Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Road Trip!

I’ve decided that there are definite benefits to solo road trips – even if they only last an hour or two. Well, except for having to burn gasoline at nearly 4 bucks a gallon. Talk about liquid gold…

Uh…never mind. Let’s not talk about “liquid gold” – okay? Mostly because then I’d get all annoyed over the fact that gasoline is so flippin’ expensive these days. And I was talking about fun road trips.

What I like most about them is that I get to blast my car stereo and sing along to tunes I haven’t listened to in a while. Driving downtown to work every day and then back home again doesn’t really allow me to immerse myself in music. Mostly it allows me to growl at the slow traffic in front of me while keeping an ear pealed to the radio for the latest traffic update.

So when I drove back from Cincinnati last week I actually made use of my Bose 5 disc CD changer and popped in five different CDs. And I got to spend an hour or two belting out the lyrics to “My Girl” by the Temptations and “Can’t You See” by Marshall Tucker. Yep, I’m old-school. Even listened to the Rat Pack and joined in on Frank and Sammy’s duet, “Me and My Shadow.”

And, okay, so my singing sucks – but I gave myself extra points for loudness. Poor Frank and Sammy were probably rolling over in their graves and wondering how someone could mess up their song so badly.

No matter. It’s not like Randy Jackson or Steven Tyler or J-Lo were sitting in the backseat judging my performance. Nor did I worry about the drivers in the next lane either. It used to be if your fellow travelers caught you singing along to the radio, you had to look away a little sheepishly. And then you had to keep your warbling to a bare minimum – at least until that particular driver was well past you.

Nowadays, solo drivers’ mouths never stop moving. They’re either singing along to the tunes or eating or chatting on their cell phones. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, because they may be doing all three things simultaneously. And it has become so commonplace, it’s not really funny anymore when you see the driver in the next lane with his gums flappin’.

All in all, I’d have to say the best road trips are those when the temperature is warm enough that you aren’t hindered by either a winter coat or rain gear. And, if the sun is shining and you get to wear sunglasses, then it’s like a happy added bonus.

My recent road trip didn’t allow me to wear sunglasses. No, instead the windshield wipers never stopped scraping against my windshield. But I still had fun. And while my ear was ringing a little when I stumbled out of my car after the drive, I figured it was worth it.

Now, it’s not like this is the first road trip I’ve been on lately. It’s just that it’s the first SOLO road trip I’ve been on in a while. And, although I suppose I could act the same way if Vince or, say, my parents were in the car with me, I…

Oh, heck. Who am I kidding? There is NO WAY I’d act the same way if Vince or my parents were in the car with me. Vince and I don’t even usually have the radio on because we’re carrying on a conversation and are trying to hear each other.

And my parents? Well, they never turn on their radio. I’m not even sure they’ve ever pre-set any radio stations or know how to do it. Mom thinks pretty much any song played on the radio is just a bunch of “noise.” And we could be talkin’ Perry Como here, too, and not, like, say, some heavy metal band.

Vince has caught me in the past singing along to my iPod, which is just plain embarrassing. Isn’t that the worst? There you are boppin’ along to music only you can hear and you get carried away and start singing along. Badly. And out of tune. And it’s never more clearly evident than when someone is listening to you sing without benefit of musical accompaniment. I’m not even sure Lady Gaga would sound great under the same circumstances.

That’s why solo road trips are the best. Because It. Doesn’t. Matter.

And there is a certain joy in that.

So it’s not that I don’t appreciate road trips with my husband. Or even my parents. It’s just that I don’t get to sing like no one’s listening. Because they would be. And they’d probably tell me to shut up.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Meet Gladys, Garmin!

I got into an argument the other day with the Garmin lady. You know, the one whose mechanical voice comes out of the GPS box? And, yeah, I’m not that blonde…I DO know she’s not a real person. But she can still be annoying from time to time.

We’ve used the GPS for a few road trips, but our habit has been to pop the thing on the windshield just as we’re heading out. Thus, I have spent many a frustrating moment in the passenger seat growling at the Garmin because I’m not really sure how to operate it.

So this time I decided to do a test run. I was near Cincinnati heading back to Columbus and I pretty much knew where I was going. I figured that once I made it to I-71 North, all I had to do was stay on that route until I hit Columbus. So I plugged in my destination and took off.

