Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hey, NBC! Some Suggestions for Fixing the Olympics.

How cool are the Olympic Games? I'll go ahead and answer that, but in terms my kids would use.

They're wicked hella filthy sick.

Which means really cool.

For ninety-nine percent of the participants, it's the one opportunity every one-thousand-four-hundred-and-sixty days to step from the shadows of obscurity and bask in the fuzzy warmth of a life's goal realized.

Most of these competitions aren't even televised during non-Olympic years, other than maybe sandwiched between Corn Confidential and How to Paint Your Fence the Same Color as That Thing Was Before on Wichita Public Access Television.

Yet before we're allowed to sink our incisors into some piping hot amateur boxing or beach volleyball, we're obligated to endure a five-hour Super Bowl halftime show to kick-off the fortnight.

I try, I really do. I want to like the opening ceremonies, and it is fun to watch nations like Cape Verde and Comoros and Lesotho prance down the track on equal footing with the superpowers.

But by and large, the Olympic opening ceremonies bore me to distraction. Remember that show with the purple dinosaur—Barney? Yeah, unfortunately, the lip-syncing and dancing and Manson family-esque facial expressions remind me of turning on Barney and ten thousand of his closest pals. It's a small world, after all.

Once the sports get going, though, nothing beats settling into the old barcalounger after a nice evening repast, firing up the black and white Zenith and tuning into events which transpired ten hours previously.

Seriously, I'm not bothered by the delay as much as some people. It's not like I'm going to get up at four in the morning or miss work during the day to catch the live feed. The networks have experienced this issue since Al Gore screwed the final tubes into his internet machine.

I am, however, here to offer some unsolicited advice to the National Broadcasting Corporation. These folks have taken a lot of heat over inadvertent spoilers, sappy cameos, and provincial slant to their coverage. If they could simply initiate a few informal chats with the International Olympic Committee to tweak a few of the events, I think the Olympics could gain unprecedented popularity and a television ratings windfall. Tape delay be damned.

Here are my suggestions, NBC:

1) Add a new event called team javelin—one thrower, one catcher.

2) Eliminate the shot put from the decathlon. In its place between the high jump and pole vault, each contestant must eat four sausage calzones.

3) Team diving will be modified slightly. The divers must exchange swimsuits before resurfacing.

4) Sorry, but China just isn't evil enough. The Games will hold one "Retro Day," where the Soviet Union and East Germany will return to compete. Performance enhancing drugs will be not only be allowed, they'll be encouraged. Due to the newfound hormonal equality, men's and women's swimming will be merged into "swimming."

5) Each men's 4 x 100 meter relay team must include one fifty-year-old male who's at least thirty pounds overweight. These men will run the anchor leg.

NBC will also alter a bit of its production. Bob Costas can never again refer to John McEnroe as "Johnny Mac," because no one has ever called him that and it's freaking stupid. Also, when a reporter asks a still-dripping swimmer who just finished fourth, "What were you trying to accomplish out there?" the reporter is entitled to an exclusive and immediate swim in the Olympic pool.

Oh, yeah, one more thing.

Seacrest? Out.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It Was Quite a Blow Out.

"What's that sound?" he asked, trying not to incite panic.

As he accelerated past the tractor trailer, he'd felt a slight shimmying in the normally smoothly spinning front axle of his dented blue minivan.

Ever the confident and highly attuned navigator, his wife had incorrectly assessed this particular set of external input. "I think that's just the truck next to us."

His twelve-year-old daughter possessed an even finer aptitude for the presence of discomfort and potential peril. Embedded in her backseat audio visual command center, she removed her headphones and pressed "pause," hoping to only briefly suspend her viewing of Have You Heard About the Morgans?

"Dad, is everything okay?"

"Yep. Don't worry."

He watched the truck recede into the distance, yet the sound intensified. The shimmying had rapidly transformed into a thud-thudding. "Nope. That's us." Tentacles of acrid rubber vapor slithered through the vents as a faint essence became an overwhelming stench. Blue smoke rooster-tailed in the rear view mirror, closer than it appeared according to the stenciled fine print.

