Friday, July 26, 2013

Truck Drivers Say the Darndest Things

One time, at work, I came upstairs to find a truck driver waiting for his load to be unloaded and his paperwork to be processed. He looked like a cross between Napoleon Dynamite (from the movie Napoleon Dynamite) and his brother Kip (also from the movie Napoleon Dynamite) if they were 50 years old.

As he sat, he reached into his backpack (yes, a fifty year old man with a backpack!) and pulled out a Rubik's Cube. He began to twist the cube, trying to align the colors. As he did, he kept glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. It seemed to me he was trying to goad me into a conversation. He wanted me to ask him about the Rubik's Cube. He wanted me to ask about his backpack.

But, I knew better. You see, I've been around enough truck drivers to know the basic rules: 1) Never initiate conversation with a truck driver; B) Never look a truck driver directly in the eyes; and C) Whatever you do, do NOT sniff a truck driver!!!

The life of a truck driver can be a lonely, solitary existence. They can be on the road for days, weeks, and sometimes months at a time. Not all, but some of them will look for any opportunity they can get to talk to an actual person. And they will talk to (or at) you for hours and hours if you let them.

It doesn't really matter if you talk back at all. Just having an actual living being acknowledge their existence with an occasional "uh-huh" or nod of the head will be enough to keep them talking until the cows come home. (And it doesn't really matter where the cows have been.)

And, the topic of the conversation isn't important, either. They might tell you their life story. They might discuss politics. They might talk about the price of food in the vending machines. They might talk about those a*#holes at the port of entry. They might talk about the latest episode of Honey Boo Boo. It really doesn't matter as long as they are talking and someone actually seems to be listening.

The other day I came up to the office to find a truck driver had cornered one of the secretaries. As I ate my lunch I listened to him expound about a wide variety of topics, including the George Zimmerman trial. He seemed (at least in his own mind) to be an expert on the case, recounting details not known to the press, the police, the jurors, or probably even Zimmerman himself.

Then, he started into a story about himself. "These kids kept revving their engines really early in the morning. So, I went down and I was going to talk to them. I was just going to talk to them. Now, you see, when I was in the Special Forces I was trained how to kill a man with just these two fingers..." (I was tempted to turn around to see which two fingers he was talking about, but that would have put me at risk of making eye contact with him. I did not want that to happen. He was talking to Vicki, he wasn't talking to me. And I wanted to keep it that way.)(Vicki is a big girl. She can take care of herself.)

I had some work of my own to attend to, so I didn't hear the end of his story. But, I had doubts as to its veracity. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that people who actually were in Special Forces are not usually the type of people who talk and brag about how they were in Special Forces and were trained how to kill people with just two fingers. They tend to keep that kind of information to themselves.

Anyway, as Vicki finally fended off the driver with her third, "I've got to get back to this work" comment, he turned toward me. I tried my best to pretend he wasn't there. It didn't matter. He started talking to the back of my head. Eventually, the personal decency I was raised with (curse you, personal decency!) forced me to acknowledge him. I gave him a head nod and a "Yup" or two. The next thing I knew I was listening to a ten minute "conversation" about the return of Twinkies and the politics of the Hostess shutdown.

I tried to get away by walking downstairs back to my truck. He followed me. It wasn't until I had actually gotten into my truck and started to back away from him before he finally closed the conversation. (At least I think he did.)

Some of the things truck drivers say leave me totally baffled. A few weeks ago a truck driver came up to me and said, "Has anyone ever told you you look like Eric Clapton?" "No," I said. "No one ever." I then wondered if I should call the police to get this truck driver a sobriety test before letting him get out on the open road. To compare:

Eric Clapton
Me. (He plays the guitar better, too.)

Another time a guy told me, "I just spent the last three days moving. I filled up my neighbor's garbage bin. I waited until they weren't home, and I filled it up! He'll be mad at me, but he won't be able to find me, because I moved."

Now, why in the world would he tell me this story? Did he tell me because he wanted me to not like him? Because if that's the case, it worked.

The other day a driver came up to me and the conversation went like this:
Truck driver: "Do you have any funny jokes you can tell me?"
Me (not really expecting this question): "Umm, no."
Truck driver: "What do you call a seagull that flies over the bay?"
Me: Silence, trying not to make eye contact.
Truck driver: "A bay gull!"
Me: Polite chuckle; looking for any avenue of escape. (Actually considering feigning my own death.)

