The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Sat, 25 Jul 2015 17:56:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Preserve community heritage, and keep names local… Thu, 23 Jul 2015 19:23:01 +0000 In the wake of the June 17 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, a movement has come up to remove things related to the Confederacy from places of honor, and relegate them to history.

That said, if things go that way, a lot of things named for people who fought for the Confederacy will be up for renaming soon.  Among other things, there is discussion about renaming Jefferson Davis Highway in Virginia.  In addition, there has been longstanding discussion in Staunton, Virginia about renaming the city’s public high school, currently named for Robert E. Lee, if it moves from its current, dated building to a new building on a different site.

Now as far as I’m concerned, history is where the Confederacy belongs.  I mean, the south lost the Civil War 150 years ago.  It’s time that people stopped fighting it, already.  However, when it comes to naming places for people, there are different ways to go about it.  One way is to name things for a prominent national figure, either current or historical, and the other is to search for someone with a direct connection to the area.  If the title of the post didn’t give it away, I support the latter more than the former.

As I see it, naming places and things after national figures represents the Walmartification of our history and our communities.  What do I mean by this?  Take this Walmart store, for example:

A Walmart Supercenter, in some town.

Without any other context, I’d imagine that you would be hard-pressed to figure out where this store is located.  It could literally be anywhere.  This could be the Walmart in your town.  Or the next town over.  Or in the next county.  Or, for all you know, it could be halfway across the country.  (Spoiler: it’s in Laurel, Maryland.  But you get my drift.)

Same goes for names.  If you name a place after a president or another national figure, there is nothing that sets you apart from all of the other places that are named for that same national figure.  For instance, there are 16 different high schools in 13 different states named for Thomas Jefferson.  Likewise, there are 26 different high schools in 16 different states named for John F. Kennedy.  I would bet that in most of the examples for both Jefferson and Kennedy, these people had no actual connection to these places.  For instance, I’m guessing that Thomas Jefferson never visited San Antonio, Texas or otherwise did anything in connection to the town.  Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with naming a place after a national figure.  It’s a name for a place.  However, these names for national figures don’t have much character to them.  It’s as if they pulled a name out of a hat.  One could imagine that such places could just as easily have been named for George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, or another president.

It’s also why I found it laughable that while I was a student at James Madison University from 1999-2003, there was a push by the administration to strengthen the connections between the former president and the university that bears his name.  After all, President Madison had been dead for more than a century when the college was named for him.  The university had no connection to Madison other than a name.  I always thought that the statue of James Madison that was installed on campus in 2002 seemed a bit out of place.  However, the names of many of the buildings on campus reflected the institution itself, rather than an imagined connection to an historical figure.  The library was named for a university president, “Uncle” Ronald Carrier.  The business building was named for Zane Showker, a local businessman who donated money to many causes, including the university.  And likewise, the university’s athletic program used the name “Dukes”, which was in honor of the university’s second president, Samuel Page Duke.

Place names are really what puts a town on the map.  Any town can have a school named for a national figure who had no local connection.  It also takes away an opportunity to honor an upstanding local citizen who may not be very well known outside the town, but who nonetheless left their mark on the town.  For instance, my old elementary school in Rogers, Arkansas is named for Bonnie Grimes, a local educator, i.e. someone from the town who left a mark on the city’s schools.  The school system could have easily named the school for a president or someone else, but they chose a local educator.  Thus the name itself becomes a lesson in local history, by bringing attention to a prominent local citizen.  It becomes something distinct to Rogers.  When you think of Bonnie Grimes Elementary, Rogers, Arkansas immediately comes to mind, because it’s unique to the town.  Name it after George Washington or another national figure, and the name could be in any town.

I think the only reason that national figures get the names so often is because it’s easy to do.  Everyone knows who these people were, and the name doesn’t require much explaining, nor does it require any research.  And you end up getting the town that you deserve, full of generic place names that you could find in any town, with no emphasis on the community.  Naming something after a member of the community requires more work, since the people being honored are not necessarily household names.  Thus they require more research to identify, and more work to explain the significance of these people in the modern era.  But it’s worth it because you end up with something that is unique to the community.

As of late, I’ve noticed that many jurisdictions have named some sort of thoroughfare for civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King.  On its face, it seems sound enough: we want to recognize the struggle for equal rights, and so who better than Dr. King, perhaps one of the most recognizable public faces of the movement.  Harrisonburg, Virginia did exactly that, renaming Cantrell Avenue for Dr. King in 2013.  Aside from the idea of eliminating the name of a major roadway that has a strong association with Harrisonburg, even if the origins of the “Cantrell” name are not completely understood, it fails to recognize any contributions from local citizens to the issue of civil rights.  Don’t get me wrong, though: I’m not trying to downplay any of King’s contributions to the issue of civil rights, and King did great work in that area.  But I thought that they could have done more to spotlight the city’s own history.  Carrier Library at JMU has a work entitled Integration: the African American experience in Harrisonburg, Virginia in its collection.  Perhaps that could have been used to help determine a person to recognize regarding civil rights, and spotlight their contribution to civil rights in Harrisonburg.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the identity of a community should be rooted in that community.  Recognizing community members when it’s time to determine place names, and not contributing to the Walmartification of our history and cities by only naming for national figures, is something that more places should do.  By keeping names local, it emphasizes a community’s own rich heritage, and that’s worth preserving.

]]> 1
Finally, a road photo that I didn’t have to research… Sun, 12 Jul 2015 02:12:12 +0000 Whenever I find a photo online showing something amusing on the road, I always like to find out the location.  I’ve become rather skilled at looking at background details in photos to sleuth out locations after posting and geotagging countless photos on Panoramio, as well as researching filming locations for Project TXL (a planned overhaul of the Today’s Special site).  So imagine my delight to see this funny road photo, showing Thomas the Tank Engine being transported on the back of a truck:

Original caption: "My buddy saw Thomas the Tank Engine getting kidnapped earlier this morning."
Photo: Imgur

No need to do any research for this photo’s location.  This is northbound Interstate 81, at the southern edge of Harrisonburg.  See for yourself.  I know this location very well from countless trips up and down I-81.  After all, this spot is about 30 minutes north of my parents’ house.

For those not familiar, this is why I love the Internet.  For photos where I do have to research, I’ll usually pick out a background detail in the photo, usually something written, and latch onto it.  Here’s an example, from an episode of Today’s Special:

This is the Little Pie Shoppe in Toronto, which appeared on the episode “Noses“.  My initial research on this location was a bit direct, i.e. I googled the name.  I got an address, and it went to a location that was completely unrecognizable, and too modern for what I was after.  Watching the episode again, I latched onto that “2568” in the upper left corner of the photo.  That’s an address.  I guessed that it was likely on Yonge Street, and I turned out to be right.  Street View for 2568 Yonge Street in Toronto gave me a match.  Even though the building has since been painted and the signage is different, it’s still recognizable, and the details under the second-story windows matched exactly.  Win.

And believe it or not, I enjoy doing this sort of research.  I always get a rush when I can determine a location, especially, in the case of Today’s Special, where the source footage is 30 years old.

]]> 0
Yes, I made it to New York City… Sat, 13 Jun 2015 07:55:52 +0000 Just in case the current photo feature’s being of One World Trade Center didn’t tip you off, I’m happy to say that yes, I did recently make it to New York City for that day trip that I had wanted to do on my birthday but quickly realized that I couldn’t do.  So I regrouped, and did it the way that works best for me: planned in advance.  I got together with my friend Doreen, and we went up on June 9.  And here’s proof:

Doreen got this photo of me at the 81st Street subway station on the IND Eighth Avenue Line.
Doreen got this photo of me at the 81st Street subway station on the IND Eighth Avenue Line.

I got this photo of Doreen at 10 St. Luke's Place in Greenwich Village, which most will probably recognize as the house from The Cosby Show.
I got this photo of Doreen at 10 St. Luke’s Place in Greenwich Village, which most will probably recognize as the house from The Cosby Show.

This was the first time visiting New York for both of us, and we had tons of fun in what could definitely be described as a whirlwind trip.  I’m going to give this trip a more detailed treatment in a Life and Times photo set, but I did want to indicate that one of the things that helped ruin my birthday two weeks ago has now been resolved.

]]> 0
“No, really, folks: enough with the ‘happy birthday’ messages. Just stop.” Sun, 31 May 2015 03:50:14 +0000 Well, there you go: my 34th birthday officially sucked.  I think a few things led to it being a pretty crummy day.  I knew a few weeks ago that I would have the day off on my birthday and wanted to do something for it.  I didn’t tell anyone about the day off because I just wanted to do something for myself, by myself, and didn’t want anyone trying to make any requests for my time.  I was tossing around the idea of going to either Ocean City or Rehoboth Beach today, but really wasn’t all that excited about either one.  Then I woke up today, and went online to do a little more research and some more figuring out of what I wanted to do, and I had a different idea that sounded a lot more appealing than going to the beach: New York City.

