Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cletus, Is That You?

As summer approaches my fellow vannies are bringing their kids with them to work more often. I don't know if the youths are too irresponsible to be left home alone during the day or if mom is just putting them to work.

One of the more regular additions is the wizened crone's daughter. I'd be hard pressed to peg her age because I tend to lump kids into one of two age brackets. To me, kids either look like they're 4 or 17.

She's a nice enough girl I suppose, in the first flush of youth with bright eyes and the awkward dopiness known only to teenagers.

One thing I will say about this gal is that she speaks with a twang reminiscent of the marble-mouthed back woods Appalachians I've seen featured in documentaries on PBS.

A sampling:

Mama = "Maw-Muh"
Mini Cooper = "Mini Cooh-Purgh"
Why = "Wh-I-Ugh"

Another thing I tend to forget abut Today's Youth is that they tend to suffer from acute ADHD. Riding in the van with this girl makes me think of that mediocre Billy Crystal/Debra Winger comedy wherein Billy Crystal drives around with his father-in-law who insists on reading aloud the name every billboard sign, building, and vehicle they pass, as in: "You ask for it, you got it. Toy-Oh-Ta."

A sampling:

"Maw-muh, look its a Jag-wurh! [Editorial aside: The girl seems to have an inexplicable preoccupation with cars] What do they do over thay-urh? Look at this bump. It hurts. What is it? Look at it, maw-muh."

I'm sure there's more but after pleas to the matriarch to examine a bump of unknown origin, I had to put my earphones in to listen to this song and block this whole episode the hell out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Once More Into the Breach

Following a lovely four day work hiatus, this morning I found myself lurching toward the city with a driver who favors sharp and heavy braking.

So far this morning, my lunch box accidentally opened, leaking tomato innards all over the bottom of my bag, I missed out on sleep between the hours of 3:15 am through about 4:45 am due to, well, I'm not sure, and I have to feign interest in baby pics being passed around the van so people don't think I'm a douchebag.

I look at baby pictures the way I'm sure people look at pictures of my dog - with a smile plastered on their face that belies their apathy.

Nevertheless, I am determined to have a good day.

As we continue our jerky commute into the city my shoulders soften as I absorb the overcast morning and the words of Billy Bragg:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fat Camp & Johnny Depp Miscellany

This day has been a medley of emotions running the gamut from delight to heartbreak.

The delight began as soon as my mp3 player's lone AAA battery died this morning and I was forced to listen to the conversation around me. From what I was able to piece together, Gap Lady was singing the praises of a local fat camp, or as it's euphemistically named, "Healthy Weigh of Life," to one of the Wizened Crones. It seems the crone was either looking for a job for her daughter during the summer as a fat camp counselor, or she actually wanted to send her daughter to fat camp. It was unclear.

The delight swelled when, at my first meeting of the day, the group was treated to a puppet show about the dangers of cigarette smoking. There really is nothing sweeter on this earth than the palpable awkwardness of a room full of professionals watching a puppet show while swilling their morning coffee and masticating on cream cheese-smeared bagels.

My delight overcame me when the two college-aged puppeteers began their show. The male half of the duo was about 5' tall and 250 pounds with olive skin and a greasy ponytail wearing thick yellow-framed glasses that screamed, "I am an ar-teeste!" and a voice that was a spot-on ringer for Johnny Depp. I was enraptured listening to the dangers of tobacco addiction and lung cancer from Willy Wonka/Edward Scissorhands/Raoul Duke himself.

After my brush with the Johnny Deppesque puppeteer, my day came crashing down. The second meeting of the day handed me the news that one of my favorite colleagues is retiring. I'm going to miss her terribly. Mighty Zen N, you're a woman for the ages.

All was not lost, my day was buoyed when I passed a hallway and saw that the maintenance staff had left their many cleaning carts and trashcans parked outside the break room. This made me smile as I thought of roughnecks lining their Hogs up outside a biker bar. I would no sooner mess with a grizzled biker than I would any member of janitorial services. Because either way, you're going home with some broken bones.

Monday, May 12, 2008


To my profound irritation and total lack of surprise, the vannies continue to work my last threadbare nerve like if they keep doing it, they're going to win something.

I seated myself promptly at our departure time and opened my book. Then I saw a hand-wringing figure approach the van. I recognized her as an occasional rider and also noticed that she left her car door open and headlights on.

Heads started straining to look out the window to diagnose the problem. And me? I make a big show of looking at my wristwatch to indicate my feelings of putupon-ness. I do this because I am a petty human being.

