Archive for the ‘News from the World of Transportation’ Category

“Are you happy or sad the Space Shuttle is finished?”

This is not something I would ever have dreamed I would say, but — I’m happy.  So happy.

Probably most of my readers are more or less in my generation, so like me, they recall the initial excitement of the Space Age:  New worlds to conquer, new explorations to undertake, new life forms to discover…whatever your notions about the future, the Space Program promised to deliver.  Star Trek got its start in this atmosphere.  So did all the sci-fi and fantasy fixations that now abound.

Back to earth, people.  At the beginning of the space program, gasoline was .33 per gallon.  That’s thirty-three cents.  (And come to think of it, gas may have been even cheaper — I wasn’t driving back in 1961.)   It’s now more than ten times that amount, and while my husband’s salary has kept pace, more or less, with inflation, it’s nowhere near ten times what he was making forty years ago.

In 1961, we weren’t even thinking about the effects of Progress on the environment.  Whiter Whites and Brighter Brights ruled daytime television, and never mind the phosphates that were added to detergents to achieve those miraculous effects.  “Better Living Through Chemistry” was the slogan of the day, and we could afford it:  Bhopal (remember Bhopal?) was decades off — and protesters against nuclear fission were just a handful of nut-hatch cranks.

So, um, can anybody explain to me why we have allowed this program to go forward, even past the Earth-Day/environmentalist revival??   Where was Al Gore while we were blasting off over the past 20 or 30 years?  (Yeah, I know he was inventing the internet, but besides that.)  I mean, anybody who got the Nobel Prize for whatever it was to do with environmentalism should have been shooting off his mouth about air pollution from rocket launches, no?

I guess not.  I haven’t heard a peep out of anybody on the subject.  Not Al Gore, not the news media, not my contemporaries, and certainly not NASA, not that I blame them — like the ubiquitous cancer research, it’s a living, and nobody who stands to earn a buck off a questionable procedure is going to shoot himself in the foot by raising ethical dilemmas.

But me, all I have to gain from it is a cleaner planet.  So I’ll say it again:  I am so glad the space-shuttle program is now history.   Now, please excuse me:  The Sy-Fy Channel is hosting a Star Trek marathon week, and I have to see what Jean-Luc is up to.

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“Describe the worst driver you know.”

That would actually consist of a number of drivers in my neighborhood, all of them women.

Now, before everybody jumps down my throat:  I do remember when men routinely made Female Driver jokes.  It was back in the 1950s and 1960s, and yes, they were very offensive.  It was due to those jokes that I made a point of learning how to drive a stick shift and how to do basic car maintenance.   Also how to use the rear-view mirror for driving, and not for putting on makeup.

Fast-forward fifty years.  Thanks partly to feminism and partly to what passes for education nowadays, girls and women have a sense of Entitlement.  They can Be All They Can Be, the Sky’s the Limit, the only barrier that remains to be shattered is the Glass Ceiling (which was actually shattered a number of years ago, but why mess with a good myth?) — and they can drive as if they own the road, because they do.  Men can’t make Female Driver jokes without getting sued, but women can make all the Guy Jokes they want, and nobody says anything.

One of the major employers in this area is a large national insurance company.  About fifteen years ago, they demolished several cute houses along a peaceful rural road, paid the city to widen the dratted thing, and planted a huge complex in the middle of some of the most desirable farmland in the county.  Now we have a 24-hour Beacon of Industry, literally since the building’s lights never go out, that extended the city’s commercial district into its Farm Zone.  We have McMansions where there used to be forests.  We have traffic lights where there weren’t even roads.  And, from six until ten a.m. and from three until seven p.m., we have cars clogging up our once-peaceful rural existence.  The turnpike is stop-and-go.  The main secondary artery is stop-and-go.  So is the rural road that most of use to get between two cities eight miles apart.

And ninety percent of these drivers are women.  Putting on makeup.  Turning around to admonish the children they’re dropping off at daycare.  Yammering on the umbilical cord cell phone for the entire distance.  Texting on same, which is actually illegal, but what the heck.  Running red lights — I mean, most of us in this neck of the woods take a yellow light to mean “Go like hell,” but an actual red light?!  Tailgating, by which I mean clinging to the bumper of the car in front, not having picnics prior to sports events.

