Coexisting with Civility

ChooseCivilityLet me explain what prompted this post. It’s been a few months now, but it’s something I saw on my way to work that made me laugh. I had just taken the exit from Rt 100 east onto I-95 south, and was approaching the ramp full of cars blending in on the ramp coming in from Rt 100 west. People began doing what people always do in this situation—they started to protect the little piece of road reserved just for their vehicle. They won’t let you in, because then you get there 20 feet before they do. They have the right of way. It’s their road, damn you.

I know this rule. Of course I know this rule, because everybody knows this rule. I have even, on occasion, enforced this rule. Stupid, I know. Childish, for sure. But, what can I say. You’ve done it too, haven’t you? Uh-huh. . . Anyway, on this particular day, I was being very patient. I had coffee, and there was a good song on the radio, and I was happy. A Jeep flew past me on the left, and then tried to pass the van that was in front of me, and that’s what set them off. The two vehicles inched closer and closer together, nearly trading paint, waiting for just the right moment when the more brazen of the two could floor it and merge recklessly onto I-95 ahead of the other. Victory!

Absolutely, it was fun watching this contest. But the very best part, by far—by a country mile—was their choice of bumper sticker. The Jeep had one of those “Choose Civility” stickers, and the van had a “Coexist” sticker. Priceless.

But you know, it got me thinking about traffic etiquette. There is an intersection of two roads that qualify as “the back way” to work that a lot of people use. Two of the streets feed a lot of vehicles into a four-way stop. Your turn, his turn, your turn, his turn, your turn, MY turn. But at this particular intersection, the traffic moves more efficiently than at a roundabout. I just have to slow down a bit, nod at the guy in the Toyota Tacoma, and go. Smooth.

Want to mess that up? Add a Honda Accord coming the other way from one of the other two stop signs. That’s when the trouble begins, because now a nod is insufficient. Now, you have to make eye contact. Is he nodding to me, or the other guy? No, wait, he’s just checking to see which way I want to go. So you want me to. . . oh wait, now he’s looking at the Accord. I look too. That driver’s looking at the radio. Now, Tacoma nods to me, and I take the signal and go. NO STOP. Geez, are you gonna go now? I flash the lights. Tacoma starts through the intersection. Accord missed him by inches. Sigh.

Now, we’ve all suffered through driver’s education or the written test, and we know the car on the right has the right of way. So here’s the start of a joke. “Four cars approach a four-way stop at the same time.” Which one of those cars is on the right? All of them! Bing! Bing! Bing! Who goes first? The pickup truck, that’s who.

Here’s why. The gentlemen in Buick behind the super dark glasses is focused on performing the perfect stop, signaling the turn and waiting for the blinker to blink sixteen times before deciding whether it’s safe to proceed. Nissan minivan is waving her hand like she’s swatting flies. She’s hoping that every other driver will go before her, leaving the intersection perfectly empty for her to safely pass. The lime green Civic has vaped inside with the windows up, and now he can’t see out the windshield or past the extra-large brim of his DC hat pulled down over his eyebrows.

The F-250 hits the accelerator, the truck rocks to the right, black smoke rises from the 10-inch diameter smokestack protruding from the center of his truck bed. The roar of the diesel engine scares the kids in the back of the minivan. The other three will still be waiting at the stop sign five minutes later.

Drive safely, my friends.




