Category Archives: General Grievances

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The summer is soon upon us again, and as such, one may notice more traffic on the roads and highways as people take their “all-american-road-trips” around the nation.  This is one of the joys of being an American:  we can get in the car, the RV, or, if you’re unfortunate enough to be forced to drive one, the mini van, drive across the country without having to produce a passport and experience different cultures while using the same form of money you use at home: the exchange rate remains $1.00:$1.00.

While it’s nice to have this opportunity, it can create congestion headaches for the people who are just trying to go through their normal day; Going to work, going to school, picking up the kids, etc… especially if they live in a city with a major highway or interstate, because summer in big cities doesn’t just mean more traffic.  It also means road construction.

This means that many of us who depend on the highway and interstate systems will need to not only deal with the “out of town-er” who drives slower than my mother because they don’t quite know where they’re going, but also the slow-downs created by the government employees who stand along the roadways with signs and cones, stare at the pavement and wonder why it isn’t fixing itself.

To exasperate matters further and cause even more problems, we will inevitably run into the “left-lane hogs”.  These are the people who I must pass on the right hand side because they are driving too slow in the left most lane.  These are the people who should not be allowed to drive because they’re inconsiderate assholes (or, at least, they’re acting as such).  They are the ones who consistently slow traffic down by driving slow in the passing lane, forcing those of us who use the passing lane correctly to slow down and then weave through the right-most of traffic to get around them.  These maneuvers typically cause more congestion because people tend to slow down when another car darts in front of them, if only to prevent tailgating accidents.  Then the person behind them slows down.  Then the person behind THEM slows down, and so on and so forth, until we’re all sitting in the blistering heat of the summer, stopped on the interstate, with our air-conditioners on full blast, wasting valuable petrol, looking at the government employees who have taken a break from staring at the broken pavement that still hasn’t fixed itself to instead stare at us.  And this is uncomfortable, because having any large thoughtless bovine animal peer deeply into one’s eyes is extremely unnerving.

When people are unnerved, they get “twitchy”.  And angry.  And while driving, they fill with road rage, which is unhealthy because it causes accidents, heart attacks, strokes, and messes in which people’s heads explode, either figuratively or from bullets.

Some folks who are left-lane hogs will come up with useless excuses for their actions.  They say the left lane is easier to see from, that it “moves smoother”, and that they’re actually doing faster drivers a favor, since the faster drivers don’t need to pull out of the right lane to pass them.  These, dear reader, are annoying.  Any logical person can see the reasons these excuses don’t make sense.

The granddaddy of their excuses is “I’m going the speed limit, so I shouldn’t have to make way for someone who is speeding”.

I take massive issue with this, as anyone with two or three brain cells knows that the speed limits don’t really reflect actual travel speeds.  Instead, they are arbitrary, politically generated numbers that have no relationship to real engineering standards.  Drive the speed limit or less in a state like Michigan, if you don’t agree with me.  One will quickly learn that if he or she is not traveling at least 10 MPH faster than the limit, he or she will likely cause an accident, or if in Detroit, shot or stabbed to death while traveling 70 MPH by someone driving much faster.

A driver going the speed limit in the left lane can be a serious problem.  They cause abrupt lane and speed changes, as well as hostility or road rage, which might cause people’s heads to explode, which is even more dangerous if the newly deceased’s car is still moving.  Even if our speed limits were more realistic, there is no good reason to remain in the left lane if a faster vehicle wishes to pass you.  It only creates friction and makes our roads more dangerous.

In an effort to stem this lane-hogging problem, the National Motorists Association has named the month of June “Lane Courtesy Month”.

Prior to 1973, rural speed limits more accurately reflected actual travel speeds.  Slower vehicles driving under the speed limit and had no excuse to block the progress of faster traffic.  In 1973, everything changed when the National Maximum Speed Limit law passed, requiring states to post speed limits of no more than 55 MPH on any road.  This new law obliterated the idea of lane courtesy because drivers who would have stayed in the right lane prior to the law felt they could drive wherever they wanted, since they could still go the speed limit or faster.

For more than two decades, this behavior was lawfully reinforced until it left an impression on multiple generations of drivers.

Finally, the all-knowing American Government came to their senses, and in 1995, the stupid 55 MPH law was repealed, but it was too late.  The damage had already been done.  By the time the speed limits were increased, many people had forgotten how to be considerate to one another.  This is the reason we have to deal with the lane hogging idiots today.

