An Advisory Thought Experiment

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I occasionally come up with thought experiments to keep myself entertained during my long, boring commute to and from work. It’s either that or fall asleep at the wheel (very, very bad) or resort to road rage while witnessing the stupidity all around me (even worse). So here is a thought experiment that I came up with recently:

If all humanity, with its current knowledge, were about to disappear, and you could only leave one sentence behind to help the next humans get started, what would it be?

Would you say “Wear a mask and wash your hands if you want to stay alive”? Because, let’s face it, if anything is going to wipe us out, it’s going to be that.

Would it be developmental advice, such as how to start a fire or build a wheel?

Perhaps it should be something related to the environment, such as the fact that fossil fuels and plastics do much more harm than good.

Or maybe it should be something along the lines of Make Love Not War.

But frankly, if we’ve finally managed to wipe ourselves out completely, then we have a lot of nerve trying to give any advice at all. That and, humans being what they are, they’re probably not going to listen to it anyway.

So my advice would be, “You’ll figure it out.” Because they would. And maybe they’d do a better job of it than we have. Here’s hoping.

But of course, the one basic flaw in this exercise is that the people would have to somehow know how to speak and read English from the very start. So yeah, maybe I should just focus on my driving.


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Little Boxes

Ear worm alert! I have the song Little Boxes by Pete Seeger stuck in my head. It crawled inside my head during my 45-minute commute to work. Because cars are basically little boxes on wheels.

All these people, rolling along in their little boxes, not interacting with each other at all. In fact, they’re actively trying to avoid each other. Physics. The gift that keeps on giving.

And then they go home to their little boxes, or to work in their little cubicles which is just another word for a little box. We stare into little boxes in the form of smart phones. We gaze at them to watch television. We store our excess crap in them. Our mail comes in them. Our food is packaged in them. I defy you to go through a single day without encountering a box.

And we spend a lot of time trying to categorize everyone around us. Should you be put in the old box or the young box? Which racial box do you fit in? No straddling boxes allowed! Are you politically red or blue? Are you rich or poor, educated or not, fat or thin, tall or short, male or female (ABSOLUTELY no straddling those boxes, oh my goodness, no. Heaven forfend.)

People cannot stand it when you refuse to fit neatly into your box. How are they supposed to treat you when your lid keeps popping off and you spill out? It’s just… well… rude.

When all is said and done, the majority of us, upon dying, will be put into yet another box, whether it’s a small one or a large one. And our relatives will most likely feel stress and guilt over whether the box is nice enough, because it’s your last box, after all.

But let’s face it. We aren’t going to care. It’s. Just. A. Box.


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Bike-Share Stupidity

It happened again the other day. Some fool left a bike-share bike on the movable portion of my drawbridge. Fortunately, I’m used to looking out for this, because if I were to open the bridge with a bike on it, it could fall down and take out a pedestrian, or even worse, my parked car. (Just kidding that the car damage would be worse. I’d never forgive myself if someone got hurt on my watch.)

I’ve also seen these rental bikes abandoned as far south as Renton, even though they’re not supposed to leave the city of Seattle. It usually takes several days for the company to find and retrieve them. That means they’re not available for another user during that period.

Even worse, I recently read a Seattle Times article about a bike-share bike being left on a ferry. The Coast Guard had to treat it as a potential man overboard. This unnecessary rescue operation cost the taxpayers $17,000, and this is not the first time it has happened.

Another Seattle Times article warns that some bikes have been found with the brake lines cut. That’s not funny. Unless you’re into being a murderer without even witnessing the crime, I suppose. What kind of a sick, twisted human being does that? Check these bikes thoroughly before you use them, folks.

I love that there are several bike rental companies in Seattle. Anything that cuts down the traffic congestion gets my vote. And we all benefit if commuting is more green and affordable. But we also have to behave responsibly so that this privilege isn’t taken away. These companies are not charities. Too many expenses cutting into their profit margin and they’ll soon decide it’s not worth it. Then we all lose.

bike share

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A Surreal Encounter

I love my early Saturday morning commute. Usually. It’s the only time I can expect to have the entire interstate to myself. That’s a rare treat in Seattle.

So, on this particular Saturday I was cruising along, humming my most recent earworm, which is (consider yourself warned) Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole. All was right with the world.

