On parking badly

It’s an old story: you arrive at your parking garage, ready to get to work, and someone, driving some behemoth of a vehicle, has parked badly enough to take up two parking spaces. I wonder if the challenge of parking between the lines is too much for some people. Is crappy parking a sign of rebellion? Are they thumbing their nose at authority? They not only did not make it between the lines, they are also parked in some cockeyed diagonal fashion which makes parking next to them impossible. I tend to shun parking anywhere near them for fear of getting my own car involved in their reckless ways. You look for another spot, but what should you do? Leave a note explaining to this careless person what a moron they really are for parking so badly? First, parking is not that difficult, so I am amazed when people find it so hard to do. Believe or not, I like order in my world and the lines in a parking garage are there to encourage people to park in an orderly fashion. Yet, on a daily basis I must face people parking badly. People park wonky, on the line, off-kilter, and they invalidate a spot next to them. What kind of mind can turn a blind eye to the order of the lines in a parking lot? How can they leave their vehicle precariously parked for the whole world to look at and wonder about their careless ways? Are they completely without shame?

On parking badly

It’s an old story: you arrive at your parking garage, ready to get to work, and someone, driving some behemoth of a vehicle, has parked badly enough to take up two parking spaces. I wonder if the challenge of parking between the lines is too much for some people. Is crappy parking a sign of rebellion? Are they thumbing their nose at authority? They not only did not make it between the lines, they are also parked in some cockeyed diagonal fashion which makes parking next to them impossible. I tend to shun parking anywhere near them for fear of getting my own car involved in their reckless ways. You look for another spot, but what should you do? Leave a note explaining to this careless person what a moron they really are for parking so badly? First, parking is not that difficult, so I am amazed when people find it so hard to do. Believe or not, I like order in my world and the lines in a parking garage are there to encourage people to park in an orderly fashion. Yet, on a daily basis I must face people parking badly. People park wonky, on the line, off-kilter, and they invalidate a spot next to them. What kind of mind can turn a blind eye to the order of the lines in a parking lot? How can they leave their vehicle precariously parked for the whole world to look at and wonder about their careless ways? Are they completely without shame?

On [wearing] seat belts

Just when you think that a debate is over, it comes back with a vengeance. I shouldn’t even have to write this note because I think the content is self-evident, but I would be wrong. Ever been wrong? I have. This summer I made my students buckle up on the bus in Spain because it’s the law–if the bus has seat belts, the riders must put them on or they might be fined, not the driver. Nevertheless, there are still older buses on the road in Spain that do not have seat belts and are not bound by the law because they were manufactured before the law was put into place and the bus companies are not required to upgrade their equipment. In a recent tragic accident seven people were thrown from a bus that went off of the road, and they were all killed. Two were also killed on the bus, but in general, those who stayed in their seats, lived. If those seven had had seat belts on, they would have at least had a chance at surviving the crash. Instead, they were thrown from the vehicle and killed. One would think that the lives of passengers would be more important than a few thousand Euro to install seat belts, or is it more complicated than that? Do we still not take seat belts seriously enough? I was required to use seat belts as a new driver learning how to drive. Yet, some thirty-five years later, I still read reports of people who are thrown from their vehicles and killed because they weren’t wearing their seat belt, which is both kooky and tragic at the same time because they don’t seem to understand simple physics–and I mean simple. Any object which is moving will continue to move in a straight line until it is acted upon by some other force. Ergo, if you traveling at sixty miles an hour and your vehicle stops, unless you are belted in, you will continue to move at sixty miles an hour, which means that you will be thrown through the windshield and into oblivion or the next life, which ever comes first. I find it both amusing and scary that people will brandish this argument against seat belts: I’m not going to let the state mandate my safety–if I don’t want to wear a seat belt, I won’t. At some point in their short lives, this attitude will be fatal. It’s just a question of when. Then there are the folks who say that they won’t buckle up because they might get caught underwater or in a car fire. Either of those two scenarios are so rare that these people will end up in the cemetery long before water or fire ever happen. Some people are just stupid and sloppy about putting on (or not putting on) their seat belts, and they die at some point as well. If you stay in your seat in the car, you have a great chance of living through most any accident that is not totally catastrophic. If the highway patrol have to search for your body in the weeds along the side of the road, well, forget it, there are no second chances in the game of life, mostly because it’s not a game. The real truth about seat belts? Buckle up and live. If the bus passengers had had on seat belts, they would have made it, most likely. In the meantime, there are lots of dangerous tour buses out there along with lots of dangerous and stupid unbuckled drivers. For Pete’s sake, buckle up, and even if you won’t do it for yourself, think of your family–they will most likely miss you when you are gone.

