Rob Pollak: American Hero

Although I’m not usually one to draw attention to my own accomplishments, last night I had a moment so life-defining and heroic, that I had no choice.  I had to tell you about how I single-handedly saved New York with the help of three others.

It was 9:00 pm and almost a foot of snow had piled up on the roads.  For many people, the conditions were treacherous, but I learned how to drive a storm when I lived in the tundra of Central New York.  In Central, NY, it’s not appropriate to even wipe the snow off the front windshield until it has piled up to at least 14 inches.

But in New York City, which Central New Yorkers refer to as “the South,” things are different.  The mayor holds a full press conference at the sight of a little kid with a sno cone.  And if we get three inches (god forbid), schools shut down for a week and Whole Foods sells out of bread and water.  But not English muffins or fizzy water.  Who can afford such lavishness in the face of our own demise?

Last night the roads were bad.  Not “we need to plow” bad, but bad enough that a number of inexperienced snow drivers spun out like crazy and freaked out when they had to go up a hill.  I had a good laugh at these people.

By Rob Pollak By Rob Pollak

At least until I hit the spot where the Bronx River Parkway merges onto the Cross County Parkway.  Things had been moving steadily at 15 miles below the posted speed limit up to that point.  But as I approached the merge, traffic halted.  A slight incline in the road caused a few drivers to freak the fuck out, stop, and then rev their tires as fast as they could while not moving.  This created a doubly bad result:  They didn’t move and they turned the drivable snow into a slush-ice combination.

At first, cars sputtered and then figured it out.  But one dickwad in a van started spinning like crazy.  And then he spun some more and some more until he was basically stopped.

All the while, I was sitting in my toasty car listening to a book on tape. My current selection is Willful Blindness:  Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, a book about, well, exactly what the title says it’s about.  Anyway, right before the insane snow drive, I listened to a chapter discussing the ways people conform to expectations when in a group setting and don’t help others out if a lot of people are around.

With that in mind, I’m sitting there watching these cars literally spinning their wheels (I bet that’s where the term comes from!!), and everyone else is sitting in the car thinking “man, I hope a plow comes.”  But, I was not going to sit around and be willfully blind to accepting that my night was ruined.  I flung open the door and started sprinting past all the cars in front of me.  Five cars to be exact.

Note – it’s hard to sprint in a foot of snow while wearing sneakers.  I almost fell and busted my face/ass.  That’s probably why most people sit in the car.

Anyway, I finally get to the van and start pushing.  Less than a minute later, three other good citizens were by my side pushing the car with me.  If I hadn’t run out there and started pushing, science says that no one would have.  Because we conform to the pressures of society that say it’s embarrassing to get out of the car and go out in the snow.  We may even make the problem worse.  Then everyone will be mad at us.

By rob pollak

Then we pushed three or four more cars up the hill.  Per usual, I was very sweaty.  But I got back in my car and climbed up that hill with no problems of my own.  Thank you Hamilton College for actually teaching me one thing:  how to drive in the snow.

And that’s how I saved America.

Epilogue:  Three of the four cars that I pushed up the hill were in accidents or stuck again on the other side of the hill.  But at that point, I was moving.  So fuck ’em.

 

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Defensive Driving

Thanks to an unfortunate speed limit in Central New York, I have been taking an online defensive driving course.  It is an excruciating experience.  The course is a mandatory six hours, which means that the viewer can’t advance to the next slide until an allotted amount of time passes.  The only explanation for how the time limits were created must be that the person who set them did so to optimize my frustration with the situation.

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For example, the slide titled, “Should I wear a seatbelt?” had a 100 second playback.  The short answer is yes.  Also, the long answer was yes.  When I smashed down on the next slide button, a screen kindly reminded me that I was required to wait 100 seconds before I could advance to the next slide (as required by New York State law).  It also was kind enough to remind me that the time it took me to read that notification would not count towards the time limit.

