The geographical oddities of exactly the same result


I have this concept I call geographical oddities. Thought about it enough that it’s a theory really. But the concept itself seems to apply to several situations.

It all began when Terry and I bought our first house. We noticed… somewhat quickly… that it was forty-minutes by car from anything.

Visit the parents? Forty-minute drive. Work? Forty-minute drive. Movies… malls… home improvement store… everything… forty-minute drive.

Now, of course, the drive time estimate wasn’t flawless. It wasn’t truly everything. We had a grocery store down the street. And Walmart is all over the place. But it’s those smaller exceptions that unveil the realities of experience… if you paused in our house after grabbing the car keys—for a brief moment of though because “if I’m driving that far, let me think if there’s anything else”—you were preparing for a forty-minute drive.

So, the forty-minute drive is our theory. A story of geographical oddity is the foundation. The assorted side notes become the corollaries to the theory.

Have you ever noticed something that you do, perhaps a routine, that always ends at exactly the same time? For instance, getting ready for work.

Terry and I had a routine in the morning when it came to getting clothes ironed, dogs fed, showers, breakfast and everything associated in the process of waking up to heading off for work. The amazing thing to me was when I noticed that we were always in the car and leaving the driveway at exactly the same time.

Let’s say it was 8am that we usually left on our drive.

We could wake up early… we’d be getting in the car at 8am.

We could wake up late… we’d be getting in the car at 8am.

Call my sister and her family in Australia to wish someone a happy birthday… we’d talk for a bit, and be getting in the car at 8am.

Trash day… cleaning up from the overnight accumulation of a foot of snow… 8am.

I remember one fall day when some wind overnight had knocked down a few heavy branches. I actually needed to break out the chainsaw to cut one of them, and then dragged them off to clear a path. You got it… we were in the car and moving when I flipped on the signal before turning left out of the driveway onto the main road at 8:01am.

The really strange part for me though was when we would get an early start. I think waking up late… or having some errand or obstacle in the way… created a focus, where you tend to just move from task to task without much wasted effort. But on those days when we would wake up thirty minutes or an hour early, I still don’t know what happened while I was in the yard with the dogs or eating a bowl of cereal that resulted in us suddenly realizing we needed to grab the keys and get moving or be late.

Friend of mine laughed about it once when we grabbed a cup of coffee at work and the subject came up. It had been one of those late-start days, and I had been a bit out of sorts all morning. At first, he just joked that mentally he shuts down a bit when he notices he’s ahead of schedule. But then…

He and I had worked the evening shift together for years. Moved to a day shift within a few weeks of each other. Since going to day shift, he was finding that he sat down for dinner at the exact same time every day. The scary part for him about the observation was he could make something complex, stop to grab takeout, reheat leftovers, or basically do anything that required thirty-seconds to an hour of preparation, and if he had worked that day he would still be putting a plate on the coffee table and flipping on the television at the same time.

This led to that, and as the conversation continued he presented what he referred to as The Today Show effect. (Really. He said that. The Today Show effect.) His contention was that we are all creatures of habit. We have certain things that we do certain ways. For him, getting the weather forecast each morning was the information he wanted. And so, when he woke up, he turned on The Today Show. Over time, he reached a point where he could more or less measure his progress toward leaving for work based on the television he really wasn’t paying much attention to. How?

The local affiliate break that occurs every half-hour. When he heard Frank Coletta and Kelly Bates, the local team during the pause from network programming, he could… most often unconsciously… judge where he was supposed to be in his morning routine.

Another friend is retired. He claims that the mail delivery can disrupt his afternoon beyond what he ever would have considered possible. According to him, the mail is always delivered to his house… six days a week, year-round on those Monday through Saturday dates when mail is delivered… by 10:45am. Now, he isn’t crazy about that 10:45, but his morning chores and activities manage to bring him to his front door pretty much right at 11am. He opens the door, grabs the mail, and steps back inside. On the amazingly rare days when the mail isn’t there… perhaps once or twice each year… he claims he becomes annoyingly aware of that mailbox. He notices all sorts of sounds, and things just seem completely off-balance until the mail arrives.

He said there were two days when he didn’t receive any mail. Just two. No letters or flyers or bills or whatever. Empty mailbox. Darn near drove him crazy. He spent most of those afternoons trying to figure out if there was a holiday or anything else he was forgetting.

For me, the geographical concepts prove the funniest. Terry and I have since moved. We’ve cut that time to anything basically in half… twenty-minute drive now. But, there’s a great little movie theater in town and that’s not even five-minutes away. Few restaurants nearby as well. Even a Walmart down the road. So, it isn’t twenty-minutes to everything, and it’s a few hours to family.

Still, the feelings linger. After all, we are creatures of habit.


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