Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘commuting

One Less

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Back in July, I reduced commuting to the day-job from four days a week down to three. I now drive into the Cities on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. That one small change is providing a large improvement to my quality of life. Just one less day on the road is saving me expenses and reducing stress. I also moved some documents online in order to allow more productive use of my remote days, a step that probably should have happened a year ago when COVID moved much of the world’s workforce out of offices and into homes.

When the pandemic first materialized, our customers quickly assured us we were “essential” as manufacturers of high-tech industrial products, so we maintained our normal schedule without interruption. I just kept doing things the same as always.

Now the increased productivity during my two remote days is freeing me up on the other three days to give more attention to on-site issues that arise. Now if I could just control things so that issues only arise when I am on-site, everything would be perfect.

Being available at home an additional day per week is providing rewarding benefits, too. Yesterday afternoon I was able to double-team two small projects with Cyndie that most likely wouldn’t have happened in the few hours after I normally get home on commuting days.

All that is needed now to recover some normalcy in our workplace is two or three skilled high-tech assemblers to walk in our doors and fill openings that have existed since before the pandemic even became a thing.

While I’m dreaming, I’d also like my government to never again invade another country with the idea of overthrowing a less equipped but incredibly patient group of local fighters. Fool us once, fool us twice…

Might as well keep going with dreams of solving world problems. What if we found ways to move impoverished peoples off of islands where earthquakes or hurricanes, and sometimes both in rapid succession, repeatedly occur?

The people of Haiti could do with one less disaster right now.

The people of Afghanistan could do with one less day of everything that is out of control there.

The people in the western states of the U.S. could do with one less drought and raging wildfire combination.

The doctors and nurses treating unvaccinated COVID sufferers in over-crowded ICUs could do with one less highly contagious coronavirus variant.

I could do with one less global catastrophe, but for now, I will settle for driving my fossil-fuel-burning vehicle one less day every week.

Small changes can sometimes lead to proportionally bigger rewards.

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Written by johnwhays

August 17, 2021 at 6:00 am

Olympic Influence

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The 2020 Olympic summer games are over but after having watched daily competitions for over two weeks, the residual influence is strong. Yesterday afternoon, I was cutting the grass beneath our fenceline using the power trimmer. Beneath ear-muff hearing protection that also has a metal mesh face shield, my world gets reduced to the ground immediately in front of me and little else.

While trimming away, there was a moment where I thought I might have heard an uncharacteristic sound. I took a quick glance over my shoulder to see if there was anyone in sight and was immediately reminded of Olympic marathoners doing the same turn of their heads as they tried to check the competition behind them.

In the split second of feeling a connection to the competing Olympic runners, I had a thought that power trimming could become one of the new sports they add in the future.

There could be categories separating light trimming around features in a front yard –similar to short distance races– and thick field grass trimming under a fence –similar to running a marathon.

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Performance can be timed or judged, or probably both.

Points taken off if you nick the fence post or leave uncut tufts around them. That would be like when divers make a splash as they enter the water.

Why stop with just power trimming? All the property management chores could become Olympic competitions. Kicking manure piles in the field can be rather sporting. Changing engine oil in a lawn tractor. Sharpening a chainsaw blade. Repairing a busted fence. Oh, pounding down frost-heaved fence posts would be a good one.

Might as well expand the focus to include a competition of commuting an hour to a day job. Fastest time without speeding more than 9MPH over posted speed limits takes the gold. Must be accident-free and can receive bonus points if no other drivers are made angry throughout the entire drive.

I’m sure televised broadcasts of the competitions would inspire kids to want to become farm chore professionals when they grow up.

I wish I could take this thought exercise of Olympic comparison all the way to the part where the hard work only lasts for two weeks and then there is a great big party with fireworks and drone-shaped patterns in the sky.

Lots of laughter and selfies, maybe a few hugs from strangers.

