Archive for driving

Your Choice: Be a Zombie…or be Aware.

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2011 by erikball123

I always thought my family was incredibly nosey. I recall incidents when my mother or father would pick up the receiver of another house phone to interrupt my call with my school friend to tell me it was time for dinner. Or, the countless teachers I had that caught me talking in class or doing something silly behind their backs, supporting the theory that teachers have eyes in the backs of their heads. Even my grandmother, on nights I had my girlfriend over to watch a movie, would walk into the room with impecable timing to offer us cookies…or something. (That girlfriend, by the way, is now my wife…and we now laugh at those moments.) Nosey, nosey people. Right?

I’m finding as I get older, that the people I once thought were gettin’ “up in my grill” (to use the street vernacular) were actually just acutely aware. It has come to my attention (pun intended) that society as we know it has becaome less and less aware of themselves. I could put a spin on this post by going on and on about the various medias that probe our minds, or the various technological influences that control our every move. (Of course, I could simply type this post on my iPad, iPhone or one of my three computers. I could even text it in if I wanted to…but that would take too long, and I have crops to harvest on Farmville and tweets to twit on Twitter. So…yeah.)

Instead, I think I’ll let you all assume that the bulk of this post has to do with the fact that times, they are a’changin’…and let’s agree that there are MANY reasons/influences that could be blamed. I’m satisfied with this. I’m not trying to nail down a culprit here. I guess you could say my goal was to merely bring awareness to the fact that we aren’t as aware as we once were. Allow me to elaborate. Here are some every day examples of how society demonstrates that they aren’t aware:

