So Left o' the Dialian DT has a lil' brother who helped found the following project.
We have twice as many vehicles as the Obamas but fewer houses. We also have exactly the same number of planes.
I personally have precisely the same number of vehicles as John McCain, but Top Management has only 8.33% as many as Cindy McCain.
I've never actually seen her speak before.
You know how when you drive on unfamiliar roads during rush hour it’s really stressful because everyone else drives to work on them 250 times a year and they know ‘em like the backs of their hands and you’re trying to figure out where to go and which lane you want and you’re trying to get over but wait maybe that’s not where you want to be after all and does the road split a quarter mile up or do I have to merge here? And it sucks because there’s that one guy who’s all exasperated with you and rather than being nice he’s all in a hurry and just makes the whole thang that much worse?
Yeah. Today I was That Guy.
I hate being That Guy.
Seriously. I got palpitations just thinking about trying this.
But, man, it looks cool.
Now I wanna see someone try to land.
How folks handle the weather in Alaska versus other areas of the good ol' US of A:
60 above zero:
Floridians turn on the heat. People in Alaska plant gardens.
50 above zero:
Californians shiver uncontrollably. People in Anchorage sunbathe.
Ah, adversity. Keep thee ever away from me.
My favorite is what residents of the Sunshine State do when the temperature hits zero. But you’ll have to click through to find out.
I've always had a tendency to grade on a curve. So, fair or not—and I tend to think it’s actually more fair—if I see, say, a car with one of them big yellow Baby on Board thangs sticking to your back window, and Donald Duck window shades on the rear windows, making it clear you’ve got Precious Cargo with you, signal before you change lanes on an interstate, especially when you’re driving roughly 72 miles per hour in a 65 mph zone.
It is The Funk.
I learned this morning that even frustratingly hideous and pointless and unexpectedly heavy traffic is shockingly bearable if one is listening to Fulfillingness’ First Finale.
Indeed, boogie on, reggae woman. Your irresistibly slinky bassline makes sitting in a stopped car a damn pleasure.
Here’s what I do when I’m at a four-way stop and someone goes when it’s clearly my turn:
I nearly hit them.
Sometimes I go really fast and stop just before I hit them.
Sometimes I go slowly and stop just before I hit them.
But I pretty much always nearly hit them.
Tonight, for instance. Four-way stop a few blocks from the office. I’m heading east, and I have the clear right-of-way; I got to the stop five seconds before the other guy, who’s to my left, heading south. I’m waiting for the person who’d already gotten there before me to clear the intersection. (Naturally.) That car is facing me, heading west.
So as soon as the westbound car is past the midpoint of the intersection, the hump to my left, the southbound guy, starts going, cutting in front of me.
So I speed up and very nearly t-bone him.
He slams on his brakes and looks at me, shocked. And seeing as how he’s driving a new Benz coupe, his brakes are in outstanding condition.
I just stare back at him with what I hope is an utterly blank expression, devoid of any emotion whatsoever. Since we’re only about, what, five feet apart? He’s probably got a pretty good view of my face. (Poor bastard.)
He accelerates out of the intersection, chattering away on his cellphone quite animatedly, no doubt telling his listener about the insane jerk who almost hit him just now.
So. That’s what I do in those situations. I don’t like it about myself. And yet I do it pretty much every time.
But it doesn’t exactly make me happy that I’m now at least an occasional flyer again either.
In the past few years, the FAA repeatedly has cut staffing at air traffic control towers. The FAA employed 15,606 controllers in 2002, according the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), but now that number has shrunk to 14,305 while air traffic continues to grow.
May I just say that that’s absurd?
Further, the FAA has decreased the amount of time between work shifts, forcing controllers to work even when they have not had sufficient rest. Never mind that controller fatigue may have contributed to the Comair crash that killed 49 people in Lexington, Ky., last year. The lone air traffic controller on duty had only nine hours between two work shifts—and only two hours of sleep before going back on duty, according to the Associated Press. For years before the crash, Lexington controllers and their supervisors repeatedly had voiced concern about staffing issues at the airport.
You think? Fewer people doing more work? That might be a problem? I mean, jeez, they’re only responsible for keeping thousands (tens of thousands?) of people safe every day. Sheesh. It’s not like anything untoward would happen if two planes were to, say, gently brush against each other in mid-air. Worrywarts.
The new rules cut pay for current and future traffic controllers by as much as 30 percent, reduce pensions and, according to some aviation experts, could prompt more than 4,000 of the current 14,000 controller workforce to retire, exacerbating an already critical controller shortage.
Controllers who do not feel they have gotten enough rest before a shift would be forced to work anyway. Controllers also can no longer take a break after two hours on the job, a longstanding practice that controllers say was a major way to fight fatigue.
Oh, for pete’s sake. Editors get to take a damn coffee break every two hours. Admittedly, editors have a tougher job than air traffic controllers. Also, there are far more lives at stake.
What do you want to bet Air Force One gets its own air traffic controller, who’s always fresh as a damn daisy?
I have a 23-mile commute.
It takes me roughly 20 minutes to go the first 20 miles. And ten minutes to go the last 3.
I find this frustrating.
I watched the cartoons, I read the novels and short stories and comic books. It’s nearly 2007. We were supposed to have teleportation years ago.
So I got my California driver’s license last week. And it only took three trips to the DMV to acquire.
No, no, no, I didn’t fail the test—although I was worried for a while, I admit—it just took me that long to get all my paperwork in order. I didn’t have to take a driving test, just an eye test and the written. The eye test was surprisingly—disturbingly, in fact—easy. The written? Not quite so much.
There were 36 questions, and I could miss up to six and still pass. There were written instructions that said, in part:
Read the test questions carefully. Don't read anything extra into the question. There will be one correct answer and the other two answer choices will be either obviously wrong or not appropriate for the question asked.
Don't be nervous. DMV wants you to pass your test. Good Luck!
They do? They want me to pass? I’m not sure I approve. I think it should be tougher than that, they should be tougher than that. Driving’s not a damn right, it’s a privilege. You gotta earn it.
But maybe that’s just me.
And I see no reason for “luck” to be capitalized. It looks tacky.
Anyhoo, they do things a little wacky here in SoCal. For instance, you get your picture—and your thumbprint—taken before you’re actually tested. I guess they’re not kidding; they really do want you to pass.
The guy doing the taking on this particular day was a friendly gentlemen with a really good shtick. When you’d put your thumb on the print reader, he’d say, “Good. Just a little higher, please? Okay, great. Now just wait for the small shock.” Sometimes he’d add, “It only hurts a little.” Good stuff.
As I’m standing there, awaiting my turn, I look around and there on the wall is something which really makes you question reality. You look at it and you look at it and then you look at it some more but it never stops appearing to be a leftover prop from the Sylvester Stallone flick “Demolition Man.” It is a photo on the wall, as I reckon all DMV’s have in all states, of the governor of that state. But in my new state the governor is, naturally or not so much, the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It’s one thing to know that. It’s another thing to see him on television or his photo in the newspaper. It’s a third and most unreal thing of all to see his official state photo in an official state office. Until you’ve experienced it, you cannot believe just how odd it really is.
So I took the test and, keeping in mind that The Right Answer Should Be Obvious and that They Want Me to Pass, I zipped right through that puppy. In fact, I finished long before any of the other dozen folks taking the test, some of whom had been at work for ten minutes before I sat down; I was out the door before any of them even put their pencils down. Clearly they were overthinking. Or maybe they just couldn't believe in their heart of hearts that the DMV wanted them to pass.
But they did. Ever so much.
I went with my first instinct on about 30 of the questions, leaving the others blank, to be filled in at the end. Of those, several were almost guesses on my part, and one in particular really bugged me. It was this one:
When parking on a hill on a two-way street, your front wheels should be:
A) Turned to the left (toward the street).
B) Turned to the right (away from the street).
C) Parallel with the pavement.
Now, you, dear reader, being a Left of the Dialian and therefore far, far, far smarter’n your average bear see the problem with this here question. As my girl Mona Lisa Vito would attest, it’s a bullshit question, in so far as it’s completely unanswerable in that form.
Because, of course, it depends upon whether you’re parking uphill or downhill, vital information which the test omits.