"We've got a blow-out." Thank God he didn't say "Houston" first.

The navigator broke her silence with a reassessment and some sound advice. "Tim, pull over."

He guided the wobbling van to the right shoulder of Interstate 5. With the options minimal, the lame vehicle settled two feet from a guard rail on the right and approximately four feet from the white fog line on the left. Speeding automobiles shook the van with each passing.

"Dad, I'm scared."

It was the ending to a seven-day extended family vacation on the Oregon coast. Kite flying and bumper cars and boogie boarding and barbecuing and laughing and playing games and eating and drinking way too much had baked itself into the tastiest, most golden brown holiday casserole in recent memory.

Grandma and Grandpa came. So cute.

An uncle who, finally been released from prison after having served an eight-month term for importing counterfeit Depends from Uzbekistan, couldn't wait to sit next to a kids' picnic table in his socks and drink two beers at once.

Cousins, standing in front of a quick ocean portrait sketched by your humble author with a broken crayon he'd found under some pot holders, got a chance to reconnect.

But it wasn't all fun and frivolity. Here's a heart-wrenching image of the younger brother staging an intervention with his sister as their father looks on. As much as the family adores her, when that many people occupy one house with limited resources, a compulsive bathroom tissue eater cannot be tolerated.

This is the last photograph taken of her before she was driven to a treatment facility in Bend.

But now, the afterglow of the seven-day frolic had evaporated in the constant doppler din of the passing traffic. He quickly assessed his options: 

He could unload all baggage from the cargo area, remove two seats and pry out that spare tire-ish thing that wasn't much bigger than the plate at Azteca that held the deluxe enchilada combo. Then, if he were able to change the front driver's side tire without getting his head JFK'd by a texting seventeen-year-old, he might be able to drive to the nearest tire store, wherever that was.
He could hop over the guardrail, leaving his wife and daughter in harm's way while he walked into the adjacent town to summon a tow truck.

Opting for the second alternative, he leapt over the guardrail, dropping six feet to the road below. Landing awkwardly, he nearly fell and stumbled off the half-sidewalk which wasn't designed for pedestrian traffic. He crossed the street and scanned the main thoroughfare through the town of Kalama, Washington, population two thousand, three hundred forty-six.

Two full service gas stations had been converted into mini-marts—no luck there. He ducked into a hardware store after canvassing the entire downtown area, and informed the shopkeeper of his predicament. Due to his own negligence and ill-placed hubris, his cell phone battery was dead, so the kindly woman found a towing company in a small directory and loaned him the shop's phone. He called the number, willing himself to stay calm while thoughts of his imperiled family members consciously electrified his voice, and was assured that a truck was on its way. After profusely thanking the woman behind the counter, he anxiously strode back to his hobbled vehicle and its inhabitants.

The van sat on the elevated interstate on the opposite side of the six-foot retaining wall, an obstacle he hadn't anticipated scaling upon his return. Built at an outward angle to prevent climbing, he flailed like a hapless boot camp trainee on the filthy concrete. The wall extended in both directions as far as he could see, so he persevered. Each attempt proved less fruitful than the one prior.

The sound of an approaching car engine forced his head to jerk backwards, and a small green pickup stopped behind him, its window already rolled down. "Go ahead and hop onto the bed. Then you can step over," the smiling Samaritan exclaimed.

"I must have looked ridiculous trying to get over this thing, huh?"

The driver smiled.

Hopping into the bed, he easily stepped over the rail and back onto the freeway shoulder. Mutual relief and anxiety betrayed the facial expressions of all members upon their reunion, and they huddled in the van with only the hazard lights and four feet separating them from ton after ton of rapidly moving metal and glass.

Like an oasis to a thirst-crazed desert crawler, each approaching vehicle resembled a tow truck, only to morph into an SUV or RV or F-150 hauling an Airstream. At length, the ongoing mirage materialized into a flatbedded vehicle of deliverance, and he couldn't resist contemplating the polarized emotions people experience at the sight of a tow truck.