It's not just the guy truck drivers, either. Women truck drivers can talk your ear off, too. Women truck drivers are a special breed. They didn't get the memo that the mullet is no longer a fashionably acceptable hairdo. (A female truck driver convention would feature more mullets and flannel than a Billy Ray Cyrus concert!)

One of the funniest thing a truck driver has ever said to me was spoken by a female truck driver. I approached her because I thought she looked confused. She could see that I was trying to help her, and told me she didn't need any help, saying, "I'm not lost. She done told me where to go." (The "she" referring to one of the secretaries in the office.)

"I'm not lost. She done told me where to go." Now, if that's not the makings of a good country song title, then I don't know country music! (Actually, I don't really know country music. I'm more of a rock and pop fan. Still, even I know a good country song title when I hear one!)

So, to sum up, unless you want to hear someone babbling on for hours it's best to remember the three rules of talking to truck drivers: A) Never initiate conversation with a truck driver; 2) Never look a truck driver directly in the eyes; and 3) Whatever you do, do NOT sniff a truck driver! (That last one doesn't really need any explanation, does it?)


Friday, July 19, 2013

Idaho vs. Utah

Where are you from?

That's a simple enough question, isn't it? Where are you from? Sometimes, it is an easy question to answer. But sometimes it's not.

When I asked my mother-in-law where she was from, she said it depended on who was asking and what the context of the question was. She has lived in Orem, Utah for over 30 years, so most often she would answer "Where are you from?" with that. But, if someone is asking who knows she's not originally from Utah, she might answer with "Boston." And, since she didn't grow up in Boston, just near Boston, if someone from Massachusetts were to ask her that question, she would probably say "North Attleboro."

Meanwhile, when I asked my oldest daughter "Where are you from?" her answer was, "Mommy's belly."

It's not quite as easy of a question as it seems.

So, where am I from? Well, for the last five years I've been living with my little family in the small-ish town of Santaquin, Utah. (I say "small-ish" because we do have two traffic lights and a Dairy Queen now. So, we're moving up in the world.) For the last 21 years I've been living in Utah, either in the Salt Lake City or Provo/Orem areas.

But, if you ask me where I'm from, I'll probably say "Idaho." I was born and raised in Idaho, and part of me will always be an Idaho farm boy.

Yes, I am an Idaho spud.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because, I did the math, and sometime within the past month I crossed over to the point where I've now spent more of my life living in Utah than I have living in Idaho. And, while I love living here in Utah, this fact has made me a bit sad.

I lived in Idaho until I was 18 years old. Then I spent a school year in Utah, attending BYU. I then spent two years living in West Virginia (as a Mormon missionary), then spent another school year in Utah at BYU. I then moved back to Idaho, where I went to Idaho State University for four years to finish up my degree. (Yes, that's six total years of college to get a four-year degree. Yet another reason they call me "Slow Joe from Arimo.") And then, 21 years ago next month, I made the move to Utah to get a job. And I've been here ever since.

The job I left Idaho to move to Utah for was driving truck for a grocery store warehouse. (Yes, putting all six years of my four-year Idaho State University bachelor's degree in Mass Communication to good use.) (That's sarcasm, by the way.)

Since I drove for a living, my driver's license was pretty important. The law says you should update and change your driver's license within 30 days of changing your address. I did not do this. I waited the two or three years until my Idaho license was about to expire. It was a desperate attempt to cling to my Idaho-ness. ("Yes, I'm from Idaho. It says so right here on my driver's license!")

When I finally had to change over to a Utah license, I had to take a written test. I wasn't too worried about it, except for some of those poorly worded "common sense" questions. Like:
          When stopping at a railroad crossing, how many feet away from the crossing should you stop?
           A. 5 feet
           B. 20 feet
           C. 50 feet
           D. 200 feet
           E. 14 meters
(I always want to answer this with: "Far enough back that you don't get hit by a train! Duh!" But that is never an option.)

Another question that worried me a little was the one about the legal blood/alcohol level for drunk driving. Since I don't drink, I've never really paid too much attention to what the exact percentage is that constitutes "drunk" driving. Since I'm always at 0.0%, the actual legal limit has never concerned me.