There was a bit o’ vital information which I’d missed myself when I started taking the test, and only noticed when it came time to flip it over and start on the second half, and that bit was this: I was supposed to check the box next the correct answer with an X. I’d been using check marks. What to do? Continue in my erroneous fashion, or remain consistent?
Well, as the fish would say, what would you do?
After my test was graded—I got two wrong, and received a smiley face for my outstanding score—I pointed out the incompletely worded question to the dude at the counter. He first opined that the important information was the two-way street bit, but I questioned that reading. He then looked at it again and laughed and said they’d been using this test for years and no one else had noticed.
So I wonder. Are both A and B considered correct answers? Because depending upon the direction of the hill, they could be.
I haven't slept well since. It plagues me, this question.
Anyhoo, as I drove away from the DMV, I considered it already a successful day, perhaps having made the world a slightly better place for having improved a test at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Knowing that I would soon receive in the mail my official license with, let’s be honest, a stunningly attractive photo of my fair self, I thought, “Today I may not be a man…but I am a Californian.”
So the fambly is in Arizona. All their stuff, on the other hand, is now in the lovely semi-arid clime of San Diego county.
It took the awesome fellers who did the move about four hours to get it all off the truck and in the house. Not the most pleasant four hours of my life, I must say. Certainly, far far far from the worst, but trying to figure out where the ever so flexible Top Management would like This Thing or That Thing was difficult. Trying to fit the stuff from a house twice the size into one half the size? That was…stressful. Yes it was.
And for some reason, rather than filling me with anticipation and joy, the sight of The Baby’s bouncy chair or The Boy’s highchair just made me so melancholy. They’ve been so far away for so long and while they were, at that moment, no longer more than a thousand miles away, still, I was just hit by this wave of loss, the knowledge that I’d been away from The Baby for fully half her life now, that I'll be no more than just another smiling face the next time she sees me.
I know, I know, I know. It could be worse. I could be off fighting a pointless war, and I know she’ll learn to recognize me soon enough. But the difference between a three-month-old and a six-month-old is huge—and if you're a parent, you can't deny that. So just because it could be so much worse doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.
Waah. Poor, poor pitiful me.
The fact that I can’t find a hotel room in Yuma, Arizona or even El Centro, California is really freaking me out too. I’m flying to Phoenix tomorrow and the troop’ll pick me up in the early afternoon and we figured we’d get a couple hours further west before breaking for the night. And then Wednesday’d be an easy trip into the Golden State and that’d be that. A grand and glorious and romantic plan. But there doesn’t seem to be a single hotel room between Phoenix and San Diego. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, I highly encourage you to prove me wrong.
Hey! [It's now an hour after I wrote the above.] I just found a room in El Centro—in marked contrast to the very perky girls who turned me down so regretfully in Yuma, however, this guy…uh…hmm. I’m not filled with confidence in this hotel. I think he may actually have just wandered by and noticed the phone ringing.
A-ha. [He said, another forty minutes later.] After calling literally fourteen hotels in Yuma I found a suite there. I also found a suite in Gila Bend, the Ramada Inn Space Age. Gila Bend totally doesn't fit our travel plans but, come on. It's called Gila Bend! It's the Ramada Inn Space Age! It's going to be mighty hard to pass that puppy up.
Okay. I feel slightly better now. So home I go to unpack the kitchen and then try to find some sheets for the bed. Those tasks’ll knock the joy right outta me. On the upside, it’s the first time I've left before 9 pm in weeks. Half-full, baby! I’m back!
Top Management just called. The brood has passed the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range and the Greenhorn Mountains and went over the Raton Pass and are now in New Mexico. Yay! They’ll be in Santa Fe tonight.
The moving truck with just about all our worldly possessions is arriving tomorrow morn. I'll spend an extremely pleasant and relaxing day thusly, then go to work on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning I'll be flying to Phoenix, where I'll be greeted by the indefatigable and redoubtable Top Management and her lovely, lovely Mess o' Kids.
It’s somewhere around 350 miles from Phoenix to the San Diego area, so we might try to do it in one day, but it’d be nice to arrive in the daylight, so maybe we’ll make it two really easy days instead.
As though there’s any such thing as “an easy day” when you’ve got five kids.
Fortunately, there are wonderful days. Or so I've been told. I’m hoping to find out myself in just about 65 more hours. Not really sure what we’re going to do; I figure we’ll stop in Yuma or somewhere around there and I’m sure there’s some Native American museums or something. And if there isn’t anything to do? Who cares? There’ll be plenty of beds for kids to jump on. And that’s more’n good enough.
The pilgrims have entered the Centennial State. (That’s Colorado for you non-Coloradoans.) They have at long, long, long, long last left the prairie behind.
That’s not true, of course. They’re about two hours from Denver, and about an hour and forty-five minutes of that will be prairie. But by “prairie,” what I really meant was, “the never-ending state that is Kansas.” Bless its big flat heart.
And just to make sure Top Management and I are secure in our collective opinion that it was a good idea for her not to wait until the house sold: it just started snowing all along her stretch of I-70. Worried? Me? Perish the thought.
So the mob has just left scenic Salina, Kansas and are once again headed my way. Apparently they had a fine ol’ time in Salina, hookin’ up with pal Karen who Top Management met through the wondrous tubes which are the internets. Karen and her accessory Tom are another of that thar rare breed known as the pro-life liberal. San Diego’s got one of the best zoos in the whole wide world. I wonder if they got that particular endangered species on display. Possibly too hard to find.
But here’s one of my favorite parts of the trip so far: Top Management got busted by the hotel staff in Salina. Apparently, she and Karen and their bizarrely large group of children were having too much fun. So they were asked to please keep it down.
And there you go. There’s a big difference between where they’ve been and where they’re going right there. See, in Virginia, southern hospitality would have dictated that folks perhaps grumble about it politely and quietly and not say a word. Here in southern California, the staff and other guests would have joined the party. (Until they learned there was no alcohol involved.) In Kansas they just shut ‘em down. Damn. It’s like Footloose come to life! Kevin Bacon, where are you in our time of need?
So. The gang entered Kansas about 26 hours ago and they’ll be leaving it in about another eight. There was a book out a year or two ago called What’s the Matter with Kansas? Excellent book with a persuasive argument.
But I've got the real answer. Is it that their Comfort Inns are too strict? No. Although that’s obviously true.
No, the problem is this: it’s too damn wide. Just. Too. Damn. Wide. If you’re gonna be 973 miles wide, you have to have at least a tiny bit of variation to your topography. And, no, Leavenworth doesn’t count. Much.
Ah, but now Nebraska? Iowa? Now them’s some midwestern states you can sink your teeth into. The glories of our nation, breadbasket to the world, and yet there’s an ebb and flow to the landscape, big sky galore but some gently rolling hills to ‘em. And they don’t take a week and a half to get through.
On the other, Kansas gave us Superman and Dorothy. So there’s that.
The troop is in Dale, Indiana tonight. The Boy and The Baby were both, apparently, very pleased to be out of the car. Max, meanwhile, felt that since they’d entered a new time zone, they were duty-bound to push on for another hour. The Boy won.
So they’ve gone about 550 miles, leaving roughly 1050 miles to go on the first leg of the trip. True to form, Top Management is refusing to drive 750 miles a day like some people. She’s nice.
What’s not so nice? From what I understand, it would be this: waking up at 3:00 in the a.m. in a Ramada Inn in Beckley, West Virginia and having to go down to the minivan and dig out your eyeglasses so you can take out your contact lenses because you’ve awakened out of an exhausted sleep, suddenly and horribly secure in the knowledge that you’ve come down with pink eye.
I gather that’s not overly pleasant.
Thank Allah for our beloved doctors, who called a prescription into a pharmacy in Winchester, Kentucky. Rumor has it the nearby McDonald’s in Winchester is really quite nice and kid-friendly.
I am torn between an intense desire to be there and help my poor girlfriend, and a shallow thankfulness that I’m far, far away. Not that I’d ever admit to such a base emotion.
Still, I’m doing what I can. We developed a routine over the past few months: when I’m ready to drive into the office in the mornings, I call her and she pulls up the up-to-the-minute San Diego traffic map and, from the Blue Ridge Mountains, directs me to the best routes in the greater San Diego area. Of course, as of two days ago I've had to wing it on my own with, I might add, coincidentally disastrous results.
