No Wonder I’m So Cranky

Traffic Jam

Dear Will:

Forgive me if I sound a little cranky. I AM cranky.

I work in Playa Vista, a newish, high-end enclave on the west side of Los Angeles. Look it up. All kinds of ad agencies, tech giants, and other trend-setting companies have set up shop there, leading some to refer to it as Silicon Beach. Sounds pretty cool, right? And it would be . . . if not for the fact that Playa Vista sits 47 horrifying miles from my home in Orange County.

What that means from a practical standpoint is that unless you come and go in the middle of the night, when you live in Orange and work in Playa Vista you can pretty much count on a miserable commute. I wish I were exaggerating when I tell you that the final 15 miles of my drive can take 60 minutes or more. I’m not. Surely, you say to yourself, it would be faster to take another route; but trust me when I say this: I’ve taken them all, and none of them work. Ever. It’s simple math: Too many vehicles + not enough road = 405.

Allow me to illustrate: Put all 53 members of the Los Angeles Rams in a standard-issue hot tub. With their pads on. Now swim across. For two hours. That’s what my commute is like.

My original solution to all of this was to purchase a used Honda Civic that runs on compressed natural gas. I knew a CNG Civic would be an inconvenience, but its ultra-low emissions would qualify me to drive in the carpool lane, shaving valuable time and more-valuable aggravation in the process. With white HOV stickers slapped on the Civic’s haunches, I could (sort of) forget about my drive, and just settle into a good podcast. (Or three.)

But on January 1, 2019, the California Legislature canceled the magical decals that gave me and 200,000 other low-emission drivers carpool-lane privileges. And so for two months now I’ve been diverted into the scrum with the rest of you. I have been defrocked, demoted, cast out of the court and tossed into the courtyard. It has been awful—awfuller even—now that 200,000 carpool-lane refugees have made traffic in all of the other lanes worse than ever. One morning it took me two-and-a-half hours to reach the office. That’s 150 butt-numbing, soul-sapping minutes. One way.

So yes, I’m cranky. I now sit to the right of the express lane, watching longingly as car after car cruises past in the left-hand lane, new stickers gleaming. Except for that one car there. The one with all of the people in it. What is that? An actual carpool? Who do those people think they are?

Imagine that. A high-occupancy vehicle in the High Occupancy Vehicle lane. I’m reminded that the point of an HOV lane is to have fewer cars on the road, not to provide first-class passage to anti-social elitists like me. Somehow we have allowed a lane designed to create community to be a reward for those aspiring to increased isolation. How did that happen?

And so I sit here, feeling put upon while knowing that, except for maybe 199,999 other similarly put-upon Californians, no one is going to feel sorry for me. Fair enough. Because even as I make that observation, I must also confess—a bit sheepishly—that I have never seriously considered earning access to the HOV lane by adding a little HO to my V. Here I am, a guy who goes to church on Sundays and talks about gathering together, bearing one another’s burdens, being of one heart and one mind. Community. Family. You and us—not me. And yet I have chosen to spend three or four hours each day in my own little isolation pod, cut off from everyone around me. Flying solo . . . or crawling, I guess.

Hmmm. No wonder I’m so cranky.

PW

The First Step Is Always the Hardest

runner at night

Dear Will:

I used to be a runner. Seriously.

OK, so not all that seriously. I was more of a shuffler, to be honest. But I did go out a few nights a week and plod three or four miles around the neighborhood. Hardcore runners would never have admitted me into their club, but I did get to the point where I kind of enjoyed it. I felt better about myself for doing it, that’s for sure.

But you know how it goes. You change jobs or your kids’ lives turn complicated or whatever and next thing you know you’re back on the couch every night with a remote control in your hand. Honestly, I don’t remember why I stopped my evening jogs, but here we are, several years and 10 or 12 pounds later and I have lost the gumption.

The gumption, but not the desire. I remember both the physical and psychic benefits of the discipline, and I do miss it. I often feel like I ought to start up again. But how?

