PLAY TAPS FOR ME – Marilyn Armstrong

It was one of those days. It started out normal. We had to get up a bit early because I had a doctor’s appointment and even though we left plenty of time, we got out of the house a bit late. Time slipped away. It was coffee. I needed ONE MORE sip.

My appointment was fine. Next stop? Grocery store.

We couldn’t get to the store. There had been a fire. Or something. The street was closed. Not the whole street, just the couple of hundred feet in front of the parking lot.

Other than the fire engine with the flashing lights, there was no hint of a fire or evidence of anything. No smoke. No injuries. No water on the street. No crime scene tape. A blocked street where we needed to go. They were allowing cars to drive through from the other direction. So there was no sensible reason why we couldn’t go a few dozen feet to the parking lot. Nope, we had to take the detour.

Uxbridge not being a real city, a detour isn’t a quick trip around a city block. We were in Douglas before we could start looping back to town. By which time they had parked the fire truck and there were no official obstructions.

Shopping concluded, leaving town was our next trial. Civic excitement is rare in our little town, so everyone had to take a long look at the … what? Fire? Crime scene? False alarm? One of the rubberneckers was riding a bicycle. We were behind him, trying to drive at 1 mph. As soon as we (finally) got around him, someone pulled out of a side street, slowed down to about 10 mph. Directly in front of us. We crawled home. Karma is.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Groceries were unpacked. Television was turned on. Surprise! The television still wasn’t working. I tried rebooting again after which, I hold my breath and call Charter. They’ve been having a bad week too and this is my third call in two days. Any day on which I have to call Charter is not a great day.

After a long hold, the agent assures me they are merely doing (more) repair work, but they hope it will be finished any day now. They’ll call me when it’s finished. Maybe even today. I go to make dinner and step in a pool of dog pee. I don’t know which dog did it, but I don’t get it. Why? They’ve got their own door and it isn’t even raining.

Eventually, dinner having been served, eaten, and cleared away, the phone rang. Charter (recorded message) says “Repairs are complete, thank you for your patience.” But it is not fixed. The television wi-fi is still not working.

Any day on which I have to call Charter once is not a good day, but if I have to cal them twice? That is very bad. They tell me to reboot. They send a repair signal. Nada. They can’t get a tech here until Thursday.  I am grouchy but there doesn’t seem to be a choice. I realize I’d better write it down because these days I forget everything immediately.  I turned on the light.

The bulb exploded.

My day is done.  Play taps for me.


RDP Friday – Annoying

ON THE ROAD AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Not a rainy day nor a sunny one. Just a day. Cold, no snow or rain. Coming home from Connecticut. Feeling better about the world.

Good thing I had a camera. Traffic was mostly bumper-to-bumper from when we left the Curley house until we were almost home. At least occasionally, until it was fully dark, I had something to do.

Not exciting pictures, but … pictures.

A cloudy sky

Clouds through the trees

Too many cars

Still too many cars

Darkness is falling

Through a tunnel

And back on the road, but getting too dark to shoot

I tried some interesting textures since the subject wasn’t exactly thrilling. I had fun playing with photographs. There’s not a huge amount of excitement between Connecticut and Massachusetts. Just too many vehicles.

USING A GPS IN NEW ENGLAND – Marilyn Armstrong

When the GPS’s first came out and the prices dropped from ridiculously high to more-or-less normal, I was an immediate consumer. I was working in Groton, Connecticut which was more than 140 miles from my home.

Even though I didn’t have to go in every day, three days a week of driving 280 miles round trip with a 9 hour day in-between was a killer schedule. A lot of the roads I took were unmarked — no signs telling you what road you were on or which road you were crossing — and very small, so maps didn’t show them. I needed a GPS just to get home at night.

