Archive for the ‘Traffic’ Category

‘Civil’ libertarians: “One who is actively concerned with the protection of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the individual by law:”

What are these fundamental rights guaranteed to the individual by law? Are they what most of us have been taught…that every person has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? By that definition, anyone who is put in jail has had one of his or her fundamental rights, as guaranteed by law, taken away. Wait a minute; if they are guaranteed by law, then they can’t be taken away, which means that everyone in jail is illegally there, true? Of course not…what a dumb argument! How about the pursuit of happiness? If it makes me happy to rob banks because, as Willie Sutton said, “That’s where the money is,” am I not allowed to seek my happiness? After all, who’s getting hurt if I don’t kill anyone? Hey, the money is insured and I’m happy because I’m doing what I love. Just how asinine is that logic? Now that we’ve knocked those two “fundamental rights” all the way to hell and back, let’s take a look at the third one: We are guaranteed by law the fundamental right to life. Wow, unless you happen to be O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, or George Zimmerman, I guess you can’t argue with that?

Where do your rights end and another’s begin? I take a very simplistic view of this question. Your rights end when you knowingly do something that endangers the rights of others. Since the only right that we seem to have left is our right to life, there’s the key. If you knowingly do something that endangers the lives of others, you sacrifice every other right you think you have. “Oh, c’mon,” you say, “on that basis the legal system would be performing ritual killing so fast, the population growth couldn’t keep up.”  Yeah, wouldn’t that be great….just kidding!

“Where is this all leading?” you ask. It leads to the question of how we act, within our right to life, in the actions we take that can conceivably take away the right to life of another. The classic example of this is the drunk driver who, having been convicted of the crime of drunk driving, is parted from his or her license but who continues to drink and who continues to get behind the wheel of a vehicle until he or she ultimately takes away the right of another to live. Let me give you a few examples: Jerry Zeller of Rapid City, South Dakota, racked up 34 DUI arrests before he fell asleep in his bed in 2008 with a lit cigarette in his hand…bye, bye, Mr. DUI.  Thank you, Jerry, for doing something the police could not do…stop you from driving. The great thing is that he did it before he managed to kill someone else. “A Virginia man was given seven years in prison for his 25th DUI arrest in May of 2012. Tracy Michael Decker was arrested after arguing with an employee at a toll station. If that wasn’t bad enough, Decker’s BAC was 0.28 percent; he had open alcohol containers in his vehicle, and had two 4 year old children without seatbelts in the back seat.”

The examples are endless; however, the laws concerning punishment are as varied as snowflakes. In Florida, four dui convictions will get your license taken away forever. How does that stop one from driving while intoxicated? That’s right; it doesn’t. Nothing will stop a drunk driver from getting behind the wheel other than a punishment so severe that he or she will never even consider driving again. Other than the threat of death or a ‘scarlet letter’ being branded into the drunk’s forehead, there is little that can be done until they kill someone…and they do. Ignition locking devices don’t seem to work; there are too many ways to circumvent them. The laws seem terribly lenient on the drunk driving offender. The best state in which to drink, drive, and kill is Oklahoma. You can get as little as zero time in jail or only up to one year.  In Alaska and North Dakota, you get one year to life. Other punishments are all over the map…ouch! This really is no joking matter, but the lack of cohesive law enforcement in the states is a bit frightening. Perhaps judges have to have been personally affected before they will dole out the maximum sentence to these ‘free range killers.’

I have known people who have been killed by drunk drivers. I cannot possibly understand the pain they feel, although, I’ve seen their personalities change. I have known a driver who killed someone while he was driving drunk. It cost him his family, his career, and, eventually, because it haunted him so much, it cost him his own life. Back in the day when I was drinking, I did drive drunk. I was one of the lucky ones; I neither killed someone else nor did I kill my wife. Having done it once and gotten away with it, the next day I made a solemn vow never to do it again…it had scared the bejusus out me.

Technology has made so many things possible in our collective lives. Here’s a new challenge: Devise a technological program that will prevent drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel and killing others. Whether the driver has to remember a 16-digit code which a drunk probably wouldn’t remember in order to start the car – it works with computer passwords—or sensory skin feelers on the steering wheel to prevent the car from starting, something must be done to prevent the continued carnage.

Read Full Post »

It appears that even when people are trying to do something for a good cause, something comes along to cancel their plans…and not in some small way. Take the case of 21-year old Emily Gagnon, riding across the country to raise funds for Multiple Sclerosis research. What happens? In Ohio, someone is adjusting her visor, hits and kills Ms. Gagnon. How about Joe Bell who was walking across country to raise awareness of bullying? Mr. Bell’s 15-year old son killed himself after being bullied, so Dad sets out from Oregon, vowing, “…he would walk cross-country, stopping to speak and raise awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth along the way.” Joe was killed by a trucker in Colorado.

Perhaps bike riding or walking isn’t such a good idea any more. I’m not trying to be cynical here. It’s just difficult to believe that people cannot drive and be aware that there are other people on the road. ‘Adjusting a bloody visor?” Please, give me a break. I can adjust my visor while keeping my eyes on the road. I don’t doubt that you can do the same. Falling asleep at the wheel? I’m sorry, but if you’re a long-haul trucker, you’re fully aware of the dangers of driving tired.

Perhaps the worst one I’ve heard about recently occurred in New Hampshire. A sizeable group of riders were out on a “Century Ride.” It’s an annual event that’s meant to be an enjoyable ride around New England. Darriean Hess, a 19-year old who had been stopped for speeding eight hours before, drove across a lane and plowed into a group of cyclists. Two were killed and others received hospitalizing injuries. Here’s the kicker: Not only was Hess stopped for speeding, she didn’t have a valid license! Not only didn’t she have a valid license, the person contacted to drive her home gave her back the car keys and sold her drugs! What in the world is wrong with these people?

