That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Posts Tagged ‘my car’

Fear is for the long night, when the snows fall one hundred feet deep.

Posted by kozemp on January 13, 2011

Snow is here again, and this time, in what I am absolutely sure is a surprise to absolutely no one, my official position is:

Fuck snow.

You said you were going to try and be less profane.

I never said that.

Well, you thought about trying to be less profane.

I never thought that!

Would it kill you to give it a go?

Oh, fine.

So, snow is here again and… er… snow… is really… bad. Yeah. Snow is really bad.

I have mellowed out considerably in recent years. Eminent proof of that is, Love Actually style, all around us. No, I’m not exactly the happy-go-lucky type. I do not go googly-eyed at puppies and kittens and mermaids and rainbows. I will never be described as “perky” or “bubbly,” thank the Emperor of Man. But I am a significantly more positive person than before. The items on the List Of Things I Hate, which were essentially everything in the universe save rolled up aces, Farscape and Cafe Esperanto orange juice, have for the most part been shifted onto the List Things I Merely Dislike or the List Of Things I Am Somewhat Ambivalent About. There is now, even, a List Of Things I Love, which is large and growing.

The List Of Things I Hate has been reduced to a barren, uninhabited wasteland. Well, near-uninhabited, as there is one thing still on it, one thing that I will always hate, now and forever, until the entropic heat death of the universe:

Snow.

Oh, how I hate it.

Snow wasn’t ALWAYS really bad. Back when I was a kid and it snowed 2 or 3 inches maybe once or twice a year snow was great. You got a tiny bit of snow, you got a day off from school, everything was fantastic. Snow was awesome. Hooray snow.

Then came the winter of 1994.

March of 1993 had brought with it the so-called “Storm of the Century.” That was bad. That was mondo-bad. But it was one, isolated event. In the winter of my junior year of high school we got pounded again and again and again and again and again. The first was an ice storm in January. And this wasn’t “oh, hm, some parts of things are a little icy.” Oh hells no.

I’ve spoken to people who were not here for it about this ice storm, and they don’t believe me when I describe what it was like. It’s hard to blame them. I was here for it and I could hardly believe it myself. What hit us in January of 1994 wasn’t an ice storm like we think of today, where we get sleet for a few hours and the roads are slick overnight until the salt trucks get through. Through some strange meteorological alchemy we had honest to goodness freezing rain – liquid water in the sky that turns to ice when it hits the ground – for two days, and the temperature never got out of the 20s for four solid days after that.

The entire world was encased in an inch of ice.

It was on everything – roads, sidewalks, cars, fences, powerlines, EVERYTHING. The whole world preserved in freezing, clear amber. Schools were closed for an entire week, Monday to Friday. You couldn’t drive to work or to get groceries. Hell, you couldn’t walk out your own front door. Your front steps were a skating rink. You couldn’t salt your sidewalk because rock salt is useless against a solid inch of ice. To go anywhere, just to get out of your house, you had to go outside in the sub-zero temperatures and CUT the ice off your sidewalk. People were out there, banging on these massive ice sheets with the sharp end of plastic shovels, trying to break it up into huge pieces you would pick up with your hands and toss onto your lawn, which was also under a giant sheet of inch-thick ice. My dad found some kind of flat spade thing in our basement, basically a 5-inch wide metal chisel attached to a broomstick. Working in shifts during daylight hours it took my father and I two full days to clear all our sidewalk, just standing out there smacking this thing onto the ice over and over and over again.

Now, here’s the funny thing about this storm, for me: school was closed for an entire week. But, and here’s the funny part, I had actually missed the entire week of school BEFORE that. I had pneumonia. To this day I have a tiny scar in my lung from it. I don’t remember how I got pneumonia, but I missed a whole week of school for it, Monday to Friday. I missed that week, and then school was closed the entire next, so when I got back the Monday after the ice had subsided, I got a ton of “who are you?” jokes.

(Ah, the wit of high school students.)

Then, a week and a half later, it happened AGAIN.

It wasn’t as bad the second time – the ice was much thinner and as I recall we only missed two days of school – but two ice storms in as many weeks was pushing the boundaries of good taste. Again me and my dad had to chop and hack our sidewalks clear. Again we had to go down to my grandmother’s – who also lived on a corner – and chop HER sidewalk clear. It’s backbreaking work. I’ve broken up concrete with a sledgehammer, and that wasn’t as awful as trying to clear these sidewalks of ice.

Then, in February, we got hit again. Snow, this time, but enough to grind everything to a halt and make you have to dig out your parking space, all that crap. Then AGAIN this happened later in February. More snow, more digging.

Finally, in March, during what was supposed to be “Spring Break,” we got another blizzard that dropped 18 inches of snow on the city. When I had to go to crew practice and, with my teammates, shovel more than 5,000 cubic feet of snow into the Schuylkill River I finally said, “okay, I have had it up to here, fuck this snow thing.”

Hey, what happened to…?

That was a direct quote.

Oh, sorry, continue.

It was like a drug user finally ODing – yeah, heroin is nice and all, but that one time you overdo it and end up in the hospital you never want to even look at the stuff again. When I was a kid and you got a little bit of snow and a day or two off from school it was great. When you’re older and ice (which is just overachieving snow) keeps you stuck in your house for two weeks at a time, and makes you miss so much school you have to add a week on to the end of the year, snow sucks. When you then have to spend a day of your spring break, which was already kind of ruined by having crew practice to begin with, pushing more than TWENTY-FIVE TONS of snow off a dock into a river, it becomes the worst thing in the world.

A year and a half later I would find myself taking my freshman year of college at Lehigh University, where there was snow on the ground every day from November 8 to Easter Sunday. After dinner on Easter – which in 1996 was on April 7, thank you very much – I drove back to school in near blizzard conditions.

That prolonged exposure to snow, which I was already very much not a fan of, basically turned me into a bit of a crazy person on the subject.

