Friday, December 21, 2007

File under WTF

Surely I couldn't take off for Christmas and not leave you with something to put under your Hanukkah bush. Before beginning my holiday journey, I wanted to give you something to make you scratch your head and ask, "WTF?"

While running a search (as librarians are wont to do) a few weeks ago for images featuring the tag "Vanpool" I discovered, to my profound disturbance, the following:

First off, the excessive exclamation point use is fatiguing my eyes!!!

Second, nothing says 100% pure, unadulterated white trash than squirrel huntin' to commemorate the eve of Christ's birth.

Third, in response to "What's better than taking a kid squirrel hunting?" Well, um, lots of things. Spending time together without engaging in blood sport is always good. Or a brisk walk to burn off some calories and squirrelicidal energy. Engaging in a circle jerk with your fellow brain-dead, red neck, fundamentalist ilk while thinking about an essay you could write titled, "Camo, Why it's Not Just for Black Tie." Then there's always museums, a good book, planting a tree, participating in the political process, volunteerism, starting a band, handicraft, or, say,teaching a child about the concept of compassion.

Fourth, kids and guns = genius.

Fifth, "A future squirrel hunter"? Is this something that one aspires to? I can offer nothing but pity to this young man if "doubling his lifetime squirrel kill in one evening" is the pinnacle of his achievements.

Sixth, Alec, don't go back soon. In fact, run as far as your wee chubby legs will carry you away from the bumpkin trolls masquerading as parents who care for your well being. Run into the embrace of tree people, a homeless person, or even a reasonably well-mannered cat as they would make a far more suitable guardians than either one of slack jawed yokels entrusted with your care.

Seventh, on the upside, with a name like Vanpool, this suave bastard is going to be beating the ladies off with a stick.

Happy holidays, everybody!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Eve in My Hometown

Tomorrow's the day. I am filled with the annual anxieties about forgetting something, getting a speeding ticket, and wishing that, 20 minutes after arriving at my destination, I wish I'd just stayed home in the first place.

Tomorrow I'm headed back to my old hometown of 100,000 people, a little place called Wichita Falls, Texas. Some (in)famous former Fallsians include: soccer maven Mia Hamm, members of pop-punk outfit Bowling for Soup and, yes, the dubious Dr. Phil.

Since moving to Houston some five-plus years ago, I really only return to visit the folks. It's the kind of place where a visit to your local Target guarantees you will run into at least 7 people you went to high school with and they will always recognize you.

Four hours into our arduous trek northward (Texas is, lest we forget, a big state. Y'all.) we will be stopping in Dallas to pick up a friend I've known since the 3rd grade. Our parents still live four houses apart so it's always nice to share in our collective travel weariness when the holidays slingshot us back to this part of the world.

I am looking forward to introducing new grooming products to Mom that she'll claim she loves but never use again, arguing about the Democrats (hurrah!) and Republicans (hiss!) with my dad and brother, and crossing my fingers that my parents decided to put up the god-awful fiber optic Christmas tree this year.

Oh, it all just wears on your soul, but when I put my feet up on the coffee table that's been around longer than I have and hoist a steamy cup o' Vegan Dad Hot Chocolate to my lips while watching my all-time favorite Christmas movie, Casino (there's just something about Joe Pesci in silhouette stabbing someone in the neck with a pen that just says Merry Effing Christmas) surrounded by my near and dear ones in a house where I'm still not allowed to touch the thermostat, I'll be happy. And isn't that the point?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Nothing too significant has happened on the van lately. This is due, in part, to the small ridership of late. It seems as though many of my fellow passengers have started their holidays early. Traffic has been lighter than usual and with all the vacant seats, there's a little more room to stretch out.

So, I have a few stray bits of story to tide us all over until either the van gets in an accident (which shouldn't be too hard as our Monday driver is a late braker) or the rest of the vannies return after the new year.

Who is Britney, anyway?

One of the wizened crones has been going on and on and on about an unidentified person named Britney. As in: "Britney's going to miss the snow when she gets here. Britney is supposed to be here next week. Britney would love that for Christmas. I was thinking about bringing Britney to work with me while she's here." Who the hell is Britney? And why do I have to overhear so much about her without knowing the back story? I theorize that Brit is either a daughter off at college or a child of divorce being shuttled to and fro during the holidays. Or a dog.

She speaks!

Venti actually spoke to me. This momentous event happened about a week ago and I am just beginning to recover from the shock. The discussion in the van was on the subject of gifts with purchase. I said that my recent acquisition of the latest Harry Potter movie came with a calendar. Which, of course, I have no use for but couldn't resist because of its regifting potential. Venti apparently overheard this (revealing two things: 1. She can hear and 2. She speaks English) and tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Did you have to buy the Harry Potter DVD to get the calendar or were they giving it away?" I think I was too stupefied to immediately respond and wound up muttering with a dry mouth something about Circuit City.