And then, as I approached my exit, I could tell something was not right, actually. Not right at all. There was a green van at an odd angle blocking half the road. As I cautiously went around it, I could see that the driver had hit the attenuator head on, and the entire front end of the van was crumpled. One of the tires was lying flat as if some redneck granny was about to plant some geraniums in her yard.  Oh, shit.

So naturally, I stopped. I walked back to the van, and this tiny little woman got out. I said, “My goodness, are you all right?”

She said, “Do I look all right, b***h?”

I stopped in my tracks and went, “Uh… actually… you kind of do.”

That made her stop in her tracks. And then she burst into tears. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m just…”

“I understand. Is there anything I can do?”

“No. I’ve already called 911 and my insurance company.”

“Okay. Well… Maybe I’ll just wait with you until the cops… oh. Here they come.”

“Thanks. Sorry.”

“No worries. Take care.”

And off I went. I wasn’t even late to work. I strongly suspect she was late to wherever it was that she was going, though.


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My Late Night Symphony

Have you ever been so tired that it felt like your mattress was hugging you? You sink into it’s soft embrace and feel a sweet relief like no other. It makes you wonder why you ever resisted bedtime as a child.

This night was one of those nights. It had been a long day at work. The annual Seafair in Seattle always brings out a lot of boats, which translates to a lot of drawbridge openings for me to perform. That, and it was brutally hot. The control tower is poorly insulated, and the window AC was not keeping up. It was so hot, in fact, that we had to hose down the bridge because the metal had expanded so much that we couldn’t raise it without risk of damage. And to add to the drama, it was septic tank pump day. So I had a lot of comings and goings, openings and closings. And poop smells.

And, also due to Seafair, my commute home was even worse than the usual nightmare. Nothing says Seattle like being able to put your car in park on the interstate on 5 separate occasions on your way home. I had mixed emotions about coming home, already sweaty, to my hot house and my hungry dog, but I knew one thing for sure: I wanted my bed. Desperately.

After throwing open every window and turning on every fan, and then feeding Quagmire (who always acts like he’s starving), I made myself a sandwich so I wouldn’t have to turn on the oven. Then I took a cool shower.

When I finally climbed into my beloved bed, I lay there, flat on my back, feeling like a bag of wet cement. I stared at the ceiling. I doubt I could have saved myself if the house caught fire.

Have you ever been too tired to sleep? Yeah. Like that. I was in a stupor for a good couple hours, I think, based on the number of times Quagmire came to check on me. I just lay there waiting for the sun to stop torturing my time zone.

Finally, around 9:45, I managed to reach over and turn off the light, and roll over onto my stomach, which is my preferred starting position for the journey at hand. Quagmire curled up by my hip, which, I have to say, is the most comforting feeling on earth. Sweet, sweet rest.

Oh, how to describe what happened next. Actually, I was at a loss, so I Googled “the sound a jackhammer makes”, just for you. Apparently the official spelling is:


I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I speak with a certain amount of authority because it was happening less than half a block from my bedroom window. At 10 pm.

Please tell me. For the love of all things holy, who runs a FREAKING jackhammer in a residential neighborhood at 10 pm? Who?

Surely this wouldn’t last long, I thought. No one could possibly have the NERVE to keep this up for any length of time at this hour.

Wrong. It lasted all night long. All. Night. Long.

Interspersed with that sound was the distinctive sound of heavy equipment backing up.

Beep Beep Beep Beep…

And for some reason two trucks were signaling each other by horn.

Toot. (Pause.) Toot toot.

Apparently the double toot was a signal to back up, because no one, of course, could be bothered to used a two way radio. Oh, no. Of course not. So what I got was:

Toot. (Pause.) Toot toot. Beep Beep Beep Beep…

All. Night. Long.

And I wasn’t the only one suffering. At one point I heard my neighbor shouting at them. For all the good it did. And another neighbor went outside and started blaring HIS horn. I’m not sure about his thought process, but I definitely related to his frustration. I think if any of us owned pitchforks or torches, it would have been mayhem.

Meanwhile, I was in a fog, desperately rummaging through my unpacked boxes in search of ear plugs. I never found them. I tried putting a pillow over my head. I closed all the windows, despite the heat. Even Quaggie started to get desperate and began to bark and moan. I may have even shed a few tears. I can’t remember. If I got a total of two hours of sleep, in fits and starts, it’s a miracle.

When I left for work, they were still at it. And they didn’t look even halfway done. I fantasized about crushing the jackhammer beneath the wheels of my car. They are completely repaving a road that, in my opinion, was already in excellent shape.

