Safety first: Keep both hands on the wheel. Chew Wrigley’s Spearmint gum and see how happy you feel!
—Wrigley Gum commercial circa 1955
Most of us freely concede certain shortcomings, such as the inability to carry a tune, do simple math without a calculator, recall names of former neighbors, and even remember the title of last night’s video. We are touchier about a subjects like having no sense of humor (no one admits they don’t have one) and operating a motor vehicle. Just about everyone from Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man to your great Aunt Minnie believes they are excellent drivers and it is the yahoos on the road that make modern ground travel hair-raising.
I have no such illusions. I drive when necessary and never for pleasure. Still I reserve the right to savagely critique my fellow motorists. Speeders, tailgaters, phone talkers, and drunk drivers are in another circle of Hell. What follows are behaviors that are more annoying than life threatening.
- No turn signal. Generally a guy, often in an oversized vehicle. The inference is, it is none of your business where or when I am turning, despite how much it may aid you in making your plans. Turn signals are for wimps and people who want to take away my freedom and my country. (The last part may be a stretch, but I have felt it.)
- That is my lane! I am in the right lane signaling to move to the left to pass a slow moving vehicle. A car in the left lane is well back, but on seeing my signaled intent develops a deep proprietary interest in all of the passing lane and immediately accelerates so that I am unable to get over. Similarly, when one is faced with an upcoming lane merger there are only two types of drivers. One sees the need to quickly assess, communicate, and accommodate. The other decides they must beat you to the spot no matter the carnage. The latter is a common impulse in preschoolers lining up for recess.
- The shaming pass. I admit I usually stick to the speed limit plus 5 miles per hour in and around town. As one lane turns to two I am sometimes passed by a driver who feels the need to explode around me as if I had been holding them underwater. After accelerating as if on fire, or late to a consult at the Mayo Clinic, they usually turn into a Burger King.
- Left turn arrow. We are in our left turn lane, waiting for a green arrow. We are the misfits; the vast majority of cars are happily and feverishly speeding on in both directions. Who are we to stop the onslaught and make our puny turn? The driver of the first car in the left turn lane is the captain. Since the light changes only in months with an “R” in them, a good safe jump is imperative. When I am the captain, I take pride in being alert and getting as many of my team through as possible. I hate when captains dawdle. They always get out but seem not to care about how many of us they leave behind.
- The left turn swoop. This is related to #4, and may be caused by a derelict captain who is already blissfully down the road. The green arrow has gone from yellow to bright red. “But it has not been red for long,” reasons the swooper who flies into the intersection and forces green-lit traffic to hit their brakes, shake their heads, and shudder.
- Red light/Blue light. Long ago in the playground game, and on the highway red meant stop. Red has become the new yellow. To many, a light turning red is a challenge and a signal to accelerate. Perhaps we need a fourth color. A blue light that really means do not enter this intersection until it is your turn!
Tom H. Cook now annoys other drivers in both Minneapolis and Los Angeles.