Thursday, August 23, 2012

Driving With Ms/Mr Crazy

Alpine Fog
Holy St. Christopher*! I'm coming down with a heavy case of Road Rage.

I have been a licensed driver for nearly 50 years, in three different states. In that time, I've received exactly two moving violations: a wrong turn in Queens NY shortly after getting my license, and a speeding ticket in Maryland in the mid-eightites. I've driven on four continents, in the Alps in fog and in the Sierras in snow, and in several hurricanes. I learned to drive in New York City, where you need to know how to parallel-park in a jiffy, treat taxis as if they were enemy tanks, and avoid a gazillion Chinese take-out delivery guys on bicycles made from spare woks.

Despite more than occasional comments from certain family members, I'm a damn good driver, and always have been. Period.

I've maneuvered down Lombard Street, along a crowded Champs Elysees, the old Roman coast road from Barcelona to Tarragona, Route 66 in Arizona, 600 miles of Pacific Coast Highway , driven the length of the Mississippi from Hannibal MO to New Orleans LA, and the long flat stretch from Montivideo to Punta. I've driven dump trucks, pick ups, a blue VW that only started by coasting downhill, a '59 MGA, a '67 Porsche 912, a sweet little Mercedes convertible, vans with column-mounted shifts, 3-4 and 5-speeds, an MGC with an optional clutch, a Chevy Malibu with a busted U-joint, a mighty Dodge Charger and a meek Chevette tin can with a push-button dash-mounted transmission!
Push Button Trans

I love to drive while listening to a Yankee game, Neil Young wailing, or Lucinda Williams nailing it. I even like to drive with the music turned off just so I can listen to my little red truck's engine hum a tune pretty much like the one its Willys' ancestors hummed on the roads of Normandy. I drive while wearing baseball caps, or a beat-up old straw, and lately I've taken to wearing a SF Giants batting helmet on US95, when I have the top down, which is pretty much all the time for five months of the year.

But, why am I telling you all of this? Because I have seriously begun to think about not driving anymore.

Shocking, I know. But, driving today just about anywhere, but most particularly in the crowded northeastern states, the country's biggest global cultural melting pot, is about the most hazardous thing you can do to your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

I know people who will not touch a piece of red meat, get in a small plane, or buy any grocery not marked ORGANIC whatever that really means. But, the same people will risk life, limb, sanity and fenders on the road, in close proximity to the worst collective set of drivers since Ford went to the garage to brew his first T. These Thelmas, Lukes & Louises are driving with total disdain for any semblance of road courtesy or safety.

On a ramp entering US 95 South in Greenwich CT? There's an impatient  lady behind me, about five feet behind me, and she jumps into the thrid lane before I can, and now there's little room left of the ramp as she whizzes by, while I pull-up on the right.

Coming home and stopped on the infamous US95 North ramp off of Midland Avenue, Rye NY? Stopped I say, since there is an octagonal sign proclaiming STOP there. It does not matter, five times a week, some yahoo behind me will start honking or, even worse for his/her/my health, not bother stopping themselves and enter right behind me, then go around on the left, only to find that they've ignored vehicles exiting 287 East bearing down on them at 70 mph.

Then, we have the ones who enter the turnpike from the right doing about 45mph, without even bothering to look at what's on their left. Not to mention the guy in front of you swerving all over. Drunk? No, he's texting or trying to read the tiny GPS map on his phone. GPS. Guys who are Plenty Stupid! Young male drivers? Get out of their way, fast. People of a certain gender from a certain continent way to the west of California, who never learned to drive in their home country? Run for the hills when you see them! Holy Yakisoba!

Or, how about just driving around town, where it's common for drivers not to know or care that they cannot legally make a left-hand turn in front of you before you make a right or go straight. And, what about using turn signals? As if!  It's been well-reported here that just about NOBODY except me bothers to use turn signals anymore. Not for safety, nor for courtesy, and certainly not because it's actually the law!

Out To Pasture Soon?
I've stopped gesturing after some driver nearly runs me off the road, like throwing my hands up in frustration. That's just going to get me in a road rage incident soon. I have a sign on my steering wheel now, GABI, Grin And Bare It.

It feels a lot like surrender to an incompetent discourteous enemy. Like being outsmarted by the North Koreans. When you've resorted to surrender, no matter how sensible it really is, you might as well just surrender your license. As a police reporter I know that many of the people causing the most danger on the roads, don't even bother to get a license, or insurance, or registration anymore. Driving school? Hah!

This is a problem. I tried taking a taxi, but, have you ridden in a local taxi lately? OMG, those drivers make the ones I want to run away from look like Drivers' Ed instructors!

Maybe it's not too late to stop this insanity. I'll try to hold on. Meanwhile, anyone got a spare St. Christopher's medal?

Ed Note: A keen-sighted reader reminded us that Chris was demoted from sainthood on a technicality a while back by the powers that be-atify. But, old habits die hard, as the nuns used to tell us in parochial school. So, we 'll take some poetic license here. He is still recognized as the patron of travelers.

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