Riding the Waze Wave

In the good old days, we had these things called maps.  I’m not saying I knew how to use them, just making light conversation.

I am both geographically and navigationally challenged.   When my daughter came in to the world, Mother Nature gave her looks, talent, and brains.  Then, looking down on me desperately trying to find the dairy aisle in a grocery store, Mother Nature decided to even the odds in my favor and give her an insanely accurate sense of direction.  My daughter could go someplace one time, and it is permanently ingrained on her brain map.  If, however, I am driving, and we end up three states away from our destination (due to my innate inability to follow directions), my daughter has fantastic technology in the palm of her hand to bring us back on track.  I was forbidden to touch the device, however, after that one time I tried to fold it back up and put it in the glove compartment.

With my daughter off to college and busy with her own life … too busy to help her old mother find that Starbucks two towns away that has that awesome white mocha latte that we’ve only been to 500 times (and I still can’t locate on my own), I figured I would never be able to find anything again.  I had visions of being lost in my own home, unable to find the bathroom or kitchen.  Luckily for me, she had an awesome solution called Waze. If you haven’t tried this app, you should. I swear by it now … and no, I don’t get paid to say that. It’s just as a person who routinely gets lost in my own hometown, I appreciate any little bit of help I can get to stay on track and on time.

Waze is more than just directions.  This amazing free app is powered by its users and allows them to enter alerts for police, traffic, accidents, road hazards, and so forth.  For some reason I do not understand, my car shows up on fellow Waze user’s screens as a blinking neon blip, with people regularly posting updates as to my whereabouts and adding absurd emoticons next to it. I’m sorry fellow travelers, but if it’s any consolation, I really don’t want to be doing what I’m doing either.

Waze has saved me time and frustration on more than one occasion by steering me away from traffic and into a smooth flow of backroads and little-known detours (at least little known to me).  I’ve been into neighborhoods I didn’t even know existed.  Every day driving is now an adventure!  At times, I like to feel in control and will deliberately ignore Waze instructions so that it realizes it is not the boss of me.  I mean, seriously, what the hell are you sending me this way for, you stupid app??  Needless to say, I’ve regretted it every time, because I’ve subsequently run into standstill traffic which has significantly delayed my road trip, not to mention added to my road-stress level…which, in all honesty, is about maxed out on a good day.

Waze doesn’t have the snark delightful repartee that accompanies my daughter’s route-finding directions, but it gets me where I need to be.

Now, speaking of lost, enjoy this news story about a family lost in corn maze who called 911 for rescue.   I may be a get lost in my own hometown kind of person, but I will never be the “lost in a corn maze calling 911 instead of cutting directly through the corn or flagging down the corn maze lifeguard” kind of lost.

Reflections of the Road

Mankind has invented many horrendous torture devices throughout his stay on this earth.  A few that come to mind are those virtually invisible Bluetooth phone earpieces that cause you to assume the user is talking to you but of course they’re not – only you don’t realize this until after you’ve already held a 5 minute conversation with yourself, those automated voice response systems on help lines that force you to say words until you are screaming at a robot which only makes things worse…both for your self-esteem and getting the department you so desperately need which is why you called in the first place, and self-checkout lanes with overly sensitive scales that proudly announce to everyone that you have an unexpected item in the bagging area…a dozen times.

No other device, however, can cause as much horror, anger, embarrassment, and fear as a car horn in a traffic jam. I. Hate. Car. Horns.

The victim of the car horn is usually some unsuspecting person who ended up on the wrong side of a red light, trapped in an intersection with nowhere to go while the traffic he is blocking begins playing the well-known symphony, “The Cacophony of Horns,” on their steering wheels.  The victim has few options and can either respond with the “embarrassed grimace, hands thrown up in helplessness” ploy or the famous “I need to change my radio station right now for the next five minutes while pretending I can’t hear you” trick. And it’s not as if the hapless victim wants to be doing what he’s doing…he doesn’t want to be there either.

The other day found me in a particularly crowded shopping district.  Things were rolling pretty smoothly and I could see the lights lining up in perfect harmonious greenness.  Gotta love it when small miracles happen.  Imagine my surprise when, instead of rolling through this rare alignment of roadway perfection, I found myself reading the bumper stickers on the car in front of me as we all sat at a complete stop.

From where I was sitting, I could see the green light in front of me. There was more than enough time for the cars to siphon through.  The light just beyond my own, the next one in line that you might think would be holding up traffic, was also green, and still we sat.  It really only ever takes one person to wreck your traffic day, and I am sure there was someone daydreaming of God knows what behind the wheel or more likely, talking on their cell phone that was snarling the smooth flow of cars.  The sea of cars stretched through the intersection creating a virtual parking lot at a line of green lights.

I can easily imagine the actions of the drivers in the middle when the inevitable happened and the light turned yellow.  First, they threw their hands up and made a show of yelling something at the cars in front of them. They exaggeratedly leaned over to peer up at the now yellow light, and then to their companion, if they had one, with a show of complete exasperation.  The light turned red, as yellow lights do, and now they were stuck.

