Archive for May, 2013

The tracks of my tears

I only have a few real “issues” in life, and I think I’m quite open about them.  For example, when someone asks me when they should leave to get to the airport at a certain time, I tell them, “You don’t want to ask me.  I leave way too early because I’m afraid I’ll be late and then sit around for hours.  Oh, and I don’t know how to get anywhere.”  I figure it’s best to be upfront about these things so people can take those factors into account.  Well, sometimes openness and planning just aren’t enough.

A couple of weeks ago, a handful of people from my department and I were going to visit another of our company’s sites in Orange County.  According to Google Maps, the ride should take 1 hr 19 min without traffic.  Of course there’s no such thing as “without traffic,” so my first inclination is to leave probably around 3 hours ahead of time. We didn’t have to be there until 11am though, so traffic should be much lighter than at other times.

A few days beforehand, two co-workers came up to me, who I’ll call Mary and Sue.  Mary asked, “Are you going to this thing on Thursday?”  I said I was.  “You should carpool with us,” she replied.  True, they both also live in The Valley, and that would allow us to be in the carpool lane and save time…but then it’s not on my schedule and I’m dependent on others when it comes to very important things like time.  Furthermore, Sue is always late. So I hemmed and hawed a bit before reluctantly agreeing to go with them.  I only said yes because there was a firm plan in place: I’d get to Sue’s house at 8:30, we’d arrive at the agreed upon meeting place with Mary at 9, and go from there.  Sue didn’t want to drive that distance and seemed really worried about it (though it’s not like we were going cross-country or anything), so Mary said she had no problem driving.  I was ok with this plan because I knew I would get to Sue’s house before 8:30 and apply enough pressure to get her out the door with enough time.  I could totally do that, so I agreed.

Well, my friends, things have a way of changing on your old friend, P-Dawg.  The next day (Tuesday), Sue walks up to me with a printed out receipt of some kind.  “Look, we can take the train,” she said.  “What?” I asked.  “We can pick it up in Chatsworth at 8:30 and get there at 10:53.  Then it’s only a five minute cab ride to the place.  I already bought my ticket, and I checked – it’s all reimbursable.”  Now if you know me, there are several things that immediately make me start to freak out from what she said.  First, it’s a last-minute change of plans, when I’d already settled on doing something.  Second, she’s proposing something I haven’t done in a place I haven’t been and therefore need to accurately find.  And third, her plan would get us there – in theory – right on time instead of my comfort zone of way too early.  “Does Mary want to do this?” I asked.  “I haven’t seen her yet, but she can pick up the train near her the stop before Chatsworth and it will work out.”  “Uh…I don’t know about this.  I think I might just drive.”  “Don’t be silly – it’s easy!” she said.  “Yeah,” I said, “I don’t know.”

We talked to Mary later that day, and to any outsider, I would’ve looked foolish to pass up a nice, relaxing train ride in favor of sitting in traffic alone.  I was about to reluctantly agree when Sue said, “It says to get to the station 15 minutes early.”  “Ok, I’m out,” I said.  “Why?” they both asked.  “Well, I’m going to drop my kids off at school around 8, the station’s about 20 minutes from there, I don’t know where it is, where to park, or where to go and I’d be much more comfortable on my own terms.”  They looked at me like I was an alien.  Mary said, “Take your kids five minutes early. And we can upgrade to Business Class so it’s more comfortable and we can get a four-seater together.”  Sue added, “It’s easy!  I’ve been there many times, and parking is simple.  Plus I’ll be there already so you’ll see me and I can show you exactly where to go.  It’s really easy. And I already made the cab reservation to pick us up and bring us there so we’re all set.”  I weighed everything and reluctantly agreed.  “Just so you guys understand,” I said, “If this were a couple of days from now instead of tomorrow, I’d be doing a test run to make sure I knew exactly where to go.  That’s who you’re dealing with.”  Sue laughed and said once again, “It’s easy!”

The next morning, I was rushing a bit to make sure I left with the kids when I wanted to.  Pleasantly, things went off without a hitch and I was able to leave their school at a comfortable time.  “Get me to the Chatsworth Train Station,” I told Siri, and she pulled it up on the maps program and pointed me in the right direction.  This is me, though, so I also had a printed copy of the directions in hand.  Traffic to the station was mild, so I was almost there at around 8:10.  “Turn left,” my phone told me.  I did, and found that there was nothing but empty dirt lots and menacing guard dogs there.  I was, quite literally, on the wrong side of the tracks.  Slightly nervous, I turned around, swore at my phone, and started back the right way (as the printed directions had instructed).  Mary sent a group text to the two of us saying, “I have a 4 seater table for us on the top deck…see u soon.”  When I was waiting to turn into the right place, I texted Sue said, “Almost there.  See you in a min.”  I pulled into the first parking lot and it was completely full.  “Fuck!” I yelled.  I had to go all the way back to the street to continue on to Lot B.  I was turning in there when my phone buzzed at 8:16. “On my way,” she said.  “On her way?! What happened to her waving to me and showing me where to go?” I wondered somewhat frantically.    Mary wrote again, “Btw the business class car is on the back of the train on your right.”  I found a far away spot in Lot B and hurriedly packed my stuff up – it was 8:21 and I wasn’t feeling super comfortable.  “Ok,” I said to myself with my ticket in hand, “Top deck, near the back.  Forget Sue, I’m getting on.”