One night, on my way home, I got turned around in Rhode Island. I went around in circles for nearly an hour and finally called home and told them I was lost, had no idea what road I was on. What was worse, I was in the middle of nowhere, so short of calling the police — and since I couldn’t tell them where I was, I was not sure that would actually help — I might never see them again. Eventually, I found my way out of the loop and promptly bought a GPS. It was a small Tom-Tom, but with a little help from my electronic friend, I got home most nights.Since then — about 10 years ago — they have greatly improved the GPS to the point where you can’t be sure they can get you from point A to point C without taking you through golf courses, tiny, snow-filled back roads, swamps, vineyards, collapsed bridges, and roads that may have been real roads100 years ago, but clearly haven’t been used since. I know this because in the center of the road is a full-grown oak tree. It’s a dead giveaway.

So despite having a reasonably “up-to-date” GPS — a Garmin this time — I always print out a set of directions on paper. It’s why so many packages from Amazon don’t show up. Whatever GPS they are using, it seems to send the trucks down unpaved roads which when they aren’t buried in snowdrifts are socked in by mud, sometimes quick-mud (quicksand, but a lot gooier).

To make things just that much more complicated, most of New England is phobic about road signs. When we were in San Francisco, we could find our way around because not only were there street signs on every corner, but they would have a sign two streets ahead to warn you of an upcoming street.

In New England, they refuse to tell you what road you are on and often, what town you are in. You find yourself in the humiliating position of having to ask passing strangers what the name of the town is and what road you are on.

As often as not, the person you ask can’t give you an answer because they themselves don’t know anything. They just work there. The only route they know is the one that gets them to work. On top of that, most people are clueless about giving directions.

When they try, they are wrong. They say left when they mean right and have no idea of the distances between one place and another … AND they don’t know the name of the road (not that this would be much help since there are no signs to tell you the name) or route numbers. Even if they did, the absence of signs makes it hard to know what to do.

Even using a GPS as a map without chatter, many roads supposedly have names that no one ever uses. One of our nearest roads is Route 146A. That’s what everyone calls it because its official name changes every half mile or so. Each town or area calls it something different — and a GPS doesn’t EVER use route numbers except for limited access interstate highways, probably because these don’t have names. But if they do (such as the Massachusetts Turnpike aka “the Pike” and the Merrit Parkway (aka Route 15), they will use it and when that name is not in use in a particular town, change the name to South Main Street and you will have to deduce that it’s actually the same road.

And finally, there is the issue of “go straight on the main road.” New England has no straight roads. Between hills, mini-mountains, waterways, and inconveniently placed towns, everything loops, and swings. Worse, the GPS tells you to “make a right,” but what you see is a fork and both seem to be going in the same direction — sort of rightish. There’s no sign, so take your best guess. My best guess is inevitably wrong. You’d think all you need to do to fix the error is turn around and go back, but much of the time, you can’t do that. Either the road is too narrow or you’ve stumbled onto a highway and you have to find an exit that will let you reverse directions. There are parts of the state where that is impossible. Like anywhere near Quincy (pronounced for you out-of-towners) as Quinzy. So was it John Quinzy Adams? Just asking.

Why don’t they have street signs in New England? We have all had this conversation, usually after we’ve calmed down and had something to eat and drink. Our best guess is the Yankee belief “if you don’t know where you are, why are you here?” The area isn’t set up for tourists, which is funny because tourism is one of our major industries.

This isn’t as much of a problem for people who have a sense of direction, but neither Garry nor I ever know where we are unless it’s close to home. You can’t get seriously lost in the Blackstone Valley unless you use a GPS. We don’t have a lot of roads. Maybe all told, we have a dozen “real” roads. The rest are trails, suitable for ATVs, horses … and walking your dog. They certainly aren’t intended for cars or trucks. Many of them are bordered by what looks like the ground but is really swamp mud.

Recently, Garry has been doing a lot of traveling around Massachusetts and remarkably, probably due to printed directions from Google or Mapquest, has managed to get where he is going. It’s no small miracle. Also, for reasons I don’t fully understand, when we travel together, Garry is always sure I know the way. Or at least know it better than he does.

When I point out that we are equally lost, he thinks I’m hiding something. He never believes I’m as ignorant as I am. Is that a compliment?

I need to buy a new GPS, but I’ve been putting it off. The more they “fix” the GPS maps, the harder it gets to actually find the location to which you are trying to go. GPS’s are great for long, interstate drives and arriving in a neat suburb. On the other hand, when we used to drive up to Jackman, Maine, at some point the GPS would say “no directions are available for this area.” You’re on your own and good luck. Watch out for moose.