These hapless drivers were now in the Traffic Trap of Doom.  Packed in tight, they couldn’t pull to the side, they couldn’t move forward, and backing up was not an option.

The drivers who were trying to cross the road to get to the shopping center on the other side (a joke about a chicken comes to mind, but I digress) take this as a personal assault on their driving freedoms.  The rally cry of “Let’s wait patiently for the light to turn green so the traffic jam can clear up” rang forth.  Ok, not hardly. Wait for the light to change?  Who has time for that?

The honking started innocently, as it always does.  A single frustrated tap from an unknown car to the left.  Like a wolf pack on the prowl, that honk was taken up by another driver.  And another.  And another.  Soon, the symphony lifted to the sky and magically, nothing happened.

Not a thing.  Despite their best attempts, traffic was still sitting exactly where it was before they started their raucous assault on those of us with ears.  The hard lesson learned this day was that a car horn does not summon a traffic fairy to come lift cars out of the way, no matter how loud and long you blare it.  Did the honkers expect that their efforts would somehow create an opening, like Moses parting the Red Sea?  The only thing these frustrated drivers accomplished was to give everyone a headache.

The victims in the Traffic Trap of Doom continued to pretend they couldn’t hear the honking, cheeks flushed with embarrassment, silent prayers lifted to the traffic light gods that the light would change soon and their five minutes of fame would be over.

Normally I would be just as frustrated as the next person to see a blocked intersection, but in this case, I could see from my position that there was no way the stuck drivers should have expected the cars ahead at the first green light to just stop.  It wasn’t a matter of mistimed lights or people pushing to get through a yellow light. They saw the alluring vision of two green lights ahead and assumed they would shortly be moving forward, flowing as smoothly as the rum they would later be pouring into their coffee as they retold the harrowing experience to their family later that night.  It’s a natural assumption.

Who knew a distracted driver could back traffic up into the next state just by glancing at Map Quest or porn or whatever it was he was doing up there?

Of course, it didn’t stay backed up for long.  The distracted driver got his shit together, and life resumed normally for all involved.

The horn blowers duly patted themselves on the back for the role they played this day; for without them, however would we have survived?

Well played, anonymous horn blowers.  Well played.  We thank you.

Savage Beast

I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in the clutches of a really crappy, sucky, frowny-faced bad mood and thought “Well, there’s no way out of this. I’m just gonna be in this terrible, suck-the-life-out-of-me mood for the rest of my life.” That tends to be the case when I’m in the middle of a road rage meltdown. The struggle is just too real, people! Bad traffic and stupid drivers are my triggers. Maybe for you it’s slow grocery store lines or annoying coworkers or internet outages. Whatever the cause, it’s a scientific fact that each of us can plummet into a bad mood if faced with one of our most formidable pet peeves. Hey, it said so in an online article, so it must be true.

But fear not! It’s also a scientific fact that there’s an instant cure: Music. Music is the answer for so many of life’s problems. And yes, we all have that one song that can unclench our teeth, ease the tension out of our shoulders, and literally turn that frown upside down. I’m lucky…I have three songs in particular that do the trick when I’m spiraling down into a road rage tantrum.

  1. Walking on Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves
  2. All About That Bass – Meghan Trainor
  3. Shut Up and Dance – Walk the Moon

No matter the funk I’m in, if one of those song comes on the radio, everyone else in the car knows it’s “Me” time and adheres to the strict code of silence while I rock out to my feel good tune. Of course if the situation is really dire, if the perils of the road build up to dangerous “curse words are about to flow” levels, I have the songs ready to go on CD. I pop one of those bad boys in, crank it up to 11, and it’s like instant audio joy, a form of intense meditation if you will. It never fails to cause a passionate bout of head bopping, finger tapping, and sing along-ing. I simply can’t stay mad. It’s amazing really. The road rage just immediately melts away. Good news for the drivers around me…and for me as well. I don’t like being in foul moods any more than the people it’s directed at.

And God bless my sweet daughter. After sitting shotgun for so many years, she knows all my tell-tale signs of impending meltdown. Like a stress-reducing super-heroine she knows exactly when I’m veering (ha! pun!) into dangerous territory and queues up one of those songs before I reach the danger zone…reminiscent of an experienced lion tamer throwing fresh meat to her charges.

We should all be so lucky to not only know what can chill us out in times when a bad mood hits, but also that we have a supporting cast ready to help out whenever possible.

 

Independence Day

So. I drove into the city last week. Two & half hours away.  Got on major highways and everything. Went to a different city last month, same situation. Yep. Me.

No, I didn’t do it blindfolded. No, I didn’t do it only using my feet. No, I didn’t do it without hitting a single red light. I did it. That’s it. That’s the accomplishment.

Not terribly impressed, are you? I don’t blame you. I don’t see Hollywood optioning that story for their next summer tent-pole.

