Driver’s Ed 101

Now that I’ve been back in the driving world for over a year, I have started to add up some observations on common driving mistakes. I don’t believe that these are inherent to just the drivers in my city but there is one in particular which I’ve noticed that really shouldn’t be a problem if you are an experienced driver.

Let’s talk about backing out of parking spaces, shall we? Take this woman, for instance:


I can’t believe that the person waiting for the woman to figure out how to park waited as long as he did. I do admire him for finally asking if he could park the woman’s car for her. I DON’T believe this woman should be a licensed driver.

What I don’t appreciate is that there seems to be this misapprehension that women are terrible drivers. There are plenty of horrible male drivers in this world, as well. For some people, driving is instinctual – you just GET it. I am one of those people. My best friend has never learned how to drive and isn’t interested at all. She placed herself in a city where she has reliable public transportation. Kudos to her!

I yearned to learn how to drive at a very early age and by the time I turned nine, I started counting the years until I turned sixteen and I would finally get my license. I’m not even kidding. The day I got my driver’s license was one of the happiest in my entire life. I remember it fondly. My mom was nervous about me “tooling around” on my own but quickly realized what a boon it was to have a daughter more than willing to run errands, just so she could drive the car all by herself.

Now that I have been a licensed driver for over half of my existence, I can safely say that it is one of the best gifts a person can have. I thought about how fortunate I am to be able to own and drive my own car the other day as I was on my way to work. I still get a kick out of driving each and every day. And I think road trips are as fun as they are therapeutic.

While there were plenty of times I liked riding the subway when I lived in New York, I have an even fuller appreciation for being able to drive to work now. It doesn’t hurt that my commute isn’t a one-hour, clogged traffic jam everyday, either. Still, until you’ve sacrificed your personal space on a crowded rush-hour train in New York City, you can’t know how freeing it feels to be able to throw your things in the passenger seat, blast heat or air conditioning as you see fit, be able to sit the whole time, and listen to music as loudly as you want (or not). It’s a serious sigh of relief.

However, I do believe that having a license is something that most people take for granted; there might be many fewer accidents otherwise. I still maintain my position on minivans, by the way, as just this morning the light turned green but we all waited for the minivan flying at 50mph to plow through the intersection on a red light. (And it was a man driving.) Driving is as much about courtesy to others as it is a convenience for us to get ourselves around.

Backing into and out of parking spaces is a necessity of a driver’s life and yet, so many people can not seem to figure this out. There is a very simple rule that has served me well since I was 15 years of age and in Driver’s Ed. The coach told us it’s a 75/25 rule: back out straight three-quarters of the way before you begin turning your wheels. You will not scrape the cars on either side of you if you stick to this rule of thumb. And it really works! I frequently see people in my office parking lot turn their wheels the moment they’ve hit reverse and I’m amazed more cars aren’t stripped lengthwise of their paint. I cringe every single time.

I could probably go on for longer than most people would prefer with driving safety tips so I’m going to leave you with the one tip for today and hope it changes your life or someone else’s you may know.

Because if you are anything like this other woman below (who requires the help of yet another woman guiding her), you need to re-evaluate whether you should be driving, stat:

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Sorry I’m A Safe Driver, and: I Hate Minivans

I have a bone to pick with minivan drivers. What is the deal? You either drive way too fast or way too slow. Can’t you just drive normally? I can’t help but feel like some of the rude driving I’ve seen happen with these vehicles is because there is pent up rage from owning one of these ugly things. I’m in the minority in that I am a woman who has no desire whatsoever to have one. My male counterpart couldn’t want one more, inexplicably.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve been on road trips and the cars that are going 85 and being obnoxious are minivans (usually male drivers). I smiled the other day when I was coming to an intersection and saw that a minivan had been pulled over, presumably for speeding or having just run the light. I couldn’t help but feel vindicated for what had transpired earlier that same day. Shall I relay the story?

So that same morning, as I was sitting in the left turn lane at a busy intersection – and I was the first car in the turn lane, mind you – there was no chance for me to turn left against the regular green light, so I knew I was going to have to sit through another cycle before I got the arrow. Right as the light was about to turn, a minivan drives around me from being in the turn lane and proceeded to go out into the middle of the intersection, turning left against the red light. Thank God s/he had the turn signal on or it would have been REALLY obnoxious.

You can bet your sweet bippy I honked at this foul offender, whilst also spewing some choice epithets after him/her. (I’m assuming it was a man but who’s really to say.) Pretty much, this was my face:

When I told my boyfriend the same story in a really appalled tone, he took the opportunity (after agreeing that it had been a dick move) to say, “But you know, if you’d been pulled out into the intersection, he wouldn’t have done that.”