Many years later, herniating a disc in my back while shoveling snow was basically the end of the fight, and I lost. Though I am willing to admit defeat I’m certainly not about to call snow a “worthy opponent” – I am a complex lifeform with the ability to peform calculus in my head and recite the entire screenplay of The Big Lebowski from memory, and snow is frozen water – and while the few amusing things that came out of my back injury provided a nice laugh, and thanks to said back injury I have a lifetime pass on shoveling the sidewalk, it’s tough to look at snow anymore and feel anything other than an intense, burning anger. Snow is the only thing that still gets me that way anymore, and while a total Zen-like oneness with everything in the universe might be pretty neat, I’ll settle for being a mostly happy person who really hates snow.

The problem, you see, is that even with my lifetime shoveling pass, when we are set upon by the White Death there is still one task I still have to perform on my own: cleaning off my car. And today, I think, might have been the worst car-cleaning snow day in history.

The trouble was the amount of snow we got. There was too much for me to just turn my car on, jack up the defroster, and let it idle for half an hour to melt everything on the car. Conversely, there wasn’t ENOUGH snow that I needed to dig out a path to and from my parking space, but just pushing all the snow off my car onto the snow in front of my car would create enough snow to make that necessary. You can’t push the snow into the street, and pushing it onto an already-shoveled sidewalk is just stupid.

The solution, then, was to push the snow off my car in such a way that it landed either a) in between my car and the ridge of snow in the street pushed up by passing cars, or b)  on the spot of lawn between my sidewalk and the curb. Which, as you might guess, was ALREADY holding up the snow from the sidewalk, and thus was pretty deep. I was going to have to clear the snow off my car in an extraordinarily precise way, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but pushing large swaths of snow off a car isn’t exactly spinal surgery. Pinpoint accuracy is harder than you think.

Also, by the time I went out to clean off my car, the wind had picked up to approximately 900 miles per hour. This caused snow to blow pretty much everywhere, an effect which is most similar to having someone jab a thousand tiny needles into your face every second. The wind also makes removing the snow off the car far more interesting than it really needs to be – it’s bad enough when you’re trying to push the snow off in such a way that it lands in a target area the size of a small shoe. Try that when large portions of what you push off immediately blow directly into your face the second they leave the car.

Fun, no?

The final, crushing indignity came with the actual cleaning implement itself. I was standing on the sidewalk, staring at my car, formulating a plan of attack for how to remove the snow, when I thought, “wait, I don’t have a snow brush in my car anymore. Drat.” (That’s not an edit, I actually thought “drat.”)

I went back inside to get the brush my father had used to clear off his car several hours earlier. I quickly realized this was a fool’s errand. The brush was nowhere to be found. My father, in what we will call his “infinite wisdom” in deference to filial propriety, after cleaning off HIS car decided, while looking directly at the two snow-covered cars his family members owned, that his best course of action was to take the snow-clearing brush, toss it into his already-clear car, and drive away.

After searching in vain for the snow brush I went back outside. I stood on the sidewalk, staring at my car, snow blowing all around me, freezing, and said to myself, “what the hell am I going to use to clear off this stupid car? Where’s a wampa when I need one?”

I had a brainstorm.

A terrible brainstorm, as it turned out, since my brainstorm meant that cleaning off my car would be an ordeal far longer than it would have been normally had my father not been a careless jackass, but a brainstorm nonetheless.

This is why, if you were driving down Crispin Street this afternoon – and I can’t imagine why you would have been, but in an infinite universe anything is possible – you would have come across a man shivering in a leather coat, muttering “fucking snow” over and over again, clearing off a 2006 Cobalt with a dustbrush.

God I hate snow.

JLK

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I think it’s ridiculous, impossible and insane! I wish I’d thought of it first.

Posted by kozemp on December 25, 2009

Folks may recall that a number of years ago I attempted to move to Southern California and failed miserably at it.

My time in Los Angeles was made even worse by virtue of the fact that I was trying to spend my first Christmas alone there a very short time after I arrived. Now, don’t misunderstand me: for a number of reasons, most of which stem from an absolute refusal to even momentarily consider how my own actions might affect me, the entire endeavor was doomed to failure before it began. Looking back on it almost ten years after the fact it is obvious that moving to Los Angeles was one of my All-Time Bad Decisions, right up there with taking up smoking, taking up drinking, and asking Cindy Hennessy if she wanted to go to a movie. I knew the second I arrived there – literally the very instant I stepped out of my car – that I hated the place and I had to get out. The impending arrival of Christmas only made my burning need to escape from LA burn that much hotter, but it did afford me a single interesting experience: for one year and one year only I did my shopping somewhere other than Willow Grove Mall.

For this one year I did my Christmas shopping at Fashion Square Mall in Sherman Oaks, CA. I am someone who has a strange affinity for shopping malls, and as such a person let me tell you that Fashion Square is unmitigated crap.

Fashion Square is a total lack of imagination given form and then crammed with crappy, little stores. To wit: Fashion Square is smaller, square-footage wise, than Neshaminy Mall, but has twice as many stores. It’s design makes “boring” look like the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark: it is simply two department stores with a bunch of stuff between them in a straight line. When I first got there I couldn’t believe it. The entire mall is just a giant rectangle. It is, like the city surrounding it, designed to chip away your soul a little piece at a time until you are nothing but a shambling husk that once was a human being.

It was bad enough that I was in Los Angeles and wanted to leave more than I ever have wanted or ever will want anything, but having to do my shopping in this godforsaken retail hellhole instead of Willow Grove was actually something of a watershed day for me. Standing there in the center of that horrible place I resigned myself for the first time to the fact that there were parts of my brain I simply couldn’t control. Once you get past this fail-safe point, once you let yourself be okay with the fact that a part of your psyche is always going to say ridiculous things like “if you don’t keep your keys in your front right pocket you are going to die” and you agree to accept these statements as reasonably factual they actually become much easier to cope with.

I also decided standing in the center of Fashion Square that a dream that made you miserable and unhappy was no dream at all, and I resolved to get myself the fuck back home.

