Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Question is . . .

I gave an interview recently, which got me thinking about an interview my grandmother did a few years before she died.  She'd had knee replacement surgery and the local paper in Rehoboth, where she and my grandfather had retired, wanted to do a profile of her.  A little background information: my grandmother had to be one of the most hilarious individuals I've ever met, whether she was trying to be or not.  She loved cocktails (Beefeater martini, two olives, please), she could give TMZ a run for its money when it came to the collection and distribution of gossip, and she never left the house without lipstick.  Several years before the infamous interview, she'd had major back surgery and mostly used a walker to get around.  Not that that stopped her from much of anything, especially a good happy hour. 

As long as I can remember, she and my grandfather went bowling.  They loved it and even played in a league.  But other than that, she wasn't particularly athletic.  So you can imagine our surprise when the interview was published and it noted that "up until a few years ago, she even played tennis." What? Tennis?  This one gaffe was the source of merciless teasing of my grandmother by my mother, my sister, and me.  We just couldn't let her get away with that kind of tall tale.  Far as anyone in the family knew, she hadn't played tennis in more than 20 years. And this story has gone down in family lore, never to be forgotten. 

The reason this story has been on my mind lately is because, as I was giving my own interview, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to be interesting.  You never know who is going to be reading (and judging), and that's a heavy burden.  I answered the questions as thoughtfully as I could, but in the back of my head there was that little voice saying, "You're just not that cool."  And truthfully, I'm probably not.  The worst part of the interview, for me, was when the reporter asked, "What local organizations are you involved?" Blank. Nothing. This was my grandmother moment.  It would have been really interesting to say, "Well, I volunteer with Friends of the National Zoo fostering baby golden lion tamarins until they're weaned," or "I volunteer at a soup kitchen every Thursday cooking gourmet meals and I recently won an award for outstanding community service." But there was nothing I could say.  Instead of making something up, I decided to acknowledge my own shortcomings.  I told the reporter that I am, literally, not involved in anything.  Oh, the shame!  (Fortunately, she didn't print that part of the story.  Though I guess I just put it out there for the world to read now, haven't I?)

The good news is that doing the interview was a process of self-discovery.  I mean, now that I know I'm not involved in anything, a light has been shined on my fatal flaw.  The only thing left to do is find some way to reach out to my community and become a player.  I wasn't sure how . . . and then it hit me.  Tennis.  I'll teach tennis to disadvantaged youth.  What better tribute to my grandmother?  Just one problem: I have to learn how to play first.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Long May You Run

Although these changes have come, with your chrome heart shining, in the sun, long may you run . . .
-Neil Young "Long May You Run"

I consider myself quite the sentimental fool. All my life, I've been attached to inanimate objects.  My father loves to remind me of how I cried when they sold the family's old Ford Pinto.  I was four.  I'll be the first to admit that I hang on to things long past their usefulness simply because they hold good memories for me.  Unfortunately for me (and maybe even moreso for WH), this leads to packrat tendencies that make me live in fear of becoming a hoarder -- but that's another story for another day. 

I had a dream earlier this week about my first car, Flash.  Yes, my car had a name.  Not only did she have a name, but she had a personality. Flash was a 1983 Mustang GLX 5.0 red convertible -- told ya, personality -- a 16-year-old girl's dream car.  And I loved that car like it was a person.  In fact, one time after college, I was meeting a friend for lunch and it turned out that our waiter went to high school with me.  He said, "Oh, I think we went to high school together.  I recognized your car when you pulled up outside.  Awesome." Everybody loved that car.

Flash's Twin
Photo via Top Shelf Reps
The first time I saw her, she was sitting in the driveway next to a brown, hardtop boring-looking Mustang that was for sale.  It was love at first sight.  But it was the brown car that my parents and I had come to look at.  After talking to the owner, we learned that he was losing his license (too many speeding tickets) and that he might be persuaded to sell the red one.  I elbowed my father (spoiled!).  A little wrangling, including a phone call after we had come home to offer the seller even more money, and Flash was mine. 