What ensued after this statement was a huge debate about whether or not it’s illegal and/or courteous to pull out mid-intersection to turn left. This must be a “Champaign thing.” Where I grew up in St. Louis, there are very few lights which do not have green arrows, so we know exactly when we can turn. Having to sit at a busy intersection with no green arrow is not only infuriating, but basically encourages this crappy driver etiquette. And this was a light where we had a green arrow! It only lights every other cycle for some odd reason, though. Being rush hour traffic, I really had no opportunity to turn.

Anyway, although we are both good drivers, the boyfriend and I disagree on several driving habits, this being the main one. Apparently I’m the jerk for not pulling all the way out and waiting for the light to turn, even if it’s when the light has turned red and I just have to get out of the way; whereas I can’t help but feel like an a-hole if I pull that stunt. It happens so often here and yet, I still hate doing it. I feel like I’m basically running a red light when I do this. Kevin insists it is perfectly legal. I have not been swayed. Our debate escalated to the point where, in a very frustrated moment I blurted out, “Sorry I’m a safe driver!”

You just never know who is going to do what when crossing an intersection and I don’t like sitting in the middle of the action when I can sit behind my safe little white line that was designated for this purpose. Am I right or am I right or am I right?

Okay, back to my original diatribe about minivans. I find them ugly, bulbous, and too similar looking. They’re everywhere. Plus, I don’t want to turn into Shitty Minivan Driver. I understand that if one has lots of children, these are probably Dream Modes of Transportation. Since I have zero children, this definitely accounts for the strong bias. I just don’t understand what a minivan has that say, a nice-looking SUV or crossover doesn’t have. I’d really like to know. Being the aesthetic person that I am, it’s more of a looks thing than it is a stereotype thing, but the stereotype does play into my dislike. I also know that there are folks out there who SWEAR by minivans and would never drive anything else. I’d like to hear from you!

For whatever reasons that Kevin adores minivans – all of them practical, I assure you – we have actually gotten into a heated debate about why we may or may not purchase one in our future solidified life together. I am adamantly opposed (has that been made clear?) and he is insistent on changing my mind. He finds them to be the pinnacle purchase in adulthood, I think. Strangely enough, Kevin’s best friend is also the one in his relationship who prefers to have a minivan and his wife is the one that has the same knee-jerk reaction I do: Yick! So they have that to bond over, which is cute and funny.

If anyone out there can shed some light on the intersection debate or tell me all the merits of owning a minivan, I’d love the feedback! I can’t fathom changing my mind about ever wanting to own a minivan but never say never, right? I think Justin Bieber never says never. Or he just says, “Never Say Never.” One of those.

In the meantime, I will bask in the glory of sedan ownership.

**Edit March 2017** — a couple of weeks ago, I was at an extremely busy intersection during the 5 o’clock rush home. I needed to turn left across two oncoming lanes of traffic, and the intersection is quite wide. It’s easy to underestimate how much time it takes to cross those lanes with two lanes of traffic barreling down on you. Because of the heavy traffic, I stayed behind my little white line at the light. A woman raced up behind me and, when she realized I wasn’t going to move out into traffic, shook her head at me. She was older, perhaps in her 50s or 60s. I saw her grimace and shake her head in my rearview mirror. I decided to fight her crankiness with silliness and I happily waved at her. She saw me waving and lightened up (slightly) and half-heartedly waved back at me. (I like to think that she felt a little embarrassed, perhaps thinking I knew her, and she is only comfortable doing that to strangers instead of people she knows.) The light went red and we sat through another cycle until I was able to safely cross with a green arrow. My husband still asserts that he sided with the lady behind me but I like to think that being cautious saved myself and possibly the woman behind me from making a poor driving decision and getting into an accident. The “Sliding Doors” theory, if you will.

The Pizza Phenomenon

Papa Del’s Pizza!

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do….“*

This has been my attitude towards consuming pizza since I began to eat it. It’s been one of my favorite foods since I was a child. I always thought it was so strange when I would see people who could eat ONE slice of pizza at a meal and claim to be satisfied. Granted, it depends on the size of the slice and if you live in New York City, one slice can certainly be the equivalent of two. But let’s say one is eating thin crust. I mean, come on. Like Imo’s from St. Louis and Monical’s from Central Illinois, a person simply can not be satisfied with one slice of thin crust. They’re cut into small squares and are designed to be eaten in larger quantities. Even Domino’s has capitalized on doing this.

Between that and the other non-New York slices, I just find it dumbfounding that people exist who can merely pick at pizza or take one and say, “I’m good.” Forreal?

Then I moved to Illinois, home of Chicago style pizza. I’d had this style before, if you count it when one frequents the chain called UNO’s. In Champaign-Urbana, there is a Chicago style place called Papa Del’s. There is one close by to my office and it’s very convenient to go and pick up a slice during the day.

Well. I am a changed woman.

