Life Hacks, Shortcuts, & Bad Decisions

Written by Paul Strack 

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Do you take advantage of life hacks?

You know, those little tricks that help you save time, save money, make you more efficient or help you look younger?  Generally, the term itself seems to be fairly positive. If you find just the right life hack, or better yet, come up with one on your own, you can expect kudos-a-plenty.

trailer hitchWhat about shortcuts?  In most cases, these are a good thing, right? A little-known shortcut to your favorite vacation destination gives you more time for R&R. Google is chock full of shortcuts on how to better use Siri and other apps.  Like life hacks, shortcuts can save time and often reduce stress.

Unless they don’t.

On a return trip from Jonesboro recently, I ran into a little situation on I-67 near Jacksonville.  Yes, the never-ending construction is complete. But as I approached the city of Jacksonville, I became all-too-aware of the familiar glow of red tail lights.  Traffic was coming to a standstill.  Apparently, power lines had fallen across the interstate, blocking ALL SIX lanes of traffic. The interstate was completely closed.

As I sat in the fully loaded truck on what was quickly becoming a crowded parking lot, I pondered my options. (I call it a truck but in reality, it is a Chevy Avalanche. Some have debated as to whether or not that qualifies as a “truck.”) It looked as if I was going to be stuck here for a while. A long while. Decisions needed to be made. Action needed to be taken.  I needed a short-cut; a life-hack.

In the absence of State Troopers or other traffic control officials, the nearby 18 wheeler operators began to take control of the situation. After all, they are the Kings of the Road, right? Under their direction, many of us began turning around on the interstate to drive on the shoulder, heading the opposite way against traffic, to try to make it to the nearest exit (which was about 250 yards away.)  So close, yet so far.  A few brave souls opted instead to cross the median between the interstate and the nearby access road. That grassy area was still quite soggy from all the recent rains. And even though it was relatively flat at that particular point, I didn’t want to be “that guy.”  Plus, the median was so soggy, almost swampy, that it appeared to be a risky move.  I decided to go with the flow and followed the slow trail of cars heading back on the shoulder of the road.

Until we came to a complete standstill. Again. Arggh.

At my age, patience is almost as fleeting as my eyesight. I was ready to get home. I needed a shortcut.  I noticed several cars in front of me now attempting to turn around yet again and had back in the normal direction of traffic. They were trying to get back to the more level ground in the median in an attempt to cut across and get over to the access road, and salvation.

Seeing their success, and realizing my patience was wearing as thin as my bladder control, I thought, “heck, I can do this. I’m in a truck.” (Avalanche)

wife texts

She gets me.

Cautiously, I turned left into the median until I was perpendicular to the interstate.  I slowly backed up and began a “Y” turn.  Carefully, gently, slowly. My rear view was limited due to the angle of the incline in the median; and I feared backing into one of the stopped cars on the interstate, so I continued to just take baby steps. Finally, I determined that I had enough room to go forward and “whip it to the left” and continue my track back up the road toward level ground, and the promised land.

But when I whipped it, my movement became a nay-nay. Maybe it was the weight of my truck, maybe it was the angle, or  maybe it was just my own stupidity.  But when I slowly accelerated I really didn’t go forward. Oh contraire.  I immediately noticed my back end fishtailing ever so slightly, and I had the sickening sensation of sinking.  But I’m smarter than this, (I thought), so I put this truck-beast into 4-wheel drive.  My front tires, being on higher, somewhat less swampy turf, would surely pull me forward out of the muck and heading toward home.

Nope. I quickly became “that guy.”

As I pondered my lengthy wait for a tow truck, and how I would try to explain my way out of a ticket for driving in a median, I sent a panicky text to my wife explaining my predicament. Before she could send a thoughtful, or even snarky reply, I heard a voice. An angel’s voice: “Sir, do you need a tow out?” My better judgement (now it shows up) prevented me from replying with a simple, “Duh.”

As he wrapped the chain onto my back bumper, I noticed his vehicle, (yes, a truck), was quite smaller than mine.  Internally, I scoffed at the chances of this attempted rescue.  Continuing my idiot ways, I asked how his little truck was going to pull my beast across this “v” shaped swamp and onto dry ground. He replied simply, “Sir, you are in mud. I am on asphalt.”  And yeah, he was right.

He quickly pulled my vehicle, backwards, down into the bottom of the “v” and back up onto terra firma. I asked if I could pay him anything.  He refused. I offered to shake his hand. He said no sir, his hands were too dirty.  I pleaded as to how I could repay him, he quietly said, “Have a blessed day.”

Amazingly, I already did.

So what can be learned from an hour or so on a closed interstate?

  • Generally, life hacks can be good. If they save time or increase productivity, definitely seek them out.
  • Short cuts may not always pay off. In many cases, short cuts are best left to the trail blazers. If you know it’s a proven time saver, then by all means, take the short cut. If not, beware.
  • Short cuts can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes they offer wonderful rewards. Other times, they fall into the category of bad decisions.
  • Finally, no matter what, don’t be that guy. We have enough of those already.