Tag Archives: driving

Motorist Critique

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. 

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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.



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.