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THE FAMILY ROAD TRIP: THEN VS. NOW

  • Nobody wore seatbelts.
  • Babies, infants and toddlers sat on mom’s lap in the front seat; the older kids argued over who got to lie on a sleeping bag in the back of the station wagon.
  • If you were good, you got to stop at A&W. Otherwise, you ate bologna sandwiches wrapped in wax paper.
  • Dad spent most of the trip trying to tune in an AM station that was carrying the game. The signal would come in strong for a while then fade. Sometimes there was no signal at all.
  • If you were too loud, your mom would say you were distracting your father, and then eventually he would just reach back and smack whoever was closest in the head, even if they were the one kid being quiet.
  • This was one of the reasons the middle seat was the worst place to sit.
  • Your station wagon got eight miles to the gallon, but you probably didn’t know that because nobody cared.
  • If you were lucky enough to have air conditioning, you couldn’t use it on long trips because your dad said the car would overheat.
  • If you felt car sick, you were supposed to stick your head out the window.
  • “He who smelt it, dealt it.”
  • Dad would only stop for gas or Stuckey’s, so mom kept a pee jar under the front seat just in case you couldn’t hold it.
  • When you passed a truck, you would raise your fist and gesture for the driver to blow his air horn.
  • If your dad had a CB radio, he would listen to it to find out where the speed traps were. If not, he would try to follow a truck.
  • When another car passed you, a kid in the back seat would sometimes pull down his pants and stick his butt out at you. When this happened, you would say “Looks like the moon’s out early tonight.”
  • Sometimes it was a full-moon, other times it was just a half-moon.
  • After driving for six or eight hours, mom and dad would stop at a bar for a drink. They would leave you in the car in the parking lot to wait. After 45 minutes or so, they would come back out, get in the car and then drive for two or three more hours to a Holiday Inn.
  • You drove because flying was a luxury.
  • You spent 1/3 of your vacation going to your destination, 1/3 at your destination, and 1/3 driving back from the destination.
  • If it was Spring Break, the destination was Florida or Arizona. If it was summer, you would go to a cabin in the mountains or by a lake or on the river.

LITTLE IRRITATIONS: THE PAPER CUTS OF EVERYDAY LIFE

  • Door dings.
  • Trash bins that are supposed to be animal-proof but aren’t.
  • Dropped calls.
  • FEDEX drivers who double-park.
  • Stores that post the wrong hours online.
  • Meter maids.
  • Parents who bring their kids to daycare when they’re sick.
  • Traffic.
  • Drivers who make phone calls instead of turning.
  • Construction delays.
  • Drivers who don’t wait their turn at 4-way stops.
  • Tele-marketers who claim they don’t have to heed the “Do Not Call” registry because you’re a customer of their subsidiaries’ off-shore cousin’s shell company.
  • SUVs parked in compact spaces.
  • Chatty baristas who don’t seem to care/realize there are now 37 people in line.
  • The drive-thru (especially McDonald’s).
  • Golf.
  • People who don’t pick up after their pets.
  • News promos that use the words “deadly,” “outbreak,” and “protect yourself” when all they’re actually talking about is the flu.
  • Parents who call before 8:30 am.
  • Activities that are canceled or postponed by e-mail a few hours before they’re supposed to start.
  • Radio stations that have 25 minutes of commercials every hour.
  • Things at the supermarket that are still on the shelves days, weeks or months after their expiration date.
  • Cable-company DVRs.
  • Apple Airport Extreme Wi-Fi.
  • Universal remotes.
  • Spellcheck.
  • When your kids hide your keys.
  • Saran Wrap.

If Eskimos have a thousand words for snow, shouldn’t we have a thousand words for life’s little irritations?

For most of us, a day doesn’t go by that God, the universe, fate, karma, quantum physics or all-of-the-above don’t needle our emotional well-being, usually when we’re running late, just had an argument with our spouse or suddenly realized we forgot to get a babysitter for tomorrow night so we could go to dinner and a movie and finally get a break from all this crap.

It doesn’t help that these cosmic paper cuts never seem to be isolated one- offs, either, but instead come in sets, like celebrity deaths and unsolicited parenting suggestions from opinionated strangers – it’s not just the long line at Starbucks, it’s having them mess up your order twice and then spilling your extra-hot, half-caf hazelnut mocha down the front of your shirt as you pull out of the parking lot.

