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A disturbing thing happened to me this past weekend.

My parents and I were watching college football. We were having a blast watching Navy outplay Notre Dame. There was shouting and taunting and pizza. It was a great day.

At least, it was a great day until I tried to read something to my dad during a commercial. As I held the paper up, I said to him, “I guess I should go to the eye doctor. Lately, when I try to read my eyes jiggle.”

“Jiggle?” he asked with a smirk. “What does that mean?”

“You know, they go like this.” I held my finger up and waved it back and forth, which is the universal sign for eye-jiggling.

He instructed me to remove my eyeglasses and try again. I did so and the jiggling stopped. “Well,” he said, “you need progressive lenses.”

“What?”

“You know, they have different prescriptions depending on the distance.”

“BIFOCALS?!” I shrieked.

Ugh. I am 40 and a half (as of October 24, and yes, I still track my half-birthdays). Why is it so hard for me to believe that I am that old? All of the signs are there: over 50% of my hair is gray (although I’ll never let you see it), I get tired at 8:00pm, and if I sit on the floor for more than a couple of minutes it takes me twice as long to get up. Even so, I am completely surprised when I am faced with hard evidence that I am, in fact, middle-aged.

I always joke with people that the key to staying young is to act really immature, and I stand by that. In fact, a couple of seconds ago, while I was writing the last paragraph, my husband interrupted me to ask what we should do with the gigantic turnip that was sitting in our fridge going bad. I said, “Oh, I don’t know…maybe we should….stick it up your butt?” then went back to writing. (See Mom, you aren’t the only one who is subjected to my immaturity.) I believe that to think young is to be young, and I extend the idea to acting like a seventh grader so I can feel really, really young. I am totally fine with that.

But even if I feel young in my head, every once in a while something happens to snap me back to reality. Below are a few examples. I know that a bulleted list is a sign of lazy writing, but in this case it’s a sign of me trying to hurry and finish this before the baby wakes up. Here are some of the incidents that have made me feel old, in chronological order:

  • The first time I noticed that a weatherman was probably younger than I was, I was dismayed. These are authority figures! They use science to guess what the weather will be in two days! That was the first time I remember feeling old and it was a weird, sad moment.
  • When I was teaching seventh grade, I once heard myself say, “Trust me, someday you will thank me for making you do (such and such)” I don’t remember what important task I was making the student do, but do I remember that I sounded like a caricature of an adult. I might as well have been going “Waa waa. Waa waa, waa.” like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons.
  • Then there was the time I first noticed how much younger the players in college sports were. I mean, I was out of college already so of course they were younger, but I guess I never thought about it. Then one day I saw a quarterback being interviewed after a game and I was like…Whoa. He’s a baby.
  • Then there was the time I made a comment like, “I swear, kids these days tailgate so much!” The woman I was referring to was on her way to work during rush hour, so she was definitely older than the college quarterback. It was getting worse…
  • Then there was the time that the kid (again with the kid!) working the register at a convenience store said “Have a nice day. Ma’am.” I froze. Excuse me?!  Fortunately, I resisted the urge to bite his head off. Instead, I just said, “Oh, calling me ‘Ma’am’ makes me feel old.” He smiled and said “Sorry, Miss.” But while his mouth said ‘Miss’ the rest of his face said “Oh, you are sooo pathetic.”
  • Then there was the time I was dating a younger guy and found out that he had never seen Caddyshack. I wasn’t even sure he knew what I was talking about until I explained that it was movie. Yikes. That relationship ended a few weeks later, when I realized he was born the same year that the movie came out.
  • When my future sister-in-law started dating her fiancé, she mentioned where he grew up and I realized he went to my high school, Shore Regional. I was so excited, and the next time I saw him I was like, “Do you know the so-and-so family?” After a couple of seconds of that I asked, “Wait, what year did you graduate?” only to find out that it was TWELVE years after I did! My husband is five years younger than I am, and his sister is two years younger than he is, and her fiancé is five years younger than she is. That makes twelve. Needless to say, when we all socialize together I have a lot of similar conversations with their friends. I suppose that’s what I get for robbing the cradle.
  • I became pregnant with my first child at 39. During the first doctor’s visit, I had a quick conversation with the office manager about insurance: what would be covered, what wouldn’t. She said, “Well, due to your advanced maternal age, we will probably have to give you more tests.” I gave her the stare down – I couldn’t help it, I was really hormonal – and said, “Advanced maternal age is just a euphemism for old.” She looked startled, and I didn’t even feel bad. Did I mention that I was hormonal?
  • A few months later, I was sitting on the beach with my younger brother, who made some crack about me being old. I shot back, “It’s not like I‘m 40 or something!” Then I paused and remembered that I was 39 and was like, Oh…scratch that.

