6

Who Taught You How to Drive?

I learned something very important Monday night. If a semi (truck) “bumps” your car straight on from behind, and you are going more or less the same speed (obviously he would be going a little faster), it may not really hurt your car.

I take a class Monday nights at a town that is about 30 miles from here. I use a freeway to get there. All was good until I needed to exit. The freeway was full of semis. They travel in the right lane, which is also where the exits are (go figure).

Trying to not create too much havoc, I found a spot between a car and a semi. I moved over then checked my rearview mirror to make sure I hadn’t cut him off. I could see the entire front end. I thought the rule was if you can see the driver, he can see you. Once again, all was well. Emphasis on “I thought”.

I am really bad about using my mirrors unless I am going to turn or change lanes or whatever. (Do they really expect you to scan them every 30 seconds? I’d run into something in front of me.)

For some reason I looked again, and he was closer. I thought that he must have been one of those jerk drivers who try to intimidate small cars. (I drive an Elantra).

Semi drivers are usually pretty good drivers and I was almost to my exit, so I figured it was just an annoyance. Silly me. I looked again. He was almost on top of me.

Something hit me from behind. Yep. The exit was about 200 yards too far away. It’s amazing how hard a semi can hit even at a low speed. I guess they really are the ones destroying our roads.

I was extremely annoyed. I need the car for work, and I’m sharing it with my son. I didn’t have time to take it to the shop. And apparently cars don’t have frames anymore. It’s all magic and fiberglass. Besides it’s only seven months old. And I was going to be late for class.

So I stopped on the side of the exit. I stomped to the back of my car. It was a little dirty (my fault), but I didn’t see anything wrong. Then I realized I hadn’t heard any crunch or breaking plastic (or glass or whatever they use). Maybe they really do use magic.

The truck driver came over to see if I was OK. He said he hadn’t seen me and bumped into me. Ummmm, OK. You’re a professional driver. Don’t they train you to look for merging traffic? But he was very nice, and I sent him on his way. Then he was very relieved.

If you look at where we live, you would see that it’s difficult to get anywhere without using a freeway. Many lakes mean no major roads. So I have a lot of experience with semis. I realized that this wasn’t my most annoying encounter. At least it was a one-time occurrence.

To get to several of the places I frequent, I have to take a four-lane freeway. That’s four lanes in the sense of two lanes going in each direction. It’s not really a bad drive, even in rush hour. In comparison with rush hour on other freeways around here.

However, it is the major north-south freeway in this part of the state. Which means a lot of trucks hauling a lot of stuff during the morning rush hour. A lot of heavy stuff. Trucks carrying heavy stuff aren’t supposed to go really fast. The speed limit theoretically is 55 mph on the 70 mph freeway. So they’re in the right lane.

Every once in a while, a large heavy truck wants to go 60 mph. So he has to pull into the “fast lane”. Which is no longer the “fast lane”. Once the driver gets out from behind the slow truck, he realizes that he can’t zip around another big truck like he does in his pick-up. So everyone goes slow for a while.

That is far more irritating than the semis that drive in Detroit during rush hour. I generally hold back for them which makes me very unpopular with the drivers behind me.

Some people don’t like to be behind semis. So they don’t let them in. Finally the truck driver gets frustrated and forces the truck between two cars. That really irks the drivers on the freeway. The cars behind the truck on the entry ramp are not so upset.

Some people hate being behind semis on snowy roads. Not me. They are usually excellent drivers. Full trucks are slow, but so am I. They very rarely swerve or skid. They pack down snow nicely, and it’s still warm when I go over it so I don’t have to worry about ice. And people don’t get mad at me for going slow. They blame the truck.

Moral of the story: Most truck drivers aren’t like the guy in ‘Duel’ (a surprisingly good 1971 TV movie about a psycho truck driver, directed by Steven Spielberg). However, if it looks like one is going to run you over, use your horn to make sure it’s not intentional.