That was something that I was excited about.  I have never really been to New York City.  I’ve only passed through New York City on the way to and from other places.  I went through by car in 2010 when I went to Boston, and I went through by train in 2011 when I went to New Hampshire.  But since I never exited a vehicle on those occasions, those don’t count as visiting New York.  The way I figured, it would take about four hours to drive up.  I would park at a PATH station (probably Journal Square), take PATH to World Trade Center, and then explore for a few hours before heading back home.  I actually left to go on this trip, and then by the time I got to the end of the street, I realized that it was probably a bad idea.  After all, this was a single day off.  I had to go to work the next day, and didn’t want to be all groggy from a big trip, or worse, oversleep and be late for work.  I quickly came to the realization that I couldn’t go anywhere today, and that just shot my day.  I ended up going to the shopping center up the road from me, bought a new pair of shoes for work, and then went back home.  Total distance traveled: 1.5 miles.

Sometimes I hate being an adult with adult responsibilities.  I wanted to go out and have fun.

So for that, I was annoyed, since I couldn’t go anywhere, and ended up sitting around the house all day feeling miserable.  And then I kept getting all of these annoying birthday wishes from people on Facebook.  I have spoken about my birthday on a number of different occasions in this space, and it should be clear if you have read this website that I am not exactly enthused by my birthday.  I don’t view it as a cause for celebration in and of itself.  I didn’t do anything worth celebrating on that day.  After all, this wasn’t any sort of achievement on my part, since I didn’t exactly choose to be born.  That was entirely outside of my control.  And I don’t like all of the attention that comes with the day, since the day just isn’t very special to me.  It feels undeserved, and the sentiment comes off as somewhat hollow.  Likewise, I hate getting birthday cards.  Save your money, because if I even open them in the first place (and yes, I have in the past thrown birthday cards away unopened), they don’t make me feel good.  Save your money and the cheap sentiment.

And with the day basically ruined due to my inability to go anywhere, all of the birthday messages on Facebook just compounded my bad mood.  I ignored four phone calls from my mother today, because I didn’t want to talk.  I sent a little Emoji happy face to both parents for their texted birthday wishes, as that little way of saying, “Yes, I am acknowledging this message, but don’t want to actually have a conversation about it.”  Then my sister changed her Facebook profile picture to one with me in it (which I did not appreciate), and I got notified of all of the likes on that.  And I got countless wall posts containing hollow “Happy birthday!” greetings, some from people from whom I only hear once per year.  I deliberately have my birthday set to not display on Facebook to cut down on those kinds of annoying messages, and yet they still come.

Then after receiving one birthday message too many, I finally decided that I’d had enough.  I disabled wall posts on my Facebook, and made this post at 3:07 PM:

“No, really, folks: enough with the ‘happy birthday’ messages. Just stop.”

Then I went so far as to delete every single birthday-related post that people had made on my wall.  Those messages did not make me happy, and so those messages needed to die.  Then I closed the tab I keep open for Facebook, and set my phone to auto-ignore all incoming phone calls, essentially pushing everyone away.  I’m sorry, but if all I’m going to hear from you are unwanted birthday greetings, then I’m pushing you away.  I don’t like being thrown into the spotlight against my will.  I said in 2010, “If I want to celebrate in my own way, or choose not to celebrate at all, that’s my prerogative.  […]  And if celebration in my honor is forced on me against my will, I will make sure to spoil it.”  And at that, I believe that I was successful.

Please understand that if a celebration is being done in my honor, it will be on my terms, and done in a way that has meaning to me.  And whether you like it or not, I have complete veto power over it by my participation or non-participation.  Recall that I skipped my college graduation because I felt that I had no control over the whole charade.  College had very little meaning to me, and I did it because I was always expected to do it, for no other reason than to have a degree under my belt.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college, and it wasn’t until ten years after graduating college that I really figured out what I wanted to do with my career.  So that celebration would have been quite hollow for me, and I would have been miserable the whole time.  Note that I don’t participate in celebrations in my honor for the joy of other people.  I do them for myself.  Everyone else’s enjoyment is a bonus.

It’s also kind of interesting that the title of the Journal entry right before this one is a line from a song from the Today’s Special episode “Birthdays”.  In that episode, Jeff is kind of bummed that, being a mannequin, he doesn’t have a birthday, and therefore can’t celebrate like other people can.  The others ended up just giving Jeff a birthday, and that made everything all better.  I honestly sometimes wish I didn’t have a birthday.  Don’t get me wrong, now, I’m not saying that I wished that I was never born or something like that, but every year, I want my birthday to just pass without note.  If it tells you anything, I assign far more meaning to March 23, which is the website’s anniversary date, than I do to May 30, my own birthday.  After all, that date celebrates something that I actually did, and thus means far more to me.

Honestly, the best kinds of birthday celebrations are ones where the fact that it’s my birthday is the excuse to get together with a few people, and then it just becomes something normal like we would also do when it’s not anyone’s birthday.  2013 was like that, where I got together with a friend, we went to dinner, and just generally had a good time.  We might have done this on any other day, but it worked out.  The intent of going on a trip today would have been similar.  It was a free day, so it was supposed to have been an opportunity to do a trip that I’d otherwise have done on one of my regular off-days but never got around to doing.  The fact that it was my birthday just meant I had the day off.  The rest would have just been a fun day exploring a new city.

In any case, all of this unwanted attention every year just fills me with dread whenever my birthday rolls around.  I find all of the unsolicited and unwanted attention in the name of birthday wishes to be unpleasant, and honestly feels more hurtful than uplifting, even though I acknowledge that the intent is anything but that.  Still, I shouldn’t have to go through this ordeal every year.  My birthday has turned into a monster that I have no control over, attacking me.  It’s not fun.  It makes me resent having a birthday, and it also makes me feel guilty because I acknowledge that some of those birthday greetings are genuine, but they don’t enter and get interpreted with the feeling that the sender intended.

Basically, if you want to celebrate my birthday with me in a way that I would appreciate, just follow my lead.  If I invite you to celebrate with me, then that’s great.  Let’s all be merry together.  And if I choose not to celebrate it, respect that, and let it pass.

]]> 0
“I feel important, just like a king…” Sat, 30 May 2015 16:49:02 +0000 So today is my birthday.  I am officially 34 years old.  I rang my birthday in doing one of the things that I always enjoy doing, i.e. driving the bus, and watching out for Virginia drivers (yes, Virginia drivers are, by far, the worst drivers in this area as far as I’m concerned).  Then I took my birthday as a floating holiday, so I don’t have to work my birthday (yaaaaaay!).

But at the beginning of my workday on Friday, my friend Elyse met me at the location on the street where I pick up my first bus, and gave me a birthday card.  Check it out:


And of course, I immediately made sport of the grammatical error in the handwritten message.  But no worries – I did it with a smile, so it’s all in good fun.  Then down at the bottom is an Edwards Integrity fire alarm horn/strobe, like they have at work.

And all in all, 33 wasn’t a bad year.  Things really got turned around after a pretty crappy 32.  After all, when I turned 32, I was working in an office for an organization full of special snowflakes.  As that job dried up, I went hunting for new sources of income.  While I initially was going after more of the same, i.e. more nonprofit work, I realized that my heart just wasn’t in it, and that it would be pretty meaningless work.  Thus I got a commercial driver’s license, and went in search of transit jobs.  32 ended with my being offered a job with a major regional transit agency, and starting their onboarding process.  Then after I turned 33, I got offered a job at a second, more locally-oriented transit agency as a fallback, just in case the regional agency fell through for whatever reason.  Everything resolved well, with my beginning training with the regional transit agency, and politely telling the local agency “thanks, but no thanks”.  I “grew out my beard” quite well at work, and completed my probationary period.  Now, as I begin 34, I have job security in a union environment, a plan for career progression, and most importantly, I’m having fun every day at work.

Then I also had lots of fun outside of work while 33.  I went to the Outer Banks for the first time since high school, power washed a bunch of stuff at my parents’ house, and engaged in much geekery.

And I got a resolution to what made me sick a few months ago – so sick, if you recall, that I blew out a few blood vessels in my eyes.  My body will no longer tolerate coffee.  I’m sure that the aforementioned special snowflakes at the nonprofit, who were too delicate to deal with real coffee, are shocked about it, considering how I always started my day with some very strong coffee.  I kept that up for bus driving, and then all of a sudden, on March 28, my body said no more, and I got sick.  I replaced my coffee and the equipment, and the first cup with new equipment made me feel bad.  Even 7-Eleven coffee made me feel funny.  So that was it.  The new equipment went back to the store, and I gave whatever coffee I had left to my friend Melissa.  And I soon realized something else: I don’t miss coffee.  I am just as perky as ever, and can get along just fine without the massive amounts of caffeine that I was taking in before with my morning coffee.

However, with all of the driving that I’ve been doing as of late, I feel as though I’ve been neglecting the website.  While I still update the photo feature and splash photo on a regular basis (weekly and monthly, respectively), the Journal has only been getting 2-3 entries a month as of late.  I’m all for quality over quantity, and my Journal entries are a lot longer than they used to be and have much higher production values, but I think I can do better than the current level.

