Driven to Insanity

 

I drive a motor vehicle for a living. A shuttle van. ūüöź

Bigger than a car or SUV, but not like a big 18-wheeler. ūüöõ

The point is, I’m a driver. Which is okay; I enjoy driving. Always have, I suppose.

I got to thinking about that lately, and had to chuckle a bit. Because my classmates in Drivers Education (along with the teacher) (and maybe, my parents) would have probably told you back then I should be banned from the road for life.

 

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My sophomore year of high school, I got to take Drivers Ed. This was a big deal. I was so ready to get my license and be out on the open road.

But the first step was getting through this class. The classroom portion was pretty straightforward and simple, learning rules and regulations, defensive driving, watching that driving film, stuff like that.

But then, there was the actual driving part. Getting behind the wheel and taming that beast!

That gave me a bit of trouble.

For example, my first time to get out on the highway, I thought I was doing pretty well. My teacher wasn’t yelling at me, he maintained a calm demeanor the whole trip, just writing things down occasionally on some kind of form on a clipboard.

Then it came time for me to pull over and trade places with the other student, in the back seat; it was his turn. The teacher got out of the car to stretch for a bit. While he was out, I noticed, in the front seat, the form he had been writing on.

It was a driver evaluation.

At the bottom of the page was a blank section designated “Comments.”

In the Comments section, he wrote: Scared hell out of me.

Hmmm. Guess I didn’t do so great, after all.

Wasn’t exactly perfect on the practice course at school, either. I remember one particular session where I started to slowly drift into the path of an oncoming car. (I mean, 5 MPH slowly, if that.) I didn’t hit the car; I corrected my course in time, but the other people in my car and in the other car all reacted as if we narrowly avoided a fatal head-on collision, blood and scattered body parts and everything.¬†When it was time to switch drivers, the one in the other car got out and, clearly perturbed, asked me, “What are you trying to do, kill us all?”

OK, so I had my moments.

Then, there was the whole ordeal of learning to drive a car with manual transmission. All I have to say about that is: I HATE manual transmission. Please, may I never have to use it again!

 

The first time I took my on-the-road driving test was great fun. (That, ladies and gentlemen, is sarcasm.) For one thing, I took it in our Chevrolet Kingswood Estate station wagon.

Now, if you’ve never seen one of those, I invite you to Google it and check out the images. The thing measured approximately 50 feet long. You could eat breakfast in the front seat while the guy in the back was having dinner.

Now, try to imagine parallel parking that bad boy.

Needless to say, that’s why I had to take a second on-the-road driving test. Took that one in Dad’s not-much-shorter Pontiac Grand Prix. (Welcome to History of Automobiles) This time, fortunately, I had a younger examiner. The first guy, you could literally break pieces of crust off him.

Anyway, I passed the second time. Yaaayyyy!!

Now I could drive on my own, and start scaring the hell out of my friends, too! Which I did, poor souls.

 

Through the years, I’m happy to say, I’ve gotten better. Now, I’m a more conscientious driver, and I can even communicate with other drivers in fluent sign language.

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The Driver Takes a Detour

 

So…

I had my first session this week with a new therapist.

And, if you’ve read enough of my blog, you know I don’t mean physical therapist.

In case you don’t know, I’ve lived with depression¬†for several years. I’ve seen a therapist before, for about five years, but stopped nine years ago, when she retired. (Early onset Alzheimer’s, bless her heart) A lot has happened between then and now, and I feel the need for help again. Besides the medications. The need to talk to someone, and maybe get some help for dealing.

So, here we go. I’m starting again with someone new. She seems nice enough on first encounter. Hopefully, the two of us can crack my head open and let all the toxic waste spill out, and wade through it as we work to solve the cryptic, perplexing enigma that is yours truly. Wish us luck; she’ll need it.

And, dudes, let me take this opportunity to tell you again what I’ve told you before:¬†It is not a weakness to admit you need help.¬†I know we’re men, and we’re just supposed to handle everything, but believe me, depression is bigger and badder than us. Plenty of male suicides in America prove it. Mike Wallace, the toughest, most badass newsman ever, couldn’t handle depression on his own; it nearly killed him. Then he sought help, and got it.