"I can't get the keys out," she says when she gets to the van.

I gnaw at the inside of my cheek and stare at my book to keep from laughing.

The van filled with advice for coaxing the keys from her vehicle:

"Give it a wiggle."

"Push the button. Does it have a button? These new vehicles have buttons and you need to push 'em."

"Is your car in 'park'"?

"Did you wiggle it?"

"You know you're lights are on."

I shouldn't poke fun. I know I've had problems getting the keys out of my car. Although, I'm sure the last time it happened to me the keys were made out of primary colored molded plastic and went to the silver Barbie Corvette convertible parked, not in my parent's garage, but under my canopy bed next to some Legos and an Easy Bake Oven.

The worst part, though? The worst part is that me and Ms. Master of All Things Exceedingly Complicated were wearing the same color scheme this morning. Yes, I'm dressed like an idiot.

Or rather, the idiots are dressing like me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


If the limited conversation on the van lately has been about anything, it's been about the rising price of gas. I guess we had the audacity to believe that gas would always cost 87¢ a gallon.

To listen to the vannies talk about gas, you'd think they had to sell their children into white slavery, sacrifice their weekly mead ration, and till soil with their bare hands from dawn to dusk just to make ends meet.

Yes, it is more expensive than it used to be and yes, it will keep getting more expensive.

This is not to say that I am wholly at peace with the ballooning prices, I feel the pinch too when a vehicle that once took less than a $20 to fill now takes more than $40. But I console myself with the knowledge that I only have to fill up once a month and that my relatively modest monthly van fee has not increased.

Which brings me to a conversation I was recently hoodwinked into. While exchanging pleasantries with this person, s/he said that they don't understand why the oil companies are getting such a bum rap lately.

"Wha...???," I thought as my brain seized with disbelief.

The person doing the talking has a spouse who works for (surprise!) an oil company. This being Texas, especially Houston, Texas, I can think of at least four people I know that make their living working for big oil.

But what really wound me up was the following misguided statement:
"I just don't understand why there is so much criticism of oil companies. Why aren't they allowed to make their profits just like any other business in a Capitalist system? No one ever criticizes the fashion industry for charging exorbitant prices for their products."
Well, to my knowledge the turbines of our economic engine aren't powered by last season's Prada handbags or outmoded Louboutins.

No, people need access to affordable heating and transportation. No one needs a $300,000 watch. Any anyone who would lump these pursuits into the same category is criminally stupid. And an asshole.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sixteen-Point Turn

I drove myself to work today. In part, because my van is getting me down these days and also because I'm leaving early today.

Traffic dictates that if I leave for work later than 6:40 a.m., I will be met with a bumper-to-bumper snarl that easily doubles my commute time. With my trusty radar detector guiding the way, I arrive at work shortly before 7:00.

Once I'm in the parking garage, I usually spend a few minutes sitting in my car listening to NPR, finishing my coffee, and otherwise preparing for the day.

This morning, however, I had a front row seat to what I am calling, Parking for the Uninitated: A Play in Three Acts. This impromptu melodrama forced me to consider that the reputation of women as profoundly awful drivers is not entirely undeserved.

Curtain up:

vAnnie sits in an unassuming Volkswagen, drinking coffee from a local convenience store, serenely absorbing NPR's Morning Edition.

Tires squeal as Minivan Driver flies into the parking garage, she narrowly avoids sideswiping a cement column.

vAnnie's head jerks as she watches MiniDriver in her rear view mirror dart past.

MiniDriver's tires squeal to a halt. For a moment, the van is still. Suddenly, the reverse lights illuminate and the vehicle lunges backward.

MiniDriver has spotted vacant parking space next an unassuming Volkswagen, and she begins her approach.

MiniDriver darts behind the Volkswagen in reverse, then makes an attempt to pull into the adjacent space. The attempt is unsuccessful and MiniDriver reverses from the space in a blur of steering wheel spinning and brake lights.

The intervening moments find MiniDriver driving partially into and out of a parking space that is more than amply sized for her vehicle. Upon the fifth or so failed attempt, MiniDriver actually attempts to reverse into to parking space. More brake lights, more jerky lunging, more squealing tires, etc.

Inexplicably, MiniDriver manages to reverse into the parking space and thoughtfully leaves a 2.14" wedge between her vehicle and the Volkswagen.

vAnnie stares at the MiniDriver who, by now, has flipped open the lighted vanity mirror on her sun visor and is applying lip gloss with the steady hand of a surgeon.