Small problem -- Flash was a stick shift and I had only learned manual.  This resulted in my father very patiently trying to teach me to drive her . . . including one rather scary incident when I stalled out in the middle of a major intersection as the light changed.  I hated her that day, but we quickly made up and the real love affair began.  Flash made an impression on everyone who met her.  I often had people check her out and even offer to buy her, but she wasn't for sale. She was nearly ten when I got her, so she broke down often those first few years and we got to know the mechanic pretty well.  A car guy to the core, Gary loved Flash almost as much as I did.

Flash shuttled me back and forth to school in Ohio while I was in college, and even went on road trips to New York, New Haven, Virginia Beach, Rehoboth, Indianapolis, and even crossed the Mississippi to take a friend and me to St. Louis (also another fantastic story for another time). She was mostly reliable, but could also be tempermental, as most divas are.  One time, when I was trying to get home for Christmas and a snow storm hit, I decided that Flash and I could "outrun" the storm and get on the road in advance of it.  Yeah, not so much. Rear wheel drive and racing tires were no match for the snow, so I quickly ended up on the side of Interstate 70 just outside of town.  Facing certain death in freezing temperatures, I figured at least Flash and I were together. Fortunately a state trooper arrived and called a tow truck to take me back to the sorority house (one of many rides she took on the back of a tow truck, I might add).  The snow having hit pretty hard by this point, the driver was unable to see the road and ended up cutting across the quad rather than taking the road.  I pulled up to the sorority house with Flash on the back of the truck to cheers and photographs from my friends.  Long story even longer, I didn't make it home for another three days. 

When she finally sputtered her last sputter, she had nearly 250,000 miles on her.  She died on the way back from a trip to the beach.  And when we had her towed to Gary, I think he may have been almost as broken up about it as I was.  Rebuilding her engine would've cost thousands, so we all agreed it was time to let her go.  Initially we were just going to donate her, which for some reason caused me more grief than I could stand, but one of the mechanics who worked with Gary asked me what we were going to do with her, explaining that he had a 10-year old son with whom he'd like to rebuild her.  It was bittersweet, but I gave her to a good home.  Gary took her steering wheel off for me, which I still have somewhere (I told you, packrat). 

I know, it's probably silly for me to talk this way about a car.  But, you see, Flash was more than just a car to me.  She was all of those memories and more: she was the first way I had as a teenager to get away on my own when I had brooding to do; she was a connection to my friends cruising on a Friday night; she was a conversation piece with strangers; and for seven years, she was part of my identity.  Maybe it is silly, but that car was not only with me as I was growing up, but helped me to grow up. And while I don't know if she ever got a second life, I like to think of her with her chrome heart shining in the sun.  Long may you run, Flash, long may you run.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Symptom Symphony

Last night WH and I were meeting our friends Party On and The Funny Man for dinner downtown. The Funny Man was coming on Metro, which is always a delight on a nearly-100 degree Friday evening.  Party On arrived first, so we enjoyed some cocktails while we waited. TFM sent a text shortly thereafter, saying "It smells like dirty sneaker ass in a basement in here," and we knew it wasn't going well on Metro. 

About 20 minutes later TFM arrived with news of a sick passenger and an offloading train.  This got us talking about the infamous Sick Passenger.  At least once a week this guy gums up the works by getting sick on the train.  As a result, the train is offloaded or held up at the station, keeping other trains backed up in the system.  This begs the question, who exactly is the Sick Passenger?  We started hypothesizing and came up with several ideas. 

