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…

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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.

The Self-Proclaimed Expert

ExpertiseI was watching a car show the other day—as I’ve been known to do—and there was a guy who bought one of the original Bandit Trans Ams, which was in terrible condition when he bought it. Now beautifully restored, he was asked about who had done the work, and the owner said he’d done just about everything himself including painting the car black, which for those of you who don’t know, is by far the hardest color to get right. The slightest ding, dent, or wave will show in the highly reflective finish. Did he have previous body or paint experience? Heck no. He said he just did a lot of research and watched a lot of YouTube videos. I dig that!

So, I watch a lot of YouTube videos too, like those on rebuilding brakes, replacing shocks, recovering sofas, disassembling a washing machine, lawn maintenance, small engine repair, making custom car door panels, and how to do body work and paint. Those last two, I have not tried. . . but I just might. Anyway, after seeing this guy on TV, it dawned on me that I may already be an expert at many things. I mean, I can follow what’s going on, I can identify problems that affect the performance, I can comment on how to make it better, and most importantly, nobody has been around to check me on my observations and opinions. Here are some things that I am clearly an expert at, but you probably don’t know that, because I’ve never practiced them in public.

Structural Engineering—I’ve completely renovated four houses to include some foundation work, masonry, plumbing, electrical, framing, drywall, and finishing. But that’s nothing. Shows like This Old House and Holmes on Homes have taught me how to frame a new addition, replace a roof, install heating and air conditioning systems, and operate a crane. I’m also familiar enough with Canadian building codes to throw the red flag if I see something going wrong on TV, because many of the home improvement shows are filmed there. If you need me to slap a new garage or a couple of bedrooms on your vacation cottage in Toronto, just give me a call. I’ve never done this stuff, but I’m an expert nonetheless, eh?

Cooking—It’s just a matter of time before the networks contact me to film the pilot for a new series. We watch all the popular shows, like Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef, Masterchef Junior, Top Chef, America’s Next Food Network Star, and Chopped. I can easily spot when someone’s knife skills aren’t up to par, or when they’ve taken the chicken out of the pressure cooker too soon, or when they don’t have a proper sear on the steak, or when they’ve put the meat in the pan before the oil was heated. I mean really, who does that? And don’t even get me started on people who would use sauce out of a jar in a cooking competition.

Singing—I yell at the TV enough that these contestants ought to realize that I know what I’m talking about. He’s off pitch. She doesn’t have the range for that song. His arrangement of that song is terrible, and it’s definitely the wrong song for him anyway. Now, I know that I know what I’m talking about, because my words have been verified by the likes of Simon Cowell, Blake Shelton, Randy Jackson, and Alicia Keys. We’ve never actually spoken, but I’m sure they’d all verify my bona fides.

American Ninja Warrior—I know you’ll be surprised by this, but despite the fact that I have expert knowledge of the proper form to successfully navigate the ANW course, and that I am an amazing specimen of physical fitness, I have never actually done the ANW course. It’s true! But, while watching it on TV, I can easily spot when someone doesn’t have the proper grasp on the Rolling Barrel. I’ll call you out if you haven’t set the proper pace when going into the Floating Tiles. Once I’ve seen that you’ve lost that 90-degree bend at your elbows, I will confidently estimate when you will fall from the Monkey Pegs. And of course, if your steps are off, you’re never going to get enough speed to launch yourself to the top of the Warped Wall. I haven’t yet demonstrated my own prowess at navigating the course, but maybe one of these days.

Dancing—This one has taken a lot of time to develop, but I’m there now. When those amateurs perform on Dancing With the Stars, I will often point out those whose moves are not crisp enough, who are sliding their feet, not pointing their toes, not keeping their heads high, or who haven’t reached the full extension of their arms. Heck, I’m such an expert, I can even advise the judges on what score to give each contestant. Bruno and Julianne usually listen to me, and score appropriately. Len, however, likes to think he knows more than me, and usually scores the contestants lower. He’s so harsh.

The point of all this is not to brag. Uh. . . mmm-hmm. But, I think there is some level of confidence you can get from these shows and videos. In construction, I might encounter something new, and I’ll recall something from one of those shows and think, “Those guys used a laminated beam and some Narndle bolts in the same situation,” and then I’ll head off to the Depot for Narndle bolts. When it’s on me for dinner, I will sometimes try something I’ve seen on TV. I will even go to the store for ingredients. Specific ingredients! I’ll recall how the TV chefs did their thing, and try to emulate it.

