Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A delayed post about my trip to [Random Mid-Sized US City Somewhere in the Middle].

So, last week, I was dispatched by my employer to [Random Mid-Sized US City Somewhere in the Middle] to help review documents for our client [Vaguely Interesting Company]. I thought "Hey, my first business trip! Sure, it's to [Random Mid-Sized US City Somewhere in the Middle], but there is still fun to be had! After working, I'll go to the local bars, hang out, and generally have an interesting time doing stuff that is new and different from Washington. Won't this be fun!"

That was the Optimistical part of me. The Cynical Part of me said "You'll never see anything more than the inside of [Vaguely Interesting Company]'s corportae headquarters, an dthe hotel." And as usual, the cynical side was entirely and completely right.

I probably should have had an inkling of this when no one else on my team (this was a three person team: an associate, a paralegal, and your truly, the grand Poo-bah of Doc Review monkeys.) wanted to rent a car, figuring that we'd just take a cab. I realized that the way that [Random Mid-Sized US City Somewhere in the Middle] is built, there is just no way to get anywhere without driving. And, later I found out that going anywhere in a cab requires at least a half-hour call-ahead time. Maybe I'm spoiled by my time on the right, or correct, coast. It dawned on me that the hotel should be nice, because we weren't going to be going anywhere else for two days. Sweet.

So, for the entirety of my first (and let's face it, probably only) business trip working for [My employer], I was either at the client (in a single room), at the client's cafeteria, in my room, in the lobby waiting for people, or in the hotel's one restaurant. We'd meet in the morning, have breakfast at the same business lounge, at the same table, sitting at the same places. The hotel was literally right next to the client's office. We clambered into the hotel concierge's van, and drove for three minutes to the client. We picked up ID badges, and went to work in our conference room. Then we had lunch at the cafeteria. Then, we worked for another 8 hours or so, and went back to the hotel, where we ate dinner at the same restaurant, at the same table, in the same places. (which was a little freaky). Then, tired because it was 10:00 or so, and we had been "on" since 7:30am, I went to sleep. Fitfully. Nothing changed. It was the monolithic sameness of it all that was so odd, even if it was only over 2 days and two nights. Plus, the basic similarity to everything that I do at work at home.

At least we got a lot done. We pulled many many [not very interesting] documents, got a lot done, and met some very nice people at [Vaguely Interesting Company]. Aside from the fact that it was raining/grey the entire time that we were there, and the stultifying boredom, and the three hour flight delay on the way home, it was actuaqlly fun. I liked hanging out with my coworkers, and I did feel like we got a lot done. But damn, was it boring. I thought that at least something interesting would happen. But, truly [Random Mid-Sized US City Somewhere in the Middle] could have been any Random Mid-Sized US City anywhere. I wonder, is America so interchangeable that we basically can't notice the differences? Or was it the fact that we hardly ever left the hotel? One difference, I suppose, is that everyone seemed to be a tiny shade nicer than the people out here. But, that could just be my own skewed perception.

Also, stay tuned for a followup post, where I wax poetical in the style of Kim Jong Il's Team America: World Police Masterpiece "I'm so ronery" regarding being stuck in a conference room and therefore more isolated than usual at work. this also explains why I have gone largely incommunicado for a while.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Massholes, Crackheads and Forties

OK, I am totally aware that sometimes I am an idiot driver. And I am aware that ocassionally, I may cross outside of a crosswalk. Therefore, I try not to throw too many stones at such offenses. Until my sister and I arrived in a Massachusetts city (not Boston) this weekend to visit my brother in college. And it was an entire city where the rules were completely different - it was like being in the jungle. I thought that drivers in the DC Metro Area were dumb (and they are), but at least they aren't usually aggressive and dumb. Unlike these drivers. There is apparently a term for MA drivers - Massholes. So it's official, it's not just me.

The first issue I noticed was that pedestrians jump out of every crevice imaginable to bolt across the street, usually to get to the liquor store on the other side of the street (never have I seen so many liquor stores). The best people, however, were the ones who sauntered, or dragged their leg, across the street. This would hold up traffic even more than it was already blocked by the paramedics and paddywagons that were double parked. Langley Park * 40 crackheads = this city.

As a sidenote, there was a parade on Friday night. Now, a parade usually entails a band, maybe some baton twirlers, a blocked off street or two. Not in this town. It was 25 people wearing Halloween masks riding their bicycles in the right lane. Since the right lane was often blocked (see above), and the bicyclists were less than skilled (and possibly had impaired vision from the face masks) and often covering the whole street, this sufficed to clog up traffice for a good half an hour. I was so hungry at this point, that when Eddie gave me yet another wrong turn, I said "I'm a fat kid and you are keeping me from food. I am going to rip your arm off, eat it and then beat you with it." I am awesome when I'm hungry. And so smart, S-M-R-T.

Second, the roads were a free-for-all. There was a lack of controlled intersections and drivers were, to put it charitably, raving lunatics. We came upon one intersection, that was five roads that converged into a mass of cars in all directions, honking and all thinking they have the right of way. Seen from above, it was a petrie dish of cars milling about in no discernable pattern, like a bacterial infection. Of course, there were no lights or stop signs. Of course, they tailgate, there is no use of turn signals, weave in and out of traffic and just do all things that are considered ridiculous.

This link lists all of the things that I saw in MA - it is ungrammatical, but you'll get the point (break for brake - shudder): http://www.masshole.com/driving.html. It's about Boston, but has a certain universality for MA drivers.

