Archive | July, 2012

Look ma, no wheels!

30 Jul

Yesterday I had planned to attend the anti-fracking rally Bill McKibben hosted on Capitol Hill, but at the last minute I decided to do something a bit more committed to reducing fuel consumption than simply carrying a sign: I sold my car.

In the four years I owned it, I put 15,000 miles on it. To reduce carbon emissions, I go out of my way to walk or take public transit, so I’d wager most of those miles were racked up driving to/from Michigan for holidays. It becomes more hassle than convenience to own a vehicle when you drive it that infrequently.

Since May, I’ve been preparing for a car-free life. I bought a bike and tested the ten mile commute between my place and Alan’s on 100 degree days. I started paying my car insurance on a month-to-month basis. And, demonstrating true commitment to the endeavor, I emptied the trunk.

This is what it contained:

  • A suitcase full of shoes I had forgotten about. I thought I’d lost multiple pairs when I moved two years ago. Turns out, I was driving them around to shoe stores to replace themselves. Doh!
  • A tent and camping gear. I’ve always liked the sense of freedom that comes with knowing I could just spontaneously decide to blow off whatever commitment I’m driving toward and end up at a campsite instead.
  • Brand new jumper cables. Alan gave me these after my battery crapped the bed two years ago. Murphy’s Law held true: The only times my battery died were when I didn’t own a set. They’re as good as insurance.
  • Three toothbrush/paste/picks and floss kits stashed after dentist appointments over the last year and a half.
  • Gobstoppers. It seems a box of them exploded back there. When I took a corner too fast, they would click around, kind of like a Driver’s Ed teacher tsking me. When it came to rounding them all up, I deduced that they must’ve come in a clown-car sized box, because they were endless.

So yesterday with an empty car, Alan and I headed to CarMax.

If you’ve never been to CarMax: It is a zoo. Especially on the weekend. It’s what I expect my ancestors encountered at Ellis Island: tons of hot, exhausted people with screaming kids clinging to them while playing an unacknowledged game of musical chairs for the few plastic seats that are available. Except I don’t think plastic existed when my family immigrated. And I don’t think they actually passed through Ellis Island. So in fact, the experience was probably nothing like anything my ancestors ever experienced. Sue me.

Alan and I attempted to pass the time by window shopping for a pretend new car, which prompted a debate about Cadillacs being “old people” cars (I said yes, he said no), a discussion of the merits of pick-up trucks, and the conclusion that if ever I buy a SmartCar, Alan will opt to meet me places.

Because it was approximately 200 degrees out, all of that transpired in about five minutes before I decided to duke it out for a seat in the air conditioned lobby. Alan continued to poke around, and after about 40 minutes the salesperson (buyperson?) found me to say they had an offer.

My palms were sweaty. What dollar amount would cause me to leave the lot carrying my vehicle tags in a backpack? I’d given it a lot of thought: Pretty much anything over one dollar, because I sure as hell didn’t want the time I’d spent sweating to be for naught.

Carmax may claim they don’t negotiate, but I’m going to say their strategy is pretty brilliant: I will accept whatever offer you make, as long as it guarantees I won’t have to come back here.

And so I took it.

My key ring seems empty without that huge Volvo key on it. I keep thinking I’ve grabbed Alan’s keys by accident. But you know what? It lightens my load, so it’s all good.

Otherwise, I might just buckle under the weight of my own self-righteousness. And nobody wants to see that.

Or maybe they do, if self-righteousness looks like this:

Let’s (not?) rush to judgement.

24 Jul

Willie Wonka, Judgement

I saw a quote on Facebook that said something like, “Don’t judge someone because they sin differently than you do.”

Sorry. Gonna have to beg to differ. Here’s a partial list of what I will judge you for doing:

  • Holding open the fridge/freezer door for prolonged periods while you assess its contents and decide what you want to eat. Guess what? It’s not a magic trick! Chances are – unless you live with teenage boys – the contents haven’t changed dramatically since you last opened the door, so figure out what you want – then open the door. Do you have any idea how much energy you’re wasting because you’re either indecisive or have a shitty memory? Shameful.
  • This dog is cooler than you.

    Using a foot-propelled scooter if you’re old enough to possess a driver’s license. Double judgement if you’re closer to retirement than the legal drinking age. Why? Because scooters are about as dumb as those little beanie hats that have propellers on them and the only people who should sport them are those who don’t yet have their own bank accounts.

