Road rage; my old friend

There must be a special place in heaven for commuters.

Every morning – sometimes as early as 5:30 – numb, sleep-deprived working stiffs like me stagger out to our cars, cabs, buses, trains, or whatever else drags us to our places of work.

I spent a long time commuting with a co-worker.  Our drives could go for extensive stretches without a word.  Probably because I was half-asleep behind the wheel, or after enough time traveling together, we just ran out of stuff to talk about.

Like she had some sort of commuter turrets syndrome, she’d break the silence by randomly blurting out the deciphered code to a personalized license plate, or make a comment on a topic we stalled on a week ago, snapping me out of my driver coma.  It was good, because I’m pretty sure I was in a full trance most of the time behind the wheel.

There was also an entertainment factor in it for me, trying to figure out what the heck she was talking about – kind of like ‘Jeopardy’ but without that condescending Alex Trebek telling me that I’m wrong.

Regardless of our conversation, or lack thereof, it kept my mind off the stupid drivers around me.  I was so into my zen driving that I would even let in that jerk who just drove down the shoulder of the highway for the past 300 yards because his time was clearly more important than the rest of us.  Oohhhhmmmmm… be tranquil.

Now that I’m back in the workforce, I’m left to my own dark thoughts as I traverse vast expanses of gridlock every morning alone.

It’s surprising how quickly that little red devil, ‘Rage’, plops it’s smoldering butt into the passenger seat and convinces me that I’m the only one on the road who deserves a license.

“Come on! The left lane is for passing!” I’d mumble, hoping that it somehow telepathically reaches the inept driver ahead of me.

I get annoyed with all the typical stuff.  People not signalling, driving in the dark with their lights off, going too slow/fast based on what I believe is the exact right speed at that moment, cutting in – the usual driving sins.

Lately though, because of the distance I now have to travel, I’ve had a new little evil one join my invisible passengers.  He’s the gas station grump.

This nasty little dude is way less accepting and patient than normal old road rage.  He doesn’t even wait until a car is moving.

‘Gus’, as I’ve come to call him, appeared a couple of weeks ago while I was on my way home after a really long day.  The gas station was particularly busy, and with the lousy weather, most cars were in need of a top up of windshield washer fluid and maybe even a quick washing.

This made for a long wait for my turn at the pump.

You assume a level of etiquette with things like pumping gas.  For example, if a car is waiting to use the pump after you’re done, you need to expedite the refueling process as much as possible.  Don’t use those squeegees to wash the entire vehicle once you’re done filling up.  If the car is that dirty, go get in line at the car wash, for Pete’s sake!

When they invented ‘pay at the pump’, it was designed to speed up the refueling work so that drivers didn’t have to then leave their cars and wait in line inside the building to pay.  It was also designed to reduce gas and dash incidents.

I don’t know if it’s the demographics of this particular gas station neighbourhood, but it seems like every driver, instead of opting to the quick and efficient way to pay, fills up, then heads into the little building to chat with the attendant.

Gus doesn’t like this one bit!

The other night, the cars were 4 deep, waiting to be fed.  One gentleman filled his tank, then slowing started digging around the front seat of his car.  He emerged with what I assume was his wallet, then sauntered slowly towards the attendant kiosk. Picture light gray smoke coming out of my ears…

When he got inside, instead of promptly making is payment, he wandered around the little store.  He picked up some lottery tickets and a coffee, then to my amazement, grabbed the washroom key!  Gus was FUMING by this point.

Of course, while this was going on, all the other ‘old-school’ customers started to form a huge line to pay by cash, which meant that my wait was getting longer by the second.

And that’s what it comes down to now.  Seconds.  We used to talk about the ‘New York Minute’, which I’ve been told, is the time after the light turns green, before the car behind you honks his horn at you because you haven’t gone yet.

Now, it’s like milliseconds before we loose our cool.  We’ve become conditioned to instant response to things.  Computers that lag more than an brief moment are called ‘slow’.  Lunches are piping hot in a minute from the microwave.

Maybe that’s why we’ve become so impatient on the roads.  There’s some sort of inverse effect on us.  The quicker things get, the less patience we have.

People run red lights like it’s expected, especially when they’re making a left turn.  I guess they figure that they’ve been there long enough, so to heck with everyone else, they’re going!

I think I’m worried about Gus.  You expect to react to bad driving at times, especially when someone causes you to take drastic actions on the road to avoid an accident.  Maybe we all have a bit of that angry rage inside us from time to time, but this new passenger who shows up even when I’m not moving is a problem.

Maybe if I fill the passenger seat with real, live people who have a calming effect on me, there won’t be room for Gus or road rage any more.  At the very least, these nasty little guys might not be heard over the conversations about personalized license plates or half-finished discussions from a week ago.

Then, I might turn back into the ‘zen’ driver who is happy to let the other guy in ahead of me….as long as he’s using his signal indicator.