  • TURN SIGNALS – It’s a common argument (when discussing driving etiquette) but I truly have noticed (say in the last three years) that more and more drivers simply don’t use their turn signals. Back roads, main roads, highways, drive ways…it’s absolutely astounding to me. I tried to break into the psychological reasoning behind it. The result is a very selfish one. If you think about it, the only reason a turn signal exists is to ensure the safety of others, primarily. To NOT use it…means that the driver cares MORE about whatever they are doing inside the car (or not doing, for that matter!) is MORE important that the safety and ultimately the concern of others. That’s very bad. Watch the next few times you are driving…you’ll see what I mean. People aren’t using their signals! I looked it up…when turning left or right onto any roadway, parkway or driveway, a driver must have their turn signal on at least 100 feet before the turn. Failure to do so can result in a ticket. Come on police….let’s nab ’em!!!!
  • WALKING – Okay, I live in Vegas. One of the busiest cities in the world (especially when it comes to tourism.) But, with that said, I don’t think it is too much to ask to be courteous when you are walking around in public. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been walking down the aisle of the grocery store and someone (in this example, a crazed Steelers fan with red glasses and Crocs) is walking right toward me….and nearly takes me out like a freakin’ hockey player, only to (seconds before) look up, shoot me a dirty look and walk away. Most of the time these people are on their cell phones, or texting. But sometimes it’s a general focus issue. Take the little kid with the dirty face I met in the parking lot today. I was walking into a store and was nearly thrown to the pavement when he swiped my left leg. He turned and looked at me like I was insane…but what was worse was the mother who just walked by and said NOTHING to him. Just kept walking. I could easily chalk these experiences as being merely rude…but the FOCUS is gone. If these people were aware that they are positing themselves in public areas, where others are co-existing, then we can all go about our days safely. I blame zombie movies. We’ve all adopted that particular mind set, I guess.
  • CLOSING DOORS – When you walk through a door…do not presume that there is no one behind you. Actually look…then if there is, I don’t care how rushed you are…hold it for them. Adults and students alike…you are guilty as charged.
  • PLEASANTRIES – This is a personal pet peeve of mine. We’re all busy. I’m constantly buzzing from one place to another. But, if I’m in a hall walking from point A to point B, and I pass a fellow teacher or a student….or God forbid, a stranger…and I say “good morning,” or “hello,”….is the sky going to rain down fire and brimstone if you answer back with a pleasantry? I’m in awe at this. This social formality is probably the easiest to fix. Just remember, you are not alone in this world…there are others…and sometimes they are nice people who are just trying to be nice. Try to turn on your “common courtesy radar” and drop a “good morning” every now and then. For the love of all that is holy, it won’t kill you!
  • TIME – To all the people of the world: I promise you, I will never presume that my schedule is more jam-packed than yours, if you promise to keep in mind, that in this busy busy life, we all have places to go and people to see. Please be aware of what is going on in the big picture for everyone…not just you. Try not to monopolize time. Try not to presume others have access time to spare. And most of all, don’t drop by unannounced. Unless you’re a beloved friend with a cute daughter who brightens our day with a little smile from next door…It really puts people in awkward situations when they are forced to choose: either accommodate this interruption and figure out a way to work it into what you have already planned on doing, or tell them to leave. For non-confrontation people like me…this is very trying at times.
  • INSTANT INFORMATION – I would say that students today get exactly what they want…when they want it. Every day, without fail, students walk into my classroom and say, “what are we doing today?” Patience is a fruit of the spirit, and I guarantee these children….they WILL indeed find out in mere minutes. But, no. They NEED to know right now. (Why? Because when they NEED to know something, they are so accustomed to getting that info instantly.) When watching a Charlie Chaplin movie with my Clowning & Puppetry class, a student goes “what’s going to happen to him”…right in the middle of the movie. Just shouts it out. I replied “wait and see.” “But, is he going to jail?” They asked. “Just wait and see.” “Yeah…but, is he going to jail?” I don’t exaggerate. If the student was patient, and watched with 100% focus / awareness….they would receive all the info they need to watch the movie.
In church today, pastor talked about the fact that we are all so very fortunate. How we take for granted the unbelievable resources that are not only available to us daily, but completely at our disposal, daily. To think some people don’t have clean water to drink, or a bed to sleep on. I’m typing on a $2000 laptop and I’m complaining about turn signals. What the Sam Hill gives me the right!? Right?!
I suppose my point is, we all are so accustomed to the lives we lead. We are unaccustomed to those lives in foreign lands where people must cope with conditions that are very different from our own. I suppose it unrealistic to expect anyone (least of all, me) to radically change our daily existences to make up for the sufferings / challenges of other countries. But I do think that change is possible, if approached bit-by-bit.
Awareness is something we can all do. (Heck, if this ADD-riddled freak can turn on the radar a little more, you can.) I think the result is a friendlier, more sensitive, encouraging and safer place. We shouldn’t have to live life on the defensive. Instead let’s choose a less-driven path…and focus on being a smidge more aware in this beautiful world. I’m positive we can make a difference.
Until then…I’m going to walk over to the teacher’s lounge for a soda. Perhaps I’ll meet a zombie. If so, I’ll make sure I use my turn signal as I swerve out of their way.

MY CHRISTMAS HOPE

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2008 by erikball123

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I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong. There’s something to be said for SUVs. I’m the first to toss off-colored banter around whenever a Junior rolls by in a new Hummer. When one of my favorite senior students proclaimed the arrival of his brand new Escalade (he even jingled his keys at me, like announcing the arrival of Santa Clause or something), sure, I scoffed. But, during my long drive to Michigan from the great state of Nevada…I learned to respect the SUV.

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We rented a Ford Explorer. We didn’t really have much of a choice, but then again I don’t necessarily research exotic fruits before venturing into Albertson’s and test drive a Kiwi either. It was roomey, had a new car smell and a big back area for the dogs. I was surprised and happy. So, we loaded up the front-wheel drive sleigh and took off early Friday morning.

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My wife and I drove in shifts. She’d take 6 hours…I’d sleep in the back. I’d drive 6 hours…she’d sleep. I haven’t told her yet…but those books on tape DID in fact keep me up a bit. (But in a good way.) You see, you can drive a bulldozer through the bedroom and NOT wake me up I’m such a heavy sleeper…but getting there….that’s another thing. We stopped twice at Rest Areas and tucked some blankets up into the windows and hunkered down for a few hours before raiding the coffee machines and heading off again. (Indiana has the best coffee machines.)