The Garmin lady, who I’ve christened Gladys because she reminds me of that annoying neighbor on Bewitched, was fairly helpful for about five minutes. She handled the first couple lefts and rights with aplomb and threaded me through traffic toward the exit for I-71N. I was pleased because it is usually those first complicated twists and turns that get me lost. So I was happy with Gladys and even thanked her for her assistance.

And then she got bossy.

Since it was early morning and I hadn’t gotten much sleep due to the wailing tornado sirens that woke us up at 1:30AM, I started searching for a McDonald’s so I could get a quick caffeine fix.

Gladys wasn’t happy with me when I veered off course. When she said “recalculating,” I thought it sounded a little snippy.

What’s worse is that, while I saw the towering Golden Arches from the freeway and turned left where McDonald’s was supposed to be, it wasn’t immediately visible. Sure, there was a Wendy’s. But I wasn’t sure if all Wendy’s locations had started serving breakfast – or if it was only a select few test stores.

As I drove along, Gladys continued to recalculate. Because Mickey D’s is usually right off an exit, I decided I’d explored that particular road long enough. When Gladys told me to turn right, I did as she commanded. And then she managed to direct me through some more side streets until we arrived at a main artery and I saw the sign for I-71N again, just as Gladys piped up with the same information.

Okay, Gladys, I thought, you win this one. I didn’t get my caffeine, but I also didn’t get lost. Left to my own devices, I would have wandered around suburbia for another 20 minutes before eventually (by chance) locating a main artery that would lead me back to the freeway. So thank you, Gladys. I appreciate your help

A few miles later when I decided I really needed a stop to feed and water myself, I saw another sign for McDonald’s. Yet again, Gladys protested. And recalculated. But this time, I saw the fast food joint immediately to the right and headed in that direction. Gladys kept trying to get me back on course, so by this time I was talking back to her. Out loud.

“I KNOW I’m off course, Gladys,” I said. “Just hold your horses. I’ll get back on I-71N in a minute – I swear!”

But did Gladys listen? Nooo. She can be very stubborn and inflexible. I briefly considered silencing her, but decided to put up with her for a few more moments. And, okay, it would have taken just as long for me to figure out where the volume control was as to put up with her recalculations.

But when I drove up to the window to pay, Gladys interrupted the drive-thru guy and started telling me where to go. This sort of interruption is very annoying to a person who only has one working ear since it’s impossible to hear two people at the same time.

Fortunately, I held my tongue and didn’t yell at Gladys, though I was tempted to tell her to shut up. I didn’t – but only because I don’t think I could’ve taken the pitying looks the guy from McDonald’s surely would have given me. But as soon as I drove away, believe you me, I gave Gladys a piece of my mind!

I think that put her in her place, too. Because for the next 89.1 miles, I didn’t hear a peep out of her.

She started yammering at me again as I drove into Columbus – on the very same route I’ve taken 5 days a week for the last 9 years. So I was rolling my eyes and saying, “Yeah, yeah – I know I need to take the Livingston exit, Gladys!”

But when I pulled up to my office safe and sound (and without getting lost), I decided to throw her a little compliment. I said, “Thanks, Gladys…you rock!”

And then I unplugged her.

Ah. Sometimes silence can be golden!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I Got Your Question Party Right Here!

So I’ve noticed a new “thing” on Facebook that completely puzzles me. I’m seeing more and more friends using the “Question Party” application. Have you seen this? They answer random yes-or-no questions about their friends that the computer randomly selects. I’m not really sure what it’s all about, but because more friends have answered questions about me, I’ve started at least clicking on the link. I doubt I’ll play along, though.

Why? Well, for one thing, I spend enough time on Facebook as it is and don’t need to start playing games on there. Heck, I used to tease a certain someone I’m married to (but who shall remain nameless) when he was totally into the whole CafĂ© World and Farming thing on Facebook. He could spend HOURS goofing around on there.

One time when we were visiting my relatives in northern Michigan, he even borrowed my cousin’s computer to log onto his Farm so he wouldn’t “lose” his crops! What’s more, when he had to leave the computer for a few minutes to take a shower, he practically begged me to finish harvesting his crops for him! (We weren’t married yet. So I did it. I know, I know – the things we do for love.)