The Baltimore Civic Center

Image result for baltimore civic center
I was at Monster Jam yesterday at a place they now call the Royal Farms Arena. Call it whatever you want, but it will always be the Civic Center to me. Standing there amidst all the trucks, I started recalling all the times I’ve been to the Civic Center, and it has been the most random of events.
Maybe the first thing I remember was a car show, which included the Batmobile, fresh from the TV series. Burt Ward was signing autographs. I also remember the Bonnie and Clyde movie car was there.
Hard to say what was next, but it was either the Royal Highland Guards (Scottish Military Tattoo with bagpipes… Dad loved them), or it might have been a Baltimore Clippers Image result for baltimore clippershockey game. I was still very young for both of these, but I do remember standing for the Clippers “fight” song. I still remember the general tune. I think I even had a Clippers seat cushion.
In 1976, it was Elvis in one of his very last performances. The Jordanaires carried most of the show, as the King was rather sick. I can’t remember if the big stamp controversy was before or after he died, but there was the “thin Elvis” stamp and the “fat Elvis” stamp. In concert, we saw fat Elvis. At the time, we thought it was cool, but my brother and I weren’t super Elvis fans. We knew of him, of course. Everybody did. Nowadays, it’s pretty cool that we got to see Elvis in concert.
Next was probably the Baltimore Skipjacks hockey team. They rolled in after the Clippers, and I don’t think they held the same place in Dad’s heart.
There was the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus (with elephants, of course). We also saw the Shrine Circus there a couple of times. For a while, the Shrine Circus was held at the Fifth Regiment Armory, but I suppose it outgrew the place and moved to the Civic Center.
We saw a Rock and Roll Revival there, with such people and groups as Bill Haley and the Comets (Rock Around the Clock), Little Richard, and tons of others I can’t remember.
Next was the Tractor Pull, where a bunch of guys with big trucks compete to see who can pull a 22-ton weight the farthest. In those days, the hero truck was the Orange Blossom Special, which was loud and really cool. I seem to remember a loud train whistle blaring just before he hit the accelerator and the truck literally jumped off the ground. Awesome! Oh, and the guest star was this relatively new monster truck called Bigfoot or something like that.
Image result for orange blossom special pulling truck
Later on, Mary and I saw Alan Jackson in concert there. Of note, I’m pretty sure my brother saw Led Zeppelin at the Civic Center.
There was the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer league, and I had a surprisingly good time. “Goran Hunyak!” I think he was the goalie at the time. I don’t know. The crowd yelled his name, so I yelled too. We went to the game because of a British guy we worked with who wanted to see indoor soccer. (Crazy Americans…)
My daughter graduated from UMBC at the Civic Center.
And that brings us back to Monster Jam, 2018. The place is still going, and it still looks exactly as I remember it from my first trip there in probably 1968 or 69. The seats are definitely the same ones that were installed in 62, and the bathrooms look about as you would have expected from back in the sixties.
A word of caution though, if you go back now, hot dog prices have increased by 1,000 percent, give or take.

I Siriusly Miss My Kia

I’ll explain. My wife is driving my Kia, and I’m driving my truck this week. This probably sounds crazy, right? I love my truck! My truck is awesome. Why do I miss my little, itty-bitty Kia? It’s the radio.

Damn you, Sirius! (See, it wasn’t a typo after all) You’re like nicotine for my ears. You’re like the extra chunky chocolate chip cookies that make me eat more than one. You’re that salty deliciousness in Utz potato chips that makes me want to eat the whole bag. And the saddest part is… you’re not even all that great anyway.

I am on glorious Rt. 32 for about two hours each day, and what else is there to do besides yell at the other cars, than to sing along with the radio? Sirius has several channels that play music I like, and very few interruptions. For about five bucks a month, I get to hear a wide variety of music, clicking past songs I don’t like with the little magic button on my steering wheel. That song again? Click. Hasn’t Blake Shelton named those damned dogs yet? Click. “Oh, oh, oh, oh, sweet child…” Click.

I equate Sirius to Safeway though. If I find something I really like at Safeway, like Bertolli’s Stuffed Shells, or Finlandia Swiss Cheese, or Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Burritos, Safeway is legally obliged to stop selling it. I have data to prove this. Well, I don’t, but I don’t care about that. Now if I find a new product that I really like, I just tell Richard the store manager that I hate it and can’t understand why they’d carry such an awful product. It buys me time. Oh yes, it buys me time.

Sirius is the same way. Let’s take the most awesome song out at the moment, “Shoot Me Straight,” by the Brothers Osbourne. I’ve now heard it three times on Sirius. Lee Brice’s “Boy,” 154 times. Keith Urban’s “Female,” 732 times (That’s just this week though). Blake could have named the Dalmatians twenty times over by now. Finally, “The Rest of Our Life,” by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, which is a beautiful, heartfelt love song, that I’ve heard… Click. Slowest, most boring song ever, and I grew up when the Carpenters were on the radio. AM radio for crying out loud!

