen each other a few times since then, but not as much as we saw each other when she was still working. She was in a different building and I’d see her at least once every couple of weeks, usually because I was cutting through her building on my way to somewhere else. I asked her what she’d been doing and she started listing off volunteer projects, doing a little consulting, she’d formerly done some teaching and she had a couple of students who were visiting Nashville so she’d been cleaning her house and scraping ice off the sidewalk because they were going to come and see her–you can tell she’s not shy and not retiring–and after that she was planning to start getting her garden beds ready for the spring planting.

“So what have you been up to?” she asked.

Slightly slack-jawed I said, “Well, I got out of bed this morning and made some perfect oatmeal in the microwave, so, yeah, I’ve got that going for me.”

It wasn’t that bad, but it was still funny to me that it sounded like a full day of her retired life was more involved than some of my days working, which is great and made me think about how when I do finally get to retirement I hope I’ll find as many ways to fill up my time. Speaking of time and retirement, though, also reminded me of a joke by the late, great Dave Allen:

You wake to the clock, you go to work to the clock, you clock-in to the clock, you clock out to the clock, you come home to the clock, you eat to the clock, you drink to the clock, you go to bed to the clock, you get up to the clock, you go back to work to the clock.You do that for forty years of your life and you retire — what do they fucking give you? A clock!

Not So Speedy Delivery.

The street in front of our house has been like glass for the past several days, with the few cars that have chanced it going very, very slowly. We also had a tree fall in our front yard before it snowed, right in front of the porch, and I feel sorry for any delivery people. My wife got a package delivered and I could see the footprints of the delivery person who’d walked a straight line across the yard then had to make a detour around the fallen tree. That’s some real dedication when they could have stuffed it in the mailbox.

My neighbor also makes me feel guilty about delivery people—not just now but all the time. He’s retired and I guess he watches the updates so he knows exactly when they’re coming, and when they arrive he runs out to take the package then asks, “Hey, would you like a bottled water? Coke, Pepsi, regular, diet, Dr. Pepper, Sprite, 7UP, ginger ale, ginger beer, ginger snap, orange soda, grape soda, cherry soda, Cherry Coke, Crystal Pepsi, Fanta, Tab, Mountain Dew, root beer, lemonade, seltzer, iced tea, coffee, chocolate milk, Moxie, cream soda, juice, a banana, an apple, a kiwi, a bag of trail mix, a slice of cheesecake?”

Sometimes I think delivery people avoid our street because he’ll hold them up for half an hour.

Anyway I’ve had a package out for delivery for six years. Or six days. At this point it’s hard to tell, but every day I’ve gotten this notification that “Your package is out for delivery” and should arrive by 10PM. I’ve watched the blue line creep toward the “Delivered” dot, thinking, hey, they just might make it today. And every day at around nine o’clock at night I get a notification that it’s delayed and they’ll deliver it as soon as possible. It occurred to me yesterday that I could cancel the order and re-order it again when the streets are clear, but that seems like a cruel prank on the delivery driver who’s made the Sisyphean effort every day. What I really want is a delivery option that says, “Hey, I appreciate the effort, but this isn’t urgent—just wait until you can deliver it safely.”

Since that’s not available I have been watching how close the delivery person gets so maybe I can thank them personally, give them a bottle of water, and let them get away before my neighbor sees them.

Snow Excuse.

Even though I work from home there’s something special about snow days. It’s especially true here where we only get a really heavy snowfall every five or years—enough time for me to forget what half a foot or more of snow is really like, how it feels to step into the unbroken whiteness and sink into it almost up to my knee. It’s so cold right now the snow is light and powdery, and yet when it closes in around my leg I can feel the weight of it. That’s only one of the strange things about snow. It also reflects light so even the darkness is bright. I woke up last nigh and thought it must be morning from the light pressing through the blinds. Then I looked at the clock. Three a.m. I went to an open window and looked out. The cloudy sky meant there was no moon, and yet I could see the whole backyard clearly. Only the solar-powered bird feeder was dark, its photon collecting chip covered since Sunday. Snow also muffles some sound and heightens others. This morning, the real morning, after sunrise, when I went out I stood and listened. There was no wind, no brushing of trees, but I could hear a woodpecker clearly, tapping away at a limb. A rusty female cardinal just below it gave an annoyed chirp.

In spite of the glare—the clouds are gone now and the sun is out, though it’s still bitterly cold—the cover of snow made me want to go back to bed and sleep, to hibernate until things warm up a bit. I can’t go anywhere, at least not anywhere I could drive. I do like to get out and walk in the snow but only for so long. And  thought, well, work will really be a relief—a break from the long break, a structured routine to take the place of my unstructured routine. Maybe I’d open up a picture of a nice beach somewhere to contrast with the expanse of snow before I got to work.

Then my boss texted me to say work is cancelled for the day. I guess enough people have gone back to working in the office, or aren’t able to get their home computers going. Maybe too many electrons are stuck in the snow. I’ll take the break. Maybe I’ll go for a walk.

In With The Old.