On [wearing] seat belts

Just when you think that a debate is over, it comes back with a vengeance. I shouldn’t even have to write this note because I think the content is self-evident, but I would be wrong. Ever been wrong? I have. This summer I made my students buckle up on the bus in Spain because it’s the law–if the bus has seat belts, the riders must put them on or they might be fined, not the driver. Nevertheless, there are still older buses on the road in Spain that do not have seat belts and are not bound by the law because they were manufactured before the law was put into place and the bus companies are not required to upgrade their equipment. In a recent tragic accident seven people were thrown from a bus that went off of the road, and they were all killed. Two were also killed on the bus, but in general, those who stayed in their seats, lived. If those seven had had seat belts on, they would have at least had a chance at surviving the crash. Instead, they were thrown from the vehicle and killed. One would think that the lives of passengers would be more important than a few thousand Euro to install seat belts, or is it more complicated than that? Do we still not take seat belts seriously enough? I was required to use seat belts as a new driver learning how to drive. Yet, some thirty-five years later, I still read reports of people who are thrown from their vehicles and killed because they weren’t wearing their seat belt, which is both kooky and tragic at the same time because they don’t seem to understand simple physics–and I mean simple. Any object which is moving will continue to move in a straight line until it is acted upon by some other force. Ergo, if you traveling at sixty miles an hour and your vehicle stops, unless you are belted in, you will continue to move at sixty miles an hour, which means that you will be thrown through the windshield and into oblivion or the next life, which ever comes first. I find it both amusing and scary that people will brandish this argument against seat belts: I’m not going to let the state mandate my safety–if I don’t want to wear a seat belt, I won’t. At some point in their short lives, this attitude will be fatal. It’s just a question of when. Then there are the folks who say that they won’t buckle up because they might get caught underwater or in a car fire. Either of those two scenarios are so rare that these people will end up in the cemetery long before water or fire ever happen. Some people are just stupid and sloppy about putting on (or not putting on) their seat belts, and they die at some point as well. If you stay in your seat in the car, you have a great chance of living through most any accident that is not totally catastrophic. If the highway patrol have to search for your body in the weeds along the side of the road, well, forget it, there are no second chances in the game of life, mostly because it’s not a game. The real truth about seat belts? Buckle up and live. If the bus passengers had had on seat belts, they would have made it, most likely. In the meantime, there are lots of dangerous tour buses out there along with lots of dangerous and stupid unbuckled drivers. For Pete’s sake, buckle up, and even if you won’t do it for yourself, think of your family–they will most likely miss you when you are gone.

On shifting (gears)

