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Did you say something?

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I was unlocking the doors of my studio this morning, about the time another morning intermodal train was pushing through our small little town on its way west. This morning’s engineer was being liberal with his horn, which is fine with school starting soon and young drivers on the road. The only lights in the entire town are in fact, those of the train crossing. Anything in addition to that to help make sure drivers stay alert is welcome.

But then the thought crossed my mind, and I couldn’t believe it. I have been out of the chaos of Northern Virginia fro two months as of today. The tallest building I see now on a daily basis is the Old Mill on the next block. Its kind of nice to see so much blue sky now. But that wasn’t the real shock that came to mind.

I am no longer subject to the deafening noises of the city. No sirens, no taxis, no aggressive drivers honking at each other. I have even been able to enjoy conversations outside without the strain of yelling, as I walk down the street. I fact, tonight as I locked up, I could hear folks happily greeting each other at the end of the block at the community center. I haven’t even heard a siren from an emergency vehicle since I left Virginia. I have no doubt the next time I hear one it will probably makes me jump sky high.

The last couple of months that I worked in DC, I would leave my office and head for the train station, headphones in. Not only did this assist, at least a little, to deter the beggars from following me, but it muffled the noise. Heck, even if I didn’t turn the ipod on, I enjoyed the headphones being in for the muffled noise affect.

I always assumed, but now I know for sure. I don’t miss those deafening sounds of the city at all. It’s nice to hear everything the person I am talking to outside has to say. I actually enjoy talking with people now. It’s been years since I could do that without having to lip read. It’s almost as if folks flock to the city so they can use the noise level to politely ignore the people around them on a regular basis. Wouldn’t be surprised at all….

Go ahead…. Admit it. I can’t read your lips from here!

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Entitlement

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I never cease to be amazed at how people have forgotten one of the most simplest of things…how to cross the street. I haven’t been in kindergarten for about 35 years, so who knows, maybe this is one lesson no longer taught.

Last week, while waiting to cross at one of the most active intersections in Washington DC, I watched a young lady, not only cross against the walk light, do so at a time where a Metro bus, full of passengers, had to slam on the brakes to not hit her even though the bus had the green light to proceed. She didn’t wave at the bus apologetically, but continued on her way. Seriously people?!

Sadly enough I watch dozens of individuals daily, walk thru intersections and haphazardly across streets as if the rest of the traffic agrees with how important they are, and simply give way. Sometimes not even looking up, much less right or left, before walking into a street.

Where did this influx of apparent entitlement spawn from? I am exposed to the daily dose of gutter gas of the metropolitan storm drains as the next person. After over four years of my work life being centered in this city, I still understand when it is my turn as a pedestrian to walk, and when it’s not. That right… Sometimes it’s NOT my turn. Imagine that! Here is a shock. I can accept that!

Maybe not everyone understands what a white stick figure in a walk stance and red hand signal mean. Maybe its only because I am a visual person by nature that I can figure it out. The crosswalk pictures were transitioned in over the last several years, just to remove the risk of people not being able to read “walk” and ” don’t walk”. Guess all of that money to change millions of crosswalks was a waste of money, and being literate wasn’t the issue at all with pedestrians getting hit by cars. Some pedestrians simply had to learn that the rest of the world didn’t agree with their level of entitlement.

This is war… Fashion vs Function

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My patience with shoes is running thin. Ironically just as thin as most shoe soles seem to be now a days. I constantly  seek out thin-boot-soleshoes to protect my feet from the terrain conditions I find myself in daily while commuting in and around Washington DC. But due to my job I need my shoes to work well with the “suit look”. I refuse to buy shoes simply to accessorize a “look” that I will have on for 10-12 hours a day. Shoes serve a purpose by the function they perform. At least they are supposed to, and they used to.  They protect your feet from the environment and to keep your spine aligned while walking and standing avoiding skeletal issues later in life( which I learned the hard way).  The image to the left, is a new boot, not cheap by any  means, that has such a thin sole, I feel every environmental element as I walk as if I were barefoot.