I also have a backlog of miscellaneous photos that stretches back six months as of this writing, and I’ve been trying to work through that for my Flickr and Panoramio pages.  I also want to revamp the Online Store, to make one store for swag, and another for photo licensing, in order to make the licensing work more self-service.  Currently, it’s “contact me to discuss pricing”, and that doesn’t really work well.  Too many places wanting are all, “Oh, we’ll give you credit!” while asking to license my work for commercial use.  My usual mental response to that is, “F— you, pay me,” as I ask them to give me a number for what they will pay to license the desired image.  I never hear back from them, and that’s fine.  If they just want to take advantage of me for free material, then they can go pound sand, and find some other sucker to swindle out of images for their for-profit publications.  Then of course, I also need to do a good photo shoot, which I haven’t done in a while.  I haven’t produced a proper photo set in far too long, and I need to.

And then I also want to refresh the design of the website.  I’ve been on the current design since October 2012 with a minor update to things in August 2013.  I like the way it looks now, but I think it’s time for a change.  Not sure where I want to go with that yet, but we’ll see.

So there you have it, I suppose.  Now it’s time to make 34 the best year possible.

]]> 0
Augusta County puts enforcement cameras on its school buses… Wed, 20 May 2015 16:09:22 +0000 I recently read in an article in The News Leader that Augusta County Public Schools, where I went to middle and high school, is partnering up with the local sheriff’s office to outfit two of its school buses with cameras.  These particular cameras are mounted on the exterior of the bus, on the left side, and are designed to catch people who pass a stopped school bus while their red warning lights are flashing.  Normally, drivers in all directions are supposed to come to a complete stop when the bus’s red warning lights are flashing and the stop arm is out.

Now we all know better than to think that this always happens.  I’ve written about school bus stops before, in regards to whether a right turn that begins just beyond a stopped school bus and moves away from it is a legal movement, or if it’s not.  I casually asked a Montgomery County police officer about this one time while I was out and about, and he said that it wasn’t a legal move, describing the area where drivers are required to come to a full stop for a school bus as being like a bubble, rather than as a line of demarcation.  I would have loved for the move that I described to have been legal, because then I could just zip past and be on my way.  But apparently, it’s not.

Also, for those of you who have never driven a large vehicle before, let me let you in on something: if you think that the people around you drive like wackos when you’re in your car, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve watched drivers around a large vehicle.  The “wacko” factor gets turned up to eleven when you’re driving a large vehicle.  After all, large vehicles are very different than your car.  They’re big, they’re heavy, and they’re slow.  And in the case of school and transit buses, they make frequent stops.  Drivers in cars know that, and as such, will do anything, even some very unsafe/illegal moves, to get past or otherwise not have to wait for a bus.  I have been cut off in just about every way imaginable when I’m driving the bus, and I don’t get special privileges like school buses get, i.e. I don’t get to stop all traffic when I’m boarding and alighting passengers.  And even if I could, fellow road users are still very poorly behaved and would stop at nothing to get past or around me while I was stopped, threat of ticket or not.

When I’m driving my car, I have places to go, and the last place that I want to be while I’m driving is behind a school bus.  I’ve never illegally passed one, but I can definitely understand why people would want to do it.  Getting stuck behind a school bus, and having to stop for it while it does every single stop can easily add a lot of time to a trip, especially since they will often keep traffic stopped with the lights until every single child has found a seat on the bus.  The last part is especially infuriating, because then, there are no children left on the road for me to potentially run over, so I see no reason to be held hostage by a school bus driver at that point.  In other words, get the last kid on the bus, kill the lights, and let us get on with our day while they choose which one of their classmates to sit with.

The idea of placing enforcement cameras on school buses to catch drivers who pass a stopped school bus seems to be attacking the problem from the wrong angle.  No one wants to see someone run a bunch of kids over on their way to or from school while they’re boarding or alighting the bus.  However, the idea of camera enforcement like this seems to paint school bus drivers as these people who can do no wrong, and drivers of cars as dangerous psychos.  And I’ve seen the way that school bus drivers drive where I live.  It can be interesting to watch – from a safe distance.  The use of enforcement cameras also leads me to think that this alleged problem is not a matter of safety.  Rather, it seems like a way for cash-strapped localities to raise additional revenue.  I generally take a very dim view of governments that, when faced with a legitimate problem, exploit said problem for revenue through enforcement means rather than looking more deeply at the problem to determine the root cause, and trying to solve that issue.  However, fixing the root cause admittedly doesn’t raise as much money – if any – as exploiting it for enforcement revenue.

It all leads me to think that the typical school bus stop arrangement is a bit unrealistic and not as safe as one would like to think that it is if the achievement of a safe stop requires factors that are entirely outside of the driver’s control to be in complete compliance.

I drive a transit bus for a living (though I am fully qualified and licensed to operate a school bus), and in going about my work, I have to ensure that every single passenger stop that I make is as safe as possible.  I can’t stop all traffic with lights.  I can only alert others that I am about to stop, and make it impractical for other vehicles, including bicycles, to get around my bus on the side where the passenger transaction occurs.  After all, if a passenger gets run over or otherwise injured while attempting to board or alight a bus, that falls on me.  Thus a typical transit stop looks like this, seen here in this Schumin Web file photo:

WMATA bus 2137, in position for a passenger stop at L'Enfant Plaza station.

As shown here, hazard lights are on, the door is within six inches of the curb, and due to the bus’s location relative to the curb, there is no way that a car or bicycle can strike a passenger while they are boarding or alighting.  All passenger transactions are done between the sidewalk and the adjacent curb lane.  Meanwhile, traffic is moving unimpeded on the other side of the road.

And as school buses go, nothing is more infuriating than having to stop for a bus that is doing a passenger stop where the entire transaction occurs on the same side of the street as the bus’s door, i.e. no one crosses the street.  It also makes school buses extremely inconsiderate road users, since they have the power to singlehandedly make you late.

For a number of years, I’ve been tossing around various ideas on how to modernize school bus stop laws, and have school buses share the road with other users to where people won’t be so inclined to do everything that they can to get around a school bus so that they don’t get stuck behind it.  The idea is to ensure that safety is achieved through factors that the bus driver can control, and be more considerate to other road users by limiting the instances where the full eight-way warning system is used.

In regards to the driver’s ensuring safety, it seems like many times, school bus stops are not done as safely as possible, i.e. using the bus itself to ensure safety.  When I dug around on Google, it didn’t take long to find some examples of sloppy school bus stops:

Photo: Doré Law Firm


In both of these cases, the school bus is way out in the middle of the road, leaving the right side of the bus wide open.  A car could easily fit through the space that these drivers left between the edge of the road and the door, potentially running the children over.  If I made a stop like that in a transit bus, I would get nailed for unsafe operation, and rightly so: someone could get by on the right side of the bus, and run my passengers over.  And no, the fact that the school bus has red stop lights on it is irrelevant.  You’ve all seen how people can and do behave extremely poorly when on the road.  The eight-way warning system, ultimately, is just decorative, because the person who is truly determined to get around a school bus will find a way, and that may very well include ignoring the lights and stop arm.  The only thing protecting these students is the eight-way warning system, and the compliance of any other road users around them.  I have seen people try to beat the red lights on a school bus, and that may include passing the bus in an illegal manner.  And if someone is that determined to get around a bus, school or otherwise, no amount of lights will stop them.

Thus I have some recommendations to make passenger stops safer for the children being boarded and alighted, and also make school buses more considerate road users.  After all, we all share the road, and each of us has as much right to use the road as the next guy.

First and foremost, it seems that everyone would be better served to make every use of the eight-way warning system count, i.e. only using it when traffic absolutely needs to be stopped.  Nothing irritates me more when I’m driving to have to come to a complete stop, only to have them scoop up a few kids on the same side of the road as the bus, or for a few kids to alight and then proceed away from the roadway without crossing the street.  There is no reason for oncoming traffic to be required to stop in those situations, and if there is more than one lane for vehicles traveling in the direction of the school bus, they should be allowed to pass the bus while it is servicing the stop.  That’s why I like what some school districts in Michigan are doing with their school buses: hazard light stops.  These involve using the hazard lights to indicate that the bus is doing a passenger stop, rather than using the eight-way warning system, similar to the way transit buses indicate that a passenger stop is occurring.  The way that these hazard light stops are implemented in Michigan, the following requirements must be met:

  • Same-side stop, i.e. nobody crossing the street
  • The bus needs to be completely out of the traffic lane if the speed limit is over 45 mph
  • The bus cannot impede the flow of traffic on slower-moving roads
  • No hazard light stops if there are more than two lanes of traffic

I would recommend taking this concept a little bit further.  If a school bus is about to complete a passenger stop where no one is crossing the street, every stop should be a hazard light stop, regardless of road speed or width.  The school bus should position itself as close to the curb or edge of the road as is possible and safe, similar to a transit bus, and then do its stop, while letting other drivers go about their business.  If there is a wide shoulder on the road, the school bus should perform its stop there in order to keep the right side closed.  However, if you lift the lane restriction, the speed restriction takes care of itself because traffic can move around the stopped bus.  I see it all the time with transit buses.  The people who can get around the bus do, and those that can’t stop and wait.  And I live and work in the area with the country’s worst drivers.  Likewise, I’ve noticed that on narrow streets, the drivers behind the bus are less likely to try to play games with the bus while it’s doing a stop.  And honestly, the kind of driver that is going to hit a bus while it’s performing a passenger stop most likely would hit said bus regardless of whether they had the eight-way warning system on or not.

