Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Je Fais des Choses Muettes

This past weekend The Wiff and I went on a little adventure in Canada. I had to go up to my company's office just outside of Montreal do run a training and she tagged along for the heck of it. Neither one of us had been to Montreal and so we figured this would be a nice little trip. Montreal is a beautiful city from what I understand and lord knows I could use some time away from Massachusetts. I had decided to drive up since taking a flight with the customs, flight delays, and airport traffic would have taken approximately as much time, give or take an hour. Plus, if I drove, I'd have my own car to bop around in once I got out of work. How sweet would that be? If I flew, I doubt the company would let me have a rental car (the office was quite close to the hotel).

The drive up on Thursday was, for the most part, uneventful. We zipped up through Vermont and made decent time. At the border crossing I showed why I have not chosen a life of crime. We pulled up to the checkpoint and stopped at the little sign that declared "ARRET!". Fine, I'll just wait here then shall I? The border guard waved us forward and I eased up to the little booth that is his center of power. I should mention now that I get super nervous around authority figures. I can't help but to imagine that this guy, if he so chose, could easily detain me and make my life a misery for the next several hours. I know intellectually that this will not happen (or shouldn't happen) but I see all the cameras and uniforms and automatic weapons on display and I freak out a bit. Suddenly in my head I am an international (Canada counts as international right?) master criminal and I have to do is slink past this one guard to gain my freedom and claim my rightful place in the annals famous thieves or whatever. Meanwhile in reality, I'm a fat guy in an old diesel Jetta.

The guard asked us a question in french and when I stared blankly at him, he switched effortlessly to english. I handed over our passports and he asked us some questions in slightly accented english. This was the exchange:

Border guard: "Where are do you live?"
Me: "Mark O'Malley."
Border guard: "..... What? Where's that?"
Me: "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you asked me my name."
Border guard: "No, I asked 'where are do you live?'"
Me: "We're going to Laval!"
Border guard: (moving on..) "Do you have any produce?"
Me: "I don't think so."
The Wiff: (desperately) "No! We don't have any produce!"
Border guard: "Are you bringing any gifts to anyone in Canada?"
Me: "Not that I know of."
The Wiff: "No! No gifts!"
Border guard: "Ok, thank you."

Yep. I am a smooth operator. Thank christ that the Wiff was with me because I could not for the life of me understand this guy. I cannot explain why since his english was better than mine. I just got all nervous and turned around by his, as you can plainly see, cryptic and misleading questions. God, I am a dope. So he just let us through and I still can't understand why exactly. I must cut such a non-threatening profile that he sized me up and thought, well even if he is a criminal or terrorist, there's no way he can successfully pull off a crime.

We got to the hotel in just under 6 hours (which includes me driving slowly, pee breaks, and the aforementioned border crossing). I was pretty damn tired, thank you very much. The next day I went and did the training (it went ok I guess. I can never really tell. When I'm in the moment during a training I always feel like it's going poorly and I'm losing the audience. After the trainings people seem to be happy and satisfied so maybe this is just me projecting my own bullshit). I came back to the hotel and we went to the hotel bar to have some food and drinks. We wanted to talk about our trip to Montreal and decide what we wanted to see and do. That was the idea anyway. I don't think we actually talked about it at all. And that, ladies and gentlepeoples is the problem. We are failures at "winging it". We can't do it.

The fact that the Wiff and I cannot just "wing it" on a vacation or even a short trip like this one became very clear to us back in January with our trip to Ireland. Sure, the weather fucked a lot of stuff up for us but for the most part what really messed that trip up was our own inability to actually decide on what the fuck we wanted to do. There was a lot of "we could do this and that" and "I dunno, what do you wanna do?" going on and what ultimately happens in that scenario is NOTHING. Nothing happens. We end up frustrated and bored while we sit in the hotel room. The problem this time was that we did not learn from the Ireland trip and did pretty much the same thing this time around. We don't need a vacation that is so rigorously planned that every minute of every day is accounted for but the willy-nilly-let's-just-see-what-comes-up approach doesn't work either. We need some structure with the option to change plans if the need or desire should arise.