I suppose it’s like all other software,  upgrades usually don’t improve the product. After you’ve bought a new one, you wish you’d kept the old one, even if it is inaccurate. They now have so many traffic cams in cities and suburbs so a GPS can (and does) read the wrong input. Sometimes, it shows us driving down the Charles River.

Also, for reasons best known to their designers, no matter what settings you input, they will try to send you by their idea of “the shortest route” as opposed to the route that will get you there safely and quickly.

In other words, upgrades aren’t. Moral? If the old one works, keep it until it dies. Then buy a cheap one without all the frills. It’s the maps you need, not the radio.

A COURSE CORRECTION – Marilyn Armstrong

Once upon a time, I had a job in Connecticut. My daily commute was 140 miles — each way. I only worked three days at the office and worked the other two at home. Even so, after a few months, I was exhausted. I could not continue.

I quit and found another job that didn’t require as much commuting. It didn’t pay nearly as well, but it wasn’t going to kill me. Two-hundred and eighty miles of driving three days a week was nuts. Not only did it wear me down, but it also wore out my car.

I never thought of giving up as “throwing in the towel.” I was not giving up. More like I was acknowledging I shouldn’t have taken the job (or married that guy) in the first place. What in the world made me believe I could spend five or six hours a day in the car and also spend 8 to 10 hours at work?

Whenever I’ve given something up whether it was a job, a relationship, a recipe, or whatever? The problem was never being defeated by a foe. The enemy was always me. I made a stupid choice. I should never have started whatever it was in the first place. And usually, I’d known it from the beginning but for some reason, I couldn’t say no.

Ultimately, I knew I’d screwed up and changed course. If you look at this kind of thing as a defeat, you will have a lot of trouble coping when the road gets bumpy. Know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em.

 

WHERE IS STEVE McQUEEN WHEN I REALLY NEED HIM? – Garry Armstrong

It must be payback. Karma, hubris – or both.

For more than 30 years, I drove a succession of fully loaded convertibles with Steve McQueen in my brain. Once, I was racing to a story in the dead of night when a State Trooper pulled me over. He asked the traditional question. He smiled when I told him I was heading to a fire. After being cautioned to drive responsibly, I sped on to the scene. Steve McQueen was with me.

Nothing fazed me. Not Boston crazies or New York cabbies. Oh, hubris!

My convertible days are behind me. Thanks to retirement, an income adjusted to social security, “wonderful” pensions and too many tickets from my Steve McQueen days, I drive like a normal guy, more or less. You’d think I’d paid my dues, atoned for my sins.

Not hardly, Pilgrim.

I’ll admit I still drive too fast, even if I’m doing the speed limit. That’s because I wasn’t born in the Valley and I don’t have Valley in my blood, so to speak. You see, in the Valley, driving is a leisurely business. Very leisurely. Twenty miles an hour is fast for a lot of our local people and not only in school areas. We are talking normal stretches of road with no special considerations or construction.

Not a racing car exactly!

I’m convinced there’s a legion of slow drivers waiting for me to pull out onto the street. I’ve been targeted. Wherever I go, they are waiting. It’s particularly frustrating when I’m heading to an appointment. These days, it’s usually a doctor appointment for my wife or me. We usually allow extra time for possible traffic jams, construction, weather delays, and accidents.

The X-Factor is the slow driver. (Drum-roll.)

They usually appear just as we are pushing up to the speed limit and think we’ll be able to make good time. We’ll get to our destination and have time to relax. I’m beginning to think about playing some music for the drive.

That’s when they show up. In the blink of an eye, they appear. The dreaded slow drivers. A whole conga line of slow drivers. No way to maneuver around them because our local roads are two lanes. One in each direction and narrow to boot. I can feel the anger and frustration beginning to boil up inside me.

If I’m driving alone, I allow the profanities full volume. If my wife is with me, I mumble, tighten my wrists and think evil, vile things. The slow drivers sense this and slow down even more. It is torture. What would Steve McQueen do?

Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com

Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com

Sanity and common sense kick in only because I know we can’t afford accidents with me as the culprit. That makes it more infuriating. They slow down, even more, sensing my plight. Could it be worse? Never ask that question because the answer is always yes!

It gets personal when I realize nature is calling. Home isn’t that far away but it could be an embarrassment if I don’t get there in time. The drivers drive even slower.

I whisper a prayer, forgiveness for my wild days on the road. I turn onto the road home. I can do this. I can make it. Traffic slows to a halt. What would Steve McQueen do?

Gritting my teeth, I see two cars ahead of me. They are staring at the road. They are texting. They are not old but rather part of the legion of slow drivers targeting me. All seems lost as I swing and sway to delay disaster, traffic begins to move again.

Slowly.

Minutes that seem like hours go by until I reach home. I pull down our long driveway. I race into the house with personal shame just narrowly averted. I calm down before returning to the car to collect my things.

I look up at the street. There’s no traffic. The slow drivers have disappeared. Is it a conspiracy?

What would Steve McQueen do?

CAR-MA AND COPS – Marilyn Armstrong

It was a lovely crisp Saturday morning. I was heading north out of New York to visit Garry in Boston. I don’t remember which car I was driving. Probably my turquoise VW Rabbit, my personal pocket rocket.

I am not a slow driver, though I try to be a careful one. If I see a wide open road and I figure I’m not going to get a ticket, I’ve been known to put the pedal to the metal, perhaps a tad faster than the legal limit. Which is why I was surprised, as I drove along in the left lane of the limited access highway, to be passed on the right and cut off — leaving just millimeters to spare — by a vehicle going so fast he nearly sucked the doors off my car.

Icy rocks

I was a bit shaken, especially since he had no reason to cut me off at all. The road was empty. He had plenty of room, so he was just being an asshole. I hadn’t even seen him coming.

“Go tiger,” I murmured, looking at my speedometer. I was going a smidge over 80 MPH, so how fast was he going? He passed me as if I were standing still.

“People like him,” I muttered, “Give all of us a bad name.”

I continued on my way, made merrier by the music on my radio … until I saw flashing lights ahead. I slowed. Then I slowed more until I was crawling along.

Blue lights were flashing everywhere. This was no normal speeding ticket stop. It was not one or two police cars. There must have been a hundred or more squad cars, motorcycles, and a couple of vans.

It was a cop convention!

On the road to Skowhegan

Open road

My speeder had plunged into the heart of a law enforcement convoy!

The fellow, a young man of unimpressive demeanor, was standing on the shoulder of the road, hands in the air looking terrified. Officers stood near him. They had bagged a good one and were clearly having fun as only a convention of cops can.

On the way to Chestnut Hill

I was happy.

Justice, so rarely served, was coming to one who thoroughly deserved it. I doubted he would ever speed again. I couldn’t tell if he had wet his pants, but I could hope.

I gave a thumbs up to the cops standing around writing as many tickets as they could think of.  I still wonder how many he got. In returns, a number of cops gave a thumbs up.

I was laughing the entire rest of the trip to Boston.

INTREPID BY ROAD – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Intrepid

Intrepid will always be the name of one of Horatio Hornblower’s ships. Somewhere in my 20s, I discovered Horatio Hornblower … and that’s how I learned that there was an actual use for trigonometry! If only they had mentioned this in school, I might have had a clue what I was doing instead of random calculations used to reach an answer that meant absolutely NOTHING to me.

We probably should have named The Duke “Intrepid.” He is quite the intrepid voyager. Except he likes when we come out and let him IN the yard, even though he jumped out. I guess out is easier?

Today I am off to see the wizard, also known as my cardiologist. He’s a new one. I’m trying to finally shake off Boston and get all my physicians lined up locally. Boston made the news the other night as officially (who is the official calculator of such things?) having the worst traffic of any city in the U.S. Not in the world. I think there are quite a few cities in Europe (and how about the traffic in London!) that could compete.