I read somewhere recently that “the first step is always the hardest.” I think that’s because of everything that leads up to that first step: overcoming the dread, clearing the time on my schedule, strapping on my shoes, making the visible declaration that “I’m going for a run” while realizing that for that to be meaningful there had better be other runs to follow. That’s what the first step looks like. After that, it’s just huffing and puffing, one foot after another. Those second, third, fourth steps—they’re way easier than the first one.

I’ve found that it’s not uncommon for people to feel this same sort of inner conflict when it comes to spiritual exercise. Maybe there was a time when you were regularly engaged in some sort of religious practice. Maybe it came easy to you, or not, but you regularly cultivated your personal spiritual development. And it felt good.

But you know how it goes. You move or someone mistreats you or your real-world obligations and interests demand more and more of your time. Or maybe your intellect simply overpowers belief and you tire of the inner turmoil. Whatever the reason, next thing you know you’ve put away your Bible, stopped attending services, and hardly think to pray anymore. Maybe you don’t even fully remember why, but now here you are, however-many years later, and “church” is simply no longer your thing.

Do you remember how it felt though? How it felt to surround yourself with like-minded people who were also striving to follow the teachings of Jesus, to do better, to be better? Do you remember those moments when you felt the reality of God’s love for you or the warmth of the Holy Spirit? How you sang “I Am a Child of God,” and the words rose up from your innermost being? Perhaps you would like to feel that way again.

Perhaps—if not for that ominous, overwhelming, almost-unthinkable first step—emotionally daunting just to think about. If only there were some way to find the gumption, the courage, the inner strength to begin. . . .

Of course, there is. Isaiah reminds us that we do not embark on such journeys alone: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). It all begins with a single step—a step I would be delighted to take with you. God knows I could use the exercise.

PW

 

Photo: Night Runner by Jeremy Brooks

Food for Thought

Cowley Settlers

Dear Will:

You don’t have to wander very far back through my family history before you trip over a pioneer. As children, my grandparents were sent with their families and several others to make something out of the nothing that was then (and now) the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming. Their parents and grandparents before them came at various times and by various means from Europe across the American plains to scratch out an existence in the Rocky Mountain West. Their journeys were long, their provisions few, and little more than a desolate landscape awaited them once they arrived. Needless to say, it was a hard existence.

It takes little imagination to trace a connection from the relative ease and comfort of my modern life in Southern California to an undeveloped patch of dirt that would one day become Cowley, Wyoming, where my mother was born. Lest we forget our heritage, my mom passed on a handful of pioneer recipes that she shared with me and my siblings when we were younger. Hard Pudding was nothing more than flour, milk, and salt, kneaded into a heavy dough and boiled with a ham bone. (As good as it sounds.) And then of course there was Lumpy Dick, which my mother suggested was a make-do way of feeding an entire family with just one egg and a little bit of flour. In case you weren’t served this breakfast delicacy as a kid, I should tell you that Lumpy Dick has the monochromatic splendor of cooked oatmeal (perhaps a bit more ashen), with the palate-pleasing consistency of paste. Think about a time in elementary school when you were making “art” with papier-mâché. Now imagine mashing your still-wet creation into a bowl, sprinkling it with cream and sugar, and gobbling it down. More or less, that’s Lumpy Dick. Since we’re friends I’ll share with you the formula for this wondrous family concoction, transcribed and annotated here by my sister Wynne:

IMG_5487

Meanwhile, back in the present: Yesterday I enjoyed a typical, modern-day Thanksgiving feast at my son’s house. After grazing mindlessly on an array of cheeses, nuts, grapes and such—laid out to keep us from expiring while we waited to be fed—we then scooped our way through a buffet of eight side-dishes before arriving at the turkey and cranberry sauce. Dessert featured two pies and a cheesecake.

There were seven of us.

Food for thought, right? Yesterday’s feast was (appropriately) a celebration of our good fortune and God’s generosity toward us. For sure. But it was also—rightly—a celebration of the fruits we have harvested from seeds planted by our forbearers through extraordinary sacrifice. We should indeed be grateful for all we have, and grateful also for those whose consecrated labors have made our present-day burdens so much lighter.

Thank God for them. Now and forever.

PW