That, however, was going to be something of a problem.

I had driven out to Los Angeles and I couldn’t afford to drive back home – problematic since I had driven out there with quite literally everything I owned in a U-Haul trailer. The compromise I ended up going with, eating up every last cent I had, was that I would fly home, have a moving company carry my possessions, and have my car hauled back by a company that specialized in such things. This was actually cheaper than driving back cross-country (a feat I wouldn’t learn how to do cheaply until recently). I learned a little later that it was that cheap because the moving company I hired was the sort that would go through your boxes and steal crap from them – all of my Playstation games and, bizarrely, nothing else in my case – but that’s another story.

My car, though, is this story.

I got the call that my car would be delivered to a parking lot on Broad Street across the street from the Sports Complex. Why there? I have no idea. But I went down there to get my car anyway.

It is important to note that my car at the time was a 1988 Caprice Classic that I had bought from a friend, who himself had bought it secondhand from the Bristol Police Department. This meant that it was, essentially, the Bluesmobile. The car was fantastically large, fantastically heavy, and supercharged under the hood to an extent that would make the Millenium Falcon blush (the actual Falcon, not my ill-fated first car). The fact that the car was heavier than it was supposed to be ended up being a serious hassle for the driver who brought it back to me.

I have since been reliably informed that getting a car down from the stern-most position on the upper deck of a car carrier should take 10-15 minutes. Getting my car down took an hour and a half.

The driver of the car carrier was a guy named Booker, and he was… he was an odd duck. He had an awful lot of trouble getting my car down from the second deck of the carrier, and every time he ran into a snag – which was every 45 seconds or so – he would walk in semicircles around the back of the truck and say, as near as I could tell to no one, “this is gonna cause me problems.” At one point only three wheels of my car were actually touching the ramps of the carrier, a situation I am still unsure as to how it is even POSSIBLE, a mere few inches away from falling 10 feet off the back of the carrier and smashing into the street trunk-first, and Booker just looked at it and said, “this is gonna cause me problems.”

If my car had actually plunged to its death off the carrier I was fairly certain that it was going to cause ME more problems than anyone else, but over the 90 minutes Booker spent attempting to get my car onto the ground in once piece, he simply kept saying “this is gonna cause me problems” as though it would, Zatanna-like, magically levitate my car onto the blacktop. He kept on saying this over and over again as he worked various levers and jerked my car up and down and back and forth as he tried to get it onto the ground. After 90 minutes of my car barely clinging onto the deck of the car carrier and Booker muttering “this is gonna cause me problems” it somehow miraculously got down onto the street – I have no recollection of exactly how other than that after 90 minutes of near-death it was just suddenly on the street – and I drove home and proceeded to be absolutely, inconsolably miserable for the next two and a half years.

At this point let us fast forward to December 20, 2009.

After last year’s realization that I could do all my Christmas shopping online so long as I did it at the traditional location of Willow Grove Mall on the traditional Sunday before Christmas Eve, on Sunday I braved the aftermath of the worst December snowstorm in Philadelphia history to go to Willow Grove Park and get my Christmas shop on.

I arrived at the mall to find that the lot which contains the traditional parking space hadn’t been plowed.

I sat in my car and said to myself, “all right, deep breaths… deep breaths… this is okay. It’s okay. Come on, buddy, we can do this.”

(I don’t know why I’ve started addressing myself as “buddy” when I talk to myself, but I’m as mortified by it as anyone. This, though, is another one of those brain things that I don’t seem to have any control over.)

I parked as close as I could to the traditional parking space, grabbed my laptop, and headed up to the food court to do my Christmas shopping. For the Sunday before Christmas the place was remarkably uncrowded – I would estimate it wasn’t much worse than an average strong Saturday. I got a good table in the food court very easily, off in that corner that overlooks the entire center of the mall.

At that point I was pretty much set on what I was getting everyone, with one exception: I hadn’t pinned down what I was going to get my parents yet. The HDTV from last year was going to be tough to top. I toyed with some ideas, but they were all pretty crap – I couldn’t afford to get them plane tickets to Florida, I had long since given up on things like books or movies for my father since he never touched them, and my mother already had the complete set of Magnum PI seasons on DVD.

While poking around on Amazon I looked at the clock in the bottom right corner and realized that if I wanted to make it home in time for the Eagles game I wouldn’t have to hurry, necessarily, but that I couldn’t really dawdle.

It was that thought that set off one of the bizarre chain-reaction series of associations that are an annoying hallmark of my thinking (annoying because it’s hard to stop them before they inexorably get to things that are horrible). It went something like this:

“Eagles game – game on TV – Joe Buck is such a fucking douchebag – had to listen to that twat Al Michaels at the bar last week – at least at home we have Merrill – do we use the home theater for anything other than listening to Merrill any more? – no, it’s too old, it doesn’t have any digital inputs – can’t hook up the receiver to the DVD player or the TV – damn thing IS almost ten years old – at least at home we have Merrill – I wonder how favored the Eagles are – ”

Whoa, whoa, WHOA, back that shit up. What was that bit about the home theater?

It was then I realized: I didn’t have to try and top the HDTV (and probably couldn’t anyway), but I could COMPLEMENT it by upgrading our old home theater system, which has now been reduced to an oversized radio, to a slick-ass new receiver with a Blu-Ray player.

I am a Christmas gift finding GOD.

So I bopped around Amazon and found a Blu-Ray home theater that fit the requirements I had come up with and then some: multiple digital inputs so that the TV and… you know…. other peripherals could be plugged into it (COUGH Xbox COUGH), enough power to level a small city, an iPod interface, built-in access to Pandora and Netflix, and bookshelf-size speakers so that I could just quickly swap them out with the ones we currently have strewn around the perimeter of the living room. I went over the specs once more, decided that it was perfect, and tacked it on to the rest of my Christmas gift order. The entire process, from firing up the laptop to order placed, took less than thirty minutes.

I may not be able to shut out my insane compulsions, but I can at least trick them sometimes.