The impact of these little irritations – and they are little, even if we can’t figure out how not to sweat them – increases exponentially as the day progresses, to the point where we find ourselves cursing some 82-year-old women with a walker because she’s not crossing the street fast enough, or threatening to ground our kids for the rest of their natural lives if they EVER give the dog another peanut butter and jelly sandwich again, or contemplating divorce because our spouse forgot (again) to fill up the car when it got close to empty, leaving us in the position of having to coast down the hill to the Shell.

Psychologists say the only reason any of this stuff annoys us the way it does is because it reminds us that we’re not really in control (no matter how thoroughly we’ve managed to convince ourselves otherwise) and that ultimately mastering the moment isn’t nearly as important as just being in it, regardless of whether that moment is good, bad, satisfying, awful, rewarding, stressful, happy, sad, amusing, aggravating, etc.

But as nice as that sounds (in a zen-like, higher-consciousness kind of way), who has the time to learn how to do that? Or the energy? Or the patience?

If learning to live in the moment can’t be accomplished in one 30-minute session two times a week, in the car on the drive home from work, or during one of those rare moments when every kid in the house is quietly pre-occupied, then it just becomes one more thing we don’t have time to squeeze in but try to do anyway – or would try to do if we didn’t have to wait for the knucklehead in the car ahead of us to get off the phone and go.

Note: It’s easy to complain about life’s little irritations, but it’s also important to point out that we could probably eliminate entire categories of irritation if we really, really wanted to – just moving to a remote cabin in Montana and living off the land, for example, would instantly rid us of driving-, shopping-, neighbor-, school- and work-related annoyances (though it would probably more than make up for that by adding starvation-, bear attack-, hypothermia-, and isolation-related irritations, so maybe that’s not such a good trade-off. Plus, let’s not forget that Unabomber Ted Kaczynski moved to a remote cabin in Montana so he could get away from it all and look what happened to him).

CAMERA SHY AT THE DMV

Everybody makes fun of Driver’s License photographs, but how good could anyone look after spending three hours and 19 minutes at a place like the DMV?

The walls are painted a government-approved shade of beige that seems to have been chosen for its ability to induce nausea. God only knows what kind of deadly germs and pathogens are breeding freely on the furniture (which looks like it was bought on the cheap at a Nixon Administration yard sale and then left in a basement storage room for three decades). And if you think tinnitus is irritating, it’s a lullaby compared to the hum given off by row after row of cheap fluorescent lights.

Still, that would all be tolerable if you could just take a number and wait by yourself.

But you can’t.

If you’ve ever wondered what the people on “Cops” do when they’re not getting arrested, or what somebody who considers personal hygiene to be optional looks like, all you have to do is turn to either side of you and say “hello.”

Clearly, somebody has been peeing in the gene pool.

How else can you explain the toothless, tattooed biker chick/meth addict taking the motorcycle test who doesn’t see the problem with asking the proctor if he can give her a hint? Or the old lady renewing her license who insists she doesn’t need a vision test, but then can’t even find the line she’s supposed to stand behind to take it? Or the guy at the center of a booze-cloud you can smell from 20 feet away who gets upset because they won’t let him re-take his driver’s test right now?

As bad as it is to be near people like this, however, it’s a whole lot worse when you realize you’re no different than people like this – because when you get up to the window and the clerk says you need two additional pieces of ID, not one like you thought, you protest…

And say nobody told you…

And say you’ve been waiting all morning already…

And say that they should make an exception…

And say the rules are stupid…

And say they are stupid for enforcing them…

And say just about every idiotic thing you can think of, until you finally realize you are saying every idiotic thing you can think of.

At which point you go home, get another ID, and wait in line all over again.

And then they take your picture.

Click.

