Tag Archives: commuting

Break lights against snow, a fairytale

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You graduated from college in June and you’ve been working hard for a number of months.  You’ve finally started to settle in.  Even the crazy lady in marketing has stopped talking to you like you were a puppy dog (“Aw, look at him try to put paper in the copy machine the wrong way.”).  This is your first full year of working.  Of dominating!  Then you see it.  You rub your eyes thinking you’ve been looking at spreadsheets too long, but you heard things too.  You tried to ignore it, but pretty soon it was the talk around the office – snowstorm on its way.  “Snow? C’mon, I grew up in Massachusetts.  I eat snow for dinner!  I will leave fifteen minutes early and I’ll be fine.”

Snow in college, if you lived on campus, was delightful.  You woke up late thinking “I’m not going to class.”  Since everyone else was thinking the same thing, class magically got cancelled.  Voila!  You killed hours playing Madden and watching the maintenance guys scramble to plow the place out.  Then you took a nap.  Then you went outside, stuck some beers in the snow and lived it up.  You were throwing snowballs at each other.  You were throwing snowballs at the girl you liked as she walked by.  You were accepting dirty looks from a girl who had a jacket that looked a lot like the one that girl you liked had.  “Sorry, didn’t mean to hit you with a snowball even though I kinda did.”  It’s like one of those old cigarette advertisements where everybody’s a little bit too happy looking for reality.

Growing up in New England we learned to deal with the snow, to be one with the snow.  It was so nice to know there was no school.  There were snow days that were better than some Christmases.  A wave of rumor gushed around school that we were gonna get hit big.  When it was a no doubter your parents might have even let you stay up late the night before.  You awoke and everything was quiet.  These days schools email or tell parents the night before if there is going to be no school.  We didn’t have that.  We had Harvey Leonard and Bruce Schwoegler, the Lords of the Snow Day Dance.  You walked into the light of the living room and the proof came scrolling across the screen.  Then your parents told you to get outside and shovel thus killing your high, but the point is there was no school for there was only snow.

All you own now, bitch, is a shovel and a job.  I wrote a haiku in honor of the snow today.

Snow glides singing soft
Two hours on roads that bite
Break lights, my blood glows

It’s a feeling of despair for the future when you spend over two hours navigating backroads and highways through the snow only to find you’re one of the first at the office.  You think about how four inches of snow; white, happy snow that they write carols about, wrung every bit of energy out of you.  What was it all for and what would six inches be capable of?  Why are there so few people in the office?  Did they cancel work?  No, your snow days are gone, pal.  It’s like a hidden payroll tax, withholding any joy that was once associated with the falling snow.  There’s a short line for coffee for once.  You’ll need it to listen to the harrowing tales of sliding down 495 and 128.  You’ll need it to drip courage into your veins for the gruesome ride home.  Just don’t drink too much, pal.  You may have to hold it for a good three hours as Massachusetts reconstructs its roadways in the red glare of break lights.

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My day off belongs to everyone, but me

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You ever wish you had access to a guru?  Not a religious one – enlightenment should be limited to the books on tape you listen to during your commute while you’re trying to figure out what the vanity plate ‘PPLBON’ could possibly mean.  Give yourself a dinosaur sticker if you knew Jonathan Papelbon pitched for the Red Sox.  Consequently, he would not be allowed to drive a rusty Camry.  I’m not sure he can even spell his own name, but even he knows it’s dumb to have a vanity plate in New England that references a player who is now sucking fumes in Philadelphia.  So we could all use some enlightment, but that’s not the point.  The point is it would be nice to have somebody just show up one day and say “Geoff, I’ve reorganized your whole life an I actually came out with a profit of $60, 302.44.  Is it OK if I just put that directly in your bank account?”