Call me old fashioned. It wouldn’t be the first time I was called that this week. But I am getting pretty sick and tired from spendingboot-sole increasing amounts of income for basic leather pumps and shoes to wear daily in an office environment and go minimally well with every suit in my closet.  I am noticing that more and more often, even new shoes, have so little sole, I can feel the grout lines in tile even as I walk through the break room. I can feel the grates on the balls of my feet as I walk across the steam vent grates in the sidewalks.  I shouldn’t feel those little bars! I paid for shoes! I paid for function! I continue to get ripped off! I pay enough to get a fair amount of sole in the box attached to the leather top! Where did real shoes with decent design and quality components go?? With all of this retail world that surrounds me, it has to exist somewhere!!!!!! The photo to the right shows just how thick a good sole should be to FUNCTION.

Shoe stores have also changed over the last several years while we have all been busy with life. General shoe stores that contain quality shoes and assortments of them are rare now. I recently found myself in a position of needing a pair of women’s boots to be able to go on an all day photo shoot in the mountains.   There were no real boots in site. Everything in the women’s section was Fashion only! Not even a pair of running shoes was to be seen.  And the women’s section was nearly 85% of the store! I found myself in the men’s section in search of any work boot they had available in a small enough size to fit me. And the sales staff could not assist. They knew very little beyond the price tag about such a boot. So many specialty stores exist now, that it could take an entire day to go pick up a quality pair of tennis shoes, evening pumps, and hiking boots. Three stores would be required, and in Northern Virginia, that could be an all day trek through traffic. Who has time for THAT?!

boots-in-town

Yesterday I rebelled. I am wore a pair of BOOTS into DC. Sure, to the untrained eye, they may look like fashion. I wouldn’t pay this much for a fashion! This is the type of boot, that once I start to have issues with the sole, in about five to ten years of routine wear( designers take note) , I can simply take them down to the local saddlery… And get a new sole put on! Take that fashion mega center! I didn’t feel a single brick in the sidewalk or steel grate as I walk across them on my commute! Yesterday… I rebelled  against  the dominance of being judged by my fashion in that superficial zip code… I wore real boots! My feet were spoiled with shoes that provided function and they didn’t hurt at all by the time I got home !!!!

If only I could find a way, for a woman’s business suit to work well with a pair of Timberland hiking boots. My commute wouldn’t be nearly as awful, as it wouldn’t create the physical pain. Hmmmm, I may just try that next week, just to see if anyone I work with would actually be brave enough to confront me on my dress style for the day.

Yep, I see me doing that, just for the entertainment and comfort factors…

A vitamin for public

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Tis the time of year again where seasonal changes have allergy suffers on edge. Unfortunately this is also the time of year for colds and flu to run rampant. Not only is it challenging to differentiate between the initial symptoms of any of these three ailments, while suffering thru the first few days with these symptoms, most people continue to go thru their daily routines. Including working, commuting, and grocery shopping.

In a metropolitan area, we are simply held hostage in closed areas like subways and commuter train cars for hours a day. I have found myself surrounded by hacking throats, sniffling noses, and sporadic sneezes from those in my vicinity just in the last week. I have learned in the last three years of having this commute, that Vitamin C just isn’t enough to combat the ills that I am subjected to when having to risk my health by being exposed to literally thousands of other commuters daily. It’s not just my personal issue of people standing to close to me that has me on edge daily, but at this time of year, I struggle to bite my tongue when wanting to ask someone boarding after me, to either move away, or not breathe around me. There is just no way to politely ask that, even in a place as rude as a big city like DC.

I wish we could find an effective vitamin for protecting us from others germs and illnesses in confined public air spaces. Or confine people with runny noses and constant sneezes to the back train car. Since that would probably create a public outcry and get lawyers involved for embarrassing others, the subtle solution would be to create a Vitamin P of sorts, that blocks your lungs from inhaling the junk that others are exhaling and spewing.

Of course, by the time the laboratories could figure out Vitamin P, society would have most like disintegrated to the point of it being acceptable to ask folks to move away via social media.

Hiding behind a mask…

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“Son of Man”, Rene Magritte

After nearly four years of my life, and countless hours lost on my commute into and out of Washington DC, I have noticed there is a constant among the thousands of faces that share the same fate… There simply are no faces. 

The morning train cars have their silence broken only by the sounds of the squeaks and clacks of the rail cars rolling over the tracks. The conductor coming thru to check for validated passes is the only voice heard the hour plus trip. Its like living in the movie “Groundhog Day”, only worse. The afternoon train is not much different, except for the sun shining through the windows, and a few high school type clicks of co-workers chatting all the way to their respective stations. But the constant is still there… the silence continues with faceless faces.