But now, I’m in my truck. A fine specimen of a 2004 Dodge Ram (Yeah, it’s got a Hemi in it), with 20-inch wheels, an imitation hood scoop, and an AM/FM radio which has commercials, announcers, interviews, and interruptions. I can’t stand it anymore. It used to be all I had. Hell, AM radio was once all I had. WCAO played everything I needed at 600 kHz on the AM dial on my Panasonic radio. It was just fine.

Now that I’ve had a sip of that uninterrupted music, that Hair Nation hit, that toke of The Highway or Prime Country, or that Classic Rewind of ambrosia, I can’t stand hearing commercials. There are literally millions of channels on Sirius. (That’s an exageration) I have even stopped on the French pop channel up in the Canadian band when I get bored with the other 173 channels. You do what you gotta do, right? I don’t necessarily want my car back. I want my radio back. Sirius, you win. You’ve dangled your little shark fin antenna in front of me and I took the bait. I am weak.

If you see me along Rt. 32 and I’m pounding away on my steering wheel drums, or if I’m belting out a tune behind those closed windows, you can be sure of a couple of things. First, you should know that I know the words to very few songs, so I’m totally making stuff up. You should know that I’m probably headed toward work, because A.) That’s when I’m more likely to be doing those things, because B.) if I’m going home, it’s dark and you can’t see me, and I’m probably not in the mood anyway. The last thing is, you can be sure I’m not listening to the news channels which are full of Zyppah (Anti-Snoring Thing) and Erectile Dysfunction (You know what that is) commercials.

If you see me in my truck, however, you should know that I can also do a burnout if I have to (for emergency maneuvers only, of course) because the truck does NOT have traction control. Maybe I’ll just keep that truck after all.

The Blanket Chest: Craftsmanship is simply recovering from your mishaps. Repeatedly.

Sometimes, things work our really well, and my projects fly by. Other times, I make a blanket chest. I started this thing two years ago by gluing up the big pieces… the top (lid) and the bottom. Planed, jointed, glued, and sanded flat. Then they warped. I cut them apart and re-glued them two additional times. When they warped again, I put them into a pile in the basement until last month.
Then this guy I work with (Let’s call him Jeff) practically insisted I go to the Maryland Woodworkers Show, and I finally did. It was awesome! I watched a demo and got sprayed with man glitter (sawdust), and then I was hooked again. I decided to give the blanket chest another shot. Started off great. I re-sanded the big pieces nice and flat and moved on to another piece, which I promptly messed up. I wanted to use biscuits in the mitered joints of the base. I had the blade set too deep, and it poked through the front. I made another one. I moved on.
The sides will be raised panel construction. I set up my ShopSmith in “Shaper” mode (like a drill press), cut a practice piece like you should, and it came out perfect. Then, on the very first cut on the very first of eight raised panels, the motor (which is heavy, and on the fastest speed setting) vibrated itself a bit loose, and the motor dropped, gouging the bit into the panel. Oh well, these things happen. 20180203_112017.jpg
On about panel number 5, the bit dragged against the grain and tore a chunk out of the edge (where the guide bushing needs to ride). I patched this with a sliver of walnut, some glue, and high-performance wood filler, just to give a smooth edge for the bit to ride on. That worked. Phew!
“Panel-raising bits” are large, and they remove a lot of material, so I cut a little bit on the first pass, then lowered the bit to cut a little more… then on panel 7 or 8, I cut the panel with the wrong side up and ruined it. (This is a mistake, by the way, and not a mishap). I cut apart all of the problem pieces, glued new pieces on, cut them to size, re-sanded them flat, and cut them again. When one of those panels was going through, a big chunk got ripped off the edge.
That’s when I told my wife that she is not meant to have that blanket chest that I promised her when we got married 34 years ago. But, I did finally make progress (See wood shavings), and I finally did get to the point where I’ve now glued up three sides to go onto the finished base. I’m getting there. If true craftsmanship is the art of recovering from your mishaps, then over the past couple of weeks, I have given myself ample opportunities to improve my craftsmanship. Sadly, I’m not done quite yet. Stay tuned.

Breaking the Law

Okay folks, so two things happened this week. The first is that someone told me that they had read my blog. It took a few days for this to register, but I suspected it might be true.  I wonder when I last updated that blog. Let’s just say it’s been a while. The second thing is, that I realized that I tend to write about driving a lot, probably because I spend many hours each week driving. The third thing is, that when I’m driving, I feel like it’s my civic duty to point out examples of sub-par driving, and that is to say, driving that is not up to my very high standards. I’m an expert you know. I’m also an expert at cooking, ballroom dancing, structural engineering, American Ninja Warrioring, and singing. I kimagesnow, three things. Let it go.

