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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…

Interstate Intelligence

During my recent cross-country drive, I did a lot of thinking about interstates, because if you’ve ever driven Interstate 40 through Oklahoma and Texas, you’ll know there’s not much else to think about, except maybe windmills.

Many years ago I learned some cool facts about interstates. With the prevalence of GPS devices, it’s not likely you’ll ever need them to help you navigate somewhere, but you never know. If nothing else, they make for semi-interesting cocktail-party factoids. (As with everything in America, there are exceptions to just about all of these rules, so don’t yell at me if you have an example of something contrary.)

  • Interstates are numbered from south to north and west to east. That means that lower-number interstates (like Interstates 5 and 8) are found in the southern and western parts of the country. Higher-numbered ones (like 80 and 95) are in the northern or eastern parts of the country.
  • Mileage along the interstate is labeled the same way and starts over in each new state or at the beginning of each new branch. For example, when you enter a new state along its southern or western border, you’ll start with mile marker 0. When you enter at the north or east, you’ll start with the last mile of interstate in that state.
  • You can use mile-markers to determine whether you’re traveling in the right direction. If the numbers are going up, you know you’re headed north or east. If they’re going down, you’re headed south or west.
  • Exit numbers correspond to mile markers. So if you’re at mile 185 and your exit number is 285, you know you have 100 miles to go. (I try to keep the math simple around here.)
  • Interstates that run north-south end in even numbers. Ones that run east-west end in odd numbers. (Any variation here tends to happen in major metropolitan areas.)
  • Interstates that run all the way from the west coast to the east coast end in 0. Interstates that run from the top of the country to the bottom end in 5.
  • Primary interstates are numbered with single or double digits. Off-shoots have three digits and end with the same number as the primary interstate they branch off of. (For example, Interstate 177 branches off of 77. 405 branches off of Interstate 5.)
  • Generally, if the branching-off route begins with an even number, it will reconnect to the primary interstate at some point. (280 branches off of 80 and will likely merge back with it.) This is usually done to create an alternate route around heavily traveled urban areas and can be a good way to avoid congestion.
  • Conversely, branches that begin with an odd number generally do not connect back to the main line. (175 branches off of 75, but won’t meet up with it again.)

Now go find a cocktail party and wow some people. (Have a designated driver for afterwards!)

NHTSA Fitting Station Locator Woes

I’ve operated a private fitting station for about 9 years now.  Most of my clients are expectant moms, who are due within weeks or days and can’t find an appointment in time elsewhere  Most of my business is home service, often for the same moms who are too busy, on bedrest or otherwise don’t want to drive when they are 9 months pregnant.  A few past clients had just delivered and needed service in the hospital parking lot, in order to be safe at discharge time.  Unless they are delivering at the single hospital in our county [of 1 million people] that has a few techs on staff, I don’t think any other area fitting station is going to be able to help these parents!

In 2011, about 30% of my business came from Google  searches, another 30% from the NHTSA fitting station locator and the rest via referrals from other area departments, organizations and past clients.  By the end of 2012, very few clients indicated they found me on the locator.  My business, that had been growing slowly throughout the recession, instead had a significant downturn in contacts last year.  It took me quite some time to figure it out.

What happened to my business?  Government happened.  NHTSA changed to a map-based fitting station locator.  Previously, you typed in a zip code and a list came up with results in the same zip code and state.  Granted, only those in the exact zip code typed were emphasized, but mine could easily be found from nearby zip codes if you scrolled down or searched the page for the city name.  Now, you instead see a handy map with pins showing nearby fitting stations.  This is a lot more user-friendly for caregivers and a nice improvement to the locator overall.  Many search engines have this type of display.  My area looks like the image at the right.  I’m located roughly in the middle, where no pins are shown.   With budget cuts in recent years, most pins in my county no longer actually accept any appointments at all, and most of those that still do will limit inspections to residents of that city only.  Just a handful remain that accept appointments regardless of your city of residence.  I wonder how many other fitting stations in the entire Chicago area may be able to accommodate caregivers with next-day or possibly even same-day appointments, sometimes even on evenings and weekends?

The reason many parents can no longer find my fitting station is because NHTSA’s map pins are tied to a physical address.  So, my information is not shown at all, even if you scroll down or search the page for my city’s name.  Since I am not a police, fire, healthcare or other taxpayer supported organization, I do not have a brick & mortar location that can be published as a business address.  I operate out of my home, mostly traveling to parents’ homes and places of business.  Even though I state my service is by appointment only, publishing my home address means walk-ins.  These may come when my teenage children are alone in the house, when we have a babysitter or some other inconvenient time of day when I am not present or available.  For privacy and security reasons, I simply don’t want this information to be made public on the fitting station locator.

I’ve contacted a couple people at NHTSA over the last six months, but apparently there is nothing they are willing or able to do.  Not too shocking, considering my fitting station is fairly unique, probably one of a handful that provides service to the home.  So, my business will continue to suffer.  I just wish they could use a placeholder pin or use cross streets or some other way of including me on zip code searches, without requiring my exact street number.  For example, I have a Google Places listing that provides my information in a very similar map format, but Google smartly gives me an option to keep my address private! (see photo, right)

So, I have a choice.  List my address to the public to be included on the locator, or keep it private and lose clients.  It’s not really a great choice.  I wish it had not been forced upon me by the government.  What would you do?