Thus as far as I’m concerned, the only time that a school bus should ever activate its eight-way warning system is if there is a need for children to cross the road.  If you make every use of the eight-way warning system count by only using it when necessary, it may very well get more respect than it currently gets.  After all, we don’t want children to be run over by oncoming traffic, and owing to less-developed judgment as compared to adults, if it is necessary for a child to cross a street, we should stop traffic to facilitate that.  But then once the child is on the bus, close the door and kill the lights so that traffic can resume while the child finds a seat, i.e. the eight-way warning system goes off, and the stop becomes a hazard light stop.

I also like what Washington State has in its laws regarding when drivers have to stop for school buses:

The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with three or more marked traffic lanes need not stop upon meeting a school bus which is proceeding in the opposite direction and is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children. (RCW 46.61.370)

In other words, if the road is three or more lanes wide, drivers in Washington State traveling in the opposite direction never have to stop for a school bus, even if the eight-way warning system is activated.  As far as I’m concerned, this makes for safer children, because oncoming traffic will never stop for a school bus, meaning that children have to be dropped off on the same side of the road as their destination.  And in all honesty, this is how it should be all over the country.  I always considered it somewhat silly for a school bus stop on, for instance, US 340 in Stuarts Draft, which is a five-lane undivided highway, to stop traffic in all five lanes.  I consider it somewhat unrealistic to ask a child to cross a five-lane road in the first place, even with the traffic allegedly stopped, because in that sort of width, it’s easy to miss a school bus, stopped or not.  Likewise, it is extremely inconsiderate to require traffic on a five-lane road, i.e. most likely a major thoroughfare, to have to stop for a passenger stop that does not involve anyone crossing a road.  Eliminating the requirement for opposing traffic to stop for a school buses on a road wider for two lanes makes for a more considerate school bus, because it creates far fewer opportunities for a school bus to impede traffic unnecessarily.

Combine the Washington State law with my suggestion for hazard light stops for all same-side stops, and I think you have a winning formula.  It would limit the use of the eight-way warning system to where traffic is stopped only when it is absolutely necessarily: when a child needs to cross a two-lane road to reach their destination.  Otherwise, there is no reason to stop everything for a school bus, as long as the stop is made safely, i.e. there is no way for a child to be struck by other traffic because the door area is properly closed off.  And in that case, all you need are hazard lights to indicate that the vehicle is stopped.

Of course, in order to make what I suggest possible requires changes to existing laws.  Will it ever happen?  Perhaps, but I consider it somewhat unlikely, since this is a lucrative problem.  Like many problems that governments like to exploit for revenue, a real solution to a problem doesn’t make any money.  And why fix a problem when you can use it to raise money by writing tickets for people who allegedly violate these problematic laws?  But if we can make school buses more considerate users of the road by eliminating much of their ability to stop traffic unless absolutely necessary, we can create a much safer environment for all involved.

]]> 1
This is a message that I can get behind… Wed, 06 May 2015 20:58:36 +0000 This message recently went up on the sign for the church up the street from me:

"Be someone that makes you happy."

Couldn’t have said it any better than that.  No religious overtones, and nothing cheesy.  Just a nice message to help put things in perspective.  Be someone that makes you happy.  After all, we only have one life to live, and it’s far too short to spend it being miserable about yourself.  Be the person that you want to be.

That is all.

]]> 0
Fun in Philadelphia… Wed, 29 Apr 2015 03:29:31 +0000 Back at the end of March, I went up to Philadelphia with my friends Melissa and Elyse.  We had a list of things that we wanted to do, and we did as many of them as we could.  We had a blast, plus we got to meet up with my cousins Mike and Tara for dinner.  This trip was also a proof of concept for how my various little outings might go now that I routinely work late nights, since my typical workday runs from approximately 4:00 PM until just before 2:00 AM.

Logistically, it worked out this way: Melissa met me at Glenmont station around 11:00, and then we traveled up to Howard County to get Elyse.  Then from there, up to Philadelphia via I-95.  Then in Philadelphia, everything that we were planning was transit-accessible, save for one thing, but we worked it all out pretty well.

Our first point of interest was the non-transit-accessible one: the SS United States.  This would be a quick look-see for some photos, and then move along to other targets.  We parked at the IKEA store across the street, and then Elyse and I walked over for a look (Melissa stayed in the car).  Here are pix:

The SS United States in Philadelphia

The SS United States in Philadelphia

The SS United States in Philadelphia

The day was gray and the openings in the fence were small, so that cut down on my usable angles quite a bit, since it was nearly impossible to get decent shots without having parts of the fence in the photo.  That or I had to reach up to get the camera above the fence, which I could barely do.

Then Elyse got a couple of shots of me:

Say cheese!

Reaching over the fence to get a clear view.

So next time I go to photograph the United States (on a nicer day, mind you), my plan is to bring some sort of ladder with me.  I’m not interested in jumping the fence or anything like that, but I definitely want better pix, and to do that, I need to be able to see over that fence.  And if anyone complains, it’s a public sidewalk, so… meh.

Walking back over, we reunited with Melissa and made a quick pit stop at IKEA.  Spotted this inside:

A yellow Wheelock MPS for an emergency door release!

This was an unusual find.  This is a Wheelock MPS pull station, painted yellow and marked for an emergency exit release.  Normally, these things are red, say “FIRE” on either side of the key, and have the system manufacturer’s name at the bottom (i.e. they look like this).

Following this, we caught the Schuylkill Expressway and headed over the Walt Whitman Bridge into New Jersey.  We weren’t done with Philadelphia, but we were now positioning ourselves for the transit-accessible part.  I was also impressed with how I was able to navigate this area without GPS.  Apparently all those trips to New Jersey paid off.  I took the exit for Route 30, and boom: there’s Victor’s Liquors.  Then from there, it was just a few miles down White Horse Pike to Lindenwold station, the eastern terminus for PATCO.  Perfect.

After fumbling around for cash to do PATCO, we were on our way.  Note to self: Philadelphia-area transit systems don’t do credit cards, so bring cash.  SmarTrip has spoiled us when it comes to credit cards.

PATCO was pretty awesome, since it hasn’t really been updated, style-wise, since the 1960s.  Here was our train:

Our PATCO train arrives!

And this was the interior of car 223:

Interior of our train

Holy 1960s, Batman.  And the door chime was very simple: a bell.  Yes, just a telephone-style bell.  No electronic “please move to the center of the car” type of message.  Bell rings, door closes.  Simple as that.

Then when we got to 8th and Market, we departed:

Leaving PATCO behind, we headed over to Chinatown.  Unlike in DC, where gentrification has taken hold, Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood is still very Chinese.

In heading through Chinatown, I noticed something: Ho Sai Gai, where my parents used to eat in the 1970s, and where we went a few times in the 1990s, has come full circle.  There is now only one Ho Sai Gai, and it’s in the original location on the corner.  The “new” Ho Sai Gai up the street, where it was located in the 1990s, and the one that I was most familiar with, is now a different restaurant:

The "new" Ho Sai Gai, now Spice C

A restaurant called Spice C is now housed inside.  Walking past, they remodeled the space from when it was Ho Sai Gai.  Based on their website, it doesn’t look half bad, specializing in noodles.  Might be worth a visit next time I’m up there.

Otherwise, we found our way to the “pet store”, which got its name from a trip we made in 1997 or so with friends, and one of the kids saw this store with all sorts of live animals in it like frogs and such and thought it was a pet store.  We had to let him know that no, these weren’t pets, but rather food.  But here are the frogs:


I suppose that if you wanted to get one for a pet, they’d still sell it to you, but these frogs are definitely here as food.

Otherwise, Elyse got one of those Chinese-style baseball caps (I’m not sure of the exact name for these, unfortunately) at one of the stores:

Elyse and her new hat

I have one of these hats as well.  Very comfortable, and unlike most hats, it fits on my big head.

As we made our way out of Chinatown, heading down Race Street towards Race-Vine station, we spotted a Chinese line dance being performed on the sidewalk:

Continuing down the street, we passed the parking garage where we used to park when we came up this way in the 1990s.  I showed Elyse, as an elevator enthusiast, the elevator that they had there.  It’s probably quite old, but it does the job.  Basically, you hop on a step and hold on while you ride up and down on the continuously-moving system, which makes it more closely resemble a paternoster than an elevator.  And at the bottom is a little friendly reminder: get off:


And then that yellow item near the bottom of the photo is one of the steps.  Pretty neat.  I’d love to ride a paternoster one day, but they’re increasingly rare anymore, and I also don’t think any full-on paternosters exist in the United States.  This sort of thing is probably the closest you can get stateside, and you probably can’t safely ride this over the top.

After this, we headed into Race-Vine station, with the intention of riding over to Love Park.  There, we discovered that SEPTA doesn’t take credit cards, either, and the station attendant, where you buy fare media, doesn’t provide change.  We ended up scrounging around for enough smaller bills to ride, but ride we did, heading one stop up to City Hall station.  And we got movies:

Love Park was a brief stay, owing to the fact that it was raining.  Nothing like when Anonymous visited back in 2009, and we took a bunch of photos with the “LOVE” sign.  But here it is:

Melissa commented that it looked smaller in real life.