It’s a nice distraction from reality. My reality early yesterday morning involved a certain cat who apparently missed me over the weekend. Pequenita made a point of walking up my body to head-butt my face and knead my chest starting at 3:30 a.m. and repeated the exercise again at 4:30, 5:00, 5:30, & 6:00.

I foiled her annoying shenanigans this morning by getting out of bed at 4:30 to do my planking and stretching routine before work.

Come to think of it, maybe Pequenita just forgot that I now work from home on Mondays and she thought I needed to get up that early.

She probably thinks she’s in some cat Olympics, competing in the “Manage Your Human” event.

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Written by johnwhays

August 10, 2021 at 6:00 am

Insects Aplenty

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I’ve seen reports that our insect population is plummeting around the world. It makes me sad to contribute to the decline by way of my summertime driving.

There was a particularly large visual of carnage on the front of my car before we even started our drive north yesterday.

On the bright side, it shows that there are still enough flying insects in our area to make a mess of our vehicles.

I can report no shortage of mosquitos showing up at dusk at the lake place. We went for a walk with Paul and Beth after dinner and paused at the tennis court to gaze up at one of the pair of eagles who nest in the large pine tree there.

After standing still to take that long-distance picture with my phone, I looked down at my legs to find them dotted with many feeding insects. Ended up doing the awkward dance the rest of the way on our walk, goose-stepping and swiping arms and legs like a madman.

Despite the bugs, we enjoyed eating on the deck under the open sky, I snuck in a short bike ride before guests arrived, and Cyndie and I swam in the lake. The days of high heat are softened greatly by proximity to large bodies of water.

On tap for today will be more miles on the saddle. Hopefully, with no bugs in my teeth as a result.

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Written by johnwhays

June 12, 2021 at 7:00 am

Speed Perception

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Did the year 2020 feel like it took a long time to transpire? Does it seem surprising that we are past the middle of March already? We all know that time passes slowly or quickly depending on how we consider it, despite the fact it ticks off at the same rate no matter what. It’s our perception that changes.

On my commutes, I find myself surprised by how easy it is to spot a car ahead that is traveling significantly slower than the rest of the traffic. It comes in handy for making lane changes well in advance of needing so to do. Spotting vehicles in my mirrors that are traveling much faster than I am usually provides a lot less time to react.

It is common knowledge that water takes longer to boil if you watch and wait for it to happen.

How fast is the impact of rising greenhouse gases on the earth’s climate? It is occurring right in front of our eyes. We are living it. The thing is, I remember hearing about this threat decades ago from explorer Will Steger‘s first-hand eyewitness accounts of changes in both polar regions of our planet. We know the ice is melting. We know weather events keep getting more intense.

Will climate change take longer to happen because we are watching it? I wish.

Yesterday, I had a meal inside a restaurant for the first time in a year. That was a long time in coming. So long that it exceeded my ability to perceive whether it felt like a long time, or not. It just felt strange.

Let’s hope we are racing at breakneck speed toward a post-pandemic world that includes less poverty, more equality, zero emissions, greater social justice, the end of food insecurities/homelessness/violence/hatred, and reaches record levels of love beaming throughout the world.

That’s something I’d really like to see coming up in my rearview mirror faster than I expected.

I wouldn’t need to get out of the way.

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Written by johnwhays

March 18, 2021 at 6:00 am

Snow Returns

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It is March, after all. We expect it to snow after the weather has been warm and gorgeous for days. It is one of the foundations of the prevailing expectation that “the other shoe will drop” when things are beginning to go too good in the weather department around these parts. Mother Nature wouldn’t want to let us off too easily with a quick and painless slide directly into spring, don’t ya know.

I watched the weather radar most of the day from the workplace and it looked like Beldenville was getting just as much snow as the sloppy mess that was covering my car by the time I was ready to leave. As soon as I got underway in the limited visibility due to heavy falling snowflakes, I phoned Cyndie to find out what was waiting for me on the other end of my commute.

She shocked me with a report of zero precipitation falling and just grey skies all day long. Well, that is, except for first thing in the morning.