On Saturday we slept in a little late and took our time getting ready. The TV news told us that Montreal would be in the mid-90's by noon and oh by the way, NASCAR as well as tens of thousands of fans are in town for a race that is taking place right in the heart of the city. Oh dear. Crowds + heat + unfamiliar area = super cranky Mark. After figuring out where the Metro station was and what stop we'd need to get off at we were all set to head out on our day trip. Then the Wiff called our own bluff. She said, "Would you rather just leave tonight and save the money? We could take a really scenic and round-about route and make that our adventure." Oh fuck yes, please. It was exactly what I wanted to do but I was too afraid that she'd get all mad at me if I suggested it. We promised each other that we'd come back to Montreal and have a plan of action. And we would stay in Montreal and not on the outskirts (the hotel and office are in Laval which is about 7 miles or so outside of the city. The hotel was situated on a major highway next to several strip malls which didn't exactly make for a lovely stroll).

And so we bailed on Montreal. I know, we're lame. We have admitted to this and are working towards a solution. Do not judge us. We drove away and made our long and meandering way home (including a 40+ mile misjudging of the highway system in Canada that eventually lead to a quick ferry ride across the St. Lawrence river). When we got to the U.S./Canada border (this time at New Hampshire) I was primed. I knew that the guard would be American and I'd be able to understand everything he asked me. I pulled up to the booth and sure enough I answered every question with flying colors. I was awesome. He dismissed us and sent us on our merry way. We had decided that we'd take Rt. 5 for a bit rather than jumping on Rt. 91 since Rt. 5 is a nice calm road with stuff to see and Rt. 91 is just a boring old interstate. I drove towards the Rt. 5 signs and there was a bit of confusion at this point. After stopping at a stop sign (which I have to admit I was glad did not yell "ARRET!" at me) near where we had just checked in, the GPS stopped working. That is to say, it stopped giving us directions and just showed us where we were, not where we'd like to go. I drove forward noting another U.S. Customs check-in point to my right but not thinking anything of it since we had just gone through all that. We drove by this and then suddenly the GPS woke up. It was indicating that we had missed our turn and that we should make a U-turn when possible. Ok, little electronic woman's voice. I shall do as you bid.

I turned the car around and passed the check-in point again. Soon I found myself with a choice. I could either go back up the hill from which we had just come or I could go down another little hill. Going down the little hill seemed to be the better choice as we both knew that going back up the other way would just take us to the border right? So down we went. At the bottom of the hill we were confronted with what was clearly a Canadian check-in point. "Oh dear," I said and turned the car around before getting to the border (or so I thought). As I made my way back up that hill I saw that written in large letters on the pavement were the words "Must Report To U.S. Customs". Oh fuck. As we approached the check-in I noticed a post office building and thought that it would be a good idea to pull in there and see if I can't figure out what the hell just happened. As I pulled in, a dude dressed in a black uniform came running out of the U.S. Customs building pointing at me and yelling "YOU! YOU! YOU! Stop!" Ah, fuck. This isn't going to be good.

He came running up to the car and yelled at me that I had to go through the check point. "B.b..but we just came–" I stammered. "YOU MUST GO THROUGH THIS CHECKPOINT!" he yelled again. Ok. You're the one who's armed here...you win. I pulled around to the booth and the another guy who was sitting in there said "What was that all about? Are you the guy who pulled into the post office?" I said that yes it was me. I tried in vain to explain what had happened when he said "But you came up the hill. Did you check in with the Canadians?" I explained that I had not as I had turned around when I realized my error and came back up the hill. "Then you just entered Canada illegally. They probably have your photo and information and are looking for you right now. You may have a big problem if you try to enter Canada in the future." I'm sorry, what? Dudley Do-right is after me? "What should I do?" I asked. He suggested that I go back down the hill and explain what happened and "if they let you go" we should then come back up to him to check in. All I heard was "IF THEY LET YOU GO". It was rattling around in my head and blocking all other input as I took the passports back and drove the car back down that hill to the Canadian customs building and what surely would be a life sentence spent working in the maple syrup mines. There are huge veins of maple syrup running through this part of Canada and they're always looking for prisoners and slave labor to harvest it.

