Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ruffled Hawk on Town Hill.

Crossing Town Hill in a late Fall storm; sleet, snow and fog. I left Baltimore under a tornado watch.  Town Hill marks the pass where I-70 crosses the Appalachians out of the panhandle of Maryland. Last night, I came through here in the dark and fog. This morning, in the breaks between clouds, I catch glimpses of ancient farmsteads and backwoods mobile homes. Surveying the scene from an impossibly thin branch, waiting out the storm and hanging on for dear life, is a ruffled old hawk.

The perfectly solid Americana of old fieldstone farmhouses and verdant pastures contrasts the obvious, even vain, temporary nature of the trailers with their store bought waferboard sheds.
Some of the picturesques farms have been recently built in the style, but many are, perchance, older than this country. When did we switch from 'built to last' to 'just good enough?' Did we make a concious choice or did we just get lazy? Is there a difference?

These old farms were built in tune with nature and their surroundings. They take advantage of prevailing winds and Summer shade.  It was considered; thought through. 235+ years later, many are still here. They sit in meadows of little valleys, on the South facing slope. Little pastures are borderd by low stone walls or thin rows of trees. You could set George Washington's bones on this ridge and he might still recognize the place.

There are many ghosts out East where history hangs over the hills like chimney smoke on humid, late Fall day. Just above a rock outcropping, back by the treeline, a flicker of motion catches the eye. This time its not a ghost, just a loose board pulling free from an old shed. The lot was hurriedly scratched out of the hillside where the land was cheap. The house is out in the open, right where the truck left it. Now the people are gone too. It might be abandoned or they might all just be at work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   from my Droid
~~~~~~~/)~~~~~~~

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Long Distance Solo Driving or Playing Chicken with Suicide

For many years now, I have been researching ways to dramatically increase your range of travel by avoiding sleep. As early as 1992, I attempted to drive from Port Huron to Tampa, nonstop solo. In 1999 or so, an ex-wife and I "rescued" a niece from Wyoming. Elkhart, IN to Caspar, WY and back in a weekend.

Recently, I have conducted extensive research while driving a semi and have concluded that is possible to push yourself well beyond previously insurmountable limits. The key is to gently but continuously feed the body and mind while pressing ahead. This leads to the potential of driving great distances with reasonable safety. The corollary is that if something terrible did happen, you will either be so strung out on sugar and caffeine that you won't feel a thing or that you'll just be thankful that it's finally over.

The first critical supplies are a big sugary snack and a large energy drink. Energy Drinks have been popular for several years in the refrigerated section of your local convenience store or truckstop. A new alternative is Energy Coffee, a coffee brewed with the addition of the go-juice chemicals found in common energy drinks. Last night, I chose both.

The sugary snack should not be pure sugar like candy. This will tend to make you feel badly before the maximum benefits are achieved. I recommend something with flour and sugar, like Ding Dongs or Coconut Crunch Donettes. The strategy is to prompt a sugar buzz with the snack and then drink copious amounts of the Energy Drink so that it will kick in before the Sugar Crash which typically follows the Buzz.

Two more critical supplies are more caffeine drinks and carbs. It is important to continue to imbibe in some slightly milder caffeine drink. I chose Pepsi Max as it has ginseng as well. While consuming the caffeine, you should also eat something heavy in carbohydrates. Not too much pure sugar, but more snacks with flour and sugar; perhaps increasing the relative proportion of flour. Pretzels work well, but have little or no sugar. Something like Oreos is probably too much sugar. Choose oatmeal cookies or frosted animal cookies. If you are in the Plains States, look for Banana Planks, an banana flavored iced sugar cookie, par excellence! Last night, I had two.

Essentially, you are playing with your blood sugar levels. It is NOT recommended that you ask your Doctor or even mention this program. The key is to get to the point where you think you are about to have the shakes. Slack your intake slightly to prevent a full onset. Once you are starting to feel better, restart the program until you start to almost feel badly begin again.

