When driving drives you crazy

For the first four years of my professional life in DC, I was a public transit commuter. In fact, I commuted just about every way possible that doesn’t involve driving: bus, metro, rideshare, bike, and on foot. With my new job has come a host of new things, including a new commuting style. I now join the disgruntled millions on the clogged roadways of the Beltway area on my way to and from work each day. That adds up to a lot of hours spent behind the wheel, a lot of uncomfortably close brushes with accidents, a lot of talk radio, and a lot (read: a LOT) of pent-up rage.

Granted, DC is ranked as having the nation’s 3rd-worst traffic, and there are polls out that say we have the very worst drivers, so there’s plenty to be angry about.

Still, I’m beginning to think I’m a little bit too angry. Do I have to refer through gritted teeth to every individual on the road who chooses to poke along in the left lane at an exact 7.3 miles per hour below the speed limit as a “moron”? Probably not.

Is every speed demon who whizzes by in the right lane after tailgating me in the center for at least three-quarters of a mile when I’m already going over the speed limit and there’s a left lane for speeders and there are TRAFFIC CAMERAS FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE actually a — ah– “jerk”? Probably. It’s a debatable point.

Do I have to pound my steering wheel and cry to the heavens in exasperation every time the person in front of me decides to slam on his brakes and turn left without using a signal? Perhaps there’s a more peaceful way to tackle the situation.

funny-dog-pictures-dog-has-road-rageWhat it boils down to is charity. I realized this one morning about two weeks ago when it occurred to me as I turned the last corner to my office that I hadn’t encountered a single fellow driver whom I had not called some name or other. “Bozo,” “moron,” “idiot,” and “jerk-face” are my personal favorite epithets. Drivers earn such titles for driving too fast, driving too slow, tailgating, being tailgated, leaning on the horn the moment the light turns green, sitting through a green light to text, turning left from the travel lane without using a turn signal, swerving in their travel lane, running lights, pulling illegal U-turns, stopping suddenly to parallel park and then taking inordinate amounts of time to do so, slowing down or stopping in on-ramps to highways, pretending not to see you or racing ahead to cut you off when you try to change lanes in traffic, or any other host of obnoxious things drivers do when they simply don’t give a damn about the other people on the road.

Ok, I reasoned, so other people are jerks and they can’t drive. (In fairness I have to admit: I’ll bet a lot of the time look like a total jerk who can’t drive.) Still, at the end of the day, what other people do on the road really shouldn’t be affecting my attitude the way it does. Certainly I should not be reduced to fits of pale, quaking fury every time I hit the area roadways.

What can be done about it? I’ve settled on a few life choices that will (I hope) decrease my blood pressure, save my lower gums from extinction, and help me be a kinder driver.

1) Start off trips with a traveling prayer. While I’ve always said a traveling prayer for protection when I drive, I’ve begun to tack on a plea for calmness and charity as well. It’s amazing how well that works.

2) Leave the house on time. It is not anyone else’s responsibility to drive faster because I left late. Nor is there a vast DC-area-wide conspiracy against me that’s turning all the lights red as soon as I get to them. At least I’m telling myself there’s not.

3) Focus on the positive. For instance, it’s not a whole lot of effort to give a wave of thanks when another driver yields so I can merge.

4) Be positive. It’s that popular slogan: Be the good you want to see in the world. I can yield, slow down, put away the phone, and for heaven’s sake, just calm down.

5) Recognize that there are jerks in the world, and their jerkiness is exacerbated about 8 million times when they get behind the wheel of a car. Oh well, they can continue to be jerks. As my dad always used to tell me when I got bent out of shape about the injustice of the world: You can’t let the bastards get ya down. Their unkindness does not give me license to be anything less than Christian. (In fact, if that whole “Love your enemies” extends to loving bullying drivers, I guess they really require me to be more Christian.)

No one owns the road, quite simply. I might as well drive like I’m sharing it with the people around me.




Money, money, money

As debates rage on Capitol Hill over the best way to address our looming fiscal cliff (or slope, depending on your side–though don’t get too smug. Either way, the trajectory is DOWN), it seems like an appropriate time to write a quick post on personal finances.

I think it was Plato who said, “The polis is the soul of man writ large.” Financial trouble of this magnitude at the macro level should indicate some pretty serious problems at the micro level. How many of us are living beyond our means, or piling up credit card debt and planning to “take care of it” later? Especially for us ladies, how often do we give in to the impulse buy? Among all young adults, how much do we spend each week on eating out, drinks with friends, or entertainment? It’s fine to get after the government for waste, inefficiency, borrowing, and any other bad money habits. Those of us who were born after 1980 should be especially concerned at Congress’ continued fallback option of “kicking the can down the road.” Still, especially for those of us who support limited government, we better be sure we’re governing ourselves wisely.

All that said, it’s time for a confession: I don’t have a great personal strategy for managing finances. Those of you who were hoping to read a how-to, I’m sorry–you’re looking at the wrong post. I know what I make each month and I do a pretty good job of never spending beyond that, I have a savings account and a 401K, but I don’t have a step-by-step plan, and my various attempts at creating one over the past few years have gone nowhere. I’m pretty convinced that both Mint.com and Quicken have it in for me, in fact.

So this post is meant to open up a discussion on good methods and tools, and I want to hear back from you on how, if you’re willing to share. What are your money management tricks and tips, my fellow single young adults? What do you see as absolutely essential to being a good steward of your money now, and how do you prepare for the future? For those of you who may be climbing out of debt now, what are some of your tips to paying down debt while getting by from day to day and building up savings? Do you have a particular resource or tool you’ve found helpful?

