Saturday, September 1, 2007

Flight of the Bumblebees, Or Why Listening to the Radio While Driving Is a Bad Idea

Long title, I know. I was famous for those in college and grad school. Scholars usually are. You can't title a paper something simple and short like "The Role of Women in the Church." It has to be something like "Sacred Trust: The History and Disintegration of Women's Ecclesiastical and Theological Relevance in the Realm of Millennial Religious Movements from 1830 to the Present Day."

Anyway--I digress as usual. What else is new? (Oh, and no, I didn't write a paper with that title, but I certainly had plenty with equally verbose, admirable titles.)


When I drive into work in the mornings, I usually turn on either the radio or the CD player. If it's the radio, it's usually NPR. It's my little dose of smart in the morning. Over the last few months, though, what with the downward trend in news stories and the--how shall I say this?--stress of work, I find if I listen to NPR or anything newsy on the way to work, I arrive depressed and in a funk. Most of my depression at the moment is largely a mid-life crisis. While several things feel out of control and worthless in my life right now, some things can be controlled. What I listen to on the drive into work is one of the few things I can control at the moment. Hence, I can still have my crisis without all the withering sadness.

Fortunately, WETA decided going from a classical-only to a talk-only format was a really bad idea. They got smart and switched back to a classical-only format, much to the collective relief of the greater Washington area. This may be the meanest, most partisan town in the world, but there was one thing all Washingtonians and their suburban neighbors could agree on: for talk, it's WAMU; for classical, it's WETA.

Now that WETA is back in the format God intended it to be in, it's what I tend to listen to on my drive each morning. Here's the point of this post, though: why, when it is a known fact that 99.9% of drivers in this area are shit heads, does WETA play music in the morning that makes you feel frantic and harried?


I find this happens to me most mornings.

I get in my car at 8:00 to be at work by 8:30 a.m. My commute is less than seven miles. When I get in the car, I repeat this mantra: "I'm not in a hurry. I'll get there when I get there. Just take your time."

I start the car and take little side streets through neighborhoods to avoid a particularly gnarly intersection in my area. So far, so good. I haven't hit any kiddies on their way to school or old ladies walking geriatic, incontinent poodles. I approach the light that will take me out of the neighborhood streets and onto the main avenue I use to get from one side of the city to the other. I'm still doing okay. Taking my time. Not rushing. No hurrying, no worrying.

But then two things happen--and usually exactly in this order: first, some asshole (or string of assholes) passes me on the right or the left or weaving in and out and going 60 in a 35. Most of these folks are usually from Maryland (if I approached the city from the Virginia side, it would be folks from Virginia), although occasionally some idiot from the District will do the same. And second, WETA cranks up the classical by putting on some spritely piece like "Flight of the Bumblebees" or some Vivaldi crap or something that features violins sawing away at the speed of light creating music that--coupled with the speeding dicks--suddenly causes my blood pressure to go straight through the moonroof!

And then it happens. I start to react like an asshole and drive like a shit head. But no ordinary shit head, mind you. No. My shit headedness is being serenaded by the strains of Paganini or Dvorak or Smetana.

By the time I realize what's happening, I'm halfway to work, having put myself and my insurance policy at risk. Not to mention everyone around me.

I think I'm going to have to start selecting my own classical music for the ride into work. Pieces that are soothing and inspiring, rather than rousing and stress-inducing. Still, I'd like to think I've arrived at at least one explanation for why so many commuters drive like shit heads: it's the music.


Update here: Haven't seen the serene barista sitting outside Breakwell's Coffee Shop in a few weeks. I hope she's just on vacation or something. I miss her serenity and groundedness right before I arrive at work.

The woman hawking papers is still doing that. I still wonder what her story is. One day, I might actually leave for work earlier and stop and ask.

The guy in the parking garage--his name is Jeremy, by the way--saw me at lunch yesterday. I asked him how he was and he responded honestly. "Not so good," he said. We ended up having a long talk about life. At the end of the conversation, he said, "I wish more people were like you. You know my name. You greet me every morning when you come into the garage and you treat me like a human being. Most of these people who come into this garage don't even notice me and even if they do, they're usually rude. It's like I'm beneath them because I'm just the parking guy."

Jeremy: you're not just the parking guy. You're a human being with a name and dreams and passions. You have people in your life who love you. You have a story that is yours and is meaningful. You are Jeremy and I'm glad to see you every morning.


Cele said...

You took me through so many emotions during this reading. First I'm glad you don't listen to me in the morning. I don't play classical.

Second I am glad and relieved that I live a mile from work. On the other hand my husband commutes 80 miles each way.

Third you reminded me to say hello to people. I try to always do that, to take notice and mean, "How are you when I ask." I usually do, but thank you for the reminder.

Fourth to be joyous and happy. Thank you for the Jeremy's of the world, the barristas who compell you to remind us they have stories too. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Every person is the lead character in the story of his/her life.

I read that a while ago and it helps to periodically remind myself that the universe does not, in actuality, revolve around me.

Di said...

I think commuting is an exercise in attempting to keep your temper at bay, no matter where you live. Are you thinking that only classical music will soothe you? My former commuting strategy was to pick music I really like and sing it at the top of my lungs while I drive. Kept me chill for the most part. I recommend happy-ish folky music for this - think Shawn Colvin, not Metallica. I actually used to enjoy the morning commute - who the fuck wants to get to work so fast?!? Tee hee...

I always talk to people too. I think people's stories are so interesting. Plus, I am surrounded by people all day who LOVE the sound of their own voice and who get paid way too much to drone on and on. I'd rather hear what someone else has to say sometimes.

My commute is very short, and I just stare out the window of the tram and zone for a few minutes, then I'm there. Of course, once I get there, I'm in the "friendly" fire zone all day, so tradeoffs and all of that. And also - your Most Beloved Golden State has suck-ass traffic too. Just sayin.

Great post. You're a born writer, Tewkesy.

Hey JA - I think that thought every day. As I look out the tram windows, I find it mind-boggling sometimes to think of all the lives people are leading. And how much they all care about their own life, and how all these people passionately caring about their own small spheres don't even intersect usually. How can the world be full of so many protagonists? It is beyond comprehension, but it always makes me love people. Not sure why.

NG said...

Ignoring the obvious subject of this post, OH. MY. GOSH!!! I did not know until I read this that WETA had changed it's format back. I had boycotted months ago when they first dropped the classical music and took them off all my radio presets. Now to crawl back under the rock where I've been living for the last several months.

Miss Understood said...

We're all a Jeremy in other people's lives, aren't we? I'm glad you take the time to notice him, to treat him with the respect he deserves.

As for my morning music...I like to play anything which has a feel good factor...something energising and happy. It sets me up for the day. I can't listen to classical music without a glass of wine in my hand!

Merujo said...

"...why, when it is a known fact that 99.9% of drivers in this area are shit heads, does WETA play music in the morning that makes you feel frantic and harried?"

Ah, you just made me laugh so hard I started to cough! So true, so true, so very, very true!