How to Drive in Traffic

Traffic jams are perhaps our single greatest cause of stress. You’re cruising along in your own little world of happiness, bopping along to Neko Case or NPR or Randy Travis or Beethoven – whatever floats your boat, really – and then, up ahead…a sea of red brake lights. You curse, swear, slam on the brakes, and resign yourself to forty-five minutes of speed-up, slow-down, lane-change-to-new-lane-that-immediately-slows down, and worse. Then, after that forty-five minutes, you see the cause: a rainbow-shaped smattering of window glass all over the road, or a ’93 Toyota Camry with the front crumpled and a weeping driver being taken care of by paramedics, or a fire truck pulling back into traffic, its work done, or…nothing.

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Those are the worst, aren’t they? Those jams that come from nowhere, ruin your day, and are then gone, without the emotional satisfaction of seeing why they happened. Well…they happen because of you.

Remember your reaction to the brake lights? Careen toward them at high speed, then slam on the brakes and skid to a stop right near the rear bumper of the poor guy in front of you? Then, when you changed lanes to a faster one, sped up, then had to slam on the brakes again?

Here’s some news – this makes traffic jams worse. And all of that slamming and pushing and speeding-up adds to your stress level. The secret to driving in traffic jams? Do none of this. Mellow out. Change your music to Enya or the Dead Kennedys – whatever keeps you cool. Stay a good couple of cars from the people in front of you. You can’t imagine what this will do for your mood. What’s more amazing is…if more people acted this way, we wouldn’t have traffic jams.

See, continuous speeding up and slowing down can result in traffic waves , which eventually result in congestion, and the kind of jams that we talked about above – the frustrating ones with no apparent cause that make you want to be driving an M1 Abrams. check this guy’s experience. Or this.

The great thing about driving this way is that it doesn’t just help the people behind you – it also has affects around you and even in front. In other words, by mellowing out, you’ll actually end up driving…faster.

How to Talk To Your Friends At A Rock Show

We’ve all been to wonderful rock shows – downstairs at a small, sweaty  club with a band on the rise who are playing so hard that their strings and voices are breaking at the same frantic, accelerated rate. Inevitably, as they take a break from the ROCK and strap on the acoustics for something quiet…it happens.

Someone is talking. Loudly. About something like
– That idiot at work
– I really really really like him/her
– I’m so drunk

Or whatever.

Look. I’m not a total curmudgeon. You’re out, it’s a show, you’re with friends you don’t get to see as much as you would love to, and you’ve only got three hours before the busses stop running or the bridges close. You want to connect. You want to converse. You wanna talk. I get it.

And you can! You really can have conversations without forcing your probably-annoying voice into the ears of the other people at the show. People who, probably, paid a good bit of their hard-earned  working money to hear the band play songs. So…

1) Only talk during song breaks. Even if the singer is talking, that’s still second to the music. So you can get away with it.
2) Talk, but softly. If it’s loud where you are…(this is a big one)  (seriously, it’s a big secret) cup your hand around your friend’s ear and speak softly right into it.

That’s it. Your hand will muffle the sound so that people around you won’t hear a thing. Your friend will hear you because your negligible volume is directed right at his eardrum. And neither of you will have to hear your own screams as other people tear out your entrails in anger for ruining their one night out this week!

How To Be A Kickass Reunion DJ

Reunions. 10th high school… 20th college… 25th anniversaries of a semester spent in London…  they all have one thing in common: the music is wrong. I’m not saying it’s bad, or that DJ plays songs that I personally do not like, or that the DJ himself is a smarmy moron. I’m saying the songs are just wrong. Miley Cyrus at a reunion of the Wheaton College class of 1963 gathering. The entire Billboard Hot 100 from 1981 at a high school fifth reunion this past June. Or something in between. Any way you take it, it’s the wrong music for the crowd at hand.

When you have a party and the wrong music is playing, everything suffers. There’s a dance floor – nobody’s on it except for that one scary flailing drunk guy. The DJ assumes, wrongly, that nobody’s on the dance floor because the guests can’t hear the music, so he cranks it up even louder, which makes it impossible for the guests – who are trying to avoid the music – to speak to each other. So a few leave early, which inspires a few more to leave early, which eventually means a mass exodus out the door. An even that was supposed to go until midnight ends at ten, with one guy behind the decks and that flailing drunk guy happily sucking down all the last of the Irish whiskey by himself at the bar.

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Don’t you want to be more like this guy? Well, maybe not…

Farfetched, you say? In the last two years I’ve been to a couple of reunions, and…well, this happened. In both cases, the guests muttered to each other (or, in some cases shouted) things like

“Boy, this music sucks.”
“This music is terrible.”
“Want to go to a bar where we can put on a jukebox of things that make sense?”

So…how do you fix this? It’s really not that hard. Here, my friends, is this website’s first lesson!

Example

Let’s say you, dear reader, have been contracted to play at a high school reunion. What’s the first question you ask?

Wait for it…this is the big secret. 

It’s not hard. You ask “what year are we celebrating?”  The organizers tell you that it’s a reunion for a high school class of 1995 – these organizers are on the ball, and are getting started early.

Sixty percent of your work is now done. Look at your collection of digital files, records, cassettes, CDs, DVDs filled with mp3s, whatever… and do a filter. This filter needs to get rid of every song that came out after 1995. I’m not saying that there aren’t good dance-floor fillers that have come out since; I’m asking you to remember that you’re at a high school reunion, and people there are reliving high school memories. This means…yes, play songs that will remind these people of high school!