Maybe SP had the flu. Perhaps he was throwing up all over the car, requiring an offload and clean up.  This would certainly explain some of the smells emanating from the trains.  Or did he have a nagging, hacking cough that was simply so annoying everyone chose a mass exodus, creating a bottleneck, and causing a delay?  We really couldn't be sure.  I had visions of some poor guy clutching his heart and writhing around in the middle of the car somewhere underground.  But how would we, the Metro riders who see oddities every time we get on the train, know the difference between a random crazy and someone in real distress? 

The possibilities for what might cause the Sick Passenger offload/delay are really endless.  For instance, maybe SP has ebola or a similar life threatening, highly contagious disease requiring immediate attention from medical personal.  Can't you just envision a scene like something out of Outbreak, with big yellow biohazard suits?  It's not so farfetched, really.  There have been times when I wished I had a biohazard suit while riding the train.  Offloading the train and evacuating passengers would actually make sense in this instance . . . but I had yet to hear about such a scene, or even see pictures of it on the news, so we figured this probably wasn't the case either.

More importantly, why, if you were feeling sick, would you even attempt to get on Metro (something sure to make you sicker)?  Think about it . . . if you were feeling a little barfy, would the first thing you think to do be get on a hot, sticky, smelly, crowded Metro train?  Feeling a little numbness in your left arm and some shortness of breath?  How about a ride to Metro Center!  Sweating, achy, feverish?  It might just be the lack of AC on the train . . . or it could be a fever.  Why not take a ride on the Red Line and find out?  Deep in the throes of the mother of all hangovers? The Orange Line'll cure what ails ya.

I really can't begin to speculate what might motivate a sick someone to get on the train, but what I can say is that there are all kinds of people with all kinds of weird ailments and oddities in the Metro system every day.  It's the way the people in our city get around, even when they're not feeling so great.  But, if I may, could we please, in the interest of speeding things up, try and use a little common sense in the future?  If you're presenting with dry mouth, fever, nausea, and the shakes, take a cab.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hog Calling

Today's Washington Post had an great article about a public transportation phenomenon that we all know and loathe: the seat hog.  These delightful individuals "place purses, briefcases, feet or wet umbrellas on seats next to them in jammed trains" and buses, I might add.  Their sense of entitlement knows no bounds.  I mean, sure, your backpack is really tired after a long day of hauling around your stuff, and that old lady standing in the aisle is probably going to die soon anyway, so go ahead, take that extra seat. 

The Post article also alludes to the fact that civility has gone the way of the air conditioned Metro car.  As George Costanza would say, "We're living in a society!"  So why aren't we acting like it?  I'll be the first to admit that I'd rather not sit squished up against another rider, particularly in these 90+ degree days.  But odds are pretty good that it's not fun for them either.  What's the solution?  We've got to call people on it.  You can do it with a smile, a polite word.  Or, if that doesn't work, why not stoop to ridiculous and give a little call of "Sooooeeeey!"  I bet that'd get the asses (or hogs, as it were) out of their seats.  And if you do use the hog call to get a seat, please get video.

The article also pointed out that some people are a little to timid to say, "Excuse me, can I sit there?" This fascinates me. As a city girl through and through, I can't imagine standing idly by, swaying in the aisle while there's an empty seat. Sure, you might get the stinkeye from the guy who has to move his newspaper or the lady who's purse was having a rest, but who cares? You're not there to make friends . . . you're there to get from point A to point B. It's public transportation . . . that seat is every bit as much yours as it is anyone else's. Are these the same people who wait quietly behind the people who stand on the left of the escalator, hoping that maybe they'll get a clue by osmosis and move to the right? To those timid few, I say buck up! Grow a pair . . . and if that doesn't work, there's always the hog call method of seat selection.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Quake Quazy

We had an earthquake in D.C. today (well, Rockville, actually, but I sure felt it at my house).  Before you get all, "This is just a hiccup to Californians" on me, let's stop and think for a minute. I've lived here the bulk of my 30+ years and I've never felt an earthquake.  It was the highest "magnitude" (what ever happened to the Richter Scale?) quake since they started measuring them in 1979.  And earthquakes just don't happen here.  This is news.