The Red Suit Conspiracy – believing in Santa

WARNING:  THIS BLOG MAY MAKE FOR AN UNCOMFORTABLE CHAT IF LITTLE ONES READ IT.

As a kid, I was pretty gullible.  I tended to think that what anyone told me was the truth, otherwise, why would they say it?

I also spent a lot of time getting sucked in to things.  Maybe that’s why I hate gambling so much.  Not that I have a moral stance on it, but just because I’m lousy at it.

When you’re really little, like pre-school or Kindergarten aged, Santa is like God to you.  What an incredible being, who rides around at night in a sleigh being pulled by flying reindeer, leaving presents under the tree for every kid in the world. It’s no wonder kids run screaming from him at the mall.  He’s super human!

Of course, toddlers don’t think in practical terms.  We are told about Santa, we see the gifts, so therefore, Santa is real.  Simple.

As you get a bit older, you start to see some cracks in the Santa story, though.  Mostly, it’s from older kids laughing or beating up some poor sucker who blathered that they still believe.  Who wants that kind of Christmas gift?

I remember when I lost my ‘Christmas Virginity’.  It took a while, much like my rea…..never mind.  Anyway, it started out with little things like opening the gifts with Santa’s signature on them, then going to our cousins house to see similar Santa gifts with different hand writing on the presents.  That sure seemed odd.

Then there would be Christmas Eve when we were tucked not so neatly into our beds, and I’d hear what sounded like Mom and Dad stumbling down the stairs with something big.

I spent some serious time contemplating this dilemma.  I mean, on one hand, for every Christmas up to now, the manifestation of the great and powerful Santa was clearly evident.  Shopping malls had him on display, Christmas specials confirmed his existence, and our parents and older family members assured us that he was very real.  Then, as sure as the sun would come up, presents were littered around the tree.

Being the gullible kid I was, and knowing I was gullible, meant that I had to take serious stock of things.  I didn’t want to be that kid getting beat up in the school yard for believing – especially if it wasn’t true.

So, I weighed the evidence before me.  The gifts showed up as promised every year, with no trace of them in the house before I went to bed, and all the television, radio, and adult conversation said he was real.  It’s what I was raised to believe.

On the other hand, the idea that one man could circumnavigate the entire globe in one night flying around with magic reindeer, stopping at virtually every house on the planet, and little elves making cool toys like etch-a-sketch and rock-em-sock-em robots didn’t seem very likely.

So, it came down to one key factor.  Was the Santa story a magical truth or an elaborate hoax?  When faced with this at the age of 8 or 9, I decided that the only logical explanation was that he must exist, simply because I concluded that there was no way an entire adult world could support such an elaborate ruse for that long.  Not a chance!

I was happily resolved with my results until one day when I was playing at a friends house, and he said to me, “I don’t believe in Santa.  Do you?“.  Gulp!  The acid test.  Could I stand behind my conviction?

No!  Of course not.  I blurted out, unconvincingly, “No, I don’t either.

Just then, my friend’s mother walked in and scolded us for telling the secret when his little sister was just in the other room.

Wait a minute.  I was lying when I said that I didn’t believe.  Now, this lady unwittingly confirmed my worst fear.  Santa didn’t exist after all.

I was quietly heart-broken.  All those dumb adults really could keep the secret.  So much for logical deduction!

Through adolescence and early adulthood, I was wise and smug about Santa.  I would mentally criticize parents who tried to convince their kids that the jolly old elf was working hard up at the North Pole, so they’d better be nice…..or else!

That is, until I had kids of my own.

When you have children, your cynicism about things starts to soften.  You start to immerse yourself into their wonderful little fantasy worlds.  And along with that, you begin to rethink your stance on the whole Santa conspiracy.

I took a logical approach to Santa, just like I did when I was 8. Putting aside for a moment, just who Santa is, lets look at things:

  • He still comes late at night, delivering gifts to children – CHECK
  • He works all year in his ‘workshop’ so the kids will have gifts under the tree by Christmas – CHECK
  • He brings joy and amazement to little children on Christmas morning – CHECK

I think that if you put a few details aside, like the little reindeer, and the North Pole, Santa is every bit as real as us.  I think we, in our smug, all-knowing youth, had it completely wrong.  The little kids were right after all.

Santa does exist.  There is no conspiracy after all.

Great, old St. Nickolaus, the Bishop of Myra in Turkey who is said to have given gifts to children at the time, was only the first in a very long line.

Now, those honoured enough, and who have a hint of that childhood belief, work all year long in their own ‘workshops’ (office), along side the ‘elves’ (co-workers), and deliver gifts on that magical night to their little children.

What an awesome job to have.  Being Santa Claus. If all those parents slogging away all year, then standing in line at the mall don’t believe in Santa, they are as lost to the magic as any child who stops believing at an early age.

Let me stress that Christmas is NOT about giving and getting presents, or going into debt while burning through your credit limit at the mall.  Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  In that spirit, however, bringing joy to children seems like a pretty nice way to celebrate God’s love for us.