So, when the examiner called me to the counter with my test results, I had a few small concerns. I needn't have. I'll never forget what he said to me: "You're not from around here, are you?" I replied that I wasn't, and asked him why he would ask that. He said, "Because you got every question correct!"

(You see, he was used to dealing with Utah drivers.)

When I was growing up in Idaho, the term "Utah driver" was a commonly used derogatory pejorative. The three main offenses of the "Utah driver" that earned our ire were: 1) Driving and staying in the left lane on the freeway. (In Idaho, we called that the passing lane. Because you are supposed to use it when you pass someone...and then you get back into the right lane!) 2) Not using turn signals. (I know that in the 1970s the "energy crisis" was all the rage, but those little blinking light don't use up much energy, and sometimes it's important to let the other vehicles on the road have some kind of idea as to what you are doing!) And, C) Generally clogging up the freeway (I-15) with all of their Winnebagos as they headed to and from Yellowstone. (Back in the day, we used to call them "Winnebagos." Nowadays we call them "RVs.") (I think Winnebago lost more of their market share than Polaroid did in the instant camera market.) (Do they even still make Winnebagos?) (And are you paying attention iPhones? Don't rest on your laurels.)

Of course, now that I have a Utah driver's license and have officially been a "Utah driver" for over twenty years, the things about drivers in Utah that most annoy me are: 1) People driving and staying in the left lane on the freeway. (It doesn't matter if there are two, three, four, or five lanes, you are supposed to stay to the right except to pass!) 2) People not using their turn signals. (Because while I do get ESPN on the radio in my car, I do not have ESP.) And, C) Slow-driving RVs and boats clogging up the left lanes of the freeway as they head to and from Lake Powell and St. George. (And maybe even Yellowstone.)

Back when I used to live and work in Idaho, I would frequently drive by a billboard just south of the town of Blackfoot that promoted the Idaho Potato Museum. I would always chuckle to myself as I read the blurb that said visitors to the museum would be rewarded with "free taters for out-of-staters!" I never stopped. (I was an "in-stater." Why stop if I wasn't going to get a free tater?)

Then, last month, as we were driving past Blackfoot on our way back to Utah after visiting my Idaho-loving, Idaho-living sister, I decided the time was right for a stop at the potato museum. The Wife rolled her eyes; she was not very interested. But, she loves me and often grants me my goofy indulgences, so we stopped.

The kids and a wall full of potato mashers!

I was glad we did. The kids enjoyed the "Mr. Potato Head" display, the giant collection of potato mashers from around the world, and the "World's Largest Potato Crisp." (Apparently there is a difference between a potato "crisp" and a potato "chip," though I don't quite grasp the distinction myself.) And, because I am now an "out-of-stater," I looked forward to getting my "free tater!" I was a bit disappointed, however, to find that my "free tater" came in the form of a small carton of hash browns. I was kind of hoping for an actual potato.

The "free taters" for this "out-of-stater."

Sometimes I have to remind myself that my kids aren't from Idaho. So, I try to let them know that they do have Idaho heritage, and I've tried to instill in them a love for Idaho. I think some of it is taking hold.  When I wear my "Idaho State University" t-shirt, Buzz will point at it and shout, "Idaho!" And, after our recent Idaho adventures, when we now get in the van to go somewhere and I ask the kids where they want to go, they will often answer, "Idaho!"

One of the best things about the Idaho Potato Museum is the chance to pose in front of a giant potato!

In the past, I've generally thought negatively about American immigrants who display the flag of their native country. I thought, "Hey, you're in America now! Wave the flag of the United States, not the flag of Mexico! (Or Italy, or Brazil, or Sweden, or Germany, or Peru, or New Zealand, or Ghana, or Israel, or Egypt, or France, or Japan, or Kazakhstan, or wherever it is you were from!) (Even the Land of the Maple Leaf!) These negative thoughts usually end with a declaration along the lines of, "If you like it there so much, go back!"

But, as I've pondered on my Idaho/Utah situation, I have a bit more understanding as to how these people feel.