There is no shame in getting help. You get that? You don’t have to face this monster alone.

I’m reaching out. I know I need it. Please, guys, (and girls) reach out with me. Help is there. You can get it.

My Favorite Passenger

NOTE: In commemoration of Veterans Day November 11th, I’m pleased to republish this post, which originally appeared in April. A big, heartfelt salute to our men and women in uniform.

 

So, one Saturday, Summer 2014, I go to pick a gentleman up at the airport and drive him home. It turned out to be one of my most unforgettable trips.

Now, usually, unless it happens to be someone famous, or someone I’ve driven before, I don’t know anything about the people I pick up, other than the name and where we’re going. Which can sometimes be problematic, by the way; once, I was picking up a client whose first name was Erin.

His first name.

He walked right up to me and said he was my passenger. For a second, I didn’t believe him. Once he convinced me, and I apologized, he told me it was okay, he was used to it. I drove him a few more times after that, so I guess I didn’t make him mad.

Sure would’ve liked a heads-up before that first time, though!

Anyway, I go to meet this fellow at the airport, and I wait for him at the baggage claim with my sign bearing his name. He comes up to greet me; he’s a younger man, in a t-shirt, shorts, sunglasses and backwards cap.

Since he’s in shorts, I can see he’s got a prosthetic right leg below the knee. His left leg, arm and hand are badly disfigured. The sunglasses are pretty large, and I wonder if they cover any additional scars around the eyes. (They don’t, it turns out.)

I assume he must have sustained these wounds in war. I don’t ask.

We get his baggage, go out to the car, and head for his house. We talk about the heat (naturally) and other mundane subjects. He tells me he’s back in town for a Wounded Warriors event the next day. He tells me about the time he served over in Iraq, explaining his physical condition by simply saying, “Obviously, I had a bad day at work.”

I’m suddenly clueless on how to respond in¬†that moment. I mean, what can you say? I simply muster a half-hearted, “Yeah.” I don’t ask for details, and he doesn’t volunteer any; I figure, if he wants to talk about it, he will. Maybe that’s wrong; I really don’t know.

We move on to other subjects: the anticipation of football season, which college teams we think will do well, the current state of the Dallas Cowboys, the gratitude and relief that Jerry Jones didn’t draft Johnny Manziel. (And has that¬†man’s life turned into a tragic tale?)

Finally, we reach his house. I let him out of the car and get his baggage. He gives me a tip and says,”Thanks for driving me.”

“It was my honor, sir,” I said. “Thank you for your service and your sacrifice.”

And you know what he says to me then?

“Hey, man, you’re worth it.”

 

That stayed with me the rest of that day, and it stays with me still. I couldn’t stop thinking about what he told me.

I’m worth his leg getting blown off? I’m worth all the other wounds he sustained?¬†I’m worth all the pain he’s gone through, physically, mentally and emotionally since that “bad day at work”?

I’m worth it?

That was, without a doubt, one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I guarantee you, I won’t ever forget it.

It really is astonishing, the way life sometimes works. Had I not lost my machinist job, I’d probably never have become a chauffeur, and never met this outstanding soldier, this outstanding man.

And I would not have that remarkable encounter, which so impacted my life from that day forward.

Sometimes, the thought comes to my mind: while we’re busy running around, doing our jobs, socializing with friends, playing with the kids, planning and taking trips, etc., there are men and women in uniform, actively defending our country. They have volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way to protect you and me. They do extensive, multiple tours of duty due to the troops being stretched so thin. They return home; some wounded, some suicidal, some in flag-draped caskets.

And many come home to this: No job, neglected medical needs, homelessness, untreated psychological trauma, uncomfortable stares from passers-by.

How often do they make it into your thoughts?

However you may feel about war, and those who wage it, and the reasons they do so, you cannot ignore the dedicated service and immeasurable sacrifice of the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen who go and engage in the battles the rest of us are unable or unwilling to fight.

