Jim has a recurring feature “Things That Chap My Ass”. I’m generally a bit less irascible than Jim, but my posterior gets rubbed raw on a regular basis, and this rant has been percolating a long, long time. You see, I have a really long-assed commute, and I rub elbows with John Q. more before 8:00AM than most of you do all day, unless you’re in retail. And if you’re in retail – my deepest sympathy to you. So, let’s itemize the irritants, shall we? The things that apply the industrial belt sander to the ‘ol cheeks, as it were.
This item might seem unrelated to commuting, but the very first irritant that chaps my ass in the morning is my Motorola Razor. See, my commute involves a car (sharing the road with some of the craziest assholes to find a driver’s license as a prize in a box of caramel popcorn), a train where my attention is forcibly focused on America’s poor passenger rail infrastructure (as well as its burgeoning obesity problem), and my own two feet traveling through one of the highest profile terrorist targets in the word (not to mention the fact that I walked over this piece of real estate only an hour before it did its Mt. Redoubt impression).
So, the wife likes to know I completed each leg of the journey safely. Hence the need for a good phone. Which the Razor ain’t. Let’s start with the battery system. We bought 2 Razors about 3 years ago. Right out of the fucking box one charger worked with both, and one with only one phone. Then I got a Crackberry for work. The Crackberry took the Motorola charger just fine. The Razor was not quite so compatible with the BB charger. “Unauthorized charger?” WTF is that? Do 12V converters need a security clearance, now? I didn’t realize HOMESEC was reaching that far. And how come a phone with about 10 times the functionality of the Razor takes both chargers? And how come third-party car chargers don’t trigger the “unauthorized charger” error?
What’s worse is that as the thing has aged, it’s started acting up. Sometimes when I turn it on, I get an “unauthorized battery” error. WTFF? The battery has not been out of the phone since I bought it. Now the damn thing won’t charge on any charger until I turn it on and off a few times. If the phone powers up, how is the battery unauthorized? If you’re going to put in all sorts of useless shit to try to get me to by your name brand charger when I forget mine in some third world hotel room, at least make sure your shit is compatible with itself. ALL the fucking time.
Earth to Motorola: Microsoft’s business model only works when you have a near-monopoly. The word for today, or at least the word for the day I purchase my next phone, is Nokia.
But I’m not done with the phone. Now let’s go to the USB headset interface – which by the way, is also the USB interface for the charger – you can’t use both at once. I resisted a Bluetooth headset for a long time, but the fucking marketers at Motorola decided to try to force Razor users to get one, because there is no 3mm jack on the Razor. You have to use this USB dongle in order to use a wired headset - and the dongle has a huge bulb like a colonoscopy bag. In fact that’s a pretty good metaphor in more ways than one. And fuck you, Motorola if you thought I was going to buy one of your pieces of crap. I got a Jawbone.
The phone also comes with a speakerphone option – which is good given the problems with the headset interface. But both phones seem to have a random number generator built in that determines the speaker and microphone volume levels. Some days it’s great, some days I have to shout, even at full volume. And guess what else? I keep the phone on “vibrate” all the time, but if I have to adjust the volume for the speakerphone, it adjusts the volume on everything, ringtone and all. And guess what else? Oh you know this POS only gets better. Adjusting the volume on the speakerphone while in vibrate mode shifts the ring mode from vibrate to audible tone. I often forget that, until it rings in the middle of a meeting.
We won’t even talk about the user menus, and the fact that the most-used functions are often buried several layers in. OK, I can’t help myself - when you go to the “Contacts” section of your phone tools, what are you most often doing, adding a contact, or trying to reach an existing one? Unless you are a teenager with a severe case of hormone poisoning, I’m guessing the latter. So why is the default screen “Add Contact”?
When Jim rules the world and I am Commissar for Technology Enforcement, some Motorola engineers and I are going to have a little talk. And that dog and pony show is going to involve topics like “Listening to your customers”, “Too many useless features”, “The new requirement that you use the devices you design for 2 years” and “The Commissar’s favorite negative reinforcement tool – the Tabasco and sriracha enema”.
At least the POS was “free” with our Verizon contract.
Now, that we’re done with the phone, let’s continue to follow my journey chronologically, shall we? I get in the car and turn on the radio. Ah, the soothing sounds of Country music. Punctuated by news I need, such as which road has been blocked by New England dipshit motorists driving while Jersey and getting a crash course (hah) in basic physics. All well and good. Except wait, we get to the next thing that chaps my ass about my commute: local radio.
