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.