Saturday, March 10, 2012

Abbey Rude?

Quality over Quantity
Local citizens near where I reside seem to have no shortage of ideas about how to salvage the Greek economy, prevent Iran from developing a nuclear capability, and magically reducing the national deficit. It's probably the same around your town.

Many, perhaps a majority, have also mastered the artistry and learned the proper algorithms for admittance into a handful of precious colleges; thus guaranteeing lifelong wealth and true happiness. Soon, even the students will learn to take over this task from their parents.

The local school and club teams here, as well as individual athletes, compete at the highest levels and demonstrate superior discipline, persistence, and desire to win – and these are just the ten-year-olds!

Admittedly, nobody has yet figured out how to replace the bridge on our Central Avenue, but, even here, you can’t have everything.

These are not complaints or sly criticisms. I merely record what I see and hear from perhaps too aggressively proud parents at cocktail parties.

In short, we live in a goal-oriented, achievement-focused, fast-paced competitive local environment every bit as capable as China’s or Silicon Valley’s. There is no reason to shrink from being proud of living local and competing global.

Except that all this talent and energy expended on big things might be just the thing preventing us from performing some of life’s little things just as well; and, these are the kinds of details which have an enormous impact on civility, generosity, courtesy, mutual respect, what we have come to collectively call Quality of Life.

I refer, of course, to simple rules of civility, while driving in town.

With this in mind and as a public service, let’s take a look at some of the simple things which we could do much, much better, if only we could apply some of that global market dominating focus upon them:
Abbey Rude?

Learning the official, actual, enforceable rules of marked pedestrian walkways. I moved to Laguna Beach, CA in 1974 and I distinctly remember being horrified as my friend totally disregarded busy weekend traffic on Pacific Coast Highway (a kind of Boston Post Road with an ocean attached on one side) and stepped into the road to cross. Vehicles of every description came to screeching halts as her toe hit the first bit of crosswalk!

It worked every time, with the exception of when one encountered out-of-state visitors in rental cars, often, I’m sad to report from New York or New England. Today, when we visit California, every driver and pedestrian still seems to not only know the rules, but to obey them with some content.

Contrast that with local experience when trying to cross the street in clearly marked crosswalks. Some work better than others, the one at Elm and Purchase Streets for example. But, that is the exception. Have you ever seen a driver in town pulled over for going through a marked crosswalk while a pedestrian is trying to cross? Nor have I. Are you even confident as a pedestrian that you really have the right of way in town? Not exactly, based on actual use, I’m afraid.

Here’s a big one I encounter all the time? At a traffic light, if the driver has a green, does the pedestrian in a crosswalk still have the right of way? I do not think so, but try telling that to certain pedestrians stretching the rule.

We have got to find a way to do this better. Post simple rules in town? Start enforcing much more often? Make this an SAT question? Get rid of the crosswalks before something terrible happens?

C’mon, we are a people who invented an absolutely free system of having 845 million friends. Surely we can learn how to walk safely again.

Can’t we?

Hello! Did we not ban talking on a cell phone and holding it in one hand to the ear while driving vehicles, many of which are the size of beach cottages, around town, any town? Aside from special stakeouts at strategic places or occasional bad luck, drivers talking on a cell phone held to the ear with one hand, which should be on the steering wheel, now seem to have free reign in town.

Really, is there anyone out there who believes that this law is seriously enforced, or even could be enforced by even the most diligent police department (and ours is very diligent and professional)? I didn’t think so. We’d have to build huge detention centers to hold errant callers. The only way that this can stop is if we just stop or admit defeat and get rid of the law, if there really is a law.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that half the drivers we see now totally disregard the requirement to talk hands-free while driving. This is not just a local issue; it has become a dangerous joke in many places.

Notice we haven’t even mentioned checking emails and texting while driving, which are more dangerous and far too prevalent. We’d do well just to stop talking on the phone and concentrate on the road. Some of us, too many, are Double-Dippers, driving through a crosswalk, scaring the you know what out of a peaceful pedestrian, while talking on a cell phone! Say Goodbye, Gracie.

Learning to use turn-signals again. I am old enough to remember my grandfather getting a new car with a truly marvelous option: automatic turn signals so that drivers no longer had to reach out the window to signal. Ah, the excitement of it all!

Later, and this is hard to imagine for many people who apparently do not even know that all vehicles still come with this feature, people simply used these signals as a safety precaution and courtesy to other drivers all the time. And, if they forgot, while momentarily distracted, they might even get ticketed for not signaling or at least feel a tinge of guilt.

Today, the courteous and safe use of the automatic turn signal, not an option feature I might add, and I’m not making that up, is the exception and not the rule. Time after time, especially when vehicles exit off  95, they do so as a surprise.

Tell the one behind me that I am going to slowly exit? Please, I can’t be bothered. After all, she might take my job away or his daughter get my son’s place at the University of Global Intensity.

Instead of a virtual flick of a finger while turning, how about an actual flick of the wrist to use that au courant turn signal app!

We have succeeded so well in achieving Quantity of Life that we may have forgotten during the recent challenging years about making time for Quality of Life. This requires composure, courtesy, generosity, even cheerfulness, not to mention driving as though we are cruising in the country instead of barreling around some racetrack in Verizon-land.

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