UFO sighting

Until this week, I had always assumed that reports of UFOs were the result largely of human imagination and a desire to believe in extraterrestrial life. A man can change his mind, though, and after what happened to me last night, I know that UFOs exist.

Let me say first, though, that the definition of a UFO does not require belief in extraterrestrial visitors. The official meaning of the acronym UFO is Unidentified Flying Object. Many things that are unidentified are still of earthly origin. Often people who report seeing UFOs are in fact responding to the sight of weather balloons, man-made aircraft, or even natural phenomena. An airport’s radar may pick up UFOs from time to time—some are aircraft that have failed to identify themselves properly, others might be flocks of birds or similar natural objects moving through the air.

Much of the evidence I’ve heard to support the idea of extraterrestrial UFOs in Earth’s sky seems rather shaky, to tell the truth. I’ve heard people seriously propose that UFOs are often seen near military airbases because they are investigating human technology, especially that involving flight. To me it has always seemed more likely that those witnesses are seeing experimental craft, vehicles made here on Earth even if they are unlike most aircraft. The sheer number of reports of UFOs from generally reliable people has not shaken my doubt; reliable people can be sincerely wrong about their interpretation of what they have seen.

I have lived near airports much of my life, including small airports, large public airports, and USAF bases. I have observed aircraft appear to behave in startling ways, especially when I’m viewing them through the windshield of my car. An airplane might seem to have jumped from one location to another at an impossible speed, but the appearance of rapid movement is due to my having traveled along a curve in the road. Moreover, in spite of my many sightings of aircraft, most of them remained “unidentified” so far as my knowledge is concerned. I cannot tell the difference, for example, between a Cessna and a Piper, or between a DC-10 and a 787. I’m a little better at identifying birds. Minutes before I witnessed my first UFO, I saw a pair of ducks fly over the road. Although the sun was going down, I recognized their outline as ducks rather than geese or hawks or herons.

But shortly after I saw the ducks, I saw an amazing thing through my windshield. I supposed it could be described as “cigar-shaped,” if the cigar had been smoked to about half its length. I could not tell how big it was because I did not know how far away it was; likewise, I could not tell how far away it was because I did not know how big it was. It was hovering over the road, seen in silhouette in the deepening twilight. I stared at it for several minutes, and it remained hanging in the air, neither drawing closer or moving away from me.

Most vivid of all, though, were the lights on the UFO. As I say, I’ve seen standard aircraft, and I am familiar with the kinds of lights they use. These were entirely different. For one thing, these lights were in a vertical array, perfectly round, and in several different colors. They flashed on and off in what appeared to be a regular pattern. As I recall, the pattern began with yellow, followed by red and then green. And, most puzzling of all, whenever the lights changed to green, the cars behind me would begin honking their horns. J.

Traffic sighs

For more than a year I have been taking medicine to reduce anxiety. As a result, I am a calmer driver than I used to be. When other drivers do foolish or dangerous or illegal things, I used to shout and lose my temper. I would arrive at work already out of sorts, a bad way to start the day. Now I just sigh, or roll my eyes, or grit my teeth. I might grumble something sarcastic, such as, “Nice turn signal you didn’t use there.” I might even bark out a brief complaint. For the most part, though, I’m doing better behind the wheel than I was doing a year or two ago.

I am the kind of driver who stops at red lights. Even if the light turns yellow while I am still a thousand yards or more from the intersection, I begin slowing rather than planning to drive through the red light. As a result, I am often the front car in the group waiting for a light to change green. Of course when the light turns from green to yellow, I check my mirrors; if another driver is close behind me, I might not stop at the changing light. Many a time I have gone through an intersection when I thought I should have stopped, only to have another car or two follow me past the red light. Many a time I have seen the light turn green, but two more cars from the other direction entered and cleared the intersection before it was safe for me to start. The effect is like that of watching something from a distance, seeing the action before you hear the sound. Sometimes I wonder if the synapses between my eyes and my brain are faster than average, since I seem to notice the change of traffic lights more quickly than the average driver.