But this breaking the law thing . . . When did our state decide that drivers were incapable of turning left? It happens slowly you know. You’re not supposed to notice it, until one day . . . that’s right . . . your steering wheel only turns right. On my drive home, which is always where these revelations hit me, I have noticed a surprising number of rebellious drivers who are standing up for their rights! I mean lefts. New shopping centers and housing developments have popped up along Rt. 32, my favorite road in the whole world, and the only way to legally turn into these developments is to be traveling in the other direction so you can turn right. It’s the rebellious ones who say, “Screw THAT!” and turn left anyway, heading up the wrong lane to get to their damn house. Hell. Yes.

You can see it coming too. The car in front of you slows down approaching the Sporkbill Estates entrance. He can’t signal his turn. That would be crazy, right? But he sees the approaching traffic. He quickly scans for any traffic coming from the estates. No police cars in sight. And you see it coming. There’s a gap ten car lengths long in front of him, and in the opposing traffic, the lane opens up right after the blue Camry. He goes for it. He floors it, slipping across the road, in through the out lane, and on to freedom.

But if you don’t like seeing these lawbreakers, go on and take a back road. But when you do, tell me how many roundabouts you have to weave through. One more than last year, right? Uh huh. Now which way do you drive in a roundabout. Boom! To the RIGHT! Where do you think you’re driving, pal, in the United frickin’ Kingdom? Just stick to the program, buddy.

So the next time you’re contemplating taking that left turn, well . . . you’d better just think through those actions and the consequences that go with them. Or at least make sure there’s not a police car in your mirror for cryin’ out loud. The law is there for a reason—to protect people from doing stupid things. Two wrongs do NOT make a right. Three rights, however, make a left.

Drive safely, my friends.



This Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

You’ve seen these lights all over the place, usually dangling over busy intersections. But, have you ever wondered what the different colors are meant to signify? I did, so I did a little research. Many years ago, these “red” lights were actually used to signal drivers to stop, usually at intersections. This practice has long been abandoned, so I’ve studied how today’s drivers behave around these color-changing signals. I’m now convinced that it no longer has anything to do with stopping. As I’m always looking for ways to improve the driving skills of everyone else on the road, I thought I’d tcloseup-traffic-signal-showing-red.jpgry to offer some insight into this curious pendulum of light.

If you are presented with this “red light” signal, you are supposed to quickly glance to your left, decide whether there is a space at least the length of your car plus an extra foot or two, and then accelerate quickly into that space without slowing down at the signal. Awareness of the capabilities of your vehicle will be required in this situation. If you are driving a Camaro SS, Mustang GT, or BMW, you may be able to enter a much smaller space on a road with much higher speeds. Be brave and go for it! Slowing down in this situation might cause other vehicles to hit you from behind, and I don’t think you want this. Please be courteous to the drivers behind you! 

Now a word of caution for those of you on opposing streets. You are no doubt facing a green or yellow one, and your response could be slightly different. If your signal is green, this means that you should move your foot from the accelerator to cover the brake pedal. A green signal simply means that your path is about to be interrupted, possibly unexpectedly if you happen to be glancing at a phone, changing the radio station (in antique cars without steering wheel controls), or trying to get your coffee cup back into the cup holder. The green signal is a mere convenience to help you prepare for those events. It has nothing at all to do with the antiquated, “right of way” concepts as was once believed decades ago.

Those of you facing a yellow signal have a choice to make, and your choice affects everyone else on the road. Your role is about to change, so you will be expected to merge with traffic that is trying to turn right and drivers who are trying to time their entry onto the road you’re on. Be courteous! Accelerate promptly so that those drivers know they need to fall in line behind you, and they will have to time their entry to be between your car and the one behind you that is also trying to get through on the yellow. If you are accelerating, please blare your horn for at least five seconds. This signals to any driver who is trying to merge in front of you that he has limited time and that the space required for his vehicle is getting shorter. It might help to wave one arm, hand, or finger to the driver so he knows that you are aware he is merging.