Boston has gotten terrible. When I moved here in 1988, traffic wasn’t great, but you could get from one place to another and generally even park when you got there. Not any more. Not only can it be impossible to get there, but if you do parking will cost the price of feeding two people for a week. Or more.

Bad. Very, very bad.

We spent something like 50 billion dollars to remodel our road and I swear they are worse than they were before we spend more than a decade redoing everything. The thing is, they move things around, but they didn’t make them bigger. Just stuck them underground (cough, cough, cough) or straightened out the crooked pieces.  So we’ve got nice straight bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Boston traffic is only for the intrepid.

We’re away shortly. As we head for UMass, a mere 20 miles away, call us intrepid. Also, please hope they don’t find anything new or interesting.

TIME FOR A DRINK! LIFT YOUR GLASS TO BECKYB – Marilyn Armstrong

Time for a Drink for BeckyB!

It was party time in Massachusetts. I would probably have been content to stay home and process bird pictures, but Garry felt we needed an airing. Also, he wanted to find out how his cochlear implant would handle a really large party.

George Regan gives amazing parties. He’s kind of the best PR guys in the state, so if you’re trying to make it in politics or business or whatever, George is your guy.

He’s also a remarkably nice person, too, with dogs and a lovely house on the water in Quincy. We are lucky to get annual invitations. We often don’t make it because it’s December which is usually busy — with bad weather. But this year, we made it.

Time for evening light through tall windows

In addition to wanting to test out his new hearing, there was a friend who was going to be there who Garry wanted to see very much. He has been ill, so it has been a long time since we’ve spent time together — and George’s place is about as midway to our houses as you can get. They live in Bourne, on the Cape while we reside in Uxbridge, south-central of nowhere.

Quincy is one of those places which somehow is always in the middle of a traffic jam, so even though it should only be about an hour’s drive, it always takes at least two … and that’s on a Tuesday afternoon. I can only imagine the traffic on Saturday or Sunday, especially since they are on the road which goes to the stadium where the Patriots play.

It’s close enough to Boston so over the years, it has become part and parcel of the Boston mega-traffic-jam, so we got stuck in it going there and coming back. We thought there had to be an accident or something along the way, but no accident that we found.

Time to drive to the party

Just traffic and a lot of it.

We made it. Not only did we make it, but we didn’t get lost, which may be some kind of record for us. We often set out for events, but get so lost, we end up going home without ever going to the party.

Time for that drink!

The moment we got there, I realized that wearing a black coat — Garry was wearing a gray one — were mistakes. In the “throw the coats in there” room were dozens of black and gray overcoats. We are nothing if not consistent.

I keep intending to get something in some other color, but somehow, best intentions notwithstanding, my coats are always black or gray and I can never find them.

Dinner was constantly served – Always time to eat!

There were a lot of people at the party. Garry eventually spotted three (other than the host) who he knew.

I knew Garry. And the host.

I used to know George’s beautiful Golden Retriever, but he passed a couple of years ago. During parties in the summer, the swimming pool belonged to the Golden. He used to swim around the pool trying to corral about 100 tennis balls. Then he would emerge from the pool, sopping wet, and shake.


Not square, but the beautiful Golden Retriever needed remembering too.


Almost everyone was all dressed except me because I don’t dress. It is one of the few privileges of age, so it made me laugh as guests ran in every direction as the dog shook off the pool water. Then he’d jump back into the pool because keeping track of hundreds of floating tennis balls is a pretty big job, but he was a dedicated retriever.

You better believe that NO ONE complained about the water and the shaking retriever. George adored that dog and his two other pugs who were carried during the party because they were old and couldn’t manage in a house that crowded.

Time to drive home

And then we were homeward bound with about a million other cars. Now, we can say we have partied, celebrated, and hobnobbed. Oddly, I enjoyed the party. I met the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a bunch of people I didn’t know. Ate pieces of hot pizza from Bertucci’s and took some interesting pictures.

These days, that’s a party!

DYING IN TRAFFIC – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Traffic

When we lived in Boston, traffic was life. It was like getting up in the morning. It was getting to work, the grocery, the doctor. Anything and you always had to calculate how much “extra” time you needed to deal with traffic.