When we got there, the Canadian dude at the station could not have been nicer. We explained that we had been following the GPS and it got us all turned around. All we really wanted to do was to go home. That's it. He said that this area seemed to be a "Bermuda triangle of GPS". He said that we weren't the first people to do this and that yes, they had noticed our car turning around before the checkpoint but understood what we were doing and no, they were not looking for us. He told us to just go ahead and turn around but to "make sure we checked back in with the U.S. Customs people". So I turned around and headed back up the hill (again) and drove over to the U.S. checkpoint. This time the guy was a lot nicer to us. It was then that it occurred to me that if the Canadian dude has seen this kind of directional confusion before then this prick has also witnessed people innocently making this same error. So why were the U.S. guys such jack-offs? Why did they try to make me pee myself (only a little came out I think)? Why didn't they just let me explain what happened and figure out that it wasn't a real issue? Because they can, that's why. Something I did made them not want to make this easy on me and I suspect it was my pulling into the post office parking lot. That really made them mad. These guys need to smoke some weed and chill the frick out.

At this point all I wanted to do is go home. We made our way to the highway and got the fuck outta town. On the way home we stopped off at the New Hampshire state liquor store and got me some scotch. It was only through immense self control that I didn't just slam a shot right then and there in the parking lot. As soon as we got home I got into comfy clothes and poured myself a nice healthy glass. Mmmmmm, scotch.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

You Mean Not Everyone Does This?

My commute to my job in Cambridge puts me in my car for approximately 30 miles or roughly an hour and a half round trip every day. The distance traveled doesn't vary all that much (depending on which route I take), but the time can be anywhere from 40 minutes on a good day to well over an hour. That's a one-way distance of 15 miles in what averages out to about an hour. Simple math tells you that I'm going very slowly for most of that time. Add in the craptacular roads around here and the abundance of complete assholes hell bent on getting that one precious car length ahead of you and this does not make for pleasant driving conditions.

When I had that wonderfully wacky job at CSG (the second iteration, circa 1995-1996), I would drive around the Boston area for most of my day. I logged a lot of miles and far too much time behind the wheel on the shitty, shitty roads that we have here. It wore on me and I had a couple of notable episodes of road rage (including one where I punched a guy's truck. I don't recommend doing that by the way. Trucks are made from metal). I wish I could say that I came to my senses and calmed the fuck down when driving soon after this incident but that's, uh, not the case. It took me a while to get to my current N.O.T.S.M. (none of this shit matters) philosophy. One major factor that made me reevaluate my own attitude and behavior was when my friend discovered the "notebook".

At the risk of sounding crazy I'm going to explain what the notebook was. I would commute on the same route every day and I would see people doing what I determined to be bad behavior while driving (cutting in at the last minute, aggressive lane changes, blowing through red lights, etc). These incidents sometimes involved me, meaning I was the one who was cut off or whatever but that wasn't always the case. Occasionally I was just a witness to some douchey display. What I would then do is log the time, location, license plate, description of vehicle and a short summary of the infraction into a small spiral ring notebook that I kept in my glove box. I would give a brief outline of what lead up to the episode as well as what the driver looked like. You should probably read that again while keeping in mind that I am not in any way, shape, or form a police officer. Why was I doing this? I told myself it was a way for me to have a record that I could reference as to which drivers I should avoid. I honestly looked at it in this way. I was keeping tabs on the crazy ones so that I could minimize my interaction with them. Some of the pages had multiple entries for the same vehicle. Almost sounds reasonable (well, to me anyway).

And I did this for years. Literally years. All told I filled up 3 notebooks in that time. The pages would usually have only one entry scribbled at an odd angle because I had written it while driving with the notebook either on my lap or on the seat next to me. I'm not making this any better am I? Cut to a few years down the road and I am working at an office in Cambridge and car-pooling with a friend. One day he has to go into the glove box for something and he discovers the notebook. Before I can even attempt to explain what it is, he opened it and started reading. "Dude, what the hell is this?" he asked with a look on his face that told me that perhaps I had entered an area he usually reserved for crazy people. "Um, y'know. It's how I keep track of these jackasses on the road," I explained. "I, uh, have two others in the trunk." He stared at me for a little bit and then said, "You have to get rid of this. Like, now."

And he was right of course. The nightmare scenario he painted for me was this: I get into a road rage incident with some guy and it escalates into a physical confrontation. After losing the fight (presumably), the police show up and arrest me and while they have me detained, they discover the notebook. Nothing good can come from my attempts to not only justify the fight that got me arrested, but how do you explain away 3 notebooks worth of crazily scrawled evidence? The answer is I couldn't. I had to make some changes before his prediction came true. I tossed the notebooks away that evening. I thought about "saving them for a laugh" but that just felt risky.

