It was the spring of 1970 when I, a fresh-faced sixteen-year-old, drove my mother’s lime green American Motors Hornet to the absolute failure of my first road test. This wasn’t a “wait for the results to come in the mail” failure; this was a “son, you’ve just failed,” level of failure. I was crushed. After all, I had been driving our previous family car, a nineteen foot long Pontiac Bonneville since I was twelve or so to deliver the Sunday newspapers, and had practiced diligently on all manner of roadways once I got my learner’s permit. I thought this test was in the bag.
What did I do? I hit a pothole. There was a car coming in the other lane, and swerving wasn’t an option, so I slowed down to a crawl and rolled over the edge of the road crater. What I should have done, according to the clipboard-toting monster who failed me, was to stop completely, turn on my blinker, and drive around it. His notes said that I failed to see a road obstruction. Was this fair? I have no idea. Probably, but in all the miles I have driven since 1970, I have never, not once, stopped, put on my blinker, and drove around a pothole. The accepted strategy is to either straddle the thing or hit it hard enough to send bits of suspension parts flying in all directions followed by a solid round of creative swearing. To this day, the reasoning behind the particular driving rule that crushed my teenage soul still bewilders me.
I got over it of course and passed my next road test with flying colors, which began what has been a mostly uneventful forty-eight years of driving. Two speeding tickets, one ticket before there were laws against such things for driving while using my phone at 6:30 in the morning on a deserted country road, and one warning for not having a flag on a single piece of shoe molding that was on the back of my truck. The exact words of the state trooper who let me go with a warning were, “That could have put my partner’s eye out.” It should be noted that his partner was shielded behind at least six feet of squad car hood and a windshield, but duly noted. I taped a flag on the molding.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become even more cautious on the road. I drive the speed limit, or no more than five miles per hour over it, I use my turn signals even when I leave my own driveway, and I cut a wide berth around people jogging or walking along the roadside. I seldom use my horn, unless somebody is being a complete turd, and I never toss litter out the window, unless you want to count the occasional lump of stale chewing gum.
So here’s where I’m confused.
I often find myself driving in the city where it seems as if all manner of road courtesy has been crumpled up into a little ball and set on fire. Pedestrians and bicyclists alike will meander out into traffic as if they are surrounded by a force field that makes them impervious to the mass of a two and a half ton Dodge Ram pickup truck. Green light, red light, no light, no crosswalk, doesn’t matter. Out they go, daring people to brake so hard that their feet punch through the floorboards, causing them to Flintstone their vehicle to a halt. I don’t want to hit you, Mr. Metropolitan Wanderer, but c’mon already, and while I’m all for the energy saving, health benefits of bicycling, the rules of the road also apply to you, buster. That means stopping your vehicle at red lights.
I also don’t understand those lanes that are clearly marked for buses only, so if I want to make a right-hand turn, do I turn across that lane or use the lane? And what about the bicycle lane that for some reason is painted in the middle of the road? Can I drive on that?
Oh, here’s another one: Do I yield to the person who is checking Facebook while driving or do I use my aforementioned rule of blowing the horn at turds to jar him back to reality? What about the guy who I see at least once a day who is eating off a plate with a fork? That requires an entirely new level of table manners. Or the young guys on motorcycles who not only zigzag through traffic, but pop off wheelies for no reason other than to check their bad-boy reflection on the front fender.
It’s getting bad out there, people. Time was when the worst thing on the road was the person who left their blinker on for miles, but now it’s gotten crazy. I was trying to merge onto the expressway the other day and was finally able to make my move before I ran out of lane when somebody pulled up alongside me, not budging an inch. On the plus side, he wasn’t trying to saw his way through a T-bone and a baked potato, but that didn’t make his douchebaggery any less egregious. It seems that lately, the open road has become a Roman gladiator pit, only a lot less congenial. I’m seriously thinking about mounting sword blades on my wheels to discourage the rambling drivers who simply cannot stay in between the lines.
I know I’m not that old because I’m not driving a Crown Victoria with a row of baseball hats on the rear parcel shelf, but don’t they teach people how to drive anymore? Does the DMV use the same parameters for new drivers as Home Depot uses for their department experts? Got a pulse? Here’s your apron.
Anyway, that’s my annual gripe about the state of modern life, and it’s been brewing inside of me for a while, but I swear to you that I didn’t write this while driving. I couldn’t. I was too busy eating soup, steering with my knees, adjusting the radio, checking my Instagram status, and taking a selfie.