I had audiobooks in the car to keep my brain engaged. Traffic was as fundamental as roads and bridges. You couldn’t go anywhere without adding an extra hour — in case traffic was bad.

Traffic was always bad, but sometimes, it was lethal. These days, I don’t think about traffic because we don’t have much. We don’t commute. If we need to drive, we schedule it for when there is likely to be little or no traffic. Locally, a traffic jam is a tractor with two cars waiting at an intersection.

Or road repairs.

Until we moved here, traffic was a primary issue in our lives. It controlled our working days and holidays. Gridlock before and during holidays could effectively close the city. I once tried to pick Garry up from Channel 7 which was less than a mile from home. Normally, he walked, but he had things to carry and so he asked me to come and get him.

I left the parking lot, drove a block, and had to stop. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I was in the same place. I finally made a U-turn and went back to the apartment. The next day “GRIDLOCK” was the headline. The entire city had been stuck because it was the Friday before Christmas.

Less than a year later, we moved from Boston to Roxbury, about 4 miles outside downtown Boston. There were trees. Empty lots. Almost the suburbs. You could park — for free — on the street.

Then came the Big Dig.

The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, called The Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through Boston. If you lived in the city, there were no areas unaffected by it. It was supposed to solve the city’s traffic disaster. Ultimately, it made it easier to get to the airport, but the rest of it? It’s still a permanent jam that will never go away.

Was it worth it?

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it was plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses of ceilings and other parts of roads and tunnels, impressive design flaws, blatantly poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for a some of the aforementioned offenses (but not nearly enough), and four deaths.

The project was supposed to be finished by 1998 and cost $2.8 billion. I am sure no one in Boston expected it to cost that or be finished on schedule — and we were right. It took an additional nine years and was finally finished in December 2007  It cost more than $14.6 billion. The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest and fines, lawsuits and so on, the project will total more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until sometime in 2038. Or later.

The Big Dig forced us out of Boston. One day, I had to go grocery shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me two hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.

“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!”

We did.

Local roads

We fled. Traffic had overtaken over our world. Nothing was fun. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to or from work and should we get where we were going, there was nowhere to park. People trying to visit couldn’t find our us because the exit to our neighborhood kept moving and was often closed. Out-of-towners roamed helplessly through Dorchester, looking in vain for a street sign.

Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home.

We must have spent years of our lives sitting in traffic.

We live in cities because that’s where the jobs are. You don’t find jobs with a future in small towns in the country. With all the telecommuting talk, most jobs still require you to be there. Most jobs require live interaction with colleagues and customers.

We underestimate how badly the wear and tear of commuting affect our lives and psyche. If it takes hours to get to work, you are already tired when you get there. Public transportation often takes even longer than a car and is a lot less comfortable.

Work is easy. Traffic is a killer.

SOMETIMES THE MAGIC WORKS – Marilyn Armstrong

So there you are, in your car on your to somewhere. The open road lies before you and you are cruising along at a comfortable 75 mph in a 60 mph zone. You aren’t worried. There are rules and then there are the “real” rules. Everyone speeds. The general rule of thumb is about 15 miles over the limit. Push it more than that, and someone might decide to ticket you, especially if it’s toward the end of the month and it’s time to fill up those books and hand them in.

You can usually get away with whatever you are doing — as long as everyone else in the lane is doing pretty much the same thing.

On this particular day, a car shot past me at what must have been supersonic speeds and cut me off and sped onward. It’s scary getting cut off at those speeds. It takes at least seven car lengths to nearly stop. To fully stop, add at least one more.

I breathe. I continue driving. There’s always some dickhead on the road who has something to prove.

About two, maybe three miles down the road, I see this same jackass pulled over by cops. He isn’t pulled over by one cop or even two. He sped right into a troop of police officers on their way to an event of some kind … and they ALL pulled him over. There are cop cars everywhere. Lights are spinning, sirens are wailing. This guy is doomed.

Everyone was writing a ticket. Dozens of cops. ALL writing tickets for different things. Dangerous driving. Speeding. Crossing lanes without a directional. Cutting off the police chief.