I can’t say that I was looking forward to the drive. Okay…I totally didn’t want to drive. (I feel better now that I’ve come clean.) But looking back…it wasn’t such a bad drive. I expected to be annoyed by the hulking SUV. It wasn’t so hulking. I expected to tire of the lengthy road trip. It was very engaging and not so tiring. I expected the trip to take FOREVER! We pulled into Jackson, MI after 2 1/2 days of driving. Not bad!

Here are a few things I found interesting during our little trip:

  • Stephen King tends to favor certain names in his short stories. Names like Gage, Vince and Garaby.
  • Never stop at anything called FIESTA MART. Isn’t a fiesta a party? We need to work on redefining some of these gas stations, I’m thinking.
  • Kentucky is brutally honest with their landmark names. Let’s just say the DIRTY RIVER….yeah. Pretty dirty.
  • I found that you cannot truly appreciate cuisines from foreign lands until you’ve actually consumed the stuff. Foods like “CAKESTERS”….(I think they’re French)….yeah, not so good. “BETTER CHEDDARS”….not so bad. “MOONPIES”…..pretty stinkin’ disgusting. And the McRIB SANDWICH. Yeah….that was interesting. First and foremost, I’m STILL finding bar-b-que sauce in the car. (How it got on the ceiling, I’ll never know.) Second…I didn’t know meat could be bouncy. I suppose I should just keep quiet. This is all being brought to you from the guy who has heightened the CHICK-O-STICK to its own food group. Still, all things considered, I’m adding “Colon Flush” on next year’s Santa list.
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Are you jealous of the McRib...or my killer Ear Flap Fleece? Both you can't have.

  • I’ve noticed that public restrooms and restroom etiquette varies greatly from state to state. New Mexico has a LOW cleanliness standard. I suppose the Land of Enchantment wants to keeps things adventerous and mysterious. Arizona is fine. Texas is fine, if you’re wearing a cowboy hat, otherwise you get “looks.” Oklahoma is the “Sooner State” which I didn’t understand right away…but after 7 hours crossing that state….PHEW! I was wishing I had reached that rest area sooner rather than later. My wife felt the brunt of Tennessee when she had to hold the stall door shut for an elderly lady so that she may use the facilities…and then the elderly lady did the same for her. You make fast friends that way…and that’s why Tennessee is the Volunteer State. (This is totally true. I can’t MAKE stuff up like this.)
  • There is a HUGE chain of waffle houses across the southern states. That’s no big deal, I suppose…but what’s funny is that they’re all just called “WAFFLE HOUSE.” That’s like naming a store that sold furniture “FURNITURE STORE.” In hindsight, I suppose this was funnier at 1:00am when I first thought about it!
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So, as Emily and I took turns snuggling down, fully extended in the back of the SUV with our Great Pyrenees, Pug and Chihuahua / Terrier mix, we were able to enjoy many things let alone each others company, which in this VERY busy world, seems to be something we take for granted often. I forgot how much I enjoyed my wife’s company and I’m ashamed I am to have to admit that.

I suppose you could say that we were lucky during the trip. The occasional cluster of dirtied snow on the side of the road outside of the car certainly didn’t compare to the flurry of white dog hair inside the car. My pug served as a surrogate hot-water-bottle sprawling across my lap. Her snoring provided much needed accompaniment to the late night silence. Sometimes I would wander over onto the shoulder’s rumble-stripes to try and fall into sync with her cadence.When we got to Michigan it started to snow hard, and we wound up with three more inches later that night. We just missed the next wave of weather. (That blustery offering turned into the most amazing packing snow in the history of the world. I don’t have my brother’s arm for pitching, but I’m still a dead-eye, it turns out!)

I found that gas prices went down as we got closer to Michigan, and I suppose I’ll trade the more expensive gasoline for three gained hours coming back. It’ll be a wash.