You may not know this about me but I get a little bit, okay, seriously anxious when I’m on a major highway. I wasn’t always that way. It grew on me over time, through a series of repetitive blows to my self-esteem.

So, when I had a significant other, I let him take care of the driving…believe me, he was only too willing to nurture my anxiety right along with me. But now that co-dependent crutch is gone (I’m currently just addicted to Siri, MapQuest, and my GPS!).

Now I’m driving to cities hours away and shoveling out blizzards and I’m getting my oil changed and flat tires fixed and repairing refrigerators myself…well, I could always figure out how to repair things so that last one doesn’t count.  But now I can do it without first having to let someone else try while I stand there watching and biting my tongue and not saying “that’s really not a good idea,” or “I have an idea how to fix it, if you’d just let me,” because I was afraid of hurting an ego that was quite capable of bringing down the house when it was injured.

I allowed myself to be afraid of so many stupid things, like driving into the city for instance. Over the past 18 months or so, I’m going new places, doing new things, and able to count on myself.  My daughter and I are going to take a bus trip to NYC this summer. Can’t wait. We’re visiting Gettysburg and Antietam on our own when it gets warm…which, guess what? Requires driving. Which is cool, because I’ve got GPS and a funny sidekick riding shotgun.

A trip to the National Zoo and the Smithsonian (National) Museum of Natural History are also on our list. BUT we’ll be taking an Uber for that outing. Hey! It’s Washington D.C. folks. No-one in their right mind wants to drive in D.C., it’s not just ME.

And who knows, if we win the lottery, Massachusetts is also on our go-to list.  The Lizzie Borden House is there and we’re anxious to see it. We’ve been told it’s haunted and that’s just too awesome of a possibility for us to pass up. I’ve already got it mapped out and I’m not afraid. Of the house OR the trip it will take to get there.

So. I’m not saying I have every one of my fears hog-tied as I dance over them in victory — anxiety will always rear its ugly head.  But…definitely making progress.  At least now I only have MY little voice to listen to and sometimes my daughter’s. AND neither starts by saying “Oh no! You can’t do this.” Instead it yells, “You got this!” And you know what…it’s right.

The Best Thing Ever

It is of Uber that I would like to speak to you today. Have you ever heard about Uber? It’s a relatively new, and revolutionary, type of car service where average people with cars offer to be chauffeurs to perfect strangers – all for about the cost of gas (unless there’s a rate surge and then you get screwed, but this is a dog eat dog money making world, so what can you expect). But in general, it’s a relatively cheap way to get around. Can you imagine how much that saves on taxi fares? Or on the cost of renting a car, not to mention the stress of dealing with mass transit or the wear and tear on your mind of driving in the city?

Unknown traffic patterns that change seemingly at random, weird one-way streets, exits five lanes over from where you need to be with a gazillion cars in between you with no time to get over there and certainly no-one willing to let you over may not prey on your mind, but they certainly do mine! Big time.

I used Uber for the first time just recently, when my daughter and I went into the city. And it’s a big city. You may have heard of it. We’ve sort of been on the news lately. And not in a good way.

I have a difficult time driving in crowded cities, especially when the road system seems to have been designed by someone with a sadistic desire to torture drivers.  It’s especially nerve-wracking when you have to make split second decisions to get into the correct lane to get to the correct exit if you’re not sure where you’re going.  And if you miss your exist…how the heck do you get back to it? Even with GPS, it drives my anxiety wild.

Because of this anxiety of mine, I usually either re-route our way thru a scenic area (which is never a bad thing, admittedly) or I have to find an alternate way of transport to get there (like the light rail train if it’s the city, but I have to say that that’s not always safe if it’s at night and it’s just the two of us.  And of course they don’t run everywhere a person wants to go).

My other alternative is to rely on people – friends or family – to get wherever it is I need to go, if it’s an anxiety inducing location, and sometimes that involves people I’d really rather not have to rely on.

Well, enter Uber. This is the greatest invention since sliced bread. It’s like having a friend with a car on call willing to take you anywhere for the price of gas and maybe a pizza. Did I mention that it’s way cheaper than a taxi? And they’re only like 3 minutes away at all times. It’s, quite simply put, perfect.

I tell you what, there is just no holding us back now! On our trip back from the city, Sarah and I were conspiring on just where we were going next! We plan on using the hell out of Uber now that we’ve tried it the one time! And with promo codes galore online, my frugal little heart is in heaven.

Sure, I suppose I have some gung-ho readers who think I should just bite the bullet and work my way through my anxiety of driving in hectic, jam-packed cities, but to you I say…well…no, I won’t say it. Unless you want to pay my insurance when it skyrockets due to an accident caused by either my road rage (just barely under control at the best of times!) or bad split-second decision-making skills while being harassed by hundreds of other drivers who’ve never heard of the “courtesy of the road” and expect everyone to know where they’re going at all times.  Believe it or not, road rage notwithstanding, my driving record is pristine.  I’d like to keep it that way.

Uber – you are my hero!