Well, that’s not going to happen.  Here’s the reality.  You bust your butt every day.  You’re a smooth cat.  Even the auditors can’t always find you.  Todd, the Accounts Receivable contractor, is asking you for the same information you gave to the previous two contractors.  That’s annoying, but the trade off is that Todd is the weird nephew of Ray Liotta, and you get to mention you work with him at every bad party you’ve been to.  You’ve got a system at work.  While it still results in flashes of heartburn and numbness some days, on the whole it’s OK.  The problem is…actually we longer use the term ‘problem’ on this blog…the indirect cost of doing business this way is your personal life gets backed up.  Most of the time you are divorced from life outside the office anyway.  Your employer would prefer that you just paid alimony and were done with it. You’re more interested in visitation rights.  The odd compromise is the  Day Off Errand Run (DOER).  Wow, that sounds like a program HR invented when they realized it was the end of the year and they hadn’t actually created any initiatives.

Usually there is something that predicts a DOER is on its way.  Maybe you have a trip planned over the weekend to go up to Vermont and stare at trees or, simply, your shirts have become unevenly stained.  There’s nothing like being ridiculed by people who have better stains than you or who have been eating granola bars for lunch for the past week.  Yeah, those granola bars she got as a sample at that hippy-dippy concert she went to last weekend.  The moral of the story is that your boss should come up to you and put his hand on your shoulder and say “You’ve been working real hard.  We’ve all noticed it.  Let’s get you a day off.  How about next Tuesday, does that work?”  Again reality versus fantasy.  In reality you get to about 3:00 on Wednesday and you realize if you don’t see your boss about a DOER, Bernice, the hypochondriac, is going to get in there and take all the days for at least the next week.  You slink in to the office.  While he finishes up a phone call, your mind tries to reconcile the pencil cup on his desk that says “Even the successful know the value of an eraser” and the mousepad that has a picture of his baby daughter who is now, you know, eight.  What is this, an after-school special on work-life balance issues?  Well, upon hanging up he neglects to notice your head’s on all sideways.  When you mention you need a day off he probably gives you a look like he’s trying to pull off the cover of a half used paint can that’s a mix of crust and liquid at the same time.

We’ll skip the rest of the conversation and assume he relents and gives you a day off even though Bernice is already slotted in for a trip to the hospital.  There’s a couple slight chances during the weekend to stop what you’re doing and complete a couple errands, but that’s Tuesday stuff.  One time you used a DOER and got all of your errands done plus it was during the holidays.  That was a fantastic day.  But that was before the kids and the dog and it wasn’t this job so there was a little more flexibility.  Even NASA would struggle to figure how you’re going to make Tuesday successful.  It’s really just an oil change, drycleaners, library, get a gift card for mom, buy some dogfood, go to city hall, change out a lightbulb on the back porch, and maybe buy some underwear.  It really should take half a day and the other half you can spend reading a book, drinking a beer, stalking your coworkers on Facebook – whatever.  You ever notice that the people you visit on your day off never visit you on their day off?  That means the guy from Jiffy-Lube has time to drink two beers and chill out.  Maybe he and the librarian share a nice Beet and Apple with Goat Cheese salad while they discuss their mutual love for Bukowski.  Moral of the story: that’s not you.

Wednesday you’ve got work on your desk, your boss is aggravated, everybody’s asking you what you did on your magical day off (except for Bernice who has a bronchial thing).  All you have to report is that you somehow came out of the DOER with more things to do than you started with and less time off to accomplish all of these tasks.  Wonderful.  What do you think?  Does this pretty much sum it up?  Anybody have some handy-dandy tips for actual success?  Any epic failures out there like you went to pull weeds and got poisoned oak all over your body and upon telling your tale a thousand times the next day you were permanently nicknamed PO Boy and shunned by everyone including future interns who weren’t even there?  Just checking.