I did learn some new things, though. For one, some college students (who shall remain nameless) play a game called Edward Forty Hands. Basically one has forties duct taped to one's hands and can't get them untaped until the forties are finished. I have a new party game! Who's in?

New Jersey and its oddities

So, the hubby and I were coming back from a weekend in Brooklyn when we got stuck in traffic on the NJ Turnpike. [Random observation: the word "turnpike" must translate into "we are going to charge you money for driving on our roads."] Anyway, at each rest station there was a long line for gas. On our last attempt, we realized the reason why things were moving so quickly at the pump--it was the attendants. Now, I know NJ has some odd road laws--such as those turn-abouts (really are left turns truly that bad?)--but I take issue with the attendant. Is there really a public policy concern over pumping gas? In my 14 years of refilling my own tank, I have never over-spilled or anything similar. So, why does NJ have this law again? Perhaps there is some other public policy concern that I do not know about but are NJ residents so incapable of pumping their own gas? And why aren't there more attendants at the rest stops on the Turnpike over the weekend, so that long lines don't ensue? Is the traffic not bad enough?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Flying Sucks- But We're All in it Together

There once was a time when flying was fun. It was a new experience and you got somewhere fast without too much hassle. People even used to dress up to fly, though that was more our parents' generation than ours.

No longer. The whole experience is one giant pain in the ass. You do get to go somewhere faster than you can drive, but the experience is nothing less than miserable. The security procedures are frustrating, the airlines overbook flights (see today's Opinion section in The Washington Post for a great example), and of course you can't even bring a bottle of water on the flights any more.

You would hope that all of us passengers (aka "the herd") would bond together under the shared misery and add some semblance of dignity and mutual respect to the process. Couldn't we help each other stow our luggage? Couldn't we realize that we're all miserable and try to help each other out?

Sadly, the answer is a resounding NO. On a recent flight to Las Vegas, we got to see a perfect example of this. One of the few things that does seem ordered about flying is the manner in which people get off the plane. Each row, starting from the front, gets up, collects their belongings, and exits the plane in an orderly manner. Of course, we all wish that this process were faster, but in the end we would save a minute or two at most. However, on this flight, three of us were sitting in a row toward the back of the plane. I was on the aisle, and waited until the rows in front of me had exited, as well as the row across from me. I then tried to step into the aisle to get my wife's laptop out of the overhead bin. However, I was impeded by a stampeding 5 foot 4 inch devil in Crocs, and a, probably unrelated, man who simply HAD to get off the plane that instant. No matter that they watched the entire group deplane in order, but they had to run me over to save one minute of their lives.

So I said, quite loudly to the quickly recending back of the man "EXCUSE ME! You've done this before, right?" Of course, he didn't even look back, confirming the fact that he knew he was doing something wrong but wasn't willing to acknowledge it. I then followed him off the plane and waited for my companions outside the gate. As we walked down the concourse, the jackass was just sitting at the edge of hallway (at least he wasn't in the middle, which is the preferred place for most travellers to stop), and as we walked by he muttered something to the effect of "asshole" in my general direction.

So now he has accrued a second significant negative mark against him. He wasn't even willing to confront me, as I did him when I called him on his bullshit. To me, this shows that he was embarassed by his actions and knew what he was doing. Otherwise he would have defended himself. You see? Flying de-civilizes us. It turns us into a raving mass of lunacy and encourages Lord of the Flies-type behavior (thank God there are no pigs around). I don't understand why we don't realize that we're all cooped up together in what amounts to a large metallic tylenol gel-cap, and add some civility to the process. We should all be bonding in our shared misery.

At least nobody on either of our flights reclined their seats. Talk about the ultimate in me-first thinking; this practice needs to stop. Does reclining your seat appreciably increase your comfort? It does not- you're still stuck in a jet-propelled germ factory with no room for your elbows. And does it apprciably decrease the comfort of the people behind you? You fricking bet. Reclining seats should be outlawed. Seriously.

At least when we got off the flight, we were in Vegas! Something positive, at least...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Stray Cat Strut

On Monday night, I was happily midning my own business, wandering back from dance class (to be blogged about in another post) when I saw something dart across the dark street. A little white blur. A shape I recognize as not a rat, but a kitten. A KITTEN. In Friendship Heights, land of the reflex-challenged, octogenarian driver. Not a safe place for said feline.

I darted after my quarry, and chased him into the bushes near my condo. Sadly, it was dark, and the bushes dense, and I couldn't flush him out. I sat on the ground near the bushes to wait, dragging a stick along the ground to lure him out. After a few minutes, I realized this doesn't work on feral cats, and went for the cat food.

Dumping the friskies on the dirt near the bush where cat was last spied, I backed off to wait again. Of course, kitten comes out to feed. BUT IT WAS NOT THE SAME KITTEN. It was a DIFFERENT, TABBIER kitten. Excitement ensues. 2 for the price of one. Of course, at this moment, a JOGGER cruises by & the kitten runs off to hide. AGAIN. Two people slowly walk towards me, and I whisper, "SHH. KITTEN IN THE BUSHES. FERAL. TRYING TO TRAP." All as one word, really. I'm surprised they even understood what the hell I was saying. Gamely, they try to lure the kitten out. Of course, he is having NONE of it, and after another half an hour, we admit defeat.

Kitten wins this round, but he will be mine. I plan on going out there again with food & a blanket, and lying in wait until he shows up again. Then I will trap him with the blankie, and I will have a kitten.