Another thing I found out was that when you are in close proximity with someone, be it your significant other, family or…well, Pug…you wind up complimenting them in some fashion. Not with an everyday verbal gesture, that’s not what I mean…I mean, in character. I think when we were all made, and came into this world…God purposely created us in a way to help others find Him better. Allow me to elaborate. My wife knew I wasn’t keen on the long trip…but she made sure certain aspects that were weighing heavy on my heart, were approached with care and consideration. Her burned CDs featured renditions from Harry Connick, Barry Manilow, Michael Buble and the Muppets. She indulged me to read chapters from “The Princess Bride,” our favorite book. She challenged me to think positively when the two giant Tupperware containers full of gifts in the back of our SUV, kept toppling over in back.  Instead of worrying about tying them up we’ll just “not take right turns anymore,” she said. (She also said that the “change oil” light is merely formality.) I thought she was the crooner and I was the comic!

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My amazing niece Rachel and her crazy Uncle Erik.

In the end, we coasted into the choppy Jackson side roads with a great sense of accomplishment. Our families greeted us and I currently sit across a fire sipping coffee having eaten a chuck of chocolate yule log after Christmas Eve dinner. It’s enough to finally excuse my family for not giving in to my curiosity in allowing me to make some traditional, British plum pudding. (Everyone says it’s nasty…but I HAVE to see for myself!)

You know…I find it super-duper easy sometimes to translate Bible stories and message to my life’s experiences. But occasionally I struggle with notion that we suffer the same types of burdens and feel the same emotions that those who lived long ago did. For example, I can’t imagine Mary and Joseph toiling over grungy breakfast food at a mom-n-pop diner like the HUDDLE HOUSE. I also can’t imagine it was a particularly warm welcome at the Inn that memorable night. I would have been very distraught if I got to my destination and found NO warm welcome. I have it too easy to relate it seems.

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The pastor at the church we went to for the Christmas Eve service talked about Hope. As I sat there in the same church I was married in ten years ago…remembering that day like it was yesterday…looking at the large hand-carved wooden sculptures on the alter (still thinking they look kinda like giant Jesus Jenga pieces waiting to be stacked on top of each other)…I thought to myself as we embarked on our lengthy journey, that the hope my wife and I shared as we looked forward to rolling into Jackson, MI could not compare to the hope Mary and Joseph desired that night. The hope they shared after the baby Jesus was born. I wonder if they were scared about dust storms like I was worried about snow drifts. I wonder if they were worried about Mary arriving to the Inn safely like I was worried about black ice and semi trucks rushing by. They clung to that hope and it helped Mary sleep at night, I’m sure. I’m not sure however that DURING their journey, in such close proximity and against such adversity, Joseph and Mary complimented each other. I don’t know…but I hope.

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How can I even think about that type of hope in Christ? I suppose attempting to connect in any way to the Holy Couple is not realistic. Instead, as I warmed myself in the glow of the candles during the rendition of “Silent Night” at the end of the service…as I look at the same alter that blessed my marriage….as I look at my two beautiful nieces, as I gaze into the bulging eyes of my hot-water-bottle Pug, and as I dote on my amazing wife… I can at least remember that with every mile I put on the SUVs ticker and every Moonpie I conquer …I’m getting closer in my personal journey across my own desert. Everyday…not just Christmas day…I’m growing in my love for the Lord. I’m not perfect. In fact, I’m a paranoid, anxious, ambitious dude who can’t help but hope for the best. It’s what helps me fall asleep in the back of our rented Ford Explorer at night. (It’s no donkey…but it’ll do.)

SUVs have there place in the world I suppose. I know they could use a few more Hummers saddled with snow plows in Jackson, MI! But I can tell you this, just like there is room in this world for the silliest, most impractical SUV you can find…I’m sure there is room in this world for a silly, impractical drama teacher with a hope in the salvation.

Jesus Christ cannot be found at the end of the lengthiest highway in the world…but I bet, that when it is all said and done, and the wrapping paper is out for the garbage and the egg nog has been slurped up….Jesus will still remain steadfast in my heart and I can rest assured that I may continue my journey with a star to lead me.

I don’t need a rest area to settle that into my little brain.

Merry Christmas.

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