I salute them all. Bless you, you incredibly brave men and women, and come home safely, soon.

And may your home country pledge anew to take care of you when you return; medically, vocationally, and any other way you need.

You absolutely deserve it.

Note: If you want to read more about this remarkable man I met that Saturday, and what he’s doing now to help fellow veterans, his name is Corporal Jacob Schick, USMC (Ret.). Read his story, or hear him tell it on YouTube, and be truly inspired. (Also, check out http://www.honorcouragecommitment.org)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Second

I saw a wreck on the way to work yesterday morning. A bad wreck.

Well, I didn’t see it actually happen; ¬†I just saw the aftermath, and it looked really serious, perhaps even fatal.

It was dark outside. A car had slammed into the rear end of an eighteen-wheeler, become lodged under the trailer and dragged to the shoulder of the freeway. By the time I got to the scene, after crawling along with the now slow-moving traffic, the car was out from under the truck. It was one mangled heap of metal. I thought, no way the driver survived that.

I read later that day, he was in critical condition at a local hospital. I don’t know if he made it.

I wondered briefly if he was texting right before it happened. For all I know, he was doing absolutely nothing to distract him from his driving. The accident may have simply been unavoidable, however careful he was.

And maybe, he’ll recover from this. Judging by the looks of that car, though, I think that would be a miracle. But, miracles do happen, sometimes.

I just know this for sure: it only took a second for that man’s whole life to change.

Or worse, end.

 

We’re all such skillful drivers, aren’t we, that we can just multitask all day behind the wheel. We eat, we drink, we talk, we text, we shave, we put on makeup, we read a book or a map, we write, we mess with the radio…

All…While…Driving.

Amazing to see how many people get behind the wheel of a vehicle, and then treat driving as something ancillary to what they really want to do. To them, driving is just Muzak, playing in the background as they go on about other business. How many times have we been on the road and noticed someone doing one of the above activities as they drove? We thought they were insane, right? Or just plain stupid.

Now, truth time. How many of us are guilty of doing one or more of those things, ourselves?

I know I am.

The thing is, folks, there’s no such thing as a slow accident. A second is all it takes; one second of your attention paid to something else besides driving.

Next thing you know, you’re under a truck. Or you’ve “t-boned” another driver. Or veered off the road, into a ditch. Or even struck a pedestrian.

And I know what we all think: Oh, nothing will happen to me. The ego might even jump in, here: I know what I’m doing; I got this.

I’m sure the driver yesterday morning thought the same thing.

According to http://www.distraction.gov: In 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

All those people, injured or killed, because the driver was distracted.

Not to mention, all the families of those 3,179 victims, asking – through angry, bewildered tears – why their loved ones were so suddenly and savagely taken from them, leaving them to pick up the pieces and, somehow, move on.

Because some driver was focused on something other than driving. For one second.

Does that make any sense at all, to anyone?

Friends, let’s be careful on the road, OK? These aren’t toys we’re driving around in. They can do serious, permanent damage. To other vehicles, other people, other lives.

Put the phone/razor/mascara/hairbrush/book/map/burger/soda down and just drive.

Will you?

 

P.S. – Just learned the driver that crashed into the eighteen-wheeler died early this morning.

He was 24.

 

Honey, We Need to Talk…

My new driving job takes up a lot of my time; I’m on the clock twelve hours a day. So, I don’t get as much blogging time, lately. As a result, you may not hear from me quite as often as before.

Believe me, though, I’ve not run out of material. I have some things to say regarding events of the past couple of weeks, but this is not the time to just spew out something from a place of raw emotion. I need some time to choose my words carefully, and to speak from a place of reasoned, rational, but no less passionate, conversation.

I believe, at this point, that’s the best approach for us all.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not overlooking the urgency of the matter.

It’s obvious we are long overdue to have a serious conversation about some issues in this country that have gone past simmering and reached the boiling point. We all need to come into this conversation openly, having dropped all preconceptions and prejudices, to ask some tough questions and be willing to hear the answers, to speak honestly and without fear of reprisal and, most importantly, to listen closely.

