The Roundabout

The first time I ever saw a roundabout was when I was riding my road bike in Ireland, streaking into the town of Cork. All of a sudden I found myself in this circular juggernaut, riding the “wrong way” on the left hand side of the road as per Irish road rules, and battling cars coming from all directions. Somehow I found my way through and it spat me out the other side where I had to stop and take a mental breather.

It is my personal opinion that roundabouts are a cruel Halloween joke foisted on the public to cause strain and stress in an already volatile driving situation. Somehow engineers think that these roadway puzzles are helpful in relieving traffic situations but in my time on the road since Cork, I have seen nothing but potential mayhem ensue. Three of them in a row in Glens Falls, N.Y. For what purpose? One right in the middle of the main drag in Kings Beach, Nevada. Costing the taxpayers millions of unnecessary dollars. Then there is the infamous one that I navigated this past weekend in Westfield, N.J. for my nephew’s wedding. Driving through that circular death trap is nothing short of harrowing. New Jersey drivers are aggressive to begin with and when you couple that with a roundabout situation where they come at you from all directions, the white knuckles come out on the steering wheel, the language deteriorates, and you hang on for dear life. Here comes one racing in hot from the left…………..HORN……….incoming from the right…….no quarter at all……..the guy gives you the bird…………Hang on, the guy on the left is still coming hard…………make it to the third exit…………HORN………….another friggin HORN……Whew…………I made it!!!!!

Whenever I make it past Easton, Pa on my way to visit my sister, it is game on. I tell Molly that she and her fellow Garden State drivers are not good enough to drive that fast and cross four lanes without even looking. No wonder there are 21 car pileups on Interstate 78 headed east in New Jersey. I find myself uptight when visiting my sister because there are too many people over there and the drivers will cut you off without blinking an eye. I leave room between me and the car in front and in New Jersey, that is a license for 5 cars to squeeze in front, barely missing my front bumper. As my co-worker Jenni MacDonald says, ” Pat, turn signals are a sign of weakness.” She drives in Seattle and LA. Enough said.

Fortunately, I only had to drive the demonic roundabout in Westfield once this weekend and as I left on Sunday morning making my way back to the ‘burg, I felt the relief in my shoulders and my demeanor getting more calm as the miles went by. I tend to be a conservative driver much to the consternation of my family. My son Jack always correlates my conversation with the speed of the vehicle. He says, ” Dad, as you make your conversational points, your foot gets farther and farther from the accelerator and you become dangerous.” Whatever!

As I move on in life, the stress created in places like New Jersey is less appealing. Don’t get me wrong, I always like to see my sister and her family and there are nice things to appreciate in Jersey. But the drivers are nuts. Western Pennsylvania is miles from the mayhem of the east coast. I have many ways to commute to my workplace and I always choose the road less traveled. My route is non-stressful and bucolic in a way, especially this time of year. I appreciate the back roads draped in the changing canopy around me.

As I calmly navigate the back roads to work, sometimes with the SPA channel on Sirius XM gently soothing me on the way,(I know, I am a dorc), I think about how relieved I am not to live and work on the east coast where I would fight the dragons of the roadways,choking traffic, and face the evil roundabouts that troll for drivers like me. The devil himself lives in the center of those circular tempests and delights in frightening the uninitiated. No Halloween horror movie could be better scripted that the PA. driver in the middle of the Westfield roundabout. So my advice is, drive safely, heads up for the maniacs, and steer clear of roundabouts if at all possible. Thanks for reading.

Singing with the Ladies

Coming at you a little early this week. Things to do, places to see.

I remember my first interest in music on the radio, stereo, etc. was when I first drove my mom’s old 1964 Buick Special convertible to high school and I had KQV AM Radio blasting, along with WAMO and Porky Chedwick, the platter pushing Papa. The Pork played a lot of Motown and Atlantic Record hits and I was hooked on driving to music.

Fast forward and I was in college and first became enamored with the female folk and rock singers of the time. Joni Mitchell was interesting to me with my deeply buried rebel side. ” They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot” and ” Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now”, appealed to me as did her haunting voice and chords that no one else could possibly re-create on a guitar. Joni and the LA Express were cool and I played her records along with Linda Ronstadt – ” when will I be loved?” That one went rocking out the window with the KLH speakers. Grace Slick, Janis and Big Brother, were other female rockers who held my attention. joni-mitchelllinda-ronstadt-580

Moving along with my life, I found myself in Cambridge, Mass. post college graduation, visiting my future brother in law. He was a student at B.U and we went to a little venue that specialized in local talent on stage. Sitting there drinking a beer, a cool looking lady comes out with her cowboy boots and silver cockroach killers on the boot tips. She wore jeans and a neat blouse and when she bent over her Fender Stratocaster and slipped on the little glass bottle on her left finger, I knew we were in for something special. Her flaming shock of red hair swayed to the blues riffs and I knew I had found my new female singer attraction. Bonnie Raitt played a lot of venues in Boston and Philly at the time and she was taking off in the music world and I was a fan. I bought all of her tapes and subsequent CDs. bonnieraittnickoftime

