Friday, May 25, 2007

Worst Place to Live

Friday, May 25, 2007

According to Money magazine, the city where I live in Maryland was voted Number Four in the "top 10" places to live in America in 2006. After living in Columbia/Ellicott City for nearly 16 months, I've come to the painful realization that the people who publish those "best places to live" articles obviously don't live in any of those places. Columbia, Maryland, is not one of those places, trust me. I know first-hand.

Quite frankly, the planned community of Columbia sucks. For one thing, the worst drivers in the U.S. are in this state, as many of my Maryland co-workers have pointed out to me over the months. Aggressive driving and excessive speeding is the norm here, and more and more road rage incidents are leading to senseless deaths in this area of the country. It's not a safe place to live.

This morning it was a beautiful sunny spring day as I left my driveway and paused briefly to chat with my neighbor Dan (who had been beaten up last Friday by another neighbor further down on our street). I wanted to see how he was doing a week after being hauled off to the hospital in an ambulance while our neighbor was hauled off in hand-cuffs.

Anyway, I was on my way to work when a brown Explorer XLT cruised through a stop sign in a neighboring subdivision and pulled out into the road a little ways ahead of me. I didn't think anything about it because no one in that neighborhood obeys the stop sign laws, as I've noticed this past year since moving into the area. (Note, if you were reading my blog last year, this is the exact same location where the fat Hundyai driver lives who tried to kill me by cutting me off, flipping me off, and then slamming on his breaks right in front of me. Nice people. This is what "planned communities" give you--a dangerous mix of socio-economic classes all crammed together into one area.)

Mr. Explorer came to the end of that road and cruised through the stop sign there. Several hundred yards later he stopped at the stop light across from our neighborhood shopping plaza, and I pulled up and stopped behind him. Again, nothing was on my mind except the fact that is was Friday and this would be a 3-day weekend (thank God). The Explorer was stopped adjacent to the end of a concrete median that does not extend as far as it should. I was just beyond the end of the median. To my right was the exit lane from the shopping plaza. Behind me and to my right was the entrance lane.

I immediately noticed to my left a woman who wanted to turn into the shopping center. I was not blocking the intersection, however, since the entrance to the shopping center was about a car length or two behind my car.

A nice person in a pick-up truck was stopping about car length behind me to let her through. Simultaneously, the guy in the Explorer ahead of me leaned his head out the window and angrily shouted hateful obscenities at me for "blocking the intersection" (which I wasn't), followed by "you [bleeping] bitch!"

Yikes. I'm not one of those people who blocks intersections. I'm always the one who stops to let cross-traffic through if cars are stopped ahead of me, and it's safe to do. This guy just let loose on me, mistakeningly assuming I'd blocked the intersection, and his first reaction was to verbally assault me for something that wasn't even any of his business. It's as though he left his house that morning just looking for trouble.

I was shocked at this completely uncalled-for unleashing of anger by my fellow motorist. I never said a word or made a single gesture toward this guy. Instead, when I got to work I called Howard County Police and told them what had happened. They don't care about this kind of thing, though. Obviously they have worse crimes to deal with in my neighborhood.

I swear, every time I go about my business and try in vain to have a nice day here in this crappy place, some jerk has to go out of his way to try to ruin my day. And the sad part is that it's usually someone who practically lives next door to me. What ever happened to being a good neighbor?

This guy obviously has anger management issues, not unlike the guy on my street who viciously beat up my neighbor Dan last week. Turns out, Dan's attacker is a substance abuser who has a long record of nearly 20 aggravated assaults and batteries. His kids are no different - they have a habit of beating up on Dan's sweet, well-behaved kids.

After two such incidents last week, Dan mentioned to these kids' mom that her very young son had thrown a stick at his 2-year-old baby in Dan's own back yard earlier in the week, and that her daughter had clawed up Dan's 10-year-old's face that day. He nicely told her that he understands that kids fight and that he'll keep his kids in line if she'll do the same. He thought that would be the end of it.

Well, apparently this woman (who also has a history of violent behavior), told her crazy husband that Dan was ugly to her about it. Later that evening, the husband marched down our street and assaulted Dan as he was cleaning out his truck. Dan tried to ignore the guy's obscenities and irrational accusations, as this man was obviously out of control. So Dan turned around and went back to what he was doing in his truck. That only infuriated the perpetrator more. The guy demanded that Dan "Look at me when I'm [bleeping] talking to you!"

Dan turned around to face him, and the guy hauled off and punched him in the right temple. He continued beating him in the face, spattering blood on Dan's truck, to point that Dan's right jaw was swollen to the size of a grapefruit the next day.

This maniac had come down the street looking for trouble. He had something iron in his fist, and he had a mini-baseball bat tucked in the back of his pants. Dan's neighbor's 20-year-old son Matt tried to stop the beating. The attacker's response to Matt was, "You wanna piece o' this too, mother-[bleeper] ??"

So Matt called 911. Before I knew anything was even happening in front of my house, there was a fire engine, an ambulance, and five cop cars blocking our street, red lights blazing. This was the third time in the past couple of months that a cop car had been parked blocking my driveway, and someone on my street was being arrested for battery.