Whatever they could think of, he was getting a ticket for it. I figured it would be thousands of dollars before he found his way out of the storm into which he had driven.

He deserved it. I felt proud, yet somehow humble.

I looked at the police. I grinned at them. I popped up my thumb — and the cops popped up theirs. Karma.

Sometimes, the magic works.

GARRY ARMSTRONG HITS THE ROAD – CEE’S WHICH WAY PHOTO CHALLENGE

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge

Somewhere in Uxbridge

The lonely motorcyclist

Just when Marilyn thought I’d given up photography, having not picked up a camera since the great storms of March, I surprised her and took the camera with me today. It was a good road day, too.

Watch your speed!

Passing the cop shop

Before the day was over, I was in and out of five separate valley towns.

I call him “The Lawn Whisperer”

Gardener at work

Starting in Uxbridge, I went through Mendon to Milford. From Milford back through Mendon and Uxbridge to Whitinsville and the Super Walmart. From there down into Douglas, then back up and finally, home.

But I got a lot done and in the end, that feels pretty good.

ROADS AND STEPS – CEE’S WHICH WAY PHOTO CHALLENGE

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge – February 2, 2018


This Which Way challenge is all about capturing the roads, walks, trails, rails, steps, signs, etc. we move from one place to another on. You can walk on them, climb them, drive them, ride on them, as long as the specific way is visible. Any angle of a bridge is acceptable as are any signs.


Photo: Garry Armstrong 

By the Mumford – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Snow on steps

Road to the lake

The corner by the barber shop – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Dam across the Mumford

AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LIFE STRATEGY

The strategy and rhythm of life is different between working and retirement.


Garry just reminded me that he’s busy. By this he means he’s reading two books — one audio, the other print. He’s trying to keep up with his email and stuff on Serendipity and occasionally write a few things, too.

I was explaining that I have this whole Audies reading thing coming up. I’ll get my list of books tomorrow and for the next few weeks, I’m going to be busy. So I was hoping Garry might be able to write a little more because I’ll be on an actual deadline.

He pointed out he’s already busy but he’ll try. Which made me think about busyness.

So I said to him, but also to myself: “How did we have enough time to work full-time and then some?”

Garry worked insanely long hours, often 14 to 16 hours. Just as he was finally about to get some sleep, the station would call him back in. This is why he so treasures sleep. For most of his life, he barely got any. And on top of this, he worked strange hours, so his body was always on same bizarre schedule.

He remembers better than I do about work, even though he has been retired longer than me. “It was the schedule we lived on. We got up, we went to work, we came home. Then we did it again.”

“I don’t think I could do it … for any amount of money,” I pointed out. “I went out on disability … and that was three major surgeries ago. I don’t think I’m healthier now than I was then.”

“That,” said my husband, “Is the other thing. It doesn’t matter how much money they offered me. I don’t think I could do it.”

That’s the definition of retirement — when not only do you no longer work, but you can’t do it, not for any amount of money. You’re finished.

It’s hard to remember exactly what working full-time was like. I know I did it. I got up, commuted — sometimes ridiculously long distances (and that’s how I got hooked on audiobooks). Worked. Came home. Cooked, cleaned. Even occasionally saw friends or family. Then, I got up and did it again. We both did. Together, we worked about 100 years.

These days, I write a piece or two, read other blogs and maybe fix some pictures and listen to a book. Then, I make dinner and collapse into the sofa, I feel I’ve worked a full day.

It’s 12:15 am and I’m writing this. It’s the second post I’ve written today. I also processed about a dozen pictures. I made shrimp for dinner and Garry cleaned up afterwards. A full day.

I am thoroughly and completely retired.

THE DOWNSIDE OF MY NYC YEARS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

People talk a lot about the great benefits and conveniences of living in a big city. At least New Yorkers tout the glories of New York City all the time. I lived there for 40 years. When I was a young adult and young Mom, I came face to face with the decidedly inconvenient and often scary aspects of New York life.

