Is It Possible to Slow Down?

You probably know my story—but if you don’t, click here, here, and here.

Last night, I was supposed to be meeting my musical comrade in arms. The two of us have a history that dates back to Lisbon High School and him patrolling the outfield behind me during our championship baseball season in 1979, when I was flinging the baseball real fast towards home plate. We also experienced two basketball seasons where we posted identical 1-17 seasons back-to-back.

Of all my friends from this era, Dave has remained as fixated (if not more so) about music (mainly rock) as I am. He listens to it, stays current, and since February, he’s been getting me out to shows more frequently.

Speaking of back-to-back, we saw The War on Drugs at Portland’s State Theater Monday night and last night, it was X. Dave almost didn’t make it, however.

Driving home from work in South Portland, he was rear-ended in Falmouth, along what’s become a notoriously dangerous stretch of I-295. The state has even lowered speed limits there as a way to prevent accidents.

The affected vehicle, a 1997 Saab convertible he calls Bambi II, was a nod to Dave’s penchant and vehicle preference. He had another similar vintage that he was planning to use as a parts car. However, last night’s crash means Bambi II is headed to the scrapyard.

Dave’s okay. He could have been killed. In fact, there was a fatality not long after an SUV plowed into the back of him, sending car and driver into the median and up against the guardrail on the opposite, southbound side.

I received his message just as I was parking in downtown Portland. He said he was fine and would be “riding in with Leo, meeting up at Port City in time for the show.

We know that ever-increasing speeds lead to accidents. Yet, some states are promoting driving faster.

Speed limits on roadways are determined by a careful process. There’s a history to setting them dating back 200 years. From The Methods and Practices of Setting Speed Limits: An Informational Report, rendered by the Federal Highway Safety Administration:

Speeding, commonly defined as exceeding the posted speed limit or driving too fast for conditions, is a primary crash causation factor across the globe. Based on a survey of road safety performance, speeding is the number one road safety problem in many countries, often contributing to as many as one-third of fatal crashes and serving as an aggravating factor in most crashes.2 According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), speeding-related crashes account for over 13,000 fatalities per year in the United States, making speeding one of the most often-cited contributing factors for fatal crashes.3

One of the most frequently used methods of managing travel speeds is the posted speed limit. The setting of speed limits predates the automobile by some 200 years, when Newport, Rhode Island, prohibited the horses galloping on major thoroughfares to prevent pedestrian deaths. Similarly, Boston, Massachusetts, limited horse-drawn carriages to “foot pace” on Sundays to protect church-goers.

The English Parliament is credited with setting the world’s first speed limit for mechanically-propelled vehicles in 1861.* At that time, the Locomotive Act (automobiles were considered “light locomotives”) limited the speed of all “locomotives” on public highways to 10 mph (16 km/h)-5 mph (8 km/h) through any City, town, or village.The Act was later amended to set speed limits of 4 mph (6 km/h) outside of towns and 2 mph (3 km/h) within them. These new operating speeds also required three operators for each vehicle—two traveling in the vehicle and one walking ahead and carrying a red flag to warn pedestrians and equestrians.5

Selecting an appropriate speed limit for a facility can be a polarizing issue for a community. Residents and vulnerable road users generally seek lower speeds to promote quality of life for the community and increased security for pedestrians and cyclists; motorists seek higher speeds that minimize travel time. Despite the controversy surrounding maximum speed limits, it is clear that the overall goal of setting the speed limit is almost always to increase safety within the context of retaining reasonable mobility.

The principal exception to the safety objective of speed limits was the oil crisis in the early 1970s, when speed limits were lowered as a means of conserving fuel. This rationale for lower speed limits was revived in Spain in early 2011, where the government lowered the maximum speed limit of 75 mph (120 km/h) to 70 mph (110 km/h) in an attempt to curb fuel consumption in the face of rising oil prices.6 However, the measure lasted only four months before the top speed limit was returned to the former 75 mph (120 km/h).

Maximum speed limits are laws; therefore, speed limits are set for the protection of the public and the regulation of unreasonable behavior on the part of individuals.
* This still predates the gasoline-powered automobile and was enacted for steam-powered vehicles.

Did you catch that? Speed limits exist for our protection. When you exceed them, you potentially put others and yourself in grave danger.

But everyone speeds, right? Not necessarily. It’s not even necessary to, but we’ve made driving beyond posted limits socially acceptable and fashionable.

Have you noticed car commercials? I can’t help it—most of them magnify the advertised vehicle’s capacity for speed and power, knowing that’s a lure for cultivating sales. In these days of climate change, why wouldn’t more people value cars that emphasize other aspects. Driving slower also conserves fuel.

Speeding is okay until you are directly affected by it. Sometimes, merely paying an excessive find is enough to slow you down (if you get caught). But more likely, nothing changes. Plus, every time you take to the roads—whether driving, or god forbid, walking or bicycling—you are forced to co-exist with the tens of thousands of scofflaws who routinely flaunt the rules of the road.

When someone you love is killed by the actions of a driver who violates the laws of the road, you are forever affected by it.

Since January 21, when Mark was killed, I’ve had a hard time co-existing with my fellow drivers. The further south you go, the worse it gets. Anecdotally, it seems like drivers from New Hampshire, and especially Massachusetts are notorious for driving well-beyond the posted limits. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island where we’ve traveled frequently since the first of the year (Mark lived in Providence and owned a home there), it’s not uncommon to have vehicles come up on you and swerve around you at speeds that I’m sure are approaching 90 miles an hour. Sometimes I think I want to hurt them. So far, I haven’t given into that urge.