Somehow the drive in to work this morning didn’t feel any different even though it was over two weeks ago that I made the trip. Part of that, I realize, is that most of my commute to work is along familiar streets, streets that I travel down regularly even when I’m not going to work. So this morning, even though it was the coldest it’s been all winter, there were the same people taking their dogs for a walk through the neighborhood. Once I turned onto the main road there was about the same amount of traffic that it seems to get at any time of day, or night. Maybe there’s some time when the number of cars drops off but it’s a time when I’m not out driving. There were the usual businesses: the fast food places that were doing a steady business, the more upscale restaurants that probably weren’t open but still had their signs lit, and various other businesses that, well, I don’t know what they do so any time I pass them I can’t tell whether they’re open or closed. There’s that one spot where a group of construction workers is always crossing the street on their way to the job site, and I realize there’s a long stretch between traffic lights but even in their orange vests I wish they could find a better, safer place to cross five lanes of traffic. There are the other construction sites where they’ve closed off the sidewalks and have blocked off at least one lane which makes me wonder why I always choose to go the same way when a slightly longer route would probably take the same amount of time, but the force of habit is a powerful thing, especially early in the morning when, even after showering, getting dressed, and having coffee, not to mention being subjected to an arctic blast, my brain still isn’t fully functioning.

That would explain why, even though I should have known better, I still turned the corner and found the same delivery truck parked and taking up the entire left lane next to the mini-mart across the street from my office building, forcing me to take the center lane until I cross the intersection and have only a few feet to get back into the left lane.

As usual I parked on the roof of the parking garage—the sole car up there, but I’ll have a warm car to return to in the afternoon.

The ride down in the parking garage elevator was the same, the walk through the lobby of my building was the same, and the ride up in the office building elevator was the same. There was the same coworker in her cubicle by the door—I hope she just happens to always arrive before me and isn’t here twenty-four hours a day—and she gave me the same friendly wave.

I can’t explain why I expected things to be different. It’s a new year, I feel like I’ve been away much longer than just two weeks, and somehow I feel like a different person.

When I left I had successfully almost cleaned out my email inbox. I think I had ten messages that I planned to get to when I got back. This morning I had thirty-seven thousand new messages. Well, that is something new, even if most of it was the same old junk.

It’s Terrible. I Love It!

As part of the ongoing, and slow-moving, saga of being rear-ended, I’ve now finally delivered our Honda CRV to the car repair place and I’m waiting for it to be fixed. In the meantime the insurance company has provided me with a rental car, and while the insurance company has been terrible at getting anything done the car rental place was great. They were fast, friendly, and while I said all I really needed was something small and basic that would get me from one place to another they said they’d signed out all their small and basic models so they were giving me a free upgrade: a Ford EcoSport. And after a couple of weeks of driving this thing around, getting used to how it handles, I’m pleased to say I hate it.

Every time I get in it I’m reminded that Ford is the same company that gave us the Edsel, a gas-guzzling monstrosity that was so terrible it almost sank the company that first gave the world mass-produced automobiles. The one good thing about the Edsel is they asked the Pulitzer-prize winning poet Marianne Moore for name suggestions. One of many terrible things about the Edsel is they rejected every one of her suggestions which included the Thunder Crester, the Mongoose Civique, Pastelogram, and, most famously, in her last letter she wrote, “May I submit UTOPIAN TURTLETOP?”

That was her last suggestion and I think, in addition to being very funny and more than a little eccentric, she knew a lemon when she saw one—and she was only working from sketches.

Some of my favorite aspects of the EcoSport include:

The engine shuts off every time it comes to a stop. I think this is meant to be ecologically friendly. I have no idea how. At least it starts up pretty quickly once I take my foot off the brake but I’m sure drivers around me are wondering why I’m restarting the car.

It’s really hard to adjust or move the seats. There are at least three different levers on the passenger-side seat and none of them move the seat forward or backward. Also there is absolutely zero legroom for anyone sitting in the back seats. I’m a short person. When I have friends in the backseat of the Honda they’ll say, “Hey, I’ve got plenty of legroom, you can move the seat back.” And I say, “Not if I want to reach the pedals.” Once I’ve adjusted the driver’s seat in the EcoSport, which is comparable in size to the Honda CRV, there’s about two inches between the backseat and the back of the driver’s seat.

The key is basically a screwdriver. It folds down into the fob and you can press a button to make it pop out again. Like a switchblade. The ignition in the Honda CRV has a nice ring light so you can find it in the dark. I have to turn on the overhead lights in the EcoSport to find the ignition.

The rear windshield wiper comes on at random. I assume there’s a switch but the right-hand stalk that controls the windshield wipers is covered with buttons. Presumably one of these turns off the read windshield wiper. I have yet to figure out which one it it.

The headlights detect dark and come on automatically. And go off automatically about a minute after the car is turned off. Which is nice because the headlight button is weirdly placed.