I love Idaho. I'm from Idaho. But, I love Utah, too! I've explored more of Utah than I ever have of Idaho. There are large chunks of the Idaho panhandle that I've never been to. But, I've been almost everywhere in Utah. I've been from Snow Canyon and St. George in the southwest, to the top of Naomi Peak in Cache Valley and Bear Lake to the northeast. I've been from from Moab and Monticello in the southeast to Snowville and East Wendover in the northwest. (Although I'll say that East Wendover was a "once." I don't ever need to go back there again.) I've been to the National Parks and National Recreation areas of Zion's, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, Dinosaurland, Flaming Gorge, Cedar Breaks, and Grand Staircase Escalante!

I love Utah! It's a great place to live! But, I also love Idaho. It's where I'm from.

So, when I think of immigrant Americans displaying the flags of their native countries, I don't have a problem with that. It's great to be proud of your heritage and love where you came from. However, if those same people start to protest against America, then I have a problem. Then I'll revert back to the "if you don't like it here, go back" mentality. (I would never protest against Utah!) (Unless Donny and/or Marie Osmond were to become governor.)

So, when you ask me, "Where are you from," it is a difficult question to answer. I love Idaho. I love Utah. I'm from Utah. I'm from Idaho.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Living It Up, Motel Style!

Ah, motels!

We just got back from vacation. We drove over 2,000 miles and spent four nights in motels. And, I dare say, the motels were wonderful, insomuch as they got us out of that mini-van for a few hours! There are some experiences that are unique to motel living. Here are some of my thoughts:

The Decor: One of the first things I noticed about our motel was the carpet. What the heck? Are they trying to disorient me? Here's a picture:

The dizzying motel carpet
Do you see that carpet? I'm at a loss for finding words to describe it. The best I can come up with is that it looks like a robot coughed up some hairballs. Would anyone, anyone put this carpet in their house? Heck to the no! It's horrendous! And if you think it's bad in the hallway, check out what it looks like on the stairs:

The disorienting stairway of death!

Add up that crazy carpet, a couple of armfuls of luggage, and my new bifocals (see: Bifocal ) and it's amazing that I didn't break my neck!

But, while the carpet at the motel is bold, their choice of artwork is bland and/or drab.

At our second motel of the trip, we had a larger room. The room had two queen-size beds and a pull-out couch. Above each bed and the couch was a bland, drab, nondescript painting. I think they were paintings of vases. (The paintings were so bland I can't really remember what the subject of them was.) The paintings were pretty much just one color, too: a dull gray-ish, tan-ish drab. The paintings were dull, boring and absolutely unmemorable except for one fact: they had placed the exact same painting in the room three times, one over each bed, and one over the couch! That's right, three drab, forgettable paintings, exactly identical, all in the same room!

But wait, there's more! At that motel my sister-in-law and niece had the room next door to ours. Guess what? Yes, that's right, the exact same picture was in their room, too! And not once, not twice, but three times as well!!! (At this point I'm really kicking myself for not taking a picture of these paintings, both as proof of their sameness, and so I could remember what exactly the bland paintings were of.) 

Now, I can't be sure that every room in the motel had the same painting in it three times, but if so that would be about 300 prints of the same forgettable painting in one motel! Why would they do this? It's like they were furnishing the rooms and said, "Hmm, we need to put something on these walls. Hey, Ed, didn't your wife Brenda just take an art class at the community college? Did she paint anything we could throw in the copier and stick in a few hundred frames?"

(And while I'm ranting, why is it that art teachers are so fascinated with making their students paint pictures of vases? Really? A vase? Has anyone ever said, "Hey, you know what I want a painting of? A vase! I want a painting of a vase!!!" No. No one ever.)

So, I'm not sure why there is such a contradiction in the boldness of the carpet and the blandness of the art. But there must be a reason, right? Surely someone has done research on this and knows that there must be some purpose for this, right? Because if not, I'm completely befuddled.

The Amenities: We stayed in Upper-White-Trash motels, so our rooms came with the standard Upper-White-Trash amenities: Cable television (with remote!), coffee maker, hair dryer, ironing board and iron, microwave, and small refrigerator. The second motel we stayed in was even so modern that it had a recharging station with USB ports for the recharging of our electronical gadgeteries. 

While the refrigerator is great to have in the room, we learned, by sad experience, that it is best to check and make sure it is turned on before loading it up with foodstuffs. (Traveler's tip: Ice cream sammiches don't stay frozen in a refrigerator that is not turned on.) 