The truck's operator moved with stealth and speed, wasting no motion at the expense of further time spent in a high-risk arena. He ushered the mother and daughter into the safety of the truck's cab while the father rode in the injured van, a mere figurehead in the driver's seat. The hydraulic ramp leveled off and the truck pulled onto the interstate. 

He exhaled deeply from his perch, feeling slightly popelike while gazing over the top of the rig at the oncoming traffic. 

Ninety minutes later, the van would find its legs again, thanks to the Les Schwab in Longview, a couple of kind people in Kalama, and around four hundred additional vacation dollars.

The family returned safely, nine hours after having departed their vacation paradise. 

He entered his house, said hello to the cat and plugged in his cellphone.

Monday, July 23, 2012

I'll Never Forget You, J.P. Patches.

This one hurts.

Throughout our travels, we’re advised and reminded of how brief our lives are, how our time in this world is nothing more than a multi-colored vapor. We hear it, we try to absorb it, but it usually seems a little flat, like a two-dimensional theory in some dog-eared textbook.

It’s something to which we pay lip service—“You know, from now on, I’m going to thank the universe every morning that I’ve been blessed with another day”—because somewhere in our DNA lies that crazy notion that we and everyone we love are gloriously immortal.

And then, with profound predictability, we’re rocked again. A grandparent dies, a mother or a cousin, a friend or a co-worker leaves us and we’re jarred yet again into accepting our finite engagement in the material world.

It hurts in a fashion that is simultaneously uncharted and familiar.

Chris Wedes died Sunday. Please, even if you’re not both between the ages of forty and sixty and were raised in the Pacific Northwest, bear me out because this man epitomized so much about the potential goodness of the human spirit.

Known to most as J.P. Patches, Mr. Wedes relocated from Minneapolis to Seattle in 1958 to launch a children’s show on Seattle’s local CBS affiliate, KIRO. A bygone era where such heavyweights as Howdy Doody, Bozo the Clown and Kaptain Kangaroo commanded kids’ eyeball time, J.P. also faced the worthy rivalry of local stalwarts like Wanda Wanda, Brakeman Bill and Captain Puget.

Not even close. Patches ruled.

And forget about shows like Blues Clues or Dora the Explorer. Even Sesame Street wasn’t yet a gleam in Jim Hensen’s eye when J.P. hit the airwaves in vivid black and white during the Eisenhower administration.

At the height of the show’s popularity during the early 1970s, it actually aired twice daily: once between seven and nine in the morning and again at 3:30 for a quick thirty-minute fix of my favorite clown.

Yes, he was a clown. I know what you’re thinking—creepy dude with stupid gags and something to hide from his past, like finding out that his mom was his cousin and his dad liked getting to know people whose canoes ran aground in Appalachia.

He wore the make-up, but that’s where any skeezy factor ended. J.P. never insulted the intelligence of even his youngest viewers, and he somehow found a way to make my mom giggle from the other room in response to one of his “this one’s for your parents” one-liners. In between screenings of Warner Brothers cartoons, he and his cohort, Bob Newman, improvised the funniest, most irreverent two hours an aspiring toddler comedian could imagine. Wedes actually admitted in his biography, J.P. Patches, Northwest Icon, that the two men dreamed up each day’s show while having their make-up applied in the mornings.

Wedes’ work with Seattle’s Children’s Hospital under the auspices of J.P. Patches was legendary, as were his tireless community appearances on evenings and weekends. Any kid in the Puget Sound region could count on a J.P. showing at his or her local I.G.A. or Albertson’s grocery store at least once a year.

And oh, great Jehovah, was little, four-year-old Tim beside himself at the prospect of seeing Mr. Patches face-to-face at the Auburn Thriftway one summer day in 1967. I recall standing in line inside the store, which snaked down one of the aisles. My mom, sister and I found ourselves situated somewhere between the peanut butter and mustard when down marched J.P. Patches himself, shaking parent’s hands and ruffling children’s hair.

I was so electrified as he approached that I darted out of line and hugged his leg, gaining a perspective of his floppy right clown shoe that I’ve not attained before or since. He placed his white gloved hands on my shoulders to stabilize me, looked down and said, “Are you here with your mom to pick up some decaf?”