There was a train waiting there, and others from the lot were rushing its way.  “Oh good,” I thought, “I’ll have a couple of minutes to find Mary and get situated before we leave.”  Being who I am though, I wanted to double-check to make sure I had the right place.  I stepped onto the train and looked for someone to ask where the stairs to Business Class was.  The car was relatively empty, so I was walking toward the next car when a disembodied voice said, “Now departing, doors are closing.”  I have no video evidence of this, but I think my eyes became the size of dinner plates when I heard that.  I turned and sprinted to the door as it closed, screaming, “No no no!” loudly.  (Here’s the audio file of the event.) There was a “Open Door” button by the door that I started pressing furiously while continuing my string of “No” chanting, but nothing was happening.  I glanced up and saw something to break the glass and considered it for a second before realizing that it was probably too drastic a step.  An older woman was sitting nearby and had witnessed the whole thing.  “Wrong train?” she asked.  Somehow – I know not how – I refrained from punching her in the face.

Here’s what was going through my head (not counting all the Fucks): “I don’t know where this is going or even what direction.  There’s no chance I can get back here in time for the right train.  What if it takes me somewhere and there’s no return trip for hours and I can’t even get back to my car?  If I do get to my car, will I have time to drive to the place still?  FUCKING SUE!”

I texted Mary and Sue: “On the wrong fucking train.  Fuck.  It started.  I’m screwed.”  I found a security guide and explained my predicament while Mary wrote back with an understandable, “What?”  The guy told me that the next stop was Northridge and was looking up to see if my right train would meet up with it somewhere.  I wrote back, “I’m serious.  Have to get off at Northridge.  I’m fucked.  Can I get our train from there?  Can you please see if it stops there somehow?”  A minute later, I wrote again: “A guy here said this one stops in Van Nuys in 8 min and ours might meet there.”  Then again, “I’m suck a fuckup.  You guys will never let me forget this I’m sure.  And rightfully so.”  Mary asked the question I might have in the same situation: “Are u fucking with me?”  At this point, the life-saving security guy assured me that the right train would stop in Van Nuys a few minutes after my wrong one stopped there, so I started to calm down a little.  “No,” I wrote back, “Gonna get off in Van Nuys and meet you there.  See?  I told you I was a moron.”  After a couple more back and forths confirming the new plan, Mary asked a very important question, “Sue where are you??”  A minute later: “Ok well the train is leaving and no Sue.  Great.”  “Fantastic,” I said.  “Sue, you can drive to Van Nuys in time!”  Nothing.  I asked Mary to let me know exactly when her train was pulling up to Van Nuys so I only got on the correct one this time.  When Mary was only a few minutes away from the Van Nuys station, we still hadn’t heard anything from Sue.  Mary said she’d stick her head out to find me and walk me to the right place.  “Sweet.  I’m the idiot in the blue and white striped shirt,” I replied. “It’s an Amtrak.  Blue train,” she said.  “Ok, and what’s a train?” I answered.  That got an “Lol” out of her.

She found me and I got on the train.  It took about an hour for me to get to a normal state of calm, even though everything worked out.  “I think I lost a year of my life from stress this morning,” I told her, and I meant it.  Sue finally called Mary.  She had missed the train but was able to take the Metro Link that came right after it and would meet up with us at Union Station where our train was going to be parked for 15 minutes before the ride to Orange County.  Somehow that worked out too.  When she finally boarded, I said in my best impression of her voice, “It’s easy!  I’ll be there!  I’ll show you where to go!  It’s easy!”  (I repeated that every so often for the following week, and she laughed each time.  Glad she thinks it was funny.)

Naturally, our cab driver was an idiot and the 5 minute drive took 15.  The whole ride, I had people already at the site texting me asking where we were and saying that everyone was waiting for us.  I would rather smack my thumb with a hammer than receive texts like that.  Even thinking about being late is bad enough, but multiple people pointing out that I’m holding them up when it’s out of my control?  That doesn’t sit well at all with me.  I convinced Sue to move up the time that the cab would arrive to take us back to the station.  I said very clearly, “We are not missing that train.  I will leave without you.”  She laughed.  I didn’t. We finally got there (to mock applause), and I told my boss that things hadn’t gone exactly as planned but that I’d fill her in later.  To this day, all she has to do is picture me frantically pushing the “Open Door” button and screaming my string of Nos and she cackles maniacally.  You see, she knows me, and she knows how much more crazed I must have been in that situation than a normal person.  Yes, I’m open with my issues.