I always like to turn on the motel television and flip through the channels. Nowadays, when I watch television at home I don't flip through the channels because there are too many channels to flip through. Instead, I use the channel guide. But, at a motel, the best way to find what you're looking for is to flip through. 

One of my favorites is to stop for a minute or two at the local news. For some reason, the local news personalities from a different city always seem a little less competent, and a little more hokey. And they usually have funny names. (Seattle has a weather guy who goes by the name of "Jim Guy." Jim Guy. I don't know why I find that so funny, but I do.)

The problem, when traveling with kids, is finding appropriate children's programming at night-time for them to go to sleep to. One night the best we could come up with was one of those Disney channel shows for "tween" girls. Five-year-old Roni watched for a minute and disapproved, repeatedly saying, "That's not a kid show!" (Although she did pick up a math joke with the punch line "apple pie are squared" that she thought was hilarious enough that she kept repeating it for the next several days.)

Of course, one of the standard amenities of every motel room is the shower. If our first motel room of the trip had a glaring weakness (besides the dizzying carpet), it was the height of the shower head. Now, I'm a tall person (6'2"), but I'm not unusually tall. And The Wife stands at 5'10", which is definitely not an unreasonably height. The shower head, however, seemed to be made for people who stood about 5'5" or so. Here, let me demonstrate:

Standing in the shower. Pointing at my chest.

As you can see (maybe) from this poorly staged photograph, I am standing in the shower/tub, taking a picture of myself in the mirror, and pointing to the spot in the middle of my sternum where the water from the shower hits while I try to take a shower.

This is fine if you are the height of Tom Cruise or Mary Lou Retton, but for anyone taller than Spud Webb it means that if you want to wash your hair you had better be able to do a squat thrust or a deep knee bend, exercises that you probably haven't performed since your junior high gym class. (And you thought those exercises would never be useful once you got out of school!) (Now if I could only find an everyday use for algebra.) (Totally unrelated: Hey, you know what would make a good name for a junior high school gym teacher? Yes, that's right, "Jim Guy!")

Personally, I have never used the coffee maker, the hair dryer, or the iron and ironing board at any motel room I have ever stayed at. Perhaps I should have used the iron, but I figure if I don't use it at home, why should I use it on the road? 

Of course, one of the amenities I didn't mention earlier is one of the biggest: the swimming pool. No one likes the parents who let their kids stay up late to play in the pool. Well, on this trip we were those parents! 

I'm sorry, but after a long day of riding in the car, the kids needed to have a place to get some wiggles out, and since most motels don't have a playground, the swimming pool was our best option. So, if we pull in to the motel at 9:45 PM and the pool stays open until 11:00 PM, our kids are going to be in that pool, wearing themselves out so they will actually sleep, until it is 10:59 PM (and 59 seconds!) 

The Continental Breakfast: At the Continental breakfast at our motel, there were two kinds of people: people who have used the waffle maker before and people who have not used the waffle maker before. I, of course, am an experienced waffle maker user. As such, I know that if you walk into the breakfast room and the waffle maker is not being used, you immediately go to the waffle maker and make a waffle. It doesn't matter if you want a waffle or not. Make a waffle! Because the last thing you want to do is decide later that you want a waffle, but find yourself in line behind a person who has no idea how to use the waffle maker. Not only will you be in for a long wait while the person tries to figure the waffle maker out, you'll probably end up scraping the burnt remains of their failed attempt out of the waffle maker before you can make your own. 

Aside from the waffle maker, our breakfast nook included scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, some yogurt, toast, mini-muffins, danishes, assorted fruit juices, milk, and three plastic bins of cold cereal. The three choices in the cereal bins always seem to be: 1) Off-brand Froot Loops (those things ain't real Froot Loops, that's for sure!); 2) Off-brand Corn Flakes; and c) Off-brand Raisin Bran. I am not sure how often these cereal bins are changed, but there is a pretty good chance some of that off-brand Raisin Bran has been in that bin since the Clinton administration.

One last thing I don't understand about the Continental breakfast is the fact that the breakfast nook seems to contain about five small tables, even though the motel has well over 100 rooms. Somehow, the math doesn't seem right here. There are never enough tables for the people who want to use them. (Perhaps this is where I could use that junior high algebra?) (If only I remembered any of it.)