My sister and I entered every contest the man pitched, and finally, in kindergarten, I hit paydirt. A fairy godmother had been appearing on his show during the holiday season, so the show promoted a “Draw the Fairy Godmother Contest.”

Already tipped off that I had won in the six-year-old category, my parents packed our entire family into a ’65 Chevy wagon for a trip to a Seattle department store on a Saturday morning, as my mom spun it, to “just see who won. It’ll be fun then we’ll have lunch somewhere.” We joined the crowd of other families anxious to see the famous clown and his sultry consort, the Fairy Godmother.

I was so stunned when J.P. announced my name as the winner that my mom had to raise my hand for me. I should have known that something was up when I was ordered to wear my fancy yellow turtleneck somewhere on a Saturday morning.

A month from turning fifty as I write this, it was an experience so exhilarating that I place it up there right behind my wedding and the birth of my daughters. Wow, typing this out, I can still feel it.

J.P.’s show ended in 1981. Rising production costs and shifting demographic preferences rendered the format outdated, giving way to cable television and national broadcasts. But by this time, Chris Wedes had built so much goodwill, so many rich memories for three generations of “Patches Pals,” that his popularity held for the next thirty years, and he maintained his tireless schedule of public appearances and philanthropy efforts into his eighties.

My last personal encounter with J.P. Patches wasn’t too personal, but hey, at least it was funny. Approaching him at one of his public functions, my sister requested that he sign a photo for me.

“Well, why isn’t he here to ask for it himself?” he asked her.

“He’s at work right now, “ she replied.

“Where does he work?”

“Oh, um, he works at Nordstrom.”

J.P. jotted something on the card, handed it to my sister and thanked her for stopping by. She made a beeline for my office, excited to present me with this unexpected treasure.

She handed me the card and I scanned the black and white smiling photo of J.P. with the hand-written words:

“To Tim. I shop at the Gap. All the best, J.P.”

Rest in peace, Julius Pierpont Patches.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ever Been a Third Wheel?

Ah, yes, the old "third wheel."

Remember back, whether in junior high or high school, when you really had a crush on someone? Sure you do.

Maybe it was that guy in Earth Science who grinned seductively at you every morning before asking for a number two pencil and a piece of paper.

Or perhaps it was that enticing young vixen who sat behind you in American History. Remember how adorable she was, the way she thought all those presidents were named after high schools?

And you would devise ways to spend a little quality time with these folks outside of school. Whether it was at a Friday night football game or a field trip to the manhole cover museum, you dreamed and schemed about finding a chunky enough block of time to conquer their hearts.

You might have approached her at the local stadium and remarked, "Hey, Wow. How are you? I didn't see you sitting here, where I had to use an industrial lubricant to squeeze past this row of people. Hey, listen, they gave me an extra popcorn at the snack bar. Something about clearing out the machine to look for a possum larva. Anyway, why don't you take this and I'll just sit down right here, kay?"

Nestling in beside her, you'd try material she understood because anything complicated might derail the whole thing, like Watergate jokes or something. If you were lucky, she'd touch your arm during a gurgling spasm of unbridled laughter. Or not.

Usually at this point, the girl who'd been sitting to her other side, someone named Stacie or Colleen, had reached a critical juncture in ceding her BFF's affections to you. She might remark something like, "Hey, look, Julie. There's Jennifer down by the trampled football sign. She looks really good because she just got her braces off and she doesn't even have to wear bungee cords. Let's go talk to her."

Foiled again. Your soul mate would abruptly rise from her wooden bleacher, brush some stray kernels off her denim-painted thighs and flee with her evil consort, leaving nothing behind but the dissolving vapor of Love's Baby Soft and amputated hope.

Today marks the birthday of the poster child of third wheels. Born July 17, 1947 in London, England, Camilla Parker Bowles achieved the lofty title of Camilla, patron saint of ointment flies.

Who could have predicted that this woman would have proven herself capable of driving a cricket wicket between England's future king and his beautiful princess bride? Who could have imagined the strife and misery visited upon such a fairytale coupling by a man who'd fantasized about being reincarnated as one of Bowles' tampons and living in her trousers?

I may skip dinner tonight.