Dan has decided not press charges, by the way. He told me this morning that he would feel bad about putting the guy in jail because he just couldn't take a father away from his kids. So we all know who the bigger person is.

This is Columbia, Maryland. Welcome to it. You can have it.

As one of the managers at work said of Columbia when I told her of this morning's bizarre road rage incident, "It's the ghetto of Maryland." She can't wait to leave this sick place either.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

What Color is Your Hair Today?

It'll definitely be another 17 years before I let a stylist touch my hair again. I dreaded going to work Monday of last week with my shiny blonde locks. So I pulled all my thick hair back as tight as I could (Lilith-style, for you Frasier fans), rolled it up, and tucked it into one of those teethy hair clamp thingies. (Man, what are those called?) I braved the trip into work.

I practically ran past the receptionist desk to my boss's office, head down. As soon as I went in, I heard Mark coming down the hallway. Mark is the last person I wanted to see my hair (the jokes would never end), so I closed the door behind me. I did not want to be seen. I said "Look at this" to my boss (Tom), pointing at the top of my head. "It's different," he said euphemistically. I told him I was going to do whatever it took to have it fixed as soon as possible. (Fortunately, Tom is cool and lets me take off work whenever I have to.)

I spent the morning hiding in my office. When I needed a water refill, I called my friend Chris, whose office is two aisles over, and he kindly went to the kitchen and got me a refill. My friend Ed (a man's man), of course, liked my new blonde hair. Said it went well with my coloring. Did not! Trust me. I hated it.

Eventually I did have to use the restroom, which I speed-walked to, head down. Sure enough, Mark was heading toward me. There was no avoiding him, so I just kept walking past him with my eyes downward and a stern warning of "Don't even think about talking to me today." (Mark is one of the funniest guys I know, so I can say that to him. Besides, his son is a famous Hollywood script writer with lots of celebrity friends, so Mark by now has seen it all.) I can't believe he actually let me pass without a word. Whew!

I waited until a few minutes after 10:00AM, when the hair salon opened, then called them. I explained to Monica that I needed my hair fixed, and I needed it fixed today by someone who knows what they're doing. She said Amy wasn't in, but that she'd call her at home and have her call me back at work. Amy is the owner.

Sure enough, Amy called back right away—on her day off, no less. I explained to her that I was hiding in my office and just couldn't live with this unwanted dye job. (Excuse me, bleach job.) Unfortunately, she told me, there was no one to fix my hair that day (I'd requested someone with more experience in the hair coloring arena than the girl who'd botched the job twice already). She said she'd work on it and call me back.

And, in the best example of customer service (and the only good one I can offer this year), Amy called back and told me to meet her at the shop at 3:30.

I left work that afternoon and went to the salon. This was much more important than earning a living, being a responsible adult, and putting food on the table. I was not going to last one more day as a blonde. As I confessed to my boss Tom in the email I sent him letting him know I was leaving work early, "This is the first time I've ever missed work for a bad hair day." Tom, of course, has no hair, but he remained sympathetic and managed to crack a joke in his reply.

I was surprised to find that the salon was closed when I got there. They close early on Mondays. Amy showed up with her pleasant 14-year-old son Cole. It was one of the first gorgeous, warm, sunny, breezy spring days of the season, and this store owner left home on her day off to come in to work and fix my hair at no charge. I have to tell you, I was impressed.

To make a long story short, about an hour and 40 minutes later I was a brunette again. Although I'd told Amy that I liked the color of the top highlights (I just didn't want so many of them), she still darkened the highlights. When she said she was going to darken them, I was like, "Ok, but just a tad. I do want some highlights." I even showed her the same two pictures in their style magazine that I'd shown Courtney twice before.

Nonetheless, in the end, it was almost back to where it was when Courtney first attempted to highlight my hair. Wrong color, wrong shade. Not even noticeable. Now you can see a couple highlights in the front – the rest are red. Sigh.

Although I totally appreciated Amy's efforts (she really went above and beyond to try to make her customer happy), my hair still wasn't right. This time I didn't say anything. I was just happy to have brown hair again. I was going to buy some $13 hair straightening cream from her, and Amy gave it to me at no charge "for all the inconvenience." I tipped her $20 anyway, for taking the time to come in on her day off.

Actually, I gave the tip to her nice son Cole since she was reluctant to accept. I'd really enjoyed talking with Cole while I was in the chair and felt badly that he'd spent this gorgeous afternoon doing salon chores. They were on their way to the mall to buy shorts, so I told him to buy himself something at the mall. That made him happy. "You are so awesome!"

Great customer service experience. However, here I am, $175 later, with wrecked hair that took me two long years to grow out. And when I say wrecked, I mean really messed up. You have no idea what bleach does to your hair. It is horrible to wash—I'm not even sure how to describe the coarse, brittle, straw-like, tangled mess that I can't begin to run my fingers through in the shower. If feels terrible.

Two years! Two long years of agonizing hair-growing-out awkwardness. Ruined. I miss my real hair.

My friend Ed at work is a huge Onion fan. He sent me this link yesterday: Area Woman's Entire Day Ruined By Bangs. I think it's just about the funniest thing I've read in a long time. Enjoy.