If you get too far along and are feeling shaky or unwell, a bit of protein can help. It is important to avoid eating very much protein or anything greasy or with significant fat content. A small package of almonds or some beef jerky can help stem the tide. If you can combine a little bit of protein with more carbs, so much the better. Try a small package of peanut butter and cheese crackers or some honey roasted peanuts. In Illinois, pull into a rest area on the freeway or a toll plaza, and look for the Coconut Toffee Peanuts; Beernuts were never this good to you!!

It is important to avoid large amounts of protein, fat or grease. If you must, a c-store wedge sandwich will not do too much damage, but even the small prepackaged subs can slow you down. Take it from me, a McDouble with all that meat and cheese and grease, can make you practically narcoleptic. If you are pushing 36 or 40 hours awake, you will fall asleep in mid-stride half way back to your vehicle.

Protein and Grease, however, is the perfect way to end your run. The hardest thing to estimate is when to stop the program and wind yourself down. Typically, you will arrive, or decide to stop, abruptly. Perhaps it only seems abrupt because your brain is swimming in sugar and caffeine. When you are ready to stop, the solution is to seek out protein, fat and grease. Nothing beats a McDouble and fries with a Whole by-god-and-Texas Vitamin D milk. You will sleep like a baby.

My most important bit of advice is don't try this at home or anywhere else. In fact, forget I said anything.

PS: I arrived at my destination and got my truck in for service; 646 miles on 1.5 hours of sleep.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Zen and the Art of Egoless Driving, Lesson 3




Slow Down.

That's it . . . . just slow down.





OK, OK, I'll elaborate. I lived and commuted in Detroit for a few years. I've been there, done that, never got the t-shirt or, amazingly, a ticket. I did have to call for bail money once but that was completely unrelated to speed. Recently, I've spent 300,000 or so miles on the highways and byways. Not many of them in rush hour traffic but just enough. Enough hours in traffic in different places in the world that I can tell you that Detroit Drivers are the worst. In fact, there were only three times that I experienced anything worse than Detroit; all isolated incidents. Twice in Texas with a fatal accident somewhere ahead of me. And once in New York City, I was halfway from Long Island City to the George Washington Bridge when a Yankees game let out. It wasn't just the traffic jam, everyone in New York thinks they're special and were fighting like lemmings to get to the front of the line. One guy got so excited, he changed lanes without looking and rammed his sexy foreign car into the dollies _underneath_ a semi trailer. Luckily, not mine.

My theory is that Detroit is the worst because, up until recently anyway, nearly everyone in town was building cars or had a link somewhere in the supply chain. Therefore, Detroiters think of cars as toys. Everybody zips along in Detroit Rush Hour - 75 mph [at least] and 8 inches apart. OK, in Winter it was only 73 mph and people are playing it safe - 9.5" apart. Detroit Rush Hour was one of the first virtual reality arcade games. Everyone was playing. You're watching all your mirrors and scanning the horizon, vectoring the cars around you and strategizing. Some guy is barely in front of you and you slip in right behind him. You're running so close together, the heat from your radiator is fogging the chrome on his rear bumper.

Once we have entered the fray, we have to win. We'll cut in and out of lanes, pass on the right, jam the gears and the gas, brake, jam, brake, jam. Hell, we'd consider passing on the shoulder if it meant getting the jump on those out-of-state-plates driving the speed limit! When the inevitable happens and we get bogged down, we are livid. DON'T THEY UNDERSTAND?!?! I'VE GOT TO GET TO . . . to where? To work? You aren't nearly that enthusiastic about your job once you've made into the office parking lot.

Lets assume you have a 45 mile commute. If you drive 75 mph, it will take you 36 minutes to go 45 miles. If you drive 57 mph, it takes you a little more than 47 minutes. Is all that stress worth getting to the office 11 minutes sooner?