Have other notorious third wheels rolled down the grassy hills of our cultural landscape throughout history? Maybe not to the degree of Lady Thorn-in-the-Side, but absolutely. Yoko Ono famously clung to John Lennon like bathtub caulking, arguably inciting the breakup of the greatest band ever. Something tells me that if she'd chosen Ringo instead, the others would have welcomed her to the band and stuck her in the corner with a huge spliff and a set of pan flutes.

How about Ralph Nader?—did he screw up things for Al Gore or what? People who voted for Nader and were irritated about George W.'s winning are the same types who let their pet chimps be designated drivers and get mad when they smash into the neighbor's Airstream.

Furthermore, word of advice for furniture-moving third wheels—If there's someone on each end of the couch, don't grab the middle. It doesn't help at all. In fact, it throws everything out of balance and really pisses off the other two people. Go back inside and grab that box of hangers.

Third wheels aren't always people, either. For instance, why does gas have to come in three octane levels—87, 89 and 92? Has anyone ever used the 89? I'll bet every time the truck arrives to refill the tanks, the 89 tank is still full from last time. Probably still full from 1977.

Then there's the third wheel of nuts and legumes—the Brazil. No one ever buys a container of Brazil nuts. They're too big and woody to taste good, and they're always left abandoned at the bottom of the glass holiday dish after their attractive cousins the cashew and almond have been whisked away to the gastrointestinal ball.

Lastly, and I know this may chap people, but Canada is a third wheel. Yeah, I'm talking about the whole country. It's kind of like England and it's sort of like the United States, but it's neither at the same time. Come on, Canada, if you're going to own as many guns as we do, you need to start killing people with them like we do or get rid of them, like England has. Act obnoxious and entitled like we do or uptight, yet naughty, like the Brits.

Damn. That reminds me Camilla, which reminds me of Charles, which reminds me of setting up house in a high-waisted British cheeky monkey fantasy land.

Happy birthday, Ms. Bowles. Keep that guy under control.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mitt Romney is: a) stupid b) naive c) insane d) all of the above

You've got to hand it to Mitt Romney.

Acting under no duress or even the influence of a strong frappuccino, Governor Bushwood stood before the NAACP on Tuesday and chose to lambaste our first African American president.

Hey, Mitt, Charles Bronson called and wants his Death Wish back.

In my jaundiced view, this type of move from the presumptive Republican candidate emanates from one of two schools of thought:

1) The man has testes the size of recess balls, which explains the high-waisted airiness of his stone-washed mom jeans.

2) He's performed an act of stupidity not equaled since 2005, when Laura Bush was out for the weekend getting her hair refinished, and George decided to try a frozen pizza. Man, did it taste bad all frozen.

Romney wasn't even afforded an opportunity to choke out the rest of his sentence about nixing Obamacare before he was hosed down with a thick stream of boos and heckles. Nonetheless, he stood and looked blankly, freezing into that erect posture and odd half-grin to which we've grown accustomed.

Look, at least most of us can empathize with the situation the guy thrust himself into. Whether or not we agree that it was ill-advised for Mittens to court America's black vote on the merits of his platform, we've all entered the hornets' nest at one time or another.

While vacationing with my family in a cozy, coastal Oregon town a few years ago, I opted to wear my "Not My President" t-shirt, showing George W's monkey mug, front and center. One guy, who'd apparently just procured a delicious double scoop of rocky road on a waffle cone, looked at his young son and remarked, "Look, Mikey. That guy's a communist."

First of all, if I'd known that Cannon Beach, Oregon was a hotbed for conservative thought, I may have worn my "Go ahead and keep huggin' that tree while I get my chainsaw" tank top.

And secondly, who uses the words "communist" anymore? It's as dated as the terms "negro," "housewife" and "She's not here right now. Can I take a message?"

After the catcalls subsided, Romney persisted. He appealed to his audience to put race aside and consider which candidate offers the best prospects for putting Americans back to work. Let's break that statement down a bit.

Romney's ascendancy in church leadership positions coincided with his rising stock in the business realm. He was promoted to vice president at Bain Capital in 1978, a year after he'd been appointed counselor to the president of the Boston Stake of the Mormon church.

