Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Life as a To-Do List

I am between projects. A few of my active clients and business partners have taken the week off for spring break. So, I have little going on this week. My to-do list is sparse.

I started working on a little project to get myself off of Microsoft Outlook. I am thinking of a new computer, and I don’t think I’ll spend the money on Microsoft Office this time around. There are too many far less expensive alternatives. For my calendar and to-do list, I decided to go old-school and bought a weekly planner at Office Depot. I transferred my appointments and tasks over this morning (my contact list is another problem altogether, one I am still working on).

I’m a list guy. Making lists calms me. Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night a list written at 2:30 AM will shut my brain off and allow me to sleep. Crossing items off my list gives me satisfaction.

But, I fear my life may have devolved to my to-do list. Some days it seems ALL I do is what’s on the list. My life lacks spontaneity; it’s too regimented. Perhaps taking my lists offline will help. We’ll see. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Deliveryman Fiction

I get lots of odd requests in my business, but this one didn’t really rate high on my all-time list. Picking up cargo at 4:30 in the morning was inconvenient, especially considering the way I spent most evenings, but not really all that unusual. What I found when I arrived at the rundown warehouse was another story.
"Colin. On time as usual," Joe said.
"Hi Joe. Everything set to go?" I asked. Joe is an artist. He  hired me to deliver one of his sculptures to a warehouse in LaCrosse. In my business I didn’t ask too many questions. But, I did wonder why he needed an armored van and an armed driver for a sculpture done by a talented, but still relatively unknown, artist. I noticed the woman standing next to him.
“Who’s she?” I asked.
"Let's go into my office. We need to talk," Joe said.
We walked to the back of the warehouse. I plopped down on the leather sofa in his office.
"Want some coffee?" he asked.
"Who's the woman?" I asked, again.
Joe sighed. “She’s going along with the cargo."
“That wasn’t our arrangement."
“I'll explain everything when you get back. I have no choice here. You have to take her. How much extra will it cost me?"
I walked to the office door and took a look at what might be my additional cargo. She had short brown hair, or maybe it was red. She wasn’t very tall, but at 6 feet most women seem short to me. She wasn't thin, but not heavy either. There was a Bowie knife strapped to her left leg. She hadn’t said a word; she just stared at the van.
“I'm trusting you here.” I told him, "Double my fee."
“Done,” Joe said.
I immediately thought I should have asked for more. This whole arrangement felt like more trouble than it could possibly be worth.

The sculpture fit into the back of my van without a problem. It was about 700 pounds of steel, iron and some copper in a shape that made no sense to me, but I’m hardly qualified to judge modern art.
The run to LaCrosse is usually uneventful. There is a stretch between Janesville and Madison where protection can be a problem. The corporation that owned that stretch of road was having financial problems and the public’s safety on the highways fell to the bottom of their priority list. The benefits of the massive privatization of 2014 were not evenly spread. The anti-government crowd finally got their way and not all were pleased with the results.
She sat on the leg without the knife, calm, but frequently looking at the side view mirror.
I knew I would be just asking for trouble, but I was curious about my traveling partner.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Moira"
"Moira, why are you in my van?"
"Look, I've been told you're a nice guy. Let's talk about something else - the less you know about that the better. How much time do you spend on the road?"
"Most of my deliveries are day jobs. I rarely have to overnight anywhere. I have a cot rigged up in the back for that."
"I see your wedding ring. I suppose your wife appreciates you being home most nights," Moira said.
"My wife died one year, 7 months, 3 weeks, and 4 days ago."
She slowly turned her head and gazed out the passenger side window.
"Crap, we've got company," she said.
I looked into the side mirror and saw a Lincoln Towncar approaching in the fast lane. It didn't look like anything to worry about, but out of habit I reached behind my seat to make sure the cold comfort of my Mossberg Persuader was back there. I always keep it loaded and close by when I'm working.
The Lincoln had come alongside and while I was thinking about my next brilliant conversational gambit the big car slammed into my side of the van, trying to run us off the road. The Lincoln was a big car, but no match for an armored van. The right wheels barely kissed the shoulder before I swung hard to my left and knocked the Lincoln into the median. I timed it just right, because the median had a really steep ditch and the Lincoln was nose down, the back wheels off the ground. I pulled off to the left shoulder and stopped the van. I heard the passenger door slam shut before I even had my seatbelt off. I got out of the van.
"Where the hell are you going?" I shouted, "We need to get out of here."
Moira walked quickly to the disabled car, pulling the Bowie knife out of it's strap as she walked. Only then did I notice she had the Mossberg over her right shoulder. She got to the passenger side where a man was slumped unconscious, still strapped in his seat. Moira yanked open the door and calmly slit the man's throat. The driver of the Lincoln screamed, furiously tried to get his door open, and pull his gun out of his waistband at the same time. Moira seemed unphased. She calmly walked over to the driver's side, pointed the Mossberg at the driver's side window and pulled the trigger.
As she walked back to the van, she tossed the Mossberg to me and walked around to her side.
"Let's get moving," she said.
"Who the hell are you?"

We drove in silence for about 2 more hours. I am no stranger to violence, it was my Mossberg after all, but her cold, calm attitude unnerved me.
We arrived at the delivery point, an art gallery in LaCrosse, around 10 AM. I would have been earlier if she hadn't murdered a couple of guys on the interstate earlier.
I pulled up right in front of the gallery. A couple of guys came out and stood on the sidewalk. They didn't look like artists to me.
"I hope we get to see each other again, sometime," Moira said.
"Hopefully under better circumstances,"
The guys on the sidewalk gestured their impatience.
"I have to go now," she said, "Joe can explain some of what's going on. I have a feeling you're going to ask, but it's best if you don't."
She got out and walked into the gallery. I waited in the van. A minute later, one of the guys that didn't look like an artist walked out of the gallery and handed me an envelope.
"Moira told me you ran into trouble. Here's some extra. We hired you because we were told you were discreet. That better be the case."
I took the envelope. I definitely felt I earned a bonus.
"I just want to get back home. Where do I unload the cargo?"
"That? It's yours. Take it back to Joe. Dump it in a ditch on your way back. We don't care."
I put the van in drive and headed back home. Despite the warnings, I had a lot of questions for Joe.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gas Prices

When gas prices spiked a few years ago I read lots of whining about the “environmental whackos”. The complaint was that no new refineries had been built in years and couldn’t be built because of excessive environmental regulations.

Imagine my surprise when today’s Tribune reported that refiners are shutting down refineries at a brisk clip here in the United States and places with lax environmental regulations. Environmental whackos? Of course not. The refiners are trying to maintain their profits. This isn’t my guess – the article quotes them. They are shutting down refineries, firing workers, all to keep the supply down and the prices up. Logical free market capitalism – and of course, completely legal. But, let’s not hear any more stories that  overzealous people in pursuit of clean air and water are the reason gas prices are high. While I acknowledge environmental regulations have an influence, let’s not overlook corporate profits and CEO bonuses.

Which do you think has the greater influence?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Unrealistic Positive Thinking

I’ve written on this topic before, so I’ll try not to repeat too much. I think that the peculiarly American brand of gung-ho optimism is partially responsible for our recent economic meltdown. The “What Me Worry?” attitude hurt us. I ran across this quote that I think sums it up nicely:

“What passes for optimism is most often the effect of an intellectual error.”

Raymond Aron

I don’t know who this guy is, but I think he summed up the housing bubble / Wall Street idiocy quite well.