Flash forward once again to Wednesday afternoon. Everything else I ordered has already arrived, but the home theater isn’t here yet. I’m not that worried – unlike everything else I’ve ever ordered from Amazon it has for some reason been shipped by FedEx. But, around 3 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, there was a knock at the door. FedEx was here with my home theater and I was all set. I’d cleared a little space behind my bed where I could hide the box until Christmas Eve and I had been sneaking covert glances behind the TV to see what I’d have to do to rewire everything.

I opened the front door and all I saw was a giant box.

The box said, “are you John?”

I thought, what the fuck?

I said, “what the fuck?”

A head appeared just over the top of the box. It was wearing a FedEx hat. The delivery man.

He said, “you ordered the home theater?”

I said, “I… yeah… I… what the fuck?”

The delivery guy said, “is it okay?”

I said, “yeah, it’s just… it’s a lot bigger than I expected.”

“Well, here you go.” The delivery guy pushed the box into the sunporch with a grunt and then headed out the door. “Merry Christmas!”

“Yeah, uh…” I said, still staring at the box. “Merry Christmas to you too.”

I stood there transfixed by this giant box – its dimensions are almost exactly those of a coffin – standing upright in my sunporch.

The only thought in my head was WHAT WENT WRONG?!

I pulled out my iPhone and booted up the Amazon app while I circled the box in a vain attempt to figure out exactly what the fuck has happened here. I ordered a Blu-Ray receiver with a center, a sub, and 4 bookshelf speakers. Even with padding and everything, I made a rough estimate that this box was about 400% bigger than it should have been. There was no way it would fit in the space I had cleared behind the bed. The goddamn thing wasn’t much smaller than the bed.

When I got around to the far side I realized the problem – this home theater system has TOWER speakers. Not bookshelf speakers. Well, what the crap, of course the box is fucking enormous, the speakers are 4 feet longer than they’re supposed to be. They must have sent me the wrong home theater.

Just about when I realize why the box is so big my phone has finished pulling up my order on Amazon and tells me that this is, in fact, the home theater I ordered. I didn’t order the model with bookshelf speakers. I ordered this one, the giant coffin full of consumer electronics on my sunporch. Amazon also informed me that the package weighs 79 pounds. I poked at the box to see if it was that heavy and almost jammed my finger for my trouble: she didn’t budge.

I started trying to break down the issue as rationally as I could.

My first thought was: how am I going to get this thing upstairs? My back is so fucked up I can barely pick up my boxers off the bathroom floor. This thing weighs 80 pounds and is the size of a person.

My second thought was: even if I can get it upstairs without dying, where am I going to put it so they don’t see it until Christmas? It’s the size of a goddamn PERSON.

My third thought was: okay, so, if I killed someone, where on the second floor of this house could I hide their body?

I looked at the box, looked at the stairs, looked at the box again, and said out loud to the empty house, “this is gonna cause me problems.”

Merry Christmas, all.

JLK

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Gone Walkabout, Day Seven: In Which Things Finally Go Catastrophically Wrong

Posted by kozemp on December 16, 2009

I do not, as a rule, have recurring dreams.

I do, however, have one recurring nightmare of a sort. It’s not the same exact nightmare every time, but it’s always variations on the same theme: I am aimlessly driving my car around either Philadelphia or Los Angeles (the Valley, specifically, up and down Sepulveda and Laurel Canyon from Vanowen to Ventura) until I get on a very convoluted highway system. The dream culminates with me driving up onto a very high and inexplicably very thin on-ramp which I inevitably drive off of, waking up as the car plummets to the ground.

In a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees, the fact that my only recurring nightmare involves driving is something I should have considered before deciding to go on a week-long road trip.

So come Tuesday morning, even though I had been on the road for six days, my leg was killing me, auxiliary power was gone, shields were down, there were hull breaches all through engineering and Reliant was coming about to fire again, despite all that I woke up in my hotel in Cleveland and got showered and dress with alarming speed (for me, at least) because I only had one thought in my head:

Home.

I knew that once I got into the car, in about 6 hours plus stops for food and gas I would finally be home. From when the phone rang with my wake-up call to me turning the key in my ignition was 21 minutes. I was not fucking around; I got showered and dressed, packed up everything I had, checked out, and got out of there.

Of course, even for the smartest of us, working at that sort of speed you are bound to make mistakes. And to my credit I only made one, which in a purely quantitative sense is pretty good.

I was so obsessed with getting on the road and finally getting home that at no point in the morning did I bother to look at my gas gauge.

Okay, excuse making time:

– Every other car I’ve owned has had a big nasty red light on the dashboard to warn you when you are low on gas. My current car, for all its nice features, does not; in the little status window that shows you your mileage and the temperature and whatnot it will occasionally say “low fuel” and make a slight pinging noise one cannot possibly hear over the sound of a very loud car stereo.

– It was dark out when I left and I have poor night vision.

– It was dark out AND raining a little bit, and Cleveland’s interstate system is only slightly less complex than Chicago’s, and for that matter navigating any sort of highway interchange is tough in the dark and in the rain.

– I have pre-existing issues about driving at night in the rain that cause my brain to short-circuit.

– Once out of Cleveland I was listening to “Live in New York City” and kept constantly checking between my iPod and the GPS to see if “Youngstown” would be playing when I was actually driving through Youngstown.

– The song “Youngstown” DID come up while I was driving through the actual city, and that was a really cool coincidence that occupied my mind for the better part of 20 minutes.

However, all that was chased out of my brain at a miracle moment when the iPod was quiet between tracks and my car chose that instant to make the “low fuel” noise.

I looked down and saw the little notice on the dashboard and thought, “well, okay, I’m getting something like 31 miles per here, the noise means I’ve got just under two gallons, I’ll make it to the next exit just fine. Hell, I could make it to the next exit in the middle of nowhere just fine.”

Perhaps six minutes later, as I gunned the pedal up an incline to pass a truck, I heard that telltale pop in my engine, and watched as my tachometer and speedometer both started to drop precipitously.