 I watch as countless humans board the train and search for a seat, but the faces are expressionless. Much like the faceless businessman in Rene Magritte’s 1964 painting of “Son of Man”. You know there are supposed to be faces, but its almost as if everyone is masked, and just going where they are expected to be. Much like carpenter ants that march in line dutifully executing their activities. I see no change in the humans around me once I transfer to the Metro system. How can so many hundreds of faces, be so blank?!

 Lately this painting has been screaming to me as I sit through my commute daily. Maybe it is just the atmosphere of working in a politically charged environment, and one that is driven by prioritized personal agendas above where I sit. But I have started relating more and more to this painting.   

 I seem to focus one small portion of the eye peaking out from behind the apple that is effectively being used as some type of a mask. I’d like to think that is portraying someone in the position of authority that is constantly trying to assess their leadership capabilities by stepping outside the view they normally are in, to honestly assess their organization and accomplishments from time to time. But reality hits me, and even hurts me from time to time, by advising I am wrong when looking around at real life.  

 From where I sit, I have routinely seen the mask worn as a defensive mechanism. An individual shuffles in line to work just enough to get by, they tow the line, and simply go through the motions of executing the demands that senior management sets out as expectations, however those change as regularly as the individuals in the positions do. I see entire floors of individuals in my building, sitting in their cubes, donning their masks, trying to protect themselves from being scarred from the hostility in the environment stemmed from not “getting the memo” of change on time. For as many hours that an individual will spend their energies working tirelessly to meet today’s demands, there is little doubt that by tomorrow a task will not have been done to meet the expectation that will be in place tomorrow. A mask lets you hide the pain and disappointment from the environment as it piles on to each person’s shoulders. From time to time, you can see someone peaking around the side of their mask, wondering if they are in a safe environment yet. But those moments seem to be short lived. The price for standing out from the crowd is high, so back behind the mask all flee. Everyone rushes to make sure that when they finally get home at the end of the day, they can quickly remove the mask, which hopefully left little permanent scar beneath it, and be surrounded by friends and family who enjoy their company. Once the mask is gone,  they can begin taking the time to forget about where they spent, and even wasted, 8 hours or more hours of their life. And the cycle will continue tomorrow, as it has for years. There is a price to being thick skinned, earned from years of thinking a mask wasn’t necessary.

 I have also seen the mask used by individuals hiding behind their position, no matter how temporary that mask is, and pursuing their personal agendas to please their selfish professional drive. This does occur frequently in our stress driven world, but is so prevalent in this area of the country it is simply overwhelming. Dominance of self-serving personality traits seem to surround us from individuals that skillfully hide behind their mask. Ethics and values are easily compromised by those that hide behind their mask, peeking around only to see if anyone has caught on yet. They drain organizations of positive energy, and stay only until they confirm there is no more that they can selfishly acquire at the expense of those around them.

 I don’t necessarily believe in either of these, as I strive to perform to the best of my abilities daily. I have been forever scarred by countless individuals climbing their way to the top of their self-defined career ladders at the cost of all in their path. I have learned the importance of keeping that mask on for a while when meeting someone new. Since working in DC, I have repeatedly failed to find an organization that isn’t driven by personal agendas at the top, and self-serving mask wearers down the chain.

I think it is time to find a different zip code for my next career, life is too short to not be “ me” and be“real” every minute of the day. I am a real person with a real personality that is tired of being surrounded by masks.

My next meal…

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Yesterday afternoon I was listening to the radio as I ran my various errands. I was shocked as the traffic report was prefaced with the statement, that since it was getting close to dinner time, all the listeners needed to be aware of traffic issues, to assist with convenient selections for dinner based on avoiding current traffic jams. I was glued to the radio, listening for an additional caveat or two, “if tonight is date night for you and your spouse”, or “if your family is celebrating something special”… But those phrases never came. The radio host, literally left it at, dinnertime has come around again, get to your car and beat the traffic to your next meal.