Fortunately, I was able to hep her out this afternoon, when she encountered hideous traffic in Louisville, much too early for rush hour. Turns out there’s a similar up-to-the-minute traffic map for Louisville (I loves me my internets—Yahweh bless you, Al Gore) and while I wasn’t able to get her to a better and less congested route, I was at least able to tell her that her traffic troubles would end in 1.2 miles. Which they did.
So that was good. The Boy throwing up in the hotel room? Not so much.
You know, I wrote the rest of this post almost three hours ago. I was hoping a good way to end it would come to me.
I got nothin’. That’s the way it works sometimes.
[But she’s 550 miles closer to me. So there is that.]
I just got the call. The fambly’s on the road, heading west. About to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains on the start of their long, long journey to the sea. The Great Plains await. The Rockies.
Did you know about this?
Motorists in a number of U.S. states can be fined for failing to slow down or change lanes when passing parked emergency vehicles.
I’d noticed during my crosscountry drive that a lot of people did it. I just thought they were being either polite or cautious. I had no idea they were being law-abiding. I started doing it as well, just because it seemed like a good idea, but I didn’t do it every single time. Maybe I just got lucky. That tends to be a pattern in my life.
This is very, very wrong. This is not America. Or it’s not how America’s supposed to be.
A large excerpt of the wrongness:
The next day, I went to JFK in the morning to catch my Jet Blue plane to California. I reached Terminal 6 at around 7:15 am, issued a boarding pass, and checked all my bags in, and then walked to the security checkpoint. For the first time in my life, I was taken to a secondary search . My shoes were searched, and I was asked for my boarding pass and ID. After passing the security, I walked to check where gate 16 was, then I went to get something to eat. I got some cheese and grapes with some orange juice and I went back to Gate 16 and sat down in the boarding area enjoying my breakfast and some sunshine.
At around 8:30, two men approached me while I was checking my phone. One of them asked me if I had a minute and he showed me his badge, I said: "sure". We walked some few steps and stood in front of the boarding counter where I found out that they were accompanied by another person, a woman from Jet Blue.
One of the two men who approached me first, Inspector Harris, asked for my id card and boarding pass. I gave him my boarding pass and driver's license. He said "people are feeling offended because of your t-shirt". I looked at my t-shirt: I was wearing my shirt which states in both Arabic and English "we will not be silent". You can take a look at it in this picture taken during our Jordan meetings with Iraqi MPs. I said "I am very sorry if I offended anyone, I didnt know that this t-shirt will be offensive". He asked me if I had any other T-shirts to put on, and I told him that I had checked in all of my bags and I asked him "why do you want me to take off my t-shirt? Isn't it my constitutional right to express myself in this way?" The second man in a greenish suit interfered and said "people here in the US don't understand these things about constitutional rights". So I answered him "I live in the US, and I understand it is my right to wear this t-shirt".
Then I once again asked the three of them : "How come you are asking me to change my t-shirt? Isn't this my constitutional right to wear it? I am ready to change it if you tell me why I should. Do you have an order against Arabic t-shirts? Is there such a law against Arabic script?" so inspector Harris answered "you can't wear a t-shirt with Arabic script and come to an airport. It is like wearing a t-shirt that reads "I am a robber" and going to a bank". I said "but the message on my t-shirt is not offensive, it just says "we will not be silent". I got this t-shirt from Washington DC. There are more than a 1000 t-shirts printed with the same slogan, you can google them or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org . It is printed in many other languages: Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, English, etc." Inspector Harris said: "We cant make sure that your t-shirt means we will not be silent, we don't have a translator. Maybe it means something else". I said: "But as you can see, the statement is in both Arabic and English". He said "maybe it is not the same message". So based on the fact that Jet Blue doesn't have a translator, anything in Arabic is suspicious because maybe it'll mean something bad!
Meanwhile, a third man walked in our direction. He stood with us without introducing himself, and he looked at inspector Harris's notes and asks him: "is that his information?", inspector Harris answered "yes". The third man, Mr. Harmon, asks inspector Harris : "can I copy this information?", and inspector Harris says "yes, sure".
inspector Harris said: "You don't have to take of your t-shirt, just put it on inside-out". I refused to put on my shirt inside-out. So the woman interfered and said "let's reach a compromise. I will buy you a new t-shirt and you can put it on on top of this one". I said "I want to keep this t-shirt on". Both inspector Harris and Mr. Harmon said "No, we can't let you get on that airplane with your t-shirt". I said "I am ready to put on another t-shirt if you tell me what is the law that requires such a thing. I want to talk to your supervisor". Inspector Harris said "You don't have to talk to anyone. Many people called and complained about your t-shirt. Jetblue customers were calling before you reached the checkpoint, and costumers called when you were waiting here in the boarding area".
it was then that I realized that my t-shirt was the reason why I had been taken to the secondary checking.
I asked the four people again to let me talk to any supervisor, and they refused.
The Jet Blue woman was asking me again to end this problem by just putting on a new t-shirt, and I felt threatened by Mr. Harmon's remarks as in "Let's end this the nice way". Taking in consideration what happens to other Arabs and Muslims in US airports, and realizing that I will miss my flight unless I covered the Arabic script on my t-shirt as I was told by the four agents, I asked the Jet Blue woman to buy me a t-shirt and I said "I don't want to miss my flight."
She asked, what kind of t-shirts do you like. Should I get you an "I heart new york t-shirt?". So Mr. Harmon said "No, we shouldn't ask him to go from one extreme to another". I asked mr. harmon why does he assume I hate new york if I had some Arabic script on my t-shirt, but he didn't answer.
The woman went away for 3 minutes, and she came back with a gray t-shirt reading "new york". I put the t-shirt on and removed the price tag. I told the four people who were involved in the conversation: "I feel very sad that my personal freedom was taken away like this. I grew up under authoritarian governments in the Middle East, and one of the reasons I chose to move to the US was that I don't want an officer to make me change my t-shirt. I will pursue this incident today through a Constitutional rights organization, and I am sure we will meet soon". Everyone said okay and left, and I went back to my seat.
At 8:50 I was called again by a fourth young man, standing with the same jetblue woman. He asked for my boarding pass, so I gave it to him, and stood in front of the boarding counter. I asked the woman: "is everything okay?", she responded: "Yes, sure. We just have to change your seat". I said: "but I want this seat, that's why I chose it online 4 weeks ago", the fourth man said " there is a lady with a toddler sitting there. We need the seat."
Then they re-issued me a small boarding pass for seat 24a, instead of seat 3a. They said that I can go to the airplane now. I was the first person who entered the airplane, and I was really annoyed about being assigned this seat in the back of the airplane too. It smelled like the bathrooms, which is why I had originally chosen a seat which would be far from that area.
It sucks to be an Arab/Muslim living in the US these days. When you go to the middle east, you are a US tax-payer destroying people's houses with your money, and when you come back to the US, you are a suspected terrorist and plane hijacker.
The only thing some folks have to run on is fear itself. And for nearly five years now, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing, very, very well. Unfortunately, it’s the only thing they do well.
So I told a few people that moving from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Southern California was roughly the same as moving from Ireland to Poland. That tended to elicit a “whoa” or perhaps a low whistle. (Although they might have just been admiring my gams.)
And then I started worrying that I was overselling it a bit, and that I hadn’t traveled nearly that far.
Fortunately, the internets are a wonderful creation (thank you, Al Gore!). It took me all of about a minute and a half to find a distance calculator thingamajiggee that’ll tell you how far it is from X to Y.
Which is how I found out that I may have driven 2599 miles from my house to my office—one hell of a commute—but that it’s a mere 2189 as the crow flies. Damn crows, always taking the direct route. What’s their hurry? It’s a beautiful world. Stop and smell the roses, you nasty bastards.
That distance calculator thingamajiggee is also how I found out that I was way off with my Ireland-to-Poland comparison.
Because Dublin to Warsaw is a piddling 1135 miles. Jeez, Dublin to Moscow is only 1740 miles.
In other words, I’m a long, long, long way from home.
Coming out with my fresh cuppa morning coffee today, a well dressed guy caught my eye and said, “Hey, I’m trying to get a little money for gas so I can get to work—do you wanna buy this?” And he held out a copy of The Bourne Supremacy DVD.