To recap: I freaked out about timing, ended up being too early, and got on the train that left one before the right one (with Mary already on it).  Sue missed the right one but got on the one after it.  Our Chatsworth meeting place ended up turning into a Van Nuys and a Union Station meeting place, and I lost a year of my life.  All because Sue didn’t want to drive and I foolishly went along with a plan that seemed to almost make sense.  If there’s a next time, I don’t think anyone will have a problem with me saying, “Ya know, I’m just gonna go by myself.” The good news is that we made our return trip with plenty of time and without incident.  Better yet, Business Class came with a free and 100% necessary glass of wine.

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No comprendo

Well looky here – just a scant two months between posts this time.  I think that’s a good sign.  Today I’d like to talk about a little thing called the SAP option on our remote.  This has now been around for a while, and I’m so used to seeing programs put a little SAP icon at the top of the show that I don’t even notice it anymore.  Up until less than a year ago, though, I’d never pushed the button or tried to make whatever I’m watching turn into Spanish.

Our kids spent their first two years hearing Spanish about as much as English, thanks to their nanny who was at our house five days a week and (per our request) speaking almost exclusively in her native tongue.  Once the kids started school and she was no longer coming over regularly, we wanted them to keep their comprehension levels up.  They actually knew a good amount of Spanish by then, counting just as high as in English, and opting to say some Spanish words over their English counterparts (like estrella and más).  My lovely wife started looking into what it would cost to add a Spanish-language kids’ network to our cable, but I decided to try out the SAP button first.

Lo and behold, the episodes of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” we had on our DVR magically turned into Spanish with just a few clicks of the remote.  In seconds, we could hear a high pitched voice saying, “Ha ha!  Hola, Pluto!”  The kids watched as if it were no different than the English version, and we were pleased with this no-extra-cost way of keeping Spanish in their lives.

There are only two downsides for me.  The first is about my disappearing (or almost completely disappeared) understanding of spoken Spanish.  Back when it was one of my majors in college, I was getting the vast majority of what native speakers were saying, though I always had to strain a little since it was so damn fast.  A short time later, and I found I was getting a good amount – maybe even most – of what was being said, which still made me feel good about my language skills.  But now…well, there are entire sentences that go by uncomprehended, and that bothers me.  Part of it is the speed, another part is the vocabulary (some I lost and some I never knew), and yet another part is simply because of Donald Fucking Duck.  I have trouble enough understanding one word that guy says in English, but in Spanish?  Forget it – I’m batting about .100 when he opens his bill para hablar.

The second downside is about what happens when I or someone else forgets to change it back from SAP.  “Uh, it stays in Spanish?” you might be asking.  Yeah, that would make total sense, but noooooo.  Here’s what kills me about it: many programs do absolutely nothing differently when SAP is on; they remain in their normal English and lead me into a false sense of security.  But then I turn on the Lakers and hear…some unidentifiable Asian language.  I’m pretty sure that it isn’t Japanese, but that’s all I got: play-by-play in a language that is neither English nor Spanish, usually after watching something in English but forgetting that the “turn it into Spanish button” was pushed.

But wait, there’s more!  Let’s say I go to my list of recorded shows and start watching an episode of “Shark Tank.”  I fast forward through the beginning and start watching as the first person enters “the tank.”  If I forget that SAP is on, guess what I hear.  I don’t know what your guess was, but no.  I hear this: “A woman in a burgundy dress walks down the corridor.”  If it’s an episode of “The Office,” I hear: “Dwight walks over to Jim’s desk and kneels down next to him.”  Yes, for some reason, the “turn it into Spanish button” doubles – in just some cases, mind you – as a “tell blind people what they’re not seeing button.”

Here’s the one glaring problem with me being confused about this: SAP isn’t actually a “turn it into Spanish button,” as I’ve just come to learn.  Growing up in Southern California, I’m conditioned to think of Spanish as the automatic second language.  I’ve heard the option said in Spanish (ese ah pey) almost as much as English, in fact, and the letters of SAP are close enough to the beginning of “Spanish” that I never thought twice about it.  However, the always-right Wikipedia says that it actually stands for “Second Audio Program,” while acknowledging that some people think the S is for “Spanish.”  So I guess it makes sense that different programs would have different secondary audio feeds, but…I still don’t understand why they’re not all Spanish.  Look, I want blind people to enjoy “The Office” (though I doubt anyone actually enjoys that show anymore), but aren’t there more Spanish speakers out there that NBC should be going after?  I guess it turns into a numbers game, and hiring Spanish voice talent is much more expensive than one person describing the sights.  Fine, I’ll accept that, even if I think it’s short-sighted (pardon the pun).  But the Lakers…really?  I guarantee there are Spanish announcers doing the game on some radio station, so why not pipe that in instead of a probably-not-Japanese Asian language? I don’t get it.

And now to poke a hole in my own hole-poking: I just looked again at the SAP option on my TV, and actually quite clear.  I have two options to choose from: English and Español.  And yes, the latter is the one with Asian play-by-play and Blindspeak.  Oh well, at least it has the desired effect on our kids’ show…incluyendo eso pinche pato.

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