First on the shit list are the dirtbag, small-time marketing firms who create radio spots for local businesses. You guys suck. If you didn’t suck, you’d have an office on Madison Avenue. But I really don’t care about your lack of talent. What makes you really step up from Hooverville to industrial, turbine-powered vacuum pumping is your two-bit, carnival ride, attention-getting gimmicks. Sirens? Really? What mustachioed dipshit in a cheap, polyester suit sporting burn holes from cigars that smell like rolled-up, used Dr. Scholl’s inserts came up with that one? Let me clue you in on some economic reality – local radio survives on two things – long commutes and people who work in jobs where they can’t have earphones. Otherwise, CDs, MP3s and satellite radio would have ground it into the dust. Therefore, pretty much all of your audience listens to the radio in the car at some point in the day, even if they also catch you at work. I’ll ask again: sirens? Seriously? You thought it was a good idea to piss people off before telling them how the dealership extends a hand to people with bad credit? I mean, with that line I’m thinking that my good credit is going to be subsidizing some deadbeats if I shop there, but if you’ve already pissed me off by making me look for a cop or an ambulance in the rearview, the only way I’ll visit that shithole dealership is if I have a howitzer in tow. Don’t tempt me.
And while we’re on the subject, to my local radio station: don’t think I didn’t notice when the law firm whose building you operate out of was interspersing its name through the celebrity station endorsements so it sounded like they were endorsing the law firm. I guess someone’s agent heard, too, because you cut that out right quick. But you still badger the stars who are willing re-dub their songs to your local prejudices. No, I don’t think that Montgomery Gentry are pissed because the Yankees lost. I’ve heard the song on other stations, and I like the local flavor “Bengals” lends to the song. Not to mention that the overdub is not flawless and it sounds like they hiccupped. And substituting your call letters for the word “radio” in every song where the lyrics mention listening to the radio is plain fucking irritating. Your call letters don’t scan with the rhythm of “radio”. Ever.
One day when I’m rich and famous I’m going to buy your station and make you all sign 5 year, poison pill contracts, with a clause about having the station’s broadcast pumped into your office all day. Quality control, see? About six months later I’m going to switch the format to an eclectic mix of slash metal, modern rap and 70’s easy listening. And Yani. Don’t forget fucking Yani.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject, what is with the high number of lowlife advertisements? We’ll start with the bail bonds company. The only time I hear these ads is on the morning commute, about 5:00 AM. I have not figured this one out. Why? Because 5:00 AM is well past the time that someone’s been picked up for disturbing the peace or DUI and I don’t think they have radios in the drunk tank. So these ads are either for relatives so fed up with the loser in question that their outsourcing their pick-up duties, or it’s for people who are planning to get into trouble this weekend. Either way, I’m not happy they listen to the same station I do.
But the real sandpaper on the cheeks administered by the ads on this station comes from Ultra-90. I hear the ads on my morning commute. I hear them on my evening commute. I hear them on Saturday when the kid is pestering me to find a station playing “Cowgirls Don’t Cry”. News flash – when I’m home there is another Country station I can pick up. You’re violating the first rule of radio – don’t make me want to hurl the receiver out the window.
All you need to know about Ultra-90 is contained in this review. I pretty much figured the lay of the land out from what the company did not say on the radio ads, but allowing one of your DJs to become their local celebrity endorser goes beyond money grubbing well into not serving the interests of your listeners as required by your FCC license. AM formula? PM formula? Exactly the same ingredients? Fire the DJ and grow a conscience. Otherwise, when I buy your station, guess what’s going to be the only item on the company cafeteria menu?
OK, the radio is on, ready to alert me to traffic problems. What next?
Now we’re on the road with the cream of the New England driving crop. I know people who have left Rhode Island (reputed to be some of the worst drivers in the nation) for Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has a lot of drivers moving in from New England, and quite responsibly will not allow you to pick up one of their licenses without retaking the written exam. These people I know, professional people, from Rhode Island, failed the PA test the first time they took it. That just about says all you need to know about getting a license in New England. Makes you think about the term “Masshole”, doesn’t it? Now do you see why I’m firmly convinced that the franchise for driving licensure in New England is outsourced to a certain subsidiary of the Frito Lay company?
Seriously, at a busy intersection in Rhode Island recently, I actually watched someone come to a stop in the left lane a full 10 meters before the stop line. This is a “T” intersection,. And the only choices at this juncture were turn right or go straight, and the left hand lane had only one choice – straight. This fool puts on his left turn signal, then when the light changes, he proceeds to pull a U turn across 2 lanes of opposing traffic (who were already in motion because their light goes green with the opposing left turn green arrow before our light turns green). The screeching of brakes, it was incredible.