After this, we hit up a nearby 7-Eleven to break some bills for the subway, and we headed over to 15th Street station to start heading back to New Jersey.  The plan was to take a Market-Frankford train to 8th Street, then transfer to PATCO to head back to Lindenwold.  Heading into the station, we got our tokens:

SEPTA token

A token.  That’s something that you don’t see much anymore.  WMATA used to sell tokens for the bus, but they have since been discontinued, though they are still honored.  I’m told that SEPTA wants to phase out tokens for a new fare system, but that has apparently not yet happened.

Then Elyse and I got video of our Market-Frankford train departing when we got to 8th Street:

I love the sound of those Adtranz motors.  You don’t hear that sort of sound in DC.  Though if you want to hear Alstom ONIX motors, DC has those in spades.

Then heading down to the PATCO level, we got more movies of trains:

We ended up riding in the last car, sitting at the railfan window at the end of the train.  PATCO has a really awesome railfan window, too, as you can sit right up next to it.  The operator has a half-cab.  I got this movie out of the window, showing the train leaving Woodcrest station:

When we got back to Lindenwold, we met up with my cousins Mike and Tara, and we all had dinner together at Stratford Diner, located across the street from Lindenwold station.  That was a lot of fun.

Then from there, after saying goodbye to Mike and Tara, we headed back to Maryland.  We took 295, going over the Delaware Memorial Bridge.  And just like earlier, I got us out without GPS.  I was probably most impressed by my ability to navigate in South Jersey without the help of GPS.  Apparently I’ve learned a thing or two from various trips to New Jersey.

And that was that!  I’d say we had fun, and Elyse, Melissa, and I make a great group, as we all have a blast nerding out together.

]]> 1
I have ridden the 7000-Series… Wed, 15 Apr 2015 12:30:08 +0000 Back in late March, Metro announced that the new 7000-Series railcars, which I toured in January of last year, would enter revenue service on Tuesday, April 14, on the Blue Line.  So on that day, I got together with Elyse, and we sought out and rode Metro’s new 7000-Series railcars on their first day of revenue service.  We met up in late afternoon, and we took the Red Line down to Metro Center from Glenmont.  At Metro Center, we waited for the train.  Elyse and I had been in communication with Metro’s social media team as we were making our way in, and they helped us with our planning, as they indicated when the train was entering service in the evening, how long it would be out, and where it was located, and in which direction it was heading.

And we watched the PIDS screens.  We knew that the train would be eight cars, because the 7000-Series is designed to run in quad sets rather than married pairs.  So when we saw something like this come up on the board, our ears definitely perked up:

That also occasionally led to a few false positives, as this was the result of the above eight-car train:

Drat.  Just Breda rehabs and Rohrs.  Eventually, though, we found what we were looking for, in all of its glory:

And let me tell you: this was a pretty cool train.  I’d seen the interiors once already, but seeing everything in action was a very different experience.  Take a look…

Inside car 7007.  This is one of the non-cab cars, which is a new thing for Metro.  In the older railcars, a cab would be directly behind the camera, but in these cars, there is a set of hostler controls for yard movements adjacent to the bulkhead door.
Inside car 7007.  This is one of the non-cab cars, which is a new thing for Metro.  In the older railcars, a cab would be directly behind the camera, but in these cars, there is a set of hostler controls for yard movements adjacent to the bulkhead door.

Elyse and I also took a selfie not long after we got on.  We sent this to Metro's social media team to show that we had, in fact, caught the train, and we thanked them for helping us find it.
Elyse and I also took a selfie not long after we got on.  We sent this to Metro’s social media team to show that we had, in fact, caught the train, and we thanked them for helping us find it.

The new electronic strip maps, showing the next stop, and the next ten stops on the line.  Maybe now, do you think my mother will stop asking me how many stops we have until our destination?
The new electronic strip maps, showing the next stop, and the next ten stops on the line.  Maybe now, do you think my mother will stop asking me how many stops we have until our destination?

Showing the next five stops.  In this case, 12 stops to the end of the line.
Showing the next five stops.  In this case, 12 stops to the end of the line.

The new electronic displays.  It was showing another strip map on this occasion.
The new electronic displays.  It was showing another strip map on this occasion.

The interior LEDs at the ends of the car.  This replaces the simple "<<<" that the older railcars show to indicate door side.
The interior LEDs at the ends of the car.  This replaces the simple “<<<” that the older railcars show to indicate door side.

This is something that I missed during the preview at Greenbelt last year.  The bulkhead doors have windshield wipers on them.  I was at first perplexed about why the doors would have wipers on them, but then I remembered the hostler controls (behind that panel to the right), and it all made sense.
This is something that I missed during the preview at Greenbelt last year.  The bulkhead doors have windshield wipers on them.  I was at first perplexed about why the doors would have wipers on them, but then I remembered the hostler controls (behind that panel to the right), and it all made sense.

When we got to Largo Town Center, the train went out of service to go back to the yard.  I’m not sure what yard these cars are living at right now.  Before switching over to “NO PASSENGERS”, it briefly showed Franconia-Springfield:

Blue Line to Franconia-Springfield!

And like the older railcars, it shows “Franc-Springd”.  However, when it shows Largo on the sign, it shows “Largo Town Ctr” instead of just “Largo” like the older railcars do.  So far, I’ve seen the new cars displaying Branch Avenue, Wiehle, Largo, and Franconia-Springfield.

And then the train left Largo Town Center:

All in all, not bad.  Only one thing left me a tad disappointed: the automated announcements.  They seemed a bit rough, with the voice’s sounding like a computer-generated voice similar to the Google Maps lady rather than a live person’s voice, like that of Randi Miller, who voiced the “please move to the center of the car” message that we’re all familiar with.  Personally, I would love to see Metro bring Randi Miller back to record a full set of announcements for the new railcars (though Miller once admitted that hearing herself on the train drove her a little nuts).  Time will tell, I suppose.  The 5000-Series railcars had some tweaking after they entered service as well, as the signage went from the original mixed case to all-caps.  There could be similar changes made here, but who knows.

In any case, I had fun on the new 7000-Series railcars.  I look forward to riding them a lot more in the future, though I certainly will miss the Rohr and Breda railcars that they are replacing.

]]> 0
I never thought that could happen… Sun, 05 Apr 2015 07:20:28 +0000 Among things that I never thought could happen, I never thought that throwing up could cause blood vessels in your eyes to break.  But take a look at this.

This is what my eyes looked like on Friday night:

Right eye, Friday night  Left eye, Friday night

Then this is how they looked on Saturday morning:

Right eye, Saturday morning  Left eye, Saturday morning

I threw up on Friday morning.  It’s kind of interesting how the blood kind of migrated overnight.  Of course, regardless, it meant that I now had to go into work with red eyes due to my brand new subconjunctival hemorrhages.  But at least I had a good story to tell about why I was out sick on Friday.  And who knew that the forces that come into play when it’s time to puke could blow out blood vessels in your eyes.  I’ve heard of eyes watering and a massive headache before, but never have I seen blood vessels blow out like that.  The good news, though, is that they’re harmless.  They look really ugly, but they don’t affect your vision, and they resolve on their own with a little time.

And meanwhile, the cause of my change in eye color was food poisoning.  Twice.  It’s like they say about being seasick.  The only thing worse than being seasick once is being seasick twice.

On Sunday, I had breakfast before I went in to work, which consisted of a sandwich and coffee.  I started feeling bad early on in my day, and it got worse and worse and worse to the point where I had to call Central because I feared that I was about to throw up behind the wheel.  Central sent a supervisor to take me back to the bus garage, and the supervisor brought another operator to take over the bus.  I went home, and the nausea changed to a fever, and I had a pretty miserable night.  then I took Monday as a sick day to recover.  I also threw out what I believed to be the most likely culprits in my food poisoning adventure: a pack of lunch meat and a jar of salsa.

I was feeling well enough by Monday night to where I could go about my Tuesday plans, which involved a trip to Philadelphia with Melissa and Elyse (Journal entry forthcoming on that).  Wednesday, I had appointments, and then on Thursday, I was back to work.  I had my coffee first thing on Thursday as per usual, and I started to feel funny after drinking about half the cup.  Oh, no.  Turns out that I threw the lunch meat and salsa out for nothing – it was something in my coffee!  I would have never suspected something there, because the creamer was still within date, and I’d just about used it all up.  It’s also never a good feeling to realize that you more or less just poisoned yourself.  Work went well enough, though it was more tiring than usual, and then when I got home, I fell asleep very quickly, i.e. so quickly I didn’t even get my shoes off before passing out.

The next morning, I had nausea again, and that’s when the puke happened.  I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just sum it up as “gross”.  I ended up taking Friday as a sick day to recover, because I was in no condition to go to work.  And then that night, I noticed that I had a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

And until it clears up, I have to go about life with red eyes.  I wondered how many people at work on Saturday would notice my subconjunctival hemorrhage, and as it turned out, if the passengers noticed it, no one said anything about it.  I did, however, get some questions from coworkers about why my eyes were red.  Nothing like explaining that one over lunch in the operators’ lounge.