1978 was also the year LDS elders finally allowed African Americans  admission into its lay priesthood, a privilege which had previously been denied. A younger faction of the church had been pushing for such reforms during the student activism of the 1960s and 70s, but Romney didn't partake in the protests.

Fast forward to Tuesday's NAACP speech. Governor Romney claimed, to paraphrase, "I'm your guy. I've always been your guy. You just didn't know it."

Has he? Back in the 1970s, back when he held lofty positions in his spiritual community, he stood silent in the face of discrimination. Do you think he acted differently at his day job as a private equity consultant?

Did Mitt Romney look out for the best interests of African Americans on an economic level while blocking their full membership in his church? If so, his convictions are as sociopathically compartmentalized as someone who sells rabbits for pets or food.

And now he expects black America to believe that he knows what's best for them.

What an insult.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Where It's Christmas Every Day. God Help Us.

Another one in the books.

Hopefully, I'm not boring you to distraction with tales of family vacations. I've expounded on so many—Vegas, Disneyworld, San Diego—yet each trip drips with the newness of a thawing icicle teetering over an exposed cornea.

Yep, these trips continue to evolve.

Each excursion we embark upon with our kids drains a few more grains from the vacation hourglass. Every "cargument" (I've begun abbreviating this term since we've engaged in so many) marks one less time we'll yell at each other over who gets the last Red Vine.

Who knows? Before long, I may be pulling those pre-frozen Ensure-sickles out of the Playmate to stay relevant while my grandchildren dig into their double brownie fudge waffle cones.

Papa needs his calcium.

This time, we paired up. Since my wife and I, after calculating that our kids' average getting-along time amounted to the length of our driveway, allowed one BFF per daughter. Sure, it cost a little more, but anything which prevents my ears from absorbing the E above double C from the backseat is worth at least four figures.

When the girls were little, family vacations were a lot like hosting Thanksgiving. The main differences were that the preparation was harder, we slept less and there were two turkeys. Ultimately, the little darlings outgrow the need for constant stops, snacks and that pink medicine, and thus their amusement quest turned outward.

That's why they were allowed to bring friends on this one.

Leavenworth, Washington was a struggling mill town prior to 1962, when Project Life (Leavenworth Improvement For Everyone) revitalized the city's economy by transforming it into a mock Bavarian village. Nestled on the eastern slope of the Cascade range, this quaint hamlet is all German, all the time.

Hankerin' for some polka tunes? Check. Burstin' for some Bavarian baked buns? Check. Lookin' for more sausage selection than the Downtown Seattle YMCA? Done and done.

And corporate branding be damned, you're in Leavenfreakingworth now. If you want to set up shoppe here, you'd better strap on some leder or consider yourself hosened. Here's what Safeway looks like:

 And Wells Fargo:

Kind of reminds me of Dick Cheney in a Barney costume.

Most of Leavenworth's shops peddle either ice cream, candy or Christmas goods. Is it just me, or is there something inherently evil about walking into a place called "Kris Kringl" on a ninety-degree July day?

But let me tell you, this Kringl joint would even seem sinister on December 24. You see, it's filled with open-mouthed trolls, all shapes and sizes.

I think they're supposed to appear smiling, but they look more like the death sneers of third day possum road kill. Trolls in baseball uniforms, trolls riding unicorns, trolls wearing watering cans on their heads like drunken uncles at a toddler's birthday party.

And then, there are Santas—Santa looking casual in a nice sweater, Santa crushing grapes in bare feet—even "Level Three Santa" barely peeking out from behind a Christmas tree.

Okay, maybe he's just holding it. Well, you know what I mean.

I'd have to brand our Leavenworth trip a success, due in part to the substantial kitsch factor of this Alpine Christmas town which is neither in the Alps nor celebrating Christmas. And when your biggest concern is where you'll eat dinner or which flavor of truffle sounds the best, all the rest is gravy...

...ladled thickly over some curry wurst.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I Do Apologize.

"I'm sorry, sir. I do apologize. Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do."