The last week has produced some other traffic sighs in my car. Not once, but twice—twice!—this week the following scenario happened. My light was green and I was approaching the intersection, when a driver facing a red light decided to take advantage of the right-turn-on-red privilege. There was room enough to squeeze one car ahead of me and I did not sigh about that right-turn-on-red, but I did react when a second car followed the first car into the intersection, turning right on red without coming to a stop and coming within a few feet of mutual damage to both our cars.

An even scarier near-event happened closer to home one morning this week. Less than a mile from my house I must turn left onto a road where there is a two-way stop: the northbound and southbound traffic has to stop, but the eastbound and westbound drivers are cross and need not stop. Parked cars in driveways and on the road make it hard to see the cross traffic, especially that coming from the right when I am trying to turn left. This time of year, the rising sun aligns with the westbound traffic, requiring extra attention to my left before making a turn. A speed bump has been built to slow the eastbound traffic, coming from my right, but the speed bump only makes the decision whether or not to turn more complicated. Predicting which drivers will slow for the speed bump and which will hit it at full speed makes the decision whether to turn or to wait about as certain as a coin flip, but with a much higher risk potential.

So that morning I came to the intersection, stopped at the stop sign, and (as I always do) looked right and left and scanned the intersection. My top priority is watching for cars, trucks, and other moving vehicles, but I am also alert for joggers, bicyclists, dogs, and small children. Nothing was coming from the left, but two cars were coming from the right, so I waited. By the time the two cars crossed the speed bump and cleared the intersection, a car was coming out of the sun from the left, so I waited. When that car had passed in front of me, I saw two cars—a dark-colored car to my right, but slowing for the speed bump, and a white-colored car approaching the intersection in front of me, not yet arrived at its stop sign. The occasion seemed propitious, so I made my left turn. Afterward I checked my mirrors, expecting the dark-colored car to be behind me. Instead, the white car was behindmethisclosetome. Not only was it clear that the driver had not stopped at the stop sign; even a “rolling stop” would have had the white car farther behind me.

A year or two ago I would have been screaming my head off at that white car and its driver. Now a simple sigh and a roll of the eyes is all I produced. The proper medication can make a world of difference in one’s attitude, even behind the wheel. J.

Burrs under my saddle

I should be flying high… on top of the world with my head in the clouds… unstoppable with giddy joy. Put me behind the wheel of a car, put that car in traffic, and quickly I find I have burrs under my saddle.

On my way to work, I travel through a place where two lines from the right join with two lanes from the left, but the four-lane highway quickly becomes three-lane because the right-hand lane is “for exit only.” Needless to say, I squeeze into the next lane as quickly as I can, and then sit in slow-moving traffic while other drives zip by on the right. Few of them are using the exit (and, although I have no proof, I think some get off on the exit only to get back on the highway a few hundred feet later, possibly passing a car or five in the process). I would have no objection if the two lanes merged as a zipper—a car from the right, then a car from the left, taking turns as they taught us to do when we were children. Instead, judging by the relative speed in the two lanes, about ten cars are getting through in the right lane for every one that passes the merge in the left lane.

I’m tempted, as always in this situation, to sit close to the car in front of me, so none of those terrible people will take advantage of me. The driver of a large black pick-up truck was bolder than I was and managed to squeeze in front of me at the last second. I guess he cared less about the danger of a collision than I did. I said one of those things I’m not proud of saying—words I’d be ashamed for my mother or my daughter to hear me saying. I think the driver of the pick-up truck could read my lips. His lips were moving too, but I didn’t bother trying to read what he was saying. For all I know, he was singing along with the radio or talking on a handless cell phone.

At least he stayed in front of me. Other drivers kept changing lanes—without signaling, of course—in the hopes that they could get to work two or three seconds sooner. I think that all the traffic would flow smoother and quicker, if people would just stay in the same line, but then I’m not a traffic engineer.

Later the same day, on my way home from work, I stopped to buy a tank of gas. As the gas was flowing and I was washing the windows, I heard an explosion that very nearly moved me to drop to the pavement. It sounded very much like a gunshot, but it was not from a gun. The driver of the motorcycle had started his engine and it backfired, and I’m sure he did it on purpose. On his way out of the station he revved his engine and managed to create two more backfires along with a lot of other unneeded noise.