Well, no, I really didn’t want to buy it. Watching it once was quite enough and, besides, I don’t have a TV, much less a DVD player. “I’m just trying to buy some gas so I can get to work,” he repeated.
I should emphasize again that he was quite sharply dressed. New polo shirt, well-pressed slacks, his hair in considerably better shape than mine, his face freshly shaven.
“What are you driving?” I asked.
“The Buick just around the corner,” he replied.
I glanced around the corner and there was a Buick maybe six or seven years old but which had seen far better days.
“Tell you what,” I said, holding out a dollar. “This’ll get you about fifteen miles.” Of course, I later realized, at today’s prices and with his car in the shape it was, it’d probably get him more like seven.
“I’m just trying to get some money for gas so I can get to work,” he said again, as he took the bill.
“I understand,” I answered, getting in my car and driving off to work.
So here are two things which (that?) folks here in California might not realize are really, really goofy to us folk from back east.
First of all, they sell hard liquor in the drug store. Which makes sense, I suppose, but things rarely work out that literally. So it’s really odd to be shopping for shaving cream in Rite-Aid and turn the corner and see Smirnoff’s and Cuervo and Jim Beam. Not unpleasant—it’s always nice to encounter old friends in a new place. But still odd.
But the other thing (another thing) is even weirder, especially to someone who worked and lived in New York City for a decade. Ready for this?
People stop at red lights here.
No, seriously. Pedestrians wait on the street corners until they get the walk signal. I know, I know, but I swear it’s true. None of ‘em cross. They just wait there. The big lemmings.
What’s more, when a pedestrian does have the right of way, such as a stop sign, say, the cars wait patiently until the pedestrian is safely out of the way, without trying to scoot past them or honking their horns or gunning their engines or whatever. It’s really disconcerting.
Turns out the cops here are serious about their tickets, and if they see a car drive past a pedestrian, even if he or she is well out of the way of the vehicle’s path, the driver gets hammered with a serious fine. And the same goes for jaywalking here. Which is actually something of a contact sport in the Big Apple. Literally.
So there you go. Yet more differences in this great big adventure o’ mine.
Okay, so we’ve already discovered that SUVs seem to semi-officially be considered SMALL CARS here in California.
Oh, yes, indeed they are. Or so I’ve gathered after seeing dozens of them squeezed into spaces so marked.
Man, has this place been an education already.
I hate SUVs. Hate, hate, hate 'em. This despite the fact that so many of my favorite folks drive SUVs.
So, okay, reasonable people can disagree on whether or not SUVs are intrinsically helping out the devil. They are, of course, but reasonable people can convince themselves otherwise. Obviously.
But here’s one thing that is absolutely indisputable: if you drive an SUV and you park it in a space clearly marked SMALL CARS ONLY and because, you know, you’re not a small car but in fact a big fancy truck and you must therefore take up a space and a half—so, in effect, two spaces—well, you’re a complete and total jerk. No two ways about it.
Good to have me back, innit?
So here’s a newsflash: we live in a big damn country.
(And by "we," of course, I mean "those Left of the Dial readers lucky enough to live in the United States of America.")
GoogleMaps informs that it takes about forty-five hours to drive from the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains to scenic La Jolla, California. Mapquest, on the other hand, claims a mere 39 or so hours. Different routes? Assuming faster driving? Or simply not a single bathroom break allowed?
We’ll see what AAA has to say. We’ll consider them somewhat authoritative, especially given how Mapquest screwed us by toying with us in the heart of Pittsburgh, Steel City itself, during rush hour a few years back. Three rivers and about thirty bridges there and I think we crossed every single one at least twice and a couple three times.
I worked with a tremendously intelligent and educated guy from Scotland a decade back. He’d been to the US a dozen times and loved, loved, loved American culture, even if he was generally way far to the left of even the most liberal of our pols. He enjoyed telling the story of the first time he and his wife ever came to New York and how they were asked what their plans for the visit were.
"Oh, we’re going to visit the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty tomorrow," they replied, "And the next day we’re going to rent a car and go see the Grand Canyon. Then we’ll drive to San Francisco the day after that and then the next day we have to drive back here to fly out of JFK."
Big country we got. Big.
Okay, this is pretty groovy —it’s a panoramic view from Mount Everest.
I’ve never been one of them folks what want to climb Everest, whether it’s there or not. But I am sorta interested in a thing I heard about, which is climbing to the lowest base camp—if I’m not mistaken, there are three or four base camps, each successively higher. Apparently, it takes about two weeks of hiking through gorgeous country to get to the lowest base camp, and the views there are spectacular. That sounds about right for me. Will I ever do it? Well, it entails a month of your life and something like twenty thousand bucks, I think, so no, I don’t see it happening anytime soon, if ever. But it still sounds pretty cool.
A cousin of mine climbed Kilimanjaro. She said there was little climbing actually involved—it’s a fairly gentle slope, at least as these things go. But it’s so damn high that altitude sickness can really hammer you if you’re not in great shape. Again, though, that sounds more my speed. I’d have to get in shape first but then I’ve been looking for a good reason to do that for ten years now. A quick jaunt to Kilimanjaro might be just the thing.
Next year. Maybe. Or the year after that.
When I was writing the previous entry, Top Management came into the office and started to tell me something, then stopped abruptly, looking confused. She listened for a moment, just to confirm, then said, "Why are you listening to the Stones? You hate the Stones."
Why isn’t exactly one hundred percent true—I hate what the Stones have become so much because I love what the Stones used to be so much. But even Top Management couldn’t possibly know that from my normal rantings and ravings. I don’t normally explain my hatreds. I just hate. Voluminously.
I also love her because we’re going on a trip in a few minutes and my responsibilities so far have been to shave and to be ready to drive when she says it’s time to go. Meanwhile, she’s been working her adorable little tail off for days getting us all ready, trying to do everything in as lowkey a way as possible to keep me from going insane just at the thought of all the preparation, none of which I’ve done but all of which, were I aware of it, would send me over the edge. Her plan hasn’t completely worked, but then, that’s because she’s working with such flawed material. Namely me. What can I say? She doesn’t get to go on a trip with the husband she’d like, she goes on a trip with the husband she’s got.
Went to court yesterday. Only the second time I’ve ever been, and the first time since I paid a traffic ticket back in college. The county courthouse is in a part of town I don’t normally frequent. Not that it’s a dodgy section or nothin’, just that it’s a little more traffic intensive and the streets curve unexpectedly, so I can never keep straight which way I’m going, and parking can be a mite tricky. In other words, it requires a tiny bit of mental energy, which I avoid expending at all costs.
But there I went, because Top Management learned from a clerk at the courthouse that if I showed up in person, the judge was likely to look favorably upon me. As that’s something that doesn’t happen often with me, I jumped at the opportunity.
I should probably tell you why I was involved with our legal system in the first place. A couple weeks back I was heading over the mountain to Waynesboro to pick up some pizzas. See, they’ve got a Little Caesar’s over there, which we no got over here. And in case you don’t know, Little Caesar’s pizza is cheap. Really, really cheap. As in, five bucks for a large plain or pepperoni. What’s more, our kids love Little Caesar’s. So, since we can get four pizzas for two bucks less than we can get two pizzas here in our tiny little town, getting three and then having leftovers for lunch the rest of the work more than makes it worth the price of the gas (this was pre-the recent gas gouging) and the extra forty-five minutes spent in the car. Besides, it’s a gorgeous drive. So we do that about once a month or so.
And that’s why I was heading over there a few weeks back, having just a fine time listening to Pearl Jam and talking to friend Keri on the phone. And coming the other way, quite rapidly, is a state trooper. I think nothing of it, because I’m the last car in a line of four, and although we’re all about a quarter mile from each other, we’re all going the same speed. So no biggie.
Until I look into my rearview mirror about a minute later and see the state trooper coming up behind me. Fast.
I look down and see that I’m speeding a bit. Not a ton, but a bit. What’s more, I was still on the phone and although I didn’t think that was illegal in Virginia the way it is in New York, I suddenly wondered. And sure enough, he hits his lights.
I pull over, cursing like a drunken sailor with tourette’s, and hang up the phone. Then I roll down the window and wait. And wait. And wait. And finally the cop comes up and asks for my license and registration. I give ‘em to him and wait for him to ask The Question. Which he eventually does.
"Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?"