Once I’m past the initial surge of adrenaline and anger, I check my own speed. I’m consistently driving under posted limits partly because the used car I bought a month ago incentivizes me to drive for fuel efficiency. I now know I couldn’t live with inflicting the kind of pain on another family like both my wife and I have had to bear since the driver in Florida  left her lane and hit Mark, walking legally along the paved shoulder.

If you can’t slow down for yourself, could you stop being such a narcissistic asshole and do it for others? Maybe you won’t end up killing or maiming someone in the future. That would really suck (I think) to have to live with that.

Dave’s okay. I’m thankful for that. Having lost a son and recently, a mother-in-law, I wasn’t ready to have to deal with losing one of my best friends.

Pain in the Gut

For weeks after Mark died, my stomach hurt. Searing pain, centered in my gut.

Then, winter turned to spring. We made a pilgrimage of sorts to California. Upon returning, I was thrust into the school umpiring season and then, it was summer and more baseball games to arbitrate.

Mary decided to embark on training to get ready for the Tri for a Cure. She returned to work. I got dumped from one of my jobs. Life continued, without Mark.

How does one normalize that which isn’t normal? Life missing a portion of your heart, a family unit in mourning, and now, it’s tourist season and everyone’s life is filled with the seasonal things we all know and love. Except it’s hard to find joy when your life is turned upside-down and you continue reeling.

Our gut is part of the nervous system, known as the “brain-gut axis.” According to an older issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter detailing the effects of stress and abdominal pain,

“our brain interacts with the rest of the body through the nervous system, which has several major components. One of them is the enteric nervous system, which helps regulate digestion. In life-or-death situations, the brain triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. It slows digestion, or even stops it completely, so the body can focus all of its internal energy to facing the threat. But less severe types of stress, such as an argument, public speaking, or driving in traffic, also can slow or disrupt the digestive process, causing abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Stress causes disruption of the digestive process. Since Mary and I have been on stress overload continuing to deal with the details of a life sans its guiding force here during summer’s height, I guess I know why my stomach is hurting again.

Stress can cause pain in the gut.

Continue reading

Free Wi-Fi

I am writing this post from a public library that rests along Main Street in one of Maine’s quintessential small towns. For what it’s worth, it could be a stand-in for Main Street, USA if producers truly cared about places removed from the population centers on the left and right coasts.

Driving “down” the coast from Woodward Cove, the morning’s radio waves were crammed with news of another shooting. Even sports talk wasn’t immune from the hosts adding their two cents worth of political grandstanding.

Libraries are always full of little treasures.

Where I live, if you want to know what the conservative talking points are for any given day, just head over to the AM side of the dial and WGAN will let you know the pulse of the angry, white (predominantly male) pitchfork-bearers in five minutes or less.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been repulsed by the ugliness of humanity. Mark would have had an antidote for me, but in case you’ve forgotten, Mark’s no longer with us. Continue reading

Come on, be a friend

I’ve mentioned numerous times in my recent posts that grief isn’t linear. Loss means you jump back and forth across the continuum and experience a full palette of emotions; that’s at least how I’ve been processing the death of Mark.

Two weeks ago, I felt a bit of creative intensity returning. I’ve been able to blog, mainly personal reflections about losing a son. However, I’ve been short on new ideas. Grief affects our cognitive abilities, just one of the “gifts” that grief delivers.

I remembered a friend of Mark’s that I met at his celebration of life. He had offered his eye as an editor for anything—taking a look at Mark’s work, or even ideas I might have.

Hesitant about sending something I’d put together—an idea for an essay related to Mark and my experience as his father processing death, grief, and some of the bitter/hateful reactions from some corners of the internet. I used an essay written by David Foster Wallace as my jumping off point, and the reaction that his subject had when Wallace later committed suicide.

At the very least, his reaction was disappointing. I’m fine with being offered a critique, and even some suggestions about how best to pitch something like this. Instead, he chose to be dismissive at best, offering little in the way of encouragement.

My mood over the past few weeks has been alternating between deep sadness and red-hot anger, with several outbursts of frustration. As disorienting as this up-and-down yo-yoing looks and feels, the counselor we’ve been visiting for two months assures me (and Mary) that all this is quite normal.

Someone I’ve never met, but who had been following Mark’s journey, initiated an online conversation shortly after he was killed. It’s obvious from his public profile and body of work that this person is immensely talented. He also knows compassion and how to extend it to those suffering loss. He recommended Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking as a place to find some solace and a book on mourning that was worthy of my time and effort. I’m grateful he did. Continue reading

Paying My Respects

In 2013, a friend passed away before he and I were able to schedule one final visit. He was a man I had come to consider a mentor, as well as a friend.

He had given advanced warning that his time was winding down—he’d been diagnosed with cancer—and had urged me not to “wait too long.” Foolishly, I treated him like another appointment on my calendar and when I found out he had died and I’d even missed the celebration of his life, I felt like a total heel.

The post I wrote honoring him back in April, 2013, touched on some of these things, but really didn’t do his life and influence justice. Rarely is it possible to perfectly capture one’s life in a blog narrative. So why do it?

Writers write, and often, we process through our craft. Continue reading

This is not a Thanksgiving post

Life is often filled with uncertainty. Not knowing can cause anxiety and worse, even fear. Often, fear is irrational but it still stalks us creatures craving directions and crystal clear pictures of the future.

My year began with so much excitement and then, I got dished a large dollop of unpredictability, which segued into a period of dissonance, and eventually, employment’s door shut in my face. By late June, I was uncertain about what new revelations were just around the corner. Continue reading

Paul Bunyan’s gaze

Paul Bunyan, keeping watch over Bangor.

All of us have a special place, or maybe a couple of locales that hold a unique position in our personal geography. Often, hometowns hold both special memories, as well as memories clouded by family conflict and the struggles that go along with coming of age in that place where we’re born. Continue reading