Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘commuting

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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Various Tidbits

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It took wearing a face mask at work to discover how often I find a stray hair or fuzz on my keyboard that I want to purse my lips and blow off. It’s no longer the solution it used to be.

Sometimes, I wonder what the lesson is for me to learn as a selfish driver cuts directly in front of my car without bothering to signal. I watched him then make two more equally selfish lane changes without signaling as he navigated his way through traffic as if he and his vehicle were all that mattered in the world.

Speaking of driving, last week I was stuck in a traffic backup caused by a crash. Eventually, at a crawling pace, I reached the variety of emergency vehicles surrounding a car on its roof amid a scattering of debris. I hardly batted an eye. Just made my way past in the quest for a return to highway speeds. Why didn’t I feel any immediate concern for the victims of the crash? When I realized that, it bothered me. I’m afraid maybe I’ve been doing the long commute for too long if a flipped car is no big thing to me anymore.

I hope our unplanned rooster Rocky Roo will do an outstanding job of protecting the girls from predators in times of need. I want to have something to offset the trauma of watching the ladies becoming the undesiring victims of his “affections.” It happened yesterday as I was lolling around the coop waiting for them to hit the roosts. I heard squawking from one of the girls and found Rocky on top of a Light Brahma, biting her neck to hold her down while he jumped her. To my surprise, the Buff promptly showed up to convince Rocky to knock it off. For now, he yields to her. I’m guessing that won’t last.

On Wednesday this week, Cyndie described an instant of classic convergence of two things that rarely happen both occurring at the same time. At the very instant she was involved in a virtual meeting and a key point was about to be made, someone came to the door and triggered Delilah into a fit of barking. Cyndie had to apologetically excuse herself from the meeting for a moment to answer the door and tell the stranger, who just happened to be a neighbor we hadn’t met yet, that she couldn’t talk because she was on a business call. The speaker in the meeting hadn’t waited, so Cyndie missed that point and also wasn’t able to find out what the slow-talking neighbor wanted. (Subsequent inquiries with another neighbor we do know revealed the person was searching for a dog that’s been missing since October.)

These days, Cyndie has few occasions for business meetings –even virtual ones– and we almost never get strangers venturing up our long driveway to knock on the door, less so since the virus pandemic.

I don’t really have a point to all these tidbits. They just are what they are. Maybe I wrote them out to see if they would lead me somewhere. At the very least, typing them out might free them from cluttering my headspace. That will make room for whatever new tidbits show up next.

If they lead you anywhere in particular, let me know. Maybe that will reveal a reason I chose these snippets of my take on things and experiences today.

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Written by johnwhays

December 11, 2020 at 7:00 am

Attitude Adjustment

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I’m not sure how much the weather forecast for today, Tuesday, of “Snow, mainly after 10am. The snow could be heavy at times… New snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches possible” contributed to making my Monday such a mental slog. Of course, that wouldn’t be living in the moment, would it?

Guilty as charged.

We are probably more prepared for the oncoming winter season right now than most other years, but that hasn’t served to assuage the typical hesitation long commuters feel about the arrival of snow.

That wasn’t the only stressor that yesterday, a classic Monday, presented, all of which accumulated so that by the time I arrived home, I was exhausted. Cue the kitty.

Pequenita offered me a little feline focused attitude adjustment. If you have a cat, you know the drill. After a little meow and some purring, while she rubs against me from every direction, Pequenita often settles down on my shins to convince me that we’re good. She’s got me, and I’ve got her.

Let it snow.

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Written by johnwhays

October 20, 2020 at 6:00 am

Close Call

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For once, this time I was on the right side of a backup. On my way home from the day-job yesterday, my car was the last one to traverse the overpass from 394 to east-bound 94 before a big rig temporarily blocked progress. My position was coincidental but hinged on a split-second decision I made.

As east-bound 394 approaches Minneapolis from the west, the right lane becomes the exit onto 94. Since it is an ‘exit only’ single lane and involves a curving overpass, there is usually a backup of vehicles during times of heavy traffic. It is common for drivers to make their way over as early as possible to avoid the difficulty of needing to merge over later when the lane is filled, bumper to bumper.

I was in the right lane yesterday, early enough in the day that there wasn’t a backup of traffic. We were moving along pretty well when an 18-wheel tractor-trailer rig moved past me in the lane to my left. I was a little surprised by his speed (you know: anyone slower than me is an idiot and anyone faster is a maniac [ala a George Carlin routine]) and wondered if he wanted to be in that lane to take 94 west or would need to move into my lane before time ran out.

I was centered beside the big rig when the turn signal came on. In that second, I could’ve braked hard to get out of his way or sped up to get ahead of him. I chose the latter.

He tucked in behind me with little distance remaining before the exit makes that turn to the right. At about that same time, traffic ahead of us began braking to make the turn. I was splitting my attention between the rig in my rearview mirror and the slowing vehicles in front of me in order to maintain safe space between both.

Then the traffic ahead of us slowed quickly to just short of a full stop. Without time to divert my eyes to the mirror, I consciously figured the stop wouldn’t be a surprise to the trucker because the high vantage point in that cab would provide a full view of the many braking taillights.

As quickly as everyone stopped, the cars started rolling again and I joined without delay, staying as close as possible to the car in front of me to assure the truck behind me would have the best chance to avoid losing all his momentum.

When I glanced back to see how he was doing, something didn’t look right. The hood over his engine was popped open. It was tipped forward, blocking my view into the cab. The truck wasn’t moving. Nobody was moving.

I was the last car to traverse that ramp in front of a truck that was now blocking everyone behind it.

I’m guessing maybe he stomped his brakes so hard that the hood opened, but I never heard any indication of such. Hopefully, he just needed to hop out and close it so everyone could get going again.

When I got home, I checked traffic maps and didn’t see any indication of residual disruption.

As I rounded the completion of the bend in that ramp with no other cars following me, I mentally recorded this as one of the lucky days of my many workday commutes.

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Written by johnwhays

October 14, 2020 at 6:00 am