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6

In Praise of Thumbs

No offense intended to the rest of the digits, but thumbs definitely rock. I guess it’s their opposability. (WordPress says that isn’t a word, but play along.) That and their ability to play well with others.

As usual with these things, it came to mind because one of mine is being difficult. As you may have guessed, hauling boxes of cheese around and putting it on hooks is kind of physical work. Thankfully I haven’t had any trouble with my back. (Leg and abdominal muscles also deserve a round of applause while we’re at it.)

Not so much luck with my right arm. The current issue (hence the title) is my thumb. I’m not sure if it’s tendons, joints, muscles or whatever. It kept me awake a couple of nights. Yesterday it was awful. Today it felt like something snapped a few times in my hand/wrist and it’s much better. I think it’s some kind of evil spirit.

Some days I have almost nothing to think about at work and my mind wanders. It’s been like that for years, but is much less disruptive without the job requiring thought. Unless you count matching the colors on bags of cheese as deep thought. In which case we should probably talk about the viability of your own blog.

Without further ado, here are some of the things thumbs don’t get much respect for:

It is almost impossible to zip up jeans without using your right thumb. It is particularly an issue if you have gained weight since the last time you wore the jeans. Or are in denial about the true size of your body.

Pulling open potato chip (or other unhealthy) bags. It seems like such a failure to need to resort to scissors. Besides, it’s pathetic to need something like that so badly that you can’t wait. Go with an ice cream cone.

Holding an apple while you eat it, even if you slice it. Or French Fries. Or pickles. Some things just can’t be held like a cigarette, and a lot of them are food. Do you have any idea how silly you would look holding a pickle spear between your first two fingers when there is no obvious reason for it?

Doing dishes. I admit it. We are also the only family in suburbia without a dishwasher. Holding soapy dishes without using your thumb is most useful for getting rid of the hideous dishes someone gave you for your wedding but you haven’t ever gotten around to sending to charity.

Holding your cat while you try to brush the winter furs out from the spring ones. One one cat seems to be a cross between a Siamese and something that lives in the Arctic circle. Gorgeous soft fur that sheds and sheds and sheds.

Peeling vegetables. Probably less of an issue for those of you who live at Taco Bell or PF Chang’s. Or have a significant other who cooks. Or children who could be coerced into doing it. Or use frozen vegetables.

Writing by hand. It means taking a pen or pencil and making marks on a piece of paper that someone else can look at and see meaning. It is a relative of texting and email which are also more difficult but don’t require grasping a small round instrument to do. Also crossword puzzles.

Opening pill bottles to get at the pain relievers that are supposed to make it easier to do things with your injured thumb. You need one hand to hold the bottle and the other to push down or line up or whatever to get the bottle to actually open. Both jobs require thumbs.

Forks are really difficult. Chopsticks are impossible. Of course, it takes me several bites to remember how to use chopsticks anyway. You can’t even pick up the food discretely in your hand. Forget eating that really excellent chip dip at the party unless you want to have your date feed it to you. Don’t do that unless you are still in high school or it is your wedding.

Shaking hands. You will feel like the dog when he puts his paw in yours and you shake it up and down. You will have no control over how long or hard it is shaken. I do not recommend growling to get it back.

Holding the shampoo bottle while you are pouring some into the other hand. Same problem with controlling the force of ketchup. Pump bottles start to look better.

Using a corkscrew. I guess you shouldn’t be drinking alone in the first place, so this issue can probably take care of itself. Let’s hope they remember to take the cork off the pointy thing after it’s out of the bottle.

Turning the key in your ignition. Unless you have a button ignition. In which case, you probably have one of those gear shift levers on the floor that you have to press with your thumb to release it for the rest of your hand to pull back. Once you get moving, you’re fine.

Scraping the snow from your car. Never mind. We won’t think about that.