I was shaken awake at 5:04 a.m. I don't know why or how I knew, but I was certain it was an earthquake.  Then I remembered that earthquakes just don't happen here and thought I was probably crazy.  I waited to hear if there were sirens (there weren't) or if I could hear any movement from any of my neighbors (I couldn't) so I did what any rational person would do . . . I checked Twitter. And thankfully, my tweeps let me know that I was not crazy, that they had been shaken too.  Then I turned on the news and the real fun began. 

Channel 7's resident nutbag, Traffic Lady Lisa Baden was reporting that she had, "at least 50 calls already this morning about a possible earthquake!"  This caused mild mannered Alison Starling and Weather Dude Adam Caskey to practically plotz. Within minutes, they had confirmation from the U.S. Geological Survey that there had, in fact, been a magnitude (their word, not mine) 3.6 earthquake this morning, and identifying the "epicenter" (again, their word) of the quake as 10 miles north of Rockville (that's Germantown to you). You would have thought it was the Big One and we were all about to fall into the ocean.  I awaited warnings of "aftershocks" and evacuations. They never came.  My friend the Policy Lawyer even joked on her Facebook page that "the tsunami warning has been lifted."

At that point, they started taking calls from local "witnesses" to get their experiences.  For some reason, all of the callers were from West Virginia [insert joke here].  I am still sort of confused as to why this was (and how did they get the number for Channel 7 anyway?).  The first guy talked about how his whole trailer (of course) shook during the quake.  Always astute Alison asked, "Did you think it was an earthquake?" And Trailer Man said he didn't.  And the calls kept coming in. They all said basically the same thing . . . they were awakened by shaking and didn't know what it was. One lady even commented that her dog didn't know what it was either.  I hope someone filled him in.

I realize that I said earlier that, yes, this is news, however it did not merit extending the newscast (as Channel 7 did, interrupting my beloved Good Morning America).  I mean, sure, some of us felt it, others of us slept through it.  It merited a mention on the morning news, and I'll even agree the "breaking news" banner across the screen.  Heck, I even think it merited water cooler chit chat and happy hour banter, but the extensive coverage paid to a natural disaster of this magnitude (my word) was way out of proportion. 

Once I had confirmed it was a quake and I wasn't in fact quazy, er, crazy, I was content watching the news for a bit and was ready to go back to sleep.  It was kind of cool, and I was glad I had woken up for it and that it wasn't more serious than it was.  But the way this morning's seismic event (also their words) was exaggerated, I was preparing for the inevitable telethon.  So if you hear of anyone planning one, will you please let Larry King know that I'm ready to tell my story?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Umbrella Karma

This morning's rain had me thinking about an umbrella.  This is a phenomenon of which we are all aware, yet rarely pay attention to.  Most of us have lost an umbrella at least once (and probably more than) in our lives.  But I'd be willing to bet we've all also "found" an umbrella at least once, too.  And my educated guess is that there are very few of us who have actually purchased an umbrella (more than once, anyway). 

WH and I went down the street to Circa to watch the World Cup game and have a little lunch (fantastic roast beef sandwich, by the way).  I toted an umbrella with me, unsure if the day's weather would hold or not.  We were walking back home under the partly cloudy sky as I realized that I had left my umbrella next to my chair.  I chalked it up to that grand phenomenon, releasing it into the world secure in the knowledge that one would come back to me at some point. 

I have no qualms about picking up an umbrella from the bar at the end of the night when the pile by the door is larger than the number of the people.  Someone else has released his umbrella to the greater good.  I once picked up a hot pink umbrella after a football game in high school that lasted me through college.  Another time I had this polka dotted umbrella that I literally could not lose.  It kept coming back to me like an umbrella-boomerang. 

I mentioned this to WH this afternoon as we were walking home and he said this:

WH: Stealing is wrong, unless it's an umbrella. 