It’s just that, as vital a role as emotion plays in the dialogue, it can no longer¬†dominate. We all see where competitive yelling has gotten us; can we all agree, it’s time to employ¬†a different method?

I’ll be back soon, I hope, to share a few things for us all to think about. Meantime…

“…oooh, I’m drivin’ my life away…”

 

On the Road Again (sorry,Willie)

Good news, fans! I’m back behind the wheel, in a new driving job.

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I gotta say, it’s good to get back to work. Granted, I wasn’t jobless very long – about three months – but long enough.

I’ll be driving a shuttle van for a local business, going from one location to the other and back, all day long. The distance, round-trip, is about two miles. Sounds exciting, right?

That’s okay, though; it’s a steady job, the hours are consistent, the pay is decent, and it’s about as low-stress as a job can get.

In other words, perfect for me.

 

Like I said in my very first post, I enjoy driving, but chauffeuring could, at times, get a bit too crazy for me. Getting to this airport or that hotel or that office on time, dealing with flights arriving too late or too early, last-minute schedule changes, fussy passengers…Aaaaaarrrrrggghhh!!!!

This will be more pleasant, I’m sure. A lot of things other chauffeurs have to deal with will never come up on this job.

I look forward to building a relationship with these people whom I’ll be seeing on a regular basis. Granted, I won’t have much time to talk to them on any given trip but, over time, maybe I can develop friendships with a few of them, anyway. We’ll see.

Regardless, ¬†it’ll definitely beat not working. Happy days are here again.

 

Fun at the Airport

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If you’ve traveled by air lately, you know the above title is an oxymoron.

One thing I grasped very quickly as a chauffeur was, airports pretty much aren’t fun. Many of you will discover, or rediscover that this weekend.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many stressed-out folks in one place, mostly trying to figure out where the blue blazes they were supposed to go. Where is check-in? Where is Gate ___? Where am I getting my luggage? Where’s my connecting flight? Where the devil is my chauffeur? (Not referring to me, of course.)

And where is a freakin’ Starbucks?

Surprisingly, though, I have had a few experiences at the airport that were, if not mildly amusing, downright hilarious. To wit:

People leave stuff at security checkpoints all the time: laptops, ID’s, wives, etc. Once, walking through the airport with a client I had just picked up, we heard a voice over the PA system announce: “Your attention, please, will the passenger who left a hammer at Security Checkpoint ___ please return to claim your item?”

My client and I looked at each other, incredulous. Did he just say a hammer??

Who would leave a hammer at a security checkpoint? Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor?

Furthermore, why would anyone travel with a hammer? The nuts available on the flight are already shelled, right? You don’t need the thing!

It would’ve been different if the guy had said,”Would the passenger who showed up hammered at Security Checkpoint…”

Oh, another time, I heard the PA announcer say, “Would the flight crew for ___ Airlines Flight___ ¬†please report to Gate ___? Your flight is ready.”

Seriously? The passengers are on board, the bags are loaded, everyone’s ready to go, and the flight crew isn’t there, yet??

Say, does anyone aboard here know how to fly a plane? I’ll man the snacks and the drinks. Have a nice flight.

 

I always dreaded when an arriving passenger had checked baggage to get. We would wait for that baggage long enough for me to grow a beard, most of the time. I swear, the baggage handlers must have rerouted it through New Zealand.

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And, of course, sometimes, it did get rerouted to a different Bag Claim than originally announced, so we would have a group scavenger hunt for it. Lots of fun. One time, I kid you not, we got sent from one bag claim to another, then back to the original one. I’m sure somebody got a laugh out of that, but it wasn’t the passengers, or me. We did get some good exercise, though, I guess. Not that I’m a fan of that; my idea of a good workout is getting up from the dinner table.

