Operating a Motor Vehicle

Wednesday March 14th, less than a month ago, with a single impulsive act, I abrogated my status as a law abiding citizen and surrendered my rights as a self anointed, detached, smugly superior critic, and condescending crank.  As a result of ‘my failing’, I have been forced at least temporarily to relinquish the monocle of righteous indignation through which I have sardonically viewed the folly others.  My offense was not an oedipal sin that would require poking myself in the eye with a stick, or donning  a sack cloth and ashes and wandering third rung suburbs in search of forgiveness.  Still, the total lack of reason I displayed has left me grasping for answers.

My world has historically divided other motorists into two categories; hedonistic demons with a death wish,  and reluctant roadies with their hands locked in the 10 and 2 o’clock  position on the steering wheel, and their cruise control set at the all condition, all purpose speed of 35 mph.  It is lonely in the middle, cast as the arbiter of automotive etiquette, and the sole voice of roadside reason.  As I have obliquely hinted, I am a tad fanatic on the subject of hurtling vast piles of steel at each other at great speeds.  I believe fervently in an ordered universe when it comes to all matters related to safely operating a motor vehicle whether on a street, via duct, avenue, road, highway, long driveway, or cul-de-sac.

On other topics I am much more flexible.  Maybe the NASDAQ is a sound place to invest our collective Social Security nest egg.  Perhaps it does move Democracy forward to blindly elect fools, con men, pretenders, charlatans, and moral pygmies to high office.  The Vikings sure give a lot back to the community, a new stadium may be a small price to keep them here.  There is a fair way to decide who to clone,  so we are careful to preserve the best of all groups.  Those extra cable channels have certainly expanded horizons and brought our family closer together.  Alright last winter was long, but hey get over it.  Isn’t it great to live in an era when beer can simultaneously both taste great, and be less filling.

Believe as you will on other subjects.  Approach me and I am likely to fall blindly in line with the other lemmings.  But on traffic related issues I am resolute.  Always allow a car length for every ten miles of speed, obey all signals, wear a seat belt even in the drive thru bank line, and never change lanes while entering an intersection.  I fear the rabble, those braying fools that race down the highway.  Their blithe disregard for human life terrifies me, exposes my latent reactionary tendencies, and sends me scurrying to suckle from the cold breast of totalitarianism.

Where are these bandits going?  Are they to be forgiven for tailgating and speeding maniacally.  They can not all have suddenly discovered a reactive element that greatly advances AIDS research.  Are they all racing to save the innocent livestock, herded like cattle, confined without trial, accused of hoof and mouth disease?  What if they have just experienced a eureka moment over a passage by Marcel Proust, or any portion of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” suddenly makes sense.  Do these carousers  have poetic license to drive like maniacs, running red lights in order to get to the lab or the classroom to share their epiphany ?

When these speeders get to their destination do they immediately immerse themselves in the problem of global warming or do they merely paddle barefoot around their kitchens, scratching, and searching for the last of the cheese dip.  Perhaps the yahoo in the green Plymouth Duster that roared by me doing 80 mph on Highway 100 (or was it 100 mph on route 80 ?), knows more about “Siddhartha” than Hesse himself, but the implication that his time and life is more valuable than the meagerexistence of the rest of us, staggers me.

Before last month, I could have continued my priggish rant for a number of paragraphs.  On the afternoon of March 14th I left work numb, and beaten down by  the cumulative effects of my eighth days in the throes of a 24 hour virus.  I was on my way to plead, grovel and have my accountant perform a lobotomy on me, or do my year 2000 taxes, which ever promised to be more painful.

I remember driving over the highway, and approaching the freeway entrance in the far left lane.  Next I was moving inexorably forward, and watching as the green arrow turned slowly to amber and then dissolved into the color of Mars,  the planet of war…Was the streaming light before me truly a ‘Minnesota yellow’.  Probably, but I have always scorned those who practice the belief that a recently red light was for all intents and purposes still  green.

To many a yellow light mean accelerate or you will not be the first car through the red light.  Slowing down as I approach a yellow signal causes me to glance reflexively into the rear view mirror to see if a driver behind me is swearing, about to launch themselves over my car in Joey Chitwood style, or is contemplating a last ditch impulsive, wild pass around me to so their hood may catch the last glimpses of amberlight, as they squeal forward.

But this time it is me sliding that extra step and risking a ‘travel call’  like an NBA point guard going for the hoop.  The car directly ahead sees the first blush of yellow light and instantly moves through it and on to the freeway.

It is Las Vegas time.  My turn, play or pass.  Just then the traffic arrow begins to sparkle and produce a rosy, not quite red glow.  I move forward as if in slow motion mesmerized by the light show.  I am transported in time and place.  Suddenly I am a child again,  at home in Pennsauken, New Jersey sitting up on a Sunday night watching “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” and eating popcorn in my parent’s bed.

Instead of the molting of an insect larvae I am transfixed, a wetness tothe special effects of the left arrow now a awash in flames of scarlet. Swinging wildly by one thin wire the beacon still implores and directs me to follow the trail of Blues men Bill Bronzy, and Mance (“Keys to theHighway”) Lipscomb.  I must take the road of the  restless Beat, Jack Kerouac.  A flaming red arrow is a double message.  Stop, but go thisway.  I make the turn, and with sparks raining down on my roof, I oozedown the entrance ramp, choosing to obey the much older and immutablelaw of gravity and motion.

My arching, perfect, seamless left hand maneuver had been done directlyin front of a police car.  Forty yards down the ramp I am stopped.  Thewail of my silent scream still echoes in my memory.  My arroganceshattered.   In an instant I have become that which I most despise, a careless driver.

Tom H. Cook is a local ‘bad actor’.  He wishes everyone a joyous Spring

and begs their forgiveness.


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