I’ve made a point of looking at who drives like this.  And so help me Hannah, every single really crummy driver in this area is a woman.  And most of them work for Liberty Mutual — since Liberty Mutual is located on a posted private road, and all these cars are driving on that private road, it stands to reason they work there.

And I’m supposed to insure my vehicle with a company whose own employees can’t observe the common-courtesy rules of the road?!

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I had a call from my son yesterday for Mother’s Day — he wanted to know if I had received his card.  Well, no, I hadn’t, so I was especially glad to hear that he had sent one.  (I did, however, actually receive a card from my daughter.  That was a nice surprise!)

Once we got done with our Mother/Son conversation, I passed the phone to his father, who also loves to talk to him.  From remarks that my husband was making, I gathered that Chris had told him something good about work, so after the conversation was over, I asked about it.

It seemed that Chris’s train had had a surprise inspection from the Federal Railroad Administration — just a routine thing, but the thing is that the FRA is even more stringent in its requirements than the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is the field my husband has worked in for all his working life; he got his start in OSHA.  The inspector actually complimented Chris on his safety practices, and Chris made note that he had grown up in a safety culture:  “My dad just retired as a safety inspector, so I’ve heard about this all my life.”  The inspector, he said, seemed impressed.

Now, over the years, my husband has put up with a lot of guff about occupational safety and health.  Bad enough when it comes from the public — when it was first enacted, the OSHA Act came in for a lot of criticism, and my husband was threatened several times with bodily harm — but over the years, thanks mostly to mucking around under various administrations, gradually OSHA came to be deprived of its teeth, and now has no real power to do anything proactive; it only comes to the fore after a life has been lost, which is a shame.  Be that as it may, dh has endured a lot of commentary from his various agencies about the “wussiness” (for want of a better word) of safety, with the implications that anybody who works in the field is little better than an old mother hen.  That kind of talk takes its toll on a man’s self-esteem, especially over a period of decades.

“I want you to think about this,” I said.  “For all the nonsense you’ve put up with about your career — for all the people who’ve been ungrateful about the fact that they will get to go home at night to their families, instead of to the hospital or the morgue — the one you actually reached was the most important one of all.”

My husband was already on a high over that telephone conversation.  When I said that, he positively glowed.  It makes a man proud when his son follows him into his own line of work; but I think it makes a man even prouder when his son takes Dad’s life lessons to heart.

I am a blessed woman, to have such a son, and such a husband.

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Gets my vote!

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As the Buddhists say, “After ecstasy, the laundry.”  We all know that feeling.  I’m sure I’ve blogged about this before, but it bears repeating:  The story told by Kathleen Norris (in, I think, The Cloister Walk, though it may have been in The Quotidian Mysteries) about the woman who said she was going to have engraved on her tombstone, “At last her laundry’s done.”  There are days when I think about that completely seriously.

In this instance, though, I’m not talking about laundry, but about the Groan Ones.  I e-mailed my son on Saturday to find out if he might be coming home for Pascha, and he told me that he had been furloughed on Friday, and would be spending this week sending out resumes.  Now, as I understand it, “furlough” is not the same as a layoff — it means you’re still on the rolls of employees, just not getting paid, and when there’s work, they call you back.  But I guess Chris is looking for something with more stable hours, and I hope he finds it.  Meanwhile — prayers would be appreciated.

Then there’s the Other One, whose 34th birthday is today.  I stopped up to see her last week — I was literally in the neighborhood, and thought I’d stop by with her birthday card and a check — she was out with the kids, but her husband was home, painting, and we had a very nice conversation.  He says he doesn’t know what her problem is because he doesn’t want to know; he said he told her, “You need to settle whatever it is between you, because I actually like your parents.”  My goodness.

And there was the thank-you note I got from Herself:  “Thank you for the card and the gift — much appreciated.  Take care.”  And her signature.  E-mailed, though that’s not a problem for me, since I e-mail everybody these days.  But — “take care”?!?!?!


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…do something.  I would feel more comfortable if I knew exactly where this little engine was taking us.

It has been something of a revelation to learn exactly how conservative Fr. Count is.  Normally you would say, “Yeah, priest, conservative, what else” (althouth most Roman Catholic priests I know are fanatically liberal), but this guy is not only not Roman Catholic, but from a former Communist country, Romania; as a brand-new citizen of the U. S., he has become very outspoken on the subject of our new president.