There’s more, but those are the highlights – or the lowlights, depending on your perspective. People often tell me I look young for my age which is feeling less and less like a compliment. I used to always say that I looked young because I had no kids to stress me out and age me, but that’s all changed. Nothing makes someone hit the wall like having an infant at age 40. I am pretty sure I have aged at least five years in the last ten months.

Whatever. You can’t fool Mother Nature and you can’t stop Father Time. But I still make a big deal about my birthdays and I am still honest about my age. And, I only have nine and a half years before I qualify for AARP insurance – so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

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My posts of late have been somewhat reflective and introspective, so you may be expecting this post to be about the signs the universe is sending me to direct me to my purpose…blah blah blah. No, I wanted to write about plain ordinary signs – the boards with words and pictures that tell you where to go – or not.

I stick up for New Jersey all of the time. Armpit of the United States? How dare you! Have you been to Baltimore? Or Central Florida? That place may not have state income tax, but it also has no soul. New Jersey is a cool place. We let people across the country think bad things about New Jersey. We invite visitors to come to New Jersey and be greeted by the industrial sludge surrounding Newark Airport. We do this because New Jersey is already too damned crowded –we don’t need people up and moving here from out of state and making it worse. In actuality, New Jersey is a great place to live: we have beautiful beaches, amazing state parks where you can hike in seclusion for hours, local farms with fresh-picked produce, and all of this only a short distance from the best city in the world (I am referring to New York City, not Philly, lest there be any confusion). So what if virtually every municipal government in our state is corrupt? That just adds to the local flavor. There are a lot of things to love about New Jersey (pork roll, the Giants, Bruce) and the majority of people I know who grew up here want to stay.

So as a big fan of New Jersey, I feel that I have a right to point this out: What in the hell is up with the signage in this state?! If you don’t know where you are going, then you are shit out of luck because there are no signs that will help you. Most road signs in New Jersey are too small, too sparse, unclear (such as an arrow that points to the wrong place), or just plain confusing. 

For example, last week I had a business meeting in West Orange on Prospect Ave, just off Route 280. As I was leaving the meeting and heading south on Prospect, I was trying to remember if the entrance for 280 East was on the left or the right. Unlike some states, there is no standard for the location of highway entrances – sometimes they are on the left and sometimes they are on the right. I will give the benefit of the doubt and assume that a lot of the on-ramps were built after the houses and businesses, thus leading to a certain degree of randomness. Nonetheless, if there is no consistency to how the entrances to highways are designed, at least we should make sure they are clearly marked, right? Wrong. This is how it went:

About 200 feet before the highway, there was a small sign (about the size of a stop sign) for 280 East with an arrow pointing up to indicate that the highway was straight ahead. There was no indication as to whether the entrance for 280 East would be on the right or the left. This is problematic because Prospect has two lanes going each way and everyone in this area drives at least 50 miles per hour on these types of roads, so there isn’t a lot of time to change lanes once you realize you are in the wrong one for the highway entrance. Perhaps a bit of suspense and excitement is a good thing. The photo below from Google Maps shows the sign for Route 280 with a Garden State Parkway sign directly below it. It is a bit hard to see in the sun (a lot like when you are driving at certain times of the day), but it is directly to the right of the car. Please note how small the sign is, keeping in mind that this is a pretty major highway.

Signage 1 

Now, the entrance for 280 East ended up being on the left, which fortunately I remembered from when I lived in the area. Directly above the left entrance was a large sign indicating that 280 East was “this way”  as you can see in the photo below. That would typically be a good thing, even though it would still require a quick lane-change if you were on the right. However, the other day when I was on that road the entire sign for 280 East was covered by tree branches. Sigh.

 Signage 2

Overgrown foliage covering signs on or to major highways is not an isolated incident – I see it all of the time. Who is in charge here? How can no one notice that a sign is completely covered by trees?! How could someone notice and not feel compelled to trim them back?! I have seen signs completely covered by trees and tall grasses on highways like Route 287 where the average speed is 80 miles per hour in the right lane. The message: If you want to drive on our highways, you better already know where you need to go, dammit. It’s every man, woman and child for themselves.

Then there are the Garden State Parkway signs. The Parkway is pretty much the major thoroughfare for intra-state travel. Yet, on several occasions I have been in a New Jersey town that I know is near a Parkway entrance, like Springfield, but I can’t find the Parkway because the signs point you in the direction but never actually lead you there. You see a small Parkway sign on the side of the road that points to the right. You make the next available right even though there isn’t another sign confirming that this is the right turn that the other sign referred to. Then you drive for two miles without seeing another sign. Are you supposed to take it on faith as you tour some suburb in Northern New Jersey that if you continue going in the approximate direction suggested by the last Parkway sign you will eventually hit the highway? From my experience, a safer bet to play the 22 to 1 long-shot at Monmouth Park Racetrack.

This all became obvious to me for the first time a few years ago following a move out of state. Being new to Texas, I depended on the clear and prominent signs on the roads to find my way around. Upon my move back to New Jersey, the lack of signage became very apparent. No wonder people hate New Jersey: not only are the signs useless, but when out-of-state drivers slow down to try to figure out where they’re going, the typical New Jersey driver reacts by riding their tail and flashing the high-beams. Welcome to the Garden State.

On second thought, maybe the poor signage isn’t due to a lack of attention to detail or someone dropping the ball. Maybe it’s a conspiracy to prevent more people from moving to our already-crowded state. It’s just a thought. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop defending New Jersey.

I recently gave birth to Max, my first child, at 39 years old.  I mean, I was 39 years old, not him.  This is not a Benjamin Button scenario.  It was all good with the pregnancy, even though the first doctor I went to said he would need to order some extra tests due to my “advanced maternal age,”  which is obviously just a euphemism for old.  I fired him, but not for that.

I am truly enjoying Max, although there are times when I am convinced that old ladies like me shouldn’t be having babies.  I have developed an ache in my back that will not go away.  When I have to wake up a few times per night to feed the baby, which is pretty much standard, I feel as hungover as if I had been on a two-day bender except that I don’t have all of the great stories at the end of it.  But more difficult than the physical adjustments are the behavioral changes I have to make, not the least of which is the dreaded schedule

Intellectually, I accept the fact that children should be on a schedule; structure is very important for children and the predictability and consistency of a schedule helps them thrive.  But herein lies the problem:  I myself have not been on a schedule for over 20 years!  Actually, I have been on a schedule, it’s just a different schedule every day.  Does that count? 

Ah, my early 20s.  Life was so simple, so straightforward.  At that point in my life my schedule looked like this:

  6:30a – Wake and shower

  7:30a – Leave for work

  4:00p – Work on lesson plans (I was a teacher at the time)

  6:00p – Drive home

  8:00p – Order pizza

  9:00p – Watch Melrose Place and heckle mercilessly

10:00p – Procrastinate

11:45p – Finish grading papers

12:30a – Go to bed

On a Saturday, it might have been more like this:

  1:00p – Get up

  1:30p – Get bagels

  2:00p – Start watching movies on cable

  5:00p – Take a break from movies to order food

  5:30p – Eat and finish movies

  8:00p – Shower and dress

  9:30p – Meet friends at 8th Street Tavern

10:00p – Play pool

  2:30a – Go home and go to bed

Years later a lot had changed.  In my late 20s and early 30s I was more focused on my career, and that created its own set of schedule-related challenges mostly due to the ways in which I had complicated my life.  I would characterize this stage of my life as one when I felt lucky if I didn’t have to eat a meal in my car.  On any given morning when I worked too long the night before, I would have a hard time getting out of bed and end up being late, leading to me shoving a bagel down my throat while driving a stick shift and checking voice mails on my cell phone.  I know that is a frightening image but scarier is that I was still driving better than 80% of the people on Route 78. 

One day I would be able to jet out of the office at 5:00p (rare) and others I would get stuck at work until they turned the lights off at 10:00p (sad and pathetic).   Some days I would plan my meetings so I could escape the office in time to get home and eat a meal at my dining table – I paid extra for a condo with dining area, after all – and then my boss would call about some fire-drill that would keep us working until 9:00p.  On nights like that I would stop at a diner or something on the way home and just eat by myself, a situation which made my mother very sad although I think it would have been more sad for me to have been starving and not stopped because I was too embarrassed to sit by myself.  Besides, eating alone at restaurants helped me find my favorite pastime – eavesdropping.  I might have to dedicate an entire post to how interesting it can be to glimpse into a moment in someone else’s life and then make up the rest in your head while scarfing down a bacon cheeseburger.

But I digress, as usual (stop snickering).  My question is:  How in the hell am I supposed to get a new baby on a schedule when I have spent 20 years just rolling with it?!?  What I described above is only the tip of the iceberg.  Somehow I have to find a way to reshape the behaviors that took two decades to develop! 

It all comes down to this…I have waited a long time to have a family because that’s just how things unfolded.  Now I am a mother and I want to be a great one and I know that means putting my child first which I am more than happy to do.  I just never realized the simultaneously subtle and gigantic ways in which I would have to change my life to do that.  If you thought it was hard to start a workout routine, imagine how hard it is to change an entire lifestyle of frenetic unpredictability.

Wish me luck…I need it.

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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© Operation Peace and Serenity, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Operation Peace and Serenity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.