Meanwhile, the whole idea of dealing with suspect food after a food poisoning incident leaves me with mixed feelings on methodology.  On one hand, part of me wants to clean the whole kitchen out and dump everything, i.e. more of a “scorched earth” idea.  Then on the other hand, I paid for all of this stuff, and so I want to hone in on the culprit and only discard the most likely suspects.  That’s what led me to the lunch meat and the salsa, which ended up not being the culprits.  I only found out what the real culprit was when I got sick the second time.  So now I’m going all scorched-earth on the coffee.  The creamer’s already in the trash, and the coffee’s soon following suit.  Then I’m also thinking that it’s probably time to retire my coffee maker, just to be on the safe side.  That thing’s almost 13 years old, and honestly, I’m kind of afraid that it might be part of the problem, i.e. something might be growing in it, despite my best efforts to let it dry out between uses.  Just as well.  I wanted a new coffee maker anyway.

So there you go, I suppose.  I’m feeling much better now, and hopefully my eyes will be back to normal soon.

]]> 0
How stupid do they think that I am? Tue, 31 Mar 2015 05:08:15 +0000 I recently received an envelope in the mail that looked like this:

I saw this envelope, with just an address and what appeared to be a handwritten address, and thought “bill”, since this is how I’ve seen some smaller doctors’ offices do billing.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find this:

I don’t know what this sort of stuff says more about: how low car dealers really are, or how stupid they think I might be.  Clearly, they want me to think that I’m special, and that everyone is talking about my car.  Well, of course I’m special (just like everyone else), and I hope that everyone is talking about my car.  After all, we’re both awesome, and my car is certainly the darling of social media.  That, however, doesn’t hide the fact that this is a very poorly-disguised marketing message, complete with the sticky note that’s not really handwritten (the paper is completely smooth on both sides).

However, when I can see right through this sort of thing in an instant, you’ve lost me for good.  I really doubt that Steve York and Alex Nowak know about all of the people that they’re “sending internal emails” about.  But they can rest assured that this kind of stunt has turned me off to ever wanting to do business with this dealership.

Of course, it’s not like I’m in the market to sell my car anyway.  My history with cars is that of running them for a long time.  Amongst the whole family, we ran the Previa for 275,000 miles in almost 16 years.  I think the Previa was about as much of a family car as you could get.  My parents bought it, I learned how to drive on it, my sister drove it in high school for a period, and then I drove it for a time after college.  And when I traded the Previa in for the Sable, it was retired, i.e. it never moved under its own power again.  Then I drove the Sable for six years and one month, adding about 70,000 miles to it over that time.  So I figure that the Soul, with 40,000-some miles on it, is hopefully good for a long time still to come.

And this sort of nonsense from slimeball car dealers is not about to change my mind on anything.

]]> 0
Okay, folks, story time… Wed, 25 Mar 2015 18:03:09 +0000 After hearing far too many people on Reddit spew out the “fact” that you can’t get unemployment insurance if you quit your job, I think it’s time to share a story about one instance why that “fact” is not the case.  It is not, in fact, a hard and fast rule that, if you leave your job on your own, you don’t qualify for unemployment insurance, and it doesn’t make a difference if you head it off by quitting or let your boss fire you.  I should know, because it happened to me.

You may recall that in July 2013, I posted a Journal entry about my last day at Food & Water Watch.  For those of you solely know me through the website, that post probably came as a surprise to you.  Save for a note on a photo feature, I didn’t give any hints prior to that entry that I was leaving Food & Water Watch, and I also never gave a reason in the entry about why I left.  All you knew is that I had left, with no reason given regarding why.  And that made enough sense, because I didn’t want to go into detail while I had an ongoing job search underway in the same field.  Now I feel as though I’m in a place to share, especially now that I’ve changed fields, going from nonprofit operations management to public transportation.

In 2011, I had started to change a bit as a person.  I grew up.  My interests began to shift.  I had also noticed that my own interests and those of the organization had started to diverge.  The organization had also begun to change, with the introduction of anti-fracking work into its fold, beginning its morph from a consumer group into an environmental group.

By the end of 2012, I felt irrelevant, having been left out of the planning process for a major system change (which, when launched, came back very broken), encountering resistance to new procedures designed to streamline processes (with my boss’s approval), and feeling like I wasn’t growing anymore.  That feeling of irrelevance and being taken for granted was confirmed when literally half the staff left a cart full of dirty dishes in the kitchen at the end of the day after a Friday meeting (contrary to the normal idea of cleaning up after one’s self) and went off to a bar.  I could have left it there (since officially, it wasn’t my responsibility), but the alternative was to greet this cart on Monday along with whatever vermin might have found it over the weekend and decided to snack on the contents in the interim.  So I ended up spending an hour washing a cart full of other people’s dirty dishes by hand.  Yuck.

When it became performance evaluation time again in early 2013, I brought up my concerns with my boss about how things had stagnated, and how I wanted more responsibility within the organization.  One suggestion that I had was about the potential of supervising the receptionist.  It made enough sense to me: the receptionist’s job had been split from my position in 2008 as the company expanded, and I had to know and be able to do everything that they did anyway, because whenever they were out, I took care of things, and it reciprocated back the other way to an extent, though not as much.  My boss’s response was that I didn’t have any supervisory experience, and that because of the organization’s size, there was not much room to grow, i.e. I had basically topped out.  I couldn’t argue with that last point much, so I sort of let it go and just continued along, still feeling mostly irrelevant, but now knowing that the proverbial wall that I had hit was real.

In hindsight, I now realize that this was the boss’s way of subtly saying, “It’s time for you to go.”

Around the same time, the job was really starting to take a great toll on my mental health.  I was miserable, and I had thought it was related to something going on with myself.  I was dreading coming into work each day, and on the weekends, I was dreading Monday.  It was a pretty terrible existence.  I had, in fact, started shopping around for therapists.  That search ended, however, when a friend on Facebook posted a quote from someone (exactly who is up for discussion) on their wall that went like this:

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.

That made entirely too much sense, because that was exactly what I was doing.  To quote Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet in the movie Spaceballs, “I knew it.  I’m surrounded by assholes!”  That was a great “aha” moment, because it snapped things into focus, and made me realize the source of those problems.  I felt a bit better after that.

Now fast forward to March.  I took a much-needed two-week vacation at the end of the month, in order to more or less “recharge the batteries” and do some website and photography work.  I discussed what I did on this vacation in the Journal at the time, talking about my visits to Stuarts Draft, the old Springfield Mall, Richmond, Cumberland, Annapolis, and Baltimore.  The photography during this vacation eventually resulted in the Richmond 2013 and Cumberland, Maryland photo sets.  When it was over, I found that the vacation had done exactly what I had hoped that it would do.  It gave me a break from the usual to get some much-needed time to relax, have fun, as well as do a little traveling.  When I came back to work on the Monday after my vacation, I was absolutely glowing.  I was in a great mood, was glad to see everyone, and the smile was genuine.

That glow lasted until exactly 12:00 PM.

Noon was when I had my weekly meeting with my boss.  It was usually a pretty routine affair, talking about the status of various things going on, and discussing new things, etc.  It usually took around 10-15 minutes.  As soon as I went in, I knew something was up because my boss closed the door to his office.  This, by the way, is where the unemployment-qualifying events begin, going down the road toward “constructive discharge“.  In the meeting, I was informed that they had decided to reorganize the department a bit.  The then-current receptionist was being moved to a development (fundraising) role.  A new position titled “Logistics Manager” would be created and hired out.  My role would be redesigned to “something that we know you can do really well”, said in the most condescending tone possible.  When I was shown my new job description, the intent of the move became plain, i.e. I was being demoted to receptionist from my existing role.  The boss didn’t even bother to change the position title on the printed copy:

The top of the job description that I was given

“Program and Administrative Assistant” had long been the title for the receptionist’s role.  I believe that the only reason that he didn’t change my title was so that he could say that my demotion wasn’t a demotion (and he swore up and down that it wasn’t, despite my immediately seeing right through it).  In the meeting, I was also shown the job description for the Logistics Manager role.  It was my existing job.  The job was slightly changed, making it into everything that I had suggested for my role three months prior, including supervision of the receptionist.  I made my case for why I should have had the other role, but I was told I was “not qualified” for that role.  The Logistics Manager job would be hired out, but in the meantime, I was doing the work of two: the receptionist’s job, as well as the back-office job that I’d been doing.  Plus I had to move my workstation from my office in the back down to Storage Basement B, oh, pardon me, the front desk.

This was when I started looking for other work, as it had become clear that there would be no more growth or opportunity at Food & Water Watch for me.  Oh, and thanks for ruining my vacation.

It had taken me a while to get moved to the front desk, because there was lots of regular work to be done in the meantime, but now with zero management support.  When I did, after getting everything set up there, I realized that the front desk did not fit me well, physically.  The setup caused me pain in my wrists when working on the computer, and because of the non-adjustable design of the desk, there was no way to fix it.  I brought this concern to my boss, as I usually did with concerns that I needed help fixing.  He snapped back with a comment to the effect of why I don’t just move back to my old office, then.  Not long after that, he asked me to come back to his office at 4:00 PM.