I tell him that, indeed, I do not. Which was basically true. I had theories, but no real knowledge. Which is pretty much the case with the rest of my life as well.
But why do they always ask that? Do a healthy percentage of people incriminate themselves? "Yes! It’s because of the ten pounds of crack stuffed inside Jimmy Hoffa’s corpse in my trunk, isn’t it? Isn’t it?"
By the by, my Uncle John has been tracing our family history for a few decades now and it turns out I’m related to Jimmy Hoffa. And, no, I don’t know where he is. And, what’s more, I’ll never tell.
Anyhoo, I deny all knowledge of my criminal activities.
"Well, sir, your car was supposed to be inspected back in April," the copper says.
My mind went on the fritz. Seriously, I just blanked for a few seconds while I tried to process this. I wasn’t speeding—or at least that’s not what I was getting busted for. It’s not because I was on the phone. It wasn’t Jimmy Hoffa’s body. It was because I hadn’t had the car inspected. This I had not expected.
I pointed at the windshield. "You mean that thing?" I asked, now realizing that the big April 2004 thing might have been a tip-off. He agreed with me that, yes, it was that thing.
I thought about this, did a little counting my fingers, and had to agree that he’d caught me dead to rights. But I was still having trouble figuring out just how the hell I’d managed to forget to look at my freakin’ windshield for five damn months. I mean, seriously—five months? What the hell? I really was having trouble moving on to the next part of the conversation because I just keep fixating on that.
I was also vaguely impressed that, coming east at roughly sixty miles an hour and me going west at roughly sixty miles an hour, he’d managed to spot my telltale sticker—them’s some eyes on him. But shouldn’t he have been watching the damn road? Later I’d also wonder how the hell the cops had missed it for those five months. Shouldn’t they be doing their damn jobs better?
Okay. So he goes back to his cruiser to write me up my ticket and I’m sitting there thinking, okay, jackass, you’re busted. And you got no one to blame but your own pinheaded self. What’s more, I knew, I just knew that the ticket was gonna cost me like $85. I could feel it in my very bones.
And after ten minutes, Mister State Trooper (please don’t stop me) comes back and hands me the ticket. And I look at it very quickly and I see that it’s only $33! Calloo! Callay!
The irony of me being oh so very pleased at getting tapped for thirty-three bucks when I’d been willing to drive for an hour to save eight bucks was not lost on me even then. But, you know, eighty-five bucks versus thirty-three? When I’d been caught red-handed? I couldn’t help it. I was still pissed at myself, but nowhere near as badly as earlier, when I kept thinking that if I could, I’d clone myself, just so I could beat myself to a bloody pulp—that’s how mad I was. But no more. Now I was merely pissed at myself, rather than homicidal. What’s more, since it costs about fifteen bucks to get the car inspected, that comes out to about a buck and a quarter per month. So by being five months late, I saved myself six bucks. So that $33 ticket is really only $27. Yes, I was reaching, but in times of trouble, I do that.
So I go and get the pizzas, which have now been ready for half an hour and the drive is not nearly as pleasant as at other times. And I come home and tell Top Management about it and she begins beating herself up for not remembering that the car needed to be inspected even though she sometimes will go months without driving it, usually needing to be piloting the minivan. And I glance down at the ticket on the counter and see that there’s something I hadn’t quite noticed before.
That would be the $55 processing fee.
On top of the $33 for the ticket, that means my ticket came to…wait…hold on…that’s…carry the one…no, there’s no need to carry, so let me start over…oh, that’s right. $88. Three bucks more than I wanted to homicide myself for.
It was not a good night.
We weren’t able to get the car in to be inspected for several days, which left us short a car. No big deal, since we’ve set up our lifestyle to avoid more driving than necessary. But the Saturn’s the car I normally drive to the grocery store or the library, since it gets nearly twice the mileage of the minivan. So for four days I guzzled as I was gouged. But eventually we got it inspected.
I thought about contesting the ticket. Well, not exactly "contesting"—I mean, little as I wanted to pay the eighty-five bucks, I’m at heart something of a law and order guy: I did the crime, I should be prepared to do the time. Or pay the fine. You know. But the guy at the garage mentioned that if you show up at court and prove that you got it inspected, they’ll sometimes at least knock the fee down. Which sounded nice, and wasn’t completely news, but at some point you have to figure in how many hours it’ll take and is saving fifteen bucks worth two hours of your time? Is thirty bucks? Where’s the line?
Well, for me, it became slightly clearer this weekend when I was bitching about the processing fee, since that’s what really frosted me—the duplicity of it. If they just charged me the $88, I would have been really upset, even though it was completely my fault, because I don’t have that kind o’ cash to spare. But, hey, that’ll learn me to get my car inspected, right? Right. My fault, completely.
But it’s the bullshit way they jack the price up. If I’m going to be charged $88, charge me $88. Don’t make it $33 and then tack on some $55 processing fee. Tell you what, I’ll take the five minutes and file the paperwork for you and we’ll skip the processing fee, ‘kay? Otherwise, call a spade a spade and an $88 ticket an $88 ticket. I want no trickery from my legal system.
Well, the feller who was driving me, the brothers and the parents to dinner last Saturday night (delightful, thank you very much), said the reason they break it up that way is to save the judge’s time. See, he said, you’ll never, ever get the processing fee waived, so since the most you can talk your way out of is the $33, and even that might just be reduced, not waived entirely, people figure it’s not worth their time. Which doesn’t make the processing fee any less duplicitous. But does make it understandable. And clever.
So we decided to just pay the damn thing and chalk it up as a Life Lesson Learned. And no more pizza from Waynesboro. In fact, no more pizza for a few months, probably. Which means our children’ll think we’ve cut out one of the main food groups.
But when Top Management called to pay by phone, the county clerk said, "Well, did you get the car inspected?"
Top Management informed him that, yes, indeed we did. "Well, if you want to save yourself the eighty-five dollars, you can just come down here anytime before your 1:00 pm court date and the judge'll waive the whole thing."
Hmm. Conflicting information. But as we saw no reason for the clerk to fib, we scheduled a trip to court for me the next morning.
And now we’re pretty much back at the beginning of this piece. Damn but I can take a long time filling in backstory, can’t I?
So I park in one of Charlottesville’s two parking garages and walk to the courthouse which is located in historic Courthouse Square. Or maybe Court Square. I dunno. Anyhoo, it’s got cobblestone streets and pretty much no one around. Very pretty and historic-looking and slightly goofy, what with all these big buildings yet no people. Felt slightly post-apocalyptic.
Well, I located the county courthouse, courtesy a big sign out front which informs me that it was built in 1744. Old. Groovy. So I walk in and I have a choice of doors: Jury Room, Witness Room, Men’s, Ladies’…or the double-doors straight ahead which has no sign on it. And to get to them, I need to go through a metal detector which has no one nearby. In fact, as far as I can tell, I’m the only one in the building.
So I go through the double-doors. What choice do I have? And I find myself in court. With the judge sitting on the bench, the bailiff nearby, a prosecutor at one table, and the defendant and defense attorney at the other. And the five people sitting watching this all turn to look at me. And I look down at myself in my shorts, my sneakers with no socks and bright red t-shirt, holding Sports Illustrated and I suddenly feel very, very out of place.
Not sure what else to do, I sit down. And the judge and his assistant and the attorneys confer on when the trial should be postponed to, and they juggle dates, and talk about the defendant—a suburban-lookin’ mom in her mid-50s who looked very, very much like a neighbor of ours—and her parole. And this takes about five minutes and then it’s over and everyone leaves. Except for me.
So I go out in the hall and I catch the lady who was conferring with the judge on his schedule and ask where I should go and she explains that I should be at the County Courthouse Annex, which is attached to this building, but around the side. Oh, of course. I should have known. Duh.
So I go and that’s more like it: I walk in and there’s the clerk’s office right in front of me. Finally. Solid ground again. And they make me wait about ten minutes, then take my stuff and say, great, now, where’s the little pink slip? I look down at the two pages of the ticket and the bill showing I got the car inspected and all three of them are yellow.
"Pink…slip?" I say slowly.
Another clerk comes over to talk to me—I guess it was clear I was so stupid it was a two-person job. And they explain that I should have been given a pink slip and they frequently put it right in the glove compartment and didn’t they?