Cyndie had sent me that image earlier in the day. “Red sky in the morning, Sailor take warning…”

For all the radar signals I’d seen over our area most of the day, none of the precipitation was reaching the ground. I hardly believed her, especially given the intensity of the blizzard I was driving through at the time. Then I reached the halfway point of my commute and the falling snow abruptly stopped.

The road was dry. The rest of my drive was clear sailing. I drove right past our place to arrive on time at my dentist’s office for a regular 6-month appointment, stopping just as little white flakes started to fall there. The precipitation finally was reaching the ground.

By the time I made it home, the snow was just beginning to cover the ground, although, it was already drifting off the roof.

As darkness fell and Cyndie trudged out to close the chicken coop, she wondered if it would be necessary to clear them a path from the barn overhang to the coop.

Nope. They took it upon themselves to muster the gumption for a mad dash bee-line route through the white stuff for the shortest distance between two points.

So much for Rocky’s usual prissy refusal to walk on snow unless momma shovels a path for him. I knew he didn’t have some medical condition that prevented his feet from being able to touch snow, but I think he had convinced Cyndie with his act.

Once all the birds were accounted for in the safe confines of the coop and all the eggs had been collected, Cyndie reported a record of ‘most-eggs-in-a-day’ for this brood: Eleven eggs from thirteen hens.

They’re not going to let a return to a little cold and snow slow them down.

Just in time, our new extra-large ice cube trays arrived yesterday for Cyndie to use for freezing eggs, sans shells. Convenient storage for future use in baking or cooking egg dishes when we no longer get a dozen eggs a day.

What can be said, except, “Eggcellent!”

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Written by johnwhays

March 16, 2021 at 6:00 am

Wild Commute

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Yesterday afternoon I drove home through some crazy March Minnesota weather and lived to tell about it. The weather was pretty amazing but the highest threat to my well-being was a crazy driver who raced through heavy traffic at break-neck speed, weaving through four lanes of almost bumper to bumper cars and trucks, narrowly accommodated by all the other drivers who somehow braked in the nick of time to avoid catastrophe.

I can only hope the person putting everyone else in danger was facing an utmost emergency that necessitated the scary choice of behavior.

Beyond that incident, the rest of the wild drive was all weather-related. It started calmly enough with occasional random sprinkles of rain and just enough road-spray from traffic to keep my windshield messy. I hadn’t even made it halfway when brake lights started lighting up as rain started to fall with intensity. There was a flash of lightning.

In a blink, the sky became eerily dark as the heavy downpour brought visibility down to a vague glimpse of the taillights of the car in front of me.

As quick as it started, the rain stopped. The dark sky evolved to a dreary grey. In a few more miles the world took on a strange orange glow as somewhere high above the sun was bathing the blanket of clouds that were hugging the ground.

When I reached the fields around our neighborhood, the few remaining patches of snow looked like they were spewing smoke into the air above them. Clouds of moisture were rising off the cold snow as the temperature reading on my dashboard indicated 57°(F).

At the last turn onto our road, the sun was shining through broken clouds as the weather forecaster on the radio talked about the snow accumulation expected out of this system just to our north and the tornado watch issued for our county and all the others in three directions around us.

It felt like our house was in line for some of the hail and drama that was already being reported upwind of our area but in the end, the worst of the storm slid around our location.

That was a welcome outcome after the wild ride that preceded it.

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Written by johnwhays

March 11, 2021 at 7:00 am

Posted in Chronicle

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Everything Fatigue

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I can totally relate to the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engine suffering metal fatigue last weekend. I’m feeling a bit of everything fatigue lately, although, I do my best to avoid raining debris all over people around me, unlike that airplane in Denver Saturday.

I’m clinging to my thread of sanity with a weary, wavering grip. There is a climate calamity unraveling right in front of our eyes that appears to deserve a lot more change to our ways of life than the slow-responding societies around the globe are revealing any willingness to undertake. Communities are burning, flooding, freezing, suffering drought, or reaching intolerably high temperatures –sometimes experiencing an unlikely combination of the extremes– but I still climb in my gas-powered car and drive an hour to work like always.