  • Standing around with your mouth hanging open. While I appreciate your effort to catch flies, unless you’ve just physically exerted yourself and are gasping as you try to to speed oxygen to your brain, you look like an idiot when you breathe through your mouth. I mean, you’re welcome to do it, but don’t be offended if I try to snap a helmet on your head.
  • Walking four-across on the sidewalk. You know, when people allow their entire group to cover the entire swath of sidewalk, forcing solitary on-comers to step into the street to get around them? I will not only judge you, but also jab an elbow to your ribs.
  • Asking questions you should be able to answer with your eyes. If I email you instructions and you write back asking me something I included in the email, I will send you “Hooked on Phonics” instead of an answer. Because I believe in teaching a man to fish. And also, to make sure you realize you’re a dumbass.
  • Peeing on the toilet seat. It’s called a seat because you can lift it up, ladies. It’s intended to be sat upon. So if you’re not sitting on it, lift it up. Let me reiterate: this one is for the women. Also known as the squatters. Guess what? You wouldn’t need to hover and squat if YOU didn’t pee all over it. Also? You’re not a lady if you pee on things.

All right. So I’m restricting myself to only six things that drive me to judgement, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a sequel. Or that this won’t become a daily column.

Because really, as I think about it, the world would be a better place if people had a copy of the rulebook. So help me write it.

What drives YOU to judgement? 

Lakes trump Oceans. Or: Another Reason You Should Check Out Michigan.

16 Jul

WHY isn’t the state tourism board putting me on their payroll? Oh wait – probably because they don’t like to waste taxpayers’ money, which is YET ANOTHER reason you would enjoy living there…

The only thing dangerous about this is the possibility that I might poop on beach-goers.

I never understand why people love oceans. I mean, I enjoy water of any variety, but if I could choose, I’d pick a lake any time. It might be that those are simply my Michigan roots shining through (Hello, Great Lake State!), but let me share my logic and you tell me if it’s flawed.

First, when is the last time someone was attacked by a shark in a lake? Pretty sure the answer to that one is NEVER. (Actually, wait – just found this article and apparently it does happen. But I’d like to point out that it’s in Nicaragua. So if you’re visiting there, you’ve probably already come to terms with an untimely death anyway. A bull shark in a lake isn’t the worst end you could meet.) Nicaragua not withstanding, let’s assume your odds of encountering a shark in a lake are next to nil.

Second, no salt in your eyes. (Unless you’re talking about the Great Salt Lake, but that’s like an oxymoron. Let’s agree to call that Utah’s Ocean from here on out, ok?) Tell me this isn’t one of the most annoying things about the ocean… spend any amount of time out in the waves and you look like a stoner with bloodshot eyes. Not in a lake.

Third, not as many jellyfish. Sure, there are some freshwater jellyfish, but I can’t remember the last time I ran into one in a lake. Whereas at the ocean? They’re like landmines dotting the beach. Landmines that make people pee on each other for relief. In other words: not very friendly landmines.

Fourth, you can generally find GRASS near a lake, rather than sand. Some sand is fine, but having to walk through miles of sand? Having sand get in your drink? Decidedly NOT cool. Also: have you ever burned the bottoms of your feet on grass? I’m guessing NO, because grass is awesome.

But you can’t SURF in a lake, my ocean-loving friends claim. WRONG. The Great Lakes have waves, people. Don’t believe me? Check this out:

See? What else are you waiting for? NOW is the time to love the lakes and visit Michigan. Or any other lake in any other state for that matter. Just as long as it’s not in Nicaragua.


Top Ten Reasons to Give Michigan a Chance

15 Jul

I just spent a week in Michigan leading up to my class reunion. When my East Coast friends hear I’ve been to Michigan, they usually scrunch their noses and say something that makes me realize they think I’m going somewhere like Kansas or Iowa.

That reaction, coupled with Michigan’s declining population, should prompt PR agencies to circle like vultures, seeking an easy buck. But since they aren’t stepping up, I’ll take on the task. Because really, Michigan is like the US’s well-kept secret. Sort of like Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre. But less crazy and more awesome. 

So, without further preamble…

Ten Reasons To Move to Michigan (Or At Least Visit)