In my experience, most budgeting articles, especially those written for young people (usually, sigh, young women) turn out to be catalogues of what NOT to do, closing with very unhelpful links back to the writer’s book, available for purchase on Amazon. In short, I’ve never really gotten down to business and made a real budget because everyone wants to take my money in order to tell me how not to spend it.

Still, as Congress continues to squabble over the nation’s current mess, and with Christmas shopping season now upon us, it’s becoming more and more apparent  that there really is no time like the present. So please: Chime in!

Some homesick ponderings

To my faithful readers: Sorry for the long patches of silence these days. Whenever I start down the dangerous road of soul-searching via internet post, I have to step back and reassess. I can air my grievances and my personal insecurities to close friends and family. This blog is supposed to be about something bigger than yours truly, even if seen only through her rather limited lens. Thus I took a couple weeks’ hiatus to gain some new perspective, regroup, and dive back in. Thank goodness for a holiday in there, too. I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving–I definitely did!

I had to remind myself of that fact all morning, whenever I found myself inclined to gripe about Monday and coming back to the brutal reality of full inboxes, deadlines, disgruntled writers, and misplaced modifiers. As Bing Crosby crooned in “Holiday Inn”: I’ve got plenty to be thankful for.

Still, with the holiday season there always comes a twinge of homesickness. I don’t just miss my family, I miss that old, taken-for-granted, cozy sense of belonging to a place and to the people there. After four years of college and four more years of moving from one house and set of roommates to the next, I’m used to belonging nowhere, regardless of where I hang my clothes and arrange my books. I just don’t think about it much. Thanksgiving and Christmas remind me that I belong nowhere–not always the most comfortable thing to be reminded of.

My dad once told me that the concept of “home” changed for him once he met my mother. I’ve noted the same change in my friends who have gotten married. They are settled, as the popular phraseology goes. I would go so far as to say, they are at rest. For us singles, though, “home” carries different connotations. It can mean the place where my parents live, the place I grew up, the house or condo I own now, my current rental, or some odd mixture of all of the above, depending on context. But I know many of us feel a real sense of homelessness. We are not settled.

In a way we like it. Maybe I’m speaking only for myself, but it’s nice not to feel tied down to one place. It’s nice to hold onto three or four or five dreams of “my future” at once without having to commit to any of them (yet) or admit the disappointment of losing any of them. It’s nice to know when the plumbing goes or the door hinges creak that it’s someone else’s problem. It’s nice to have only myself to worry about. I marvel at those singles who own their homes or adopt pets. Isn’t that an awful lot of responsibility?

Still, the Advent season does set the old heart to aching for some kind of permanence. Maybe it’s the ritual of the season, from the familiar Advent candles at church to the tacky decorations in stores, the same old dusty carols, the cards, the cookies, the smells and sounds, the way we pull out the same decorations year after year and run through the same motions of preparation, but the excitement never dies away. There’s a lasting quality to this season that provides some peace in the midst of the restlessness that seems to define the single life. And nestled in with that peace is a longing that’s tinged with the sweetness of hope–a longing for home.

This is where I love the starkness of being single. We’re less hampered or distracted by more immediate realities, and it’s so good to get a clear view of our ultimate end. No matter who we might meet and settle down with eventually, ultimately we should always have this longing. After all, our home is not here.

He is the king of glory

I didn’t stay up through the vote count last night. By 11:00 I had a pretty clear idea of which way it was all going to go, and figured a good night’s sleep would be a better plan for facing the first day of Obama: Part II than staying awake just to see the worst confirmed. Still, my heart sank into my shoes when I gritted my teeth and checked the news this morning. No matter how prepared you think you are, as long as the bad news hasn’t “officially” come you can still hope, a little.

So I went to Mass and adoration and I kept thinking: Why? Why have we been allowed to endure a leader this awful, and why are we getting strapped with four more years of his destructive policies? There are all sorts of answers, of course, the most prominent among them being that a nation will get the leaders it deserves. (If that doesn’t make you shudder…) Still, there was some comfort, too. At the end of the day, who is our ruler? No president, no government, no flawed system can remove us from the hope that lies in knowing we have a perfect King. So I leave you with Psalm 24, which has been running through my head all morning. Beautiful to think that even in the sorrow of an earthly letdown, we can be triumphant and joyful, knowing that really, all is under control. The battle has been won, and our true king is glorious.

May God continue to bless America.

Psalm 24

 The earth is the LORD’s and the fulness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein;
[2] for he has founded it upon the seas,
and established it upon the rivers.
[3] Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
[4] He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false,
and does not swear deceitfully.
[5] He will receive blessing from the LORD,
and vindication from the God of his salvation.
[6] Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
[7] Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
[8] Who is the King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
[9] Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
[10] Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!

It’s a Monday

You know you have great friends when you can have a hypoglycemia-induced meltdown all over them on Friday night, and they still agree to hang out with you not just on Saturday night, but Sunday afternoon, too.

You know who you are. Y’all are the best.


And tomorrow is the long-awaited Election Day. On the one hand I just want it all to be over, and on the other I’m actually nervous about how things might turn out. So I’m going to be jumping on this bandwagon, and I hope many of you will consider joining me. If nothing else, this election year has really hammered home for me the absolute necessity of prayer in our public activity. We can do nothing without grace. Regardless of the outcome tomorrow, we need to pray that God will bless our nation. I hope you’ll join me.