According to the National Motorists Association, there are four key benefits to Lane Courtesy:

1) You’re Less Likely To Be In An Accident
By not obstructing other drivers, traffic is able to flow more smoothly. When traffic flows smoothly, there is less tailgating, less weaving in-and-out of traffic, and therefore fewer accidents.

2) You’ll Get Better Gas Mileage
Lane courtesy promotes the smooth flow of traffic and helps drivers maintain an even pace. Vehicles use the most gas when accelerating. Less braking followed by acceleration will improve fuel economy.

3) You’ll Get To Your Destination Faster
Yielding to faster traffic reduces congestion. When traffic is flowing smoothly, highway capacity can be utilized to the fullest extent.

4) You Will Not Have To Deal With Road Rage
There’s little doubt that “left lane hogs” are a source of irritation for many drivers. The courteous act of moving to the right can eliminate driver stress and conflict.

I will add another:

5) You’ll be acting within the law.  Most states do have a law on the books regarding lane courtesy, though they may not enforce said law very well.

Even if there’s not a law on the books in your state, our society is not only ruled by laws.  There are also things like common courtesy, ethics, morals, self-interest and social habits.

If two strangers come upon one another and one of them says “Hello!”, it is considered socially rude for the stranger to whom the greeting was addressed to ignore the greeting:  They should address the greeter in return, with at least a smile or a nod.

People forget that while they are in their autos they are still “in public” and as such, they should adhere to civilized behavior.  For example, look at the zipper effect.  When two lanes are reduced down to one, typically one car from each lane will enter the single lane, one side after the other.  There is no law regarding this.  It is merely common courtesy.

The main thing is this:  most of our driving behaviors have evolved from behavioral patterns into “rules of the road” over the past century.  They have become driving ethics.

If one looks at the typical accepted behaviors around driving, one will find that many of the behaviors are not laws on the books; Those that are laws aren’t necessarily adhered to either.  When was the last time you, dear reader, drove 5 MPH over the speed limit?  This, while against the law, is acceptable to most other drivers.  The point here is that lane courtesy will not truly be embraced until it becomes accepted by drivers as the ethical thing to do.  The laws aren’t enforced anyway.

When driving on the Autobahn in Germany, its common knowledge that the left-hand lane is reserved for passing.  Not driving.  This rule keeps the Autobahn safe.  Sure, there are accidents, but according to http://www.german-autobahn.eu/index.asp?page=speeds, despite the prevailing high speeds, the accident, injury and death rates on the Autobahn are remarkably low. The Autobahn carries about a third of all Germany’s traffic, but injury accidents on the Autobahn account for only 6% of such accidents nationwide and less than 12% of all traffic fatalities were the result of Autobahn crashes (2004).  In fact, the annual fatality rate (3.2 per billion km in 2004) is consistently lower than that of most other superhighway systems, including the US Interstates.

Of course, there are left-lane courtesy laws in Germany, and failing to move over for faster cars can result in heavy fines.  It is illegal to pass on the right on the Autobahn.  Slow moving vehicles must always move to the right, and faster vehicles may pass on the left only. The only exception is when both lanes are moving slowly (under 60 km per hour, 35 mph), as in the frequent traffic jams. In such cases drivers are allowed to pass on the right, but at a speed no higher than 20 km per hour faster than the traffic in the left lane.  Because of the lifted speed limits, one may encounter a Porsche, Merc or BMW traveling at 150 MPH.  At these speeds, it is extremely dangerous to slam on one’s brakes to slow down, and thus, if one is piddling around on the Autobahn at 100 MPH and a Porsche rapidly approaches from behind, one should move over to let the superior car pass.  This keeps the drivers on the Autobahn safer, while implementing a “Stupid Tax” for those douschebags that are, in all actuality, too incompetent to be allowed to drive a car.

Of course in Germany, not everyone drives.  Driving is a privilege there, as the cost of obtaining a license to drive is nothing to be scoffed at.  At €1500.00-€2000.00, a German drivers license is a serious thing.  This cost prevents “just anyone” from obtaining a license, which is to say that unless you really fancy yourself a driver, you’ll take the trains and buses available to the public.  Because of this, the majority of people who actually spend the time for the classes (a minimum of 25-45 hours of professional instruction including lessons on night driving, autobahn experience, in-town driving, and a multitude of other driving situations plus 12 hours of theory) and the fees to get licensed are very aware of the “rules of the road”.  I should also state that just paying the €2000.00 won’t insure a license will be acquired.  There are still exams to pass (the test for a German driver’s license includes questions about the mechanical aspects of an automobile, in addition to the usual examination on the rules of the road).  It’s a serious endeavor that is not to be taken lightly.