Later that afternoon, driving to the campus where I teach, I was first in line to turn left when the light changed when I heard a siren. I turned off the radio, looked left and then right, and saw the ambulance coming down the road from my right. Of course the light changed before the ambulance reached the intersection. Of course I stayed where I was, yielding the intersection to the ambulance. Of course the person behind me honked a horn. I pointed dramatically in the direction of the ambulance, and I think that driver got the point; he or she did not honk again.

But when the ambulance had gone through the intersection, the woman facing me decided that if I would yield to an ambulance with flashing lights and siren and honking horn, surely I wouldn’t mind yielding to her. She made her right turn on a red light, cutting me off. I didn’t say anything, but she must have expected some words from me, because she went ahead and made a gesture of contempt in my direction in spite of my silence.

None of these things should matter. They all come from living in a sinful world populated by thoughtless and self-centered sinners. Like the apostle Paul, I could count myself chief of sinners, most desperately in need of redemption. I should be flying high, not complaining about the idiots on the ground.

But haters are gonna hate, and curmudgeons are going to grumble. It’s the way we are. Have a good day. J.

Four more traffic myths

Shortly after I started this blog, I published a post on three traffic myths. Since that time, I have become aware of four more traffic myths that need to be addressed.

Myth #1: If the car in front of you stops too long at a stop sign, you are free to follow it through the intersection without an additional stop. I guess that some drivers believe that stop signs are about time and not about the flow of traffic. How else does one explain the frequency that one car follows another past the stop sign without actually stopping? The idea of taking turns seems foreign to drivers. At this point I’ve come to expect other drivers not to stop, to the extent that I’m sometimes surprised to see another driver follow the rules.

Myth #2: It is bad luck to be the first car at the light when it changes to green. The common belief in this myth explains the large number of drivers who keep on going in spite of the light changing first from green to yellow and then from yellow to red. The other day, I saw a near collision between a car going straight and another turning left, and both of them entered the intersection after the light had turned red. I don’t know what bad luck these drivers expect if they actually stop as soon as the light has changed to red, but clearly they would not engage in such risky driving without a good reason.

Myth #3: It is bad luck to stay in the same lane of a multi-line street for more than four blocks. Some drivers weave back and forth between lanes—without signaling, of course—because they are slaloming around drivers like me who stick to driving at the speed limit. Others wander from lane to lane because they are busy texting or talking on their cell phones. Some drivers change lanes at random times for no apparent reason. I know of one street in a major city that consists of three lanes, all the same direction. Driving on that street at any time feels like being in the miniature car feature of a parade, with vehicles constantly weaving in and out of one another’s path while all traveling at about the same speed.

Myth #4: Louder is better. I actually saw a sign on the back of a truck in a parking lot which said, “Loud pipes save lives.” A picture of a tailpipe was part of the sign to make the truck-owner’s meaning clear. If the sign had shown a bagpipe it would not have bothered me, but governments require mufflers on cars, trucks, and motorcycles for two reasons: they reduce the noise of the vehicles, and they also filter out some of the air pollution. Vehicle owners who alter their mufflers so their vehicles make more noise are creating more air pollution in addition to more noise pollution. If I cannot hear my car radio over the sound of your engine, your engine is too loud. As I get older and crabbier, I am more likely to mention that fact to you if we are stopped next to each other at a red light.

As always these myths are being exposed as fallacies for the common good of all drivers. You are welcome.


Murphy’s Gremlins–part two

Note: this post and the preceding post summarize a book that I have tried more than once to write, but I have never been able to finish it.

Murphy’s Gremlins enforce the law that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. They strive to bring the greatest inconvenience to the greatest number of people. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they can be beat.

I struggled with the gremlins for a long, long time before I discovered a system that leads to victory. I call it the TAP system, because its three steps are remembered by the initials T, A, and P.

T stands for trust. As twelve-step programs say, you must believe in a higher power. Things go wrong every day, small things and big things, but evil has been defeated by good. Trust that someone is in control, someone who cares about you and is bigger than all your problems. When the gremlins seem to be pulling ahead of you, take a breath and remember the higher power. Assure yourself that, because there is nothing that power cannot handle, therefore there is nothing that the two of you together cannot handle.