For singing and dancing, you should be thankful that I’ll leave that to the actual experts. Oh, I might break into a goofy dance during the Big Bang Theory opening music, but that’s a different story. As for the American Ninja Warrior course, I’m pretty sure that I’d be wet after the first couple of those angled steps. If I managed to get past those, I’m sure I’d slide down the rope trying to swing onto the platform and smash my face against the edge, and then I’d be in the water. I could also be the first warrior to fall from the Salmon Ladder without ever moving it from the first notch.

Taking all these skills above into account, it’s hard for me to demonstrate my expertise by actually doing this stuff. But, from my couch, I’m killing it.

The Magic of Lines

Sometimes, it’s okay to go outside the lines. Not if you’re coloring. Oh God, no! Neatness counts, so I’ve never been able to intentionally go outside the lines, even when I was a kid, and back then, we had to color in black and white! But lately, I’ve seen a lot of lines, and I’ve been amazed by our difficulty in forming them.

In the photo, you can see me and my family in 20170505_182409line at Disney World. The make it easy. There are railings, chains, curbs, walls, and shrubbery all arranged to point us in the right direction and make us turn where they need us to turn. Sort of like cattle, right? But without the directional aids, humans can’t figure this out.

I’ve witnessed poor line building many times, and it always amazes me. Find any cash register and put a long line of customers in front of it. Guaranteed, there will be one, straight line, that will stretch back to the first immovable object, where it will terminate with a wad of people standing in a clump waiting to get behind the last person. The line will block sidewalks and hallways, it might cross rivers or shallow canyons, and if a door is involved, might reach into the parking lot and across the road where it will block traffic. But it will never, of its own free will, make a 90-degree turn.

You think I’m kidding? You will see this now that I’ve pointed it out for your benefit. I’ve seen it at Wal-Mart when trying to maneuver my cart through the front of the store and trying to squeeze through the line. In Safeway, people look at you like you’re crazy for trying to get through. “Can’t you see there’s a line here?” In Chick-Fil-A, before they put up those Tensa-Barriers (sort of like line-directing seat belts on chrome poles), the line stretched from the register, across the open area, and down the aisle toward the door on the opposite end of the restaurant. One more customer, and they’d have been outside.

Recently, at our Disney World hotel, we had to wait in a fairly long line to get the bus to the House of Mouse, and the line inevitably stretched past the railings into no-man’s land, where the humans did the only thing that seemed safe–they formed a straight line. It reached across the expanse of sidewalk, blocking not only the doors to the hotel, but also the rest of the sidewalk. Potential line fodder actually walked along the curbing that lined the garden in order to squeeze past the line, which of course, did not move to allow them to pass, for fear that they might introduce an unwelcome bend in their beautifully straight line.

The most recent sighting was today at the Farmers’ Market at work, where the most popular (and apparently those with the slowest service) food trucks had lines stretching across the road, blocking the sidewalk, and ending in a blob of humanity at the fence with several potential customers wondering how to get into the line. Some of them left in search of a food truck with a shorter line. Others, just trying to use the sidewalk to get to work, were unable to cross the line, and were forced instead to buy cupcakes from the cupcake truck. Chaos, I tell you.

So, please people… it’s okay to turn.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

20170111_133804It might be difficult to see what this is, but I’ll save you from the suspense–It’s replacement razor heads for my electric shaver. What you probably don’t know is that there are three replacement heads in the small blue box, each about the size of a quarter and about twice as thick. I had imagined that I would find a padded envelope in my mailbox one afternoon, and I’d be excited to receive my stupid-expensive replacement heads inside with a note that said they were “Lovingly packed by Gladys.”

I was very excited when I saw a large box on my front step, because for a minute, I thought my wife bought me something cool like a new Dewalt Miter Saw, or a collection of books, or maybe some new chrome parts for my Fairlane that I still hope will have license plates again some day. Then, I saw the label. Oh. It’s from… what? They’ve shipped the wrong stuff. Probably.

Shock One: They shipped that little blue box to me in that ginormous box. The loaded box was actually lighter than the empty box, because they filled it with bags of air. Not just any air, but the special kind of air used to keep UPS trucks filled to capacity. So if you were the UPS guy, wouldn’t you be a little bit ticked that you had to lug around these giant boxes surrounding something the size of three quarters? I could have bought 200 sets of replacement razor heads (except that would have cost me $5,000), and they could have shipped them all in the same box.

But Shock Two: Come on, Philips Norelco… If you’re going to ship the heads with ten backs of self-contained protective wind, at least get the dumb things into the middle of the box.

There’s Bound to Be a Story Behind This

Giraffe on the HighwayMy drive down Route 32 each morning is often eventful, usually tedious, and sometimes there’s just crazy stuff. It’s a major roadway, so as with any major roadway, there are often critters who just weren’t fast enough to outrun one of the vehicles.