El Mundo Pequeño

On a recent trip to the local pet store for holiday provisions, I ran into Gap Lady. For a moment, my down-home Southern-fried hospitality seized upon me and I said, "Why hello, stranger." Who talks like this? She greeted me with her aw-shucks charm and told me not to forget the dog biscuits. Seriously, this woman is beyond adorable. Even if she did try to kill me once. It was a little strange bumping into a fellow rider away from the van, sort of like God is running out of extras in the movie of my life.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


There was an accident on the highway this morning which caused traffic to back up for miles. Several people on the van heard this traffic report and suggested that the driver take an alternate route.

Then we descended into navigational chaos.

Four people offered no less than seven different route options to avoid the traffic. They talked over each other, corrected each other, and quibbled about time and distance. To compound matters, the driver for the morning did not possess even rudimentary knowledge of surrounding streets. Which led direction givers to speak even more loudly in effort to drown each other out hoping that their suggested route would be chosen.

Off we drove in the opposite direction of usual and turned on to side street after side street. One such road ran directly between a cemetery, a sobering sight in the early morning. As the backwater tour through rural Houston outliers continued, I saw junk yards, broken down boats, and cows, all of which eventually gave way to urban decay. As we inched closer to the city there were endless rows of run down apartments, hair supply shops, and an impressive graffiti likeness of Ludacris.

I stared out the window feeling depressed by the signs of poverty and wondered how the hell anyone could be successful when there are more liquor stores and greasy fast food chains in their neighborhood than manicured parks or quality schools. I felt like an asshole for not appreciating my education, my health, or my opportunities every second of my life.

Then, as we pull onto the traffic-clogged loop encasing the city, I notice two billboards directly across from each other and I see the battle between the haves and have-nots wage on: On the outer edge of the loop where you find minorities and industry, a billboard with 10-foot high red lettering screaming, "GOT SYPHILIS?" On the inner edge of the loop, home to a metropolitan and upwardly mobile crowd, a tasteful navy blue billboard advertising an MBA degree in scripty gold letters from the esteemed and private Rice University.

I'll be at work in 10 minutes and I sincerely hope we aren't taking the same route home.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Just Another Misanthropic Monday

Awful morning: Mad hair. Missing earring. Scale with a damned imperceptibly moving needle despite ratcheting up of workout routine as a preemptive battle against holiday bulge. Oatmeal that turned into a gluey mess before I had time to eat it. People who obey speed limits driving in front of me. In short, a crap start to the week.

As though they could sense my irritation with my fellow man, Tall and Venti decided to pile on and seated themselves directly behind me and loudly commenced with the rat-a-tat-tat cadence of their native tongue. And thanks to the overcast morning it was too dark to read my book. Why didn't I use the overhead lamp, you may ask? Because the idea of being bathed in a halo of light unnerves me. It makes me self-conscious to think of the back of my head being that well lit and that there could possibly be people staring at it.

So I crooked my head against the window and listened to music. I could still overhear the chatter around me and wished that I skipped the van this morning and drove myself to work instead. I replayed all the minor catastrophes of the morning and as I was settling into a moody funk that would have probably lasted the day, my spirits lifted.

The last song I heard before getting off the van was Foo Fighters' "Big Me." The tune is imbued with such dippy feelgoodishness that it is impossible to resist.

Thanks Dave Grohl.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Here's a Friday treat for your Vanpool Chronicle delight.

With end-of-the-week spring in my step, I arrived at the van a few minutes early. I settled in and cracked my book as we began our drive toward the city. Which is when the rider seated behind me erupted, "That's him! The guy I was talking about!" We all turned our heads to view a scruffy fellow standing on the corner.

Evidently, while waiting for the driver to show up this morning one of the wizened crones saw this man drop trou in the parking lot and relieve himself. It is unclear whether or not the man noticed she was there (I choose to believe he did).

So I had to give voice to the question everyone was thinking but had not yet asked: "Was he facing toward you or away from you?"

He was, gentle reader, facing toward her.

This story delights me on multiple levels. First, public urination is funny. Second, the suburbs are ludicrously lily-white and sedate. I'm in favor of anything that gets blood pumping with these people that's not a sale on mayonnaise or ammo at Wal-Mart. Third, since moving out of city, urban sights like homeless people and potholes have become pretty rare. Seeing that man made me a little nostalgic for life in the city, but it seems that on this morning, the city has come to me. And peed on my vanpool.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Nom de Van

Yesterday, I received an email from Houston Metro soliciting my feedback about the naming of the greater Houston area vanpool:

Season's Greetings from METROVan!

Our branding process is moving along quite nicely and we would like to ask for your input on some names that keep coming up as potential "brands". We had over 1000 names submitted recently and we want to thank you for your participation. Out of those names suggested, we have reduced them down to nine by a vigorous process of committee meetings, group discussions, and dart throwing.

Before I reveal the 9 potential names, let us recall that these were the the select few culled from more than 1,000 entries.

One thousand.

That's 3 zeros proceeding the number 1 - meaning one more than 999.

Of more than 1,000 entries from vanpool riders and enthusiasts from the fourth largest city in these United States that were "vigorously" whittled down by the good people at METRO, here are the offerings:

Cloud 9 - Huh? Are we selling toilet paper and dreams here or are we slogging huddled masses to and from their places as cogs in the machinery of Capitalism?