It just feels wrong.

It also feels dangerous. Yesterday morning, I had a close encounter that used up some of my limited luck on avoiding a collision on the interstate. I commonly operate in cruise control mode with my car holding the speed and distance related to the vehicle in front of me. A business panel van passed me on the left and then slowed down entering a curve in the highway. My car maintained the cruise speed and caught right up beside the van in the turn as it slowed, at which point he decided to move into my lane.

I hit the brakes and swerved as little as possible, having no time to look to the lane to my right for clearance. My lunch tote on the front seat instantly relocated to the floor below.

It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to honk my horn to alert the other driver to my position. I suspect the assumption was that I had been passed and was no longer a concern. It wouldn’t surprise me if the other driver wasn’t even aware of having slowed at the curve.

The event provided me an unwelcome shot of adrenaline and triggered visions of a fate I flirt with two times a day, four days a week. Haunted by a belief that anything can go dangerously wrong at any time when commuting in traffic, I’m feeling the fatigue of having tolerated the risks of this trip for too many years.

I’m fatigued with the pandemic, its death toll, and everything related to coping with the ever-present threat of spreading the virus.

I’m even growing fatigued with our latest jigsaw puzzle. We picked one with way too much solid black background that is cut entirely of one primary classic puzzle piece shape: four arms, a knob on each end, two cutouts on each side. The only variation is the size and shape of each of those features.

It is very possible I will give myself permission to give up before placing every piece. That just depends on whether searching for the barely perceptible features of each completely black piece distracts me from the other angsts nibbling at me and releases the blessed endorphins when I stumble upon ones that fit.

Endorphins do wonders for fatigue.

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Fractious Trips

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There but for the grace of God, goes my car safely through the curves to arrive at the day-job undamaged during a cold snap with overnight snow flurries. Two days this week with the same conditions both mornings. With temperatures well below zero (F) on Monday and Tuesday, combined with a faint dusting of snow, an invisible icing glazed the pavement and normally innocuous curves of the interstate became bumper car (un)amusement rides.

I was lucky to leave later than others who exposed the surprise hazards before I arrived. My first clue was from an overhead message board reporting a crash ahead causing delays.

After a prolonged wait, during which we crawled along just above idle speed in approach to the point where three lanes were funneled down to one, I reached the scene of autobody shrapnel scattered every which way blinking little reflections of the multitude of flashing emergency lights.

For the rest of my commute, each turn was marked by disrupted snow against the cement barriers, sliding tire tracks slashing across the marked lanes, and pieces of plastic and metal sprinkled about. That is, when there weren’t still emergency vehicles in place and flatbed tow trucks collecting their prizes.

Minnesota auto body shops might be busy this week. Just a little snow caused more than 300 crashes Monday morning and more than 60 drivers spun out according to Minnesota State Patrol.

The main problem: Black ice.  (https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2021/02/08/how-does-black-ice-form-in-subzero-temperatures/)

I once had to take a previous vehicle to a body shop after someone slid into me when conditions were slippery. It’s the worst time ever to need repairs. The repair shops get inundated with work all at once. No fun for the shop that can’t fix things fast enough and even less fun for the sad car owners whose lives get significantly disrupted.

I admit to frequently driving faster than I probably should in snowstorms, but I have no problem with slowing way down for curves when conditions are ripe for black ice.

Since I can’t control what the cars around me choose to do, I consider it pure luck each time I arrive at my destination unscathed by the calamity of careless spinning disaster-makers.

These fractious trips fuel a growing urge to visualize a day when I no longer need to make these hour-long commutes.

There but for the grace of God…

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Written by johnwhays

February 10, 2021 at 7:00 am

Grand Illusion

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The precursor to our cold snap was a brief but messy snow event yesterday. It snarled my morning commute by triggering a collision between a semi and a snowplow that closed the interstate. After I got around that, the rest of the drive both ways was uneventful, except when I slid past the entrance at work and barely navigated the unplowed township road just before home.

