Friday, April 24, 2009

Oh, I-Pass

I’ve been paying attention to the I-Pass. Strange thing to notice, I know, but after having a run-in with the I-Pass gods the very first time I used mine, I’ve found this magical little device to be unpredictably powerful.

I remember feeling so cool when I bought my I-Pass (yes, I’m a nerd). I mean, I’m one of the most impatient people I know, especially when driving, so the thought of having this device that would allow me to blow through the toll stops was really a novel and long overdue idea for me. Just before the holidays, knowing I’d be traveling more often, I popped into Jewel and picked one up.

Now, I purchased my I-Pass two days before I headed out of town for Thanksgiving. I activated it immediately after my purchase, and was assured that it would be active in Illinois in 24 hours, but warned that it may take an extra day for it to activate outside of the state. Okay, I thought to myself, that’s fine, no big deal. So, I hop into my car after work, the day before Thanksgiving, and gleefully pull onto the highway for a leisurely drive back home. As I approach the toll stop for the Skyway, I’m thinking, “Awww, yeah. Get to cruise right on through this stop,” when, unexpectedly, the gate doesn’t lift as I roll up to the sensor. A wave of panic seizes my chest. “Okay, maybe I have it positioned poorly on my windshield,” I think, as I struggle to pull the I-Pass off of the super-strength Velcro that’s holding it to my window. While I grapple with the useless cream-colored square, I become excruciatingly aware of the line of cars piling up behind me. I break out into a sweat as the honking starts. “Oh, God,” I think, “How many seconds do I have before the obscenities begin?” I frantically start to wave my I-Pass all over the front of my car. I pray that the people in the cars behind me can see that I really do have an I-Pass and I really am trying to get it to work; that I’m not foolish enough to try and use the I-Pass lane without an I-Pass. I clearly have one: see? That’s when I look at the dead little square and start to imagine it strewn in a million pieces across the highway.

I’m not foolish enough to destroy my 50-dollar piece of plastic junk, however, so I just keep waving it like some kind of crazy person as the honking grows louder and I hear shouts behind me and I’m starting to get angry that no one has come over yet to solve my problem. I start honking my own horn, trying to get the attention of the attendant who has been looking at me, but whose feet have remained miraculously glued to the pavement two booths away. She swaggers over with her self-important gait and I’m so frustrated and sweaty and red that I want to scream at her for prolonging my embarrassment. She approaches my window, looks me dead in the eye and says, “It takes 48 hours for the I-Pass to activate.” This really puts me over the edge—the guy on the phone two days ago said 24 hours in Illinois, tops—but I’m not the exploding type of person. So, I wait for her to tell me what to do. She says that she’s going to need me to pay with cash, wearing this smirk like she expects me to not have any cash on me. I derive some small satisfaction from the fact that I happen to have three one-dollar bills in my wallet—exact change—and can quickly resolve the issue with no extra hassle. I’m acutely aware that if she had walked over two minutes prior, I could have immediately resolved the issue without having obscenities hurled at my head.

I have never before been so happy to see that candy-striped traffic gate rise up so I can speed like hell out of the toll stop. As I’m pulling away I wish there were a place for me to pull over to let all the irate drivers behind me pass on while I duck under the dashboard to hide my tomato-red face. Instead, I release my frustration to myself with a few choice words, and keep my eyes glued to the road as the cars I’d held up pass me by. I know exactly how ticked off I would have been if I’d been behind me—like I said, I’m a very impatient person. I hated me for being “that girl” as much as they did. Luckily, I still had over three hours of road ahead of me, and that was plenty of time for the stigma to drip off of my skin.

So, today I was stuck behind someone in a similar predicament, as I drove away from a nine-day stint of job interviews and social events in Chicago. I was able to back up and switch lanes before becoming held up, and I said a quick prayer that someone would come out and help that driver in a quicker manner than the attendant had done when I was sandwiched between the stubborn gate and the line of angry cars.

Sometimes I come to a gate that’s been smashed off, presumably from some driver for whom even the I-Pass isn’t fast enough. I always laugh as a mere stump rises as I pull forward. Apparently, some people are even more impatient than I am. Or maybe someone else got stuck like I did, but they didn’t wait around to see if anyone would get out of his car, shaking an angry fist.

I guess the point is, that small square of convenience, coupled with a little misinformation, can cause a lot of trouble.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Musical Chairs

Yesterday morning, I happened to attend a church service with my mom. After a lackluster church breakfast where, thankfully, the overcooked quiches were outnumbered by immense quantities of donuts and sweet rolls, my mom and I migrated from the gathering hall to the church. We haphazardly selected two seats from the mostly empty rows, and I settled in for some pre-service people watching.