I can actually consume one slice of this pizza and be totally satisfied. I never thought it would happen. I guess that’s why there’s that ‘never say never’ phrase. Oh, I can eat two or more slices, but for a quick and portion controlled lunch, it’s not exactly the best decision when one is working. The slices are thick and hearty with plenty of robust tomato sauce; even one topping suffices and I’m a multiple topping kind of gal.

I must congratulate the universe (or just those who invented Chicago style pizza, perhaps) because in all my decades of pizza consumption, I have never been able to stay away from eating multiple slices. And with this satisfying type of pizza, I don’t need to. I will say this, though – if you do not like thick crust, don’t bother. Then this won’t work for you if you’re similar to me regarding the “can’t have just one slice” thing. Thick lovers need only apply.

A nice side benny: I don’t feel like a piece of garbage when I’m finished because I’ve kept the portion reasonable and I take my time eating it. It’s….actually incredibly satisfying. And at the end of the day, I get to say I had pizza for lunch. It’s win-win-win. (The Office reference, for those of you familiar.)

There is hope for me yet as I go along with this portion control business. Win.

*Lyric from Harry Nilsson’s song “One”

Snow Day in the Prairie State

Yesterday, the weather outside was certainly frightful. Inside it wasn’t all that delightful, mostly because I don’t have a fireplace.  Therefore it was just kinda eh, thanks to the house I rent still having its original windows from the 1930s or whenever it was built. Nothing like seeping arctic air to ruin any attempts at low-cost heating.

The 50mph winds didn’t show signs of stopping – and didn’t. It never fails that I had to run errands in the middle of some of the worst weather of the year but run them I did. For the few minutes that the car was warm and I was driving on the smaller side streets, watching the snow fall next to the old-fashioned street lamps was actually quite pretty. Then I had to get out of the car.

Thankfully it’s the modern age with indoor heating. The wind chill was well below 0. Gusts of snow were blowing everywhere.

After running up to the drugstore to buy “emergency butter” so I could go through with my plans for baking, I commenced with making two sets of goodies: Oreo Truffles and “Crack Cookies.” I dubbed the latter with that name because they are definitely as addicting as crack. Plus they have crackers in them and are crunchy. Double Crack Cookies.

These two recipes were so gall durn messy to make, however, that I only captured photos in making the truffles.

So while the wind whistled and blew like a fiend, knocking over trash cans and making our utility shed door bang open and closed a thousand times, I cranked up the Eden Pure heater, blasted some Christmas carols, and balled away.

If you like Oreos. If you like cream cheese. If you like chocolate. Pretty much if you have a pulse, you will enjoy these decadent “candies,” which are dangerously rich and addictive. Needless to say they are sitting on my office’s kitchen table as I write this so I don’t have to have so many staring at me in my home.

Oreos pulverized with cream cheese

Shiny!

Chilled balls, ready for dipping.

Melted milk chocolate chips.

Finished (SLOPPY) product. Delish.

Renewed: Passion for Potato Pancakes

This morning we needed to get out of the house because we were putting spider bombs in the basement and needed to grab the dog and go somewhere for a bit. (Our basement is seriously nasty and one of the creepiest I’ve ever been in.)

Since it was also a fine time to go get breakfast, we headed over to The Original Pancake House; but not after stopping in at the Great Harvest Bread Company and picking up some cheesy jalapeno bread, a Turtle Cookie, and some pumpkin loaf with chocolate chips in it. Clearly we’re fattening up — more — for the winter, months down the line.

Fast forward to our food arriving at The Original Pancake House, a place which prides itself on the quality of the food it serves. Before our food arrived, I was already impressed with the fact that they brewed their own coffee and served me a small cream pitcher filled with…cream. I don’t know about you but perfect coffee with your breakfast is kind of like what vanilla does to sugar cookies: you would only appreciate it in its absence. And it’s that important.

I decided to order Eggs Michael, a dish consisting of two poached eggs on top of some sausage and English muffins, topped with a mushroom sherry sauce and served with three potato pancakes, which come with sides of sour cream and apple sauce. Does that not sound amazing?

Long story short, the potato pancakes were some of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve dined in some mighty fine restaurants. The best bite was a mixture of the poached egg, potato pancake, a little sour cream, and some English muffin. The sausage wasn’t bad at all but I became so fixated on the potato pancakes and eggs that I didn’t rememberto eat everything. The mushroom sherry sauce actually tasted like sherry, even though it had a more gravy look to it. (I’m not a fan of gravy and being picky about it, I think that says something about my willingness to eat it.)

I’m posting some photos of our meal, in case you need incentive to visit the Champaign-Urbana area and try this place out for yourself. (Click on each to see an enlarged view.) We split a plain waffle because the place is famous for its waffles and pancakes (and they have a huge variety) and it was absolutely delicious. You can tell these people take pride in what they serve to their customers. It was a bon repas, indeed.

Eggs Michael

Perfect Potato Pancakes

Lethal deliciousness