Love had not found me yet, and I had a period of time driving my car to work and to ski areas where I felt sorry for myself and comforted myself in the melancholy tunes of Karla Bonoff. Driving along dark lonely roads, I felt like she was singing directly to me, the poor soul- no girlfriend and nothing in sight. A cactus in the desert, as I referred to myself. The old tune” The Water is Wide” left me shattered along with ” Someone to lay down beside me.” But things started to pick up and eventually I found the love of my life with my Janet. 012_karlabonoff

I spent a lot of time in the car and still do. My percussion skills on the steering wheel, aka timbalis, go well with my bass drum gas pedal. Now mind you, I don’t endanger myself but the truck drivers laugh when they look down on me and see me rockin’ with the ladies on the radio in my Jeep.

Janet and I found a new female recording artist when we went to an outdoor concert at Hartwood Acres here in Pittsburgh, and first saw bluegrass sensation Allison Krauss and Union Station. I had always liked bluegrass although the genre was lost on my bride. But sitting up front in the cool evening of late summer, she was enthralled with Allison’s voice and song selection and soon we had all the CDs and I played them relentlessly on the road tapping the steering wheel and swinging and swaying my way down the turnpike. alisonjpg-8733181b71368ffa

So why the fascination with female singers? I can tell you it is not anything sexual, but rather somehow, a woman singing is really beautiful to me. It had been that way since I was a little child and when I first heard stereo recordings of some of the world’s best female singers, I was hooked. Opera singers, folk singers, rock singers, they all had that quality of voice that appealed to me and although I rock out in the car to The Dead, The New Riders, The Eagles, The Stones, and on and on at ear splitting decibels, I find that most of the time, I am listening to the soothing sounds of female folk singers and soft rockers.

I am open to new artists and listening to Pandora the other day, I was taken by a singer who passed away in 1996. Eva Cassidy had a wonderful voice and her renditions of blues favorites are really well done. Imagine that I had not heard of her until now?maxresdefault She actually only gained notoriety after her death and it is a shame that she is gone. Her rendition of ” What a Wonderful World” and ” Over the Rainbow” left me speechless when I first heard them. Please take the time and listen to her and see if you are taken the same way that I was. Really….listen to this. https://youtu.be/2rd8VktT8xY

I have listened to a lot of music over the years, and when you put as much time in the car as I have, you gain an appreciation for music and lyrics. I am constantly searching for new artists but still play the old tunes. I sing with the ladies on the road, in the shower, and anywhere my travels take me. The truckers till laugh. Thanks for reading.

The Ambulance

Posting a little early this week to usher in the Holidays. I wanted to tell you about another automobile and the passengers who made it special. 73-buick-estate-wagon-dv_09_gc_01

My mother was a fabulous cook. She loved to entertain. She got off to a rough start with my paternal grandfather John H McCloskey Sr. when he and my grandmother came early to dinner one day.It was in the first year of my mom and dad’s marriage. Flustered, my mom hurried as best as she could and after the grace, when my grandfather dug in, he remarked,” Carol, I have seen chickens hit on the road that were done better than this.” My mom was devastated but redeemed herself over the years with her entertaining and cooking for my demanding relatives. Enter the “ambulance.”

img_1203

My mom had a habit of inviting all of the in-laws and the out-laws to our house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. When they became too old to drive themselves, I became the chauffeur with my sister in tow and we went and picked them all up in the Buick station wagon. Now my relatives were not shy about taking a “nip” or two before dinner and at their advancing age, sometimes it hit the fan. My mothers maiden aunts, Mamie and Lee Reynolds would chug the cocktails and begin the long, slow slide under the table to be set upright, back in their chairs by yours truly. They had a habit of looking for their eyeglasses during this pre-catatonic state which were neatly perched on the top of their heads. My paternal grandfather had a habit of talking in a loud voice which he thought was whispering. ” How is your drink mother?”, he said to my grandmother. When she said it was ok, he remarked, ” Kind of watered down if you ask me.” He liked a strong belt and I became an expert at plowing them with high test Manhattans. img_1205

The dinners over the years were fabulous and the rides home were stuff of legend. Molly and I would pour Mamie and Lee onto the couch back on Rankin Avenue and begin the extra routing to the North Side and Bellevue with whomever was a passenger at the time. My dad’s aunt Ann would insult her sister in law ( my paternal grandmother), and the donneybrook became vocal in the ambulance.