"Pink…slip?" I say slowly. "Glove compartment? Who?"
They look at each other, wondering if they’re going to need security on this one, then slowly say the exact same stuff again. Finally, they ask if I’d gotten the car inspected.
"Well, yeah," I say and point at the bill.
"Okay," the guy says. "When they inspect your car, they give you a little pink slip of paper. They normally put it in the glove compartment. We need that."
Twenty years I’ve been getting my car inspected, and normally on time. And I’ve never known this. How many other basic Adult 101 things am I unaware of? The mind reels.
So I go out to the car, leaving the yellow sheets with them. It’s a five minute walk to the garage, my heart pounding, wondering if it’s there. It is. Whoo-hoo!
I go back and the female clerk’s already made copies of my other papers, grabs the pink slip, makes a copy of that and tells me I can call tomorrow to find out the verdict.
And that’s that. I’m so very happy.
Until I’m pulling out the garage and I look at my ticket and I say, "I was just at the courthouse. If I’d had this validated, would I have just saved myself two bucks?"
She smiles brightly and says, "Sure would!"
It’s the little things. I get ‘em wrong every single time.
So I called the clerk’s office just now. And I said, "Hi, I’m calling to find out the judge’s ruling on my traffic ticket I got—they said I could call today. Am I calling the right number?"
The person on the other end said, I kid you not, "Probably. Hold." Click.
I waited five minutes, no hideous hold music—a bonus normally, but which had me wondering if I’d been hung up on. Finally, a different person came on and said, "The judge waived the whole thing. Have a nice day." Click.
Which had me wondering if I was the only person in my whole county who’d had a ticket thing the day before. Does that seem likely? Otherwise, how’d they know it was me?
So I got off scot-free (so to speak), about which I have very mixed feelings. I mean, I’m so glad I don’t have to pay…but I’m not sure that’s justice. I broke the law. Shouldn’t I have to face some sort of punishment? Isn't that the way this stuff is supposed to work?
I’m a conflicted individual. But a slightly less-poor one than I might have been.
"Those who live at the mercy of others deserve our special care and concern. It should be our goal as a nation to build a culture of life, where all Americans are valued, welcomed, and protected."
President George W. Bush
March 17, 2005
So yesterday I posted my 100th piece on Left of the Dial and the minivan broke down. Are those two related? No, not really, I just wanted an excuse to mention that I’d hit the century mark. Thank you, thank you, one and all. Well, slightly more than one. Thanks to the thousands of you who read Left of the Dial every day. Okay, not really thousands. Hundreds, really. All right, not hundreds either. Dozens? Certainly dozens and usually scores. Scores? Score!
Anyhoo, the minivan. So Top Management’s driving around the neighborhood returning some of the thousands (hundreds? scores? dozens?) of dishes, pieces of pyrex and tupperware containers we’d accumulated over the weeks of scamming free meals. And as she pulls over to place a thank-you note in someone’s mailbox, she notices that the engine starts revving and revving, although it’s in park and should be purring like a kitten, the way it normally does. Looking down at the dashboard, she sees the Check Engine light is on.
So she comes home and mentions it to me. And being the automotive whiz I am, I spring into action, and grab the owner’s manual. It informs me that, if the Check Engine light comes on, I should make sure the gas cap is on securely—keep turning it until it clicks three times. Which I do. It seems snug as a bug in a rug but I keep turning it until it clicks FOUR times. You know, just to be sure.
Okay, now here’s the good part. The booklet says that if the gas cap *was* the problem, it will take up to three days of normal driving for the light to go out. Which seems extreme to me, but what the hell do I know?
Oh, but that’s not the good part. Here’s the good part. Right after that "three days" stuff, it says, "It is not safe to drive the minivan if the Check Engine light is on. Contact your dealer immediately."
So. You need to drive it for three days to see if the light will go out. But it’s not safe to drive the car at all, so don’t do it.
That’s just awesome.
So Top Management calls the dealer, and they say, oh, yeah, right, we need to see it, so bring it in right away. We can take you…let’s see…in six days.
Because, you know, when you have four kids, you can go for almost a week without a car. No sweat.
Top Management tries to explain that that’s not really so doable. But no, that’s the absolute soonest they can squeeze us in. Our kid’s neurosurgeon’s the best in Virginia and *he’s* more available than that.
[Tangent: Top Management just learned from The Boy’s ENT, Treebeard, that both The Boy’s tubes fell out, but only partway, meaning they were just scraping the hell out of his inner ears. Because, you know, he doesn’t have enough problems with that part of his little body.]
Okay, asks Top Management, well, the manual says it’s not safe to drive the car—is it going to be okay to drive it all the way into town in order to get it to y’all? Because we live about twenty miles away. And the dealer says…well…yeah, that’s gonna be tricky, all right. Yeah, that’s not really a good idea.
So, WTF? Are we supposed to teleport it there? Take a magic carpet ride? Get one of them black helicopters we sometimes seen zooming over our heads, zapping nearby cows, to give us a lift?
Cancer, heart defects, brain abnormalities, deafness: these things suck. But it seems like it’s the little things in life that really get you down.
That’s a pun (he said helpfully).
So. We’re back from Richmond and The Boy is recovering nicely from his surgery. At least, he seems to be recovering nicely. How the hell would I know? He’s not screaming or nothin’—in fact, he seems no more grumpy than he’d been the previous couple weeks when, in retrospect, he does seem to have gotten a bit grumpier each day. I think maybe his hernia was bugging him more and more and any pain from the surgery is offset by the relief over not having his poor ‘nads hurt no more.
He also got his Unusually Protruding Tailbone snipped off. Which means he can’t sit down. Of course, he couldn’t sit very comfortably before, but now he can’t really sit comfortably at all. Which is a problem but, so far, a workable one and one which I anticipate will only take a few more days to resolve. And by "anticipate" I mean "hope desperately."
There’s at least one kinda funny side-effect of his ass-snipping. When The Boy gets mad or frustrated about something, he takes it out on us by defiantly looking us in the eye and slowly and deliberately sitting down. Hard. And then he yells like, "Hey! What are you, blind or something? You *know* I can’t get up by myself. I’m sitting down here! Come over and pick me up, dammit!" How he packs all that in one fairly short bark is a mystery, but he does.
But of course he’s just had the end of his spine worked on. So yesterday he gets mad about something and he goes to do his Plopping Down punishment and right in the middle it seems to occur to him that, hmmm…maybe this ain’t so great an idear. So he’s there in this bizarre half-squat, his little butt stuck out like Denise Austin on freeze-frame (a vision with which I’m quite well-acquainted), looking pensive and angry and panicked. I wanted to leave him that way for a few minutes while I ran for the camera—I figured the workout would be outstanding for his thighs—but Top Management’s too soft-hearted. Seems she thinks babies who’ve just had surgery need to be coddled. Whatevah.
Long story short, The Boy has come through this latest ordeal with flying colors purty much intact. Since he was operated on both front and back, he’s really got no good options yet he’s been quite the trooper. And while the Tylenol with codeine is certainly a help, he’s only had one dose since nine o’clock last night, so I’m afraid I’m just gonna have no choice but chalk it up to his internal fortitude. And I think we all know where he gets that from, don’t we?
Oh, good Lord. I haven’t even posted this yet and I think I just heard a chorus of people yell out "Top Management!" Shut up, all of you.
So the whole trip wasn’t nearly as awful as we’d been anticipating. We had to get up at 4:30am but didn’t get to sleep until about 11:00pm the night before. And you know how it is. Whenever you need to get up early you always sleep terribly anyway, all worried about your alarm clock not going off at the right time. And since my beloved alarm clock was literally a birthday present—thanks again, Mom and Dad!—for my thirteenth birthday, that’s most certainly a very real possibility.
The Boy slept off and on for the hour-and-a-half trip there. So he was asleep for about half the journey, awake but happy as a clam for about another quarter of it and awake but pissed as a badger that’s just been stepped on for another quarter. Yet even when it was 5:15 and the sun’s barely even a rumor off in the distance and he was asleep and we were trying to keep him that way, Top Management and I couldn’t stop ourselves from talking to each other. I don’t know what it is about us and driving. It’s like Conversation Viagra for us or something. (Not that that kept her from snoozing on the way home—she was wearing her sunglasses in an attempt to keep me from realizing it, but after she’d been snoring gently for seven minutes I finally caught on.)