But back to my commute: I’ve just pulled out of the driveway. Where now? Oh yes, on the local roads, where I begin my day. It’s dark when I begin my day. And so we run into the all high beams all the time guy. If you can see the tail lights of the car in front of you, turn off the fucking high beams, asshole. Related to this is the guy driving the truck he uses to haul stuff about twice a year and his damned halogen fog lights. Poorly aimed fog lights. These people are the reason I’m shopping for one of these to mount on my car.
Then we run into the “no headlights in town” guy. It’s dark. Or twilight, which is worse. There are not THAT many streetlights in our town. You are driving a gray minivan. Turn your fucking lights on or I’m going flag you down and jump start your genitals, am I clear?
Then, we get to the gas station, on the days I forget to fill up the day before. And we invariably have the pickup truck taking up 2 bays at the busy gas station by the highway entrance – the only one open at that hour in my podunk town. Listen, dick, the guys who really need those trucks, they are almost always courteous about keeping the other bay open. Your bed liner does not have a scratch on it. Your truck has no company logo. You have a King Cab. So I’m betting you don’t really need that monster to haul your family around, you just want to be able to drop “my truck” into casual conversation. Of course you have a set of fog lights mounted on your bumper. And you never pay at the pump. One of these days when you’re in line to pay on a cold fucking day, I’m going to pop open your door, pry up the mesh covering, and drop a week-old squid down your defroster vent. Have you ever been exposed to a putrefying squid? People won’t hear you coming down the street, they won’t see you coming down the street, they’ll SMELL you coming down the street.
Now for the highway. Most of the irritants on my commute occur on the finely-maintained highways of New England.
Oh, let’s do the maintenance before we catalog the ways in which my fellow drivers piss all over the manual. “Work zones” that have not seen a piece of construction equipment in 6 months need to stop, and stop now. I realize that the Feds had a start date attached to their grant, but they also expected a that “work start” involved just a little bit more than setting up the orange signs to double fines in the area. And when the State Road crew is actually on the job, they have the work ethic of a union steward on retirement day.
How about this? When a project runs late and over budget, we get to tie the project manager to a light pole in the area. For every day and every dollar a project is over budget and over time, every driver who uses that route to get to work gets one good swing at the boss. That will put an end to this creative bookkeeping right quick.
And speed limits. Why in the FUCK would you put a 40mph zone on a three lane fucking highway? Why? There are no more exits per mile on that stretch of highway than in the previous ten miles or the ten miles after, so what gives? Lawmakers who mandate ridiculously low speeds on three lane expressways need to be forced to commute to work via Interstate in a fucking golf cart.
OK, I think I’m done with roads, now for the drivers. Like I said before, the majority of the irritants on my commute come in the 45 minute stretch I spend on New England’s lovely interstate system. Let’s chronicle the major sub-types of shithead, shall we?
The cut off drivers in the entrance lane asshole. Most of New England drives while Jersey, and the biggest asshole Jersey habit is riding in the right lane right over highway entrances while people are trying to get on. All through New England, the entrance lanes are far too short for the job they have to do, by at least 50%. So, if there is room, good drivers (read drivers not from around here) get over into the left lane if they see cars coming onto the ramp. New Englanders, however, will sit in the right lane, causing the pokey pickup (see below) to come to a FULL FUCKING STOP in a lane that’s too short to get up to speed even if you come out of the final tight S bend the highway engineers put on the ramp because the project managers could not be bothered to secure the appropriate rights-of-way for a proper exit ramp as fast as you possibly can (which is usually about 40 mph). This is a perfect trifecta of dipshittery (designer, pickup, and Jersey jerk on the highway), but I think we can handle this problem. Once again, when I am Commissar for Technology Enforcement, we are going to have systems installed in all automobiles in New England. This will involve radar and cameras. When those systems detect that the driver of the car is pulling a Jersey, a sign and loudspeakers will pop up out of the roof. The speakers will play Dennis Leary’s “I’m an Asshole” loud enough to wake the dead, and the sign will display the lyrics. This will last for 24 hours, whether the engine is on or not, and the timer will reset itself if the driver pulls another Jersey move. If the system detects the driver is the pickup coot, a sign will pop up saying “Too Timid and Senile to be Allowed on the Road.” THEIR loudspeakers will blare “Rusty Chevrolet” by Da Yoopers, which is funny the first time you hear it, but not so much on the 100th repeat.
The back and forth speeder. Jeezus H Christ on a chrome plated pogo stick, what in the fuck is wrong with you? You climb up my ass when I’m doing 75 in a 65, then, when I get over and let you pass, I meet up with you a mile later doing 60 in the fast lane. Put. The. Phone. Down.
The “match your speed” guy. Closely related to, or often the same person as the previous asswipe. Doing 63 in a 65, then when you go to pass, they catch sight of you in their peripheral vision and suddenly you are both going down the highway at an insane speed. Then, once he knows he’s going to lose the race, he’s back to 63. Dude, you’re joining the state lawmakers in the golf cart.
The afraid to pass the semi guy. I’m following at 4 or 5 car lengths down the highway, you’re doing 72, and I’m OK with that. If you were not in front of me, I’d be doing 75, but I’m not going to pass you for a lousy 3 mph. Then we go to pass the semi and you are down to 60. Seriously, what’s the most dangerous place on the highway? It’s right behind or right beside a semi. So why prolong the pass? I know there’s a Jersey barrier on your left and a swaying rig full of gasoline on the other side, but pretend you’re in the Death Star trench or something. The longer you stay in that situation, the more likely it becomes that when you get to heaven, God will be saying “That was awesome, I saw the fireball from up HERE”. Pass and get the fuck on with your drive.
The tandem. Related to the previous jerk is the asshole doing 66 in the fast lane, when the guy in the right lane is doing 65.5. Pass the motherfucker. Seriously. I’m still a car length behind you, but I can’t see the headlights of the guy in back of me. Shit or get off of the pot.
The pokey pickup. See, where I’m from, pickups are often the hot rod of choice. People soup them up, they put monster truck tires on them, and they drive them fast. Pull the slow semi passing routine on Sothern roads and some good ‘ol boy in a facsimile of Big Foot is going to leave tire tracks on your roof. But north of that Manson-Nixon line, all of a sudden every pickup is driven by a senile old coot in a John Deere cap with no particular place to go. Get. It. Up. To. Speed. Swamp Yankee.
The gas-saver. I actually met one of these at a party once, and it was all I could do not to punch him. Since 55 mph is 10% more fuel efficient (so says one study) than 65, they toodle along trying to reduce their carbon footprint. News flash – that study is old. I actually have one of those instantaneous gas mileage computers in my wagon, and its tubocharged engine is most efficient at 66 or 67, or so says the computer.
And I’ll clue you in on a little basic engineering knowledge that you would have picked up if you hadn’t decided to major in English and take the easiest electives that didn’t get you up before 10:00 AM, thereby avoiding anything useful you could have gotten out of four years of college: what optimizes a single-body system does not necessarily optimize a system with a lot more moving parts.
Let me explain the concept behind stoplights to you. No, seriously, I don’t think you’ve ever thought about what a stoplight means beyond a red light that doesn’t let you get to where you’re going as fast as you’d want to. Have you? I didn’t think so. A stoplight is actually the most common mechanism for optimizing a complex system that you are likely to encounter in your conscious life.
If it was all about you, - if you were the only one on the road - we’d eliminate stoplights and let you run straight through town. But other people need to get where they are going too, and in order to cut down on accidents, we accept inefficiency in any individual journey to optimize the OVERALL efficiency.
Similarly, when you are toodling down the interstate at 55 (or 50 because you don’t know how to push the accelerator enough to maintain speed going up a fucking hill), that semi behind you has to swing out into the left lane at 60 mph if he wants to stay on schedule. But then he drops to 53 going up a hill, making everyone else slow down behind him. Then speed up as the semi pulls in front of you traffic slowly gets unfucked from your little display of moral superiority. Every ounce of gas up and down the whole highway that’s wasted because people who will actually be missed if they don’t get where they are going have to speed up and slow down around your rolling hazard zone? That gas is added to YOUR carbon footprint, not theirs. And God forbid anyone get into an accident because of your shitheadery – THAT carbon usage will get you the title of Bigfoot for the rest of your life.
If you’re that concerned about your footprint, carpool and eliminate some trips, dickhead. I HAVE to be on the road, and sleep is not just nice to have, it’s a safety concern, so I’m not getting up half an hour earlier to poke on the Interstate. The footprint you should be worried about is mine, on your ass.
Finally, we get to the Rhode Island habit of poking on the entrance lane, all the way to the end of the lane, and still entering the 65 mph zone at 40. Look, asshole, that pedal on the right hand side? It’s called the accelerator for a reason. ACCELERATE. Or stay on the local fucking road.
Jeezus I met every one of these dipshits on the road this morning. I’m sure I missed a few subtypes, but that’s what the comments section is for.
Now we get to the commuter rail station. PATH and other commuter rails in the NY metro area are owned by the respective states, but they outsource their actual operations to Amtrak. So you can imagine how efficient they are. I once had a commuter train completely forget my stop. A Local. Supposed to stop at all stops. All I got was a half-assed apology. I really didn’t want to go to Princeton anyway, but my boss wasn’t having any of THAT. Fortunately, she was on the same train, so everyone believed my story.
So, let’s get our tickets, shall we? In typical Amtrak fashion, only one window is open and every day-tripping senior citizen is in line asking 100 stupid questions (seriously, the first time you’re heading into NYC by train is when you’re 68?), so I head right to the automated ticketing machines. And I run right into the gauntlet of yuppie assholes.
OK, dude, you’ve got your suit, you’ve got your wing tips, you’re all ready for that big presentation at the main office in the City. What you don’t have is common courtesy or a fucking clue. Stop trying to look important, stop asking the guy traveling with you, who is similarly blocking the other machine, where the fucking coffee is. That big pink and brown sign back there? Yeah, the one that says Dunkin’ Donuts? That’s where the coffee is, dipshit. No, there is no Starbucks in this station.
And stop trying to loudly talk business at 6 o’fucking clock in the morning. You’re in front of the ticket machines. That means you don’t really belong in the city. You’re attached to some branch office. How do I know? Because the people who belong in the City have monthly rail passes. I don’t belong in the City either, but when I’m done buying my tickets I get the fuck out of the way so the line of people behind me can complete their transactions. Get your ticket, get your caffeine, and get the fuck out of my way. Yuppie bastard.
Now we get on the train. It’s run by Amtrak, so the seats are uncomfortable (and narrow, but we’ll get to that in a moment), at least once a month the lights go out in my car, and at least once a week there is a car with no AC in the summer (and the windows don’t open) or no heat in the winter. The trains sometimes sway like Axle Rose on a bender because the tracks aren’t level, and they don’t police their yards – I was once on a train that hit a parked car.*
I get on the train, though, I have to. More self-important yuppie bastards. Talking on the phone. Add the day-tripping teenagers and private-school commuting teens being, well, teens, and sleep is pretty much impossible. So I break out the lap top.
I must give out “pervert vibes” or something, because the skinny hot chick never sits next to me. Oh no. Well, in her defense, she probably gets hit on a lot. Most of them have regular seatmates they sit with every day. But, as an episodic commuter, I come face to face with the fact that America has an obesity problem, and much of it is resting on my right thigh during my commute on the train. Seven times out of ten I get the guy with the BMI of 45. I’m not kidding about the number – BMI is deceptive when you have a lot of muscle, but believe you me, these people are not hiding muscle underneath that bulk – I lived in Japan and I know what the physique of a sumo wrestler actually feels like sitting next to you on the train. (Yes, they wear those yuukata when out and about, I was always afraid the little cloth belt was going to come undone and the commuter car would get flashed). These Americans are not sumo wrestlers. More like Jell-o wrestlers. Take that metaphor anyway you’d like. My elbows aren’t just tucked into my ribs – there is no room there. My elbows are in front of me and my body is doing some sort of mutated impression of a T. Rex. while I type.
And don’t start on the halitosis. I’m not talking about coffee breath. People, brush your fucking teeth before you inflict yourself on the public.
Finally, we get to NYC. Penn and Grand Central stations are full of non-New Yorkers at 8:00 in the morning. How do I know? Because one New York habit of which I thoroughly approve is their fast walking pace. I spent my first 18 years in the sticks. I walked fast because if I wanted to get anywhere on foot, it was a loooong walk. The first city I ever lived in was Moscow, USSR. People did not have cars, they walked or took the Metro, and they walked fast, especially my peers just out of their hitch in the Army. So I walk fast. So do New Yorkers. NY commuters do not, and the main stations are full of bottle necks – stair cases from the lower tracks, escalators, and wide, grand lobbies than narrow into little passageways. Real new Yorkers fly through them. The under-caffeinated drones in my way do not. Get to work, people. Or the new Commissar for Technology Enforcement is going to make a power grab to include walking in his definition of “technology”, and the enforcers are going to be armed with cattle prods.
Yeah, by the time I’ve finished my 2 hour 45 minute commute and get into my office in time for my 8:30 meeting, I’m in a fine mood. How about you?
* The car was parked parallel to the tracks in a place it was not supposed to be. The driver was not on the tracks, but forgot that trains are generally a bit wider than the tracks themselves. This was in the yard of the final stop for this trian, my stop. I was literally 2 minutes form my stop, maybe 10 minutes by foot. And we sat there. And sat there. I swear, if I ever catch the driver of that car, he's going to be entering a golf cart a school bus demolition derby.