I’m buying ear plugs on the way home tonight. And maybe a pitchfork. If this goes on for two nights in a row, no court in the land could possibly hold me responsible for my actions.


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A Wonderful Public Awareness Campaign in Mexico City

When I was 19 years old, I was traveling through Mexico City, and I hopped on the metro. It was so packed with commuters that I was barely able to move. Think sardines in a can.

Once the train left the station, the man behind me started groping me. There wasn’t even enough room to turn around to glare at him. So I slid my hand along my thigh until I could get it behind me… and then I clenched his privates in a vise-like grip and twisted as hard as I could.

If he could have sunk to his knees, I’m sure he would have. Instead, he let out an agonized squeak and took his hands off me. When the doors opened at the next stop, we were all ejected from the train like lava from a volcano, so I never saw the culprit. But I’d like to think I taught him a lesson.

So imagine my delight when I saw this article about a public awareness campaign in Mexico City. The first part shows a subway seat that’s designated for men only. Its back looks like a man’s naked torso, so you can just imagine what the seat looks like. On the floor in front of the seat is as sign that says, “It’s no fun to travel like this, but it doesn’t compare to the sexual violence that women put up with in their daily commutes.”

The second part of the campaign involved aiming cameras at men’s behinds while they wait for the train. Those images are then projected on a TV screen. After a while, a message pops up and says, “Thousands of women put up with this every day.”

According to the article, the Mexican government started this campaign because they discovered that 65 percent of Mexico City women have been sexually harassed on the city’s buses and trains, and that 9 out of 10 women in the city have been victims of some form of sexual violence.

All I can say is that I’m really proud that this campaign was implemented, and I hope it yields results. If I were to experience that trauma again, I’d do exactly the same thing, with one difference: I’d also speak loud and clear. “This asshole behind me is touching me. I can’t see him, but many of you can. Don’t let him get away with this.”

Shame is a great deterrent. And knowledge is power. I know a lot of chivalrous Mexicans. Had I spoken up at the time, I suspect that pig would have come away with more than bruised balls.

DF Subway

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Drawbridge Tao

People can take it very personally when you interrupt their morning commute. Even though the average drawbridge opening takes only 4 minutes from start to finish and they should know to allow for the fact that their route crosses a drawbridge, when those red lights start to flash and that bell starts to clang, people tend to lose it.

I have been pelted with eggs, beer bottles, and a wide variety of garbage. I’ve been cursed at and have learned a few new rude gestures. I always feel kind of sorry for these people. It’s such a minor thing in the overall scheme. It’s really nothing to get so worked up about. And it’s not as if I’m doing it to intentionally ruin someone’s day. If you want to throw eggs, throw them at the boaters. Just doin’ my job, here.

Having recently lost someone I love, I’m very conscious these days as to how very precious time is. Getting amped up over a 4 minute delay, especially when there’s nothing you can do about it, is not a good use of that time. Impotent rage rarely adds anything positive to one’s day.

Instead, I admire those people who embrace the opening. If it’s a nice day, they get out of their cars, breathe the fresh air and take in the view. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! The universe has provided you with an opportunity to slow down. Enjoy it.

So next time you’re stopped by a drawbridge, don’t fight the experience. Become one with the opening. You might just learn something about yourself.


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A Really Bad Day in the Life of a Bridgetender

1:00 – 5:00 am: Dog periodically wakes up, dry heaving, causing me to periodically wake up. He has gotten into the landlady’s compost heap again.

6:15 am: Alarm goes off. I sit up in a fog. Room spins. I feed dogs, one of whom is predictably not hungry. Let the dogs out, watch them head straight to compost heap. Too tired to protest, I go inside and make oatmeal. Drop can on toe. Break toe. Heavy can of stew, not light can of consommé. But fully awake now.

6:30 am: After weeping in agony, I realize I’m not sure toe is broken. But I am known for breaking foot bones without knowing it, so jury is still out. Tape up toe, put on shoe, hobble around kitchen making breakfast.

6:45 am: Get dressed in extremely unattractive uniform. Have breakfast. Spill hot oatmeal down front of shirt. Put bowl in sink with the mound of dishes already residing there. Change uniform. Muttering, attempt to get dogs back inside. They prefer company of compost heap. Cursing, hobble to far corner of yard, pick both dogs up bodily and carry them toward house. Step in hole created by dog. Fall flat on face in a fresh pile of doggy doo. Now ankle hurts. Same foot. Of course. Round up dogs, hobble into house, take off shoes and nasty uniform, take tape off toe, take shower and tape toe and change uniform again.