  1. It’s a peninsula. Which is LIKE an island in that there’s water everywhere, but better because you don’t need a boat to reach it. The only other state that can claim that is Florida, and it’s filled with old people who can’t drive and snakes. Although if you believe this article, maybe you’ll only need to worry about the snakes, since they seem to be taking care of everything else.
  2. Michigan is all about the lakes. OK, maybe this seems redundant since I just pointed out that it’s a peninsula, but in addition to being bordered by the Great Lakes, Michigan has over 11,000 named lakes. And counting the Great Lakes, Michigan has more shoreline than the entire Atlantic Seaboard. (Think about THAT the next time you imply I’m visiting Iowa.)
  3. Sauerkraut Suppers. According to the 2000 census, two of the top five ancestral sources for Michigan residents are German (20%) and Polish (8%). This means you’re generally only a stone’s throw from a church that hosts a monthly fundraiser dinner with sausage, sauerkraut, potatoes, spaetzle and gravy. How can you NOT want to live near this?
  4. Skiing. You heard me correctly. If you like to ski but don’t live out West or in Canada or Vermont, then Michigan is your next best bet. True, you’ll never hear someone trading Whistler for Boyne Highlands, and Michigan doesn’t technically have mountains, but there’s a ton of snow and hills, so shut your mouth. Plus it’s more affordable.
  5. It’s so great, even the celebrities come home to roost. Just ask Jeff Daniels, who founded the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, or Kid Rock, who resides in Clarkston, MI and shows up in my Facebook newsfeed monthly because one of my friends has bumped into him.
  6. Sweet corn and cherries. If you’ve never bought either of these freshly picked from a roadside stand in Michigan, you are settling for second-rate produce. True, they’re only in season for a limited window, but once you’ve tasted them, you’ll know those few weeks make the rest of the year worth it.
  7. The Speed Limit is 70. And generally, the number of miles you’re going is the number of minutes it will take you to get there. Living in DC, which now boasts the distinction of having surpassed Los Angeles with the nation’s worst traffic, I advise you not to underestimate this one.
  8. International Flavor. You’re just one bridge away from being in another country. And – unlike Texas/California – the odds of having to bribe a police officer to avoid jail time in crossing the border are nil. Though you might have to toss an apple to the Mountie’s horse. (This is especially helpful if you’re a college student who is not yet legal to drink in the US, because the drinking age is only 19 in Ontario. Not that I would know anything about that.)
  9. Vernors. Sure, you might not move to a place simply because it’s home to the best ginger ale in the nation, but think about what that spirit of invention says about the place. It was the first soda (pop) made in the United States. Combine that with a certain someone named Henry Ford, and I think you can get a sense of the possibilities for an entrepreneur.
  10. You always have a handy visual aid at arm’s length. Have you ever gotten frustrated trying to explain where you live to someone? Michiganders don’t have this problem – they simply turn up the palm of their right hand and point. Saginaw? Crotch of you thumb. Traverse City? Tip of your pinky. Don’t tell me any other state can do that. Wisconsin tried earlier this year  and learned that when you mess with the Mitten, you get the whole fist.

Now that I think of it, that actually makes a pretty good motto. So don’t you want to visit? 

For once, I’m not the one in the hospital!

14 Jul

I’ve spent a decent amount of time familiarizing myself with the Emergency Room in DC over the last two years, between getting hit by a car, having my leg do some random swelling thing, and thinking I had appendicitis. Based on my experience there, I assumed all hospitals were a flurry of activity, with nurses racing around, EMTs wheeling people in on stretchers and Code Blues being called over the PA.

So this morning, when Alan, my friend Kelly and I went to the VA Hospital in Ann Arbor to visit a classmate who wasn’t able to attend our reunion last night, I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone. The hospital was practically empty, with gates stretched over corridors and a closed sign hanging over the window of the gift shop. We walked the entire length of the building and got up to the fifth floor with only encountering ONE person.

It very much felt like we were in that television show The Walking Dead, where only zombies and a handful of humans populate the Earth.

Adding to the creep factor? The one person we saw standing behind the information desk when we entered the building. I approached him and asked, “How would we find out where our friend is and if she can receive visitors?”

He glanced up from whatever he was doing but made no move to the computer. “What the last name?”

“Allen,” I said. Without breaking eye contact, he said, “She’s up on 5 North.”

“SHUSH!” I exclaimed, causing him to stop speaking. (I didn’t remember this but Alan pointed it out after the fact because it was rude but the guy DID shush.) “How were you able to do that, without looking at a computer or anything?”

“I’m the chaplain,” he explained. “I’ve been up a few times to visit her, but she’s had doctors in there every time I go by.”

At the time it seemed like magic, but that was before we walked through the abandoned building and realized it was like a card trick where there’s really only ever one card that can be pulled. With seemingly no other patients, of course he knew who she was and where her room was. In retrospect, I’m a bit disappointed that he didn’t head us off at the pass by greeting us with, “Your friend is on Five North,” before we even asked. I mean, I’m pretty sure she’s the ONLY patient in the place.

After we found her, we asked if she needed anything to make her stay better. Candy? Books? Magazines? She shook her head, then relented, “Actually, some kind of mindless gossip magazine like People would be great.” Alan seized on the opportunity to go scout for one, leaving Kelly and me to chat with her in private.

Some ten minutes later, Alan reappeared, holding a book and a magazine. “Looks like you were successful,” I commented, before seeing what he’d actually retrieved.

At least it wasn’t this…

“Actually, the gift store was closed,” he said. Sheepishly, he held out his bounty. A Smithsonian Magazine and a Ken Follet novel. “But I found these in the waiting room so I thought they might work.”

Well, so much for reading about TomCat’s divorce. More like the fall of Rome. Which, I suppose, is probably better reading for someone in a VA hospital anyway. Good thing we didn’t go looking for games – probably would’ve only located Battleship and Stratego.

Now I’m wondering what the cafeteria serves. MREs?