Glider / Glide - Call me childish or a product of a hypersexualized society but I'm only thinking about the, ahem, personal lubricant called Astroglide. If this name wins there is a surefire tie in with the city's baseball team: "AstroGlide. Official transport of the Houston Astros!"

Gulf Breeze - Have you ever smelled the breeze coming in from the Gulf? I would liken it more to industrial pollution and eau de offshore oil rig than a balmy salt breeze.

Home Run - If it were called something like Beer Run it might shore up more interest.

ProRide - Keep back 10 feet, Professional Riders at work. These riders have been specially trained to sit on their asses and sleep or look out the window with a vacant stare. Think you have what it takes to be a Professional Rider? Call 713-Pro-Ride.

Star Liner - Makes me want to add the distinction RMS as a prefix. I am also suppressing mild urge to watch Titanic.

TEX - How wildly unimaginative. This makes me think of children who name their dogs things like Pizza or Fish Stick. I guess TEX is the kind of name these sorts of kids come up with when they become adults.

VanGo - I envision mobile works of art, Starry Night weaving through stop and go traffic, Irises making an illegal u-turn, Self-Portrait merging on to I-45, and Chair seated in downtown gridlock.

And finally,

Zoom! - Life as seen through the lens of a comic book. POW! CRASH! BANG! ZOOM!

These are my stream of consciousness thoughts on the subject, but by all means send METRO your thoughts.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The End of an Era

Van Mother is leaving.

This has been in the works for a while but I didn't really want to post about it in because this woman made for really great Vanpool Chronicles fodder.

She is moving to another suburb to join another vanpool.

After she dropped that bombshell she spent the next few weeks telling whomever was sitting next to her about her new house. All I really remember hearing is that she got a monster discount (yeah, it's called the subprime mortgage collapse) and that it is a Pemberley-esque estate of 4,000-plus square feet. Who needs a 4K foot house, honestly? Before you sharpen your knives and accuse me of rampant, unbecoming jealousy know that I am most happy in my suburban dwelling even though I still find use for my $7 garage sale loveseat and my walls are a tad sparse.

I'm going to miss Van Mother because to me she represented that idyllic suburban fantasy, the wife and mother with a good job and a pretty face. I can't imagine her as teenager, smoking cigarettes and screwing around with boys. She will always be that responsible mid 30s woman that I always knew I could never be. I could never see myself living in her complete stop, hospital corners world with babies tugging at apron strings and casseroles in the oven. I knew I would never look right in beige mid-heels with perfectly coiffed hair wearing clothes with flowers on them and going to church and not swearing. Or having legions of girlfriends and Mary Kay parties and Cheerios crushed into the mats of my minivan.

Van Mother, you are American dreaminess. And as I said my silent goodbye to you, driving away before anyone else, I saw you in my rear view mirror. I saw people on the vanpool hugging you and wishing you well, but I know I'll miss you most of all. Not because your WASPiness amused me or because you were always the first to speak up when the van got too cold, but because you let me glimpse a life so different from my own.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Full Metal Vanket

This is my vanpool. There are many like it but this one is mine. My vanpool is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life. Without me, my vanpool is useless. Without my vanpool, I am useless. I must ride my vanpool true. I must drive faster than my enemy, who is trying to cut me off. I must brake check him before he brake checks me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my vanpool and myself are defenders of mass transit, we are the masters of other vanpools, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.

As I sat freezing my ass off on the rear bench of the van yesterday afternoon, I had no idea that I had the best seat in the house for events that were about to unfold.

As is her habit, our Tuesday driver picks up riders a little early. She has no complaints from me as I am only too happy to leave work a few minutes early. No other riders seem to share my zeal for ducking out which leaves me and the driver waiting around an extra ten minutes at the next stop.

The second stop bunch finally began drifting into the van and the only person we were waiting on was Neo-Pompadour. We're all sitting there silently hating Neo-Pompadour for delaying us 30 whole seconds when a round middle 50s woman with a soda in her hand ambled up to the van. She cracked open the doors and hoisted herself onto the jump seat.

At this, everyone's head swiveled to take in this unidentified woman. She was arranging her Paisley quilted bag on her lap and taking a swig from her Long John Silver's cup when she finally looked up at a sea of confused faces and said, "Oopsie. I think I'm on the wrong van."

How fucking embarrassing.

I myself have occasionally been fooled by vans looking suspiciously like mine, but I always look inside first to confirm that the passengers remotely resemble the group I rode with that morning. I would expect these befuddled antics if I rode a bus or a subway, but come now, vannies hold themselves to a higher standard and strive to avoid such blatant numbskullery.

It was still pretty funny, though.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back to the Grind

I purposely left my my music, magazines, and books at home this morning in anticipation of lively post-Thanksgiving vanpool banter. I was desperately hoping to happen upon a conversation that featured the line, " then I threw my gin and tonic in her face and said her gravy is always lumpy!"

But no such luck.

We've been experiencing a rare cold snap over the past few days and I think it put a damper on van chattiness this morning.

The best (all things being relative) conversation I got was everyone's tales from the Black Friday trenches:

It took me 2 hours to check out at Circuit City - Gasp!