Anyway, I’m always a little suspicious when any application on Facebook asks to access all my information. What sort of information are they looking for? My checking account info? My social security number? Who knows what they’d find on my computer. And, yeah, I’m guessing they’re really just looking for the list of my friends so they can get me to answer questions about them so we can all be sucked into their game-playing trap. Seems a little diabolical. Or maybe it’s just me.

The worst thing is, I was a little afraid to read the questions on this Question Party thing – and even more afraid to read the answers. It’d be like junior high all over again – I might get embarrassed over an answer or I might think someone didn’t like me. Oh, the horror and humiliation!

Fortunately, the questions are fairly benign. For the most part. Like, for instance, the newest question was whether or not I’d help a little old lady across the street. The answer was (thankfully) “yes.” At least that friend thinks of me as sort of a nice person.

Other questions were if my friends thought I’d give people the benefit of the doubt (yes), if I was a geek in high school (no) and if I’m a little selfish (no).


But then right smack in the middle of all those questions was a whopper. The question was if my friend thought I’d ever visited a strip club. And the answer? “Yes.” Ack! I have friends who think I’ve visited a strip club?? What sort of woman do they think I am??

But, um, the worst thing about it? The answer IS “yes.”

You should know, however, that I was an innocent bystander in the whole sordid event. At the start of the evening I had absolutely no inkling that I’d be darkening the doorway of any such establishment.

See, it was New Year’s Eve – the big one where we weren’t sure if all the computers around the world were going to crash because they wouldn’t know how to change from “1999” to “2000”. Well, that New Year’s Eve I drove to Pittsburgh with my good and, apparently, not-to-be-trusted friend. We’ll call him Adam. My impression was that we were going to meet some friends out for dinner, have a few adult beverages and watch the fireworks that were going to be set off over the river at midnight. Sounds fun – right?

Well, we met these people for dinner and had a lovely time. Enjoyed some good food and good wine and made all sorts of toasts to the New Year to come.

After we ate, the only other woman at our table got up to use the ladies room. And I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw her figure. It was mostly not real. Or at least the upper portion of her body was mostly not real. I tried not to stare, but none of the women in my circle are so surgically enhanced and I wanted to see if she was able to remain upright without toppling over.

This was my first clue, although I wasn’t yet connecting the dots.

When we left to walk to our next destination, this woman – let’s call her Barbie – lagged behind to “chat” with me. She linked her arm through mine and, towering over me in her 4” heels, pulled me along and informed me that we were going to the place where she works. And that I’d have a lot of fun. I thought, hey, great, I’m up for some fun. It is, after all, New Year’s Eve!

Silly, innocent Jane. STILL not connecting the dots. So she had to spell it out for me – that we were going to a strip club. Only I think she called it a “Gentlemen’s Club.”

Me, being the subtle woman-of-the-world sort of person that I am, stopped dead in my tracks on the sidewalk with my mouth gaping open in shock wondering how in the world I was going to get out of this one.

My friend Adam and the other guys, meanwhile, had practically sprinted ahead of us and were already inside this, uh, “Gentlemen’s Club.”

Since I (a) hadn’t driven and didn’t have the car keys physically on my person, (b) couldn’t have gotten myself back to the garage where we’d parked without a map and a tour guide, and (c) was about an hour from home and couldn’t afford the astronomical cab fare it would have taken to get me back there, I didn’t have any choice but to be reluctantly dragged inside. And, yes, there were naked women in there!

At least I didn't have to pay a cover charge since I was with Barbie.

I can’t really tell you anything else about the place because I pretty much plastered myself against the wall near the bar and refused to look anywhere but at the male bartender. Oh, I probably gave my friend Adam dirty looks from time to time, but I don’t imagine he was paying a bit of attention to me when the rest of the scenery was ever so much more interesting. I think someone even handed me a dollar to give to one of the, uh, dancers, but there was no freakin’ way. I could not play along and act like it was just another day in the life.

Eventually, my friend took pity on me and we left to go watch the fireworks over the river.

The next day my parents came to visit and blithely asked me what I’d done for New Year’s Eve. So I told ‘em. They weren’t as shocked as I expected they’d be and instead laughed at my horrified retelling of the story.

