Sunday, February 27, 2011

Maryland Drivers - Something You Just Have to Live With

I've alluded to the phenomenon that is the drivers of Maryland before. Don't feel embarrassed if you haven't fully understood these references. A year and half ago, I wouldn't have, either. In my Tennessee days, Maryland was, happily, a fact of which I was aware of intellectually but not experientially. I'd been to Baltimore once when I was kid, but as a passenger rather than a driver, they had failed to make a significant impression on my innocent psyche.
As an adult, however, I've experienced the Land of Mary and its people in a whole new way. You need some context to fully appreciate my own territorial biases and presuppositions. The DC Metro area is filled with the same kind of snobberies that you encounter in the NYC Metro area. Think of DC proper as Manhattan, Northern Virginia (NOVA) as Brooklyn and/or Connecticut, and Maryland as New Jersey. The DC people look down on anyone who doesn't live in the city limits. Whatever, the joke's on them- I pay half the rent for twice the space and safety and I can vote in Presidential elections. Deal with it, "real Washingtonians." NOVA is for the enlightened bunch who need to be literally be a couple of metro stops away from the Capitol but want to be able to park their cars and live in more than 500 square feet without fearing being mugged every time they go outside. Think fiscally sensible yuppies in Arlington (my old digs) and rich young families in McLean/Falls Church (the second richest county in America). And once you get into Loudon County (aka the richest county in the US), forget about it. They've got enough snoot to rival any Connecticut country club socialite. There is some mutual upturned noses between DCers and NOVAians; but these two groups are united in their disdain for the nether region known as Maryland.
Ah, Maryland. Now, I can only tell you a little bit about it from my own experience, as I have only deigned to go there for the Ikea and a few mandatory work functions. But from what I gather, the sketchy part of College Park is enough like the rest of the southern part of the state for me generalize. It should be noted that Bethesda and Chevy Chase are universally excluded from these prejudices. They are the only acceptable areas of Maryland for a self respecting urban professional to inhabit- maybe like an upscale Queens or Long Island. And Silver Springs- we'll call that the equivalent of a gentrified Bronx neighborhood. But the places in between- help me. Think old buildings. Think scary looking men on corners salivating as they look at your purse with their box cutters primed. Think (literally, I saw this) 4 liquor stores on one corner. For my Southern friends, think the beginning of true Yankeehood, with the rudeness and bad fashion. And finally, think the worse drivers you can imagine.
Now, it took me a while to arrive at this conclusion. Mostly because traffic in this area is already out of control. We've recently been named the worst traffic in the country (woot-woot!) and I have to drive through the most heavily constructed square mile every morning. Needless to say, lines are long, people are tense, and cars seem to make a lot of poor decisions. Remarkably low number of accidents, though- I digress. I noticed a lot of crazy drivers when I first moved. I myself have become crazier as I've lived here, so I don't notice as much any more. But every once in a while, I would still notice someone doing something exceptionally crazy or stupid. Weaving in and out like a drunk hypnotist. Getting in the lefthand land and going 20 miles an hour. Speeding up and slowing down to stay parallel with people trying to merge in from an ending lane. And I would think, are they from out of town? Or are they just mentally challenged? And consistently, in hopes of giving them credit for being from Idaho or something, I would see that the tags read "Maryland."
I began to test the theory- any time I found myself muttering, "Idiot!" under my breath, I would check the tags of the offending fool. Honestly, about 9 times out of 10, it's someone from Maryland. So I thought, maybe it's because I'm always seeing them in the city or in Virginia. Off of their home turf- maybe we can chalk it up to unfamiliarity with the area. But the next few forays into their territories revealed that home court advantage was no help on improving their overall skillz. I still had people nearly hitting me or cruising in neutral in the left hand lane.
Next, I began to socialize the hypothesis with coworkers and friends. "Hey- have you noticed that people from Maryland are terrible drivers?" They would just nod and stare blankly. "And?" Evidently, this is no news to DC area veterans; rather, it is common knowledge that there are crazies and fools amongst us on the roads. It's not localized to the DC area, either- I saw some terrible Maryland drivers in Tennessee the last time I was home.
These days, I just accept it. I know that every time I get on the Beltway, I am taking my life and sanity into my hands. I've almost reached the point of being indulgent about them. I find myself shaking my head and chuckling under my breath, "Oh, Maryland." Much the same way I do for Canada. If you can't lose 'em, love 'em.
So for those of you planning a visit- keep a sharp lookout. You, too, may be hit by the tidal wave of confusion that is the cohort of Maryland drivers.