I have been shifting gears for over thirty years now, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. I learned to shift with a small three speed in a Chevy Vega. Not a great car, but it was strangely reliable and very serviceable, not at all like the complex machines of today. You could actually identify things such as the carburetor, spark plug wires, air filter without have a degree in mechanical engineering. That little green car gave me an entire education in the physics of motion, acceleration, inertia, force, mass, and velocity. The car was ugly but the lessons have stuck with me for decades: don’t shift down in snow going down a hill unless you want to spin the car completely around a couple of times. Top speed in that car was about 70 mph which was probably a good thing for a young man just learning to drive. I learned to start the car from a dead stop on a hill and not kill the engine. The complex interplay between accelerator and clutch, shift stick, foot, and brake is like a small well-timed ballet of small, intricate movements that all culminate in putting the vehicle in motion. You can explain it to someone, let up on the brake, give it some gas, and slowly begin to let out the clutch. You can explain it to someone without them having the slightest idea what this ballet is really all about. There are three secrets that someone needs to know and practice: getting the vehicle in motion, know when to shift up, and know how to shift down to get around a corner or stop the vehicle. My second vehicle was a small four speed, very underpowered, but also very utilitarian–a Chevy Chevett. Having a manual four-speed clutch actually made the car very drivable even though it was underpowered. Since I could control which speed in relation to each gear speed, torque and power could be used more efficiently–automatics waist a lot of their power shifting up too soon, and I could always shift down if the situation demanded, except if it was snowing. In slippery conditions a manual is always safer since you can control the slip of the wheels with greater ease. I later graduated to a very average five-speed built by Ford. Again, very under-powered, but gas economy and a manual transmission go hand-in-hand, and an automatic transmission in the Ford Tempo would have been a disaster. Now I drive a six-speed with a very nicely powered turbo engine, I shift gears so automatically that I don’t even think about it anymore. Whether it is an illusion or not, being in control of a car’s gear box is a whole lot more comforting than leaving those choices to a bunch of arbitrarily preset algorithms that a bunch of engineers decided would be most appropriate for the average car in an average set of driving circumstances. The problem is that roads, streets and highways are never average, never completely predictable, and never ideal. That’s why it is the driver’s job to know their vehicle and how it might react in varying climatic conditions, road surface variations, geographic variances, and cargo, which will always change the way a car interacts with its engine and gear box, and an automatic transmission, no matter how good it is, can never be more than just average. Learning to shift gears may be the most important skill you ever learn.

On shifting (gears)

I have been shifting gears for over thirty years now, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. I learned to shift with a small three speed in a Chevy Vega. Not a great car, but it was strangely reliable and very serviceable, not at all like the complex machines of today. You could actually identify things such as the carburetor, spark plug wires, air filter without have a degree in mechanical engineering. That little green car gave me an entire education in the physics of motion, acceleration, inertia, force, mass, and velocity. The car was ugly but the lessons have stuck with me for decades: don’t shift down in snow going down a hill unless you want to spin the car completely around a couple of times. Top speed in that car was about 70 mph which was probably a good thing for a young man just learning to drive. I learned to start the car from a dead stop on a hill and not kill the engine. The complex interplay between accelerator and clutch, shift stick, foot, and brake is like a small well-timed ballet of small, intricate movements that all culminate in putting the vehicle in motion. You can explain it to someone, let up on the brake, give it some gas, and slowly begin to let out the clutch. You can explain it to someone without them having the slightest idea what this ballet is really all about. There are three secrets that someone needs to know and practice: getting the vehicle in motion, know when to shift up, and know how to shift down to get around a corner or stop the vehicle. My second vehicle was a small four speed, very underpowered, but also very utilitarian–a Chevy Chevett. Having a manual four-speed clutch actually made the car very drivable even though it was underpowered. Since I could control which speed in relation to each gear speed, torque and power could be used more efficiently–automatics waist a lot of their power shifting up too soon, and I could always shift down if the situation demanded, except if it was snowing. In slippery conditions a manual is always safer since you can control the slip of the wheels with greater ease. I later graduated to a very average five-speed built by Ford. Again, very under-powered, but gas economy and a manual transmission go hand-in-hand, and an automatic transmission in the Ford Tempo would have been a disaster. Now I drive a six-speed with a very nicely powered turbo engine, I shift gears so automatically that I don’t even think about it anymore. Whether it is an illusion or not, being in control of a car’s gear box is a whole lot more comforting than leaving those choices to a bunch of arbitrarily preset algorithms that a bunch of engineers decided would be most appropriate for the average car in an average set of driving circumstances. The problem is that roads, streets and highways are never average, never completely predictable, and never ideal. That’s why it is the driver’s job to know their vehicle and how it might react in varying climatic conditions, road surface variations, geographic variances, and cargo, which will always change the way a car interacts with its engine and gear box, and an automatic transmission, no matter how good it is, can never be more than just average. Learning to shift gears may be the most important skill you ever learn.

