The Humble Commuter Part 3 – Planes

It’s been over a year since I ditched my daily commute for a remote position at Automattic. These days I rarely drive, and when I do, it’s almost enjoyable again. Almost. I do find myself careening through the atmosphere in a flimsy metal tube a lot more often than ever before. Just as I learned a bevy of invaluable lessons about surviving the soul crushing daily drive into the office  (here and here), I have been carefully observing my fellow airborne travelers to provide you with the best tips for making your in-flight and airport experience as painless as possible.

  • When the flight attendant “suggests” you turn off your cell phone or put it in airplane mode, this does not apply to you. The fact that your brother’s friend’s cousin worked at an airport Cinnabon ® and overheard someone say that cell signals don’t interfere with the plane’s operation is enough evidence to risk the safety of your fellow passengers so you can squeak out one more tweet about whatever inane crap you tweet about.
  • From the very first moment you take your seat on a plane, the battle for control over the shared armrest begins. Plant your arm down on that sucker and keep it there. If you move it, you will lose it. You may want to consider adult incontinence gear so you can avoid having to travel to the lavatory or inadvertently wet yourself on longer flights. Persistence pays off here, so don’t let your guard down.
  • Really long trips can take a toll on you. If you have been bouncing around airports and connecting flights for a day or two there is a neat trick you can take advantage of to up your personal comfort level – pop your shoes off. Those dogs have been bottled up long enough, so uncork them and get ready to relax. It’s unlikely anyone in the pressurized cabin of recirculating air will notice your reeking foot odor. Don’t forget to recline the seat the full .1 degrees for the ultimate in relaxation.
  • Wear noise canceling headphones with music so loud someone would have to basically punch you in the face to get your attention. This way you can avoid any important announcements in either the airport or on the plane. When asked why you missed the fact that the gate personal have been calling your name for the last hour and the flight is delayed because of you, just stare blankly. This usually works
  • Gripe constantly. The seats are tiny, the food sucks, the plane is old, the flight attendant is a dick, the airport bathroom floor is sticky, the jerk next to you won’t share the armrest, the in-flight movie stars Adam Sandler – you get the idea. Never ending complaints help everyone around you feel better about their own unvoiced grievances, so really this is like performing a public service.
  • The TSA is a helpful group of friendly professionals there to help make you feel safer. They care about you, and treat all travelers fairly. You will not be singled out because of how you look or dress, and the rules for getting through security are uniformly applied in all airports everywhere. That might be the most off-the-charts satire I have ever written. It was actually physically difficult to type.
  • When getting ready to board the plane, you should start to crowd around the gate area with your bags ready about 30 minutes before any airline personnel show up. The plane will leave without you if you don’t board ahead of everyone in your boarding zone, so try to get to the front, preferably by acting as if other passengers are non-existent. Even better would be to sneak into an earlier boarding group. They probably won’t send you back.
  • It’s fun to see how big of a carry-on bag you can get away with. Avoid airlines that measure your bag for appropriate dimensions. If you end up on one of these, try anyway, and complain like crazy when they insist you check the bag. How can they not realize you don’t have five minutes to wait at the baggage claim with all the other suckers? What the airlines don’t want you to know, is that those overhead bins employ a Dr. Who Tardis-like technology that makes them cavernous on the inside. I have no doubt a full-grown African elephant could fit, nevermind an overstuffed duffle bag with three snowboards in it.

So the next time you are mid-take-off and the guy behind you is tweeting about the lack of legroom while hanging his sweaty socks on your seat back to dry off – Turn around and say hi – it might be me!

The Humble Commuter Part 2

Road rage is a fascinating phenomenon. People who suffer from it really do freak out over the smallest things. It’s actually pretty fun to watch a grown person work themselves into a tizzy because of some imagined automotive malfeasance. My favorite is the exasperated “throw arms in the air plus tilt head back” move, with a close second being the emotionally charged “obscene gesture with snarling face” maneuver. One time I witnessed a driver repeat both of these in rapid succession for a full half hour. I laughed so hard I almost crashed into a guard rail. The emotional state I all too often find myself in during my commute is clearly not road rage, for two important reasons. One, there is nothing imagined about the crescendo of automotive blasphemy occurring on the other side of my windshield. Two, the word “rage” is too tame to adequately describe the blood boiling explosion of fury that sweeps over me. So let’s both take a deep breath, count to ten, and share some insightful tips for safe driving that are guaranteed to sooth even the most venomous vehicular vexation.

  • Bike lanes are no longer just the subject of science fiction movies and dream sequences. I have never actually seen one, however I have been assured that they are real. From what I have been told a bike lane is similar in appearance to the extra mini-lane some roads have that provides room for your passengers to hang things out the window. If you do see a bike lane be careful not to swerve into it and run over the bikers.
  • Frequent lane changes are a must. Not only do these improve the safety of all drivers, they also allow you to display your driving superiority so that a proper pecking order can be established. Without this natural hierarchy the flow of traffic can degrade into chaos. This is America, and you have a God-given right to be in any lane you want, any time you want. If the occupants of  your destination lane are too daft to notice, resort to using your signal, look straight ahead, and without hesitation slowly pull into the target lane. They will let you in, trust me.
  • There is a bizarre group of thrill seekers that can seriously jeopardize your safety that you need to be aware of. These sick individuals paint paths across the road then at random times walk or run along these paths directly in front of oncoming traffic. I’m not kidding, this is a real thing. Rather than be put off by these twisted weirdos I turn the tables on them. Since they get their kicks running out in front of moving traffic, I do what I can to make it worth their while. Whenever I see them coming up I accelerate and veer crazily back and forth as I speed through their makeshift pathways. I think they call themselves “crosswalkers”.
  • Imagine you are in a truck stop off I-70 in the barren plains of western Colorado drinking coffee that smells of what you imagine fresh deer poop smells like. While swapping stories with a grizzled overweight trucker with an eye-patch over a perfectly functional eye, you hear the incredible and spooky story of “keep right” signs.