Anyway, I’m waiting with a client for his luggage, and a Baggage Service person comes over to our bag claim and starts telling everyone that their baggage can be picked up at another bag claim. Only, nobody can hear what he’s saying. So, standing next to him is another Baggage Service person, yelling everything the first guy is saying.

Absolute truth, folks.

If you’ve ever seen Chevy Chase and Garrett Morris on Saturday Night Live‘s “Weekend Update”, doing the Top Stories for the Deaf, you appreciate just how hysterical a sight this was. My client had seen it, and we had a big laugh over it.

 

I’m walking through the airport one day, and I pass one of those little shops that has stuff like candy, books and magazines, toothpaste, hair products, snacks, drinks, what have you, and I notice they sell suitcases at this one.

Now, I know we all end up forgetting one thing or another when we travel; it’s practically inevitable. But, has anyone ever showed up at the airport and said, “Crap!! I left the suitcase at home! I’ve been walking around with my clothes and toiletries in my arms, and I just knew I was forgetting something! Thank God I can get one here!”

 

Many times, though, I got to see some great things. Lots of joyful, tearful reunions. Lots of children running excitedly into their mommies’ or daddies’ arms. Lots of barking, tail-wagging, face-licking dogs. Lots of endless hugging. Lots of laughing. Lots of crying. Air travel may not be fun, but the arrival can be so worth it.

 

One last funny story:

My friend, Gary, (who I hope doesn’t mind me telling this) was at the airport one day to pick up the 80’s rock group, Loverboy, in town for one of those ever popular Night of the Has-Beens concerts. Sounds innocent enough, right?

Okay, picture a middle-aged man, in a black suit and tie, standing alone in the middle of the airport, holding a sign that reads, LOVERBOY.

How suspicious would you be?

Bon voyage, everybody.

Funny, Then Not So Much

So, I’m picking these three guys up at their hotel to take to to the airport. I’m in one of our luxury SUV’s, which are a little more comfortable for three passengers than the sedans. The guys all load up in the SUV, I load their luggage, and off we go.

Apparently, these three are professional colleagues, here in town for some convention, seminar, or something. There’s almost always one of those somewhere in this town, except in summer, when it’s so freakin’ hot, even we don’t want to be here. The guys converse on the way to the airport about what their “takeaways” were from the last few days. Hopefully, that didn’t include hotel towels.

By the way, don’t you just love those business buzzwords like “takeaways”, “bandwidth”, “deep dive”, “robust”, and one of my favorites, “at the end of the day”? Does anyone teach Business as a Second Language?

Anyway, it so happens these fellows are departing on separate flights, on separate airlines, so I’ll be dropping them off at separate gates. No problem; it’s a fairly common situation. I just need to know which flight the gentleman in the very back seat is taking, so I can drop him last and he doesn’t have to finesse his way past the other two guys in the middle seats to get out.

So, after briefly explaining this strategy to my passengers, I ask, “Who’s in the back?” Meaning, of course, which gate was the guy in the back departing from. I thought it was perfectly clear, but…

…the guy in the back makes eye contact with me in the rearview mirror and says, confidently,

“I’m in the back.”

( smack forehead here )

( no, YOUR forehead, not HIS )

( not that he didn’t deserve it )

Needless to say, his colleagues had some fun with that. (I think¬†he already had that part figured out, dude!)¬†Even I politely said,”Yes sir, I was hoping for a little more information than that.”

When what I really wanted to say was, “REALLY??? I could have sworn it was THIS guy! Are you sure it’s you?”

We had a good laugh over it and, after a little more explanation, we finally got it straightened out and I dropped him last at the correct gate. I love happy endings.

There are two morals to this story:

One: Make sure, when you ask for something, you are clear about exactly what information you need.

Two: Don’t say something stupid like, “I’m in the back.”

 

Okay, full disclosure time, because I don’t want to mislead any of you, assuming I haven’t already.

I am currently not a chauffeur. I’m not anything. I’m unemployed. Hopefully, that’s a temporary and brief condition.

The stories I tell you here are absolutely true; they all happened. But nothing is happening now. Again, I dearly hope that doesn’t last too long.