Note: under no circumstances should you ever include “The Happy Wedgie Swirlie Song” or “Unpopular People Are Ugly” in a high school mix. Keep the memories happy!

Your next thing is to find out what songs were popular when these kids were in high school, and perhaps for the two or three years before – that’s when people tend to start getting into music and it has the deepest emotional tug. So, let’s say 1989 – 1995. That’s fertile ground. Take a look at the songs from that era – you can find a fun list here.

Once you’ve got this list, you can start cruising. You have your list, you have your popular artists – take a look at their hit songs, but also take a look at slightly deeper cuts. For example – “The Sign” by Ace of Base was the #1 song for all of 1994, and it’s a rightfully awesome pop hit. But…look a little further down – they also had two other solid hits – “All That She Wants” and “Don’t Turn Around.” “The Sign” is the kind of song that still gets played on drive-time radio on those stations that advertise Hits from the 80s, 90s, and today. The other two haven’t been heard in years, and will make every one at your reunion jump a little and think holy crap, I haven’t heard this song in years, but I remember when it came on during Homecoming Week senior year…

Keep that in mind. Your job is not to just go on autopilot and pump out the top five songs from each year – it’s to build a mood, keep things moving, and put everyone into a super-happy nostalgic place.

What’s that, you say? You want an example? Not a problem. Here’s my shot at a playlist for a 1995 high school reunion, in order. We’re going to start with mellower, less-danceable stuff for when people are mingling and eating, and then get the party started after a couple of hours.

“Ordinary World”  – Duran Duran
“Blaze of Glory” – Jon Bon Jovi
“Can’t Help Falling in Love” – UB40
“I Remember You” – Skid Row
“Runnin’ Down a Dream” – Tom Petty
“In the Still of the Nite” – Boyz II Men
“Would?” – Alice in Chains
“I’m Every Woman” – Whitney Houston
“Fields of Gold” – Sting
“Hey Jealousy” – Gin Blossoms (Frankly, I’m more partial to “Allison Road” but nobody remembers that song at all)
“One” – U2
“I’d Die Without You” – PM Dawn
“My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get it)” – En Vogue
“Alive” – Pearl Jam
“Hold My Hand” – Hootie and the Blowfish
“Leaving Las Vegas” – Sheryl Crow
“Waterfalls” – TLC
“Kiss from a Rose” – Seal

And, switching gears here…

“Insane in the Brain” – Cypress Hill
“Vogue” – Madonna
“Ice Ice Baby” – Vanilla Ice
“Get Up (Before the Night is Over)” – Technotronic
“Rump Shaker” – Wreckx-N-Effect
“I Got A Man” – Positive K
“Rebirth of Slick (Cool like Dat)” – Digable Planets
“Jump Around’ – House of Pain
“Another Night” – Real McCoy
“This is How We Do It” – Montell Jordan
“Here Comes the Hotstepper” – Ini Kamoze
“Keep Their Heads Ringin'” – Dr Dre
“Whatta Man” – Salt N Pepa
“Ditty” – Paperboy
“Whoomp (There it Is)” – Tag Team
“Gin and Juice” – Snoop Dogg
“Fantastic Voyage” – Coolio
“All That She Wants” – Ace of Base

Putting that list together took me less than fifteen minutes. Quibble with the order if you will, but that’s a mix that’ll fire ’em up and pack the dance floor. If you need to go longer than three hours, there are tons of songs that I left out (how did I miss Biggie? No Green Day? It goes on…). But the important thing is – all of those songs are from 1989 – 1995, with a big focus on 1995 itself.

You, as DJ, will leave happier because the people you’re playing for are going to be stoked. And you might leave richer – happy guests tend to tip.

How to Stop At An Intersection When a Pedestrian Is Trying To Cross

I’m a pedestrian, most of the time. I live in a city, and I go running nearly every morning on the streets and in the (very large) park, and I am lucky enough to be able to walk to the grocery store, other markets, restaurants, and wonderful places to go.

And on those perambulations, I spend quite a bit of time crossing streets by using the sidewalk.This morning in particular, I was crossing a street in the park. The street in particular is an asymmetrical four-way stop, kind of like this.

I looked left and started to cross the street. The car ( a gray Toyota Corolla, driven by a nondescript person who was wearing sunglasses and may have been male or female) edged forward. I stopped and stared at the driver, then started again. The car edged forward again. I stopped and looked hard at the car, and it edged forward again. Finally, I breathed hard and sprinted across the intersection. Behind me, the car accelerated and cruised across.

What was this driver doing? And why did I keep stopping? I did so because I knew what the driver’s feet were doing. He was waiting for me to move, and when I started moving, he was taking his feet off the brake pedal and idling forward, making me think that he was accelerating towards me, which would make me stop. We were in a  stalemate.

You can understand my fear. What if his foot slipped? What if he doesn’t see me at all in the morning sun and fog? I just. Don’t. Know.
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This kind of thing is very easy to do well. When stopped at an intersection, actually stop, with your foot on the brake and the car not moving. If a pedestrian is in the crosswalk, stay stopped, and don’t accelerate until the person in question is out of your potential reach. The pedestrian won’t be scared to death, and you may get to your destination just a bit quicker.