What about a 90 mile commute? Maybe you're in management and you live out in some verdant, peaceful suburb. If you drive 75 mph, it will take 72 minutes. Driving 57 will stretch that to almost 95 minutes! If you're in management, you are definitely going to tell me that those 23 minutes are valuable. Read on.

Now, some of you readers are on to me already. There is a problem in my examples, though I tried to word them carefully. The times are only valid if you could leap into your car while it was already doing 75 mph! And you'd have to average 75 mph for the entire trip. If there are more than a couple stop signs, or the inevitable traffic jam along the way, your average speed will plummet. Every time you slow down and/or stop, you are losing most of the 11 minutes you gained in the example. You're spending lots of driving time at the same speed as someone who is only driving 57 mph on the highway. Take it from someone who gets paid by the mile, just stopping to hit the john will spoil your average speed for hours.

So, back when I thought I was done, I suggested you slow down. Not only will your fuel consumption and maintenance costs go down, you will gain an even more precious commodity. . . peace. Tranquility. You can laugh at all the stress puppies flying by you on the highway. You can smile at those slow out-of-towners. You can get to work in a decent mood and smile at your coworkers. You will become unbound. Think of smiling at the threshold of your house in the evening. Imagine hanging out with your family without that lump in your gut; without the crispy edges around your burned out life.

There is something else that happens to me regularly out here on the road. Someone will fly by me on the way. At the next stop sign, rest area or truckstop, that same vehicle is right there in front of me; just pulling into a parking space when I enter the lot. Imagine your coworkers stomping in to the building, cussing under their breath and swallowing all that pressure. If you take the slow lane, you'll likely be sauntering in right behind them. Except you'll be smiling, noticing that the landscape guys planted flowers. You'll remember someone's birthday as you walk by their desk. You'll be happy enough to just start your day instead of heading for the coffee machine to bitch about traffic. Imagine how you'll feel that night at home. You'll notice how beautiful your family is, how lucky you are. You'll be living a life instead of fuming about traffic.

So what's it going to be? Five minutes sooner to a job you don't really like anyway? Or the slow lane, smiles and peace? Well, no stress on the road. You're still just a hamster in the wheel once you get to work.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It Ain't The Black Cats . . .



I always thought that the Black Cats were the ones to avoid, but a run-in with a spooky old tiger cat last week changed my mind. There is only one approved place for me to get fuel in Nebraska. About 5 miles before the exit, I called dispatch to find out where I was picking up my back haul. I only needed fuel if I was going further West. Sure enough my back haul was three and half hours further west. I pulled off the highway.

For a hundred miles on either side of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Interstate 80 runs along that bluff. To the North, the county roads roll down to the darkness of the prairie. The nearly pure blackness makes you wonder if anything exists in that direction. It looks like outer space, an occasional street light or the glow of mercury vapor around a farmhouse as the stars and moon. To the South, the roads crown away from the highway toward the crest of the bluff.

Aurora, Nebraska is North of Interstate 80. The glow of the town confirms there is more than just empty space out that way. I turn and cross the highway toward the shiny new truckstop and an abandoned gas station; the only obvious things South of the highway. Off in the dark, silhouetted against the line where the night meets the bluff, a lone tree and a farmhouse ooze into view.

As I was running my card through the fuel island pump, I saw a cat walk by between my drive tires and the trailer dolly. She was an ancient looking, but well fed tiger cat; ragged from life on the prairie. She wasn't fat, but you could tell there were a lot of missing field mice nearby. In the strange light of the truckstop, a layer of grey fur seemed to fuzz out over the top of her tiger coat. She just sauntered on by like she owned the place, the hard won aloofness of a farm cat. I don't remember ever seeing an animal, let alone a cat, just wandering around a truckstop. Sure some truckers have pets, especially dogs, but they don't wander around.