WT: I agree.

WH:  What would Jesus do? He would take one with him on the way out.  Trust me.  Washing that hair is a bitch.

WT: Really.

WH:  I mean, you've seen the pictures of Jesus...that hair is not easy to take care of.  And come to think about it, it's not just Jesus' way, it's the Buddhist way too.

WT:  Oh.

WH: It's karma.  You leave your umbrella in a cab, you leave it in a restaurant and somebody else will take it.  It's only karma that you're in a restaurant, you take an umbrella.  You find an umbrella in the cab, you take it with you.  It's umbrella karma.  So however you look at it, you must take an umbrella.

I think WH is right.  You wouldn't leave your purse, wallet, or cell phone behind for the next person, but how heartbroken are you when you leave an umbrella behind?  My guess is not very, simply because you've lost and gained enough times for it to even out.  And that's really all we can hope for in life (and umbrellas): to break even.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Drink Up!

There are few things that bring Washingtonians more glee that heaping insults upon the much-maligned Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).  I've certainly done my fair share of it.  Today's as good as any, too, with temperatures soaring into the triple digits and the "heat kink" causing delays on Red Line tracks.  Needless to say, rush hour commutes were snarled with long waits on overheated platforms.  And what better way to keep yourself entertained than by playing along to a snarky little WMATA Drinking Game*?  My friend the Policy Lawyer and I came up with this little gem over the course of a few days last week.  See if you can find your favorite Metro faux pas listed below:

One drink for tourists who stand on the left of the escalator; two drinks for escalator disruptions; and finish your drink if the escalator stops while you're on it.

One drink for someone singing; two if they're not wearing headphones.

One drink for every mispronounced station; two if the driver pronounces Judiciary Square correctly; finish your drink if the driver pronounces L'Enfant Plaza correctly.

One drink for loud cell phone conversationstwo if the conversation involves sex or other private matters.

One drink for unruly kids; two if said kids are swinging on a pole.

One drink for anyone consuming food or drink; two if it's fried chicken; finish your drink if it's pizza.

One drink if the bus driver honks his horn; two if there is no apparent reason for the honk.

Do a shot for any personal hygiene/grooming tasks performed (including but not limited to nail clipping, nail polishing, applying make up, etc.)

One drink for tourists; two if they block the platform.

One drink for sick passengers.

One drink for people who think their bag needs a seat; two if they don't give priority to the elderly/handicapped.

One drink if your SmarTrip card doesn't work; two if you can't find a Metro worker to fix it.

One drink for Metro delay; two for track derailments; two more if the delay is unspecified.

One drink for a speeding bus driver; two if he misses your stop because he's speeding; finish your drink if he misses your stop because he was on his cell phone.

One drink if the person next to you strikes up a conversation; two if it's about Jesustwo more if they try to pick you up; and finish your drink if the picker-uper appears to be drunk.

One drink if the bus driver runs a red light; two for narrowly missing a pedestrian; finish your drink if the driver yells at said pedestrian.

One drink if your felllow rider bumps up against you; two if he's pushing; kill yourself if he's pushing with his "manhood."

One drink for random and/or unusual substances in Metro (including hair balls, obvious speutum, sunflower seed shells, hair braids/extensions, etc.).

One drink if your bus doesn't say which route; two if it lists the wrong stops inside the bus.

One drink if there's something wet on the seat; two if you sit in it.

One drink if bus driver gets into argument with a passenger; two if he assaults a passenger; and finish your drink if passengers assault each other.

Finish for a 10 cent fair hike; finish a bottle for a 25 cent hike.

If you don't see your favorite here, please add it in the comments section.  I'd love to know how to make this the most robust satirical drinking game on the web.

*Note, a "drink" equals a sip of your beverage of choice.  Please also note that eating and drinking are illegal on both Metrobus and Metrorail, regardless of how much more tolerable it may make your trip.