I guess I am the increasing minority in the city, as eating out is not that routine of a practice for me. I prefer meals that are cooked in my own kitchen with the ingredients that I personally selected. Even the daunting effort to be able to pack and carrier an extra bag on my commute, ensures that I have a few snacks at my fingertips during the day, and that my mid day meal, is brought from home. In the last three years, I have eaten lunch out at a local restaurant six times. Each time has been full of stress, walking two to three blocks away, trying to beat the crowds by rushing out of the office at just the right time and then standing in line for up to twenty minutes. And for what? Every time I have been rewarded with a meal of very little flavor, tons of filler ingredients, and a token amount of protein, all for entirely more money than the cost of end product being sold. “Its convenient” my co-workers boast.  I have yet to buy into that train of thought. My time is worth money as well. It’s very convenient to walk 50 feet to the break room, throw my lunch dish in the microwave for a minute, and return to my desk.

There have been times lately, due to the stress of end of fiscal year, and the looming elections, that working for the Government has not been a great environment to spend time in. And that environment has been more physically draining than in years past. But regardless of how bed ridden I may be on a Saturday recuperating spent energies from the week, somehow I still find a way to get in to the kitchen on a Sunday, and pull together a week’s worth of meals out of the kitchen. All because I value the time spent, and convenience of being self sufficient with my meals, even while commuting. There are a few people on the train, that even comment jokingly about my lunch bag, on top of my backpack and purse that I am routinely with on the commute. It just seems like too much to carry o them.  Each time,  I respond that bag is simply my lunch, I never get over the shock on their faces, and their response of “I wish I would bring mine”. After three years, they never have. Its worth the extra few moments in the morning to pack up and run out the door. I guess to some, its not worth the added time.

I just can’t buy the train of thought that we need to get behind the wheel and “go to” our next meal, each time another one comes around.  Getting behind the wheel to go anywhere in Northern Virginia, and its overcrowded roadways, does absolutely nothing for my appetite. In fact, even short trips to local stores is regularly packed with drivers pulling in front of me with inches to spare between vehicles, and cars running through red lights in order to not have to wait for green to come around again. I would rather not be exposed to guaranteed frustration, just to retrieve my next meal.

Occasionally, eating out does have its place in this hectic world. But my value is being squarely placed on my next meal coming from my own kitchen…  and the next… and the next…

It is now safe… To cross the street

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I have noticed repeatedly over the last three and a half years of working in Washington DC, that I am the only person I have seen that waits at the cross walk of an intersection for the signal that says it is safe to cross the street.

Yes, you read that right. And for anyone who has visited this big city, that is a scary reality, but it is just that.  Especially the way cars jolt around stopped buses and taxis, much less drivers blowing off steam from breaking out of gridlock and rushing to get thru the next light, which is rarely more than another fifty feet away, before it turns red on them. Jaywalking isn’t the only issue. Many individuals will walk in the designated crosswalk as they are painted on the ground, just not when the signal, much less moving traffic, allows.

Sure, the are some areas that have clearly marked pedestrian crossings, and neon green signs advising that it is a local law, to stop for pedestrians in those cross walks. But it’s only as good as its enforcement. And more than once, I have personally had close calls with vehicles refusing to stop.  Maybe I put more value and appreciation on being able to keep my two legs and two arms.

I just don’t like to play chicken, by putting my life up against a two ton weapon on wheels that is moving. Even my old boss would laugh at me when we would walk between buildings after meetings, and I would firmly stop at an intersection waiting for the pedestrian  signal to change. I was frequently called “country girl” and I am darn proud of it.

I guess folks have gotten irritated lately with pedestrians being hit by cars, and it not being the drivers fault, but the fault of the pedestrian. Last week, there were multiple times that I saw law enforcement out at major intersections of DC, to monitor, and stop pedestrians from crossing until the light said pedestrians could walk. I watched a gentleman, well into his fifties, be reminded by a cop, that he didn’t have the light to walk across the street yet. This entire correction by law enforcement was right in front of me, I just couldn’t believe my eyes and ears.

So what have these adults taught their kids? And their grand kids? How many generations have learned this level of irresponsibility and carelessness? This week I am sad to say, the “crossing guards” for the adult population of DC, is no longer present, and again I stand alone waiting for the light to say its safe for pedestrians to cross. I guess it was too good to be true that law enforcement of pedestrian  infractions, would be long term.

If you ever come and visit DC… I will apparently continue to stick out like a neon sign at midnight. I will continue to be the ONE waiting for the crosswalk before I cross the street. I am not ashamed of what I learned in kindergarten and find value in practicing it to this day.