The line was stretched around the building at Kohl's - Oh, no!

Well, at least we got a spot in Wal-Mart electronics - Hurrah!

Me silently to myself: I find it re-goddamned-diculous that any reasonably sane human being would allow themselves to be manipulated to the point that standing in mile-long lines to elbow fellow manic shoppers for a 6% discount on holiday tchotchkes seems like a good way to spend their time.

And then there was a voice of sanity: Generic White Guy piped up and said that his Friday after Thanksgiving tradition is to stay home.

Can I get a hell yeah?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Frickin' Thanksgiving

I am most thankful for my dedicated readership of I think at least 3 people. For those of you carving time out of your life to read about the vanpool grind, I am in your debt.

That concludes the longest uninterrupted nice sentence in this blog's short and illustrious history.

Now get out there and pick that fight you've been meaning to have with a family member, be the asshole with a carry on bag full of liquids, overstay your welcome wherever you go and please consider a Gentle Thanksgiving this year.

Yours truly will spend her Thanksgiving with one understanding husband, a best mate, two dogs and a probable meltdown over a missing key ingredient while watching too much History Channel and making the holiday tree as subtle as a Las Vegas whorehouse.

As the patriarch in my all-time favorite Thanksgiving movie Home for the Holidays, said:

I'm giving thanks that we don't have to go through this for another year. Except we do, because those bastards went and put Christmas right in the middle, just to punish us.

Right on.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Virtual Vancation Redux

Last week I virtually visited Russia and this week I continue my online journey through the former Soviet Bloc. Today, I take on Ukraine. The quaint fade into the website reveals a page that could probably be constructed by a remedial fifth grader in less than an hour. I tell myself it is part of the charm of a country whose citizens would never consider wooing tourists with fancy graphics or images of luxury resorts and sun-drenched beaches.

The first destination that is recommended on the site is, wait for it, Chernobyl.

The trip consists of an 8-hour excursion to photograph the withering sarcophagus in northern Ukraine that stands as a testament to the infinite fallibility of man. The trip requires special clothing, makes a stop in the Dead City and allows lunch to be consumed only in a "specially equipped" restaurant. Such precautions are presumably in place to prevent visitors from unsightly radioactive glow following their visit.

The undisputed jewel in the crown of the Travel Ukraine website is the following paragraph. Allow me to draw your attention to the final sentence.

If you're anything like me you've already fished your suitcase from the hall closet and are wildly stuffing it with clothing and toiletries to accompany you on your journey to the Dreamland where biggest baby-dream come true.

Sweet Christ, I have a tear in my eye just thinking about it.

I am so taken by the pluck of the Ukrainian people and their whimsical command of the English language that I just might adopt a Ukrainian surname...vAnnie Shevchenko has a lovely ring to it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Virtual Vancation

Thanksgiving is surely upon us when friends and coworkers scatter to the winds to spend time with family and friends. I will remain close to the homestead this holiday but dearly wish that I were taking a vacation instead. In the van this morning, I was thinking about all the places other than work that I would rather be going.

When I got to work I started pricing airfare to Ireland. After a glass of water to recover from the shock of the king's ransom I would have to shell out to get to and around the Green Isle, I started thinking about other interesting (read: cheap) places to visit.

What about Russia? How many people do you know that have been to Russia? Maybe I could get in on the ground floor of a hip new destination spot. After all, Russia is just a $647 ticket, a 16-hour plane ride and a layover in Frankfurt away.

So I started researching all that Mother Russia has to offer.


You can go to Moscow. Or St. Petersburg. Or, I mention Moscow? I read that the weather ranges from "Subarctic to Tundra."

Then I stumbled upon what appears to be the most physically draining, mentally taxing, spirit crushing, teeth gnashing, (you get the idea) experience of a lifetime. A chance to ride the infernal beast of a machine that spans "Eight time zones, territories of 14 provinces, 3 regions, 2 republics and one autonomous region of the Russian Federation [and] the 16 greatest Eurasian rivers": the Trans Siberian Express.

The final detail about the Mother of All Trains, neither damning nor praising, is simply this:

This journey, which lasts about a week,

won't leave you indifferent.

I cannot possibly imagine what awaits a tourist for an experience that would feature this as a tagline. And it makes me want to buy a ticket even more to endure each of the 9,288 kilometers from Moscow to Vladivostok.

I spent a few minutes visualizing myself aboard the Trans-Sib (as it's called) looking past grimy windows barreling through the Ural Mountains as I shiver beneath layers of clothing with only a ratty Dostoevsky paperback and tepid gruel to sustain me.

Now that's a vacation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Remembrance of things...something

Last weekend I attended a Salute to Sausage festival in a neighboring city. Under normal circumstances, a vegetarian would forgo a celebration of meat but to quote Clerks, "I hate people, but I love gatherings." That and someone said there would be funnel cake. In keeping with the German meat-on-a-stick fare, there was also beer, alot of beer. I am not a beer drinker either, so if I was going to have a good time I needed to bring my own entertainment. Which took the form of a ridiculously oversized flask that I filled to capacity with Stoli.

You know where this story is going.