Going back to his office, I was given paperwork placing me on 30-day probation.  In other words, if things did not “improve” after 30 days, I would be gone.  Okay, then.

Then the following day, when I got back from my lunch hour, things got worse.  I was informed by my boss that a postal worker had come up to the office and indicated that the mail had not been picked up from the mail room in several days.  I didn’t believe a word of that story (I knew better), but my boss used that as an excuse to put the screws on even further.  The new requirement was to send him a bulleted list of all of my activities each day.

My reaction to that was, that’s it.  After all, with that bulleted list, I was essentially writing my own termination papers.  I put in my resignation the following day.  That day was fun, too.  All of that which used to concern me was no longer my problem.  It was like a weight had been lifted.  And the best thing was this: I had made an appointment for a meeting with my boss at 4:00 at the end of the day.  Considering the events that had occurred in the days prior, he really should have been expecting a resignation.  Would you believe that he was completely taken back and speechless regarding my resignation?  I was very surprised about that. You would think that he would have seen that coming.

Then the following day, I had one of the most enjoyable days that I’d had in quite some time, going out to Harpers Ferry with my friend Pete.  Didn’t matter that I was about to be unemployed.  I was so happy that the Food & Water Watch ordeal would be ending.

The time spent between my resignation and my last day showed what a real professional I was.  I spent the first of the two weeks training my replacement.  For that, I got her settled in her “office” (the front desk), introduced her to all of the various contacts that my position had, got her set up on everything, and showed her how to use it.  Then my final week was spent getting all of my own affairs in order and cleaning out my office.  Let’s admit it – I never really worked at the front desk.  I kept the seat warm for three days, and then moved back to my regular office, where I belonged, for my notice period.  And unlike what would have happened with a firing, I left with my dignity intact, and got to say goodbye to everyone when I left.

And then when the job ended, I made the case for my constructive discharge to the District of Columbia’s unemployment office, and I received unemployment insurance for it.  After all, it wasn’t really anything on my part that led to my departure.  It was the boss’s manipulation of my individual working conditions that was the largest contributor, making my working conditions so intolerable that I had no alternative other than to quit.  That helped keep me afloat while I applied for new jobs, and also completed training for a career change, going from nonprofit operations management to public transportation.

In hindsight, though, I have come to realize that much pain and frustration could have been avoided on everyone’s part if my boss had actually acted like he had a spine and just let me go when he decided he wanted me gone, rather than go through the whole charade of demotion and probation.  A simple, “We’re reorganizing the department, and as part of this reorganization, your position has been eliminated.  Your last day will be [whenever].”  I admit that I still wouldn’t have liked it, but at least then it would have been framed from the outset as a business need and not been made so personal.  That would have also avoided much hard feelings all around, because then it would have been “just business”.  And considering that I still got unemployment insurance after I left, making it so personal, rather than taking the more professional road of framing it as a business need, only caused hard feelings and resentment all around.

But in any case, when people state the “fact” that you can’t get unemployment insurance when you quit your job, please know that they are giving you bad advice.  Depending on the circumstances that led to your departure, you can still get unemployment insurance and leave with dignity.

]]> 0
Growing out the beard… Wed, 25 Feb 2015 07:44:19 +0000 This past Sunday, I really came to realize that I have, as TV Tropes would say, started “growing the beard” when it comes to driving a bus.  It’s about getting past all of the newness and figuring out how it all really works, and starting to, you know, become proficient at what you’re doing.  When it comes to jobs, if a person is a good fit with the organization, they grow out their beard within the first few months after whatever training period ends.  If the beard doesn’t grow, then it’s possible that they’re not a good fit, and that often ends with a parting of ways.

Me, I’ve grown my (figurative) beard out quite nicely.  I have a run of my own, meaning that my assignment does not change much from week to week.  I do the same thing every weekday, and I do the same Saturday and Sunday schedules every week.  When the transit agency that I work for cut me loose to work my own assignment for the first time, I was a bit overwhelmed.  I was at a different bus garage than the one that I had trained at after having been unexpectedly reassigned at the end of training (about half the class was also moved from where they had trained), and I had never done a street relief in the middle of a route before.

For those not familiar, a street relief is how some bus routes work.  The buses are out on the street all day, and the operators just cycle on and off of them.  One guy takes a bus out of the garage, and then at a designated location, he hands the bus off to another operator.  That next guy takes the bus for however long, and then gives the bus to someone else.  That keeps going until the last guy gets the bus, and he brings it back to the garage.

Prior to going out on my own, the only street reliefs that I had done in training were at the end of the line, and those were relatively few.  Thus for those reliefs, I was starting a fresh trip with passengers that I had boarded since, even though I was meeting the bus while it was already in service, the trip belonged to me.  Doing a relief mid-route means that I’m taking over a bus that already has passengers on it that someone else boarded.  And my first block on my first day started with a street relief.  But somehow, I managed, though truth be told, I was terrified.  Street reliefs certainly took a bit of getting used to, since it felt as though I was tossed in and had to be running on all eight cylinders immediately, vs. having a moment alone with the bus to get to know it and get settled before showtime started.  Realize that there’s a certain mental state that one needs to achieve in order to handle a transit bus.  Doing the pre-trip inspection, setting all of the mirrors and such, and then taking the bus out of the garage are part of how one gets in that zone with that bus.  Then whatever positioning trip is necessary to get to the terminal stand is helpful, too, as it allows me to find out and understand the individual bus’s little eccentricities before boarding passengers.  I’d rather find out about touchy brakes when the bus is empty so that I’m not jostling passengers around unnecessarily.  When I do a street relief, especially when I start the day with one, I know that I have not yet gotten into my zone with that bus, but I’ve got a complement of passengers that have somewhere that they want to go.  I usually end up taking it slowly at first and then build up to full speed as I get into my zone.

When I was in training, and when I first went out on my own, I was late.  On my first day alone, I did three blocks, and I don’t think I ended a single trip on time.  I did, however, pick up all of my street reliefs on time, even though I had to run to make the last one.  And for the most part, I was late because of unfamiliarity.  I didn’t know the streets that well, and was still figuring out the moves.  I didn’t know where all of the bus stops were, and had to listen to the stop annunciator voice quite a bit for help on where the stops were.  And all of that made me a bit of a slow driver.  At least one person in training described my driving as being akin to Driving Miss Daisy, which I didn’t exactly appreciate.

Now, even if a trip runs late, it usually doesn’t run so late that I end up starting the next trip late.  And I run most of my trips on time now.  And I also know my routes.  I’m not listening to the stop annunciator for help on where the bus stops are anymore.  I now know where they all are.  I also know the traffic patterns on the roads that I drive on, and know where I need to be in order to make all of the moves that I need to make, including shading across two lanes at times, to get where I’m going.  I also know the light cycles.  I know, for instance, that on one somewhat complicated intersection that I go through at least twice every day, when a particular pedestrian signal countdown timer hits 18, I get the green to proceed.  When the countdown timer reaches 4, it turns yellow.  Thus I can use those two points to time it and know if I can make it through.  I also have developed a rapport with my regulars.  They know me, and I know them, and we are a part of each other’s daily routine, to the point where I asked the other passengers where one of my regulars was when they weren’t there one day.  And I know what buses I need to do the job.  I do a rush hour bus, and for that, I can take nothing less than an artic, because even with an artic, I will fill the bus completely up.  For another route, I try to get a regular bus that’s somewhat on the heavier side, because of how it handles on the pavement on certain streets that particular route follows.  I also know what kind of bus I need when I’m doing my “marathon session” on Saturdays, i.e. one that’s light on the pedals so that I don’t start to feel it in my legs by my fifth or sixth trip up the same road (my marathon session can be fun or tiring, depending on how things go).

However, I really knew that I had grown my beard out when I realized afterwards how well I had handled a planned route detour on one of my regular routes.  The detour was due to a street closure for a special event that was occurring on the regular route.  So the buses were going a few blocks over and down before regaining the regular route.  First I announced to the passengers that we would be detouring, and how we were going, and dealt with any resulting questions and alightings.  Then I busted a few moves, turning right onto a street that I had never been on before with a bus, turned left onto another street that I had never driven on in a bus before, and then did another left onto yet another unfamiliar street.  Then it was time to make a right turn to resume the regular route, which is on a relatively narrow road, as well as a busy road.  I needed all of the space that I could get to make that turn.  First thing I did was to swing the bus a little bit to the left in order to start the turn from further back in the intersection.  Even with that preparation, I knew that I still needed one of the travel lanes used by oncoming traffic in order to make the turn.  I quickly recalled a memorable event from training when we were learning how to drive artics.  The person driving didn’t have enough space to make the turn because of where a cabbie was, so the instructor said to “dictate”, telling him, “Put the bus in his face!”  On Sunday, I dictated.  I got the nose of the bus out in the intersection when the light changed, and then put the bus in a car’s face.  Stop.  Car moved.  So I took some more space, and put the bus in someone else’s face.  They moved.  I ended up putting the bus in one more person’s face before I got through that turn.  And it all came naturally.  The attitude that you sometimes have to take is, “Look here: I’m the bus, and I’m coming!”  I’m not fooling around, because I have places to go.