Dawn really is a lovely time of day. I’m always surprised how gorgeous it is. And, God willing, I’ll continue to be thusly surprised once every fourth or fifth year.
While I hope you never have any kids who need surgery, if you find such a thing does come to pass, you could do a whole lot worse’n Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond. Nice freakin’ joint. Clean, friendly, efficient. Really, a pretty rockin’ place to have your kid's tushie and jewels sliced. All things considered.
Everyone was pretty great. We got there at 6:25am (were told to be there at 6:30), and they took us a mere fifteen minutes later. Now, I think it’s kinda screwy that we’re impressed that we only had to wait fifteen minutes, but reality’s reality, and that’s pretty great. Of course, The Boy hadn’t eaten since dinner, so I was in charge of Keeping Him the Hell Away from Mom, as he’d begin ripping her shirt off the moment he got within reach of her. As someone who sometimes falls victim to that same problem, I could sympathize, but it still Just Wouldn’t Do. So The Boy and I kept touring the place while Top Management patiently waited to be called, but we couldn’t go more than two minutes in any direction, in case they suddenly needed us.
And they did. Top Management filled out a four-page form, causing me to wonder why they didn’t send us that thing a month ago when we scheduled the surgery. Is it like a restaurant’s Daily Special, where they change it every day? If we filled it out ahead of time might we have missed out on the lobster bisque?
So then they took us back to the Pediatric O.R. waiting room, where we had to wait about another forty-five minutes, but that wasn’t too bad, because there was a lot of stuff to distract The Boy with (although not quite so much that he didn’t occasionally try to denude his mother, with a frankly disappointing lack of success). And while I say we had to wait, that’s not really quite true. First we talked to the surgeon, who recognized us as soon as we walked in. Then the nurse who was going to be in the operating room came and talked to us. Then the anesthesiologist’s nurse did the same. Then the anesthesiologist. Then the surgeon again. Then the nurse again. It was all pretty impressive how thorough they were. I mean, yeah, I guess they *should* be, but alas, that doesn’t automatically guarantee they’re *going* to be. But these folks were. So rock on their bad selves. They even made sure the surgeon drew on The Boy’s right leg with a marker, to show which side he was going to be operated on later. The didn’t feel the same thing wasn’t necessary when it came to his tailbone. Apparently, in the human body, there’s only one spine. Man. How’d I miss that back in Biology class? Oh, that’s right, I slept through most of them. And then had to cheat my way through the tests. Where was Harry Potter when I needed him?
So The Boy is bopping around while we’re doing all this conversing with the medical-type persons and I’m watching him more closely than usual. I mean, you know, it’s a hard tile floor and it’s crowded and I’m thinking, very literally, that the last thing we needed at that point was for him to take a really nasty spill and fracture his skull AGAIN.
The Boy, as is his wont, is running through his signs over and over again. Mommy. Daddy. Mommy. The Boy. Love. Love. Mommy. Love. Daddy. The Boy. Max. Max. Max. Max. The Bean. The Bean. Love. The Rose. The Boy. The Rose. Love. Cracker. Love. Cracker. Love. Cracker. Love. (Yes, he has an unhealthy fixation on crackers. There are worse fixations for a guy to have. [Rest of joke censored at the request of Top Management.])
Now, for those who haven’t seen it, The Boy’s name sign is a fist banged against the forehead. He’s very fond of it and, given how much he’s practiced it, he’s very good at it. And I noticed some of the hospital personnel sort of watching him banging his head with a fist as he toddled. So we pointed out to them that he frequently begins signing before he’s even all the way awake and if, as he’s coming up out of the anesthesia, they see him banging his head, he’s just talking and not complaining of a splitting headache. Believe me, I know from complaining of a splitting headache. I have four children. And I suspect they know something of the same. After all, they, in turn, have me.
And then they took him and kicked us out. Just like that. No good-byes or anything. Which is good, really—that’s pretty much how we would have suggested it be done if they’d asked. But they didn’t. So maybe it’s always best to just whisk the kid away before he realizes he’s being untimely ripped from the loving arms of his parents and it’s hospital policy. But it might have been nice to be told that, or to be asked.
Anyhoo, we went to the surgical waiting room and were given a beeper that was about the size of a remote control, with red lights all around the outside. The lights would flash and, even better, it would buzz when you were being paged; I say "buzz" but actually it was more like a quack and, just for good measure, it’d also vibrate. If it went off, that’d mean the doctor had something to tell us and we should rush to the desk there or, if we were too far away, we could call in. We were told the surgery would be at least a couple of hours, maybe longer. So we had a lot o’ time to kill.
We were starving but we went and grabbed a couple comfy seats in a different part of the hospital, where the chairs were more comfortable, there was less noise and it was easier to people-watch. And we just had to wait. And there’s something about waiting for your kid to come out of a medical procedure which just dries up all conversation-making abilities between parents. Unfortunately, this is something on which Top Management and I are something of experts. Fortunately, just then brother Jay arrived.
If you’ve got a couple hours to spend in a hospital waiting for your kid to come out of surgery, I cannot recommend highly enough having brother Jay hang out with you. The hours didn’t exactly fly by, but they most assuredly no longer crept. Of course, talkin’ smack about the other brothers is always a pleasant diversion. (I’m kidding, guys, I’m kidding! Or I would be if you ever got around to reading Left of the Dial, you lazy bastards. I say that with love.)
And then we were buzzed. And pleasant as it was—it was in my pocket—it was also terrifying. Because it’d only been half an hour, far too soon. We hurried back to the front desk of the surgical waiting room. And when I say "we hurried" what I mean is I walked briskly and Top Management was performing her version of Official International Race-Walking Techniques. She was bookin’.
They tell us they’ve got the O.R. on the horn and they’ll transfer the call. So we go to the white courtesy phone and when it rings Top Management picks it up. And finds out that they’re just calling to let us know he’s asleep and that he didn’t fuss one smidge.
It was so nice of them to call. It was so courteous. And in the future, I think I’d wish they were either slightly less courteous, or warned us ahead of time that they were ultra-courteous. Us humans aren’t used to that much courtesy in this day and age. It just scares the shit out of us.
So the three of us decided to try to get our pulses back down out of the Just Finished Sprinting Up a Very Long and Steep Hill category and get something to eat. We’d been given coupons entitling the bearers to 10% off a meal at the cafeteria. Feh. Our old hospital used to just give you a free meal. Then again, you also had to wait, not fifteen minutes, but two hours to be called to go fill out the paperwork, so I guess that’s a pretty acceptable trade-off.
I learned three things at the cafeteria. The first is that St. Mary’s Bon Secour (you know, I’m not even sure what the official name of the hospital is) has really shockingly good cinnamon rolls in their cafeteria. They’re not the greatest I’ve ever had, but they really don’t suck. The second thing is that their coffee is also surprisingly good. They have a gourmet coffee place out in the lobby, but I don’t know why anyone goes there, when their standard fare in the caf is as good as it is.
The third thing is more of a realization: any food, other than ice cream, looks gross when it’s served with an ice cream scoop. Mashed potatoes, hash browns, whatever. Serve it with an ice cream scoop in a nice round ball and it’s just wrong. Great for vanilla ice cream. Not so much for anything else whitish.
So we eat and shoot around plans for Mom’s surprise birthday party—and if you’re reading this, Mom, then skip that sentence—and when we’re just done we get buzzed again. Heart pounding, Top Management finds a phone and calls the surgical waiting area desk as per their instructions…but the line’s busy. So she tries again. Same deal. So while she tries a third time, I go hustling back to the actual desk. And they tell me the O.R.’s on the phone and transfer the call. And they’re just letting us know they’re doing with the front half and they’re flipping The Boy over to work on his beehind.
This time their courtesy isn’t quite so frightening. But it’s still a little bit scary. A lot scary, in fact. Just not so much as before.
So then we go back to where we were before. Our chairs are now taken, though, so we move down the hall a bit. And right in front of us is something I’ve never seen before. It’s something like one of those people-movers they sometimes have in airports, a long moving walkway so you don’t have to tire yourself out by actually moving your legs. You can just stand and the conveyor belt’ll do all the work for you and move you along to your destination, like the human cattle you are. (No, I don’t really mean that—I get a kick out of those things; I sprint down ‘em as fast as I can so I can pretend I’m the Flash. Zoom! Sometimes my sentences just take on a life of their own, the little buggers.) But this one was inclined, so it took you from the first floor to the second floor like an escalator. Only there were no steps; it was just one smooth belt going up at a gentle incline.
