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I have a problem. I am a problem sleeper. Not in the traditional sense, though I am considered a night owl by a lot of folks, including zzzzzzzmy early bird husband who would be happy to call it a night at 8:30 pm every night. Hey, my night is just starting at 10 pm when everyone goes to sleep—it’s quiet and the dog and I are all alone. Pure bliss. No, my problem is that I fall instantly asleep on any mode of transportation where I’m not actively in charge of its function.

Life hasn’t always been this way; in fact, I remember a couple of very long 13-hour trans-Pacific flights to and from New Zealand where I couldn’t sleep. No, it’s a recent phenomenon that’s slowly been creeping up on me over the last few years. Perhaps it’s a sign of aging; the elderly do tend to sleep a lot in moving vehicles. I remember my grandmother’s mouth hanging open as we would make multi-state drives to visit my uncles and their families, with Lionel Richie and Chicago tapes playing in the background.

The problem for me is, like my grandmother, my mouth hangs open, and my head tends to bob. This is rather comical because as my head bobs, I scare myself awake. Yes, I can admit this because it is rather funny and I’m not above making fun of myself. It’s only a matter of time before I’ll be walking through the grocery store farting out loud and not caring. Just wait!

I recently took my kids with me to Washington, DC, for the Safe Kids Conference. My coalition director has wanted me to go for years and my kids are finally old enough to handle themselves alone for conference sessions (and they even attended one with me on pedestrian safety!). I was asleep on the plane before we were out of our airport’s airspace. They thought it was funny—even took pictures of me, little buggers. I had a good excuse though: we had to be up at 3:30 am to get ready to leave for the airport to catch our leaving-at-the-butt-crack-of-dawn flight. I had no excuse for the return flight, however. Yep, out like a light as soon as we were in the air. I do remember hearing the captain coming on the loudspeaker to say, “Flight attendants—sit down!” My drowsy response to my kids was, “Hold on to the iPads,” then I promptly went back to sleep.

I used to enjoy being a passenger to catch up on magazine reading and blog work or other computer work. I can’t even imagine reading a book now since I can’t get through a magazine article. A chapter of a book? Fuhgeddaboutit. So share with me—I can’t be the only one for whom a moving vehicle is better than Ambien. Do you snort yourself awake in public places? Does your family make fun of you because you can get comfortable nearly anywhere, or at least comfortable enough to nod off? We must unite! But after our naps, please!

Where’s the Culpability?

There was a recent crash in my area that killed 5 out of the 7 members of a family riding in a minivan. They were traveling through our state back home from visiting an ill family member in Colorado. Five of the 7 passengers were not wearing seat belts and were ejected from the van. They were rear-ended by an 18 yr old drunk driver in an SUV; both vehicles spun out of control and rolled. I should also mention the drunk driver was a fugitive from a California youth facility for drug and alcohol abusers. Nice.

Crashes like this always make me shake my head in disappointment at the loss of life. The family certainly didn’t ask to have their lives taken by this thoughtless, reckless bonehead. He showed complete and utter lack of respect for their lives (and everyone else’s on the road that night) and disregard for the law. He should be punished to the full extent of the law.

But what about the family’s responsibility? It’s hard to say whether or not they would have survived the crash if they had all been wearing their seat belts. I’m not a crash investigator and I wasn’t on scene to make that determination. We all know the statistic that we’re 4 times more likely to be thrown from a vehicle if we’re not belted in. No one expects to be in a crash when they get in the car to drive from point A to point B, but we should be prepared for it. If they had been wearing seat belts, perhaps they’d all still be alive with scrapes and bruises instead of being 6’ below ground today.

These types of moral arguments make my head spin. Each side has responsibility in this crash. Should the 18 yr old have the strictest penalties placed on him because the family members made the decision not to wear seat belts? That doesn’t seem fair. Yet he also made the decision to drink and drive. If he hadn’t, the family might still be here (or might not—maybe something else could have happened to them that night). Should we prosecute based on intent or on outcome? Sometimes both are the same, but in this case, I don’t think it was. What do you think about these situations?

Another Kind of Road Rage

We’ve talked about Road Rage incidents in the past.  Some are good for a chuckle.  Some just make you want to slap your forehead.  I have another one to share.

What was called Chicago’s “flood of the century” back in 1996 essentially just repeated itself last week, only 17 years later.  Roads were closed, homes were partially under water and my downtown area was sandbagged to help protect buildings that hadn’t already been flooded.  The morning after the major overnight torrent of rain storms, our school district informed us that school was in session.  I managed to get my two oldest kids, normally walkers, to the school through back roads that had up to 4″ of standing water in spots. The main route was closed.  My wife and I then drove our youngest, who normally walks to a bus stop, over a block farther away.  His regular stop was under over 5 inches of water and quickly getting deeper as a nearby retention pond was overflowing.

