Friday, December 14, 2007

Petard, Own, Hoisting For The Use Of

Let The Merriment Commence Commencing!

Yesterday I was forced to forgo an entirely average experience at my office party and go instead for a slap-up three course dinner at a swank restaurant courtesy of Mrs Stevie's boss.

I tried to act as though it was an imposition, centering on the fact I would have to leave work a little early and catch a train that required a rush-hour connection at Jamaica, which would almost guarantee a standing ride in an already-overcrowded-by-the-time-it-left-Penn-Station train after a wait in the recently developed slush'n'sleet storm that was sweeping over the area and threatening to disrupt the commute.

I couldn't pull this off.

I arrived in Jamaica in good time, only to be greeted with the news that my connecting train was delayed because of a track fire in the East River tunnels. I walked to the end of the platform and looked back toward Manhattan, reflecting on the irony of the situation. In the East River tunnels, men were struggling to put out track fires while right in front of me I could see the eerily beautiful sight of deliberately set track fires keeping the switches from freezing solid. The entire approach to the station was punctuated by areas of luminous blue flame.

Something wasn't right though.

Every year the LIRR employees set out "sterno pots", bigger versions of the small canned jellified kerosene heaters employed on outside buffets for keeping Ziti, meatballs and Chicken Marsala hot in their tinfoil pans. Every year these intrepid crews brave the cold to pour flammables all over the point blades and set match to it. It really is a beautiful sight, if a little surreal the first time you awaken in a darkened railway car waiting to enter Jamaica station and see the blue fire dancing in the distance.

This year the flames looked entirely too regular and evenly spaced along the tracks.

I hunted around and found a slip switch1 I could observe from the safety of the platform, and could see right away what was going on. The LIRR had obviously instigated a(nother) capital improvement plan and converted the system from a sterno-pot and whatever liquid that will burn that's to hand system to a gas one. The rails appeared to have been converted to behave like a barbecue grill burner. All that was required was to turn on the gas and throw a lit something at the rail for it to burn merrily without recourse to fluids and tins of any sort.

Well done that railroad2.

I eventually caught a surprisingly empty train to Wyandanch. I surmised that the sleet storm had driven many to return home earlier in the day, lightening the commuter load during the rush hour. The drive home should prove interesting3, I thought. I wasn't wrong.

Everything, cars, sidewalks, roads, was covered with a glaze of melting4 ice.

It took me about five minutes to clear the windows of the car enough to attempt the drive home, and if it wasn't for my front wheel drive and traction-assist technology (a consequence of the ABS5) I wouldn't have made it home in time for the do. As is was I had to clear off the hood of the car after I got home and the engine had warmed the quarter inch thick ice enough to get it to lift from the metal. I shoveled the driveway and path to the door so Mrs Stevie wouldn't go a box of tacks when she got home with the Stevieling (which would only exacerbate her already hair-trigger temper6) and got changed.

The Stevieling had elected to stay home alone.

This would represent the longest she had been allowed to do that, and Mrs Stevie and I were a tad nervous about it, but at some point we had to put our full trust in her ability to deal with the world on her own and tonight would be as good a time as any. Mrs Stevie made the cooker off-limits (something to do with something put down on the hot stove last week or something, I wasn't paying attention either last night or when the incident in question happened since if they needed me to know something was wrong they knew all they had to do was demand I pay for the damage) and we set off for the 25 mph drive to the restaurant among a collection of the seasonal Long Island Panzerf├╝rhen.

Yes, they were back in force, several divisions of them moving along the roads secure in the knowledge that a small slot scraped in the snow covering the windshield was ample for safe operation of a vehicle at speed on the public highways of Long Island. What a sight they made as they breezed along, huge chunks of ice flying off their vehicles to smash into each other and the road.

An inspiring sight.

As both of my readers will know, this behaviour disgusts and enrages me. It is dangerous. It is stupid. It is pointless, since the time saved by not clearing off your windows7, mirrors and lights8 is negligible when compared with that possibly lost in finding a new car or defending onself in court. I rant and rage every time I see this downright dangerous behaviour. Which was to prove a bit embarrassing on the way home.

We had an excellent meal and passed time in good company for about three hours or so, All Hail the Mrs Stevieboss For Inviting Us To Make Merry At His Expense9 , and eventually left for home around 10-ish. I had valet parked and was not paying attention when I got the car back (no, I had not been drinking - I had had one drink at the evening's start and stuck to water thereafter). The windows were clear, so I simply pulled out onto the road, set the Steviemobile's excellent heater10 to "11" and drove carefully off through Huntington.