As a young married, we spent most weekends (except in the winter) at our house in CT. This was very common. Most people we knew left the city almost every weekend. So we needed to have a car in the city. That caused serious problems. Garages were (and still are) very expensive. So for many years, we had to park our car on the street. This is not easy, to put it mildly.

There is a ritualistic parking dance that city car owners go through every week called “Alternate Side Of The Street Parking”. It’s complicated. But it boils down to this. If you are lucky enough to get a side street parking space near your apartment, to preserve it, you have to do the following: Move the car to the other side of the street at a very specific time on a specific day. Then you have to sit in the car for an hour until it becomes legal to park there again. You have to do this once or twice a week. And don’t get me started on what happens if you actually used your car during the week. That made things even more complicated.

I followed this time-honored tradition for years. All of them miserable. In rain, snow, sleet or hail, in sickness and in health. If I had a sick kid at home, they had to come with me. When I was nursing, I often had to take the baby and nurse in the car. In plain view of anyone passing by.

It was a nightmare. I had to plan my entire schedule around the parking rules in my neighborhood. And they could vary just a few blocks away from home where I often had to park. As soon as my husband started earning a little more money, I insisted that the first thing we did was get a garage. So I never had to deal with Alternate Side Of The Street Parking after I had a second child. Thank God.

However, the second child created her own logistical nightmare for me. Her Pre-K school was only about three miles from our apartment. But in NYC, that can be a pilgrimage. It was all the way across town and very inconvenient to get to. The school didn’t allow kids that young to take a school bus by themselves. So I had to take her to school and pick her up for an entire school year.

This involved walking six blocks with a four-year old, in all kinds of weather, to get the cross town bus. After we got off the cross town bus, we had to walk another block and take a downtown bus that took us to the school. The whole procedure took 45 minutes. Then I had to take the 45 minute trip home and repeat the process four hours later! I don’t know which one of us hated this torture more.

Eventually we threw in the towel and started taking taxis – when we could find them (you usually couldn’t in the rain or snow, when you needed them the most). This had it’s own problem – a whopping price tag of $30 a day or $150 a week in 1989 dollars. The choice was sanity and bankruptcy or solvency and having my daughter become a nursery school dropout.

Another negative aspect of NYC life in the 1980’s, was crime. My mother lived in the city for almost 80 years and never once encountered any sort of street crime. We were not so lucky. When we parked cars on the street, they were broken into regularly and the radios were stolen, along with anything else the burglars could find. This happened even in an upscale, Upper East Side residential neighborhood.

Signs people put in their car windows to discourage burglars

My husband and I were also mugged at gunpoint late on night, around the corner from our building. We gave the guy all our cash and he ran off. But he turned around and yelled out, “Sorry to do this to you, folks!” So at least we had a polite and apologetic mugger. Still scary.

The scariest incident happened to our au pair, Heike, when she was out with our two-year old and seven-year old children. Heike was a wonderful German girl who lived with us for two years. She was drop dead gorgeous. And big. Not heavy. In fact she had a beauty queen’s body. But she was 5’10’’ tall and not slight. She was also very tough. No one messed with Heike (except for her alcoholic boyfriend, but that’s another story.)

Heike with David and Sarah

One day, Heike came home with the children through the back or service door. She reached the door and a man jumped out at them and tried to grab my two-year old from Heike’s arms. Heike kicked him in the nuts and started to scream. The man ran off immediately. I was so shaken! I was also so grateful to Heike for so aggressively and bravely protecting my kids. That’s what you pay a babysitter to do.

In the late 1980’s. homeless people on the streets were a big problem. We kept seeing them when we walked around our neighborhood. My almost ten-year old son was beginning to ask questions and get disturbed by the sight of people sleeping in doorways or in cardboard boxes. I asked my husband how I should handle the situation with my son. He said to tell him to keep walking and ignore them.

That’s when I knew for sure that city life was not for me any more. Or for my family. There was no way I would live somewhere where I had to inure my children to human suffering. I would never tell my son to just walk away and not care about people living in such dire circumstances. A few years later we moved out of the city into the woods of CT. And I have never looked back. For me, big city life turned out to be less than the glamorous, convenient utopia that I had been brought up to believe it would be.