I started shouting in my car. “No! NO! FUCKING NO! Come on, don’t… NO! Oh, for fucking… NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

In desperation I muttered the last invocation I thought might still have some power: “come on, baby, hold together.”

As I tried to wrestle my car onto the shoulder I flashed back to my freshman year of high school and my English class with Mr. Lane when we read Antigone: the first time in my life I ever heard the word “hubris.”

It was at this point that the only remaining sliver of luck I had came through and the last sputters of juice my car had managed to actually get me into the driveway of a highway maintenance depot. My car finally stopped moving on its own power just as I had completed the hard right turn into the depot. There was a truck sitting there waiting to leave, and the driver rolled down his window.

“You okay?” he shouted.

“Yeah, looks like I ran out of gas,” I shouted back.

“The guys inside can call Triple-A, you’ll be all right!” he shouted before driving away.

I pushed my car a little further into the depot when one of the guys who worked there came out and walked over to my car. “You ran out of gas?” he asked. The guy in the truck must have radioed inside.

“Yeah,” I said. I got out of the car. “I guess I just wasn’t paying attention to the gauge. I was so obsessed with getting home.”

He gave me a sympathetic look. “How long you been on the road?”

It took me a couple seconds to actually remember. “A week.”

“Well, we called the wrecker, he’s on his way.” He jerked his thumb back at the huge garage. “Why don’t you come and wait inside?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Let me just get my phone.”

He went back inside, and maybe four seconds after I fished my phone off the front seat of my car and closed the door the light drizzle that had been going all morning switched to a full-on downpour. I was instantly soaked.

I looked up at the sky, looked down at the ground, and muttered, “fucking Sophocles.”

Before heading inside I reached back into my car and grabbed the other object on the front seat – my towel.

As I walked into the depot garage I was trying to dry my hair, and the guy said, “do you always drive around with a towel?”

Now ordinarily this would be a moment where I would explode with mock fury at someone who did not understand the importance of knowing where your towel is. But I was cold and wet and bone tired from a week on the road and, most importantly, not on my way home.

I stopped drying my hair for the briefest of moments and simply said, “absolutely.”

He seemed to accept that.

At one point I asked him, “how far is it to the next exit where I can get gas?”

He said, “there’s a Pilot at the next exit, four miles from here.”

“FOUR miles?” I said. I did some quick calculations in my head. “Christ, the low fuel thing must have gone off right when I left the hotel.”

“You said you were coming from Cleveland?” the guy asked. “That car, yeah, that seems about right.”

I thought, “I REALLY need to get home.”

Eventually the wrecker showed up – real nice guy, I’m going to send him and the depot boys Christmas cards – and I was back underway after only about a 40 minute layover. I pulled off at the next exit and followed the signs for the Pilot Center. Pilot Centers are a lot of fun. In addition to gas and food (a McDonald’s, in this case) they have the always-wacky Pilot Shop, which is a weird combination of a 7-11, a Pep Boys, and a Nordstrom Returns Center. There’s the usual soda fountain and coffee stuff, snack food and whatnot, and then there is a rudimentary collection of clothing like gloves and hats and jackets that are absurdly overpriced, and then there are racks and racks of auto parts.

This Pilot Center, though, had one distinct problem. It was apparently right on the boundary of a different township or city or whatever the crap they have in Ohio, and just before the driveway was one of those “you are entering” signs that read:

“WELCOME TO LIVERPOOL.”

I was being forced to gas up my car in a town called Liverpool.

I thought, “is there no end to the indignities I am forced to suffer?”

After getting the filthy Scouse gas I was finally back on the road, only an hour behind schedule. This wasn’t too bad. I would still be home at about 4 o’clock. I’d also been doing so much highway driving that my car was up to a whopping 31.4MPG: I wouldn’t have to get gas again, this tank would take me all the way home.

But something was wrong.

Once I got out of the western Pennsylvania hill country I was finding that I was having trouble staying focused on the road. It couldn’t have been sleepiness, I thought, I’d had ten hours sleep the night previous, and an unscheduled hourlong break that very morning. No, I suspected that the horrific stretch I drove on Sunday in Iowa and northern Illinois had permanently disabled some critical system needed to keep me fully alert while on the road (any of the biological persuasion are welcome to speculate). I was maybe 300 miles from home at this point. I couldn’t bear the thought of stopping for another, longer break. Even if I were going to break the “never drive cross-country at night” rule – which I probably could have done for the last 50 miles or so of the trip, I certainly knew how to get myself home from Downingtown – I could not bring myself to rest for more than a few minutes. I was so close. I couldn’t stop.

Problem was, in my current state it was more likely I was going to stop by driving into something. Drastic measures needed to be taken. I saw a sign that a rest stop was three miles away, and with a sinking, sickening feeling, I knew what I had to do.

I pulled into the rest stop, walked into the convenience store, and bought a Sugar-Free Red Bull.

Now, understand something: Sugar-Free Red Bull is the most disgusting thing you can drink. It is, by any reasonable measure, the single-worst-tasting substance in the known universe. Red Bull on its own is pretty gross, but when you take the sugar out of it the level of foulness transcends anything most human beings can imagine. It’s not just that it doesn’t taste good – it is one of the few things you can legally consume that actively tastes BAD, that attacks your taste buds and violently makes you regret ingesting it.

If you are wondering, you take the sugar out because once you do so the stimulant high you get from the caffeine and other nasty shit in it is not later mediated by a sugar crash. Sugar-Free Red Bull is for when you absolutely cannot fuck around with staying awake and don’t care how bad it tastes to do it.

And you really can’t care about how bad it tastes because, trust me, you’ll never taste anything worse in your life. The first time I took it was when I was driving home from Somers Point in the wee hours of the morning and it was recommended to me, “just open it and pound the whole thing at once. If you don’t finish off the can the first swig you won’t be able to go back and finish the rest.” This is absolutely true. The four previous times I have had to consume Sugar-Free Red Bull I have downed the entire can in one gulp, which does not mediate the violent unpleasantness of drinking it any, but does at least mean that you only have to endure it once.