Families began to saunter in, dressed in the widest range of “Easter” garb I’ve ever seen: jeans, mini-skirts, suits, hats, dresses, pink hair, greasy hair, groomed hair, heels, flats, tennies. (This is one of the things I like about this church—it’s a good mix of people, and it’s not stuffy.) As I watched the seats begin to fill, a family of six stopped to file in, two rows ahead of us. The granddaughter of the group, who was probably about eleven, stubbornly continued walking up two more rows, attempting to convince her family that they should sit in that row. To her dismay, and my amusement, her family completely ignored her until she was forced to concede and sit down with them. Of course, the seat-juggling for this family did not stop there. Grandpa stood patiently in the aisle as they tried to figure it out. Grandson wanted to sit next to Grandpa, but someone hadn’t moved down enough seats to allow Grandpa a spot. Grandma didn’t seem to notice the commotion at all and appeared to have no will to move. Mom and dad seemed overwhelmed with their petulant daughter and their son who was completely uninterested in sitting next to Grandma. Finally, Grandpa walked down the empty row behind us, headed up the outer aisle, and met his family in happy compromise from the other end of the row. With a few more musical-chair-like movements, the family was settled.

Soon, however, I heard a woman behind me attempting to direct the traffic in her row. “Honey, I want you to go sit over there to save seats for the boys.” “What?” “Can you move down there because we need seven seats.” “As soon as I get up, I am going to lose my seat.” This banter escalated into an irritated wife snapping at her husband on Easter morning, because she was determined to keep anyone from infiltrating the row she’d designated for her late family members. It seemed to set their Easter service off to a rocky start, as their bickering interrupted my train of thought during three hymns and part of the Gospel.

While all of the seat-swapping was taking place, I leaned over and whispered to my mom, “Wow, I’ve never seen so much commotion over seating.” She looked at me and responded, “Yep. And everyone has their own areas where they sit every Sunday.” After that, I looked around suspiciously, wondering whose seat I might have inadvertently stolen, and checked my hair for spitballs, in case I’d managed to really tick someone off. I wouldn't want to interrupt the force of habit. But, seriously, does it really matter that much where you sit in church?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Frozen Toes and Warm-Weather Treats*

It has been my observation that Midwesterners are a little crazy about the changing of seasons. They have a way of forcing the seasons regardless of the weather. I’m not saying I’m an exception to this generalization, but here is my case in point:

Mr. Freeze—perhaps the most popular seasonal ice cream joint in Toledo—opened about a week ago. Granted, we’ve had some beautiful days since then, but today it was cold, cloudy and damp. The high was 48 degrees. At some point in the day, my mom decided that it would be fun for us to go to Mr. Freeze after dinner. Honestly, I was already cold when she suggested it so the idea sounded almost ludicrous, but who am I to refuse ice cream?

So, we climbed in the van and headed toward Mr. Freeze, the temperatures falling with the sunset. As we approached the stand, we were surprised by the crowds. Lines of people, bouncing or shifting to keep warm, spilled out into the parking lot, snaking from each available window. I couldn’t believe that so many people had come out for ice cream in the 40-degree weather, and was even more shocked to find myself in this crowd (I couldn’t be this impractical, could I?). I bounced on my heels, hands shoved deep in my pockets, pulling my winter coat even tighter over my sweatshirt. My gaze shifted back and forth from chattering teeth and huddled customers to the scrumptious sundae descriptions plastered across the windows. I laughed aloud at the absurdity of the scene. But I did not lose my place in line.

When we finally made it to the window to order, I had mixed feelings about my ice cream. It was going to taste amazing; my mouth watered at the sight of orange and vanilla all tangled up together, but I was already shivering, without using precious body heat to melt bites of ice cream. It didn’t take long, though, for me to opt for taste over temperature and dig in. In the van we had some relief from the chilly breeze, and I continued to watch the people lined up outside. This was when I decided that Midwesterners are a little crazy about spring. I saw three people in shorts, a woman in a white skirt and a short-sleeved shirt, and countless customers without jackets. While my lips shivered against my ice cream, I shook my head in disbelief.

The calendar says it is spring, yes. We all want it to be spring, indeed. But I don’t care what you want or what the calendar says—if it’s in the forties and it snowed earlier in the week, it’s not spring: even if you pull on a pair of shorts and stand in line for ice cream without a coat. Yet, at the same time, I completely get it. I’m not going to be foolish and catch my death just for the taste of spring/summer (that’s what Mr. Freeze is, after all), but I’m sure as hell going to get my taste. It’s April 10, already. If I can’t manufacture the warmer temperatures, the sunshine, and the smells of springtime, I’m at least going to go to Mr. Freeze and eat ice cream until my upper lip goes numb—and it did. My toes are still frozen and the goose bumps are still fading as I write this. But it was worth it.

*I’m on “vacation.” It won’t be long before I’m Chicagoing again. Bear with me until my return. ;)