So for the month of June, I will personally be adhering to lane courtesy.  I will quickly move out-of-the-way when a faster car approaches from behind, and I will expect the rest of the public to do the same.  I know, for a fact, that this rule will be broken many, many times by many, many people, probably within the first day.  And that’s ok, because I realize we don’t live in Germany.  We live in a country that maintains that drivers licenses should be given to everyone, from the doctors and dentists who drive Ferraris to high school students and the elderly folks who can’t see over the steering wheel.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t be honking at and flipping the bird to the incompetents who won’t move to the right lane for me.

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Filed under Cars, General Grievances, Personal Experience

It Began With Just One Question…

What is it that dictates who we (as individuals) are and what we become?

Is it that which kings of old claimed as right to rule, divine providence? A decision made by the gods or God that dictates that which we will become? If so, is this predestination, in the living sense– not that we as souls will travel to heaven or hell once our lives here on earth are extinguished, but rather that we as individuals will actually live in our own heaven or hell, here on Earth, dependent upon the flighty decisions of the ruling powers above?

Is this concept related to the Fates that the Greeks of legend so feared, the three old hags, snipping threads of yarn shorter and shorter with their scissors, disconnecting some threads entirely from the ball of life? Does fate exist and what role does it play? Is one birth sign really more lucky than another? Is it this luck that separates the prince from the pauper? Is it a really only a matter of hours between birth signs that dictate whether someone will grow up to be “made” while someone else will struggle with money and debt throughout their life– a simple day’s difference that separates a high roller at a poker table in Monte Carlo from a man dropping his last dime into the slot machine in Reno?

And if not fate, what of destiny? Can one not find many individuals throughout history that exemplify the fact that luck does not last and that destiny can merely be a fleeting glimpse– a flash of opportunity that may or may not jump into our lives at the right time? Are we to drop everything and follow destiny when uncertainty abounds? How often is it that we as individuals miss the opportunities afforded to us by destiny because we’re focusing on something else, something that seems more pressing at the time? Is this a daily occurrence or a monthly one? Is there ever fair warning? And at what point does destiny just give up and say, “To hell with this person, I’m going bowling.”?

Is it a matter of our parenting, of our parents’ ability to stay together hand-in-hand and endure, whatever the cost? What if they don’t truly love one another any longer? Should the child be made to suffer the parents’ abiding of one another with fake, plastic smiles? Will the child grow to expect the same for themselves? Or how about the parents’ inability to live with one another, fighting so much that they separate and split the family, creating hostility at home where a child should find only safety? What effect does this have on the persons we become? How does this affect our understanding of love and our relationships with one another, in both business and personal life? Can our experience in watching our parents influence the levels of success we achieve in our lives?

And on parenting in general: Should one bring the child up in the school of hard knocks, allowing them to make their own decisions and create their own path, right or wrong? Will this child learn to toughen up, or will life beat the holy hell out of him or her to the point that the child gives up on themselves and everyone else? Or is it better to pamper the child, coddle them in such a way as to try to protect them from any mistakes and hope that the silver spoon remains firmly resting upon their tongue throughout their lifetime? Could the spoon choke the child, inhibiting his or her dreams and the ability to chase the dreams until they become reality? If the child is coddled, will this create a dispassionate person, or a person more apt to passionately follow those roads they weren’t allowed to follow in the past? And then what will happen when that spoon falls away? Will they become angry and cynical that things didn’t turn out the way they were led to believe they would? Will they, too, resign themselves over to failure or will they put that damn spoon back in their mouth and pretend everything is OK, thus lying to themselves? Or will the spoon remain in the dirt, left to become tarnished and mangled as the child realizes it’s uselessness and pushes forward to attain their dreams with a mouth unencumbered? Is it better for parents to be truthful to their children, allowing them forge their own way and make their own mistakes, or lie to protect them from the pains of heartache and disappointment?

And what impact does our parenting have upon our dreams? Will a child forever dream to become a race car driver, an astronaut or a doctor, even at a parent’s insistence that the child’s hopes are just a fool’s paradise and that he or she should instead focus on more realistic pursuits? Or will the urging of the parent force the child to accept a life of mediocrity to the point that dreams become nothing but lost hopes? At what point does the child give up on their dreams and accept someone else’s reality as more legit than their own?