The hidden benefits of carpooling with jerks

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There’s always somebody at work who keeps getting those bonuses for bringing their old colleagues aboard.  Not only have they cashed in with an instant army of work friends, but they also have a cute little carpool group that HR points to when hiring new people.  You reluctantly agree that it is, in fact, a cool idea and you’re saving the environment and maybe a bit of stress in not having to focus on driving every day.  Now, what your wise colleague didn’t tell you is that there’s a woman named Ronda in her carpool group who she recently brought  to the company.  She doesn’t like Ronda personally, but if Ronda brings in a $2,000 bonus she’s worth the hassle even if you’ve got to put her in your carpool group. What’s better than getting a bonus check?  It’s getting a bonus check and offloading a less desireable carpool buddy onto somebody else. Ronda seems nice and you don’t really understand why they don’t want her in their carpool group.

The key term there is ‘group.’ If you carpool with one other person you might as well just ask them to drive you directly to the doctor’s office.  Of course, they won’t because they will have some excuse as to why they can’t drive that day.  Maybe you could ask Ronda for a doctor’s note and a note from her mechanic stating that the car is in working order and maybe like four forms of ID.  She’d probably give it to you because Ronda is so thoughtful in the office.  She puts new paper in the copier.  Sometimes she’ll slide a little note in the suggestion box.  She cleans out the fridge and best of all she lives three blocks over and her schedule is about the same as yours.  Fantastic! If you could sign up to have a lingering cold it would be like matching yourself up with Ronda.

The first week Ronda has driven twice and you’ve driven three times.  The next week she’ll do the majority.  Actually Ronda’s got a deadline on Thursday so you’ll skip the carpool that day – no biggie.  That first week everything’s going great.  You’ve talked about your crappy commutes in the past, the places you’ve worked at – man, Ronda knows a lot of gossip about the office.  You give her that knowing wink when you see her in the copy room with the VP of Sales.  Even Ronda’s car is basically what you would expect.  She has a couple of books and cds on the back seat, but not too cluttered.  She’s not an insane driver.  Though you were hesitant, this setup is not as bad as you thought.  Then it happens, an innocent remark about stiffness in her knee.  Now she’s made this thing personal and there’s no going back.  You’ve been snookered in by a thoughtful person.  Be prepared for the arrival of a mysterious spouse and the litany of responsibilities that this spouse has that requires Ronda’s car on days when she’s supposed to drive.  Suddenly Ronda has a cat that has some sort of flesh eating bacteria so instead of leaving at 5:30 Ronda needs to be out by 5:05.

She, of course apologizes every single time, but it doesn’t stop her from asking if you don’t mind if she runs into Walgreens.  She’s also taken to having you just drive directly to your house in the evening and she’ll walk the rest of the way home (because its good exercise and it’s easier on you, right?).  Once she starts showing up on foot in the morning it’s clear she’s turning into Kathy Bates from Misery.

You’ve done your due diligence around the office to blacklist Ronda from any future carpools.  There are muted comments on Facebook.  You even thought briefly about accidently deleting her from your Linked in network, but that would go against your blood buddy promise you made on that first Tuesday as you sat in a jumbled mess of cars in Waltham.  And when there are no escapes left, save for stabbing her with your Blue Cross Blue Shield card, (you can feel how sharp that thing is against your own palm) you start making excuses as to why you can’t drive tomorrow and the next day.  It’s going to work.  We’ll just let the carpool fizzle out.  No, because nice people are needy.  Every time you deliver an excuse to Ronda she smiles and says “not a problem.”, but the phases of her eyes have gone from optimistic to realizing you’re trying to break this off.  Hopefully for your sake she’s not a crazy, overbearing, nice person who will show up at your door on weekends.  Let’s assume she’s somewhat normal and will take whatever goodwill you once had and stab you with it metaphorically by badmouthing you around the office. Eventually she will show the balls to call you out to your face on trying to end the relationship – the carpool relationship.  This exchange, of course, will be on the day traffic is backed up everywhere and you have to sit in your car alone thinking about what you’ve done to this poor, nice lady with a diseased cat.

Carpool with angry people  (as characterized by the Onion News Network) because initially they’ll be frustrated with the traffic and say funny things.  Eventually they’ll wonder why you’re not so angry and they’ll have the balls one day to tell you how soft you are and kick you out of the carpool that you suggested in the first place.  Kids, if a stranger asks you to get in a car with them – don’t. Adults, if a coworker asks you to get in a car with them – don’t.

