I can drive 55 — or 65, as the speed limit allows these days. I can also parallel park. But whenever I do either, I nearly get mowed down by someone racing like a bat out of hell.
Yea, I did just reference Sammy Hagar and Meat Loaf in the opening paragraph. Because it seems to me that when these songs played on our crappy car radios, we were in the halcyon days of driving.
Statistically, however, I’m dead wrong. Driving has gotten safer even if manners have gotten worse. Traffic fatality stats are roughly half of what they were back when big hair rocked and rock ballads were big.
We have seatbelt laws, side-impact airbags, and instant weather alerts to thank for our safer roads. But something else has gone horribly awry on our neighborhood streets and highway interstates. Something more disturbing than the lyrics to “Muskrat Love.”
I’m not how to define “it” other than a gross misinterpretation of “the human race.”
Exhibit A: Parallel Lives
I’m driving along the road near my work and I’m looking for a parking space. I see one! Yeah, happy me! I will have to parallel park, which is not an issue as I am well-trained in the procedure. I have slowed down, put on my blinker, and pulled up tight next to the car in front of the space. I’ve put my car in reverse — which means my white lights are on, too — and am ready to proceed.
But no! The cars behind me are either 1) pulling up right behind me and honking or 2) driving around at me break-neck speed. In both scenarios, I can’t actually park which only serves to delay the traffic. Sometimes, while I’m waiting, I watch the other drivers’ faces in my rear-view mirror. They actually look angry that I want to park. And then I realize just how inconsiderate I am. I should just keep driving to avoid inconveniencing anyone.
As if parallel parking isn’t presumptuous enough, I often find myself upsetting other drivers by turning. I apologize that I want to go to the farmers market at this corner or if I’m actually turning into my own driveway! But if my blinker is on, why is your middle finger up? My car and I warned you this was coming.
Once again, (see Exhibit A) it seems I should I just keep going in an effort to keep my fellow motorists from having a coronary.Is everyone else on the road to nowhere? Yeah, that’s right, I just snuck the title of a Talking Heads’ song into this story.
Exhibit C: Tattletales
There is only one place where tailgating rules: in the parking lot of an athletic stadium.
A driver’s rule of thumb, on the other hand, is to leave one car length between your vehicle and the one ahead of you for every 10 mph at which you travel. For those going 60 that means 6 car lengths. Why? Because someone might actually have to slow down/stop for something in road, or for a busted tire, or to take an exit (see exhibit B), or any infinite number of unexpected scenarios. The point is to expect that something may very well happen and drive accordingly.
You wouldn’t walk with your toes inches from someone’s heels. You’d bump into them! But behind the wheel, for some reason, people think it’s legit to inch up on the car in front. Are you trying to intimidate me into speeding up? Listen, freak, I’m not going to risk my life so you can get home .04 seconds faster — assuming someone else lets you turn into your driveway. (See Exhibit B.)
Gen X Marks the Spot
Yesterday, I witnessed one car and driver exhibit all three (A, B & C) tendencies in one instance. I was driving in a 25 mph zone, which is the official-yet-ignored speed limit in the city of Burlington, Vermont, when a speed demon got right up on my bumper. I happened to see a pedestrian waiting to cross in a ped-xing zone, so I stopped for her which is the right thing to do.
The area also happens to be a popular spot for turning into the parking lot of a kids’ park. The car behind me — frustrated by my desire to brake for humanity — swerved into the left lane (thankfully there was no oncoming traffic) and gunned the gas. Fortunately, the pedestrian had not gotten very far on the cross walk or else she’d be dead.
What’s going on out there? My fear is that the car windshield has gone the way of the computer screen. Instead of windows to the soul, they’re become barriers to seeing people. We hide behind the anonymity of heavy metal and high tech to advance our personal direction.
Turn around, bright eyes. Turn around.