    “Long ago it was decided that on roads with more than one lane, slower traffic should keep right so that faster traffic could pass on the left. Multiple signs were put in place all over the country, some reading “slower traffic keep right” and others saying “keep right except to pass”. Mysteriously not long after these were put in place they all disappeared without a trace. Except for the occasional unsubstantiated “ghost sign” claim, not a single driver has seen one since.”

    Spooky indeed.

  • During long highway drives you definitely want to try what I call “pace-car-ing”. This is a technique in which you match the speed of a car going a bit faster than you after it passes. For as long as possible pace your speed in direct proportion to this car and follow them through traffic. In the event of a speed trap the car you are pacing is much more likely to be pulled over than you. If the officer does mistakenly pull you over, you now have an ironclad defense that once explained will cause the trooper to sprint back to his vehicle and speed off to catch the real perpetrator. Do not combine pace-car-ing with tailgating. This could result in an uncomfortable confrontation that involves more than one police officer (don’t ask).
  • On most highways you have a friend out there, and that friend is the breakdown lane. Are you stuck in traffic a mile or so from your exit with people obviously going straight? Your exit is not the source of the traffic, why should you have to wait with them? The answer is you don’t. Pull on into the breakdown lane and enjoy a quick get away as you blow by all the stop and go suckers.

I don’t know about you but I sure learned a lot. In closing I want you to remember: you do own the road; It is a race; the parking lot is the autobahn; and we will not all get there when we get there.

The Humble Commuter Part 1

For the last five years I have been commuting about fifty miles each way to work. This is the equivalent of driving for one hundred and four days in a row, except that it’s not in a row. I’m not thrilled about spending ten hours a week driving, but it does involve a lot of sitting which I excel at. On the other hand it also involves interacting in a strange automotive dance with other drivers, which I admittedly struggle with. Thankfully in two weeks I will be starting a new job working from home, but before I leave the commuting world behind I wanted to share a detailed list of useful observations I painstakingly compiled over the years as I watched and learned from other drivers. Unfortunately I lost that list, so I came up with this stuff instead:

  • When in stop and go traffic it is important to speed up to the maximum possible velocity when cars start moving, then brake hard each time they stop again. It is proven that this results in a quicker arrival at your destination.  Additional evidence strongly supports the idea that the closer you get to the car in front of you before braking, the more time you save on your overall trip.
  • When in the fast lane of a two lane highway pace your speed around 1-2 MPH faster than the posted limit. This will be enough to pass some slower traffic.  It also ensures that the way ahead of you is clear by boxing other drivers in behind you. If a big enough opening occurs that a driver attempts to pass you on the right, match their speed exactly so that they are unable to get ahead.  If you are on a highway with more than two lanes try to parallel a car beside you as this can also produce the improved safety conditions described for two lane highways.
  • Turn signals are completely optional. If you decide to use them the best time to do so is about halfway through your turn. The maximum recommended number of flashes you should allow your signal to be active is two. The only exception being that rare occasion when you decide to use a signal during highway lane changes. In this case you should leave the signal on after the lane change for no less than five thousand flashes. You may want to turn left from the leftmost lane into the median at some point, having your signal on could save precious time.
  • Always Tailgate. What the irritated driver in front of you does not know is that while you are benefiting from reduced drag and a feeling of superiority by pinning your bumper inches from theirs, they are also benefiting. It only takes a passing interest in the most basic study of physics to realize that the closer two cars are together, the less force an impact between them will incur, minimizing potential damage. When on the highway tailgating also has the additional effect of psychologically forcing the driver in front of you to move over to the right lane. When this happens don’t speed up. As they approach slower traffic they have no choice but to veer back in front of you worried about how close you are, or hang their heads in shame by joining the large group behind you. It’s a good test of character for them.
  • When choosing to exit a highway it is crucial to wait until the last possible moment to change to the exit lane, preferably after the dotted lines change to solid, and not necessarily from the lane adjacent to the exit ramp. It is important to note that other drivers do not have the demanding schedule and incredible responsibilities that you do so the question of whether it’s acceptable for you to lose seconds off your commute waiting in line for an exit ramp is a no brainer.
  • You should turn right on red instinctively, especially when you see three distinctive “no turn on red” signs scattered throughout the intersection. If someone is in front of you restricting your ability to turn right feel free to honk at them liberally. If you think they are looking back in one of their mirrors raise your shoulders and hands in a “what the hell are you doing?” manner.
  • Roundabouts/Rotaries are put in place to allow you continuous travel through intersections without concern for other drivers. Do not slow down when approaching one as this will just create confusion. If your destination is three-quarters or more around, a good shortcut is to go opposite normal traffic flow and use the roundabout as your own personal go-any-way-you-want area. Chances are low someone is coming the other way during the short time you are zipping through.
  • When entering a highway remember that you are now setting the tone for all the other drivers. The speed of existing vehicles must adjust to what you are bringing to the table. The recommended approach is to pick a speed about five MPH less than current traffic, look unwaveringly straight ahead as you merge, then lurch into the fast lane without speeding up.

Staying safe on the road is a topic so comprehensive it cannot be limited to one blog post. In part two we will tackle additional important situations such as frequent lane changes, how to handle bike lanes and crosswalks, as well as the age old question: “who’s road is this anyway?”.