Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Post-Perfect Storm Syndrome

(Given a title like the one atop this post, you might expect that since today is Wednesday and there was a new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on last night and one of its plot points was a mad science hail-icane that I’m going to talk about my favorite underperforming bit of multimedia synergy. Eh, maybe later. Real-life misadventures follow.)

At 9:00 a.m. this morning, my wife and I were both seated in her car, waiting at a stoplight, and she noticed the time and laughed heartily and sincerely, “We have been awake for four hours today and we have accomplished nothing!” I pointed out this was not technically accurate, since we (she) had accomplished one important task, namely getting the little guy dropped off at school on time. Other than that, though, she made a fair point.

I got up at the right time this morning, having only hit the snooze button once; my wife was out of bed just a few minutes after me and we got ourselves ready for the day in our customary orderly, overlapping manner. Some mornings things get complicated by one or more of the children waking up at the same time we do (or waking us up outright) and the need to incorporate feeding, diaper changing and general safety supervision along with the other morning to-do’s, but today the kids were all asleep. In fact the baby (and as a direct result, the parents) had slept through the night, and has been doing so more and more reliably, so my wife and I were reasonably ready to face the day and things were humming along nicely.

And in really-truly fact, things overall have been going swimmingly the past couple of weeks. We had ordered a piece of furniture for the entryway of the house, a bench with hooks above and baskets beneath, to keep winter coats and shoes (mostly the kids’) organized, and it was supposed to arrive by the end of the month but came on Monday, a welcome surprise. Little things that had been annoyingly misplaced throughout the house have turned up as if of their own accord. We were riding along on an enjoyable streak of good luck, which is about the only way to explain things which were out of our control nevertheless breaking our way.

Clearly this could not last.

The point where things started to unravel this morning really occurred yesterday. Somehow, at the end of the workday, I was off my game to the point where I shoved my computer access cards into my pants pocket instead of my work bag. When I got home, I knew better than to run the risk of leaving the cards there, then tossing the pants in the hamper at bedtime, and then having no idea where the cards were in the morning. So I put the cards on the kitchen counter with my keys and phone. But this morning, although I managed to pick up the keys and the phone again, I completely overlooked the computer access cards, and I left the house without them. Without the cards, I can’t log on to the work networks at all, and can’t do anything related to my job duties (or even pretend to look busy, really).

I might have gotten all the way to my cubicle without realizing my error, except that my wife realized it for me when she spotted and recognized the cards. She called my cell, and found out I had just sat down on the train, which had just pulled out of the station. She, being the apotheosis of awesome, suggested I hop off at the next stop and wait there for her to deliver the cards to me by car. I agreed, so at 6:30 I was standing on the sidewalk in front of a train station, awaiting my entire family.

The GPS on her phone gave my wife a bit of a hard time but she did make it to the train station, with all three kids in pajamas in their carseats but also in reasonably good moods. I thanked my wife profusely for going out of her way for me, and she graciously assured me it was well covered under the same-team ethos of our marriage. And off she drove again, to get the kids ready for kindergarten or the babysitter as the case may be.

Our quick curbside transaction had concluded a little before 7, but the next train wasn’t due at the station until 7:30. It was a dismal morning, weather-wise, fairly cold and damp and extremely foggy. I stomped around the platform trying to warm myself up. I read a little bit on my cell phone, but noticed it was almost out of battery charge, and put it away. And then I noticed that the tv monitors which display the train locations and statuses indicated the 7:30 train had been cancelled.

I’ve been riding the VRE for years now, and I’ve seen On Time statuses the vast majority of the time and occasional Delayed statuses here and there but I had never seen an outright Cancelled. The next train after the now non-existent 7:30 was an 8:00, which also happened to be the last city-bound train of the regular morning schedule. I knew if one train was cancelled there was at least a possibility that the problem would not be resolved quickly enough for later trains to stay on time. I called my wife to advise her that things were not looking good, but we agreed to hold off on making alternate plans until the train situation gained a little more clarity.

Some time between 7:30 and 8 the 8:00 train was announced as being delayed, with no timeframe. Some time after that, the delay was specified as two hours. And shortly after that, they just went ahead and cancelled that train, too, advising riders that their VRE tickets would be honored by Metro that morning. (If you are not from this area, you might not have a sense of how far away the nearest Metro station is from my neck of the woods, which one-VRE-stop-up-the-line qualifies as. The answer is, pretty freaking far.) Also right around the time the last train was cancelled, my cell phone went from low battery to none and shut itself down.

So I was pretty well stranded. No trains were coming to my location, nor was I in the same place as my car, which was still one stop back where I had started my short, ill-fated rail riding this morning. I didn’t have a cell phone to make calls with, let alone look up a taxi company’s phone number with; I didn’t even know what time it was, since my phone is my de facto timepiece and VRE stations oddly enough have no clocks whatsoever. But I knew it was right around the time that the babysitter would be arriving at my house and my wife would be heading out the door to get the little guy to the school bus stop. What the station platform lacked in clocks it made up in payphones (amazing how those things are still around when I need them) and I used a credit card to call home and explain the situation to my wife. Her first inclination was to call a cab on my behalf, to take me back to my normal train station so I could retrieve my car, but after a moment’s reflection she called her place of employment first, found out they were far from overbooked for the morning, and opted to simply go into work late after picking me up herself.

Which is how we ended up in the car together at 9:00 a.m., since it took some time to drop off the little guy (right at school, since the earlier shenanigans had caused sufficient delay and disruption for him to miss the bus) and then navigate through the local late rush hour traffic (and the persistent fog). We were showered and dressed but otherwise no closer to our intended destinations. But at that point, at least, the worst was behind us. My wife drove me to my car, I switched vehicles, and we went our separate ways, both late for work (her by a little, me by a lot) but, as we repeatedly noted, both basically fine, healthy, whole, safe and able to continue on to the point where we can look back and laugh.

I should acknowledge that the same cannot be said, ultimately, for every facet of the story. The trains were cancelled for a reason, and the reason was that a person was struck by a train and everything had to be shut down for the ensuing investigation. The newspapers are reporting that the person died. It’s a horrible turn of events, and I would hope it goes without saying that I am in no way whatsoever attempting to say that the worst thing that happened to anyone this morning was that I was severely inconvenienced largely due to my own carelessness. I am not even implying that the effects on me personally and their underlying cause are in any sense comparable. I bring it up because it seems like it would be worse to ignore it completely, not because I have any intention of tying it all together somehow. It’s human nature to be tempted to find meaning in meaningless awfulness, but in cases that boil down to “a random stranger died, which makes me feel happy and lucky to be alive” that seems far too trite (like, Christmas Shoes-level trite).

All of which makes it very hard to wrap up this post, which really is bottom-line about a bunch of first-world problems I brought upon myself which are vaguely amusing solely because the odds of them all happening in the same morning, as they did, seem so low. If you also found it vaguely amusing, I’m glad I shared. If you can top it for sheer irritation and indignities, I don’t doubt that at all and I sympathize. If you think I’m kind of dumb and self-absorbed, you’re not thinking anything I haven’t thought about myself a hundred times, I promise. And if you wonder what kind of sense we are supposed to make out of the ups and downs of inexplicable life, I am right there with you.

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