A stands for act. Don’t let your frustrations paralyze you. If a problem can be fixed, do what you have to do to fix it. If you need to call in a professional, make the call. Plumbing and electricity can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and the gremlins will definitely take over when you try to fix something that you do not understand. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to learn. If you have time to figure out how to replace a piece of pipe under the sink or a light switch, go ahead and do the job. Nothing feels better than putting a gremlin in its place by acquiring the satisfaction of a new skill or ability.

P stands for play. No, that is not a misprint; prayer comes under the category of trust. Find humor in the work of the gremlins, and learn to beat them at their own game. Buy a sandwich when you are in a hurry, and let the gremlins decide whether you get the green lights or the chance to eat your sandwich. Either way you win. Make a game out of the traffic lights. Pretend that the twenty lights between work and home are games on a team’s schedule, and keep track of the team’s record. If that gets boring, use your time in traffic to count things. Count Volkswagen beetles. Count yellow cars. Keep track of out-of-state license plates. If counting is not in your line, see if you can assemble a rainbow from the different colored cars around you on the road.

Play with the gremlins at home. Name them if you want. Talk to them if you want. Let them know that they cannot beat you. But do not forget that you are playing. You and I both know that Murphy’s Gremlins aren’t really there. They are simply a way of making small problems even smaller. They are a way to overcome frustration with humor. They are a way of reminding yourself not to take life all that seriously.

Murphy’s Gremlins can be beat, especially when you remember that they are not really there.


Murphy’s Gremlins — part one

Note: this post and the following post summarize a book that I have tried more than once to write, but I have never been able to finish it.

We’ve all heard the saying called Murphy’s Law: if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Some people say Murphy was an optimist.

When you are late for work and in a hurry to get there, traffic is heavy and you meet all the red lights. When guests are coming for the holidays, the floor drain backs up and floods the kitchen. When you have a paper due for school and have almost finished writing it, the computer crashes. When the computer works again, that paper is the only file that has disappeared. When the water heater springs a leak, you discover the leak on Friday night and you have to wait until Monday to get the water heater replaced.

Murphy stated the rule, but he did not describe the gremlins. Murphy’s Gremlins live all around us, in the computer, the water heater, the floor drains, and the traffic lights. These gremlins are able to measure how important our machinery is to us. They are able to calculate when a break-down will be most inconvenient for us. They know just when things should go wrong, to make each day as stressful as possible.

A powerful gremlin lives in my car. It knows precisely when to keep my car from starting, the day I need that car the most. It arranges for a flat tire on a rainy day. It makes sure that, when I bring the car to the mechanic to fix one problem, another more expensive problem will show up in the garage.

City engineers try to time the traffic lights for the most efficient use of the roads. They cannot outthink Murphy’s gremlins. I have seen the light change for the side street when no car is there. Finally a car approaches, but before it reaches the intersection, the light has changed again, and the driver has to wait for all the traffic that had built up at the red light on the busy street to clear. Murphy’s gremlins watch for times like that. They love nothing more than to cause the greatest inconvenience for the greatest number of people.

Now Murphy’s Gremlins are responsible for inconveniences, not for tragedies. They cannot be blamed for earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Nor do they cause war, poverty, and crime. Murphy’s Gremlins cause the power to go out just when you are about to start cooking supper. They make the telephone ring just as the rice on the stove is almost finished, and they keep you on the phone until the rice has burned. Murphy’s Gremlins make sure that the phone call you were expecting comes while you are in the bathroom.

They have a sense of humor. If I buy a sandwich to eat at the red lights—for I will not eat while driving, not while the car is moving—then I will get green lights for the entire trip. If I clear my schedule and set aside an entire afternoon for a difficult repair project, things will fall into place and I will be done in half an hour. When I want to mow, the mower will not start; but if I really do not want to mow and would accept any excuse to put off mowing, the mower roars to life with just a half-hearted pull of the cord.

Murphy’s Gremlins are part of life, and most days we must accept their existence. But the gremlins can be beat. In my next post, I will tell you how.