Or is it our dreams that create who we are, our yearning to become someone who will bring light into this world and stand like a candle in the darkness? And if so, what of past dreams? What of the dreams that have been thrown to the wayside in order to endeavor toward something else? Do they still have an impact? How does our ability to change our minds construct our existence? What happens within ourselves when we decide that we’re following a dream that we no longer want to follow? Should we continue to follow the dream and see it to an end, or abandon it in search for something more captivating? Would chasing a dream in which we no longer harbor interest be considered a waste of time, or have we already wasted our time by chasing the dream in the first place? In abandoning the dream, are we to be considered quitters, or perceived as one who is capable of knowing and following his or her desires? When cutting one’s losses, can one be considered to be less successful?

Or how about the dreams that were not lost, but rather the ones we have chased through hell and high water, only to have them crashing down upon our heads as failures, slaps on our wrists for trying to achieve a level for which we are not destined? Could our failed dreams help to create us just as much as the dreams we’ve watched come to fruition?

What about our successes and our mistakes? What role have they on the persons we become? Is it not true that many a success comes to a bittersweet end and many a mistake has led to riches? When a reason to toast one minute becomes a reason to fight the next, how can one trust one’s own judgement, and to what extent does this lack of belief in ourselves play a role? What if we give ourselves over to endeavor completely– physically, emotionally and financially– and yet we still find ourselves at a loss? May it be said that our failure is not due to lack of effort, and that it should be attributed to something else entirely?

And what of effort? Is it really true that effort and unshakable will are all one needs in order to succeed in obtaining ones objectives? From where does this well of effort come? Is it instilled in us by our parents? Is it genetic? Is it a gift from the heavens? Can we learn to replenish the pool of effort when it begins to dwindle? Can it be said that some people put effort into their lives, while others aren’t even trying? Or that most people don’t “try hard enough” and are then damned to pedestrian lives? And if this is the case, how does one judge whether one life is more successful than the next?

Can our unshakable will lead to our demise and our failure? For instance, was Robert E. Lee’s failure to take Cemetery Hill during the U. S. Civil War a result of his lack of effort or was it that he couldn’t shake his own will enough to quit while he was ahead, before the slaughter occurred? Can this not be called bullheadedness? At what point should we shake our wills, give up on our current pursuit and follow a different path? If we do give up before an actual tragedy occurs, do we silently begin to resign ourselves over to a middling existence, or can we legally make concessions? Do the resignations we make pile up upon themselves within our psyche, eventually undermining our desires? If so, how do we know which goals are safe to write off– which goals won’t come back to stab us in the back?

“Look, I’ve never had a dream in my life
Because a dream is what you wanna do, but still haven’t pursued
I knew what I wanted and did it till it was done
So I’ve been the dream that I wanted to be since day one!”

Aesop Rock’s No Regrets

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I’m Not a Grinch and I Don’t Wish to Steal Christmas

Rarely do I ever have uncontrollable urges to kill myself, bleach my eyeballs or stick ice picks in my ears.  This, I feel is normal.  Most people do not want to do these things.  Most people want to keep their lives, their vision and their hearing.  I do too.  Most of the time.  There is one time of the year however, that the concept of chewing ones own ears off while injecting an IV of turpentine seems completely natural. 

I am certain that human beings are the only animal that has the dreary notion of committing suicide.  Sure, animals are stupid; deer don’t seem to think twice before jumping in the path of a Mack truck and exploding all over the roadway, robins don’t double check their decent before flying face first into a newly washed window to break their necks and shove their brains into their rear ends, and Prius drivers don’t understand that while they’re diddling around in their stupid cars worrying about what the temperature will be a million years from now, they’ll be driven off the road by someone who has more important things to do than worry about than trees.  I hardly believe these animals make a conscious effort to end their own lives.  Mostly, humans don’t seem to think suicide is a good idea either.

So what is it about the Christmas season that drives me absolutely bonkers?  It’s not that I actually hate Christmas.  I have many fond memories of Christmas’ past.  I always enjoyed seeing my siblings and family, the build up to Christmas in school, where we’d open a new door on the Advent calendars each day, the chore of setting up the Christmas Tree and adorning it with nine thousand tons of gingerbread men and cheap glass ornaments, the cookies we’d bake for the fat communist who would crash down our chimney on Christmas Eve… I even enjoyed waiting to open the vast expanse of presents that reached out for miles from under the tree.

And not a whole lot has changed for me since then.  I still enjoy the winter time, with the lights on the houses, the dusting of snow on the ground, how it never actually gets dark because of the snow and the big, toothy grins on the chubby faces of passersby as they wish one another a wonderfully merry holiday season.  Good will toward all men may be dead throughout the course of the year, but during the holiday season, it’s alive and breathing.

Except it really isn’t.  Sure, people seem to be nicer to one another during the holidays, but they aren’t.  I think people are actually worse.  Gandhi said that one should never smile sarcastically, because that action takes a thing of love and beauty and distorts it into something evil and sinister.  This is what the holidays do to people.  Around their family, the people are all good and fine, happy and cheerful.  But if you’re not in their circle of family or friends, to hell with you.  You’re in the way. You can clearly see this when you’re between them and the flat screen lcd TV they’ve chosen as a family Christmas present.  You’re liable to get stabbed.  Especially if you live in Detroit, since that TV is the only Christmas present this year.

After you’ve left the store, you’re not out of the woods yet.  You’ve got to make it to your car.  And that is dangerous.  Because you’re either carrying thirteen million shopping bags or towing thirty carts, you are inevitably going to hold up traffic.  Christmas shoppers don’t like being held up.  Especially the last minute ones.  So they mow you down with their Navigators and Suburbans.  The biggest problem in being mowed down by an SUV is that all the items you just purchased will break.  And because you have just cleaned out your bank account to purchase those items, you can’t drag yourself like a land mine victim back into the store to purchase unbroken ones.  Therefore, because you have gone shopping during this time, two things have happened:  your family doesn’t get a Christmas and you now have a collapsed lung.

If you’ve managed to make it to your car with your legs intact and still attached to your torso, you are lucky.  And you are free to go.  Unless you’re pulling out of a parking spot at the mall.  Because if you’re at the mall, you can’t leave.  There are nine hundred cars behind you, stalking you like a pack of wolves, each one positioning themselves for your parking space.  None of them realize that they can’t actually have your parking space unless you can vacate it.  So you’re stuck in your car, bleeding out until after the stores close and the wolves go else where.  The worst thing about bleeding out in your car (other than messing up the upholstery)?  The Christmas music you have to listen to while you do it.

It is precisely the music and the movies that have caused all of these problems with an otherwise magical time of the year.  Throughout the course of the year we watch movies with unrealistic plots and this does not affect us because we know that they are unrealistic.  The guy with the big nose will not ever have the pleasure of sleeping with Angelina Jolie in real life.  The idiot girl will never actually get a position as partner at the biggest law firm in history.  We know this, and we accept this.  But something happens to us as humans during the holiday season.  We put all of our logic aside, and expect that life for the rest of the year will be spectacular.  Maybe throughout the course of the year we use up our logic banks and end up with nothing.  Either way, we listen to the mindless drivel on the radio, songs about a fat guy flying around in a sleigh pulled by talking reindeer and other such nonsense, and expect it to happen.  We watch these movies, created by simpletons, about family holidays that end absolutely perfectly, with the in-laws blowing up inside their camper.  And because these fallacies never actually occur to the “normal” person during this magical time of the year, we all get pissed off and hateful toward one another.

The little merry jingles get stuck in your head too, wedging themselves into the soundtrack of your life somewhere between Mozart, Brahms and Tool.  One minute your brain is swimming in the masterworks of real musicians, the next minute there’s a song about a fat guy who effectively stalks you over the course of the year coming to town.

And it says in your head until after Easter.

Then you have the more “traditional” songs.  Dreary, solemn hymns that sound more akin to funeral music than cheerful holiday music.  Silent Night come to mind.  Silent Night is one of the saddest sounding songs I’ve ever been forced to hear.  The title itself reminds me of a dark assassin coming in the night to dispatch you and your family while you sleep.  The tune fits the title as well, sounding of a funeral dirge, its effect making my heart heavy and bringing tears to my eyes.

Which seems to happen most Christmas’.  Because even though I fight the fake cheeriness of people, hate the music and feel put out when I have to do something decoration orientated (like putting up the stupid tree), I like feeling the kinship of humanity during this time of year.  As long as you’re not out fighting the crowds, people can be great.  And charitable.

One of the local radio stations does “Help for the Holidays”, in which people who need a hand up but cannot get help from the Government during this season send letters explaining their situation, and the city calls in to donate money to help the families.  I like hearing the stories and the reactions of the callers.  I like that people donate money to complete strangers they’ll most likely never meet.  I like that these actions touch something deep inside my cynical heart.  I like knowing that humanity is still alive.  It brings tears of happiness to my eyes.

There is so much about the holidays for me to despise.  The music, the movies, the shoppers, the story of the fatty in the red suit… But all of this is overshadowed by the rebirth of humanity.  And that’s what the Christmas story is all about:  Being human. 

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