On "Shattered Dreams"

“Shattered Dreams” is a real-time simulacrum of a drunk-driving accident that is staged by local law enforcement and fire authorities to raise awareness in teens about the dangers of drunk driving. The simulacrum is staged with real props and real people over a two-day period in Hewitt at Midway High School (near Waco, Texas). One young person dies every fifteen minutes in the United States because of drunk driving. The simulacrum is supposed to awake strong feelings of trauma, loss, and tragedy in the “surviving” students. Actual students play the dead, the injured, and the drunk perpetrator. The entire thing is filmed, and the actual parents of the students playing the different roles are filmed at the hospital, at the morgue, at the jail. The parents of the “dead” must write an obituary for their child before the simulacrum begins. As the day progresses students are spirited away by the “grim reaper” at the rate of four an hour, reflecting the current statistics of teen deaths in America. This can be a brutal experience for those involved even though no one really dies, goes to the hospital or goes to jail. The emotions are real, the tears are real, and the difference between reality and fantasy blur. The entire process was topped off today with a memorial service for the dead, who do not attend their own service, adding a strange note of verisimilitude to the entire process. The police are real, the fire/rescue squad is real, the district attorney is real, the handcuffs are real, only the blood is ersatz. I believe this is necessary because our teens are already too jaded about violence, have been raised with easy access to entertainment and gaming that take violence and death for granted. I believe it is almost impossible to shock children unless you make them the focus of the violence and death, but the question of how to do that without really hurting them is complex and paradoxical: how do you raise consciousness in a population that is jaded by Hollywood fakery and special effects? So yesterday students disappeared, some went to the hospital with horrible injuries, others to the morgue, others to jail. This is one situation where the simulacrum makes the experience real for both the participants and the spectators. A smoldering wrecked vehicle, injured and dead students lying in the middle of the wreck, real ambulances, real firefighters all add to experience that looks, smells, and seems actual and real. In the end, everyone knows that this is not real, but the emotions are very real and give real food for thought. Drink, drive, wreck. One thing is to be told that this is bad. It is, however, a different ballgame to experience it first hand, especially when your friends are involved. More information on the program may be found here.

On stoplights (and running the yellow)

Why I’ve never written about the bane of my existence is beyond me, but today I spent some extra-special time stopped at stoplights. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the yellow comes too late for a person to stop, but many times my fellow citizens bend the law by accelerating and not stopping–I consider this driving in bad faith and dangerous. On my way to work today I was carrying a gallon of boiling hot chili in my trunk, so I had my hazmat license from the county for transporting dangerous materials. All was in order. So what happened? I got stopped by three stoplights in a row that turned yellow just in time so that I had to stop by standing on my brakes. Since I learned to drive in Minnesota, for me yellow means “stop” not drive more quickly and run the red. So it happened the first time, and I had plenty of time to ponder the gallon of hot chili in my trunk that was sloshing all over kingdom come and dripping down on the spare. I didn’t think this could happen again in less than half a mile, but it did. More chili slopped out onto the spare. When it happened a third time, I was almost ready to give in to despair, turn around, call it a day, and go home. At this point there might have been about a half pint of chili left in crock pot, so I continued on to work. About a mile from my office, I had to stop again. Well, much to my surprise when I pulled the crock pot out of the trunk, the hot chili was still in the pot! I guess my guardian angel must have been back there holding the crock pot for each stop light because I didn’t spill a drop, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying! At each stoplight I got to spend a few moments contemplating the meaning of life, secrets for getting chili stains out of my trunk carpeting, meditating on parental heritage of the stoplight engineers. This evening I had to stop at another stoplight that just flipped to yellow in time for me to stop. I mean, if you can stop, you have to stop. I see a lot of red light runners in town, and to be honest, it’s both rude and dangerous. Many of these people drive as if they were saved and ready to go to Heaven at moment because if they keep running those red light, it won’t be long before they meet their maker. As my wisdom-filled driver education teacher always used to say, “There are no old bad drivers.”