Tag Archives: culture

Tom in Miata

Let’s Be Careful Out There!

Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?
—Jack Kerouac from “On The Road”

Road rage is the expression of the amateur sociopath in all of us, cured by running into a professional.
—Robert Brault

The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers
 —Dave Barry

Hey! Let’s be careful out there!
  –Sargent Phil Esterhaus (Hill Street Blues)

Could the fault lay in our Google-driven need for immediate (though incomplete) answers and instant gratification?  Maybe we can saddle the blame on the coming of age graduates of a sabotaged public education system.  Perhaps the anomie and stark realization that we are a polarized, hopelessly divided nation facing a grim future of diminished expectations is getting to all of us.  Some suggest it is the powerless grasping for any semblance of control.  Whatever the reason, whether inane or tragically poignant, the roads are becoming more dangerous, and our fellow motorists less civil.  Rather than attempt to understand or make a citizen’s arrest, here are my “fab five” of least favorite transgressors.

Right turn tinted window guy.    You are approaching an intersection at the posted speed with a green light beckoning.  At the crossroads is an impatient cretin who remembers something from driver training class about being able to make a right hand turn on a red light.  Forgotten is the part about proceeding only if no one coming.  The light is green and there will not be a better or more legal time for you to cross, and besides, the driver in the car behind you seems to have his heart set on both of you making the light.  Right turn guy is a sphinx with his tinted windows.  The front third of his car is directly in your path as he decides whether to jack rabbit before you get there, or watch you frantically navigate oncoming traffic.  Neither he nor his car have a reverse gear.  He will not retreat; failure is not an option!  Either way, your rigid adherence to the law is a terrible inconvenience to him.

The tailgater/weaver.  Put simply, their life and time is more important than yours.  Every second counts, and they are losing valuable billable hours marooned behind you on a one lane road.  Their design of an information retrieval system that will render the Internet obsolete is behind schedule.  Some are on the med/surg. team at the Mayo Clinic doing groundbreaking research on the use of hamster bile to treat post myocardial infarctions.  One can feel the telegraphed shaming vibe and aggravating vitriol emanating as they race ahead like Pac Man in search of their next morsel.  If they are so important, why do they tend to drive rusty Dodge Chargers?  (I believe when they get to their destination they scratch themselves, turn on the tube and grab a “brewski.”)

The four way non-stopper  It doesn’t matter who goes first — perhaps it’s the car closest to the equator — but once begun there is a natural and legal order: counterclockwise.  I suspect the same rapscallions who budged the lunch line in grade school are still doing it today.  Perhaps they are unaware or scornful of the corollary to the counterclockwise rule which states “something before nothing.”  In our social contract, we pass to the right but a late arriver must wait for a full rotation to go.  The egregious will “me too” or “piggy back” behind a crossing vehicle.

The “It’s like barely red” dude/dudette  Red is stop; green is go.  Wrong!  After the light turns from red to green, do not proceed with caution but with trepidation.  You may even consider getting out of the car or at least taking a long look to your left and right.  The odds are good that a barreling “entitlement express” will be trying to make the light that has already passed through the autumn colors of yellow and red.  Since it was only yellow/orange the last time they peeked, it seems reasonable that accelerating will get them through the pesky intersection.  Fortunately there is often the sound of a pounding bass guitar to signal their arrival.  Their logic (using the term loosely) seems to be, “I came through this light yesterday at this time and it was green, so I should be able to go, and besides, if I am late again, my manager will kill me.”  The same applies for long left turns across four lanes of traffic.

The “What’s it to you?” non-turn signaler    You would like to make a left turn before all the traffic on your right is unleashed, but there is a vehicle approaching from your left at a speed that would make crossing in front dicey.  Waiting patiently you hope the car will pass before the onslaught.  Oh wait, they are turning right just in front of you.  Miffed or a bit stronger, you look at the driver as he/she completes the turn.  You are feet away, close enough to read their look.  Between arrogance and cluelessness, implied is Where and when I choose to turn is none of your business.”  There is ample time to mull this affront as the window for a left turn has closed and the gaggle of autos, ox carts and rickshaws streaming past right to left now appears to be unending.

Tom H. Cook is aware that he sounds like an old crank.  His defense is that he has always been like this.  He remains an above average driver and vehicular parliamentarian.



Tattoos and Long Hair

And you know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?      —Bob Dylan

Back when I was a non-conformist and had long hair like everyone else,  I would, on occasion, foolishly wander away from campus.  This gave the older townies, primarily men in their fifties and sixties, a chance to practice their stage whispers.  In a voice that could only be heard by someone in the same zip code they would make clever comments like, “Look, it’s a couple of girls.  No, wait, I guess they’re boys.  They sure look like girls from here.”  Steve Lipson became a campus hero by whirling around and perfectly mimicking his deriders.  “Look, it’s some young guys.  No, wait it’s just a bunch of old men.  At first I thought it was young guys.”

I vowed that I would attempt to stay– if not current– at least within shouting distance of the music, technology, and culture of the young.  This promise lasted well into the Carter years.  Then came the blur of punk, rap, and MTV.  I was clueless, and my new mantra became “If you can’t understand, at least don’t criticize.”  With frozen smile I would tap my steering wheel politely to the screaming inferno that the driver beside me at the stoplight was listening to.  On occasion I would make the high sign and call out “Crank it, dude.”  This mortified JoAnne and brought a sneer from the tunesmith, as I am now the age (if not the mind-set) of those long-ago hippie-mockers.

Because I have felt the sting of derision, I do not believe I am as cruel as my 1960s tormenters, but I am slipping.   For example, I do not understand the whole bulked up, shaved head, scraggly beard, and barbed wire arm tattoo look of generation Y (or is it Z).  With sunglasses on and a cell phone the size of a candy bar in their ear, they look eerily like something George Orwell warned us against.  They seem to work on looking exactly the same.  Is this a statement?  The barbed wire around the biceps scares me.  Are they welcoming totalitarianism?  They are buff but robotic looking.  Is it intended to lampoon conformity, parody corporate culture, or protest the erosion of civil liberties and the extension of The Patriot Act?  It is an odd feeling to stand in a group of men half my age and be the only one with hair on my head.

My take on young women is equally uninformed.  In the summer we wear less clothing, which is a good thing.  Yet I am amazed by the number of seemingly professional women sporting tattoos.  Many have probably never served in the merchant marine, but they are nonetheless adorned with blue ink drawings in semi-public areas of their bodies.  Although navels, ankles and thighs are popular sites, a large tattoo of an eagle on the small of one’s back seems to be de riguer.   It is for public view only at the beach or when fixing a sink.  Unseen at a downtown business meeting, it may be a post-feminist plea, a statement about sky rocketing real estate prices, or just artistic expression, but it rarely looks good.

If I wanted a tattoo, I know there are endless choices.   There is a name in script above my heart, or a symbol of my religion on my arm lest I forget how important it is to me.  The left calf is a good location for a bird/snake/bear/lion. A python motif contrasted with a tasteful mix of armaments (hatchets, daggers, swords, guns) is best reserved for the back and shoulder area.  A patriotic gesture such as a flag tattoo is also better on the back, unless there is a paucity of chest hair, in which case a flag in front with the saying, “These colors don’t run” will rout the Iraqis as successfully as my long hair shortened the war in Viet Nam.

Remember: writing on the chest is for the viewer.  It will always look upside down or backwards to you unless you are dyslexic, or choose to have it written like they do on an ECNALUBMA.   Sadly, even nice drops of red blood that accent a blue switchblade piercing a well-drawn heart will all turn the color of a varicose vein in time, so be sure your tattoo is not thematically color dependent.

There it is: I have become old and critical.  Rather than agree or disagree with the philosophy of the young, I fear that many are bereft of ideology.  The music makes no sense, the young disfigure their bodies with tracts of violence, and I cannot access the new technology to get a feel of what is going on.


Tom H. Cook purposely did not begin this piece with “Back in the day.”  Unless you have ridden the rails with Woody, been a sharecropper, caught Satchel Paige, or played blues harp with Lightnin’ Hopkins, you sound ridiculous using the expression.  (His wife maintains he’s talking like an old coot nevertheless. He is returning for a visit to the old neighborhood the last week of September.  If you see him, suggest a Tweety Bird on his ankle.)

Last Chance Post Mortem

It’s late September and I really should be back in school –Rod Stewart  (in Maggie May)

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.   –attributed to Vince Lombardi

Now maybe I’ll be able to get that song out of my head and concentrate on “The Arnold.”  It is late September here in California, and while it is early to do a post-mortem with the election a week away, it is my last chance.  Politics long considered one of the last bastions of geeky, pale, weasel-faced, high school debate club presidents is about to fall.  By the time you read this, Arnold Schwarzenegger will likely be bench pressing a podium — Gray Davis–or he’ll be challenging reporters to punch him in the stomach as hard as they can. Oh yes, and he will be Governor-elect of California.

The Minnesota connection makes us unindicted co-conspirators.  Schwarzenegger is frequently compared to Jesse Ventura, the other freewheeling, steroid-using, self-confessed 70s wild man.  Californians do this to cite precedent and to reassure themselves that what they are doing makes sense.  The first time some co-workers earnestly suggested this to me I was eating lunch and milk came out of my nose.  I attempted to explain the continual limit-testing Jesse had done. Whether it was moonlighting on weekends for the XFL, talking to Playboy magazine, or the use of the mansion, Jesse forced us into the role of parenting our petulant political prodigy.

Jesse really wanted unicameral government and mass transit.  One of which is still a good idea. Arnold is richer, tanner, bolder, and far more dangerous.  We are consoled that he cannot constitutionally become president and will have to settle for California, the world’s fifth largest economy.  He is Machiavellian, ego-driven, ambitious, and cunning.  Unfortunately his narcissism seems to be an end and not a means.  He appears to have no ideology beyond winning.  Granted, the list of selfless politicians is short, but Schwarzenegger seems to take particular glee in subjugating others to his torrid will.

The Arnold has completely revised his early steroid use, womanizing, and questionable business ethics.  He is a Hummer lover, and the metaphor is perfect, particularly if you have ever sat next to one while in a Miata  at a stop light.  A quirky short term race for Sacramento is perfectly geared to garner him mass exposure.    It is form over substance: “Getting Elected Governor For Dummies.” Perhaps we are all ADD, and this is as long as we can concentrate.  I fear my adopted state is making an impulsive decision we will all regret, and the poor will pay.  In which case I will be back as soon as Minnesotans disarm.

I may be overreacting, and Larry Flynt, Gary Coleman, Richard Simmons (accountant), Mary Carey (porn star), the 105 year old woman, or even Gray Davis may have won.  In that case, let me echo the words of Gilda Radner from Saturday Night Live: “Never mind.”

Tom H. Cook is missing a real Minnesota autumn.  He also remembers–all too clearly–what comes next.