By now, I hope you better understand your responsibilities when approaching these tri-colored merging lights. They really are very convenient once you’ve become accustomed to their proper use. And now for the most important question of all…

What color should the fourth color on these signals be, and what would they signal the driver to do? Hmm…

The Friends I Haven’t Met

You’ve probably bumped into people in the grocery store, or Home Depot, or McDonald’s and thought they looked familiar, but you just couldn’t place them. Probably, you first saw them at McDonald’s and then when you bumped into them in the produce aisle, they reminded you of someone you saw at Home Depot. You’ll probably never have the answer to that conundrum.

But, I’ve noticed that the same thing happens on the roads. Yesterday on my way BMWZ4home from work, this zippy little black BMW Z4 whipped by me, and I recognized it as the same one I’d seen on previous trips. It’s hard to miss, because it’s a very nice looking car. I call this car’s driver, “Robin.” A step or two down from the Z4 is the black Pontiac Solstice with the license plate “SISTA,” that I see about once a week. I call her “Daphne.” There’s the red Tesla that I’ve seen several times in the past few months. I’ve not given him a name. There’s the older model Buick with a missing headlight that’s been replaced with packing tape. And of course there’s the dark red Silverado that’s tastefully lifted and has a cool custom steel bumper on the front. The strange thing about him is, I often see him at exactly the same spot on the road a few times a week. I do call him “Jethro.”

I’ve never met these people, of course. It just gives me something to do on my 30-mile ride each way. And now, I will blow. . . your. . . mind! On at least five occasions, I have had twilight zone-type encounters with other vehicles. The first time this happened was on my way to work, and I was behind an Aaron’s concrete pumping truck with the bucket’s swinging from the rear bumper and covered in concrete dust. The weird thing is, when I was driving home that night, the very same truck pulled in front of me as he merged off of I-70. Bull crap, you say. But, it was the same truck. My wife didn’t believe me either.

But then there was a white BMW with a license plate that had four nines on it. I tend to notice these things. As a side note, and NOBODY will believe this one. . . I was sitting in the drive thru at Chick-Fil-A (Okay, everyone will believe that), and I just happened to notice that the license plate on the truck in front of me had the same five numbers (No, seriously!) as my odometer reading, in the same order. And then he pulled away. I tried so hard to get a picture, but I couldn’t catch up. But. . . absolutely true.

But back to the BMW, same deal. . . on the way home from work, there he is. I’ve noticed this a couple more times, and my wife thinks I’m crazy. But then, it happened. We were on our way to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, and we took the winding road through Butler, Maryland, which is very scenic, but you can sometimes get behind someone who may not be in as much of a hurry as you are. Such was the case on this day. . .

We were behind a pickup truck hauling a couple of ATVs on a trailer, and we were poking along Route 128, so we had ample time to notice things like the stickers on the back window of the truck. I don’t remember the sticker, but it was something funny, and my wife even pointed it out to me. We followed the truck for several miles, and then we parted company and we were on our way to Pennsylvania.

We spent several hours at my parents’ place, and then we retraced our route back down I-83 and through Butler. As we emerged from the cool expanding steel bridge from WWII that spans the river on Western Run Road, I put my right turn signal on, waiting to make my move. I pulled in behind a truck pulling a trailer with two ATVs in the back. “Holy crap!” I said, because that’s what you say at times like this. “That’s the same truck!”

“No way,” my wife says. “You’re crazy.” Because that’s what she says to me a lot.

So I did what any man would do in a situation like this. I floored it. I mean come on, I was in a Kia, and I was trying to catch an F-250 with big tires, owned by an outdoorsman. But, I caught him. I got way too close. I had to. Mary needed to see that sticker! Oh God, I hope that sticker is in that window. I’m sure this is the same truck. Oh please, please. . . YES! She saw it. I was right. Don’t shake your head! It happens!

It’s been a while since this has happened, so I’m due for another encounter. For the time being, I’ll just keep waving at the cars my Kia has made friends with. I saw the Z4 last night, Jethro this morning, I saw Daphne earlier in the week. I haven’t seen the old Buick with the tape headlight for a while. I hope he’s okay. Maybe he got a new car, and I just haven’t figured out which one is him yet. But I will.