Just drive

I am a bad person.

Yesterday I made the one and only phone call I’ve ever made to an elected official, and it was to beg my local councilman to block measures to slow down traffic on the main roads near my house.

I know that this goes against everything I’m supposed to stand for as a mother. I know I’m supposed to be outraged by speeding. I know I’m supposed to take up the mantel of my New Jersey ancestors and shout “slow down!” while sitting in my lawn chair and shaking my cane at lousy speeders who treat neighborhood streets, parking lots, and school pick-up zones as proverbial racetracks (minus the logo shirts and drunken fans).

To be honest, though, the roots of my anti-traffic slowing activism go back to one day, about 10 years ago, when I was pushing a stroller down State Street—just one block from my home—and witnessed Car A smashing into the rear end of Car B because Car B had slowed suddenly and dramatically to avoid being snared in the radar speed trap Police Officer X, who happened to be lurking on the next corner. Conveniently, Officer X was also an eyewitness and appeared immediately on the accident scene, but, still, it gives one pause—if radar is intended to slow traffic because slowing traffic is intended to prevent accidents…then who is really responsible for the damage?

Add to that my observation that my local roadways aren’t speeding up—more like they’re slowing down. Just last week, I was driving away from my son’s first marching band parade and wound up behind a guy going 15 miles an hour! If he’d have been dressed as a scarecrow, blasting the theme music from Hee Haw, and driving 4 donkeys dressed like his most favorite (least favorite?) members of the Democratic party in the flatbed of his pick-up truck, then I’d have realized that he was caught up in the slow-moving parade spirit. But no, he was just a guy, driving a sedan, texting while he should have been driving, if driving is defined as propelling one’s car down the roadway at a speed faster than that of slugs, sloths, and disabled tortoises.

Unfortunately, even without distracted driving, we’ve still got problems. What MapQuest doesn’t tell you about driving in Dover, Delaware is that you should add 15 minutes to your estimated travel time to account for slow-moving Amish buggies, cars parked at 50 miles an hour in the left lane on the highway, and late model Buicks that take 30 seconds to 5 and a half minutes to complete a right-hand turn.

It’s not like being trapped in a mine for 69 days, but let me tell you, sometimes it’s torture.

So here’s my position on roadway safety: let’s be responsible, people. Speed is associated with a higher severity of injury in auto/pedestrian accidents, so please, obey the speed limit. Speed humps, slow-you-down poles, and tricky changes to road size and shape are the alternative, and not only are they unsightly and annoying, they’re ready to take a big bite out of your car at just that moment when you forget they’re there because you got carried away belting out the chorus to “We Are the Champions” with Freddy Mercury on the radio.

But while you’re at it, please, do at least the speed limit. Do it so that you don’t have to listen to me behind you, crying, “The parade is over–just drive!!!” like a whining little girl. Not only is my whining unsightly and annoying, it’s bound to distract me, you, and everyone else from keeping our eyes on the road. And nobody will benefit from that.

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It’s all relative

The 33 trapped Chilean miners have been above ground for less than 48 hours, and already I’ve found myself responding to my daughter’s everyday complaints like this: “You think doing your homework is bad? Try spending 69 days in a collapsed mine.”

As inspired as I was yesterday by each miner’s emergence from the rescue shaft (a scene oddly reminiscent of my banking materials popping up from the pneumatic tube at the drive-up teller), I have to think that at some point—maybe not right away, but definitely at some time—the miners will use the “trapped in a mine” card to trump, nay, crush whatever complaints come their way. Hot? Try spending 69 days underground at a constant, stuffy, 86 degrees surrounded by 2 ½ dozen guys and a shortage of clean clothes. Hungry? Meatloaf again sure beats 2 spoonfuls of tuna fish every 48 hours. Long line at the grocery store? Even a never-ending price check on Yoo-hoo ain’t like waiting 21 hours behind 32 other guys just so you can climb into a sardine can and finally see the sun.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the miners are as noble as they appeared coming out of the mine. Maybe “trapped in a mine” will never become their version of walking uphill both ways. I have to say, though, that in the very black and white world that is my emotional center, where on the worst of days I categorize all things as either a bonus or a disappointment, I’m going to try to keep the miners’ predicament in mind. Really, compared to being trapped for 10 weeks underground, what do I have to complain about? What reason do I have to be impatient? What, for me, is so terrible—ever?