It’s very true that as I’ve aged the narrowness of my waist and the broadness of my mind have changed places. No question of that; however, it just seems to me that police have got to toughen up. They’ve done it with drunk drivers. You get stopped; you’re on your way to jail. You do something stupid, like being unable to keep your eyes on the road while you’re adjusting your visor and because of that, kill someone, you’re going to jail for twenty to life…minimum. You fall asleep at the wheel and kill someone or not, you’re behind the bars for a sufficiently long time that you will never, ever do that again.

Am I being unfair in saying that we should strengthen our traffic laws? No, I don’t think so. Try driving just the speed limit on any roadway. You will soon find cars honking at you, flipping you off when they pass, or, in the worst case scenario, trying to run you off the road. You run great risks by obeying traffic laws…now isn’t that a horrible thing to say. You-run-great-risks-by-obeying-the-traffic-laws. Life is short enough that we have to attempt to expedite our demise by driving 85 or 90 on a road where the speed limit is 55. “Don’t use the main highways,” I’ve been told. Well, no, you slow down on those main highways so you don’t risk my life as well as yours. You crash and there’s no telling what the consequences will be.

I have to make a 500+ mile journey in the next month or so…almost all of it on main roads. I’m rather terrified of this trip, but I have no choice; can’t fly; don’t have anyone else to drive it; don’t think I’ll see too many cyclists on the roads that I’m traveling, but then, I have to get off the major highways at some points. I’m hoping that I’ll see hundreds of state troopers along the way…don’t necessarily want to meet them up close and personal; just want to know that they’re out there, keeping the rest of us in line.

Driving a car or a truck, even riding a bicycle these days, is a great responsibility. Our highways aren’t built to take the number of cars that are on the road. That part of America’s infrastructure is outmoded and falling apart. We can’t build the kind of autobahns that are required for the vehicles that we operate. I love it when signs are posted for 65 miles per hour; meanwhile, you’re driving a new car whose speedometer goes up to 140 mph. What’s wrong with this picture? Screw the speed limit; you’ve got a car that will do 140…hey, hey, hey, let’s see what this baby can do. Can it really hit 140? The road’s a good three miles of straightaway here; let’s give her a little test and see what she’s got! Holy crap; this is great! Then you crest a hill and see an accident about fifty yards ahead…what now? Can you slow down in time?

I think and don’t take my word for it, but I think the speedometer on my Dad’s 1936 Chevy went all the way up to 80…whoopee. And that was when cars were made of steel, not this tinfoil with which we’re surrounded today. The cars of today may be “designed to crumple and absorb the energy of a collision” as someone told me recently, but you know something…I’m in the car and I’m not designed that way! So why do manufacturers make cars that go so fast? It’s because we love speed; the faster the better; let it all hang out! Only problem with that is if you crash, you may be hanging out over there and over there and over there and…well, you get the picture.

Let’s all slow down just a bit, shall we? I know full well how much fun it is to go fast, but if you’ve got that in your blood, do what two of the boys across the street have done…they’re driving race cars. They take their “need for speed” out on the track. It’s something they can’t do on our street…all the turns are to the right.

Please slow down. Remember, you can’t take back a stupid decision.

Read Full Post »

It took me a little while but I finally figured out that the majority of people under the age of 25 who own automobiles are idiots! No, no, no…not you and not her, but that other her, she’s a blithering, drooling, semi-trainable asshole! They just nailed another one in New Hampshire who hit a child. She was “under the influence,” whatever that happens to mean in this case. Anyway, they list her age as 25. If you had asked me from looking at her picture, I would have said, “45, ridden hard, and put away wet.” Man, did she look used, abused, and totally confused.

We seem to have a lot of car killers going around in New England lately. One woman, also in New Hampshire, had been stopped for speeding eight hours before she plowed into a group of riders doing their thing for charity. She killed two and injured three others. Here’s the kicker: On that first stop, she was found to be driving without a license…in a car borrowed from a friend…who loaned her the car again, and this time she killed the two cyclists. The police say that not having a license is not an arrestable offense. Shouldn’t it at least be impound the car and call for someone with a license to come and pick you up? To this day, I don’t know if it was a case of not having a license; whether or not she had one and it had been suspended; why did her friend loan her the car the second time; and finally, don’t the politicians in New Hampshire think it’s about time to take another look at the laws governing drivers in the state?

Cars are not toys. Yes, it’s true; most of them are made of crap these days. My late wife had a 1936 Buick that she swore was capable of plowing through saplings four inches in diameter and brought certain destruction to roadside mailboxes. This, of course, was in her wilder, single college days and the car had originally belonged to her mother. I’m quite certain that when it was given to her by her mother, there wasn’t a dent or scratch. Anna, her mother, was approximately four feet, eight inches tall, and never allowed the speedometer to pass 25.

Today’s cars are made of aluminum foil and plastic. They don’t hold up to well against saplings and fair even worse when it comes to mailboxes. Several years ago, I was run off the road and had to have some body work done on my ’99 Toyota. The fellow at the body shop is the one who told me about the aluminum foil. After he’d removed the rear quarter panel, he demonstrated what he meant by tearing a part of the panel by hand. He then invited me to try; if was frightening to feel the ease with which I could rend this piece of ‘tinfoil.’

What I really don’t understand is what makes people believe that they are safe behind the wheel. Safe to have their music blasting as loud as possible; safe to be talking on the telephone while driving through parking lots with no regard for other cars that might be leaving their parking spots; safe to totally disregard people walking in crosswalks…people can also make a hell of a dent in your car and smash your windows if you hit them hard enough! It’s almost as though they regard their car as a tank. They are not tanks. SUV’s are not tanks. They are not heavily armored. Most important of all, cars are not toys. They require sensible driving, not senseless aiming. They require people to handle them with the same amount of care with which you would handle a loaded weapon.

Recently, I was talking with a young neighbor who is also on the race car circuit.  “It’s not me I’m worried about when I’m on the track,” he told me, “but you have to keep your eye on your four mirrors for the idiots who are behind and beside you because you never know how they may try to get you off the track. That’s how I’m beginning to feel about neighborhood driving or driving on major highways. I was returning from a doctor’s appointment earlier this week and was on a highway where the posted speed limit is 55 miles per hour. I decided to conduct an experiment to see if I could set the cruise control at 65 and remain in the right lane all the way home. I did not pass one car and drew several dirty looks as drivers passed me. This is a four-lane highway…on either side. I tried to guess how fast those in the left lane were moving. My guesstimate was somewhere between 80 to 85…and no one slowed down through construction zones where the speed was supposed to drop to 45. I love the sign, “Speeding fines are doubled in construction zones.” The zone was crowded with State Police cars, blue lights flashing, and no one seemed to give a damn.  Two radar guns and some speed traps up the hill and Massachusetts wouldn’t have had to worry about a budget shortfall ever again!

At least twice a week, our local ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates show cars wrapped around trees, cut in half by a collision with another car, bark shorn from trees by cars whose drivers thought they had everything under control.  Yet, no one seems to learn. Either they don’t watch the news or they believe themselves to be invincible and immortal, and it just ain’t so.

Here me on this one: The minute you climb behind the wheel, you are in a war zone. At 45 mph, you’re driving a car; at 65 mph, you’re steering a car; at anything over 75, you’re aiming a car. And when you’re aiming, control is no longer in your hands. In addition, if you drink or do drugs or text and drive, you might as well have a gun in your hand and be playing Russian roulette, because it’s not a matter of ‘if’ your accident is going to happen; it’s merely a question of ‘when’ it’s going to happen.

Cars are not toys. More and more, they appear to be weapons of destruction, driven by those who know, without question, that rules don’t apply to them…but they always apply to the other guy…who believes exactly the same thing!

Read Full Post »

About this time every year for the past several years, I become somewhat emotional as well as pissed off at my body for letting me down. This year I guess I have an excuse because of the torn Achilles, but if it’s not one thing, it seems to be another. I’m speaking of the fact that I am no longer able to volunteer for my favorite charity, The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) which will be held this first weekend in August. The PMC raises money for the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. Since its beginnings in 1980, the PMC has raised over $375 million.

“What is this PMC?” you ask.

Oh please, don’t get me started. The PMC is a bike ride; it’s not a race; it’s a bike ride! For many, it’s a two-day ride from Sturbridge, Massachusetts to Provincetown, MA. Don’t bother to figure the mileage; it’s 192 miles. Don’t worry, these folks stop at the Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne for a sleepover before crossing the Bourne Bridge which is one of the two entrances to Cape Cod. Over the years, shorter routes have been added to accommodate the number of riders who want to be a part of this great organization. I guess here might be a good time to tell you that every penny raised by riders goes directly to the charity. Administrative costs come from a separate foundation – and the fact that there are overworked and underpaid slaves in the office who are beaten severely on a regular basis [just kidding]. There are now over a dozen routes to ride the PMC, and many are single-day rides.

My commitment to the PMC spanned over 10 years, not as a rider but as a volunteer. It began before my late wife, Joan, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, and it lasted after her death in 2008. It is impossible to describe the feeling, the emotions of preparing to volunteer, just as I’m certain it’s impossible to know how the riders must feel as the train, both separately and in groups, for the ride – training includes a one-day century ride; you’ve got it…100 miles in a single day. Obviously, not everyone puts themselves through that kind of a regimen, but there are some 7,000 plus who do.

On the day of the ride, emotions run high. There’s a great deal of hugging and kissing, well-wishing and yes, a great many tears. Many people ride with pictures attached to their jerseys; for others, it’s a list of those for whom they’re riding. Helmets are adorned with animals of all kinds, usually representative of a toy that was someone’s favorite. There have been times I’ve invited friends to “just come over and watch.” Every single one of them has later admitted that he or she has cried tears of joy for what they saw as genuine dedication and commitment on the part of the riders as well as the volunteers.

The year after Joan died, I was asked to be part of the very brief speaking program that precedes the start of the ride. It was tough, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. As I looked out at that sea of riders, I had trouble holding it together. These people were riding so that there wouldn’t be any more Joan’s or Jimmy’s. There they were…cops and teachers, college students and investment bankers, Red Sox wives and then-Senator John Kerry; there were husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and just about any profession you can name, including many of the doctors, nurses, and administrators from Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund…now that I think of it, I wonder who the hell was minding the store?

Now that I can no longer be an active part of this event, I do a bit as a supporter of a couple of riders. I’m proud to support them and I’m proud of my association with the PMC. If you’d like to learn more, please go to http://www.pmc.org and learn more about this wonderful program. Oh, and if you’ve got an extra buck or so, don’t be afraid to become part of the PMC. I guarantee it’ll feel good to give to such a worthy cause.

Read Full Post »

We have a railroad bridge about a mile away from us. It’s a natural route home if we’ve been at the local food store. This bridge is over a main ‘cut through’ from a super [that’s a joke] highway – more about that later – to several communities south of us. In other words, the road gets a helluva lot of use. There is a problem or two with this bridge, the first being that the underpass barely allows to SUVs to pass; the second problem, and now we come to the crux of the situation, is that the underpass is ten feet, nine inches high. To someone driving a Ferrari, Maseratti,  Jaguar,  or Volkswagon Beetle, this may seem perfectly acceptable. Most who drive tractor-trailer, 18-wheel ‘big guys,’ this height deters them from attempting to pass under.

I just happen to be six foot, one. From my arm pit to my finger tips is another thirty-plus inches. There was a time when I could dunk a basketball…those days have been gone for decades. However, to give you some sense of the height of this underpass, in my prime I could probably have jumped to touch the ceiling. This sucker is low! School busses barely get under it. There is signage that begins nearly half a mile away that warns of the lowness of this bridge. Just before the bridge there is a side street without any obstructions that leads to a divided highway heading south. There are several alternatives to using this underpass out the wahzoo, but what do the idiots do? You guessed it. On a regular basis, they ignore all of the warnings about this bridge. Generally, it’s some idiot who just rented a box truck from Ryder or someone and who isn’t use to driving one of these vehicles. Stupid, yes, but in some far, far recesses of my mind, I can almost excuse this kind of mistake. However, when some [expletive deleted] driver of a flatbed doesn’t check the height of his load, he’s an idiot.

Earlier this week, a flatbed driver apparently forgot that the two panels of glass that he was carrying brought the height of his load up to about 12 feet.  Juli and I came upon this scene in time to see the embarrassed driver, what was left of the glass, and part of the frame that had been protecting the glass sticking out from under the bridge. This was not a pretty sight. Just think for a minute of what happened here; the driver, at best, will be held responsible for damage to his vehicle and the cargo regardless of insurance. He could lose his job. The company expecting the glass will probably be delayed in whatever it was they were going to do once the glass was installed. Ripples, ripples, ripples!

As if the accident this week wasn’t bad enough, today a trailer, and 18-wheel monster, peeled his roof almost completely off attempting to speed through this underpass. That’s the only possible excuse for the extent to which that roof was gone. What is wrong with these people; signs everywhere and disobeying them is getting to be epidemic.

The obvious answer is to raise the bridge and widen the underpass. The town has approached this possibility with the railroad. The railroad doesn’t seem all that interested. There’s a lot of truth to the railroad position; it would cost a great deal of money to begin raising the bed a minimum of a mile back on either side of this bridge, just to make it high enough for larger trucks and wide enough that vehicles could feel safer in passing under the bridge. The railroad position may well be luck the gun control and NRA people…No one’s been killed yet so why should we do anything. Then it will be well only a couple of people have been killed so far so why do anything. That seems to be the new thing in America…well; no kids have been killed yet so we don’t have to act. We now know that twenty is not a large enough number for our Congressional leaders, so maybe we have to wait until a school bus gets slammed going through the underpass and more than twenty kids get killed.

We have become a reactive nation. We wait until the shit hits the fan and then we moan and weep about it for a week or so, depending on the extent of the death toll; then it just all goes away. Oh wait, that’s not quite true. We act immediately if it appears that our rights to privacy may be getting invaded. We all think we’re so goddamned important that each and every one of us is being monitored. If that isn’t the biggest crock around, I’m not certain what is. Oh, wait just a pea-picking minute…I was monitored. You see, I write this blog and sometimes I really mouth off about our government, Congress, terrorism, and other buzz words, all in the same blog. If found in a certain order, I’m quite certain that an alert is issued somewhere at NSA, NTI, CIA, or some other acronym of which none of us have ever heard to read and study the piece in question. How do I know this? Well, it’s rather humorous; I generally get upwards of ten hits per day. Right after this one was posted, the tab that day was 70. I don’t know which nerve I hit, but it must have been a beaut!

Okay, we’ve come all the way from a railroad bridge that should have been repaired decades ago but wasn’t because an insufficient number of fatalities have occurred. We’ve traveled from that to gun control to privacy issues…and all in under a thousand words. Ain’t life grand? Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Counting one’s blessings is a wonderful way to get through life.

It is particularly important if one lives in a relatively suburban environment, but works in an urban setting. One of your blessings might be that you have nearby access to public transportation, whether that be bus or train service…or even a helicopter. If you do not have any of these marvelous modes of moving yourself from point A, commonly known as “the house” to point “B,” often referred to as that @#$%&* job, you have no blessing for which to account. You are the dreaded “car commuter,” a species fraught with the dangers attendant to that particular group. You are the spawn of urban sprawl and the victim of the “I need more space” syndrome. Therefore, you rush through breakfast with, perhaps, a piece of toast – cold because the kids ate first and it’s actually leftover toast – and a sip of espresso or your favorite single serving whatever from the little cup brewmaster. You jump in the car; jump back out of the car and run to get what you forgot that you need today; run back to the car which now puts you five minutes behind your normal leave time. Those five minutes mean that you will now require an additional 30-45 minutes to arrive at work.  It is that bad…and God forbid there’s a fender bender along the way…you are now ‘screwed in abundance.’  As a consequence of all of this, you are now allowed to become a political activist in your suburban community, climb on the soap box and demand better bus and rail service. It’s either that, take a sedative with that sip of espresso, or become a raving lunatic. Ah, but there is a blessing. Despite the fools who are talking on the phone, texting against the law, reading the newspaper or slurping their morning coffee [must have a spare top at work, eh?), you have the answer. You are a bibliophile; a connoisseur of fine literature, a.k.a., you go to the library and get books on tape or disc. You can peacefully drive along as you listen to the latest adventures of Alex Cross, Lucas Davenport, Dirk Pitt, or Jack Reacher. Should your literati tastes differ, you might prefer the first two of Ken Follett’s latest trilogy or whatever suits your fancy. The blessing is that you can enhance your knowledge while stuttering along in traffic. Viewed from that perspective, I suppose you could call traffic a blessing…no kidding, you could!

Perhaps the most important blessing of all is that you wake up, sit up, and put your feet on the floor. There are a whole pile of people who would give almost anything to be able to do that. There’s another group who don’t wake up at all. Some would say that’s the ultimate blessing. Perhaps my faith isn’t strong enough yet, but I do like throwing the blankets off, heading to the bathroom, and then getting ready for the gym. Coming home from the gym is how I know about that traffic thingie I mentioned before. I cross over a main commuter road on the way home and that five-minute difference in time seems to make all the difference in the world as to how crowded that road is. That’s another one of my blessings by the way. I don’t have to get in that mess anymore. It’s just another gift of retirement, along with the sciatica, arthritis, heart problems, and the rest of the medical crap that comes with old age.

All kidding aside, you and I are blessed. We live in a country that has its share of problems, but we can still get in the car; we can get gas at prices that are far lower than most countries abroad; we can go from state to state without showing papers; for the most part, we don’t have to worry about being shot at or running over an IED in our travels. We have magnificent national parks and beautiful places to visit that have not been reduced to rubble by rocket grenades or bombs. Those are blessings, and all too few of us understand that.

I’ve only traveled across this country three times. Twice I’ve flown and once the trip was by car. You can certainly see a great deal more from the ground. You can take side trips that open your eyes to unending marvels. You can explore caves and stick your finger – very quickly – into a hot spring. You can drive along endless stretches without seeing a house. You can climb mountains or drive to their top. Ground travel is a wonderful experience. You can marvel even more at the pioneers who traveled this distance on horseback or in covered wagon. Traveling across America by plane can also excite your mind and allow you to realize how diverse the US landscape is. The Grand Canyon from the air is absolutely breathtaking.

Maybe you can do those things. Maybe you’ve done more; maybe less. Whatever your life, you have blessings to count. Just watching the rebirth of spring after a long cold winter is a blessing we should all cherish. Trees that were so bare and barren sprout their buds and then leaves. Ground that was frozen solid becomes green with new grass. Gardens that have lain dormant begin to flower and once more send their fragrance into the air. Okay, you have allergies; so have I…and they’re tough, but if you can see through them to the beauty that surrounds us, we “shure got us a whole bunch” of blessings that we can call our own. Why doncha take a minute to count ‘em sometime. It might make you a bit more thankful for what you do have, rather than whatcha don’t.

Read Full Post »

I have discovered the perfect way to piss off America’s driving public…obey posted speed limit signs. Nothing, absolutely nothing will irritate a yummy mommy in her gas guzzler with three kids in their car seats and the cell phone tucked in her left ear more than someone who is obeying the speed limit. This is the same person who will take a full shopping cart into the twelve items or less checkout and bitch because the service is so slow; it’s the same one who will park in the yellow-striped area between two handicapped spots because, “I’ll just be a minute!” They are the same ones who zip through parking lots at Walmart and pay no attention to the marked crosswalks…and always, always, always with the cell phone attached to the left ear. Before you get the idea that I’m against yummy mommies, let me say that teenagers with cells and commuters who either decided to push the snooze alarm or didn’t have time for breakfast, as well as those who just don’t give a damn about anything but their cell call also become quite irritated when I drive within the law. What, in the name of all that’s holy, can be so important that the cell phone has become an appendage?

The genius who comes up with a way of grafting the cell phone to the human ear will make millions. Oh sure, I know about blue tooth and black tooth and all the other teeth out there but I’m talking about a genuine graft. In that way, when people look in the mirror and see just how idiotic they appear they’ll pay a whole lot more just to have the graft removed…the graft, by the way, will only work when you are in a car and moving. It’s no good walking in the mall or the supermarket. That way others can look at the ‘graftee’ and point and chuckle; it will help them to better understand just how stupid they look.

Have I never used a cell phone in a store? You bet your bippy I have. The conversation usually goes like this:  “I didn’t check; do we need milk? Okay, thanks,” and gone. I will not use my cell phone while driving. Hands free or no hands free, which seems to predominate, your mind is not that good that you can drive and carry on an intelligent conversation. Driving is driving; talking is talking; the two do not mix well in polite company.

Let me ask this question…what did we do before the invention of the cell phone? This indispensable instrument hasn’t yet been around for half a century. Martin Cooper, a project manager at Motorola is credit with its creation back in 1973. Just think, in less than 50 years, we have gone from not having anything to now possessing something without which it’s impossible to function. Not only that, but it’s now a camera – still or video – an Internet provider, a bank, a source of amusement with myriad games, an entertainment center on which to view movies or television shows, and I’m reliably informed, will in the future have an application that will wipe our butts and dispose of the paper by cleaning and rewinding it back into the cell…just amazing!

This brings me to another ‘bbc’ on my agenda. No, I’m not talking about the British Broadcasting Company; mine is called the ‘big bitchin’ complaint,’ and this one concerns the manner in which people drive in crowded parking lots. The acceptable speed in these lots is somewhere between ten and fifteen miles per hour; many are posted at five mph but that’s being slightly ridiculous – today’s cars don’t go that slowly…even in neutral.  It really is rather
dangerous to go 20 to 35 mph for the simple reason that most of those who wish to back out of a parking spot have an inane sense of reasoning that says they don’t have to look. “Look out world, I’m done shoppin’ and I’m a headin’ fer home!” I’m fully aware that this world is filled with assholes and idiots, but why are they all gathered in the same parking lot at the same bloody time?

Am I such the perfect person? Hell no; at 16, shortly after I received my license, I was pulled over for passing a Registry of Motor Vehicles officer on a curve on a rainy day at 70 mph. and lost my license for six months. I haven’t been stopped in about ten years, but I occasionally screw up, particularly on highways. In residential areas and parking lots it’s a different story. I’ve seen kids run out in front of me while chasing a ball. I’ve watched accidents occur because someone backing out of a parking space didn’t watch what they were doing …they hit my car. My philosophy is very simple. I don’t want to be the one on the evening news because I was driving and not thinking. Sounds simple; too bad so many others don’t agree.

Read Full Post »

What do you suppose we did before 1983? Seriously, how did we actually survive before that momentous year? That’s not even thirty years. That’s alright, however, because the majority of the idiots I see driving around with a cell phone glued to their left ear are, for the most part, thirty or under. They could never drive with the Motorola DynaTech 8000X because the damned thing was so bulky and had such limited capabilities, you might as well have had elastic string and a couple of tin cans.

Perhaps the people who were driving prior to 1983 did so while thinking. What a novel idea that would be…to actually think while you’re driving. You might actually be aware of your surroundings rather than flapping your gums about nothing…just to be flapping your gums and to show how much more important you think you are. Is there really anything so critical, so absolutely vital in your life that you need to talk on the phone while you are driving?

Yes, life is being lived at a much faster pace than it was back in the “old days” of 1983. There is urgency in living nearly three decades later that ‘older’ people just don’t understand. I damn near threw up as I wrote that statement, largely because it’s not true…well, not to the extent that the one-armed morons with a cell phone glued to their ear would have us believe. Before cell phones, we knew who was driving the car pool, and we knew that there would be backup in case something happened. It would just be a quick phone call from out land line…that phone on the wall or sitting on a table somewhere within easy reach. We car-pooled for over 25 years and there wasn’t a cell phone among the group…and we weren’t all from the same community! Wow, how the hell did we do it? If we were making dates for tennis or golf, we did it sufficiently in advance that we didn’t need some Nokia 1011 or an IBM Simon Personal Communicator worn as most women…and today some men…would wear an earring. Some of us actually began our day with things called “to do” lists. We might have even started it the night before.

There was a time, prior to my wife’s death, when we might go somewhere with one of our daughters. I don’t remember a ride where the minute we got in the car, the daughter’s cell phone would not go right to her ear and she would be calling this one or that one. It would generally go something like this. “Oh, I’ll drive. Oh, I have to call so-and-so; this won’t take a minute.” The conversation that would ensue was, from my point of view, not something of such vital importance that it could not have waited.

Cell phones have evolved into smart phones, and those fit just as easily in the palm of your hand, In addition, you can download ‘apps’ that will let you play games, read, and/or watch sporting events – all of this while you’re traveling through the supermarket parking lot and yelling at the kids in the back seat. Bluetooth’s are even better, a horizontal finger attached to your ear; you’re so bloody important that you’re speaking out loud…no, I’m not impressed; I think you’re an asshole.

I don’t believe that anyone will deny that cell phones are a great invention. It’s the manner in which they are used that should be cause for concern. If you climb into the car the first thing in the morning and attach your seat belt and the next thing you do is place a call on the phone…before even turning on the freakin’ motor, you have a problem. You need help. Your insecurity is showing…big time! If you cannot drive to the bank and back without having four different conversations, you have a serious problem. If you drive to work with a cup of coffee in one hand, a laptop on the seat beside you and a cell phone attached to your ear, you are in deep doo-doo! Get over yourself! You are not that important! Unless you are driving one of the children to the nearest hospital because his or her skull is split open and you can see grey matter, you really don’t need to call Mary Jo or Sally or even your spouse. You think speed kills? Well, so do cell phones.

Do I not believe there are occasions when you might need a cell phone while you are on the road? Of course there are. Two questions: What would you have done before the invention of the cell phone? There were automobiles long before the cell came into existence. Second, what is there to prevent you from pulling over to the side of the road, put on your hazard lights and then making or receiving an important call? The answer to that one is that there is nothing preventing you from pulling over. Don’t give me that crap about how you might get rear-ended. That’s more likely to happen while you’re driving and distracted.

I love my cell phone; it’s an important part of my life. My doctors all have my cell number; the bank has it; friends and family have it. If anyone ever needs to reach me, they will do so on my cell. You see, I found that since I have a cell with me all the time, I have no need for a land line in the house. It’s a big money-saver. There are rules, however. If I’m driving the car, the cell does not come out of my pocket. When I reach my destination, whether it be a store parking lot or my own driveway, out comes the cell and I respond to my messages.

Should you choose not to heed what I say, you may well go through life without a care in the world and never have an accident…but I’m not going to bet on it. I know too many people who thought their hard drive would never crash…oops!

Read Full Post »

Oh, goodie; the annual meeting of the American Automobile Associations (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety research and development committee will take place in February. That’s the time when a bunch of suits sit around a big table and decide which college or university should receive money for traffic safety research projects. It’s also a photo opportunity for the various AAA regional presidents to get their pix in alumni magazines and local papers; an opportunity to say, “See how good we are. We’re funding traffic safety research projects.” What a crock!

Is traffic safety a problem in America? Well, duh, I think you might just be able to say that and get away with it. It was a problem in 1929 when Amos Neyhart introduced the first driver education course in this country. It was a problem when “Ame” headed the Institute for Public Safety at Penn State back in the 1960s. When I was working at Northeastern University in Boston and we wanted a traffic safety expert to speak to speak at a conference, “Ame” Neyhart was the man to whom we turned. I was very young, and he was very smart. I enjoyed hearing him and also speaking with him privately whenever he’d ‘come to town.’

Amos Neyhart died over two decades ago. Traffic safety had been a big part of his life. What he didn’t know about it, no one else would be able to tell you. He thought it was simple; too many cars; to many ignorant drivers, and; a lack of highway infrastructure to handle the traffic. He said these things decades ago. The problems remain the same today. It’s not that AAA isn’t trying to do some good by passing out bucks to university researchers. It’s really a case of, “We’ve already researched the shit out of this; told America what was wrong, and nobody listens!” Mark Shaw, President of AAA’s Southern New England region quoted Peter Kissinger, president of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in his recent newsletter. He said that Kissinger had it right when he said, “Changing driver behavior isn’t rocket science…it’s harder.” My question is this: “Why can’t we take driver behavior out of the equation?”

There will always be drivers who believe they are not sufficient impaired that they cannot driver. This includes people who have taken drugs; people who have had too much alcohol, and; people who are just plain exhausted and are a danger to themselves and others on the highway. There will always be people who will speed. As long as automotive manufacturers continue to build vehicles that are capable of exceeding maximum posted speed limits anywhere in the world, there are people who will try to exceed maximum output. I remember when the seat belt law first came into being in Massachusetts. You would have thought that someone had taken away the right to breathe! Oh, Lordy, what a bloody outcry…”…they’re taking away out civil rights!” Civil rights to what, you asshole? To prevent you from being flung through the freaking windshield? Yeah, that’s really screwing with your civil rights. The seat belt law was repealed; it eventually returned, but it was initially repealed. My wife and I never wore them until our youngest was going through driver education (thanks, “Ame”) and she confronted us. Now, it’s automatic; even the car reminds me to put it on…but the car still says I can go 140 mph!

With the advent of the electronics and the more updated versions of cell phones, there will always be distractions for drivers. I go back to the days of women driving with their knees while putting on makeup with the help of the rear view mirror. That was when men would try to read the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) or some other newspaper while driving. So, there you have it; the problems that Amos Neyhart first began studying back in the twenties are still with us. They have just assumed a different form. Now, AAA is going to throw more money at the problem in an attempt to solve….what? It’s an attempt to solve nothing. It pays the salaries of some researchers and some grad students who need the bread to get through school. It makes the triple A look good because they recognize the importance of traffic safety…again. The only ones who don’t look good are the bodies that continue to go “splat” against each other or a tree or whatever.

Here’s a thought: With all of our technological advances, why aren’t we making driverless cars? Why don’t we remove the human equation? You want to speed? Screw you; your car won’t let you. You’re going to be late for a meeting? Well, that’s tough; perhaps you should have thought of that when you hit the “snooze button.” We already have cars, I’m told, that will parallel park for the driver. Why can’t we have cars that don’t need the distraction of a driver? The ‘operator,’ so to speak, merely programs the destination of the vehicle and the vehicle takes over. Is this science fiction? Of course it’s not! It’s traffic safety at its finest. Instead of having HOV lanes for cars with two or more passengers, we could devise DVL’s…Driverless Vehicle Lanes…for cars so equipped. What happens when one gets to a certain point where, for example, all cars are headed toward a parking garage? Very simple; the driver takes over.  By this point, the driver should be capable of doing such a simple task.

Regretfully, I will not live to see this come to fruition. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it comes into being in the lifetime of my grandchildren. I’m quite certain it’s less than a century away. Knowledge is exploding exponentially, not arithmetically. Fossil fuels are passé; we have merely reached the point of failing to understand that quite yet. Commuter speeds in vehicles will be reduced to common sense. That may be as much as 100 mph, but that will be considered acceptable. I certainly envision the day, and this is easily a couple of centuries away, when we will have multi-level commuter traffic; when pulling into a parking garage will not mean entering at ‘ground level.’

These, however, are not the responsibility of AAA or their grants to study traffic safety. As long as we are living in this antique mind-set of the 21st Century, let’s consider the possibility of more mechanical monitoring. Every time a cop gets out of his or her car when making a traffic stop, he or she is laying his or her life on the line. Let’s build cars that can monitor driver behavior. If the car starts excessive weaving or erratic behavior, the car pulls over; the engine quits, and; a 911 call is automatically made to the local police. Sound farfetched? No more so than watching the Super Bowl on your telephone.

We live in a wonderful age where damn near anything is possible, including keeping people alive by improving their chances on the world’s highways. Whatever the mind can conceive, it can also find a way to achieve. Traffic safety is a problem today, and it will be tomorrow. Given cooperation between organizations like triple A, automobile manufacturers, electronics geniuses, and governments worldwide, perhaps we can substantially reduce, if not eliminate, traffic accidents as a cause of death.

Read Full Post »

It never fails to amaze me that Americans who commute by automobile longer than ten to fifteen minutes to their jobs get anything done. No, no, no, not done all day, but certainly anything done during the first hour after their arrival and the last hour of their workday.

I will grant that there are people who commute opposite the bulk of the traffic. I guess we should call them the lucky commuters. There are also those who do shift work which may or may not allow them to commute during off hours…although I haven’t seen an ‘off’ hour on Massachusetts highways in many a moon. We appear to be adding lanes just in time to find that those lanes are also full. It’s something of a new way to look at Parkinson ’s Law: “Traffic expands to fill the space available.” While states are looking ahead and planning for what they truly believe the needs will be, more and more people are coming into the workforce and opting to drive alone because they feel that they can accomplish something productive while on their way to work. At least that’s one explanation. The alternative one is the states don’t really know what the needs will be and therefore are unable to plan correctly. Should flying cars someday become an option, they will still have to land somewhere and this will create an even greater problem.

I’m getting way ahead of myself here so let me go back to the first and last hours of the commuter workday and give you one classic example of how I was directly affected in a rather potentially dangerous manner.

If you are a commuter at normal commuting hours, heading into “urbanity” from whence all workings flow, you will hit a traffic jam…blanket statement…it’s gonna happen. It doesn’t matter if it’s caused by an accident, an asshole, or whatever; it-is-going-to-happen. And, unless you are on highway-to-heaven happy pills, you are going to feel some stress. How much depends on (a) your position in the company, (b) how much you care about your job, (c) how understanding your boss really is…and in today’s employers market probably not that understanding, and (d) whether or not you are independently wealthy and can tell everyone to, “Take this job and shove it!”

Let us assume that you are just the average Joe or Jane who has to be at work by 9:00 am. From your place you plan on an hour’s commute, more or less. With a traffic screw-up, you arrive half an hour to an hour late. If you are a normal human being, you are (a) pissed that your late, (b) stressed because you know you’ve missed something important, and (c) you are in dire need of a stimulant, be it coffee, tea, or – heaven forbid – a good strong ‘belt or something more powerful.’

It has long been my contention that the first hour at work, following a stressful commute is damn near useless. “Oh, it excites me and gets me ready to tear into my job,” I’ve heard said. I’m sorry but that to me is the most unadulterated bullshit I have ever heard. You’re still thinking, subconsciously perhaps, but still thinking about the idiot who cut you off; the guy driving one-handed, reading the newspaper propped against the steering wheel while drinking a cup of coffee, or the woman who is putting on her make-up while looking in the rear view mirror and smoking a cigarette with her left hand…yes, she’s steering with her knees. All of these little and very minor distractions are bouncing around in your brain, vying for space with what you are actually supposed to be doing for your company. Don’t kid yourself; the first hour for major artery commuters is a lost hour of the day. Instead of an 8-hour workday, you’re talking about seven productive hours.

If you get an hour for your lunch – I haven’t worked for a while, but I don’t ever remember a full hour for lunch – you are now looking at a six-hour workday. Lunch may or may not be a productive time, but generally speaking, you just look at it as a time for eating and thinking. The latter may be about company business or it may be about the problem your kid is having at school, how you’re going to pay all the bills this month, etc., etc., etc.

Around 4:00 pm, you begin to think about the ride home. This time, it’s strictly in your subconscious. You aren’t openly saying, “Oh shit” to yourself; not quite yet…but it’s there. This is a time to be really careful about whatever the work is you’re supposed to be doing. This is the time to watch everything you do and everything you say with great caution. The closer it gets to ‘get-in-the-car-and-get-the-hell-out-of-Dodge’ time, the more difficult it become to stay focused on what you should be doing. Some bosses will call meetings at four or four-thirty just to try to keep employees minds focused and also to attempt to keep their minds from concentrating on what’s going to happen to them at five.

Does this sound like a bunch of baloney? It isn’t. What is supposed to be an eight-hour workday is often reduced to a five or five and a half-hour day. Better roads aren’t the answer. Car pooling isn’t the answer. Relocating the company to the suburbs may be a short-term answer, but I have no experience with that. Changing business hours to avoid the commute isn’t an answer because the commute now seems to start around one-thirty in the afternoon and go until around eight o’clock in the evening. I can remember shopping with Joan at 11 am, and having her ask, “Who are these people; why aren’t they working?”

I promised you an example, and here it is. A few weeks ago, I had a fall while getting out of the car. I have no idea what happened. One minute I was stepping out; the next minute I was flying through the air and landing on my left side. A week later, I went to the emergency room. It was about twenty minutes before shift change. A nurse came in; drew blood, and left the three vials on a table. Another nurse came in and said she was taking over because the shift was changing. “What about the blood,” I asked.

“Don’t worry. We’ll take care of it,” she responded.

A few minutes later a physicians’ assistant came in. His questions and his exam were cursory at best. He indicated that they were going to take an x-ray; that the doctor would read the x-ray, and that a diagnosis would follow.

A third nurse came in, explaining that she was relieving the second nurse. Again the question about the blood and again the same answer.

After the x-ray was taken and read, the physicians’ assistant returned and said that no bones were broken and that I had a deep muscle bruise. The nurse came in with two Vicodin and I was told I could leave after I had been seen by the doctor. When the doctor came in, she never got within five feet of me and seemed more concerned about washing her hands and getting out of the room.

One week later, I returned to the hospital. The pain, instead of decreasing, was increasing. New physicians’ assistant, new doctor, after the shift change had taken place. The result was another x-ray, diagnosis of a hairline fracture in a rib, a prescription for pain killers, instructions for addition medication, a breathing apparatus that I’m to use five times a day. We learned more about my injury in 15 minutes than I had learned in all of the time I had been in the ER the week before. The difference? On the first visit I was catching them at shift-change-time; on the second visit, it was after the shift change when the job was the job.

Time as a factor in work productivity has just not been studied sufficiently. Better highways won’t help. Nothing will help until we look at this as a genuine work problem and study and implement realistic solutions.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »