No Way Four-Way Highway

I come before you to plead my case for elimination of four-way stop intersections. This has been a silent crusade of mine for a while now. Many are unable to process the requirements of successfully navigating the Mother Of All Driving Dilemmas…four-way stop intersections.

All my wife and I were trying to do was get home with our takeout Chinese food. We were not in a particular rush as the local establishment manages to pack out orders at temperatures equivalent to the surface of the sun…which is fine because we like the food hot…and it does re-enter the atmosphere of safe eating by the time we get home.

Yet, there are multiple four-way stop intersections without lights in our path. Why this is I don’t know. Some degreed sadist in charge of “urban planning” perhaps.

On the way home as we were navigating these four-way stops, I commented to my wife how many people seem incapable of knowing who is next to go based on common sense and decency…not to mention who gets to the intersection first.

As I approached the final four-way stop before getting home, I encountered only one other car. Sweet. We and our flaming food would conquer this last hurdle and get home without incident.

While I clearly was the first car to arrive at my stop sign, the driver of the other vehicle pulled up a bit before theirs, but then began to roll into the intersection.

It was MY turn.

Instant replay would have confirmed it. I was first to my stop sign.

It was MY turn.

I rolled out into the intersection as well. I mean, if you don’t at least try to train these people what hope do we all have?

The other car made a full stop at this point. Success. I felt they had learned their lesson and proceeded forward once more…but alas, they did also. It was like they were toying with me.

Both cars were now parked pretty much in the middle of the intersection.

History will show the first obscene gesture was made by the driver of the other car. I point that out with pride, because what I did thereafter will not go down as one of my finest moments…at least that’s what my wife told me afterwards.

I returned the obscene hand gesture with one of my own. I then locked eyes with my new-found enemy – a woman with a cell phone attached to her face – and rattled off a stream of obscenities clearly audible outside our car regardless of the windows being up. Regardless of the decibel count, the other driver would not have to be a lip reader to get the context.

I then sped off, clearing the intersection first. Flush with adrenaline and filled with the sense of victory…I then heard the honk of a horn in the distance. I guess it was her way of trying to win the war even if the battle was lost. I should have taken the high road on all this at this point…but I couldn’t.

I honked back.

A lot.

Discussion while enjoying the cooled-down Chinese food was how I needed to be cool. Take it in stride. Don’t get upset. I’m not a road rage fellow at all. I yield. I take pride in not putting pedestrians on my hood. I’m a damn good guy behind the wheel.

Yet, I have come to the conclusion we need to see the light and install lights at each and every one of these four-way stops.

Then…maybe I’ll start to lighten up.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

All Hands On Deck

 

Ah, it is indeed an age of sequels and reboots, isn’t it? Some are good ideas to revisit. Some…not so good. There are occasions when doing something really, really well the first time around should probably be the last time around.

In my college basketball news feed this AM:

“Gonzaga and Michigan State are now finalizing plans to play a neutral site game on an aircraft carrier in San Diego on Veterans Day.”

Back on Veterans Day 2011, a college basketball game was played aboard the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego between Michigan State and North Carolina. Carolina won 67-55 in front of over 8,000 fans and military personnel, including President Obama. Seeing two national basketball powers play in such a majestic, inspiring setting was very cool. A second court was set up in the hangar bay just in case, but the weather held up its end. Temperatures were in the 60’s and there were calm winds. This game was absolute television eye candy, although it was not great hoops…the teams managed to miss 77 of their combined 123 shots.

It turned out to be the highest-rated November college basketball game on ESPN in 19 years.

College basketball’s next season featured four games on the national television schedule from carrier settings as part of Veterans Day ceremonies. One woman’s game was slated between Ohio State and Notre Dame, with the men’s games to be Ohio State-Marquette, Georgetown-Florida and Syracuse-San Diego State.

The sequels that Veterans Day weekend did not quite live up to the original…

Ohio State-Notre Dame: On the USS Yorktown in Charleston, temperatures were still in the 50’s when the women began their game…but the temperature dropped as soon as the sun did. It was a poorly played game, with both teams combining to miss 71 of 109 shots from the floor. Notre Dame won 57-51.

Ohio State-Marquette: The second game of a scheduled doubleheader aboard the now-chilly Yorktown, it found the teams’ warm-up time occupied by coaches and players staying warm working towels and squeegees to try to get condensation off the court. The game never took flight and was canceled.

Georgetown-Florida: On the USS Bataan in Jacksonville, a badly-played first half concluded with Florida up 27-23. However, similar to the situation in Charleston, condensation got to the court. During halftime, the game was canceled.

Syracuse-San Diego State: On the USS Midway in San Diego, a threat of rain pushed the game out two days. Played during the day (instead of at night as originally scheduled), there was no rain…but it was very windy. It was also a poorly played game, with both teams combining to miss 77 out of 119 shots. Syracuse won 62-49.

Playing basketball outdoors – on an aircraft carrier – is not like playing basketball indoors in an arena. Weather takes center stage away from the players. You are trading great optics for great basketball.

And, you are also compromising player safety.

No amount of television appearance money is worth that.

Back in late February of this past college basketball season, Xavier and Providence played a thrilling, triple-overtime game. Yet, with just under three minutes left in regulation, those in charge were talking about the possibility of having to gather up the players and coaches and bus them to Providence’s practice facility to finish the game due to a leak in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center ceiling.

You can’t play basketball on water. It might be fair to ask athletes to take aim with no background behind the basket, to shoot into the wind, and to even play with a sweatshirt underneath the jersey…but it absolutely isn’t fair to ask athletes to play when there is even the slightest chance of the court not being pristine.

Since that debacle of a weekend, television and college administrators have been successfully staging Veterans Day games – indoors – from various military facilities. They’ve done a great job with them and as you might expect, the quality of play was improved.

I think people should think long and hard about pursuing sequels, especially if the original is so perfect.

I also happen to think people should learn from their mistakes.

 

Picture Courtesy US Navy/Roza Arzola

Trying Baseball

Major League Baseball has many challenges ahead of it as it tries to stay relevant for young and old alike. While the average age of who calls themselves a baseball fan or viewer hovers just below the 60-year mark, I do know a number of people that age or older who don’t give baseball much time anymore. They are indifferent to the sport. There are also enough survey results to conclude baseball doesn’t exactly strike a chord with younger folks.

Baseball has tried in vain to tinker with its rules, and will some more, in order to stabilize its freefall from once being known as “America’s Pastime.” But alas, I don’t think any of those current or proposed changes will ever make a difference. Its time at the top passed long ago…for a host of reasons which have been discussed in great detail elsewhere.

Of course, I have always felt it might help at least a little bit if the majority of baseball fans felt in Spring Training their rooting interest had at least some chance to make the playoffs, let alone win a World Series.

Try: Verb – make an attempt or effort to do something. Noun – an effort to accomplish something; an attempt.

Six MLB franchises are on pace to lose 100 or more games. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, that number would be the highest ever since the league expanded to 30 clubs back in 1998. The previous high for a season was four teams: 2002…and  as you might expect, the two most recent full seasons in 2019 and 2021.

Quite frankly, many fans know their baseball season is over before it has started, unless they care only about the journey and not the destination. Some franchises are flat-out mismanaged; some are solely focused on profitability instead of perfection.

We’re just at the end of June, and in the National League there are basically eight teams competing for six spots…and it’s six only because MLB expanded its postseason by two teams to try and keep more owners interested in actually trying to get there.

Over the weekend, the Phillies’ Bryce Harper took a 97-mph fastball to his left thumb, and the hopes for the hometown team have taken an equally forceful hit.

But, we in the Philadelphia region are lucky because ownership has been aggressively trying to produce winning baseball in recent seasons.

For other fans, no try…just means another trying season.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Thinking Christmas

The Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel has already started their “Merry Movie Week,” and the “mothership” Hallmark Channel will be rolling out a whole month of “Christmas in July” starting at the end of this week. When we aren’t streaming or watching sports, one of the Hallmarks is usually on our television this time of year.

You’ll see Christmas pop up here more frequently as it gets closer, but I wanted to offer three disclaimers about my outlook on the holiday itself before I/we get there. To me…

  1. Hallmark Christmas movies reflect about 15% of what real life is all about. (The % may be a bit higher for their non-Christmas fare, but not by much…)
  2. Christmas can be a truly miserable time for many people, in some cases the lowest they’ve ever felt. Others don’t acknowledge or care about it. People who go all out for Christmas should keep that in mind.
  3. I myself l-o-v-e Christmas, even though I’ve only had one or two extra-memorable ones myself.

For that matter, any holiday or “celebrated” day on our calendars can be a time of soul-crushing sadness for others. Deaths, illness, separations. They don’t follow any calendar. Much like hearing a piece of music can transport us back to a certain place in time, the calendar may do the same.

The arrival of July signifies Christmas is less than a ½ year away. Then again, several networks (including Hallmark) fire up their Yuletide offerings Halloween week (!)…which no doubt makes those who don’t enjoy the Christmas season feel worse. I myself love Halloween…and Thanksgiving…and like to give those holidays total attention before then focusing in on Christmas.

Each July, when these films come on with their over-the-top messages of Christmas, I do find myself being a little nicer to folks, a little more considerate, a little more forgiving. The movies act for me as a mid-year reminder…a reset…to aspire to be the best human possible…even within the never-gonna-be-perfect-life we all reside within.

In the real world, I think all of us should never take a holiday from trying to understand what others are going through, where they are coming from, and how we can make both their day and ours a good one.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

A Bridge To Nowhere

My home state of Pennsylvania is a very old state. It is certainly not unique in that regard – there are other ancient states in the United States – but in fact a lot of stuff we use each day here is quite…old.

Pennsylvania has the third-highest number of bridges in the country. For as long as I’ve been alive, the subject of its aging bridges has been at the top of the planning agenda each year when the Commonwealth’s Department of Transportation reviews what structures need immediate attention, reshuffling the priority deck based on traffic flow, the repairs needed, etc. to best determine where repair crews should head next.

And of course…as long as there is money in the budget.

And of course…if one of our major cities is involved, whether or not some or all of the funds should come from the city or state budget…if the money is even available.

This topic will be staying atop PennDOT’s agenda for a long, long, l-o-n-g time…at least as long as some of these bridges have been in existence…bridges people drive across daily. Pennsylvania has as of this writing north of 25,000 state-owned bridges. There are almost 7,000 locally-owned bridges which the PA Department of Transportation also takes inspection responsibility for. Many of the bridges are of modest size, helping drivers get across small streams and rivers, but when they are shut down or closed…traffic Armageddon can be the result.

Several years ago, a plan began where vehicle owners were required to pay an additional charge when their annual Pennsylvania vehicle registrations came due. It was explained at that time the plan was to help fund bridge repairs and reconstruction within the County you resided within. The funds being generated would be for bridges deemed as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”

It should be noted we’ve been assured by our transportation experts these classifications don’t mean the bridges can’t support traffic. Ok, but…I don’t know about you but the use of “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” works much better for me when we’re talking Jenga or Legos instead of supporting structures for cars or trucks.

The life span of the bridges is generally considered to be 50 years. Five years ago, of the 95 bridges reported to be in existence in our Chester County at that time, 57 of them were over 75 years old…31 over 100 years old.

Chester County has been trying to keep a goal of restoring or replacing at least a couple of bridges per year. Two. Since 1980, there were twelve years where no bridge work was done in the County at all.

I don’t think we’re gonna get caught up, folks.

Recently, one of the smallest bridges in Chester County was deemed unsuitable for traffic and taken out of commission completely…in our neighborhood.

Without getting out my tape measure, I’m thinking the bridge area stretches about 75 feet long, designed for two-way traffic just off an intersection which gets high volume usage. It lies just a short distance from two major highways.

Hurricane Ida, which did take out a handful of the state’s bridges completely, was the reason for our local bridge being taken off-line as well. (Side note – I think some people relax when they hear a Hurricane has been downgraded. That’s for the wind. The moisture and its fury is often a bigger culprit, at least in our region) The Ida damage took place in early September, 2021. The structure has since been judged to need a total replacement. If all goes well, the current estimate is the new bridge will be completed…in March, 2023.

Unless of course, other bridges deemed more critical to traffic flow become unable to be used in the interim. Unless of course, the money isn’t there, no matter whose budget gets tapped into.

You may have heard about a bridge collapse in Western PA in January of this year. Pittsburgh made headlines when the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed with a bus and several cars on it. Since then, there have been calls for more information to be provided to the Commonwealth’s residents as to the current condition of each and every bridge in the state. The goal would be to have a database for all to reference. As it turns out, the state was previously displaying inspection notes about bridges on its website, as well as names of the inspectors involved…but when the Pittsburgh media began asking questions about this information post-Fern Hollow, the information was taken down. Hmm.

So we’ve got it all now, the perfect storm of too many bridges that need help, not enough money to address all the work needed, and uncertainty as to whether or not our current inspection system is actually, truly keeping the citizens of the Commonwealth safe.

As for the arrival of that new bridge our area needs to return to normal…we’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock