Adventures In Busing.

Crash.

I can count the number of car accidents I’ve been in on one hand with fingers left over, even after recently having someone run into me. I’d come to a stop because a car in front of me came to a stop and I have this memory, although it’s a bit fuzzy, of looking in the rearview mirror and thinking, That white car behind me is coming up awfully fast. Then there was a bump, and a second bump, and, after I put the car in park, I got out. The young woman in the white car that had crashed into me got out, and there was a red car behind her that was angled as the guy driving it had tried to swerve but crashed anyway. And we all three yelled at each other, in unison, “Are you all right?”

After confirming that the three of us seemed to be okay we stepped off to the side—luckily this all happened right next to an abandoned parking lot—and started the process of making calls and sharing information. I called the non-emergency number to file a police report and was told the white car that hit me had a crash alert and that police, the fire department, and EMTs, including an off-duty EMT who just happened to be driving by and stopped to make sure we were all okay before the others showed up, were on their way.

And then the sharing really started. We all introduced ourselves, I got the insurance information from the other two drivers, and the young woman who’d been driving the white car told me she’d lived in Nashville her entire life, she was an assistant manager at a coffee shop, and she’d just gotten her father an Alaskan cruise for Christmas. I hope he doesn’t read this or, if he does, that it’s not a surprise.

I didn’t learn as much about the guy who’d been driving the red car, but we all did have a nice chat, standing around in the noonday sun on hot asphalt while cars went by, crackling over the debris of our accidents. The other two cars needed to be towed—I also learned the young woman has a brother who owns a tow truck, so she had that taken car of—but I was able to drive away. So, after we’d all been checked out, given our statements to the police, and exchanged the necessary and unnecessary information, I, feeling a bit awkward, said, “Well, it’s nice to have met both of you. I wish the circumstances had been better.” Then I left.

That is, of course, not the end of the story. There’s still insurance to deal with. I’m the only one who’s not at fault so at least I’ve got that going for me. I also felt really calm, and that worried me. I’ve read about people who walked away from near death experiences thinking they were the bravest person in the world only to have a breakdown a few days, or even a few weeks, later. Is that going to happen to me?

Maybe not. The other accidents I’ve been in have left me a little shaken but with no lingering effects. In eighth grade my father was driving me and some friends to school and had stopped at an intersection when a van that was going well over the speed limit slammed into the back of his car. I was in the front seat with my seatbelt on and I distinctly remember blacking out briefly then thinking someone had hit the car with a rock before my friend John said, “We’ve been hit.” The trunk of my father’s car was completely crushed and I had to get out and wrench the back door open so my friends could get out. Luckily my father had just traded in his Pinto.

This the first time I’ve been in an accident as the driver, and, even though I wasn’t at fault, there’s nothing good about being in an accident. I tense up a little when I’ve stopped at a red light or a stop sign and I see cars coming toward me in the rearview mirror, but going forward I keep my eyes on the road ahead. That’s all I can do. 

 

Refresher.

This last weekend wasn’t at all what I had planned. There’s an old saying about the best laid plans and mice and men, but my plans were really pretty loose. I planned to drop some glass off at the recycling center, which I got done, and I planned to go for a walk around the park. Then I had, well, a major incident that completely threw off my schedule for the rest of the weekend. It wasn’t even one of those Whack-A-Mole weekends, the sort where, every time I think I have enough time to go off by myself, something comes up and I need to deal with it. That’s actually what most of my workdays are like–I think I’ve gotten everything under control, I can take a breath, and suddenly something comes up that has to be addressed right now.

It’s a pretty frustrating feeling, especially on a Saturday morning, to be driving along thinking, hey, the whole weekend is my oyster, and then, out of nowhere, something comes up right behind me and that’s the whole day gone. And so much more to be dealt with.

Then, with Monday here, I decided to go for a walk to Centennial Park, just to get out and clear my head, but there’s so much construction going on, and so many sidewalks closed off. I get that some older buildings need to be refurbished, or completely rebuilt, but by the time I got to the park it was time to turn around and go back.

And then, taking a different way back to avoid most of the construction, I passed by a catering truck, and the message Made fresh every day stuck with me.

Yeah, I feel a little fresher now, even if I do need a shower.

Have Bag, Will Travel.

Source: The Verge

A friend sent me an article about, well, the headline says it all: “Honda’s Motocompacto scooter will satisfy your secret desire to ride an electric suitcase to work” and it made me strangely angry even before I read the article. I should know better. I’m pretty sure I’ve known the slang acronym RTFA–the polite version is “Read The Freakin’ Article”–for as long as there have been comments sections where people offer hot takes without really knowing what they’re talking about. I got angry before I realized it’s not really a suitcase. That is, it has no storage space. It’s just the least cool-looking version of a scooter ever. It’s not road-safe and would be a menace on sidewalks so I’m not sure where you’d ride it. And it doesn’t have any storage space because any added weight would just reduce its already ridiculous maximum range of twelve miles.

The ”electric suitcase” description set me off because I used to carry a lot of stuff to and from work. I still have a messenger bag, although I haven’t used it in years, that I would use for carrying writing materials, books, tablet, and assorted items back and forth. I tried to take everything that I thought I might want on the bus ride home, which is an important point. I could carry all that stuff because someone else was doing the driving. I could read, write, listen to podcasts, even watch videos occasionally if the bus’s wifi were actually working—all things I would not want to do while driving.

And let me go even further about the “electric suitcase” description because there really is such a thing which, in spite of my knee-jerk reaction to the Motocompacto, is a great idea. People with mobility issues need to be able to carry their stuff too. It might not be great for getting to and from work but it does seem like the ideal thing for getting around airports.

What I, personally, really want is a better carry-on. I don’t travel much but when I do I stuff as much as I can into a bag that will fit in an overhead bin. Checking luggage always makes me nervous because I don’t want to worry about my stuff ending up on another plane or maybe being dropped on the tarmac somewhere. Most of the time, if I can’t fit it in my three-foot-by-eighteen inch rolling case it stays at home.

In spite of traveling light anytime I show up somewhere with my carry-on I can’t resist saying, “I know I’ve got a lot of baggage but it’s okay. I’m seeing a therapist.”

Pick Up.

Last week when I was in the office I signed for the UPS packages and it’s the greatest thing that’s happened to me at work in a long time. My first library job was in the mailroom. I signed for packages, sorted mail, opened boxes, shelved books, and, like Westley in The Princess Bride, I learned anything anyone was willing to teach me, although I’m still a long way from being The Dread Pirate Roberts.

My friend Chip who worked for the campus messenger service described the mailroom as “the asshole of the universe”. I thought it was more of a vomitorium: everything passes through the mailroom but a lot of it goes in at least two directions. And it was great because I got to touch all the new books, and even a lot of old books, and magazines and academic journals. I liked talking to the delivery people too. Most of the time we spent less than five minutes together while they unloaded boxes from their cart and I signed their pad. Sometimes if they had a really big delivery and had to make a second trip I’d go down to their truck with them and help them out. I did have some bad interactions, like the FedEx guy who wanted me to sign for a package that was supposed to be delivered somewhere else. He had to get it delivered by a certain time and he thought if I signed for it, and then delivered it for him, that would save his bacon. I knew if I signed for it and anything happened to it I’d be the one in trouble. Besides I didn’t even know where the place was.

I never saw him again. But the really nice delivery people, who always managed to get everything right, I saw almost every day, and those few minutes of chitchat added up. It’s one of the things I miss about the mailroom, about being in the office. I spend a lot of my days talking to other people but it’s through a screen and I don’t feel like I really know anybody. And the mailroom itself, which used to need a full-time person to handle all the incoming stuff, is now empty most of the time. The library still gets mail and packages, but usually someone will take a break from whatever they’re doing to go in for a few minutes, maybe half an hour, and sort and open it.

Anyway the woman who dropped off our UPS packages told me I didn’t really need to sign for them but she said, “It’s nice to see somebody in here for a change.”

Maybe I’ll see her again.

The Kids Are All Right.

I was stopped at a red light with a monster SUV next to me. I looked over and could see a couple of kids in the back seat, with the windows down, looking down at me. They were high up because of the size of the SUV and also, I hope, because they were in car seats. So I smiled and waved. The little girl, who I think might have been seven or eight, smiled back. Then she rolled up the tinted window and disappeared. I laughed and went back to waiting for the light to change.

Then, because this light was taking forever, I looked back over at the monster SUV. The little girl had rolled the window back down and was smiling at me. I laughed again. She rolled the window back up.

The light really was taking a ridiculously long time to change. I looked back at the SUV. She’d rolled the window back down and was waving at me. I laughed and waved back. She started pumping her fist. Could she hear that I had Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” playing on the radio even with my windows up? Surely not, but I started to roll my window down. Maybe she was listening to something she wanted me to hear. Then she rolled her window up, black tinting again completely obscuring her, then rolled it down again, stuck her tongue out at me, and waved. Then the light changed. Whoever was driving turned left and I went straight and just like that we parted ways.

It felt like such a long time but really it was probably less than two minutes, the light taking so long to change because we were stopped at a side road that cuts across a major thoroughfare.

As we went our separate ways I wished I could give her some parting message, something to say, Hey, you’re obviously a great kid, funny and smart, and I wish you the best of luck. It looks like you’ve got a great life ahead of you and I hope nothing changes that, but, no matter what, never lose your sense of fun.

That would be a lot to pack into even two minutes, even harder for a stranger to convey even under circumstances that would make it possible to have a real conversation. Maybe it’s enough that we just had that brief interaction, that, for both of us, waiting at a red light was a little more interesting than usual.

Farewell To Farewells.

There was a party in the office on Friday and I missed it. I’m still coming into the office only once a week, on Mondays, and most office parties are held on Fridays even though that’s still a day when most people are working from home. It makes the parties small so there doesn’t seem to be much point in just to have coffee and bagels, or maybe cake and the obligatory fruit so we can pretend we’re having something healthy, with five or six other people.

It feels like a stupid thing to complain about but I miss in-person gatherings. I know some people are happier not having them and I don’t want them to feel pressured to come back—we’ve all worked out that different people have different ways of working—but I feel disconnected not seeing others and at times it just wears me down. The Friday party really emphasized this because it was a farewell party for a coworker who was leaving. She was somebody who started in 2019, but in a different department, then transferred to my department in 2021, and is now going on to a new job somewhere else. And because of the way things have been we’ve never met in person. We’ve had a handful of emails back and forth but I wouldn’t recognize her if I passed her in the hall. And maybe I did pass her in the hall. I’ve lost count of the people I see when I come in on Mondays whom I don’t recognize. If there weren’t locks on the office doors I wouldn’t even be sure they were supposed to be here.

I know there’s some debate over the usefulness of “water cooler moments” and, honestly, I can’t think of a single work-related anything that’s come out of a chance meeting in the breakroom. Most of the time the breakroom has been a place where I’ve talked to people I work with about anything other than work, which has always made my day a little better and has made it easier to go back to my desk and get stuff done, especially when I had to send an email to the person I’d been talking to an hour or so earlier. It took some of the stiff formality out of our interaction. Now I might start an email to someone because I’ve got one of those odd issues they’ve helped me with in the past only to find they’re not here anymore.

Also I don’t know if the bagels and cream cheese in the fridge are leftover from the party or if they belong to someone.

Stay Awake.

My wife helped manage a dog show this weekend and I went along to help. Because we set out early all three days I was never fully awake until we got on the road, although she was doing the driving and fortunately was way ahead of me. We also frequently keep each other awake when driving, especially on long trips. Anyway not being fully awake I forgot, all three mornings, to take a stack of audio books I wanted to donate to the Live To Run Again program.

This is a program that dog show people started after one of them, driving late and by herself, fell asleep at the wheel and was killed. It was a terrible thing but Live To Run Again has a simple solution: a table with free audio books at every dog show. Anyone who wants an audio book, or several, to help them stay awake while driving can take them then return them later.

The downside is most of the audio books are CDs, and I overheard a couple of women talking about the program. “I’d love to listen to one of these while I’m driving home,” one of them said, “but my car doesn’t have a CD player!”

There are a lot of audiobook websites, plus podcasts, and, heck, even listening to the radio can help some people stay awake, so the lack of CD players isn’t necessarily a problem. This is just a reminder that the message of the Live To Run program isn’t limited to dog show people, or even people with dogs. If you can avoid it don’t drive while drowsy, and do whatever you can to keep yourself awake on the road.

One of the things that snapped me into alertness was saying, Oh, hey, I left those audiobooks on the kitchen counter again.

Two Cars, One Trip.

Source: Homestarrunner wiki

My neighbor is an interesting guy. Not long after he moved in we were walking up our respective driveways to get the mail and I noticed he was wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt. I commented on it and we started talking and, well, about half an hour later we remembered we were supposed to get the mail. We’ve watched several movies and TV shows together, and he’s also got an amazing book collection. He’s a serious bibliophile and he’s even worked as a bookseller, buyer, and appraiser. One day I was in a local used bookstore and he called me. When I told him where I was he said, “Oh, don’t tell the owner you know me. That guy hates my guts!” I’m sure there’s a story there and I keep meaning to ask him about it.

When I rode the bus regularly he’d sometimes drive by me as I was walking home and give me a ride. He’d always have something interesting on the radio–he’s a big Beatles fan, but, hey, nobody’s perfect–and we’d end up talking about music. Then, about half an hour later, we’d remember we both needed to go home.

The other day I had to run to the store and he was headed to his car at the same time I was going to mine. About half an hour later we both remembered we had places to be. I hadn’t even thought to ask him where he was going but when I got to the store he was already there, standing in the bakery section. So I walked over and said, “Hey, if I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake.”

“Got one already,” he said.

Then we passed each other again in the ice cream aisle. I lost track of him after that but, as I was pulling into my driveway, I saw him getting out of his car. When I got out I said, “Are you telling me we both could have carpooled and made one trip?”

“We could have had a Magical Mystery Tour,” he said, and we started talking about that and half an hour later we remembered we both had ice cream in the backs of our cars.

The Open Road.

