I’ve never been into fast cars. As far as I’m concerned, the male analogy stops right there. While the other guys were talking about engine blocks and rattling off weird nonsensical numbers and making lamps out of blocks of wood in shop class, I was taking “home economics” with 29 girls and learning how to sew my own apron and make chocolate chip cookies.
Yet, when it came to driving itself, suddenly I was interested. I just didn’t care what went on inside that thing. On my birthday and the day it became legal I obtained my learner’s permit. Exactly one year later I aced my driving test.
My dad taught me to drive. We practiced together in his car (an automatic) and my car (stick shift) which I had already bought with my own money. The car cost me $300, money which I had earned working part-time at a variety of local fast food establishments. It was a 1969 Pontiac LeMans hardtop. The driver’s door never opened, you had to slide across the one-piece seat from the passenger side, and the manual transmission was so wonky and loose that I eventually became the only human who could drive that baby. You had to perform little maneuvers while shifting, like lifting, twisting and pushing down to get it to go into gear. But that baby was mine.
I moved to the big city to live with my dad but I wanted to finish my senior year of high school in my little home town. So I became a commuter at the age of 18. My daily commute was a 30-mile drive (one-way) to school.
I enjoy driving. I’ve done a lot of it. It’s the one area of my life where I am the one percent unlike the 99% of other idiots on the road. My instincts and cat-like reflexes have kept me alive when most other idiots would have perished in a fantastic ball of fire.
And I’ve never forgotten one of the most basic principles my dad taught me about being a good driver on day one with my learner’s permit in hand: Drive so that you don’t impact other drivers on the road.
This is a story about a typical idiot who never received and/or heeded such critical training.
A little over a decade ago I left the rat race to move to a rural small town. My commute to work these days is three miles, one way. If you think that’s awesome, you’re mostly right. Except for the fact that other humans exist. They turn my humble little commute into a daily death race that becomes a dance with the devil. A tango, methinks.
Three miles. About 10 minutes. Daily I’m stunned by the inconceivable amount of shit that comes my way during those three short miles. If you want to see the full range of human behavior I invite you to come with me for a ride-along experience guaranteed to make you evacuate in your pants.
As a driver you don’t really have that many responsibilities. Even most simpletons can make a passable attempt. You have to know how to get in the thing. You have to know how to start it. You have to know how to make it go and make it stop.
One nice consideration is making the mental commitment to give the activity of driving your full attention. This is one area where I easily separate myself from the pack of the 99 percent.
Most of us know these things. But what about the advanced stuff? Like knowing, before you actually find yourself in the middle of nowhere, like things like a destination.
It helps to know where you want to go. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s drive for twenty minutes and wait for a light bulb to go off. DING! Hey, wait. Where am I supposed to be going, anyway? I’m in this thing that moves. Perhaps there should be some form of intent to go with?”
Great thinking, Einstein.
Thus, we can see that applying some thought to a destination may have some benefits. But, alas, in and of itself, that is still not quite enough. What is also required is a plan on how to arrive at that destination.
Failure to do any of this stuff results in an extreme moment of surprise for most drivers.
My three-mile drive to work consists of three one-way lanes of surface street traffic all going in the same direction. There is the left lane, the middle lane, and the right lane.
Every once in a while an idiot called the “wrong-way driver” likes to come at us from the opposite direction but for the purposes of this discussion we’ll leave him/her out of it.
Tom’s Law of Driving #42 states: “He who is in the left lane shall want to turn right. And vice versa.” This leads to zany fun like someone suddenly veering hard over and cutting across three lanes of traffic.
This point is crucial. I can’t overstate this enough. When one fails to plan and finds themselves potentially impacted by their own shortsightedness, they must not be the ones to suffer. No, it makes more sense to impact everyone else. True, that idiot could have turned left, went around the block, and impacted no one else, but that would be inconvenient. For them. Therefore the only acceptable solution is the one that affects everyone else.
Here’s a common scenario and the point of this post. It happened to me again this week.
Driving is a gamble. You have to pick one of those three lanes. Will it work out? You’d think it would, by logic, about 33% of the time. It turns out to be about one in a hundred, though. I can’t explain the math of it.
So I picked a lane and placed my bets. It was the middle lane. A personal favorite of mine. There was now a car in front of me. It was time to see how this would play out. In this particular case it happened to be an old lady of approx. 130 years of age. (Estimate based on my crone-ometer readings.) She was hunched over and gripping the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles were bright white and I was grateful to be wearing my sunglasses. And, to her credit, she was “focused” on the act of driving. Her attention was forward, her eyes not darting left or right. She was “zoomed in” as we like to say. She had the tunnel vision.
All of the sudden she started slowing down. It was unclear why. Nothing was going on in front of her. In fact, as she slowed, more and more space was opening in front of her. There was no turn signal. Luckily her brake lights worked or it might have led to a serendipitous moment of surprise between us both.
I noticed an Allstate sticker on her bumper that read simply, “Mayhem.”
She got slower and slower. Beside us both lanes of traffic continued to whiz by. As she finally slowed to a complete stop her blinker finally went on.
The bitch wanted to turn!
Ah, it was suddenly so clear. She needed to turn but had failed to come up with a brilliant plan, like actually being in the lane that would make the most sense for turning. Hint: If turning left, it’s the left one. If turning right, it’s the right one.
So rather than proceeding safely until she could change lanes and backtrack a bit, she did the only option available to her. She simply stopped. Right there in the middle of three lanes of busy commuter traffic.
And that’s where she stayed. She was there for The Duration. Tens of drivers, nay hundreds, nay millions would simply just have to wait. She simply couldn’t be bothered. That would be unacceptable.
I, of course, was stuck behind her and unable to extricate a maneuver to get around. She had executed the perfect prison move. The cars in the other lanes, of course, wouldn’t stop for her, either. Their options were slow down and let her over (known as courtesy in some parts of the universe) or speed up and yell, “Sucker!” out the window. You’ll never guess which option they chose.
Finally, a few days later, a gap opened up and she made her move. She speed up to .5 mph and finally turned the corner. No doubt she’d traverse about a block before realizing she’d have to make another decision soon. I pitied the people who would find themselves behind her.
I guess my dad knew what he was talking about. And that it was a skill that was disappearing from our civilization never to be seen again. Except for when I’m behind the wheel. I am the last of my kind.