I have changed the way that I drive in that I'm a lot calmer than I used to be. I'm more apt to let things go rather than seethe with anger at any slight provocation. That's not to say I don't notice shitty behavior out on the roads, it's just that I know that it doesn't really matter. I'd like to say that I've completely quelled this but I have slipped a few times. I no longer keep a notebook or anything but I do still have "rules" that I follow. Most of these pertain to allowing people into line in traffic.

Rule #1 is never let the following vehicles pull out in front of you:
  • taxis
  • tow trucks
  • buses (school or commuter)
  • delivery vans
  • contractor vans (usually the dreaded "white van")
The reason for this exception to my newish "just go with the flow" driving style is that generally the drivers of these vehicles are the worst offenders. They are dicks. They would not let you go if you were trying to merge, so fuck them.

Rule #2 is never let someone who is poking the nose of the car too far into the flow of traffic and being "rude about it". They aren't sitting patiently and respectfully waiting their turn to go. It's just bad etiquette. God, I sound like a fucking lunatic. I clearly have some issues still. The bottom line is that although I have made changes, I still struggle with keeping my new perspective (as the aforementioned "Rules" illustrate). I'm working on it. Just don't beep at me ok?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gonna Need a Lot of Ice

We need to bring back the ice floe. The sheer amount of stupid people who have been allowed to poison our gene pool and clog up our roads with their dumbness has made our society very unstable. I propose rounding up a large group of dumb-dumbs and placing them on a nice, semi-stable sheet of ice way the fuck up north somewheres and then gently nudge it out into the Gulf stream. And then what happens, happens. But Mark, who do you propose we relegate to this fate? Do you have some sort of list perhaps? Why yes, yes I do.
  • People who whistle. You are not enhancing any song that may be on at the moment nor are you uplifting anyone's spirits with your monotonous rendition of "Rocky Mountain High". Off to the floe with you.
  • The blond, frizzy-haired woman who works in my office. We seem to be on the same schedule for everything lately and I'm tired of seeing her. Walking into work, there she is across the street. On my way to grab some lunch, she's at the salad bar. Time for a wee? She's in the damn hallway. Go away lady. Get on that floe. (postscript: Hey lady, it's called conditioner...look that shit up. Oh no he di'int!)
  • The cashier lady in the cafeteria at my work. I get the same thing and price changes every time. I know you hate your job and me for whatever reason but see, I don't care. I will solve both our problems by dooming you to stand on a rapidly melting chunk of ice somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Enjoy.
  • People who say "How's it goin'?" How is what going exactly? Be more specific. Y'know what? Nevermind that. Just get on the floe.
  • People who say "It's goin'!" in response to people who ask them "How's it goin'"?
  • The guy who nodded off during the training I was giving the other day. I understand that trainings are dull but it's not like there was a hundred people in the room. As you may or may not recall, there was only 3 of us in there. So yea, I noticed when your head kept bobbing onto your chest. Hope you can tread water for several days.
  • The woman who sits in the cube outside my office. Her laugh is super nasal and I can no longer abide it. She must go.
Wow, that last one seemed kinda harsh. Ah well. I have a bit of a problem. I tend to let things bother me. I notice patterns of behavior and idiosyncrasies in my fellow humans and once I notice something, I cannot UN-notice it, y'know? Frankly, I'm amazed when others do NOT notice the quirks of those around them. "See, he does that thing with his lips every 15 minutes. You mean you've NEVER noticed that? God, it's maddening. I HATE that guy!" I'm even more shocked when these things don't bother people even after I've pointed out how obvious they are. I once broke up with a girl cuz she tapped her leg whenever she was sitting. We'd be at a movie and I'd miss the entire thing because I was just obsessing on the fact that her leg was bouncing up and down the entire time. What the fuck? Stop fucking doing that before I stab you. And when say I "broke up with her" I mean that she dumped me after cheating on me. Whatever, she's on the floe now.

The Wiff and I were watching a film about the White Stripes tour through Canada back in 2007. They wanted to play all the Providences and out-of-the-way places where bands don't usually perform. It's a nice story and if you like the White Stripes, a must-watch. While we were watching the movie, the Wiff mentioned how she liked how they not only toured the remote areas but went out of their way to get to know the area and show respect to the local customs. I barely heard this comment as I was harping on the weird thing that Meg White does with her left arm when she drums. I may need medication.