OBSERVATIONS ON THE DMV

  • Even if you are the first person in line, first thing in the morning, you will end up waiting an hour and a half.
  • Anything that can be screwed up will be screwed up.
  • Just because you are half-blind, senile, psychotic or drunk doesn’t mean you can’t renew your license — though if you’re half-blind you’ll have to take the vision test.
  • The fact that you’re supposed to take a number when you walk in only confuses the people in front of you who never learned to count.
  • Instructions are in Albanian, Arabic, Bosnian, Cambodian, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Korean, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somalian, Spanish, Turkish, Thai and Vietnamese, but stupidity seems to be the same in any language.
  • If your car gets stolen, it is likely the person who stole it is waiting in line in front of you.
  • Saying you “work at the DMV” is kind of misleading – a more accurate description would be to say you “do as little work as you possibly can so you don’t get fired from the DMV.”
  • No matter how fat you are, there will be a woman ahead of you who weighs at least 100 pounds more than you do. (This may be the one positive thing about the DMV.)
  • One couple waiting in line will get into a huge, screaming argument.
  • One couple waiting in line will dry hump each other until a DMV employee asks them to stop.
  • Somebody will video this couple and post it on Youtube.
  • If you think a set of instructions are so simple even a moron could follow them, the moron in line in front of you will prove you wrong, and require up to 25 minutes of redundant, repetitive picture-based explanation before he or she realizes you can’t just take the driver’s test and get a license, you must actually pass it first.
  • If you accidentally marked “A” even though you know the answer is “None of the above,” you still have to re-take the test.
  • If the fee is $25 and you only have $23, you are $2 short no matter how many times you say “Please” or “Couldn’t you just cut me a little slack?”
  • Even if there are 50 open seats, somebody will sit down right next to you.
  • The person who sits down next to you will make you consider leaving and coming back tomorrow, even if you have already waited two hours and are next in line.

Y RU IR8?

It’s easy to get mad at bad drivers, but sometimes there’s a simple explanation for why somebody stops at a green light, or makes a left hand turn from the far right lane, or just blatantly cuts you off.

(Besides being too tired to see straight because they have kids who still won’t sleep through the night.)

Where the ’70s had custom paint jobs, the ’90s had vanity plates. And even though they’ve become something of a cliche, they’re still an accurate way of understanding what a driver is thinking.

Why is the guy in the vintage car you’re stuck behind going 20 mph under the speed limit? Because he’s “N2PL8Z” not “N2 DRVNG.”

Why did that teenager just sideswiped your neighbor’s mailbox? “I♥TXTNG.”

And why is the Nascar wannabe in the 2007 Dodge Challenger next to you at the stop light revving his engine? Because he’s “2FAST4U” (though, unfortunately for him, not 2FAST4 the highway patrol car waiting behind the overpass up ahead.)

But as good as vanity plates are, they’re not nearly as insightful as bumper stickers.

If it’s “EARTH FIRST!” that means it’s good driving second, which easily explains why that bio-diesel conversion that smells like a giant french fry is driving the wrong way down a one way street.

Not to be too political, but if you’ve ever been driven off the road by a convoy of protesters racing to their next rally, you know that just because somebody’s “PRO LIFE” or “PRO CHOICE” doesn’t mean they’re pro-stop sign, pro-”Do Not Pass” or pro-speed limit.”

And while “MEAT IS MURDER,” running somebody over is just vehicular manslaughter, which is why that emaciated 20-something in the vintage Volvo seems more concerned with finding the only Vegan restaurant in town than looking out for pedestrians.

Not that anyone is perfect, of course, but why call attention to yourself?

It’s great to “PRACTICE RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS,” but not for every single driver who wants to cut in.

WHAT WOULD SCOOBY DO?” He’d let Fred drive because he’s too stoned.

And if we’re supposed to “CALL 1 800 EAT-SHIT” to lodge a complaint, how can we do it from the car if we’re not allowed to use cellphones anymore?

Still, as irritating as other drivers can be, it’s not like we can just walk away.

THE MORNING DROP-OFF, PT. 1

  • All schools have a very specific procedure for dropping off kids in the morning.
  • Some parents don’t realize this.
  • Some parents realize this, but don’t actually know what the official procedure is.
  • Some parents realize this, but don’t care.
  • The more complicated the procedure, the more likely it is to change.
  • The more complicated the procedure, the more likely it is to be written down, but since it will have been written by the same people who write those bizarre standardized testing story-problems, it won’t make any sense.
  • The more time you spend trying to understand the procedure, the less time some other parent at the school will spend trying to understand the problem, thus maintaining equilibrium and ensuring that the drop-off will never, ever go smoothly.
  • Parents who don’t follow the drop-off procedure always think they have a good excuse, but they don’t:
    • “I’m running late” isn’t a good excuse
    • “I drive a Mini so I’m not reallly getting in anyone’s way” isn’t a good excuse
    • “I haven’t had my coffee yet” isn’t a good excuse
    • “It’s just this one time” isn’t a good excuse
    • “I forgot” isn’t a good excuse
    • “I’ve read the procedure a hundred times but I just don’t undersand it” isn’t a good excuse
    • “My wife usually drops the kids off” isn’t a good excuse
    • “The person in front of me did the same thing” isn’t a good excuse (though certainly understandable, given our sheep-like tendencies)
  • Saying “sorry” doesn’t help, but it’s better than giving somebody the finger.