I sat there in my car, staring at the can, desperately trying to think of some other way to solve my problem, but I was too far out and had too many hours to go. Another cup of Starbucks swill wouldn’t do it.

This was the only way.

I opened the can, took a deep breath and pounded the whole thing. Once it was empty I crushed the can in my left hand like a drunken frat boy and started pounding the dashboard of my car with my right, screaming, “AAAAAGGGGGHHHHH FUCKING FUCK FUCK AAAAAAGGGGHHHHH!’

You really cannot comprehend how bad this shit tastes. It is an assault on your sense of taste, and taste loses badly. Once it was down I had to wash my mouth out with a bottle of water, spitting out the open door of the car just to get the taste out. I will say this about it, though: it works. Sweet zombie Jesus does it work. Ten minutes later I was on the road when it kicked in and it is like the back of your head getting hit by a car carrier. One second you are a normal, somewhat tired person and then the next second BANG! you are the most awake person in the world.

The other downside, besides the taste, is that the next four hours are something of a blur. I drove, certainly, and I have vague snippets of memory of the time – loudly and vocally debating with myself whether to take the Schuylkill or the Turnpike to the Boulevard is the clearest, followed closely by singing along to every note of the Original Broadway Cast album of Avenue Q – but not a whole lot else.

But finally, at 3:39PM and after 2,685.8 miles, I pulled up at home and remembered: this is the best part.

I have said numerous times that while I am someone who loves traveling I hate being other places. And that’s true; I really, REALLY don’t travel well. But I do it anway for two reasons. One is that I crave new information like teenage girls crave bad vampire movies, and going places I’ve never been is a simple and easy way to get some.

The other is that feeling from getting home, that indescribable feeling – believe me, I’ve been sitting here trying to describe it and I am officially giving up on the process – and if a week of bizarre crap across half this amazing country and back is what it takes to get it, well, that’s what it takes.

JLK

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CLASSIC: Baby make your move, step across the line.

Posted by kozemp on August 25, 2009

This is a repost of something I wrote two websites ago; the infamous story of the Brad Meltzer book signing and its aftermath. It’s sort of like the X-Men Classic of the interwebs: taking old material, slapping a new Art Adams cover on it, and charging full price. Even though I don’t charge, and Art Adams got that restraining order. I may do this more often, since a lot of people (read: almost everyone) didn’t even know the old site existed, as I go through the archives and find stuff that is still decent.

Enjoy.

**********************************************************

The Brad Meltzer thing was tonight. There was, as I predicted, ridiculousness. It started before I left, even, and with my ever-growing penchant for seeing signs and omens in just about everything I should have realized just how awful things the things that were going to happen would be.

After a grueling day of playing poker, reading the Shepard script, and looking at headshots on the internet I got myself gussied up for the signing (i.e. I showered and put on a golf shirt). I had figured, “okay, it starts at 7, it’s in West Chester, so I want to leave about 6.”

At 5:59 I am bathed, dressed, and ready to roll.

Some of you have noticed my preflight countdown, one of the stranger manifestations of my particularly annoying brand of obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s something I do before I leave my house (or the theatre, or someone else’s house, or the bar, or wherever) to make sure I have everything. For years now I have said the same thing, while patting various portions of my anatomy:

“Wallet, phone, car keys, Winona.”

To elaborate, I check to make sure my wallet is in my back right pocket, phone in front left pocket, keys are in front right pocket, and that Winona (my leatherman) is on my right hip. Since my stint at the Death Star ended “iPod” has been added to the end of the list (in my front left pocket with the phone), since it’s oh-so-wonderful for long car rides.

I realize as I get to the end of the preflight, that I do not, in fact, have my iPod.

This begins a frantic scouring of all possible locations for my wayward music player. End tables in the living room, no dice. Desk, no dice. In the car, no dice. I even check the REALLY bad hotspots like the floor just under my bed (where books and DVDs go to die) and the refrigerator (a favorite hiding place of my car keys).

No iPod.

It is now 6:03, and I am perilously close to being late for the Meltzer thing.

I am perilously close to being LATE.

As we all know, in my mind being late is a Thing Which Must Not Happen, Lest The Universe Come To A Screeching Halt. So I sprint out the front door and just hop in my car and go, iPod-less.

This will later turn out to be a remarkably bad decision.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the radio in my car has been acting up a bit lately. Buttons and knobs sometimes choose not to function, or to work in ways not as they are meant to. On the way down, however, I just had it on NPR to listen to the late news and get traffic updates.

I left my house at 6:04. I made awesomely amazing time the whole way there arrived at the Chester County Book and Record Store at 6:59. When I say I’m never late, goddammit, I fucking mean it.

Of course, there was a mixup somewhere along the line, which is totally in no way Brad Meltzer’s fault, which is to say it was entirely Brad’s fault, and the signing didn’t actually start until 7:30. As I sit down and pull out my script to make notes while I wait, I think to myself that I could have spent a couple more minutes looking for the iPod, and that I didn’t have to drive quite so dangerously down 202 to get there (I actually went almost SEVEN MILES over the speed limit).

When the thing actually started, it went as these things go, generally – Brad got up, said some stuff, read from the book, answered questions, then sat and signed books for hours and hours. I was one of the last people in line. I handed my books to the bookstore lady to get opened and whatnot, all the time engrossed in an Andrew Vachss book I discovered there that I had, inexplicably, not read.

“John?” Brad says, reading the sticky note inside the first book.

“Uh, yeah,” I say, still reading my book. At that point it strikes me that it is incredibly rude to be reading a book while standing in front of his table, much less a book written by someone else.

“Oh, right,” I say as I put the book away. “I’m, uh, Johnny Bravo.”

He hovers the pen over the title page of The Book of Fate and looks up at me sharply. “You’re Johnny Bravo?”

“That’s me.”

