Friday, May 7, 2010

Decision Points

Sometimes you can look back on your day and identify the critical junctures where things went completely off the deep end. Monday was such a day for me. Most of the day was standard stuff - writing, re-writing, getting stuff ready for my Writer's Roundtable meeting that night. And ready I was, until my wife came home and told me that somehow she'd made it all the way to work and back on a nearly-empty tank of gas, and that the car was - still - nearly empty.

Decision Point #1 - stop for gas on the way to the meeting, or try to make it there and back?
Factors involved - the earliest to arrive at the meeting get first dibs on the sign-up sheet to read that night. If you want a prime spot - one that falls after everyone has arrived but before folks who have to duck out early have begun to disperse - then you need to get there early. Despite NOT having stopped for gas, my wife had gotten home late and the clock was very much ticking.
Decision - I was in the left-turn lane to get gas and decided, "screw it - I'll just go."
Result - had I gone for gas first, I'd have arrived later at the meeting place, run into different (more informed) people, and had a full tank of gas. Instead:

Decision Point #2 - we get to the meeting spot - a local Denny's restaurant - and discover that we don't have the room reserved for the night. A little voice in the back of my head says "Oh yeah, we couldn't reserve our regular room on the first Monday in may - some other group had it already. We were supposed to go somewhere else." The question becomes, what to do - do I run off to the next nearest Denny's, where rumor has it we have the room reserved, or do I wait around for other members of the group and see what they want to do?
Factors involved - there's a waitress at the first Denny's who flat out tells us our meeting is at Denny's #2. How she knows this I have not idea, as it turned out to be flat wrong. The clock is still ticking if I want to get a good slot in which to read my work. But the rest of the group is probably lost, too.
Decision - I go for it. I hop in the car and run back up the highway to a Denny's I had already passed once on the way to our regular meeting place.
Result - Yeah, wrong Denny's again. The manager at Denny's #2 has no idea who we are, but we're not the Ham Radio Club who has reserved the room for the evening. I've wasted more time, more gas, and now have no idea where I'm supposed to be. Some phone calls later, we catch up with the group's president, who's back at Denny's #1. Eventually we all realize that we're supposed to be way across town at Denny's #3. It's now late, I'm very grumpy (partly because I hadn't eaten yet, I'm sure), and I don't have nearly enough gas to make it to Denny's #3.

Factoid - there is a gas station near my house that routinely has some of the cheapest gas in town. Most other gas stations I pass are anywhere from a few cents to nearly a dime higher than my nearby Citgo. That was the gas station to which I would have gone in Decision Point #1 had I chosen differently.

Decision Point #3 - to go to Denny's #3 or not?
Factors involved - It's already 6:15 PM - the time the meeting is supposed to start. We're all going to be late, but it's going to cut into the time available to read. Also, it's possible that there will end up being a smaller than usual group as people fail to find the correct location or give up trying. A smaller group means more time to read my work, but the quality of the critiques can suffer depending on who's absent. So even getting to the meeting successfully could end up being something of a bust. Also I'm cranky. AND, going to the meeting means buying the nearest gas I can find, likely costing me a hefty chunk of change more than I'd spend at my local Citgo where I was planning to buy my gas. It'll add up to something less than a dollar, but it's the principle of the thing! Did I mention that I'm cranky at this point? Cuz I was.
Result - I'm grumpy at the whole meeting thing. I'm grumpy that I forgot about it, I'm grumpy that nobody reminded me beforehand (so I could have notified the rest of the group), I'm grumpy that I haven't eaten, I'm grumpy that I've already driven to two places and am now faced with going to a third, and I'm still grumpy that my wife didn't just put gas in the car in the first place. Aaaargh! I decide to bag the meeting for the night - I'm just not in the right frame of mind.

Factoid - once a month, there's a meeting of the Guitar League. I'd gone to it one time and decided I liked it enough to go back. Sadly, it's also on Monday nights, which means I'd need to skip the writer's group to attend.

Decision Point #4 - Hey, the Guitar League meeting doesn't start until 7:00. I could still get gas, go home to grab my guitar, and make it to the meeting in time! Should I?
Factors involved - basically none. Sounds like a plan, let's do it!
Result - remember back in decision #1 when I decided not to get gas first? Well, I still need gas. So I make it home (with the "low gas" light flashing at me most of the way) and drive over to my local Citgo for some nice, cheap gas. I drive up to the pump and there's a message on it about "Loading..." I can see a guy nearby who appears to have successfully completed a purchase at HIS pump. Um, ok. I'll just wash my windows while I wait. By the time I finish, the message has changed to "Unable to accept payment at this pump. Please see attendant to pay." Well, OK, the pump at the next island over is working, I'll just drive over there. Except by the time I get there I see that same message. Aargh! Ok, I go inside. There's a line. A long line. And it ain't moving. Apparently the problem they're having is preventing transactions inside, too. Aaargh! My whole plan (the second one of the night so far) is disintegrating! Again!

But I must have gas, I'm running on fumes. I decide to run up to the next closest gas station, a Fastrack that's usually only a few cents more expensive. It's not really a decision point, because I'm basically out of options. I manage to make to the gas station and I see that the gas is $3.05 a gallon. That seems rather high, but I forgot to check the price at Citgo. It's probably pretty close. Again, it's not as if I have options. I fill 'er up and head for home. It's now dubious whether I can make it to the Guitar League in time or not.

I pass the Citgo. Price for gas there (assuming they were actually able to, you know, sell some): $2.97 per gallon. Yes, I left the station with the cheapest gas in the area and paid exactly what I would have paid anywhere else and then some - a difference in total price of about $1.00. I have now missed both my Writer's meeting and my Guitar League meeting, AND I've over-paid for gasoline. I've reached the pinnacle, the very zenith of grumpiness.

I go home. On the way I think back about my decisions, and the choices I COULD have made instead:

Decision #1 - the better choice would seem to have been to have gone and gotten gas right then. The Citgo pumps would have still been working, so I'd have saved a buck and been gassed up for the night. I'd have arrived later at Denny's when the group's President was already there, and would not have gone hauling off to Denny's #2 for no reason (Decision point #2 eliminated). I likely would have gone on to Denny's #3 and had a good meeting (Decision Point #3 resolved). OR, I might still have decided to go to the Guitar League, but I would not have had to stop for gas, so I'd probably have made it in time (Decision Point #4 resolved). The entire evening's debacle can be traced back to that one point where I was already in the left lane and decided "screw it" and turned right instead.

Of course, it's also possible that Decision #1 saved me from dying in a fiery car wreck, my full tank of gas lighting up the evening sky after a run-in with an out-of-control tractor trailer. Who knows? I ended up going home, making myself a burger on the grill and reading to my kids, which all-in-all isn't a bad night at all. It's just not the night I'd had in mind.

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