My friend Adam was, in turn, horrified to hear that I’d actually admitted it to my parents – and begged me not to be so forthcoming with his mother who was also sure to ask me where we’d gone for New Year’s Eve.

So the answer to the question if I've ever been in a strip club is, sadly, "yes."

But, more importantly, would I ever go back to a strip club? Well, the answer to that would be a resounding NO! Once was wayyy more than enough!

Any other questions?!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Signs of Spring

It’s spring!

Wait, let me say that again – IT’S SPRING!!!


Yeah, yeah, I know that according to the trusty calendar, our spring equinox officially occurred on March 20th. But try telling that to us poor folk who have continued to endure frigid temperatures and snowflakes and hail since March 20th.

So how do I know it’s spring? Well, for one thing, my nose is itching like crazy. That right there is a sure sign.

And this morning I sneezed 3.25 times. (The .25 accounts for when I did the “ah…ah…” part of the sneeze, but the “…choo!” didn’t transpire. Sooo frustrating!)

So I popped an allergy pill and went on with my day. But at lunchtime I walked outside and was startled to see that pink buds had magically appeared on the flowering tree outside my office. Now, come on. I swear, I’m not that oblivious – and if there had been pink buds on that tree this morning, I surely would have noticed!

There are other signs that spring is really here, too. Like, for instance, I heard birds happily chirping away in the trees. Don’t ask me how I know that the birds are happy when they are chirping, but the sound is distinctively different than when I hear birds making noises ‘round ‘bout February. In February, bird chirps sound a little more desperate. Personally, I think they’re chirping, WHY OH WHY DIDN’T I MOVE SOUTH FOR THE WINTER WHEN I HAD THE CHANCE??

Plus, there are construction zones and orange barrels popping up all over town. Burly men in neon yellow vests with reflective tape are everywhere. I swear they’ve tripled in number overnight. Frankly, it’s a little creepy because I’m worried about aliens taking over our planet. Who knew that the prime objective of aliens would be to screw up my commute to and from work?! Oh well. Probably I shouldn’t admit that I think those guys in neon yellow are aliens. I’ll have psychoanalysts forwarding me their business cards and recommending therapy.

But I really wasn’t discussing my mental state of mind. I was talking about spring. Which, actually is a whole other state of mind entirely. In the winter we use words like “trudge” and “slog.” Or at least I do. We long for sunshine and warmth. I mean, how many times during the winter do you wish you could hear those lovely spring sounds of lawnmowers (as long as you’re not the one mowing), children frolicking in the park (as long as you’re not the one supervising), and dogs barking (as long as you’re not following said dog with the plastic poo bag)?

Another sure sign of spring are the walkers and runners in the park. There were a whole lot more of them out there as I drove past the park today. And I’m not talking about those crazy dedicated few who will run even if it’s minus zero and have to highstep over frozen mounds of icy snow piled up by the snowplows. Those people are just nuts. But maybe they have that “runner high” that makes them forget that it’s (a) freakin’ freezing, and (b) freakin’ winter.

And, finally, I know it’s spring because I’m actually looking at the strappy sandals on the DSW website and am thinking about placing an order for shoes that shouldn’t be worn with either knee highs or tights. Sure, DSW sends me e-mails all winter long featuring their spring and summer line, but when it’s 20 degrees outside, I cannot even contemplate open-toed shoes.

So I’m pleased to see these signs because they are a sure indication that spring is really here. Now all I have to do is wait for the grass to turn green. And I’d like to see a flower or two. And I’d be ever so grateful if I didn’t have to don my winter coat again until next November. (December would be even better, but I’m not that optimistic.)

In the meantime, I may join the folks taking a walk in the park. I’ll ask for forgiveness for calling hardworking people in neon yellow vests “aliens.” I’ll be sure to pay attention to any new flowering trees and plants – and enjoy the beauty of our newly awakened earth. And I may go ahead and indulge in a pair of new spring sandals from DSW.

But I can assure you I won’t be following any dogs around with a poo bag. Winter hasn't made me that crazy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Vince and I went out of town last Saturday and stayed at a hotel overnight so we could attend a surprise birthday party the next day for a friend. The key word in that sentence is surprise. Vince almost blew it when he did that thing on Facebook where you “check in” at a specific location and it posted the hotel where we were staying.