Snaps, hooks, buttons. Tying your shoes. Might work as an excuse to go to work in your pajamas. Doubt it, but you never know. Going in naked is an even worse option.

Of course, you can also perform most forms of housework and lawn maintenance poorly. Unfortunately it’s sort of a mixed blessing since you’ll have to fix it all eventually. You may have the same issue if you get your spouse or children to do it for you.

On the bright side, there is more white space and fewer words in my post. You should be able to get through it more quickly.

(Correction to previous post: Dick and Jane’s cat is Puff, not Fluffy)

2

Cash? What’s That?

When we were trying to get pregnant with my daughter, I went to a fertility specialist. For those of you who have never been through the process, it can be expensive. Very expensive. And insurance doesn’t cover some of the procedures. Some insurance covers very few of the procedures.

As a result there were a variety of signs when you check out. “Personal checks are subject to a fee if returned.”  “We accept Visa, MasterCard, Amex,…” Basically you could pay with anything except the child they were helping you conceive. It was stressful going there. One time I was leaving and the receptionist asked whether I was paying by check or credit card. I answered, “Do you take cash?” We both laughed after I said it, but she did say that it rarely happened.

I was reminded of that day on Thursday. My car had finally died. I become extremely attached to my cars. We learn each others’ quirks and peacefully coexist. I calculated it out and discovered that I keep my cars an average of 7.5 years each. The number is a little skewed by two of them being totaled (neither accident was my fault, before you ask) and not having the money to replace this one any earlier. Nevertheless, I am not one to go car swapping.

Unfortunately, the engine leaks oil, the transmission sounds like it may be going, and the wheels are shot. I lost control coming home the night my mother died and ended up in a snowbank. It wouldn’t have been so hard on the car if I had not taken out the guy’s mailbox, slid across the road and ended up back in his small culvert. My husband rescued me, but the car looks like it had a fang where the front quarter-panel was torn back.

But I still loved it. I lost control more times on the ice and snow this winter than I had previously my entire life because of the tires. I still wanted it. The air conditioning went out several years ago. Not a problem. I like having the windows down. (We don’t discuss the really hot, humid stretches we sometimes get.) The heat went out this winter and aggravated my frostbite. My husband told me it was the blower motor, and he could fix it. I forgave the car.

Then the starter went. And it was cold. If we took it in, the mechanics would hand us a list of repairs that would practically rebuild the car. If my husband fixed it, he probably would have discovered a litany of things we didn’t know were wrong. It was time to bite the bullet.

I hate car shopping. My husband tells me to look for a few types of cars I might want, then he does the research. All is well until he starts asking me what extras I want. The luxury package? The technology package? The standard package? Does the luxury package come with its own mechanic? If I don’t take the technology package, does that mean they use parts from the 1980’s? If it’s a standard package why is it separated at all?

On Thursday, we stop by the dealership “to look”. I hate this part. Generally we have to look at 150 cars with basically the same features until we find the “perfect” one. I knew I had chosen the correct car when we discovered less than 10 of them on the lot. And only 3 of them came with options that added less than $4,000 to the base price. Oh yeah, there was one that was dung-colored – that one was never in the running.

So we went inside. And waited. My husband had gotten the referral from Costco (they really do sell everything). Apparently there are only 3 salespeople “certified” by Costco. Our guy came in, introduced himself, asked what we wanted, and proceeded to extol the merits of the brand. Finally my husband told him that we think we found what we want on the lot.

We took it for a test drive. It’s not love at first sight, but I could definitely see potential. My husband drove it. Before we get back to the dealership, we’d decided to make it part of the family.

My husband is very good at getting the best price he can. So he talked to the guy for a few minutes, and the guy disappeared to see the “Sales Manager”. He came back with good news. Not only could he give us all the discounts available, they are willing to give it to us at the employee price. It was almost exactly what I had in mind.

The sales guy was excited. The first question he asked was how much we are going to finance. We weren’t. We’re going to write a check. Oh. Obviously we have given an unusual answer. It didn’t cross my mind that since dealerships do their own financing these days, we were probably costing them money. Hmmmm. Maybe I should have asked them about financing before I got the price appeared to be running through his head.

He disappeared to get the paperwork started. My husband told him that we are in a hurry and can’t wait too long. It will only be a few minutes. He reappeared 10-15 minutes later, rustled some papers and said that he needed to get some other paperwork. This happened several times. We were getting more irritated.

Finally, we were taken into an office to sign the paperwork. I looked at the first one and ask about the cost. Oh don’t worry about that. It’s going to the government; they don’t care about the rebates and price breaks we give you. That’s comforting.

Looked at the bill of sale. Told her it was the wrong figure. She looked puzzled. Disappeared. Came back and said that she has been doing someone else’s job since that person was let go. Some one put the wrong stock number on the form and it created the mistake. Uh, yeah.

Got everything signed. Gave them the check. (The Sales Manager came in for that part.) She told him that someone mixed up the MSRP with the selling price and that’s why she had to redo the paperwork. That sounded even worse than the first excuse.

The next day, we met with our financial adviser. He told us that dealerships have different procedures and paperwork for cash sales than for credit sales. Since they rarely handle cash sales, they are less familiar. Since we were there late Thursday night, the “A” team had probably gone home. That answer makes sense.

Too bad we didn’t have him with us on Thursday.

 

4

Next Year I’m Hibernating

I just got in from helping my husband and son push my car into the garage. At least the starter had the decency to die on the driveway. I wouldn’t have needed to help except our driveway is still icy, and the guys couldn’t get enough traction to get the car over the bump at the front of the garage.

(My husband would never have expected me to be much help before I started working as a stocker. Add to list of negatives from job: people expect you to use the muscles you have toned.)

The three of us were able to move the car, but not over the bump. I slipped on the ice and fell on my knees. We decided to try a running start. Ever tried to run on ice? It’s pretty humorous to watch; not so much to do.

I was ready to quit. Today was supposed to be the day that I recovered from a very physical week at work. (I’m going to try to get certified to drive the hi-lo so I don’t have to use a hand-jack to get the pallets off the truck. The ramp has a major bump. You may remember me talking about how uncoordinated I am; wish me – and the guy training me – luck.)

Unfortunately, my multi-talented husband, who is going to the work, has an aversion to working outside in the winter. Something about the possibility of the weatherman being right and needing to do it in either rainy or cold weather tomorrow. Those of you who live in the north know the next step:

Shovel! But we’re not talking about regular push the shovel into the snow, lift, and throw to the side. No – this mess has been accumulating for a couple of months. Our snow-blower broke. In the city, this would have required either an immediate repair or resorting to the shovel. However, our mail is delivered to a box on the road and there are no sidewalks. Since the only ones we might hurt is ourselves, the township doesn’t care.

And imagine how much motivation any of us had to go out and clear the driveway. It was dark all the time, cold, snowy, and windy. They cleared a path from the driveway to the house. (Nice three-car garage, not attached to the house. I like it like that. I have a certain paranoia that if it was attached, the critters that call it home might find their way into the house.)

The kids are agile enough to get to the front of the house where the bus picks them up. I’ve only gotten stuck a couple of times. And my husband has a four-wheel drive truck. So laziness ruled.

Much to our dismay today. The sad thing is that it has finally started to warm up. The ice is starting to melt, so there’s a layer of water and slush over it. The only thing that makes ice more slippery? Water on top of it.

We got out our earth-digging shovels, our regular shovel, and a pick-ax sort of thing. We chipped somewhere in the neighborhood of a yard back,  and more or less the width of the car. Depth ranged from slush to about three inches down.

Time to try again. I got the middle of the car since I figured the wheels were what needed moving and they are both stronger than me. And there was no ice anywhere near the middle.

Success!

While my husband opened the hood, I took the snow shovel to the end of the driveway. I figured I could break up a little slush and loose ice while I was down there picking up the mail. At least that was my intention.

About halfway down, I lost my footing on the wet ice. Fell flat on my back. Felt like a turtle staring at the sky – it was too slippery to get up. I felt ridiculous, but I had to call for help. Finally my son heard me and gave me a hand. I’d had enough – wet knees, wet bottom. It was time to go in.

I’d hit my head and my back. A couple of days ago, I aggravated my frostbite trying to get my car turned around in a snowbank. I figure that if winter last much longer, I’ll have an excuse to go to the South Pacific and recover.

0

Not Your Father’s Union

I belong to a union for retail workers. I had never heard of it before going to work at the store. That should have been a clue right off the bat. I have been around unions my entire life and thought I pretty much had them down. Silly me.

I grew up just outside Detroit (as in one mile from the border). Detroit was the ultimate union town. Every company associated with making a car (manufacturers, suppliers, transport) was closed shop. If you didn’t belong to a union and were blue-collar, you probably didn’t have a very good job. The United Auto Workers (UAW) was king, but there were teamsters, electricians, plumbers, metallurgy workers, and an alphabet soup of others. Every fall would see one or more school district closed by teachers’ strikes. Unfortunately our district always signed.

Every three years, the automakers (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) would “pattern-bargain”, so workers at all three companies would get the same pay and benefits. The unions were extremely successful and the workers enjoyed high wages and some of the best healthcare benefits in the country. Unfortunately, it also meant that other companies couldn’t afford to move here. (cue ominous music)

But car sales slumped with oil crises and foreign competition. Did you know that UAW membership is slightly more than one third of what it was in the heyday of the 1970’s? And as Charles Wilson, President of GM said (more or less) in 1953, “As goes GM, so goes the nation.” (the music gets louder)

When I was hired, the company was semi-open. I guess that’s what you call it. It was a stupid system. Even if you didn’t sign up, you had to pay the dues. Since you were paying the dues, the union had to represent you.

Representation is kind of a strong word for what we get from our union. The wages start at minimum wage in each state. They increase by 25 cents for every 700 hours we work to a maximum hourly rate somewhere in the neighborhood of $10. There are a few specialized jobs in the company that earn $1/hour more.

The pay scale has been the same since the union “negotiated” a second tier for new employees several contracts ago. The new tier pays approximately half of what the more senior employees make. I don’t think the company would have been allowed to pay people less than the minimum wage even if we didn’t have the union. Note: our starting pay is less than the big-box store across the street.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, the company was allowed to put in more stringent requirements for part-time employees to be eligible for health-care. Guess the union was too busy to even comment on that.

We are not allowed to strike. I have no idea how the union got the store to agree to that.

The store is closed on Christmas Day. Every other holiday is treated like a regular workday. I work every Thanksgiving because Thursday is part of my schedule. Full-time or part-time is irrelevant. I bet the union had a hard time getting that through too.

The union was nowhere around when the company changed its discipline system to allow all absences and tardies to stay on our record for a year instead of dropping off after 30 days. Discipline issues and absence issues can now be combined to determine whether an employee can be terminated.

Usually a union will get some kind of concession for that type of change. Here’s ours: if we go four months with no absences, our manager stops by and congratulates us (if they remember).

Last year, Michigan became a right-to-work state. Which means we can all opt out of the union if we choose to. In what can only be described as interesting timing, the union raised our dues this week. They are now 2 hours pay + $16 per month with a minimum of $30.08.

Since the dues are taken out weekly, it was almost impossible for some of the people to figure out how much the raise was actually going to be. The calculation [(2 hours +16) x12/52] is a bit complex, particularly since the store is good about hiring mentally challenged employees for many of the rote tasks.

Of course, we can’t get out of the union until the next contract is negotiated in May 2015. The union may not be doing much for us, but it seems to be taking care of itself just fine.