Soon the time came when the ambulance became the delivery vehicle because the old folks were too feeble to come out to the house any more. Molly and I would have a station wagon full of turkey dinners complete with all the trimmings and deliver them all day to the relatives, stopping briefly to converse with them and make them the obligatory Manahattans in their homes. My mother cooked for days in order to provide multiple dinners for Thanksgiving because she didn’t want anyone to be alone especially the in-laws, and the out-laws.

As I think back about my elderly relatives, I have many smiles because they truly were characters. When you age, your world tends to shrink and survival mode kicks in. It was amusing to see the view of the world from their perspective which was all about them. I was truly blessed to have the experience of driving them,being with them, and enjoying the spectacle that was the Holidays. I loved being with the old folks and was particularly close to my maternal grandmother and grandfather, Mary and John Reynolds. img_1206

The “ambulance” finally gave up the ghost one year and the deliveries dwindled as the old folks passed on to their eternal rewards. But, when I think of those days of huge meals at Pineview Driveimg_1199 and the subsequent deliveries of copious amounts of food in the old station wagon, I smile and want the tradition to continue. My wife Janet loves to cook and we are having some elderly friends of my mother in law’s over for dinner this Thanksgiving. I am looking forward to it because it reminds me of traditions that must continue in this country. Take care of the relatives, help to feed those who are not as fortunate by way of a donation, or volunteering. And pass on the importance of family to the younger generation who look to us for example. Enjoy the Holidays and thanks for reading.

White Line Fever

“Turn signals are a sign of weakness”
– Jenni Beigh MacDonald

This famous quote by one of my esteemed colleagues tells it all for a seasoned big city driver. I tend to be conservative when it comes to the roadways in spite of the fact that I participate in some higher risk sports. However, behind the wheel of an automobile, I tend to be very careful. I am a right lane hugger in most cities. Even though I have driven in most of the major cities in this country many times, I tend to rely on the I-Phone directions and conservatively ride the right lane. img_1137

Let’s start with the east coast. Boston- forget about it. Definitely the country’s most aggressive drivers. Storrow Drive is like the Twilight Zone. Moving to the NYC Metro areas and New Jersey- my knuckles start to get white by gripping the steering wheel as I arrive in the vicinity of the Garden State. I tell my sister, who lives in New Jersey, that they are not good enough to drive that fast. No wonder there are 26 car pileups on 76 East. I leave three car spaces between me and the guy in front of me. But in NYC or NJ, those drivers wedge their way in front of me like I left the space for them? This leaves 2 inches of space between cars and if anyone hits the brakes, big pileup. img_1134 The L.I.E- fuggheddabaddit.

Atlanta- they drive like it is NASCAR. Weaving in and out like their hero Dale Earnhart and leaving me helpless in the slow lane. Plus you have the transplants- New Yorkers pretending to be from Atlanta. Chicago- way too much traffic and construction. You get worn out just driving around. Bumper to bumper and construction everywhere. Denver in the winter on I-70 is either a parking lot or a blinding snow storm right in front of the Eisenhower Tunnel. One time last year- it was a white out and as I sat there, the heater brought in fumes from the cars in front of me relative to the new laws in Colorado. Hey- traffic? Light one up for the team. img_1136

Then we move to LA. Tons of traffic and no regard for the speed limit whatsoever. 6 lanes of traffic on either side of the highway and a half hour to Laguna Beach becomes an hour and a half before 10:00 am after 3:00 PM. If you want to see something nice, you have to pay the price.San Francisco- I am terrified of the Bay Bridge and either I talk myself over the hump to Oakland, or I drive 19 miles to the south to take the more civil San Mateo Bridge. I find that the older I get the more acrophobic and claustrophobic I become as I try to keep it between the white lines on those amazingly high bridges and guide my way in the right lane of a tunnel praying for the other end to come and not to bounce off the walls. Ridiculous.

I do have some shortcomings as a driver. My wife and son claim that the more I talk,the slower I drive. It drives them crazy but I make my point when showing them sites of interest along the way. I engage in a conversation and the foot in perfect harmony backs away from the accelerator.

It is a good thing I have four wheel drive because I tend to drive even more conservatively in the winter. I will venture out of the comfort zone to pass a stuck driver on a hill or venture over the snow hump between lanes but again, tend to drive slowly in the right lane and let the crazies fly by me. I see them later stuck in the berms or sideways in the road, and I always point out the folly of their way to my family as they raise their eyes in ridicule.

My friend Norm from Chicago will not let me drive. He gets too frustrated but I hit the imaginary brake frantically when he drives as he looks at me over the top of his glasses, explaining something to me in a rain storm driving 90 MPH on the I-55. Scary!!!

So, you probably would not relish a road trip with me because it may take longer to get to the destination. However, I have a good safety record and you could probably sleep with me at the wheel and feel ok. Jenni, Norm, and others-I would sleep with one eye open. My opinion- drive safely and arrive alive. Thanks for reading.