When I heard a report on the radio about growing diversity in the trucking industry, especially a lot more LGBTQ people driving trucks, I was surprised. I thought the trucking industry already was pretty diverse. My first job out of college was at a call center that served truck drivers and most of the guys I worked with there were gay.

I can’t say why exactly but I have a guess. It was 1993 and it was a very different time. For one thing there was no LinkedIn or other job sites because there was no internet as we know it. It was also ten years before the Supreme Court would strike down Texas’s sodomy law. Homosexuality was, technically, still a crime in Tennessee. Pride marches happened in Nashville but they were small single day events, outnumbered by anti-gay protesters. AIDS was still a major crisis. The number of out gay men was small enough that a lot of them knew each other—the places where they could be out and meet each other was limited. If a business hired one of them word would get around. But let me be clear: the number of LGBTQ people in Nashville, or anywhere else, probably hasn’t changed in the last thirty years. What’s changed is more are willing to be out.

It was also a small company and always hiring. I was offered a job there without an interview—the person who hired me spent about fifteen minutes showing me around and telling me what they did then said, “So, do you think you’d like to work here?” I started the next day.

I got to know the guys I worked with pretty quickly. We all sat next to each other waiting for our phones to ring. Sometimes it was busy but there could also be long stretches when we had nothing to do but talk. I’d bring a book but we weren’t allowed to read. None of the guys came out to me, really, but one Friday the guy next to me, Steve, told me he was going to a bar called The Jungle after work. 

“Oh,” I laughed, “I’ve heard of that place. Well, I hope you have fun.”

I think from that word got around that I wasn’t gay but I was cool, because other guys started telling me about their weekend plans, even their boyfriends. One Saturday night my wife and I went to see the play Nunsense. We sat a few seats away from Steve and his partner and talked to them during intermission.

I never got to know any of the truck drivers, although I did talk to some of them multiple times. The same was true of dispatchers and even some spouses—one of the things we handled was paychecks. Aside from learning that two different drivers with different companies were also anthropology professors I don’t know how diverse they were. 

I only worked there for three months. Two weeks before I left, after I’d already handed in my resignation, a new guy, Michael, was hired. He was close to my age and the boss said to me, “Make him your replacement.”

We spent every day doing intensive training and we also went to lunch and got to know each other. It took a while because he was really shy and didn’t talk much to anyone. The first time he took a call I had to jump in and take over. He froze and couldn’t say a word.

A few days before I left we were having lunch alone together and he said, “Do you think it’s a problem that I’m gay?”

I wasn’t really expecting that—I hadn’t even thought he might be since he hadn’t said anything before to even suggest it, but, after I swallowed a bite of leftover pizza, I said, “I’m pretty sure you’ll be fine.”

The company folded about six months after I left. I didn’t stay in touch with anyone I’d worked with which I regret but a lot of things in my life were changing at the time. And, eventually, for guys like Michael, I think things would get better.

Catch It If You Can.

A couple of weeks ago a story about a woman whose dog Daisy has found a hundred and fifty-five frisbee golf discs in the park where they walk regularly got my attention. First of all I know frisbee golf discs are, well, they’re not expensive, but a basic set will set you back about twenty bucks, so I wondered who was throwing away all these frisbees. And that wasn’t nearly as weird as the time I found a lone bocce ball in the park. Again, not too expensive–although a cheap bocce ball set can cost about twice as much as a frisbee golf set–but I couldn’t figure out why someone would just leave it.

It also reminded me that I have a couple of frisbees in my office. They were ones that I’d found so they were free. In both cases I found them walking in to work. They were sitting on a wall next to a building and when I first passed by I just left them. After a couple of days, though, when they hadn’t been moved, I thought, hey, why not take ’em? I was going to take them home to the dogs but they’ve got their own frisbees and I also thought maybe I could get some of my coworkers to join me in taking a break to go outside and throw a frisbee.

I tried posting messages to a social media site we all used but no one noticed, or if they did no one said anything. Then I put the frisbees up on the wall of my cubicle, hoping someone, anyone, would see them and suggest we put them to good use. Or that people would just take them, which may have been why their original owner left them out.

Lately, though, we’ve had to clean out the entire office. It’s not just my cubicle. The decision was made that all personal items in the office have to go.

It’s made the office a depressing place. I’m not sure what the reasoning was. Maybe it’s because so many people are only coming in on a part-time basis so empty cubicles are supposed to be free and open to everyone, but we have more empty cubicles than people. If someone wants to brighten up the cubicle they use on a regular basis with a few personal items what’s the harm? And personal items are great for starting conversations, or just making the office feel like a welcoming place. We’re people, not machines.

So I’ve put the frisbees in a file cabinet. They’re out of sight so they won’t violate any policy of personal items on display but I think it’s a good idea to keep them handy.