On the way back, we took the other route around the deepest flooded section of our street near his bus stop.  We stopped for a few minutes, as someone in our sub-division was attempting to clean one of the street drains that was under about 6 inches of standing water, as evidenced by the level on his boots.  He finished the task, stood up and started to chat with another neighbor across the street.  At that point, I very slowly proceeded down the street toward our house, so as not to splash or create significant waves.  I didn’t know this man, so I started to roll down my window to say hello and thank him for clearing the drain.

At that moment, he broke off his conversation and erupted into a completely unprovoked outrage at me, before I even had a chance to speak.  He was suddenly yelling at me in disbelief that I had to drive on this street (the same one the bus had just passed a few minutes earlier).  I didn’t really know how to react, as the rest of our community is normally very friendly and neighborly.  I managed a half-hearted apology before I rolled the window up and drove away.  I avoided escalating the situation, not knowing if he was going to suddenly emo-rage and come after us with the garden implement he had used to clean the drain.

We dismissed it as someone who perhaps had to deal with a flooded basement or worse.  Completely understandable.  Still, what it is about being in or around a car that makes people behave completely differently than they might otherwise?   Had we been walking home from the bus stop, I imagine the events would have been much different.  I sure hope so, or I might have had a garden hoe lodged in my skull!

Cars sometimes seem to provide a type of security that allows a different, more aggressive person to emerge.  It’s not unlike how some people act much differently in online communities than they do in person.  Perhaps it’s just easiest to outlet rage at some stranger driving a car, whether you are a pedestrian or another driver.  Anyone have a good road rage story to share?


License to Drive

Not to brag or anything, but the first time I got a driver’s license, I did really really well. I got 100% on my permit test (though a lot of my friends did, too). A few of my friends also got 100% the driving portion of the in-car test, as did I. However, I was the ONLY person I knew who passed Ohio’s very weird maneuverability test (perfectly, no less) on the first try. (I’m not sure what good that actually did–today I can’t parallel park to save my life.)

Then I moved to California and almost failed the written test I had to take. I hadn’t bothered studying because, hey, how much different can the laws be? Different enough, as it turns out, although I did eke by with one question to spare. (Incidentally, I spent 17 years in California, and a couple weeks ago my husband and I got in an argument over how far you have to park from a fire hydrant. I thought it was 10 feet. He claimed 15. Since he’s a firefighter, I should have taken his word for it, but I had to google. Turns out he’s right. It’s 15 feet in California; 10 feet in Ohio.)

A couple years ago we moved to Texas, sort of, for a few months, and getting a license there was a snap. All we had to do was take a vision test, turn in our old license, and voila! Texas drivers!

Now we’ve moved to another state (Illinois), and it appears I have to take a written test again, which means learning a bunch of potentially new stuff. Not that that’s a bad thing. I’m sort of looking forward to it in a geeky way.

My husband and I had planned on reading the driver’s handbook and quizzing each other on the drive out to Illinois, but we wound up driving separate vehicles so that didn’t happen. (Just came up with a great idea: driver’s-handbook-on-tape!) Now we’re mired in making repairs to our new house, unpacking, trying not to freeze to death, etc., and haven’t had a chance to study yet. We’ll get to that one of these days. After all, I need to find out in which cases we can legally make a u-turn, and whether we can turn left into any lane or if we have to turn into the one closest. What’s the residential speed limit? Can we turn right on red? (Pretty sure the answer is yes…and I hope it is because we’ve been doing it.) And the burning question: How far do we have to park from a fire hydrant?

Wish me luck!

Snow Day

We got three calls this morning at 5am.  Two on our cell phones, one on our home phone.  Plus two emails.  Yes, school was cancelled for our three kids on the first snow day of the school year, due to an impending snowstorm.  Oddly enough, when I went downstairs at 6am to cancel an important meeting I had for today, in order to be home for the kids, there wasn’t a hint of snow falling.  I checked the forecast just to make sure whoever cancelled school wasn’t hallucinating.  To be fair, it did call for 6″-8″ of snow by nightfall.  By 7am, a few flurries were appearing.  By 9am, the end of rush hour, it had finally turned into a modest snowfall, with about a half inch of snow on the ground.  My wife surmised that they were concerned the roads wouldn’t be plowed for the trip home from schools around 3pm, because there sure wasn’t an issue this morning.   Normal dismissal is well before rush hour, usually not a problem in suburban Chicago where we have very good snow removal and street treatment.  Even now, around noon, there is just over an inch of accumulation.  Maybe the white-out blizzard is yet to come in the next few hours?

This wouldn’t be the first time in the last few years we’ve had a snow day for what didn’t appear to present any transportation issues.  Maybe this afternoon will be a lot worse, but for now I have three bored kids who barely have enough snow to make a snowball lol!  Hopefully I can get a couple of them outside soon…