As I stuck the fuel nozzle in my driver's side tank, the nozzle just hung in the tank balanced by the weight of the hose and caught against the inside of the tank neck. Depending on the truckstop, this arrangement was precarious. It occurred to me that I should get a couple python straps to hold the fuel hoses down on each step. I roamed over to the passenger side and started fueling the other tank. I grabbed a squeegee and started doing my windows; the windshield, the side window, side mirror, west coast mirror, headlamp lens and then all of the same on the other side.

As I was doing the driver's side mirror, I bumped the precarious hose with the long handle of the squeegee. The nozzle flipped out, shot diesel fuel straight up in the air, all over my leg and the side of the truck. The nozzle hit the ground and before I could grab it, both my feet were soaked. With a grunt, I poked the nozzle back in the tank.

I finished the windows and the fueling, checked the oil, the belts, the antifreeze and the fluids. Instead of pulling up right away, I slipped into the sleeper and changed my pants. The older pair of jeans I packed as a back up had a 1.5" long spot on one of the 'sit down wrinkles' that had worn through. As I hurried to stick my foot into that leg, a toe caught the spot and tore it out to a 4" gaping hole. Another grunt and I tucked in my shirt, did my belt up and put my boots back on. I noticed that my phone was missing from the holster. I felt around in the blanket on top of my bunk, but couldn't find it. I looked around casually. Its got to be in here somewhere.

I pulled from the fuel island up to the pay line and went inside to use the john. On the way, I pitched the oiled up jeans in the trash. Back out in the truck, I looked more for my phone. The holster is handy but is old and worn and loose. I was starting to get worried and confused. After calling my dispatcher, I pulled off the highway, fueled my truck and changed my pants. I hadn't gone anywhere else. The phone had to be in the truck. I pulled the blankets and sheets off the bed and went through a duffel and a book bag. Nothing. I sent a message into dispatch asking them to call my phone. After several minutes, I hadn't heard anything from them. I looked around outside again.

Now what? I'm in the middle of Nebraska, in the middle of the night, on a schedule, and I can't find my phone. There must be a way to call a phone from the web. I broke out my laptop and googled "ring my phone" and, of course, got a hit. A bored computer geek put up a site that will help find your phone. WheresMyCellphone.com!! If you use it, send him a beer via Paypal, I did. I did not, however, hear my phone ring. The phone was either completely gone or my web connection was so slow that it didn't work.

As a last resort, I went inside and asked the Fuel Desk Lady if anyone had turned in a beat up old cellphone. Nope, but she offered to call the phone so I might hear it. I also told her that I had spilled some fuel and that they might want to put some kitty litter on it. My head down, I shuffled out to the truck and never heard her call. How could a phone just disappear? I had 150 more miles to drive and a 06:15 appointment. I just couldn't wait any longer for the phone to turn up.

My phone was beat up and old. I had been wanting to get a new one. I had also wanted to get all my phone numbers out of the old and into the new one. This is not how I wanted my relationship with this phone to end, but it was time to go. I had just enough time to get to North Platte. One last walk around and I'll head out. Luckily, no one had pulled in behind me to fuel. The place wasn't that busy in the middle of the night.

I walked back to the fuel pump where I had spilled the fuel. My old greasy jeans were in the trash. It was beyond unlikely that the phone fell out of the holster and into a pocket, but I checked anyway. I pulled the jeans out of the trash barrel, felt all the pockets, then stuck my hand in all the pockets. No phone. That's it. I'll need a new phone when I get home.

The trash barrel was on the passenger side of the island I pulled through. I slowly turned around; just pissed off that I'd lost my phone. My eyes scanned around as I started to amble back to the truck. The maintenance guy hadn't yet put any kitty litter on my puddle of diesel. I didn't set the phone on top of the pump. I hadn't set it on the curb.