For added adventure, my low tire pressure light came on about 20-minutes into the morning jaunt.

Once home, I barely walked in the door and it was a quick change of clothes and immediately back outside to plow.

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Every time I put the ATV and plow attachment through their paces against the snow and ice without a mechanical failure, I breathe a sigh of relief. I only got stuck once. Cyndie came out to help by gently squeezing the throttle when I lifted and pushed to get the wheels back up on the pavement.

After the plowing was done, I moved my car from the house to the shop to put air in the low tire. As I was coiling the hose up after I was done, I popped out the quick-release chuck (which I always do because it leaks air) while also holding the pressure gauge.

So, at that moment, I had three things in my hands: hose, chuck, gauge.

I set the coiled hose over the compressor, placed the gauge under the handle where it always goes, and where is the chuck?

It’s gone. Disappeared. Vanished into thin air.

I assume I dropped it, but I never heard anything fall. I checked pockets. I checked the spot where I always put it on the compressor. I surveyed the shop floor and the ground around the car. I backed the car up scanned the plowed pavement in the vicinity.

That little piece was nowhere to be found.

I couldn’t pull off that sleight of hand trick intentionally if I tried. Sure wish I could watch a recording of that exercise to see where the chuck ended up. It was a grand illusion.

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Written by johnwhays

February 5, 2021 at 7:00 am

Isolated Festively

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Over a holiday weekend that historically would have us venturing sixty-some miles to the west three times in two days to mingle and nosh with Cyndie’s relations, the Christmas of 2020 in all its pandemic isolation reduced our travels to one time to exchange gifts at her mom’s house. Distanced, masked, and without risking a shared meal, our children met us at Marie’s house in Edina on Christmas eve day for the briefest of gift exchanges.

Little did we realize before setting out in the moments after our township road had finally been plowed around 11:00 a.m., we were in for some of the riskiest driving we’d experienced in recent memory. From local roads to the interstate highways, the surface was frozen and slippery. Almost every mile, sometimes more frequently, we spotted vehicles buried in the ditch.

Approaching a speed that would require the use of brakes in order to slow down was taking chances that threatened an unwelcome hell of post-storm autobody appointments, not to mention bumps and bruises, or worse.

Every overhead message board flashed warnings of crash delays ahead. As we waited in one backup, a full-size fire engine forced its way ahead and crossed all lanes to block the two left-most. We crawled ahead to where the sight of a big rig was perched on the cement barrier dividing east and westbound traffic, front tires high off the ground.

Later, another backup wrapped around a helpless pickup in a center lane, lacking enough traction to make any progress up the slight incline.

Cyndie’s expertly cautious driving got us there and back without incident.

Back home with presents in hand, we settled in for three days of isolation that Cyndie masterfully enhanced with wonderfully festive meals and activities, while simultaneously continuing to practice post-surgery regiments for her knee.

We ate like royalty and dined on some of her family holiday classics. Beef tenderloin with horseradish sauce, marinated carrots, out-of-this-world skin-on mashed red potatoes, and dessert of unparalleled greatness, cranberry cake with butter-caramel sauce.

We sat around the fireplace and worked on a new jigsaw puzzle from Marie that depicted chickens that looked just like ours. Cyndie poured herself into new books and I spent renewed time in my world-wide online community, catching up on reading and writing there.

A text-chain of family members helped us to stay connected, but there was no getting around the fact we were home alone together at one of the most family-gathering times of the year.

Somehow, maybe due to an urge to make it feel anything but just another day at home, Cyndie took interest in assembling the jigsaw puzzle with me, something in which she usually finds no pleasure. I chose to match her change in routine by deciding to skip building the outer border first, a step that moved me entirely out of my otherwise rigid norm.

We had a blast with the task, each finding great pleasure in the shared experience.

Quite simply, it helped to make the entire weekend feel downright festive, isolation be damned.

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