As the evening wore on the stupidity of my fellow revelers became more evident. It would appear that the appropriate attire for a meat fest is a t-shirt with the phrase, "I love the sausage" and a felt hat in the shape of either a stein full of foamy beer or a chicken (with the legs dangling over the wearer's ears). There was also no shortage of Lederhosen, which to be honest, were awesome. The Polka was plentiful and the fried pickle line stretched for 45 minutes.

I drained my flask in a scant three hours and spent the duration of the evening a little wobbly but in high spirits.

That's how the story ends. Or so I thought.

This morning I pulled up to the van and started slowly gathering my things to allow other riders to board first, which would let me have the single seat near the door rather than have to share a bench. So I started checking my voicemail with a furrowed brow (this imparts a sense of gravity) which is a classic time wasting maneuver of mine.

The second message was from a dear friend returning my drunk dial message - and suddenly it all came flooding back.

I remember badgering my husband for his phone, I never take mine in the event I'm tempted to use it. I remember determinedly wading through a crowd of revelers with the phone clutched in one hand and a plastic cup of vodka and melting ice in the other. I remember scrolling through the address book and calling my Best Gay. I remember saying...I remember saying...I remember that I have no idea what I said. Did I tell him how suggestive white sausage on a stick is? Or cry over my unfortunate hair cut? Did I gush about the new season of Project Runway because, let's face it, that Tim Gunn is eminently watchable. Or that after all the alcohol, I realized that I'm a really good dancer. I have no idea.

A weekend drunk dial flashback on a Wednesday morning when I'm on my way to a respectable job looking so professional in an ironed shirt and clean pants should have thrown me under a dark cloud of shame, but it didn't.

I know I'm in the waning years of the period known as my 20s and am reaching the terminal end of the acceptable intoxicated phone use time frame. But still, it's a small comfort to know that I can occasionally shuffle off the responsibilities of my adult life and babble intently into a cell phone on the fringes of bacchanalian madness deep in the heart of Texas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Seen & Heard

I saw a vehicle next to the van in traffic this morning with an Apple logo on the driver's window. Does that mean it's an iCar?

I also overheard Generic White Guy express his dismay at the local high school's choice of AstroTurf rather than grass for their football stadium. It should be noted, gentle reader, that in this state football stadiums and the games played within inspire more zealotry and devotion than any house of worship.

During his diatribe, I happened to be listening to Air's Sexy Boy. What struck me is that when describing Generic White Guy or AstroTurf, I would never employ the words 'sexy' or 'boy'. No offense to Generic White Guy, he just doesn't melt my particular brand of vegan margarine. In any event, I found the ludicrous mix of breathy French sythpop and an über-manly oration against ersatz grass highly amusing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Near Death and a New (Sort Of) Rider

First, the big news: We have a new (sort of) rider. Evidently, it is a small vanpool world in which we ride as our new passenger isn't so new to me: She was a fellow rider on my previous van.

As I was settling into my jump seat Monday morning I heard, "Why, hello vAnnie!" I turned around and (stunned by my own chipperness at 6:38 a.m.) I trilled, "New Rider, how are you?" I couldn't stop myself - I even added a "So good to see you!" before turning back around and stuffing headphones in my ear canals, effectively blocking further communication. At this New Passenger wrinkled her nose. If she remembered anything about me besides my name from the previous van it was that I largely kept my nose in a book and never spoke that cheerfully to anyone.

I'm sorry to report that I don't recall any element of her appearance or personality significant enough to inspire a nickname or actor to portray her in The Vanpool Chronicles Show. So, until she invokes my ire or gets a truly horrendous hair cut*, she's going to be referred to as New Rider.

In other news, I recently stared down Death in the form of a reversing 15 passenger Ford Econoline van. The Van nearly cut short the life of a talented librarian, mediocre blogger and dyed in the wool pain in the ass. I was filing out of the parking lot last Friday when, out of my periphery, I noticed a lumbering white steel mass bearing down on me. I froze and thought, surely they see me...surely they SEE me...SURELY they SEE ME!

Since Houston is my adopted city, I have acquired a number of local habits including rabid and unnecessary horn use. Texas the Drive Friendly state, my ass. After blasting my horn (which is surprisingly menacing for such a small car) the van stopped and I proceeded out of the parking lot to begin my weekend with a new found gratitude for life.

And who of all people was behind the wheel? Gap Lady! She was presumably going to gas up the van for the coming week, that or she planned to tool around the city in it over the weekend eliciting looks of envy at her sweet ass ride.

The next time we saw each other she said, "We know your horn works now, don't we?"

And I said, "Oh, are you talking about last week when you tried to kill me?"

Nervous laughter filled the cabin.

*As I typed this yesterday, I felt a twinge of guilt as we have all suffered through a bad haircut. Payback is indeed a miserable shrew. I learned a valuable life lesson last evening and it was this: Do not book the last appointment with your stylist the day before she leaves for a two-week trip to Peru because, baby, her mind ain't on your hair. When I get tired I tend to become exceedingly indecisive (strike two) which meant I gave my stylist carte blanche (strike three). What was supposed to be Katie Holmes' fab new 'do mutated into something resembling Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann. Lesson learned. It's Saturday morning appointments only from now on.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Worst Thing to Say

It finally happened. I've heard people say this on television and in movies but I never, never thought this was ever uttered in real life. On an idle Tuesday morning after some light chitty chat, someone on the van actually asked me this question:

So, what does your husband do for a living?