“Oh, hell, I’ve been e-mailing you for years! How you doing, man?” he says, sticking his hand out to shake. “I sent you one last week, did you read it?”

The author of the #1 book on the New York Times Bestseller List is asking me if I got his e-mail. My mind will be consumed by how cool that is until slightly later in the night when I’m sitting in my car wishing I was dead.

“Yeah, I read it, thanks.”

“Good. It’s great to finally meet you.” He writes as much over his signature in one of the books I have handed him. “Thanks so much for coming out.”

Brad Meltzer is a good man.

Further pleasantries are exchanged, some small talk is made, and I go on my way. I try not to linger at these things; there are other people to get their stuff signed and have their moment with The Man. I pile into the car and I roll.

My plan at this point is to meet Mark at the Vegas Lounge and talk about how we’re going to find two forty-something actors in time to avoid a cattle call, which we hate. On 202, as I approach the merge with 76, two things happen:

1) I switch the radio in the car from NPR to the CD player, which holds Junior Jack’s “Trust It” album.

2) I see a sign which says “construction on I-76 approaching I-476. Expect delays.”

I think to myself, “well, they can’t possibly be doing construction at 10 o’clock on a Thursday night, and even if they are there can’t be that much of a problem.”

From 202 to the Blue Route on 76 is 5 miles. It took me more than forty minutes to drive it.

As I reach the very beginning of the traffic jam, the song on the radio goes from the end of track 3 (“Stupidisco”) to…

The beginning of track 3.

I fiddle with some buttons and nothing happens. Track forward, nothing. Track backward, nothing. Volume, nothing. Switch to radio from CD player, nothing. I figure that’s fine, I’ll just let the CD play.

As Stupidisco ends, it goes to…

The beginning of Stupidisco.

The radio will only play one track, and I am stuck in a monstrous traffic jam.

Oh, God.

After maybe ten minutes of inching forward at 0.34 miles an hour and listening to the same song at eardrum-shattering volume over and over again I just pop the face off the radio and sit there in silence. I also realize that I only have something like 3 cigarettes left, which does not bode well for an extended stay on the Schuylkill Expressway. .

That plan backfires when sitting in silence starts to drive me batshit crazy. The face of the radio goes back on. Junior Jack blares out the speakers at me. My car moves 4 feet.

Now I’m starting to take a decided interest in the dials on my dashboard. The speedometer certainly isn’t doing anything interesting – it isn’t doing anything, actually – but the engine temperature and gas gauges are becoming alarming.

As the temperature gauge inches up and the gas gauge inches down, I idly wonder what will happen if they intersect. Maybe it’ll be like crossing the streams. I consider every molecule in my body exploding at the speed of light and come to the conclusion that with traffic not moving and me subjected to the same song over and over again until the entropic heat death of the universe it might be an improvement. Even if you like it, there’s only so much Brazilian house music one guy can take.

It occurs to me that if the car catches fire or runs out of gas I will at least be able to stop listening to Stupidisco.

When I pass the exit for Gulph Mills I briefly consider getting off the highway, getting gas, letting my car cool down and waiting out the traffic. This idea is discarded as catastrophically idiotic because a) I getting off the highway when you don’t really know where you are is an exceptionally bad idea, b) doing so at night when you can’t see where you’re going is an even worse idea, and c) for fuck’s sake, if they’re actually doing construction now it’s not like I can wait it out.

So I sit there and slowly crawl forward. The left lane, at this point, is completely empty, the handy traffic signs having told everyone miles back that it’s a no-no. The gauges move toward total protonic reversal. Stupidisco assaults my ears. I realize that I forgot to set the DVR. The battery on my cell phone is dead.

I am officially in hell. After I die, this is what I will do for all eternity as penance for daring to ever have hope about anything. And, yeah, for killing a baby on stage, but mostly the hope thing.

I say out loud, “there aren’t enough cigarettes in the goddamned world for this,” although over Stupidisco even I don’t hear it.

When I finally get to the Blue Route there is no construction.

No construction whatsoever.

The left lane was apparently closed for the hell of it.

When I get home, I discover the iPod is sitting on my desk, under another copy of the Shepard script, and I begin to softly weep.

JLK

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The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.

Posted by kozemp on August 23, 2009

My car rocks.

And I don’t mean in that awesome, Slayer concert, “South Philly rocks WOOOOOO!” way. I mean in the unfortunate, “why is my car moving in ways I don’t tell it to?” way.

I first noticed this when my father was changing his shoes at the Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport yesterday. He was unloading his bags and suddenly the car was pole-axing up and down like it was on a schizophrenic hydraulic lift.

When this first started I couldn’t see what was going on (what with the trunk lid obscuring my rear windshield), so I leaned out my window to ascertain why my father was jumping up and down on my car like a trampoline.

“What the fuck are you doing?” I shouted.

“I’m changing my shoes!” he shouted back. We were coming from a funeral and he was changing from his dress shoes into more comfortable traveling shoes. He was sitting on the back bumper doing so. This caused the car to gyrate up and down quickly enough to make a lesser-constitutioned person seasick.

Made as I am of sturdier stuff all I did was sit in my car and say to myself, “that ain’t good.”

The next occurrence of the non-musical rocking came this afternoon at the supermarket. While loading my groceries into the trunk I nudged the car with my thigh. The car proceeded to lurch forward a solid 6 or 8 inches, and come back hard enough to hit me in the leg and make me stumble backwards.

Standing there, holding plastic bags full of cereal in my hands, I looked down at my car and said, “oh, this is gonna get worse before it gets better.”

I briefly worried that I was standing in a Pathmark parking lot talking to no one but, frankly, that would probably be cheaper to fix than my car.

As you have realized by now, I drove my father to the Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport yesterday. The best part about me driving my father to the Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport is that me driving him to the Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport was the LEAST ridiculous part of the entire endeavor.

Here is how something like this happens:

One of my father’s friends… let’s call him, say, “George”… has two bizarre passions: meticulously and intricately (some would say obsessively) planned vacations, and a burning desire to see the northern lights. On at least four occasions in the last fifteen years or so these two passions have collided, resulting in long road trips with his friends (my father and their mutual friend, let’s call him, say, “Rob”) up to the northernmost frontier of civilization to take in various cultural sights and witness the miracle that is the Aurora Borealis.

Note that the term “road trip” is used in a quite literal sense here. They DRIVE to these places. The first excursion was a massive, 27-day, 10-city extravaganza of visiting baseball stadia and sleeping outside in an effort to see the northern lights and a moose. It is my understanding that they saw an actual moose on their second adventure, a trip up to a place in Quebec called Chibougamou, which is quite literally the last town in Canada before one enters the frozen wasteland. No, seriously, look on a map. The road north stops in this place. There is nothing after it. This is where they saw a moose.

It is important to note at this point that on none of these trips have they actually seen the northern lights.

So earlier this summer my father got word that there was a new trip afoot – George was driving to Newfoundland to see the Maritimes (and, presumably, the aurora), and he wanted expected Rob and my father to join him.

Now my father has long since learned that joining in on the driving parts of these trips is Russian Roulette played with a Buick, so he has since the first such vacation gone with the policy of flying out to meet George and Rob in whatever bizarre locale they end up in. Since presumably none of you have ever been in a car with Rob believe me when I tell you this is one of the smartest policies ever devised. So my father set out to fly himself to Newfoundland from Philadelphia for less than a small fortune.

This is, as you might guess, more difficult than it might seem.

Eventually he found an airfare to St. John’s that didn’t run into four figures: flying out of Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport, with a change in Newark. This, by some quirk of airline scheduling, was fantastically cheaper than just flying out of Newark direct.

A second thing that it is important to note: at this point, my father thinks that Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport (located here) and Lehigh Valley International Airport (located here) are the same place.

A third thing it is important to note: my father is a geography teacher.

So he books this flight from Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport to Newfoundland without realizing that a) Scranton and Allentown are not, in fact, the same place, and b) he has agreed to drive back with George, so he can’t leave his car at the airport. This is where I come in. Several weeks ago he asked me to drive him to the Scranton airport and I – admittedly fuzzy on how far away it was – rather stupidly agreed.

Note to self: look at map before agreeing to drive people places.

Yesterday comes and after the funeral my father and I are hustling ourselves into the car to make the drive up there quickly enough to get him on his flight. I’m not that worried – even with whatever brouhaha one has to go through to fly internationally, I have looked it up and the average check-in waiting time at Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport is three minutes. My father spends the entire trip shouting about how much he loves the British accent on my GPS, and two hours later we follow its last instruction and pull into Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport.

This conversation happens:

My dad: Where do you think I check in?

Me: There’s only two doors.

My dad: Which one do you think is departures?

Me: There’s only two fucking doors!

My dad: BUT WHICH ONE –

Me: FLIP A GODDAMN COIN!

Now normally any car trip of significant length with my father will degenerate into shouting on both sides, but in this instance I think we both were a little shellshocked by the fact that the only terminal at Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport was smaller, and had fewer doors, than our house. As we got closer we saw that the first door you came to said “departures” over it. Another door, perhaps thirty feet away, said “Arrivals.” As near as I could tell from the glass-panel front of the building these doors both opened into the same room, making me wonder why they bothered delineating.

There was a question as to whether his flight would go off or not, so once he had changed his shoes my father asked me to hang around until he was sure it would leave.

Me: Look, even at this place I don’t think I can just sit here while you check in.

My dad: Then go wait in the parking lot.

Me: Screw that, I’m not paying to park while you check in.

My dad: Then just go around the block.

Me: Dad, there isn’t a block to go around. <pointing at a spot about 200 feet from the car> That’s the exit. You can see it from here.

My dad: FIND SOMEPLACE TO WAIT!

Me: FINE!

When I reached said exit, I could go straight to get back onto the highway or make a right into the great Scrantonian unknown. Figuring that I had my British GPS to get me out of any trouble, I made the right….

Into someone’s driveway.

The exit from the Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport leads directly onto a residential street, and if (like me) you are completely flabbergasted by this, momentarily lose your mind, and hold your right turn too long, you end up in some poor sod’s front driveway. I can still see the terminal from here. I extricated myself from this unlucky person’s property and drove around this neighborhood until I found a large open space where I could park the car and call my father.

Me: Well? What’s going on?

My dad: I don’t know.

Me: What do you mean you don’t know?

My dad: There isn’t a gate agent.

Me: What do you mean there isn’t a gate agent?

My dad: There’s a desk in this room, but there’s no one sitting at it. There’s no one here.

Me: What do you mean there… you know what, never mind.

My dad: This place is weird. Okay, there’s someone here, I think they might be –

Me: I’m going home.

My dad: Wait, what if my flight gets cancelled –

Me: Just CALL ME! How fucking far away do you think I’m going to get?

I hung up and started poking at my GPS until the “Go Home” button came up.

Before I got back on the Northeast Extension I pulled into a truck stop (an actual truck stop in a de facto city) to get something to drink. I decided a trip this bizarre required a souvenir. Just after the announcement that shower #2 was now open, I came upon the perfect item: a 128-ounce cup. It’s a giant piece of round plastic with a handle and a spill-proof lid. It is more akin to a flower pot than anything you would actually drink out of.

I took the cup and my actual sub-128 ounce drink to the counter, the cup still wrapped in plastic.

“You know you get a free fillup at the soda fountain, right?” the cashier said to me.

I stared at him for a second, then blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“The cup,” he said. “It comes with a complimentary fillup.”

I was buying this thing as a remembrance of a bizarre Saturday afternoon; the thought had honestly not occurred to me that a human would actually fill it with that much liquid and drink all of it, let alone soda, let alone actually drink that much soda. I began to contemplate what would happen if I actually drank 128 ounces of Mountain Dew in one sitting. Every scenario I could come up with ended in my immediate, if pleasurable, death.

“No, I, ah…” I said. “I’m good, thanks.”

JLK

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