Now, there’s really no reason for us to be in and around Steubenville – unless we’re visiting the very friends who were having the surprise party. Or for the annual Dean Martin festival, perhaps, but that’s not until June.

So I asked him to remove the post. (Plus, I wasn’t sure everyone really needed to know we were at an out-of-town hotel. That, in my opinion, is a little TMI.)

The next day at the restaurant we all were all standing there waiting to yell “Surprise!” when the birthday girl walked in and, wonder of wonders, she was truly surprised! She had no idea her husband had been planning and plotting any such event. There was even a cake and balloons and party hats. There were people from in-town and people from out-of-town. And he not only had to bring the birthday girl to the gathering, but also had in tow their daughters, including their newborn baby girl!

Our friend, apparently, is one of those “un-surprise-able” people. She knows everything that’s going on and is very good at detecting unusual activity. So it was an even bigger coup for him. As it was for those of us in attendance who didn’t spill the beans before the event. Yay, us!

I heard her ask her daughters (not the newborn, of course!) if they knew about the party and they nodded their heads. Whether or not they actually knew about the party beforehand, I don’t know for sure, but if they did, I’m VERY impressed. Four- and six-year-olds are not necessarily known for their secret-keeping abilities.

So we all enjoyed spending a fun couple of hours together and indulging in some food and cake and perhaps even an adult beverage or two. (Well, the adults, anyway!)

Another friend I’d categorize as “un-surprise-able” told me about a successful surprise party her new coworkers threw for her birthday last month. They’d even invited her husband and ordered her favorite cake from her favorite cake baker.

That particular day she’d had to handle a lot of details which necessitated her attention in areas outside her office. This was probably pretty distressing to the party planners given that they were trying to get people like her husband and the cake baker into the office without her noticing.

When she was summoned to the conference room on a bogus errand, she almost left because the person she was expecting didn’t appear to be in the conference room. Probably because the lights were off. And, as she started to turn away, some part of her brain told her something wasn’t right because there were vague people shapes standing there in the dark. When the lights were flipped on, she was the one who called out, “Oh! SURPRISE!”

I’m pretty un-surprise-able, myself. There was only one time in my life that friends even tried to throw me a surprise party. But I learned about it beforehand. And, since I’m a lousy actor, I couldn’t quite manage the “WHAT? For ME?” reaction that allows people to think they’d really pulled off the surprise.

It’s not that I was expecting a surprise party, mind you. But I happened to run into a coworker at the grocery store one night and he said, “So…we’re going to be partying next Friday night, huh?!” Because I was usually the party planner in our group and hadn’t scheduled anything, I gave him a perplexed look and asked him what he was talking about. He immediately got that deer-in-the-headlights look on his face and then quickly stumbled around searching for a plausible explanation to cover his tracks.

Naturally, I knew something was up. The next day I looked at the online calendars of some of my more indiscreet colleagues and, sure enough, saw “Jane’s Surprise Party” scheduled for the following Friday night. It even informed me of the time and location of said surprise party. Yeah. I’m thinkin’ it didn’t really require an advanced degree in detecting to figure that one out.

So I spent the next week shopping for an appropriate surprise party outfit and practicing my “surprised face” look in the mirror.

Friends had already arranged to take me out to dinner on that Friday evening. I just wasn’t sure how they were going to get me to the specific location of the party. But they made up some excuse and I tried to do the nonchalant “Oh, okay – that’s fine” thing in response. But when I walked into the room where the party was being held and everyone yelled out, “Surprise!” I couldn’t quite pull off the surprised face I’d been practicing in front of the mirror. Or at least I didn’t fool anyone. Darn.

But I WAS surprised to see some of the people they invited, including my parents, sister and out-of-town friends. And it was a lovely evening even if I wasn’t really surprised.

So if you are planning a surprise party for someone, here’s a hint: check any online calendars, especially some of your more clueless colleagues. You might also want to hide your cell phone since friends will probably call to confirm and you don’t want the surprisee to question the unusual phone activity - or the texts from unthinking guests whose "Can't wait to attend the surprise party!" texts pop up on screen.

And for the surprisee – especially all those “un-surprise-ables” out there – practice your surprised look in the mirror. A lot.

And…SURPRISE! Have fun!