Don’t give up on Santa.  He’s real, and he’s in each of us.  The sleigh and red suit may be gone, but what he did, and what he represents is as real as ever.

Merry Christmas!

The Bank Note

Have you ever really looked at your bank statement?  Charges for service, convenience, withdrawals, writing cheques, paying bills, etc.  This is our money, and we’re being charged to get it, use it, or move it around.  Great gig if you can get it!

I was looking mine over a while back, and found a bunch of vague fees and charges for various things that I didn’t understand.  So, I called up my bank with a few questions.

Thank you for calling ‘Monolith Bank’. This is Patty.  How can I help you?”

Hi, Patty.  I was just looking at my latest bank statement, and saw that there are were bunch of miscellaneous charges on it, adding up to over $25.”

“…Yes..?

Well, since I don’t write more than one cheque per month, don’t use my overdraft protection, or really do anything other than have money come in and go out, I don’t know what these charges are for.”

What is it you’re not sure about with these charges?”  Patty asked, showing early signs of frustration.

Since you feel that you need to take this money from my account without my approval, I should at least know why, right?  I want you to explain each one of these charges to me”.

We can’t do that”, she explained.

Well, if you can’t tell me what these are, I’m not paying them”, I tried to say as evenly tempered as I could.

We can’t explain them all.  It would take too long.  I’ll go ahead and reverse the charges on your latest statement”.

Really? Thanks! I’ll call you again next month.  Thanks, Patty.” Then I hung up quickly.

Maybe I won that little battle, but I know I’m losing the war.  You can’t beat the banks.

During a radio segment on business earlier this week, the announcer noted that a major Canadian bank posted it’s quarterly earnings (profit).  This bank made over $1 billion dollars in a 3 month period.  Wow!  Many countries don’t have this kind of GDP.  That’s an astounding number, and makes you wonder just how fat the bank is.

In the same sentence, the radio expert noted that since the earnings were slightly less than they expected, the bank announced that they would immediately lay off over 1,000 employees.

Huh?  Did I miss something?  A bank makes over a billion dollars in 3 months, but because they didn’t make as much as they thought, they’d send 1,000 families into financial crisis.

Here’s another thing that doesn’t seem to make sense either; loans.  If you need money, you probably don’t have it, or you wouldn’t need it in the first place, but to get a loan, you need to show that you don’t need it, or they won’t give it to you.

Then, if the bank gods look favourably on you and decide to allow you to borrow, the poorest will pay the most for that loan.  Again, if you’re better off, the loan costs less, but if you’re on hard times, they’ll charge you more.

Now, I’m no fan of the ‘occupy movement’, and I certainly don’t subscribe to a socialist view on the world, mostly because it’s not realistic or attainable.  As long as there are people, some will always rise to greatness and some will always fall to destitution.  It’s as sure to happen as the sun coming up tomorrow.

But at some point, you have to wonder what it would take for these financial giants to stop the ludicrous blood-letting that it puts its customers through.

Over the next few months, a bunch of my former coworkers will discover their employment fate as my old company winds down operations in Canada.

This has become a common tale lately, as other companies announce downsizing and layoffs just ahead of the Christmas Holiday season.  We’ll likely see more announcements in the new year after the holiday seasons’ tallies are completed.

When a company loses money consistently for a period of time and there’s no immediate rebound on the horizon, you end up in this predicament.  It’s just economics.  And it sucks!

I hope that business leaders faced with these decisions, really dive into the real cost of downsizing, and it’s impact not only on the emotions and finances of its employees, but also the larger effect of what happens as a cascade effect on the economy as a whole.

In 1914, Henry Ford announced that he would start paying his employees a princely sum of $5 per day, pretty much doubling the average wage of the day.  This accomplished 2 things for Mr. Ford:

  1. It reduced attrition.  Losing skilled workers was very expensive from a retraining standpoint, and it slowed production
  2. It meant that once the other manufacturing sectors caught on, people could afford to buy his cars

This thinking revolutionized the manufacturing sector, and gave birth to the American middle class.

I’m not suggesting that companies like Sears suddenly decide that if they double the wages of their workers, things will get better for them.  The concept of maintaining a working class, however, becomes a fundamental necessity in order to provide a source of income for itself.  It’s a bit selfish, I guess, but if people are out of work, they’ll stop buying from you.

It’s not all doom and gloom.  There are other jobs out there, and when you get thrown into the ocean from a burning ship, you might be surprised at how good it feels.  Most will get picked up by a passing boat.  With any luck, it’ll be a luxury liner, and not a garbage scow.

As I said earlier, I’m no economist, and I’m certainly not a captain of industry – minds greater than mine are in control.  That doesn’t mean though, that I don’t have a voice or options.

Patty can expect a call again soon, I can move my money to a fee-free financial institution, and when I’m out shopping later today, I might even check my lottery ticket.

Fingers crossed!