But off to my left, on the dusty prairie truckstop concrete, sat my little silver phone. I couldn't remember going all the way over to where the phone was. There wasn't any reason to go that far. To fuel, do my windows and check fluid levels, all my work was around the front bumper of my truck. The phone sat well behind where my drive axles were, out of the main aisle. I know the sound of my phone skittering over the cement, my holster sucks. I heard no skittering. The phone mysteriously got from my hip to the ground 15 or 20 feet beyond where I had been. It was clean; hadn't gotten into the fuel spill. And there were five missed calls; two from WheresMyCellphone.com and three from the fuel desk. All that ringing and I had never heard it.

The early Spring fog swirled at me as a gust of wind rushed across the lot. The phone sat right where that cat had walked through! Had she grabbed it and hid it right there in plain sight? Or had she been holding it all this time, laughing at my frantic search? I didn't know what she'd been up to, but I had my phone back.

I climbed up in the cab, updated my logbook and hit the road. It was good to be rolling again. Hell, it was good to have a phone again. I got back across the bridge and down the entrance ramp to the highway, when my eyes starting watering. Blinking and sputtering, coughing with a thick feeling in the back of my throat, I lurched the truck on to the shoulder. What had that spooky cat done to me!?! After a pause, I realized I had changed my pants after the fuel spill but put the soaked boots back on. Running the heater lightly in the cool damp night air, the duct at my feet was blowing all the diesel fumes off my boots and up into my face. The truck was filling quickly with the thick acrid stench of raw diesel.

I can't tell you why, but I was traveling with two pair of boots that week. One is less comfortable but waterproof; the other expensive but not dry. Ironically, the good ones were now soaked in diesel fuel. Perhaps they are waterproof now. I could not store the oil soaked boots inside, so with my spare, uncomfortable boots on, I strapped them to the catwalk behind the sleeper. Catwalk . . . huh. Damn, cats.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Zen and the Art of Egoless Driving, Lesson 2


Jim Morrison growled "Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel." Sage advice while driving. However, certain occasions arise when we are tempted to lift one hand from the wheel and extend a particular digit in response to some traffic transgression that has occurred against us. We used to call this gesture the Tampa Bay Turn Signal.

Try this the next time you feel like thrusting that one particular digit at another driver: use all ten. In Eastern traditions to bow to each other as a greeting is very common. This is actually more than just a greeting. The bow, with palms pressed together like a Western prayer, a hands breadth away from the nose, is the 'sacred' in you bowing to the 'sacred' in the other. Call it the sacred or Buddha or Vishnu or God or whatever you would like. Or think of it as recognizing our common humanity in each other. It is hard to stay pissed off at someone you are blessing.

As we discussed in Egoless Driving - Lesson One, there is no reason to allow any more stress into your life than you already have. Let it go by recognizing that you are the same as the other driver. Occasionally, you get distracted too. The act of letting go, forgiving if you like, empowers you to leave it behind. You won't think about it all day. The stess will be gone - evaporated not from the heat but from the coolness of your response.

So next time you're tempted to flip, try bowing. Put your palms together and nod your head slightly. Its as much for you as it is for them. You may want to wait until they pass by. If it turns out, in traffic, you bless someone you know, they'll wonder even more about you.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bosses is, as Bosses does.

So, I've been here before; standing on the outside of my truck looking in. The keys hanging in the ignition. Only this time, I'm on the side of the highway, and this time . . . the truck is running. I'll get back to that.

My boss is great. I work for a good little company. Little, if 225 or so truck drivers, 2 terminals, and several drop yards over 8 states, is little. The three sons of the original owner still run the company and regularly make deliveries on our routes. They are driving almost every week. If there is a meeting at another terminal, they'll grab a load and drive a truck down; making money for the company on the way.

The day before Thanksgiving, was the last day of my week; my Friday. I woke up in the yard of a customer. Sleeping out in the world is not always the most comfortable arrangement, but this place is fairly nice with 24 hour access to their break room and a restroom. I had to take a load of Bisquick from the Fort Wayne area down toward Dayton, OH. Home is North and West, I would be traveling South and East. I was confident everything would work out fine. I had lots of legal hours to drive.