Honestly, who would say such a thing in this day and age? It's not so much a question as an opportunity for judgement, appraisal, and outright nosiness. I've been racking my brain since yesterday trying to fashion an appropriate response to this inappropriate question.

Herewith, a sample:

Oh, Steve? Well since we lost everything after Enron collapsed, he's been dropping fries at the Burger King on Main. He's got a great discount!

John is a "Power Seller" on Ebay.

Oi, Gladys Kravitz, how is my husband's chosen occupation any of your fucking business?

He's Mr. Mom to our two Boston Terriers.

Alex has had some trouble holding down a job since he got out of jail, but we always have Jesus.

Sarah and I have been together for 11 years now and she's a district attorney.

I drop him off at adult day care before I catch the van.

Pete is relapsing pretty bad so I haven't seen him in about a week.

My baby's a kept man, he don't need to work.

As the rules of decorum and good manners dictate, never ask anyone this question - especially not a wise ass like myself who will spend too much time obsessing over the perfect answer while taking extra time to think the worst of you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Silence of the Vans

I spent Sunday afternoon swapping out music on my MP3 player; this is evidently what passes for entertainment in my household. Despite my nerdiness (or maybe because of it) I was most eager to listen to all the freshly loaded music on the van this morning.

When I arrived, they seemed to be battening down the hatches despite the fact I had a full two minutes left before our scheduled departure.

Fall is truly the best time for sad bastard music. Around this time every year I dust off The Cure, Mazzy Star, Galaxie 500, and Bauhaus and settle in for a good mope.

Twenty some minutes into my commute, hovering between sleep and ennui, this song crept into my head.

This song, which has been sending chills down the spines of movie goers ever since we first saw Buffalo Bill cavorting in his boudoir in his homemade skin suit, really is quite catchy.

If you can let go of the context (which, let's face it, is nigh impossible) it's got all the makings of a moody classic: Droning? Check. A little too long? Certainly. Unintelligible lyrics? To be sure.

So, as we move toward Halloween and into prime mopey music season, I can't think of a spookier cut.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


If you would kindly indulge me on a riff about the wee ones, or rather, their parents...

Don't make me listen to any more stories about your children. Please.

I like to fancy myself one of those liberal minded empowered sort of women, embracing my sisters and their choices with all the love my tar black heart can hold. But honestly, can't we find something else to discuss other than the fruits of their collective wombs?

No, no we can't.

We can't because they don't read, don't follow politics, don't involve themselves in much beyond their immediate brood. Hell, they barely talk to their spouses. I will relay a story recently overheard by Van Mother:

Me and Van Father were having a rare evening out and talking, just talking, when my husband says, 'Why can't we do this more often, just sit and talk with each other? Do you remember when we first got married and would go camping all the time and travel? I miss that. When can we start doing that again?' Van Mother's response was (no shit), 'In about 18 years, Honey. When the kids go off to college it will be just us again.'

Oh, the horror.

The mommies may look at me and think that I'm jealous, barren, or cracked. To which I respond: Nope, If only, and Perhaps.

Adulthood was something I really aspired to with all of its cocktails and autonomy and excessive eye makeup. But what I thought was the last exclusive club, now seems to let any tot or adolescent wander in past the ropes.

I have built my child-free oasis away from the mommy mongering and have filled it with breakables, pointy-edged furniture, leisure time, and Bloody Marys for breakfast.

So please, when you notice my eyes more glazed than a Krispy Kreme, stop talking about Junior's ear infection.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Vanpool Chronicles: The Show

Hitching a ride to work en masse is officially the New Hot Thing. It's got a taint of that smile-on-your-brother-everybody-get-together-try-to-love-one-another-right-now thing with a bit of the obscenely popular Tread Lightly On the Earth, Live Green thrown in.

We even have our own show: Carpoolers. Now, from what I overheard on my own vanpool about the show (Wait, 'poolers talking about other 'poolers: it's like looking in a mirror...with a mirror... Whoa.) Generic White Guy said the show was pretty awful and not at all representational of life in a real pool. All I know is that it's got that Jerry O'Connell fellow who to me will always be Vern the Fat Kid from that gem of a movie, Stand By Me.

Which got me thinking -

With thanks to my blog PR manager and fellow librarian, as well as the fine work over at byoolin's trebuchet, I have decided to cast The Vanpool Chronicles as a television program.