The worst part of this whole process is that the time I wait for the next slide just fills me with road rage.  And as I learned from a 450 second slide, road rage is bad.  Another problem with the program is that the timing of the slides isn’t usually long enough for me to go and read something else somewhere on the internet.  I’m too nervous about going one second over the time limit and having to sit through extra minutes of the class.  I hate them.

One important item I learned is that AAA no longer recommends 10 and 2 as the ideal hand positions while driving.  9 and 3 or even (gasp) 8 and 4 provide the driver with ideal hand position for safe deployment of the airbags.

On a somewhat related note, I’ve recently been thinking that the speed limit everywhere in the country should be raised by 10-15 MPH.  For as long as I can remember, the speed limit has been the same, but cars have gotten safer and stronger and better in every way.  One would think that we could now safely drive 65 on I-95 (everyone drives 80 anyway).  To make my case even stronger, the defensive driving class told me that the majority of injuries from accidents happen at intersections not on the highway.

Welp, time’s up for the “Headrests” slide, so I guess I’m done here.

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Note – If anyone from DMV or traffic court is reading this, please keep in mind that I was probably hacked.

Ireland blog: the ring of kerry

After Anne won Ireland with her hurling knowledge, we headed towards our next destination, the Dingle Peninsula. But on the way, a number of people and guidebooks, and internets had pointed us to the ring of Kerry as a must see destination while on our trip. Before I get to that, a small confession: Anne and I are not the most studious travelers. We usually buy a guidebook and use it to plan out our trip, but we like to make decisions on the go and explore cities and areas without following the books verbatim. This means, that we often visit somewhere and then afterwards read the guidebook to see if we missed anything. As a result, our vacations involve a decent period of self-loathing when we discover amazing things to do two days after we leave one destination and head to another. Hold on to that thought while (whilst) I describe the ring of Kerry.

About three miles before arriving in Kerry county, anne and I stopped for lunch to figure out what exactly it is. Turns out, it is a road that goes through a number of different towns in county Kerry Ireland. The drive puts Ireland’s natural beauty on display and winds through mountains, oceans, sheep, cows, towns, and merchandise shops. It is epically beautiful. The stunning thing about Ireland is the contrast between the lush green meadows and the searing blue ocean. The land remains largely undeveloped and natural, so the drives from one point to another are as much a destination as they are a journey.

It’s hard to explain how terrifying being the driver on the ring of Kerry can be, but I will try. start by picturing Lombard street in San Francisco. Now, shrink it slightly so that maybe one car and one bicycle can safely fit side by side. Next, picture that on one side of the road is a small rock wall built in 310 BC that provides the only protection from the ocean and on the other side of the road is oncoming traffic, a giant mountain, and a flock of sheep. Oh, and don’t forget that everyone is still driving on the opposite side of the road. Essentially, that is the ring of Kerry. The most harrowing fact is that the speed limit on the road is 100 km/hr. I’m no mathematician, but based on my calculation of how fast the Irish people were driving as they came towards me, it is just shy of 90mph. Those assholes also love tailgating and passing whenever they have an opportunity.

Midway through our drive, just as the skies darkened, the rain started pouring down, and the windows fogged up from the steady stream of sweat dripping down my face, disaster struck. The tour buses started to come back from their day long trip, which prompted the following exchange:

Rob: Jesus this is terrifying.
Anne: I know, right?
Rob: it sort of feels like we are going the wrong direction.
Anne: [nervous laugh]
Rob: are we going the wrong way???????????
Anne: I’m just reading the guidebook now and it says, “it is strongly recommended that you drive the ring of Kerry in an anti-clockwise direction.”

Whoops. As another tour bus zipped by – and by zipped by, I do mean that it forced me to essentially veer the car off a cliff into the ocean – the car became silent, mostly because I was navigating the hairpin turns, anne was in a constant state of terror, and we were both vowing to do a better job establishing a travel plan in the future.

On the brightside, we didn’t follow Anne’s initial pre guidebook plan: “we should bike the ring of Kerry.”