After making the delivery, I was assigned a load to go an hour or so further South. I called my Dispatcher just to make sure he was aware that I was headed still further from home on my “Friday.” He asked from what terminal I was based, and tapped away at his computer. My home terminal is Byron Center, Mi.

“If I can hang on to it, I've got a load going right into Byron,” he exclaimed. “That'll get you right back home. Worst case, there will be some consolidation loads later on.”

It was a nicely warm Fall day as I climbed in my truck and headed to the interim delivery. An hour South to a spice warehouse. What a smell. The building reeked of pickling spices. A guy on a forklift told me to back into Door 5 and then come back in when the Green Light came back on. I cracked my windows and read the paper. The truck gently rocked as the forklift clambered aboard and grabbed the stock off my trailer; 55 gallon drums of Canola Oil.

The forklift hadn't hit me for a few minutes. I was pulling my jacket on, when the Green Light popped back on. My paperwork was waiting right inside the warehouse door. I pulled out, closed up my trailer and high tailed it back to the terminal. The dispatcher was smiling when I arrived. My home base is also the headquarters of the company. One of the three brother/owners was just there and needed to get back home for Thanksgiving; the same home terminal I wanted to get to. He got my load home.

I'd been fiddling with my driver's door for a while. The last several months, the inside door handle would stick in an up position now and again. When I hopped out of the truck, the door would bounce back open when I tried to close it. I'd push the door handle back down and slam the door closed again. This week, a couple times, pulling the inside door handle wouldn't open the door. I found that if I just rested my finger on the door lock, something would catch and the door would open.

After an hour or so at the terminal, a consolidation load came up. I was going to deliver in Lansing and then get home to Byron Center, near Grand Rapids. The load was on a trailer with the axles too far back. I hooked to the trailer and adjusted the axles. After tugging on the trailer, it didn't feel like the pins had caught. I nudged the trailer again, and the second nudge felt fine. I headed through the gate and hit the highway; finally headed north.

About 40 miles up the highway, as I-75 swings to the East, I usually jump on US33, then jog up US127 to US30 and run over to I-69 in Indiana. When I hit the brakes on the exit ramp, the pins on the tandem rack let go. Chunka, chunka, chunka, SLAM! The axles ran all the way to the rear of the trailer and the whole assembly slammed into the end of the rack, like a train running out of track.

I pulled onto the shoulder and jumped out to check. The door handle won't catch; door doesn't open. I put my finger on the lock knob and yanked on the handle and jumped out. Indeed, the axles must be adjusted all over again. I didn't bring my gloves, so I walk back up to the cab. Pulling on the door, I get that finger ripping fling off the handle. The door is locked. I'm locked out. The truck is running. I'm not wearing a jacket because I was only going to be a second; and its in the low 40's. Peaking in the window, I can see that the lock knob has jumped up out of the door panel. The rod below the knob is showing above the door panel.

With more than a quarter million miles on the road, there are some eventualities that I'm prepared for. The triangle vent window in front of my side window is always unlocked.
Sandy laughs. "That would be a dream come true, but no."

With my fingers tucked under each arm, I ponder my situation. I really need to get out of this cold. My weekends are barely more than 48 hours. I can't afford to get myself sick. Besides, its Thanksgiving. Leaning against the truck on the ditch side, out of the wind, I see a flattened beer can amongst the trash along the highway. Aluminum cans are great shim stock.

