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 ├╝ber-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.