Have you ever heard those words or a similar combination of them? Let me rephrase that—how many times have you heard those words?

A hundred? Maybe a couple of hundred? Since my brittle carcass is rapidly approaching fifty years on Mother Earth (that didn't come out right), I'm estimating that I've received an earful of that telephone bromide at least ninety-three times, possibly ninety-four.

Let me back up a little before turning the key in the old Rant Mobile. Customer service is a tough job. There.

Yesterday, morning, as is the case every workday morn, I climbed aboard one of King County's sparkly motor coaches for a leisurely ride into downtown Seattle. As usual, I greeted the driver and swiped my bus card over the sensor box without breaking stride toward the seat I've sat in for so many consecutive days, even Rain Main would admire my compulsion.

This time, however, no magical combination of lights and beeps signaled my acceptance into the bus as a fully paying customer. I stopped and tried the card again.

Nothing. My cottony mouth signaled that this exercise must normally produce some sort of Pavlovian salivation, so I tried again. The card may as well have been a Taco Del Mar punch card with only seven more burritos until a free one, because it worked with equal futility.

The driver, the same dude who's seen me swipe the card successfully for the past six months, acted as if I were trying to gain access to a room full of porn stars using a cantaloupe rind as I.D.

He glared at me. "Yood bettahdr tek car of dat cadddrd," he barked in an accent which may have been native to Romania or Texas, I wasn't sure.

Yeah, no shit, I didn't say.

Evidently, the microchip inside the card is remotely loaded on a monthly basis. I'm sure someday humans will receive these types of chips implanted into them while swimming in the womb and therefore be able to withdraw funds at an ATM or post to Twitter before you can say "meconium," but for now, their plastic composition subjects them to the wear and tear of digital manipulation. 

The driver nonetheless allowed me into his realm and I skulked to my seat in disgrace. I felt dirty and ashamed for this moment of non-bootstrap-picking-up abuse of the system.

Upon arriving at my work cubicle, my first order of business was to secure a new pass, so I called the customer service line printed on the back of the card. Thank God I haven't owned a rotary phone for twenty-seven years, because I wasn't able to actually speak with a customer service representative prior to punching 1, 2, 2, 1, 3 on my touch tone keypad.

And let me tell you, just because you represent customer service, doesn't necessarily mean you provide it. I suppose it's similar to the Alabama Crimson Tide being represented by an elephant. Crazy English language.

A woman answered my call and the conversation promptly assumed a rhythm. I'd ask her a question, she'd reply with, "One moment," peck away at her keyboard for several seconds and state, "I do apologize for the delay."

The first couple of times, I replied with, "That's okay," but after the fifth occurrence, I fought the urge to blurt out, "Stop freaking apologizing for something you can't control. It's like saying you're sorry about those chickens that fell out of the truck on a freeway outside Minneapolis this morning. Plus, stop inserting the word 'do" in front of apologize. I'm not saying you don't, okay?"

Can you tell that my irritation had now formed a crunchy, golden-brown crust?

"Sir, I do apologize for the wait. We will issue you a new bus card in five to seven business days. We do require a five-dollar replacement fee." There was that stupid 'do' word again.

"Hang on a second." I struggled to maintain my composure after fifteen minutes of frustration. "Five to seven business days? Does that mean you'll mail it then or I'll receive it then?"

"Sir, I don't know the answer. May I refer you to our web site?"

"No!" At this point, I began realizing that I'd been sustaining a single kegel contraction throughout the phone call. I relaxed, beginning at my large intestine and working downward and spoke more slowly. "This pass costs ninety dollars a month. Will I be reimbursed for the amount of time it takes to get a new one? Because that'll cost me about twenty-five dollars."

"Please hold."

"No!" Too late. The same looping Barry Manilow song played as when I initiated the call, seemingly hours ago—I Write the Songs.

"Sir, I do ap..."

"I know, I know. What did you find out?"

"Sir, unfortunately, you will have to pay for your own bus rides until your new pass arrives. I do apologize."

"Seriously? Okay, that's ridiculous."

"Sir, I do apologize. Is there anything else I can help you wi...?"

Oops, I hung up. I do apologize.