Monday, February 14, 2011

5 People Who Make My Life Hard

One of the elements in the Flower exercise in Dick Bolles' immortal What Color is Your Parachute? is describing what kind of environment you want to work in or work best in. I'm pretty sure he means things like "working on a team" or "autonomous position in reporting hierarchy" or "a post where I can boss people around", rather than things like "not working with another Trekkie." But I guess the parameters of your definition are up to you. With that in mind, here's a brief reflection on the kind of people I don't like to work with, due to the bald spot they have create on the sides of my head from where I constantly am pulling my hair out.
  1. The Violent Agreer: This guy agrees with you. Completely. It's as if you share a mind, a heart, a soul... but from the way he's yelling and dragging the meeting out, you would think that you were the bitterest of enemies because you punched his elderly mother. This hour and a half meeting has become like Shoah - long and tragic. You all were on the same page after 20 minutes; but this guy is so in love with his oratory skills and the very sound of his own voice that he cannot help but belabor every single nuance of his acquiescence with your position. And when someone, quite naturally, asks if he is disagreeing with the point, he then must launch into a new monologue to affirm his agreement with the thing. This guys wastes my time, stresses me out by making me feel unnecessarily defensive, and gives me a headache.
  2. The CY Ass Master: I named this gal after a character I met when I was on a school trip in Florence. We had a tour guide, who was also leading another school group, which included a young lad who referred to himself as "The Ass Master." I am completely sure that he gave himself this nickname, since I can only assume that it's meant to imply either that he's in good physical form or that he has a way with the ladies; neither of these assumptions would be drawn by the casual observer. Anyways, for those of you not down with the business jargon, CYA stands for Cover Your Ass. Used in a sentence: "I know you don't agree with this strategy, so be sure to CYA by documenting your concerns." This particular character has only one objective in mind - and trust me, it's not being productive or working together as a team. She only cares about making sure that nothing can be traced back to or blamed on her. This makes any decision making or progress almost impossible, since she is invariably in a position of power and thus an integral cog in the decision making machine. Many of the annoyed emails I receive inquiring about delays can be traced back to this lass.
  3. Oscar the Grouch: You've been consistently nice to him; you've gone out of your way to thank him for the work he's done; you've been sure to include him in important email chains. He is still a jerk to you every time you see him. He must have made a conscious decision at some point to be rude and unkind at all times, because no one has this kind of bad mood so consistently. He leaves me torn between my desire to people please to make sure that everyone likes me and my itch to whip out my copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior and read him the riot act. (for those interested, this is a life changing book:
  4. The Blind Sheep: It is truly a miracle that this girl was ever able to graduate from a college that did not allow group tests, because she seems to be literally incapable of making a move without some form of guidance, affirmation, or instruction. Activities that you would have assumed were common sense seem to require 30 minutes of step-by-step direction over IM. You get an email alert anytime she thinks about going to the bathroom. You might as well go with her to lunch because she'll only call you 5 times asking for your opinion on egg versus chicken salad if you don't. Maybe it's because I'm always polite and respond to their inquiries, but these ladies sniff me out the second they arrive on the project and don't leave me alone until they have systematically drained me of all my sanity.
  5. The Weedwacker: Oh, this guy. This guy is maybe the worse. Okay, so there are a lot of things that happen in a given day on the type of projects that I'm on. Meetings, working sessions, passive aggressive emails that CC the entire executive team of the client- all the moving pieces require that a certain amount trust be vested in every one of your teammates, because no one person can have their eye on the entirety of the project. But don't try to tell that to this guy. He's got to have his hands in every cookie jar around. Have a hard discussion with a vendor? He'll be there, calling the vendor behind your back and undermining your position. Need to talk to a client to determine a better meeting time for next week? He'll take on the role of middleman between you and the client to make sure that you never have the opportunity to accidentally call her fat or something in person. Running low on printer ink? He will send you step by step instructions on who to buy the new batch from, where to pick it up, and which sales person you should give the commission to. In other words, he's all up in your grill - or "in the weeds," in consultantese. The whole reason I'm there is to be in the weeds for him so he can focus on the big picture - that's supposed to be why they pay him the big bucks and not me. If not, I need a salary hike. Because I just don't get paid enough to have this guy mouth-breathing over my shoulder for 12 hours a day. And if you add a promotion on the horizon for this guy - crank up the volume to 11 and add in a healthy dose of CY Ass Master-itis into the mix. Result? Frankie banging her head on the table over and over again.
  6. And a bonus to reflect the times... The Predetermined Time Waster: So here's the thing - it's fine to not want to choose a certain option. No skin off my nose, because I'm just here to help. But don't act like you're going to go down one path, force me to spend literally months working on it, when you have no intention of actually going through with it. You didn't like it from the beginning. No amount of tedious rework and repetitious requirements gathering on my part will change that. So just strap on a pair and say you want to go a different direction from the beginning. Having the exact same conversation with someone 7 times just makes me feel like I'm taking crazy pills- it's the passive aggressive way of saying no without having to actually come out and take a stance. Don't waste hundreds of man hours on something you've already decided you're not going to like. You will save yourself some cash money and me from wanting to curl up under my desk and cry. 
Life is short. But it feels so much longer with these characters hanging around.

Out of curiosity, are these specific characters to the office environment, or do they have mutant relatives in other lines of work? I'm thinking a CY Ass Master in a field like firefighting or medicine could have particularly disastrous results.