And, as I can’t resist sharing, my poor kids are likely to hear the “trapped in a mine” refrain more than once. Don’t want to practice the trumpet? It’s a walk in the park compared to being trapped in a mine. If you were trapped in a mine for 69 days, you’d be so bored that you’d give your right arm to practice your trumpet. For that matter, if you happened to have your trumpet with you when the mine collapsed, much in the way guys in prison movies do (despite their incarceration), you could keep the men going! You could be the hero! One day, when you’re rescued, the men will credit you with the retention of their sanity, telling the worldwide press, “If it weren’t for Aztec Fire, Surfin’ USA, and the theme from Two and a Half Men, I’d have scooped my shift boss’s eyes out with a plastic spoon!”

Then again, I’m thinking that my child’s band director, having listened to the kids playing Aztec Fire and only Aztec Fire for the past 2 months, might appreciate a bit of a break. Not necessarily a 69-day break trapped in a collapsed mine, but, hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Stepping into the uncanny valley

Two weeks ago on our (can you spell ‘a-w-e-s-o-m-e’?) bus trip to NYC, Hayley and I visited American Girl Place on 5th Avenue. There, girls (that is, girls with means) can find mini-me versions of themselves (called Felicity, Elizabeth, or Lanie!), purchase matching outfits (School wear! Lounge wear! Swim wear! Camp wear!), accessorize for an infinite number of interests (Skating! Basketball! Baking! Cello!) and even bring their dolls to the salon for a new hairdo or a big girl ear piercing.

Nothing on the website yet about the availability of just-for-dolls exotic piercing or tattoo artistry to suit the interests of girls who are more in the Wednesday Addams vein. With the corner on the market of all things customizable, though, I’m sure that a Goth Girls outlet is just below the American Girl horizon.

The store was a hit, mainly because it’s just a lot of fun to see the miniature reproductions of everything in a girl’s life. The dolls were cute, the tiny clothes were cuter, and there’s something downright fun about watching real live hair stylists standing next to little pink salon chairs, combing, cutting, shovering and balloonifying little dolly heads of hair (at $10-20 a pop), while giddy girls on the verge of growing out of the doll phase look on. Things also got pretty exciting when I started to worry that we’d get kicked out of A.G. Place as Hayley and her friend whizzed mini-double strollers at top speed around the Bitty Baby boutique.

Little did I know as I admired the dolly & me Revolutionary War pajama dresses, that the dolly creep factor was about to get seriously cranked up. In fact, just this past Monday, I received my very first (and, I hope, last) My Twinn catalog. As if the double-n in ‘Twinn’ isn’t creepy enough, My Twinn is like the American Girl doll that Steven King would give to his granddaughter. You wouldn’t think it would be a problem, but the trouble is that the dolls are super-lifelike. Lifelike as in you send in a picture of your daughter and they reproduce her appearance. Lifelike as in when you place your order, you color in a facial diagram to show where your daughter’s freckles and moles are. Lifelike as in the dolls in the catalog look, um, life-threatening and the actual girls standing with them look they want to get the (blank) out of there.

Forget ‘Felicity’ and ‘Lanie.’ Think ‘Carrie’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’

The eerie overtones of the My Twinn catalog reminded me of a useful concept I’ve come across called the uncanny valley. According to a recent NPR report, roboticist (whatever that is) Masahiro Mori theorized something like this: a robot that looks kinda human is neat, fun, even cool. If the robot looks really human, that’s even better. But if a robot looks almost completely human, then—whoa, we’ve got a problem. Writer Lawrence Weschler put it this way, “…a 95 percent lifelike robot is a robot that’s incredibly lifelike. A 96 percent lifelike robot is a human being with something wrong.” Wrong, as in, something like a corpse or zombie (see the following diagram).

http://www.architecture.uwaterloo.ca/fac 1

I have to say, I like cartoonish toy robots. I appreciate cute stuffed animals. I was a little creeped out by the borderline uncanny characters in The Polar Express. But when it comes to the My Twinn dolls, I would say the valley’s more than uncanny—it’s more like the valley of the shadow of death at the hands of a freaky little doll that looks just like me!!!!

And, I ask you, what would tell your daughter “I love you” quite like that?