Have you ever been part of a carpool that’s gone horribly wrong?  Are you on the run from your former carpool buddy? Do you want to start a carpool group with me?  Tell us about it.

When five year olds give you the finger

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Random Daily Cubicle Activity #96 – Find the one meandering road that doesn’t have traffic on it and shut down your computer before the road does get traffic on it.

I believe traffic was invented somewhere around 1994.  We were ahead of the curve here in Massachusetts and continue to lead in traffic related death every year.  Not actual fatalities because the roads are so pot-holed and seeming with traffic that the few that do die during the day did something dumb like stand outside their car and stare at their flat tire on Route 2.  No, I’m talking about the flakes of sanity and vitality that fall off you each day like crumbs onto your car floor. So while we admit that we are bad drivers, all of the statistics are rosy and paint us almost in a human light.  Its kind of like the statistics you see when you buy a printer and it says it can print up to 50,000 sheets in a month. Then you’re 2,000 sheets in and it’s 6:00 PM on the 29th and the blood is running out of your face only making that red light on the printer console redder.

Most days traffic is like that red light. Yes, there is something that will soothe the stress and make the light go away, but eventually the light will refuse to go off.  This mental breakdown probably comes the day your engine light comes on, a five year old just gave you the finger when you tried to pass his minivan, and the highway is merging down to one lane because they’ve been working on the same bridge for seven months while conveniently closing your exit off of the highway.

What do you do to calm yourself down?  I turn on the radio and then I hear songs like “Take It Easy” by the Eagles and I want to throw something out the window.  Unfortunately somebody’s beat me to the punch and there’s debris in the road that I have to swerve around.  My tie and my hair are probably cartoonishly going one direction while the rest of me is going the other.  Allow me to regale you with an actual story.  Have you ever seen that show I Survived?  So I was driving to work one morning down Route 128 which has got to be top ten worst roads in America.  I was actually moving that day (it must have been a holiday!) probably close to the speed limit in the passing lane.  To the right of me is a box truck.  Up ahead of us also in the center lane is one of those sketchy Ford Econoline vans.  You know the ones that are all white with the tinted windows in the back.  It’s driven by a guy named Uri who doesn’t really work for the company legally.  The owner’s mom from one of the former Russian states was like “Here is brother Uri. He needs job to find wife. He drive for you, yes?” So you see these vans every day with something sticking out of the back of the vehicle (which, I guess is better than not knowing what is inside it.  Uri’s van had a big rug sticking out the back until the big rug was nestled snuggly in the summer morning air on the pavement of 128.  After eleven years Uri might have a job again, but my concern in that moment was that the box truck that I was attempting to pass was torpedoing itself towards this rug at around 60 mph.  The best analogy I have for the moment the box truck hit the rug was that it looked like an elephant up on its hind legs.  The truck did come back down to put all four tires back on the road, but lets just say the driver left a little more than crumbs on the floor of his truck.

So if you survive your two plus hours on the road each day you’re doing OK.  Of course there’s the one person in the office who that’s not good enough for – Dan Direction.  He’s the guy that’s lived or crashed on couches in every town in your state.  If you’ve got to meet somebody to buy a meat grinder off of Craig’s List Dan will give you directions from the office, from your house, from the nearest Dunkin Donuts.  You might not even be sure what Dan does in your office, but he is the reference for directions.  Just don’t ask him to fix your commute because it will probably involve you driving through private parking lots, making illegal turns and sitting behind school buses. 

There’s also one person in the office who actually has a short commute and yet they seem to be late most days.  Why is that?  Maybe they got directions from Dan.  Who knows? 

How can we ignore the most important character for some of us in our daily lives – the carpool buddy?  I’m going to reserve this subject for the next blog entry because I’m going to get too fired up and say something I’m going to regret.  See, this is what commuting does to you.  Take a breath, you made it through another ride. What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen during your commutes?