Gingerly, with my bare hands, I find a loose corner of the beer can and begin twisting it back and forth. Several twists later, I can tear a chunk of aluminum off. One more try with the channel locks. I try to jam the shim into the pliers to counteract the motion that causes them to slip. It almost works. The knob seems to twist a bit and the shim squeezes out, the pliers slip off the knob and out of my cold fingers. Hanging from a mirror up the side of my truck, I can't catch the pliers. They rattle down the side of the truck and land on the running board. I carefully crawl down and hear a quick honk. I've spent the last three years on the road. I usually don't even look when I hear a random horn, but my eyes are drawn to the semi crawling past me. Its one of our trucks! It can't be Ralph already. I wave my arms over my head hoping he'll stop. All of our drivers have keys to all the trucks. There is a slight flash of chrome as the other truck pulls onto the shoulder.

The other truck is backing toward mine as I walk down the shoulder and up the passenger side of his trailer. As I said, the three brothers often drive. Their trucks are just like ours with little splashes of chrome personality. It starts to sink in that I'm being saved by one of my bosses. As I get to the cab, the passenger door kicks open. Burt is standing between the two seats in his socks.

"Hey, what's up, Man?" he asks. Of all the people to drive by, Burt is the brother/owner who hired me. He must be the Koster Brother that got my load back at the terminal. Its the evening before Thanksgiving and he is headed home like me.

I explain to Burt that I'm locked out. He's not sure he has all his keys. The truck I'm driving is old by his standards. My old truck has 1.3 million miles on her. She is just fine for me and there are older rougher trucks in the fleet. Burt finds his old keys, pulls on his boots and lets me back in. I crawl in over the passenger seat and back behind the wheel. As Burt rolls back onto the highway, I catch my logbook up and call Dispatch. Its Sandy again.

"Your dream has come true," I start without even saying Hello. "Burt Castor just drove by and let me in. You can tell Ralph to keep rolling. I'm rolling again myself."

Sandy and I have a good laugh. My truck leans into it and pulls back out on the road. It is good to be warm and moving again.

Apparently the boss stopped for dinner somewhere along the way because in Fort Wayne, he passed me again. I was cruising around the bypass when I saw one of our trucks in my mirror. I usually drive three or four miles an hour below everyone else. There is less stress that way. Burt is a rocket, behind the wheel and in real life. He is always moving in the office or on the road. His truck probably doesn't have a governor like mine. I see the same flash of chrome as the truck goes by in the hammer lane. I grab the mic of my CB radio.

"Thanks again, Bossman," I call after his taillights. "You have a good Turkey Day tomorrow."

"You're welcome. You do the same."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Zen and the Art of Egoless Driving, Lesson 1



It has happened to all of us, in a crowded parking lot or maybe a four way stop with two lanes coming from all directions. Somehow, you just didn't see that other car. You both come to a hard stop. With a sheepish look, you mouth the word "Sorry." Or maybe you avoid his glance and drive away as your face burns in embarrassment. Your driving record is clean, a good driver, but you just made a mistake. Everyone does.

When the shoe is on the other foot, however, and we were the one brought up short by the distracted driver, we don't seem to think of it the same way. That guy is a moron. He drives like an idiot; shouldn't even have a license. Now wait a minute. If we can make the occasional mistake, why can't he?

When we react badly to the distracted driver, we are forgetting that we is just like him. There are a few morons out there, of course, but most of us get along just fine. Take your ego out of the situation. The ego loves it when it can feel superior to someone else. When you let the ego run unchecked, you are just hurting yourself. The superior feelings of the ego are short lived, but the stress will be with you all day long. If you get cut off on the way to work in the morning, it'll wreck your whole day. It is wiser to just let it go.

It is far better to live with humility. We are all human. There are good days and bad days, but most of the bad days are an illusion of the ego. Next time someone brings you up short, thank them whether they show any contrition or not. Thank them for reminding you of your own humanity; our shared humanity. They have allowed you an opportunity to practice letting it go. The Buddha says all thoughts of selfish desire, ill-will, hatred and violence are the result of a lack of wisdom - in all spheres of life whether individual, social or political. We could use a lot more "letting it go" in our lives. Maybe you can start a trend. Let some of your serenity rub off on someone, but no trading paint in the H.O.V. lane!