Vanpool Chronicles Cast
Van: 2005 Ford E Series 350 Passenger Van
Van Mother: Amy Sedaris
It: Gollum
Neo-Pompadour: Edward James Olmos
Generic White Guy: Gary Cole (Office Space's Lumbergh)
Hispanic Woman: The ever-intrepid Dora the Explorer
Gap Lady: Judi Dench
Tall: Dakota Fanning
Grande: Margaret Cho
Houston Rocket Yao Ming (in drag)
2 Wizend Crones: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Vacant Rider Slot: To Be Announced
vAnnie: Herself
I'm sure my show (like Carpoolers) would likely die a quick death and be cancelled because who really wants to know about vanpoolers anyway, right?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Vannies: A Demographic Breakdown

1 15-passenger van

17 Total riders assigned to van

13 Full-time riders

4 Part time riders - I know precious little about this crowd as they only appear about once or twice a month. Not sure if they get a discount as the full monthly price is hardly a bargain for a few rides.

From here on all data reflects Vannies only, no part timers.

Of my 13 Vannies:

Two are male. One married, one single. One is generically white and wears short sleeve shirts with the occasional tie and talks about his barbecue acumen, the other is Hispanic and sports a truly bitchin' neo-pompadour, but has the annoying habit of sucking air through his front teeth.

Three are Asian. I noticed early on that this is a rather cliquish group. No one talks to them, but they talk to each other. Of the three Asians, I'll call them Tall, Grande, and Venti (she's got to be at least 6'). Venti appears to be the linchpin, Tall and Grande chat up a storm with her, but seldom talk to each other.

Van Mother, she is the public face of our vanpool. You must go through her when joining or leaving the vanpool. Van Mother is the Alpha Vannie and the very picture of a suburban working mom. With Van Mother, it's all precious anecdotes about her offspring and spouse. I thought I would like Van Mother but following The Big Stink incident (refer to Big Stink post) and after she sort of tuned me out when I responded that no, I don't have any children, during the first 12 seconds of our first conversation, I really don't have much to do with her.

It, I don't care for It or her real life androgynous name. She is a squat woman with a short, gray perm who lives with her mother. 'Nuff said. It is also a dog breeder or breeder enthusiast or some fucking thing. Inexplicably, Van Mother and It have forged what appears to be a friendship.

One Hispanic woman, we share a drop off and have managed some light bonding. She has started taking the stairs with me in the morning and asks me about my dogs and weekend plans. She can be spotted forcing herself to ingest green tea out of a pink ceramic mug roughly the size of her head.

One rather hip older woman, who looks a bit like a geriatric Gap ad: all ballet flats and well cut t-shirts. She is quite possibly the most disarmingly personable human being on Earth; pleasant without being tiresome and just a bit feisty.

Two middle 40's women who radiate an aura that says, "I don't give a shit." I love them. They refrain from talking in the morning (due in large part to the fact that they are sleeping soundly with their faces suctioned to the window), rarely if ever talk about their kids, and seem to be just as annoyed as me when the Asians are hypercaffeinated and trying to talk over each other.

One Black woman who left on maternity leave shortly after I joined the van and we recently heard that she won't be returning. So, be on the lookout for news about our newest member whenever s/he arrives.

Then there's me, a solid decade younger than my van ilk and probably the only Democrat, judging by all the Bush/Cheney '04 stickers on their SUV's. I'm the only one who reads on the van, except for the generic white guy who occasionally brings the paper (of course). Me and Venti listen to music and, incidentally, Venti loves metal. I know this because she turns her music up loud enough that I can actually sing along with the Zeppelin.

This is the motley cast of characters that populate my vanpool life, these are the everyday folk, the hardest core Vannies.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Big Stink

Upon joining The Van, I received a typed list of Van Guidelines (we're all adults so they're "guidelines" not "rules"). The eighth and final item states:

Please be sensitive to allergy needs.
Go light on the perfume and cologne.

Now, I am nothing if not sensitive the allergy needs of others. I myself apply only a whisper of a scent that hints at the charm, sophistication, and discerning taste of the wearer. This is in stark contrast to the women (and occasional man) radiating the stank of the drugstore perfume they presumably laundered their clothes in, shampooed their hair with, and swished around their mouth. These fragrance abusers leave watery eyes and sneezing fits in their wake, befouling elevators, restrooms, and yes, vanpools.

Along with my fellow vanpoolers, I recently received an email stating that there had been at least one, and possible more, riders bitching about the fragrance intensity of their fellow passengers. We were issued an edict prohibiting the use of "Perfumes/colognes, scented lotions, and/or other things that might cause others to react and/or feel sick."

You know what makes me sick?

Timid motherfuckers who would rather tattle to the self-appointed Van Mother than address their grievances with the offending party.

Was I too engrossed in my book or did I have my mp3 player turned up too loud to notice when my van morphed into a Fascist regime? How was it that our freedoms of olfactory expression were revoked on the basis of one complainant?

It must also be said that I have not noticed anyone's noxious fumes while on the van (apart from general ride home ripeness that can't really be avoided when you're standing under the Texas sun waiting on your van for any longer than 45 seconds).

Reminiscent of the Poker axiom that 'if you can't tell who the sucker is after 15 minutes, it's you,' I had a horrifying thought dawn on me: what if I was the offending party?

Aghast, I questioned the three riders who board at my stop if they were the offendees or if I was the offender. Although all three said no, two of them looked at me as though I asked them how much money they make or what they paid for their house. The way I see it, if someone was irritated enough to complain about someone's perfume, they should at least own up to it.