The back storage space in the back is ridiculously small, which is surprising given how little space the backseats take up. The designers must be very special magicians: they make what appears to be a mid-sized vehicle on the outside a Mini Cooper on the inside. Also the switch to open the rear hatch is so cleverly hidden it’s impossible to find if you don’t know where it is. I was just about to recite “Speak friend and enter” in Elvish when I decided instead to look it up online and as soon as I typed in “Ford EcoSport” Google autofilled “how do I open the back?”

Finally, based on the dull gray color but, more importantly, just how it moves, I’m tempted to write to Ford and say, “May I suggest you rename the EcoSport ‘The Slug’?” I wouldn’t be surprised if it even runs on lettuce.

The people at the rental place really were nice and said, “If you have any trouble with this car at all please feel free to return it in exchange for something else.” I think that was their way of subtly admitting they were giving me the worst vehicle on the lot. But I’m keeping it. For one thing I love an adventure and every time I drive this car it’s an adventure in discovering something new and terrible about it. For another they said I have to return it with a full gas tank and I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

The Hours.

The Winter Solstice is just a few days away now. Soon the days will start getting longer, although it’ll be imperceptible at first, just like the loss of light that starts in June as gravity spins us around the sun at a 23 degree angle. As a kid I had a window that faced west and I remember watching the sunset move from a low range of hills miles away to a closer stand of trees and I understood that grownups were, if not dishonest, at least oversimplifying a lot when they told me the sun always set in the west. West is a very specific direction, as I knew from my pocket compass, and just as the time of sunset each day changed slightly so too did the position of the sun.

Time is very much on my mind right now because the year is rushing to its end and soon I’ll be able to take a break from work. For some reason I didn’t think about this until I was driving in this morning, the sun only just starting to come up, invisible from the road but lightening the sky, but I need to fill in my timesheet for the holidays. I’m an hourly employee, putting in the standard forty hour week, usually working longer days from Monday to Thursday so I can clock out early on Friday with a full-throated Fred Flintstone “Yabba dabba doo!”

Time off always throws a little confusion into things because, since I’ve been working from home, it’s really easy to lose track of days—not that I’ve ever made the mistake of signing into work while on vacation. I’ve just had to stop and remind myself occasionally when I need to go back, and the time seems to slip away so quickly. The timesheet system we use requires me to make up times when I’m not working. I can’t just say “Monday, Time off-8 hours” but I have to put in actual times. Usually I go for an aspirational 8am to 4pm, although just for fun I can stick in an hour for lunch from noon to one and say I didn’t work until five. Or I could say I didn’t work from 4am until noon. The exact times don’t really matter but I have to record that I didn’t work eight hours a day, totaling forty hours each week, including the holidays when everyone is out but which still have to be tabulated anyway.

I’m pretty sure the system was designed by a grownup who still thinks the sun always sets in the west.

Oh Christmas Tree.

On my way home I passed at least three cars with real Christmas trees tied to their roofs. There are always at least a couple of places around town that sell real trees and I always wonder about the people who have to sit in the tents on those lots all night to keep an eye on the trees, especially in cold weather, and sometimes I’ve thought it would be fun to go and buy a Christmas tree at two in the morning. At the very least it would give the people who watch over the trees at night something to do and a fun story to share when the morning shift showed up.

I’ve never had a live tree, though, with one exception. My parents had a fake tree that I think they bought before I was born, and every year in mid-December it would come out of the attic, still in its very sturdy box, and half the fun was sorting the branches and inserting them into the central wooden pole, seeing the “tree” take shape, before we even started putting the ornaments on. My wife and I also had a fake tree but since it’s just the two of us, and the dogs really only care about the presents, we eventually donated it.

I like real trees, though, since every year after Christmas there are drop-off places at local parks where I’ll see piles of dried, browning trees. It’s not a sad thing because the trees are mulched and used to line the paths at Radnor Lake. Nature returns to nature.

That one exception was when I was a kid and after school would go walking through a vacant lot near my house. The lot was rocky and had a few sparse weeds and also stunted cedar trees that pushed their way up. They might not have been as picturesque or fragrant as fir or spruce trees but, one year, when I think I was in third grade, I decided I’d have a Christmas tree of my very own in my room. I couldn’t find an axe in the basement, and even at the base none of the cedar trees were more than two inches thick and so springy an axe would only knock them sideways, but I did find a bandsaw. That seemed like it would be effective and I assumed it would cut through a trunk easily.

An hour later, hot, sweaty, and sore, I had finally cut down a two-foot tall sapling. Cedar wood is soft but getting to the lowest point among the rocks was harder than I expected, and the outer bark didn’t cut easily. Still I managed it, and stuck it upright in a can of rocks, added some water, and put it in a corner of my room with a bright red towel draped around the base. To add to the effect I cut some ornaments out of aluminum foil and swiped a few of those shiny metallic balls, which my mother thought were tacky anyway, and hung those from it. They were too big for the tree but it didn’t matter.

There were also the bagworms. I’ve always wondered if they were disconcerted by the sudden change in temperature. They didn’t seem to notice, though, and were still there after Christmas when I took the tree back to the lot, nature returning to nature.