Rather than go to the neighborhood grocery store down on the corner, I did something unusual (for me) and went downtown to give a different store a try. They have slightly better bagels.
If you know anything about my luck by now, you know that’s the exact moment when everything took a turn for the worse.
Before leaving the house, the power had burped, turning my computer off while I was using it. Damn, that is so frustrating. I used to have one of those uninterruptable power supplies but the thing never worked. It allowed my computer to turn off anyway, and then would beep like hell. A lose-lose.
So I headed downtown on my great adventure.
On the edge of the grid of city blocks I hit the same red light I always do. Then I hit the next red light a block away. What the? Yep, the lights were out of sync. I sighed. I was going to have to sit at every street light. I was beginning to regret my thrill-ride of a choice to drive across town.
Then, up ahead, I saw it. Some of the street lights weren’t working.
It was then I noticed something weird. None of the cars around me were slowing down. As usual, I was the odd ball misfit doing the exact opposite of everyone else. Such is my lot in life.
The other cars? They were all reading a non-working traffic signal as a license to speed up and blaze right through like the world belonged to them and no one else.
I yelled at them, locked inside my car with the windows rolled up. “When signals don’t work – that’s a four-way stop, you idiots!”
I ended up at the first non-working intersection and came to a stop in the middle lane. On my left and right cars kept zooming by. ZOOM. ZOOM. ZOOMZOOMZOOMZOOM.
OMG, I said to myself. Doesn’t any other driver besides me know the basic rules of the road? This is danger close, literally an accident waiting to happen. Eventually two cars with brains ended up stopped next to me and cross-traffic was finally able to take their turn. I proceeded cautiously through and, amazingly, wasn’t killed.
It was a little better a block down because the cops had put out temporary stop signs, but this was only partially effective. It was my street, though, so I turned right and pulled into the grocery store. I felt blessed to be alive.
The grocery store had one of those fancy doors propped open and I went in. Yep, the power was out here, too. I did my shopping in complete darkness. The people around me were so energized by this turn of events, chirping excitedly at each other. Yeah, the magic is off, I thought. Whatever will we do?
Back in my car I was more than ready to go back home. But I had a few dead intersections to traverse first. At the very first one I finally got to pop my blood vessels.
Cross traffic went and then it was our turn. I started to go but guess what? Here came an old lady right at me, blazing through like she was the only person on the planet. Obviously a non-working signal means “everyone but me shall have to wait. If, and only if, you are you, then proceed through as you are the only person who matters.” I know I read that in the DMV manual once decades ago.
I hit the brakes and sat there sideways in the middle of the intersection. Dimly she must have sensed something was amiss. There was a car parked in her lane of travel. I waited for the satisfying crunch of her plowing into the driver’s side of my car, but somehow she decided to stop. I glared at her and pointed to the temporary stop signs and yelled at her, “It’s a fucking four-way stop!!!”
My work done, my little gift to society delivered, I then made it out alive. The next intersection actually worked like it should, I made my left turn, then I was back to the safety of the mistimed red lights and waiting every single block. It actually felt good after what I had just been through.
As I made my way home I reflected on the experience. We are certifiably a nation of assholes. I quickly surmised that this assholery was comprised of three major components.
First, there is the total idiocy of it, like not knowing one of the most basic rules of the road. I looked it up just to be sure. When signals don’t work intersections are to be treated like four-way stops. Anything else would just be insane. (In my state it’s the law. But maybe it’s not in all states.) Having a driver’s license doesn’t mean you are in any way remotely qualified to drive or know how to do it safely. A license is just the minimum standard. I think we need to raise those standards and cull the herd.
Second, there is the modern distraction wrapped around the act of driving. Most drivers devote remarkably few brain cells to the task. As cars put more and more techno shit in view of the driver, this will only get worse. Watch a car commercial sometime and see what features they brag about the most. Computers with speech recognition, the stereo system and the cup holders. Layer on the the iPods, iPhones, iPads and more and that all adds up to distracted drivers who could give a flying shit about the act of driving itself.
Finally, there are also the modern elements of “me first” and impatience. This allows the modern human to interpret any situation as: “I can’t slow down and be inconvenienced. Those other people are just going to have to wait.” Nothing wrong with that, right? Except that every single person is thinking the same thing. Courtesy and politeness and consideration have all gone the way of the dodo.
I know this blog post is wasted since I doubt any of the drivers I encountered who didn’t know what to do also don’t have the ability to read. That’s how they were able to get driver’s licenses in the first place. The standards for operating a motor vehicle are just that high.
And that’s how we do it here in the Abyss. A quick trip to the grocery store becomes 1,000 plus words of the next post.