In uncharted waters with audio books

So I’ve been sick of my music and sick of the radio. Tired of everything I listen to during my commute, and even more worn out by the idea of going through my back catalog of CDs looking for something that won’t make me want to crash into a tree.

I have some depressing stuff in there.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the long drive my boyfriend and I made to New York and lamented the fact that, with nothing but time spread out before me, I couldn’t read in the car. I get terribly queasy and headache-y. And everyone was so supportive, chiming in that they have the same issue, but the same comment kept surfacing: Listen to an audio book.

Well, I actually have audio books . . . several of them. And after a brief attempt to listen to Emily Giffin’s Heart Of The Matter years ago, I’d preemptively decided they weren’t for me. The trouble was that I’d put several chapters on my iPod and was trying to listen at work, and . . . well, I was at work. I was doing stuff. Typing emails. Answering phones. Writing things. So of course I didn’t absorb anything. And of course the experience was lukewarm at best. I couldn’t concentrate on the words.

But I’ve been thinking about your comments. And though I didn’t think I spent anywhere near enough time in the car to make listening to an audio book worthwhile, I was wrong.

Heart Of The Matter has taken up residence in my Toyota’s CD player for the past week and let me tell you, friends: it is awesome. When calculating how much time I spend driving weekly, I somehow failed to add in the amount of time I drive to and from seeing my boyfriend (about 40 minutes a day, every other day or so); my time running errands at lunch (at least 20 minutes daily) and my drive to and from work (about 20-25 minutes daily). And that’s just, you know, on a normal day.

I find it soothing, having someone read to me — like I’ve gone back 20 years and am gathered around my second-grade teacher as she recites some of our favorite stories. Listening to a story opens me up for further visualizing what’s happening, too, and paints a surprisingly vivid picture of each scene in my mind.

I no longer cringe and smack my steering wheel when I miss a light or have to take a detour. These unexpected shifts in my driving schedule are an opportunity to squeeze in a few more “pages” of Giffin’s novel, a delightful listen narrated by Cynthia Nixon. As I know each route by heart, having taken these particular roads approximately 11,800 times, I can get lost in the story while still safely reaching my destination. And it is awesome.

I’m more than halfway done with the book and am already looking for how I can get my next fix. At our local library, I paged through the shelves of books on audio and marveled at the new world that’s suddenly opened for me. Even though I have four discs of Heart Of The Matter left, I couldn’t resist walking out with Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.

I’m officially converted.

How I got stuck behind a teen driver and was forced to rehash my own trauma behind the wheel

This morning I got stuck behind the most freaked out and by far the slowest teen driver I’ve ever seen. Of course it’s a law of nature that as I’m running late, a giant red SUV operated by a ghost-white and perspiring 15- or 16-year-old boy would have to crawl past and block me from passing him on our long, long back road en route to my office.

I aged twenty years in the next twenty minutes. As the teen driver — we’ll call  him Billy — continued at a snail’s pace, a line of cars ten deep accumulated behind me. At one point, I literally took my foot off the gas and just coasted while  going through my life goals, prioritizing them and deciding what my next “big move” should be. (So, um, thanks?)

I would have gotten really agitated — three years of commuting to college and driving D.C.’s Beltway daily will do that to a girl — but I could see that the kid was, well, about to have a nervous breakdown. And his sunglasses-wearing mother in the passenger seat just didn’t seem too worried about it.

Billy needs to learn how to drive, and trust me — totally get that. Sometimes it’s not convenient to wait for the roads to clear out before taking the newbie out on the highways. Yep, no problem — get that too. But couldn’t his mom see that her kid was gripping the steering wheel so tight, it darn near disintegrated in his sweating palms? Since I was almost in their backseat, I should have asked her to share her mug of coffee and pass me a section of the morning paper. Lady was just that chill about the whole thing.

If that were my perspiring 16-year-old, I’d have asked him to pull over and let the five thousand cars about to rear-end him go by. And then maybe the people that cut him off wouldn’t have been flipping the poor kid the bird at 8:45 a.m. on an innocent, sunny little Friday.

‘Cause, um? Traumatic. I wanted to grab a piece of paper and scrawl “IT’LL BE OKAY!” in big block letters, then hold it up to my window for baby boy to see.

Driving isn’t easy — especially in the “big city.” I learned how to operate a vehicle with my patient and good-natured father, who only occasionally shouted when I took a turn too tight. (Which was, you know, pretty much every turn.) In my old red 1990 Corolla, affectionately called “The Red Bomb,” Dad and I would cruise the streets of Maryland for hours as I tried to negotiate around SUVs and not get squashed by the locals — most of whom prefer a cruising speed of 85 mph.

I learned how to parallel park in a side lot at my old elementary school (everything comes full circle!) and never needed those skills — ever — until this past fall. Forced to park on a side street in Washington, D.C., I found myself in a cold sweat as I spied the only parking space within a many-block city radius — and I had to get it.

All those afternoons parallel-parking with traffic cones Dad set up came rushing back to me. In the eight years since I’d become a fully-licensed driver, I’d never had to call on these skills. And suddenly? It was all coming down to that one moment. Of course I was meeting a guy — and of course he was standing on the street already, watching me and this humiliating display of my parking skills.

But I got in the spot. After, you know, approximately 378,879,002 turns, but . . . I got in the spot.

Did I hold up traffic? Definitely.

Were people staring at me, including the aforementioned date? Yes.

Might I have gotten flipped the bird a time or two? Probably. But I was too scared and preoccupied to notice.

So actually, Billy? I guess it will be okay, but even functioning drivers get into horrible, horrible predicaments every now and then. I can successfully take turns, make it through traffic lights and am a pretty solid driver overall, sure, but don’t ask me to parallel park an SUV.

So cruise on, little buddy. Cruise on.

Let’s close work two hours early

snow_newspaperI’d heard the rumblings over the past few days that we were going to be getting some snow today, but we hear that a lot in Maryland — and it rarely comes to pass. When I woke up this morning, though, that tiny bubble of excitement began to expand in my chest… until I realized that no, despite the treacherous roads and people who can barely drive when it’s sunny, let alone snowy, I do have to be at work today. My tires spun a mere two or three times, letting me drift slightly over to the shoulder, and my heart was hammering so badly in my chest I almost pulled over. (Pulling over would have been a decent idea, save the fact that everyone else was spinning, too.)

So my ten minute commute to work became a thirty or thirty-five minute commute, but I did make it — and I’ll live to lay out pages another day! Pulled my wipers straight out, locked up my car and waded through the few inches of snow in the parking lot to get to the office. I sit all day in a windowless room, so I’ll pop out in a bit to see what’s going on. I think the worst of the snow was coming through in the morning, and we should be clearing up by the afternoon. I definitely hope so — girl’s gotta get some lunch!

I took a few photos this morning but haven’t uploaded them yet. I’ll leave you with the image above — my newspaper in a fresh snow almost exactly one year ago today! I felt far more excited then than I do now. It’s sad when you reach an age that the sight of snowflakes produces little but trepidation, worry and anxiety over… being able to continue with our everyday lives, uninterrupted. Ah, to be young again — the public schools in my county are closing two hours early! If we had a “half day” at work… now that would be exciting.