To date, neither the source of the offensive smell nor the complainant has been identified.

For my part, the day after the email was sent, I was sure to add an extra spritz of perfume to my morning routine just to keep Democracy alive and well.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Vandom Thoughts: Fall

According to my calendar, Fall is here. Mind you, 90 degree humidity-filled Houston heat does not make me think about crisp air or crunchy leaves, it makes me wonder why the hell I don't just move to Vermont.

Fall is indeed my favorite season and I think it has largely to do with pumpkins. Pumpkins, both decorative and deliciously edible and a lovely color to boot. Also, pumpkin carving may just be the most wholesome activity one can engage in. If you're into that sort of thing.

I'm sure I'm in for another year of trick'o'treaters in shorts, doused with mosquito repellent. My parents have taken to giving out full sized candy bars for Halloween, which I think is terrific insurance against vandalism or theft by neighborhood hooligans. I can hear it now, "No, man not that house. Old Man Johnson gave me a full size Snickers." Mind you, in my youth my father would have never given in to such a display of extravagance. I guess age is mellowing him, that or he really likes Halloween now.

Herewith, a recipe to get you in touch with Fall:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Feel free to Veganize and/or half recipe

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick spray or line them with parchment paper.
Using a mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Beat in the white and brown sugars, a little at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, then mix in the vanilla and pumpkin puree. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Slowly beat the flour mixture into the batter in thirds. Stir in the chips. Scoop the cookie dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are browned around the edges.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Vaniquette: Part I

As with any form of public transportation, there are many unspoken rules governing personal conduct while on the van. In extreme situations, the rules may be temporarily suspended, but disregard them at your peril.

Rule the First - Let s/he who boards first move to the back. This rule, while ironclad in its simplicity and logic, is most often ignored. By everyone. Rule the First breaks down as soon as the first person on the van picks the best seat, which is ordinarily near the front as these people disembark first. Sneaky.

Rule the Second - Let s/he with the widest ass arrange themselves to occupy the smallest possible area. Speaking as someone with, ahem, ample thighs I am a stringent supporter and follower of this rule. I don't want anyone's chubbles encroaching on my space any more than I seek to encroach.

Rule the Second pt. II - In fact, refrain from touching your riding companions all together. A brush or a nudge is acceptable as you are settling in, but after that, even if you have to contort yourself to the point of physical pain, keep your shit to yourself.

Rule the Third - Hygiene. This cannot be stressed enough. Be advised when riding with international passengers who don't always possess the same fanaticism as their American counterparts with regard to bodily odors, you may be best served to sit in the back- even if it means you get off last. Should someone offer you a breath freshening agent, take it.

Rule the Fourth - If you must use your phone on the van, at least make it interesting for everyone listening. I would much rather hear a profanity laden tirade about alleged public/private indiscretions or even a well thought out treatise on the Electoral College than suffer through another conversational volley about who is going to pick up the kids from day care and wouldn't some overly processed foodstuffs be nice for dinner.

Rule the Fifth - Whilst in the van environment your every sneeze, sniffle, cough, throat clearing, and nose blow is under scrutiny. Everyone gets maybe three of any noise in a given week. Any more than that and I begin to think you not only have a reprehensible lack of social grace but are in fact the second coming of Typhoid Mary.

Learn and live these rules, gentle reader, for they will keep you above reproach, or at the very least, keep you from annoying the hell out of people in an enclosed environment.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Get in the Van

You have seen us, we populate the landscape of your daily commute: Vanpoolers.

Fleets of vanpools descend on the city every morning and recede into the suburbs every evening. I am one of them, and this is the story.

Admit it, you've wondered what goes on behind the tinted windows of our late-model 15 passenger vans: Are there assigned seats? What station do they listen to on the radio? Who does the driving? Do they talk to each other? About what? and Why are they driving so godamned slow?

Full disclosure: I am a relatively recent convert to The Van as mode of transportation. I finally secured a respectable grown up job about six months ago and while I was delighted to join the 9-5 set, sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for 45 minutes twice a day would have lead me to bash my brains out on the steering wheel of my Volkswagen. There simply is not enough NPR in the world to make that drive a worthwhile use of my time. Not to mention that my benevolent employer sees fit to gouge staff at the rate of $150 per month to park on the premises.

I needed an alternative and that right soon. So I took to trolling the parking lots of chain stores surrounding my subdivision looking for vans advertising for riders (that's what we're called, "riders"). I found one that would fit my needs perfectly and it was, of course, full.

During the intervening three months, I joined another vanpool which ultimately broke up (yes, just like landmasses and garage bands, vanpools are coming together and breaking apart all the time).

On my first morning of my new vanpool, I introduced myself around and tried not to seem weird. I even thumbed through a recent copy of People magazine to prove my accessibility and normalcy to my new riding companions. I later realized that any attempts to put my best vanpool foot forward with this crowd were an entirely wasted effort.

And this is how it began. We have been together for three months now and I have more material than I could use in a year. So rather than entertaining my family, friends, and Gays with these tales, I will share them with you. I hope you enjoy the travelogue of this life.

Keep your eyes on the road,