The roads were blessedly free of traffic, and I took the car up to 30 mph and activated the cruise so I wouldn't be lulled into going any faster. I've been driving for over thirty years now, and know well that deceptive comfy feeling that has Mr Brain saying "it's okay, you could do the full 40 mph here, the roads are clear". All to often that comfy feeling is ripped away to reveal a freezing core of sheer terror as the car, now a 40 mph bolide ceding zero control options to the screaming driver, passes over a relatively small patch of ice and the old no-claims bonus is ablated away in the crunch of metal on expensive hardthing and the shriek of tortured passenger. The cruise control is a great way of not allowing Mr Brain any leeway for treachery. I use it all the time. I was feeling all comfy and smug when we approached a set of traffic lights which abruptly changed.

No worries, we were going slowly, and I had plenty of time so I applied the brakes gently and brought us to a gentle, controlled stop, at which point the glacier I hadn't noticed sitting on the roof of the car calved and a sheet of ice slid forward to crash down over the windshield, obscuring it completely.

I sat stunned for a second, reflected on how great it was that this had not happened on, say, the expressway at high speed, then activated the hazard flashers and began to unbuckle. The ice had cracked along its length and if I was lucky I would have time to sweep aside the half covering my side of the windshield before the lights changed (Sod's law demanding that a bunch of traffic would by then be trying to get past us although the roads were empty now, speed was of the essence) and I would then be able to park and finish de-icing operations. Mrs Stevie had other ideas.

"Not you!" she snarled. "You'll get yourself run over. I'll do it". And with that she leaped from the car and began clearing the windshield.

Her side of it, the one lacking certain facilities essential for operating the vehicle, such as a steering wheel, pedal cluster and so forth. I remonstrated with the demented woman in loud, forceful terms. I was just reaching the most fiendishly constructed part of my "clean my side of the windshield, you daft sod" argument, when she heaved aside the slab separating me from the sight of her now livid face. I screamed a little, but was able to regain my former iron control while she got herself back inside the car. The lights changed and I drove to a nearby carpark to see what else might be waiting to ambush us.

While I was doing this, the Stevieling called to say she was "having shivers". We had been quite proud of the fact that the other guests at table were being bombarded by calls from their teenaged kids or their teenaged babysitters, our kid was just quietly getting on with whatever she was doing. I guess this was foolish in retrospect, since the only thing she could be getting up to was no good. We arrived home to find the poor thing throwing up in the downstairs bathroom. Once she was in a better frame of mind we began investigating possible causes.

"What did you eat tonight?" I asked her. The Stevieling has a notoriously rebellious stomach that reacts unpredictably to certain foodstuffs consumed at the "wrong" time of day.

"Some of those cookies I bought last week" she replied.

"What about earlier, at Nana's house?" I pressed.

"Oh, just the usual. Some Chicken."

"And Oreos."

"And Sausage."

She finally looked around to indicate she had finished the inventory of her evening repast.

Mrs Stevie opined that perhaps the Stevieling should cease partaking of these eclectic menus and just "eat normal things" for her dinner. She parceled the now healthy child off to bed with much kissing and fussing.

I thought on it a bit while all this was going on and came to a different conclusion. The kid had eaten her "goat special" much earlier in the day and should have gotten sick much earlier if that was to blame. Not only that, she had also gotten sick the last time she had eaten one of those cookies. The answer was, to me, obvious.

The child had shown me the way forward.

I would toss her cookies.

  1. A device to allow trains to swap between parallel tracks
  2. I have got to stop using this blog for LIRR "attaboys". It's ruining what little street cred I ever had
  3. In the Chinese sense
  4. And therefore almost frictionless
  5. Antilock Brake System
  6. Brought on by habitual coffee bingeing and working in the real estate law business
  7. Yes, all of them
  8. Which are as much for the benefit of other drivers, serving as a proximity warning, as for the convenience of the driver of the Schneepanzer
  9. 'Cos make no mistake, merriment of this quality costs one deep in t' purse hereabouts and I appreciate the gesture at a time when his business must be feeling the pinch from the burgeoning real estate/domestic economy crisis arising from the Sub Prime Mortgage Loan Debacle
  10. The Steviemobile has a specially designed coolant circulatory system that allows the engine and the heater core to warm up way faster than any other car I've had

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