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?

DIRECTIONAL – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Friday: DIRECTIONAL

It’s the “clicker” in the car when you need to make a turn. If you don’t turn it on, you get a ticket. If you do, everyone crowds you in to prevent you from doing anything. I swear there are a million drivers out there who see things like directionals as a challenge to their ability to block you from any movement. It’s an actual technique in Boston. If you let your car wander a bit — just enough to avoid a ticket for dangerous driving, but sufficient to befuddle the drivers behind you, you can stop at least two lanes and sometimes three lanes of traffic.

Before there were electronic “clickers, there were hand signals. These worked pretty well, except in the middle of the winter or in the pouring rain when sticking your arm out the window will make your left arm icy, wet, or both. It was also hard on your clothing.

Car hand signals for those rare moments when your directional indicators are not inclined to blink. Hardly anyone uses them, but I have found as a passenger, leaning halfway out the window and pointing furiously at the right lane so the guy behind us just can’t possibly say he didn’t see the signal — EVEN if he was on the phone or trying to find the station that plays punk rock. It ALWAYS works. I think just seeing this old lady hanging out the window and pointing and waving her arms is a real attention-grabber. In theory, you can use a hand signal along with your electronic signals, but usually, when a hand is sticking out of the window, the driving is drying her or his fingernails. Probably not a signal.

Of course, it can also mean having a direction in life — a goal, as it were. There was a time when I had future-oriented goals. Now I have survival goals. Like: how saggy is the deck? Do I need to start a fund-raising drive now or might it not crumble until after we no longer need it?

I’m pretty sure these days, the only creatures that would miss it are the few birds that haven’t been chased away by the squirrels — and of course, the squirrels.

As an example of how pointless goals really are – even short term goals -last night, I stood up to do something. Except between standing and doing whatever I was supposed to do, I forgot.

So I stood there, determined to not sit down until I remembered why I stood up. This took a few minutes, but eventually, I realized I was looking for a container for storing CD cards for my cameras. It’s my “spare” container in which I keep the cards I have removed from the reader. It’s easy enough to forget to take the card out of the reader only to discover that you have “No recording media in camera.”

Recording media? What’s … oh. You mean the SD card. It’s in the computer. I sure hope I have another one. These days, memory has gone bye-bye, I immediately replace the card before I have a chance to forget I need one … and since there’s just a 15-second lapse between remembering and forgetting, I need to have everything at hand. This message is particularly irritating when you have your shot lined up. You press the shutter. Then you get the message. The camera could warn you sooner, couldn’t it? Like … when you turn it on? Maybe they do and I don’t notice?

At least I know if there’s no battery because the camera doesn’t turn on at all. What I don’t know is that there’s only one more shot in there, after which it’s going to shut down.

It doesn’t take long to put a card in the camera. I try to keep extras with each camera (blessed be, they ALL use the same cards!) but the picture you couldn’t take because you were missing the “recording media” or SD card never comes back. You may get a better or worse picture later, but you won’t get THAT one.

Bicycles signals, usually ignored by drivers who are talking on the phone or messing with their radio …

Meanwhile, how many people remember that there are hand signals you can use in cars and more importantly, on bicycles or motorcycles where you either have no electronic signals or it can be much less obvious what your intentions are?

Of course, there are the official signals … and then there are the “other signals.”

As I said, my personal favorite is hanging out the passenger window, waving both arms and pointing at the right lane indicating (a) a parking space!! or (b) we need to make that turn right NOW. Don’t forget your raincoat and gloves if the weather is bad.

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.

ARE WE THERE YET? SHORT FICTION FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY – Marilyn Armstrong

“Oh shut up. Can’t you kids ever stop squabbling back there? I’m going to put both of you on a time out, I swear I am.”

“But MOM, he TOUCHED ME!”

“Loretta, I am going to touch you and then you will have reason to cry. Joey, leave your sister alone.”

Voice of boy child with a strong adenoidal whine: “But MOOOOOOM, she’s taking up the whole back seat and I can’t help touching her. And why can’t I touch her? She touches me all the time.”

“She does what??”

“I do not”

“Do too.”

“DO NOT!@!”

{Long pause.}

In a whisper: “Do too.”

“Do not.”

Traffic

A booming baritone from the front seat, the Voice of Dad, speaks: “One more word out of either of you and I will stop this car and you will both be crying and you’ll have a damned good reason.”

{Whispers}

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

{Pause, pause, pause}

The sound of vomiting fills the car along with a sickening and pungent odor.

“Ew. Yuk. MOM he barfed all over me! Make him clean it up.”

Chorus:

“ARE WE THERE YET?”


This show has been brought to you by Happy Family, the breakfast cereal that’s got it all … sugar, food dye, trans-fat, and gluten. And no, we are not there yet.

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.

WHICH WAY?

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge – January 26, 2018


Who knows the way? Not me, I can assure you of that. If there is a direction to be found, I will not find it, at least not from memory. I can use a map, though.

Brookline along the trolley tracks
Photo: Garry Armstrong
Another way to climb
Autumn on Aldrich Street
Back from Boston