7:00 am: Leave house for 15 mile commute in rush hour traffic. Within mile of bridge, discover train parked on tracks. Take 2 mile detour. Cannot, but CANNOT be late! Departing bridgetender cannot leave until I arrive.

7:36 am: Limp up bridge, which has doubled in length overnight. If boat traffic is light, plan to get on internet and job hunt.

7:45 am: Arrive on bridge. Offgoing bridgetender assures me, a trifle too stridently, that all is working fine, just fine. Really. Everything is fine.

8:00 am: Offgoing bridgetender departs.

8:25 am: First bridge opening of the shift. Close gates to traffic. Push button to release locks so span can open. Nothing. Attempt to raise gates to let cars back though. Nothing. Extremely annoying gate alarm bell will not shut off. Call FDOT, shout over alarm bells to explain situation. Calls from everyone and his brother and copious amounts of paperwork ensue.

8:51 am: Workmen arrive on bridge. More paperwork. Attempts to do the exact same thing I’ve informed them I’ve already done come to no avail. Alarm still clanging away. Pedestrian knocks on door and suggests that we raise the gates so cars can come through. Slowly counting to ten in my mind, I politely explain that we would love to, but can’t. Pedestrian leaves.

9:15 am: Gates are manually raised, but traffic light will not turn to green. I stand on the sidewalk and flag traffic through with mixed results, and am treated to much cursing and rude gesticulations.

9:34 am: Gate alarms are turned off. Hallelujah. Small sense of sanity returns.

9:34 am to 11:30 am. Hobble around on sidewalk, trying to stay out from under foot as much head scratching by the workmen occurs.

11:30 am: Discover I’ve gotten a sunburn. Go back inside. To hell with being out from under foot.

11:30 am to 12:11 pm: As experts come and go and various people call for status updates, and each visit and call is logged in two places, I long for the day of job hunting that I had envisioned.

12:11 pm: Bridge fixed. Every boat on Eastern Seaboard now wants an opening.

12:37 pm: Workmen leave bridge. Between openings I use the bathroom and realize I’ve forgotten my lunch. Can’t leave the bridge.

2:15 pm: Driver pelts tenderhouse with eggs. Wishing he’d given me the eggs to eat instead, I attempt to wash windows with inadequate supplies.

3:00 pm: I am scheduled to mop floors, but think to myself, “Screw it,” and read a book instead.

3:45 pm: Relief bridgetender arrives. I inform her of my day. She is very critical of the way I did my job, especially in terms of cleaning tenderhouse. I count to ten once again. Then I assure her, a trifle too stridently, that all is working fine now, just fine. Really. Everything is fine.

4:00 pm: I limp back off the bridge to discover someone has let the air out of one of my tires. I call AAA.

5:20 pm: AAA arrives and confirms my suspicions and puts air in tire. I head home. I remember that I planned to make tuna casserole, but think to myself, “Screw it,” and go through the Popeye’s Chicken drive through instead.

5:45 pm: I remember I have to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, and while there I get pain medication for foot.

6:10 pm: I arrive home late, and predictably there is poop-henge on the carpet, fallen pillars and all. Oh, and vomit. I let dogs out. They head straight for compost heap, and I scream, “NO!!!!” Sensing I’m on the ragged edge, they do an abrupt u-turn.

6:20 pm: Carpet cleaned and dogs fed, I eat my now cold chicken and fall into a deep coma-like state until the dogs wake me up at 8:00 pm needing to go out.

8:00 pm: Dogs head for compost heap. I scream, “NO!!!!” and they do an abrupt u-turn yet again as neighbor gives me the hairy eyeball. He has no idea the level of my self-restraint. Ushering the dogs inside, I barely miss the hole that I tripped in this morning.

8:20 pm: I treat my sunburn, take a pain pill, decide that toe is only sprained, not broken, put the can of stew on the lowest shelf in the pantry, give sink full of dirty dishes a passing glance, realize I’m out of uniforms for the next day thanks to the oatmeal and the dog poo, put in a load of laundry, and fall into a deep sleep full of frustration dreams.

10:00 pm: Dog wakes me up with his snoring. Being a dog is hard work. I put the wash in the dryer, then climb back into bed, pull dog close and fall back to sleep.