Deer seem to be the most cocky. “I can beat that thing,” they think. But they’re usually wrong. About a year ago, one who must have been especially bad at timing his entrance to the highway, smashed into the door of the Lexus in front of me, showering the driver with glass and crushing her door. The deer? Yeah, he didn’t fare well. But in addition to the deer, I’ve seen raccoons, foxes, vultures, and heck. . . I’ve even seen a small black bear once, adorning the shoulder of Rt. 32.

But today was the strangest. The first thing I saw appeared to be a very small deer, which wouldn’t have been at all unusual, except a hundred yards down the road, there lay a giraffe. Another hundred yards, a small bear. And then a hundred yards later, a large yellow emoji (I couldn’t tell whether it was still smiling). You’ve probably figured out that these were stuffed animals. Well, and a stuffed emoji.

So what’s the deal with that? The first thing I thought of was that the Eggman Movers truck from Toy Story was somewhere in front of me and the animals were escaping. I was being extra careful just in case RC was zooming up behind me trying to catch up to Woody and his friends.

Then I thought, well that’s silly. It was probably a pickup truck full of boxes of stuff, and the lid from the stuffed animal box blew off and animals were bouncing out along the highway. I was sure the driver’s wife had told him to tie the boxes down so the lids wouldn’t blow off. I imagined the driver telling his wife that she worried too much, and that there’s no way the lids could blow off. She looked at him, the way wives really look at their husbands when the husband is absolutely confident that they’re not about to make a big mistake. Before you say it, no I . . . okay, yes, I’ve been in almost exactly this situation. Never mind that!

But, what I decided to believe was this—there were two kids in the back of a Tahoe, the older boy (they must be boys) was sitting by the open window, and he was tossing his little brother’s toys out the window. Yes. That’s my final answer. I have no proof of this, but I watched intently the right side of the Tahoe in front of me hoping to see the stuffed projectiles arcing toward the shoulder. But, I didn’t see that at all. Not for real, anyway. In my mind, I imagined seeing a stuffed Olaf, a Mickey Mouse, or maybe Mom’s purse launched out the window. This is how I make this drive bearable every day, pardon the pun.

Killing My Darlings

As many of you are aware, I’ve written a full, young adult, Sci-Fi adventure, called SubAqua. Technically, I wrote it in November of 2014 during the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) event. I wasn’t registered for the event, but who cares? I did it anyway. Long story short, I have beaten this manuscript to death. I probably have about a dozen distinctly different drafts, and even more first chapters. I had a critique of my first ten pages from a professional literary agent, and although it was generally positive, I still (as always) had some work to do. So, I did it. It took me about six months, but I finally got through the whole manuscript, which now sits at just under 87,000 words.

I’ve submitted to around 15 agents, and entered the manuscript into #PitchWars, which is a Twitter event designed to hook up writers and mentors, and eventually agents. I submitted to an additional six mentors. I’ve not had any requests for additional pages. As an aside, my new goal is to get someone to ask for page 11, as almost everyone wants the first 10 pages of a manuscript for submissions. (Mine will go to eleven. Get it? Spinal Tap? Anyone?) I’ve been given some good feedback and positive comments, but I also get comments like, “I couldn’t get fully absorbed in the story.” So in my mind . . . let’s fix those ten pages. In Stephen King’s book, “On Writing,” this is what he calls killing your darlings—all those words you worked so hard to get right.

I recently read my first ten pages to some new critique partners, and was advised to rethink where I started my manuscript. I’ve tried this before and absolutely hated . . . HATED . . . what I’d done to my story. This time, I was advised to start with the actual explosion rather than the aftermath (I know this is kinda cryptic), and I was having trouble putting the story together from that point. But, I thought about it overnight. I thought about it while trying to sleep. I came up with a plan.

So, I dragged my laptop into my basement writing lair, fired up the Keurig, put on a “Coffee Shop” soundtrack (Yep, that’s a real thing), and stared at the screen. Damn you, fingers! And then, I got some words to come out. It started to gel, and I wrote about six completely new pages to start my story from where my critique partners thought it should start. I split the previous first chapter into two, and rewrote parts of that. I found a great new place for chapter breaks, and I even found a “better motivation” for why my protagonist is getting drawn into the story in the first place. All this rewriting stuff has happened today, so I’m sure I have a really “Shitty First Draft” (as it is commonly known) of the first couple of chapters.

But the result of all this was that I was fired up about my manuscript today. It’s hard to stay excited about anything after thirteen revisions, but today, I was all pumped up about tearing holes in (a copy of) my manuscript. I want to share two relevant quotes:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” —Thomas Edison

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” ― Thomas Edison

I’m not giving up on this until you see a hard cover book with my name on it on the shelves of your local Target.