It’s certainly not my first rodeo as a jobless guy. I’ve lived this a few times in my life as, I’m sure, have many of you. Times are tough, let’s face it, and I don’t see them getting any less so anytime soon. Fortunately, my wife still works, so we’re not hurting (yet), but I’m trying to get on somewhere as soon as I can.

The thing is, even with the advent of all the job hunting sites online, it still ain’t that easy to land something. Probably because there are so many other people out there looking, too; most of them, I dare say, younger than me. I know ageism is supposed to be a hiring no-no, but you can’t convince me it never goes on. The cold, hard fact is, a person my age is not usually the first choice when it comes to hiring.

And I get it. You want someone you can invest in for a long-term career, not somebody on the back end of his working life. It’s a sensible business decision.

But I can’t help but wonder how many smart, experienced folks who still have much to contribute to the workforce remain on the sidelines in favor of the young go-getters, who may have more energy, but lack experience and, along with that, hard-earned wisdom.

(OK, pal, off the soapbox. That’s enough.)

Oh, well, time to get back on indeed.com to look for my future. Wish me luck.

 

 

Look Around

I pick this lady up at the airport to drive to her hotel.

She settles into the backseat, and starts working; answering emails, looking at data, catching up on phone calls, whatever. Point is, she’s not paying one iota of attention to where I’m going.

Which is fine. Many business clients don’t; they just trust me to get them to their destinations safely and on time, and I do.

As I exit off the freeway, however, she happens to look up from what she’s been doing back there, looks around and sees where we actually are.

At which point, she says, and I quote:

“Where the fuck are we?”

If you ever plan to become a chauffeur, here’s a tip from a professional, free of charge: You never want to hear your passenger say that.

Somewhat startled by the question, I nervously reply, “Um, I’m getting off at the exit to your hotel, ma’am. Is that not where you need to go?”

Turns out, naturally, it isn’t. Her admin (formerly known as secretary; what ever happened to that word?) had given our company incorrect information regarding her destination. Instead of going east of the airport to this hotel, I was supposed to go west to a different hotel where her car was, so she could drive it to this hotel for an important meeting. Which, of course, she was now going to miss.

Poor admin.

 

Now for the analogy you all knew was coming.

When was the last time you stopped what you were doing in the frenzied activity of a typical day to look around and see where the f you are?

We all get busy; that’s the truth. Take care of your responsibilities on the job, go to all those totally time-wasting meetings, correspond by phone or email with a million people a day. Put in some overtime, not because you love your job so much, but just so you don’t get so far behind! Commiserate with co-workers over how this job absolutely sucks. Then go back the next day and repeat the entire process.

Maybe you’re involved with your community, or your church, or some charity that demands some of your time and effort. Or you participate in some sports league. Maybe you’re on a bowling team. (Is anybody on one of those anymore?)

If you’re a parent, which I’m not, it really¬†gets nuts. Your day, no doubt, is crammed with Things To Do: Make sure the kids are fed, dressed, at school on time with all homework completed, clean and in bed on time on school nights. Get them to soccer/football/band/martial arts/diesel mechanic practice and back home again.

And I know I’m leaving a lot of stuff out.

Wow. I got worn out just listing all that.

Parents, I salute you. I honestly don’t know how you do it. Especially if you’re single; you deserve a medal.

Friends, can you see how easy it is to just get sucked down into that merciless vortex of busy, and never come to the surface for air? Despite all best intentions, it can still happen to anyone. And it’s up to you to conciously make the time to just hit that pause button, and simply be in the moment. Life goes by at an alarming rate of speed, increasing exponentially the older you get. Things come into your life, then quickly disappear.

Appreciate what surrounds you right now. Pay some attention to the people, places, things in your life right now. They could all vanish before you even realize what happened.

I know this all sounds like so much Zen/Hallmark philosophy, but it’s actually true.

Look up from what you’re doing once in a while, and¬†see where you are.

Not doing it soon enough cost that lady her attendance at a meeting. What will it cost you?