The sign referred to it as an escalator, but it was no more like what we normally think of as an escalator than an escalator is a stairway. Likewise, it wasn’t flat, so it wasn’t a traditional walkway or people-mover. I think we need a new name for it. And I think we need it post-haste.
So we’re watching people go up and down on this thing and I noticed something odd. A lot of the guys would go up it in a strange pose: they’d put one leg in front, bent at the knee, and keep their back leg behind them, completely straight. And it was all sorts o’ guys: old, young, fat, thin. But none of the women did, no matter what their size, shape or age. What’s up with that? Do these gentlemen have unusually large testicles that preclude them from standing upright for the thirty-second ride? If so, I can recommend an excellent surgeon who does outstanding ballwork.
And then The Boy’s out of surgery. The surgeon comes and tell us in stomach-churning detail what he did. I let the details wash over me as if he were a concerned neighbor explaining all the things I do wrong when it comes to lawncare, fully confident that Top Management’s taking copious mental notes.
When he’s done he says that they’ll let us know when we can come see The Boy and that it’ll probably be about twenty minutes. After he left, the very nice old volunteer at the desk warns us at great length how they always say that but that it’s not unusual for it to be more like an hour or an hour and a half and that sometimes it’s even two and a half hours before you can go see him. "Oh," she says, as she wraps up. "But sometimes it’s only twenty minutes."
It was about twenty minutes later that they said we could go see him, and a different very nice old volunteer lead us through the labyrinthine corridors to the surgical recovery room. And there was The Boy.
He looked like hell. His skin was all mottled, his eyes were rolling, his hair was all mussed (even by our not-exactly-GQ standards) and he smelled like anesthesia, a scent which instantly catapulted Top Management and meself back nearly a decade to New York City and Max and all the times she’d smelled like that. They say scent is the most powerful of the senses when it comes to memory. I’m not going to argue.
As The Boy had now not eaten in about fifteen hours, he was a mite peckish. So he tucked in and Top Management and I talked about how awful he looked and what he smelled like and that reminded us of a kid we’ll call Jimmy.
Jimmy was about eighteen when we met him. He was an occasional in-patient on the same pediatric oncology floor as Max. He was obviously a bit old to be admitted to the pediatric wing, but he’d been an oncology patient since he was seven or something like that, and had relapsed a few times. So, since he’d spent so much time on the pediatric floor and knew all the oncologists and nurses so well, everyone just felt better about him being there. And he was an amazing kid—so smart and sweet and funny. It was so cool to see him try to fit himself onto one of the tiny chairs in the playroom, where he’d play Play-Doh with the little kids, giving their mothers a break. Awesome, awesome guy.
But the first time Top Management or I saw him was a different experience. In fact, we only glimpsed him that first time. But we heard him. Oh yes we did.
Max had been admitted for a round of chemo and we’re walking down the hall with her, pushing her big ol’ IV pole, when we hear shouts coming from one of the rooms. "I said NO, dammit!" a guy yells. "I don’t want one! Just leave me the hell alone, you stupid bitch!"
A woman comes out of the room, shaking. Top Management and I stare at each in horror. What do we do? So we go up and say very gently, "Are you okay?"
And the shaking woman turns to us and we can see that she’s not crying. She’s laughing. "Oh, I’m fine," she answers pleasantly. "That’s my son. He had anesthesia this morning. He’s always this way afterwards."
And sure enough, we find out that the yeller, Jimmy, was about the sweetest kid ever. Except when he was coming out of anesthesia. And then he turned into Mr. Hyde for the next hour. And then spent the next two days apologizing profusely for his horrible behavior.
We kinda enjoyed that.
So after about fifteen minutes they tell us that we can go. Now, The Boy just had his tailbone snipped off, so we’ve been very skeptical all along about his ability to sit in a car for at least an hour and a half and, if we hit a traffic jam like last time, two hours. But they assure us that he’s doped up and, what’s more, he’s been given a couple locals right in his butt area to numb it up good.
So okay. We make plans with brother Jay to go somewhere nearby to eat before we hit the road. He goes to hop in his car and we’re going to wait in ours before following him to the restaurant. The Boy has been alternating between zonking on my shoulder and being groggily but happily awake. He’s not really fussed much but he has seemed a tiny bit uncomfortable, sometimes liking to be cradled, a position he’s NEVER liked. And when he gets tired of that and wants to be held with his head on your shoulder, he sticks his rear way, way out in a most awkward manner, looking a little bit like Britney Spears in almost every publicity shot of her I’ve ever seen.
And when we go to put him in his carseat, not only does he wake up instantly, he immediately begins doing The Funky Chicken in a desperate attempt to get off his ass. Buckling him in was harder than it’s ever been, as he’s squirming like the seat’s on fire.
But buckle him I do. At which point he begins shrieking.
I start the car and pull out. Top Management and I are almost frantic, wondering what the hell to do. Do we go back and insist he be admitted? Do we ask for more drugs? What about some more drugs for The Boy while we’re at it? (Thank you. Thank you very much.)
We decide to keep driving to see if maybe the after-effects of the anesthesia will kick in. We call brother Jay who, understandably confused, asks where we are since he’s pulled his car around and we’re clearly no longer in the parking spot where he’d left us. Hearing the wail of the banshee coming from the backseat—I’m not sure he even needed the cellphone to be able to hear The Boy—Jay quickly susses out the scene and wishes us well on our trip home, probably secretly relieved to be done with the traveling freak show but much too polite to say so.
Fortunately, after about two minutes, right about the time we’re thinking of turning around and asking for a refill on our crack prescription, The Boy falls asleep. Midshriek, almost. Shriek shriek shriek shriek whimper out.
Not the most promising start to our return trip, but not the worst either. Having only gotten about five hours of really lousy sleep, I’d been counting on picking up coffee on the way home but that was no longer an option. So I contented myself with the sweet consolation of ninety minutes of talk-time with beloved Top Management, who kicks the bejeebers out of Starbucks without even trying.
When she’s awake, that is. Which she was for all but about ten minutes of the drive. Unfortunately, those were the ten minutes when I poured out all my deepest hopes and fears for the first and only time in my life. That’ll learn me. But that’s okay—the sheer mindbending quality of the rest of the drive made up for that one tiny little lapse in consciousness.
Meanwhile, I resolved, as I always do when driving that particular stretch of highway, to turn some of the exit signs into characters in a novel some day. I mean, really: there’s an exit for Shannon Hill—is that not a fine name for a character? There’s another exit for Louisa Ferncliff—Jane Austen weeps over her lost chance. And there’s also one for something Goochland, I forget what, but who cares? It’s got Goochland in the name! Gooch! My boy Gooch! Welcome to Goochland, where everyone’s an honorary Gooch!
I think going two days with little sleep is catching up with me. Maybe I should take the car out for a spin. I just have to go wake up my seven-year-old so she can drive.
As I’m typing this I’m listening to The Boy on the monitor; he's making little noises in his sleep. He conked out earlier than normal tonight; guess he’s kinda had a big couple o’ days too. He was really pretty chipper today, all things considered, bopping around with his funny little smile, like he knows something the rest of us don’t. I’ll bet he does too.
You know, this is the seventh surgery one of our children has had, but it’s the first one that’s ever been really scheduled in advance; all the others were sorta semi-emergencies, gotta-do-it-right-now deals or at most gotta-do-it-tomorrow jobbies. With this one, though, we had weeks to think about it. And when you’ve got that much time…things pop into your head. You don’t want them to and you pretend that they don’t but, you know, sometimes they do all the same. That’s just what happens when you’re a parent. Ideas, thoughts, images, notions about your kids pop into your head before you know it, no matter how hard you may try to avoid it. So it’s a pretty swell feeling to see The Boy trotting all over the house, attempting to pull his sister’s hair, carrying a jar of sweet potatoes he swiped from the pantry and signing his name over and over and over. A lot of things that run through my head turn out to be completely without any rational basis. That’s nothing new. I’m used to that. But it’s rarely this pleasant.