THE MORNING DROP-OFF, PT. 2

  • Before 9 am, nobody is polite.
  • If you leave early, something will happen that will make you late – an accident,
    road construction, freak snow storm, broken water main, etc.
  • If you leave really, really early because you expect something will happen to make you late, it won’t. But then you will be so early, you’ll have to wait anyway because the crossing guards, door openers, teachers monitoring the playground and/or sidewalks will be late.
  • The minute after you start screaming and yelling at your kids (for no reason other than you’re tired), you will realize the driver in the next car over who’s looking at you like you’re the worst parent in the world is the principal.
  • You can always tell the parents who got a good night’s sleep from the ones who were up all night, unless you were one of the parents who was up all night, in which case you can’t really tell anything.
  • Some parents take their time in the morning and you hate them for it.
  • Some parents take their time in the morning and you are inspired by them, even if you have no idea how you could ever be patient and relaxed at this hour.
  • When your kid says “I have to go to the bathroom” two blocks from school and you say “just hold it ‘til we get there,” half the time they won’t be able to and the other half the time they won’t be able to because going those last two block will take 25 minutes thanks to sewer maintenance.
  • If there is a convenient, quick, easy place to stop and get coffee on the way to the drop-off, it will close just when you come to depend on it.
  • Even if you stop in the drop-off lane because your child has just thrown up all over the backseat, the car behind you will honk and/or flip you off.
  • The only thing worse than being late is being late on a day when the principal
    is standing on the sidewalk opening doors.
  • If four parents come to an intersection at the exact same time, the one with the most kids will go first.
  • When you see a parent juggling a dog, a double-stroller, a cell phone and a coffee cup, watch out, because they aren’t.
  • When you see a parent juggling a dog, a double-stroller, a cell phone, a coffee
    cup and a 5-year-old, get your Handicam out because you’re about to witness an “America’s Funniest Home Video.”
  • For some kids, being a crossing guard is their first taste of power, so don’t give them an excuse to flaunt it.
  • For some kids, being a crossing guard is their last taste of power, which explains why so many will need therapy later.
  • Your SUV may look like a school bus, handle like a school bus, and be as big as a school bus, but it’s not a school bus. Which means that empty stretch of curb conveniently located directly in front of the school’s main doors is off limits until the big, bright, yellow sign that reads “School Buses Only 7 am to 10 am” gets removed (during the day, by workers from the Department of Transportation, not at night by a couple of dads with a hack saw and a crow bar).

DROP-OFF VIOLATION PENAL CODE

You’d think dropping your kid off at school in the morning would be easy, but it’s not. There is a specific procedure that you and everyone else is expected to follow, regardless of how illogical (or illegal) it seems, because when you do, there is (in theory) less chaos.

The problem is that some parents don’t. Ever. Which is why these insurgents should be fined and/or punished:

  1. Parents who let their kids off at the corner instead of at the designated “drop-off zone” should be fined $100.
  2. Parents who linger in the drop-off lane after dropping their kids off to talk to parents walking their kids to school should be fined $150.
  3. Parents who linger in the drop-off lane to talk to other parents lingering in the drop-off lane should also be fined $150, but they should be forced to come early the next day to personally apologize to every single other driver, too, and the other drivers should be able to throw food at them.
  4. Parents who pull out, stop, and then back up because “my son forgot his lunch” should be forced to display a bumper sticker that reads “My child goes to Ronald Reagan Elementary, but not for long if I keep driving like an idiot.”
  5. Parents who park in the drop-off lane and run inside the school for any reason should have their cars impounded for 30 days.
  6. Parents who enter the drop-off lane from the wrong direction should have their cars impounded for 30 days and then sold at public auction, with the proceeds going to buy new library books.
  7. Parents who screw anything else up should be sent to the principal’s office.