Afterwards, talking to a coworker that was right behind me doing the same detour, and who had been in the same training class as me, she was impressed watching how I handled that turn.  That was not the way I would have handled things two months ago.  I would have managed, but it would have been a bit slower, and not nearly so neat.  But now, I know what I’m doing, and I like feeling like I know what I’m doing.  That confidence shows, and I like it.

]]> 0
This year, I want to slim back down to where I was in 2012… Thu, 19 Feb 2015 08:28:45 +0000 While I was between jobs, I put on a bit of weight, most likely due to reduced activity due to my being out of work, and out of a routine.  My current job, where I operate a bus, is not exactly conducive to physical activity, considering that I sit strapped to a seat for nine hours a day.  Pushing pedals and turning steering wheels does not count as physical activity, though I was getting nighttime leg cramps from it for a while. I also was a bit lazy when it came to exercise once I finished training and got my own assignment.  I work late afternoon into the wee hours of the morning, and initially would tend to sleep in a bit.  The only exercise I got was just under two miles on Sundays, going to and from a street relief that was just a shade under a mile away from the bus garage.  I also now drive to work in my car, which means that I don’t get any activity related to my own commute.

However, now that the bus has finally become routine and I’m really starting to get the hang of things (and – heaven forbid – having fun at work), I can start getting serious about fitness again.  After all, one of my more recent splash photos shows me looking like this:

The October 2014 splash photo, taken on July 5, 2014

However, roll the clock back to early 2013, and I looked like this:

The March 2013 splash photo, taken on March 3, 2013

Photo taken February 27, 2013

This is where I want to be again.  I got there once, and I’m going to get there again.  I liked being that size, and I was displeased to have lost some of the figure that I had worked so hard to attain.  After all, this was me in October 2012:


I’m still convinced that this was a trick mirror, though.  But anyway…

In any case, I am going to look like this again, just you watch.

However, I do have certain mixed feelings about getting down to that size again.  On one hand, I know that it’s a healthier size to be at, and as such, it’s the right thing to do.  But at the same time, when I was that size was not a particularly happy or fulfilling time in my life.  Something clicked when I turned 30, and it’s like I got more mature all of a sudden.  My interests started to shift, and my career started to stagnate.  I started to find the people that I used to joke around with a lot to be amazingly immature, and I found myself being left at the sidelines at work on things where I used to have a more prominent role, and my pushing for additional responsibility led to a significant demotion, which ultimately caused me to leave the company.  In other words, I was happier when I was heavier, as strange as that may seem.  Now I’m doing things that interest me and that energize me (not just anyone can sling an artic around a major city and have fun doing it), rather than pushing papers around for a nonprofit that didn’t appreciate what I did for them.  But I’m also carrying around about 50 pounds that I wasn’t carrying in those less happy days, and I don’t like that.

Of course, now that my job is starting to become routine, and I know my block numbers by heart, among other things, I’m working the pool back in.  My goal is to swim from 11:50 AM until 12:45 PM on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, do my walk to my street relief and back on Sundays, and hopefully work in another swim or a deep water running session on one of my days off.  Then once it warms up, I want to take the bike out and about.  I’m thinking it’s worth just going a few miles out somewhere, and then throwing it on the front of a Metrobus to go home again.  I did that in July, biking up to Olney and taking the bus home, but I also ground up the chain pretty well on that trip (oops), so it was either take the bus home or walk home in that case.  Would also be a good time to get a new helmet, since mine doesn’t really fit as well as I would like.  But in any case, I want to have a destination in mind, and not just pedal around aimlessly.

And then, of course, I would be delighted if I have to go back to Muscatello’s to get my uniform tailored again for a new, slimmer size.

]]> 0
I can’t believe I set off the DriveCam… Thu, 29 Jan 2015 00:57:17 +0000 I had a good bit of fun on Tuesday.  I went down to the Washington Auto Show at the Washington Convention Center with Elyse, and we wandered through, seeing all sorts of interesting things.  We took the Red Line to Gallery Place, then took the 70 bus up to the Convention Center (and we got an artic).

Unlike most car shows that I’ve been to in my 33 years, this was primarily for auto manufacturers to show off new cars.  As such, it was heavy on the marketing, and you could touch and interact with most of the vehicles that were there.  If you go on a Tuesday, as we did, the place was pretty quiet.  No wait for tickets and security, and no wait to see or do anything, and more time to chat it up with people.

Right off the bat, with its being a slow day, Elyse and I could tell that the people working the event were in a good mood.  When I purchased my ticket, the guy mentioned that admission, normally $12.00, was only $10.00 with a SmarTrip, or $5.00 with a student ID.  My old JAC card from my college days still lives on my keychain over a decade after I graduated college.  I said, “I still have my old student ID from when I was in college.”  The guy sold me a ticket at the student rate, and justified it by saying that it just says “a student ID”, and not that you had to be a current student.

And here’s proof:

My JAC card and my student ticket for the auto show.  Go Dukes.

I suppose this is proof that once a JMU Duke, always a JMU Duke.  In any case, I was tickled to have gotten the student discount, even though my JAC card shows a version of me that had hair where there is no hair now.  “Heri yesterday, gone today,” and all that (Latin buffs will get that one).

As transit nerds, the first thing that Elyse and I sought out was the bus display.  This was Metrobus, and they had bus 8102, a NABI 42′ BRT hybrid-electric, on display.  This bus was brand new, and had not yet been operated in revenue service.  And here it is:

All in all, it’s a nice bus.  Now since I also drive a bus for a living, I was showing Elyse about all of the various things on a bus, like the radio, the way that buses turn on, etc.

Then I pointed to the DriveCam.  For those not familiar, DriveCam is a device manufactured by Lytx that’s mounted on the windshield of a vehicle.  The way it works is that when the device’s accelerometer reaches a certain threshold, usually reached by abrupt changes in speed and/or direction, a 12-second event is recorded.  That event consists of eight seconds’ worth of footage prior to the moment that the event was triggered, and four seconds’ worth of footage after (in other words, the DriveCam is always recording, but it only saves the footage if an event is triggered).  DriveCam footage comes from two sources: a camera facing forward, and a camera facing the driver.  It’s marketed two ways.  One way is aimed at parents, with the intent of using it to monitor their children’s driving habits.  The other is aimed toward fleet operators, i.e. it’s put on commercial vehicles to look at driving behaviors observed during triggered events.

DriveCam is installed on the buses where I drive, and yes, I’ve set it off before, including, most notably, an occasion while I was still in training when a person in an SUV ran a stop sign right in front of the bus and I had to jam on the brakes to avoid hitting them.  I was successful, and for my efforts, I got a what’s-wrong-with-you look from the other driver (even though they had the stop sign and I didn’t), who then went on their way.  The DriveCam’s lights flashed green and red for a few seconds and then stayed red, indicating that an event was stored, i.e. I had set off the DriveCam.  No one ever said anything to me about it, which makes me think that I did everything correctly in that instance.

So at the auto show, I tapped on the side of the camera unit twice with my fingernail as I was showing it to Elyse.  Immediately after, I noticed that the green and red lights were both flashing, and then the light stayed red, i.e. this:

Guess who just set off the DriveCam...

Ooooooops.  Guess who just set off the DriveCam.  On a parked bus.  At the convention center.  Touchy little thing.

After Elyse and I finished laughing our heads off over that, though, we continued.  We spent some time at the Jeep area, where they were demonstrating how tough their Cherokee and Wrangler vehicles were by taking them over a course.  The course included simulated hills and uneven territory.  It was, to put it nicely, a slow thrill ride, as the cars performed admirably over territory much steeper than you would ever want to take your own car on.  Going down a hill with a 35-degree grade was definitely something I don’t particularly want to experience again, that’s for sure.

In other words, this:

The big Jeep hill

It may look nice and gradual from this angle, but from inside the car, it looks way steeper.

Then there was also a spot where the cars went over some very rough terrain.  Look at the rear wheel up in the air:

Yes, the right rear wheel is up in the air...

Then there was the Kia area.  This is more my style:

A green Kia Soul

That is the most recent version of the Kia Soul.  Elyse decided to hop in one and pretend to take it for a spin:

Elyse sits inside a red Soul

Elyse sits inside a red Soul

I still say that Kia put too much effort into trying to look “cool” with the redesign in 2014.  One thing I like about my 2012 Soul is that it’s not too overly “cool”.  Don’t get me wrong, now – it’s a pretty cool car.  But it feels like just the right amount of “cool” without overdoing it.  This newer version seems a tad over the top.  But I do like this function:

Pushbutton start

I like the pushbutton start.  All you need is to have your key fob in the car, and the car will fire right up at the touch of a button.  I wish my car had that.  Would save me from those moments when I try to start the car with the house key.  Or when I try to open the front door of the house with the car remote and wonder why the car’s lights are flashing.

And quit laughing.  You know you’ve done it before yourself.

Then lastly, the Mercedes area, where I pretended to recreate a moment from Mrs. Doubtfire:

Pretending to pull off the Mercedes hood ornament

And no, I didn’t see how easily the real hood ornament would come off.  But it does make a good photo.  And my the looks of it, I need to use some moisturizer on the back of my hands.

So all in all, I’d say that Elyse and I had a fun time at the Washington Auto Show.

]]> 0