Neither of us is especially impressed with his choice of Treasury Secretary, for example.  I mean, somebody who “forgot” to pay his taxes for the past two years?!?!  I’d love to see what would happen if I “forgot” to pay my taxes (NOT!!  Remember, I worked in Federal law enforcement!).  Then there’s his choice for Secretary of State — and her qualifications are what, exactly???  That she got to go along for the ride in Air Force One???  So did Jackie Kennedy, and I don’t see that anybody ever nominated her for Secretary of State.  (And she’d have been better at it, too — anybody who can charm the socks off the French is a born diplomat.)

However, I find I have to make one grudging nod of acceptance in Obama’s direction.  Apparently, it’s considered newsworthy that this person rides from Philadelphia to Washington, D. C. in a train.  I’m not sure exactly what kind of nut case would actually fly from Philly to D. C., considering airport security, flight delays, and lost luggage — the train ends up taking half the time, and is a lot more relaxing — but it must be such a rarety for a public official to take a train that it’s considered a News Item.  Hey, when Chris lived in Philly we took the train from Boston to visit him all the time, and there were no news crews on hand for us.

But I digress.  Grudging Nod of Acceptance.  Due to our son’s choice of occupation (railroading, in case you’d forgotten — how, I can’t imagine), my husband subscribes to all kinds of railroad publications.  One of the more recent issues of Trains magazine had an article about the chances for Amtrak funding under this administration, and it seems that they are considerably improved.  Another recent issue noted that Amtrak funding in the millions of dollars has already been approved for Fiscal ’09, with a sidebar note that the Congress approved billions in highway funding every year.  Now — help me out here.  It’s okay for Congress to subsidize roadwork (not to mention those ridiculously inefficient airlines), but Amtrak is supposed to be completely self-sufficient in terms of generating revenue??  Say what???

So I am happy about the possibility of increased train service and funding.  I have long believed that the two most efficient forms of transportation ever devised are train and bicycle.  An ad for CSX Freight (the old ConRail line) notes that train transportation gets something like 300 miles per gallon of fuel, though how they figure that, I’m not sure — perhaps calculating how many trucks it would take to move the same amount of freight.  Anyway, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo gets my vote every time, and if this administration actually does increase funding massively for mass transit in general, it will earn my undying gratitude.

For that, at least.

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What a winter it’s been, one snow storm after another since December. Normally, we don’t get much snow in December at all — we might have a dusting in time for Christmas — this season, we had a good foot on the ground by Christmas, and it has continued unabated ever since. Today is just the latest storm, and it’s particularly irksome, since dh is travelling in it.

Yes, the Powers That Be in Good Ol’ DC decreed that Travel Must Go Forward, regardless of the probability of snow and travel delays, so this past week, dh has been in (of all places) Philadelphia. Our son lived in the Philly area for 2 1/2 years, and not once did my husband have travel in that area. Now that Chris has been home for a year, where does his father have to travel?! Go figure.

Having left the City of Brotherly Love at, what, 8:30 a.m.? — he just walked in the door at 8:45 p.m. Sound miraculous? Not if you took the train, as dh did. He hates airline travel so much that he will actually wrestle with Defense Travel Service to get train travel approved — as it turns out, it’s a good thing he did, this time, since all the airports are closed and flights from elsewhere are delayed up the yinyang. But Amtrak made it through with, I think, only half an hour’s delay. And if they had gotten stuck, at least he could have stretched out in his seat to sleep, not have had to make do with sleeping in a )@(#*$&%^! airport.

The worst part of the trip was getting from the train station to the house, because he had to wait for a cab for 45 minutes — I do not drive, in this weather. But there’s a cafe about two blocks from the train station, and he sat it out very happily, till the cabbie showed up and brought him home.

So all’s well that ends well. But I am still ticked off. When dh was working for the Navy, they did not travel in the winter, period. Army, apparently, does not believe in such civility. Am I correct in my belief that Navy consistently wins the Army/Navy Football Game??

Meanwhile, there’s a few inches of the white stuff out there — six or so — with more to come. Everyone I know is ready to hang the groundhog. Even me, and normally I love winter. I stopped loving it, this year, around mid-January. Come on, Mother Nature, February’s almost over. We need at least a little warmth — flowers, no, it’s way too early for flowers, but a modification of air temperature, anyway.

And less — much less — of the white stuff, thankyouverymuch.

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