On the Road

Commuting to and from work is fun.  Said no one, ever.  We share the road with many drivers, each one completely unique and apparently, as I have come to find out, following their own set of traffic laws.  As a frequent traveler on a major highway system in my state, I am amazed at how my mere presence on an entrance ramp has a magical effect on the flow of traffic.  A car that was previously more than half a mile away in the middle lane spots me and speeds up, moving over to the lane I need, and cuts me off…or worse, keeps time with me so that I can’t get over.  This dastardly deed is known as “Don’t Let Him Over” and the game begins as soon as a trailing car sees your turn signal, indicating politely that you’d like to be somewhere else, anywhere else, really, as long as it is away from the grandmother doing 25 mph in the fast lane.

There was obviously a law passed about this, requiring you to speed up no matter how far away the car wishing to slide over and merge actually is.  The memo never reached me, though, and I continue to think there are nice drivers left out there.  Somewhere. Obviously far, far away. It could be that my language in traffic is too brutal for the delicate souls driving around me, so they purposefully excluded me from the mass mailings.  Sadly, this only increases my tirades and antics; not knowing the rules of the game, I’m run up onto the shoulder of the entrance ramp.  My oversized sunglasses hide my identity, though, and in my car I’m free to call you whatever I want. Sort of like those extreme-right trolls on Facebook.

Karma is sweet though, when I am cut off by someone speeding towards the light, only to be caught next to me in its web of eternal redness…that just makes my day. Yes, I know, obviously I live a pathetic existence for this to humor me as much as it does, but I try to get amusement when and where I can.  These people will always find a reason to fiddle with their radio, adjust their visors, or do anything that allows them to not make eye contact with my triumphant face as we sit in what, for them, has become the world’s longest light.

My personal favorite are the ones sitting, waiting to make a turn into my lane, seeing my lone car coming with no one else behind me or around me, only to turn directly in front of me …sometimes waiting — no, usually waiting, until I’m right up on them to do so.  The unwritten law here is that they must go no faster than 20 mph when they accomplish their feat.

Motorcyclists have laws all of their own.  I do love being on the back of a motorcycle, though I have never learned to drive one myself.  There is definitely something exhilarating about the freedom of being precariously perched on a motorized bicycle without the added security of metal surrounding you.  Every wheeled mode of transportation is supposed to adhere to the written laws of the road, from horse and buggy to tractor trailers.  Except, evidently, motorcyclists (okay fine, most some not all).  I have heard the announcements and I’ve seen the multitude of signs posted about looking twice and sharing the road with motorcycles, and I am saddened by accidents that are usually pretty brutal when a motorcyclist is involved.  That said, motorcyclists need to remember that they are not superheroes, impervious to the laws of nature, God, and man.  I see them riding down the white lines of the road, hurtling through time and space at the speed of sound, barely missing the mirrors on the sides of the cars they squeeze between as they seek to show off avoid the traffic jam the rest of us are just so deliriously happy to be sitting in.  I am not sure it was ever made clear to them that white lines are not designated motorcycle paths.  All joking aside, despite the immediate frustration that arises when I see these insane antics, I can’t help but cringe thinking of what might await them…and those they’re cutting off, down the road, and I keep my fingers crossed they make it home in one piece.

I hate driving … it’s a necessary evil. If I ever when I win the mega-million jackpot, the first thing I will do is get a driver on retainer. I mean, honestly, I have enough to worry about every day without trying to understand the unwritten games and laws that apparently govern our roads.  Most days, I am damned lucky I found the keys to my car to begin with.

Dueling Radios on the Road

We all do goofy things with our car radios while we drive.  You’re lying if you tell me you’ve never inched up at a traffic light to get better reception during your favorite song.  I might have to call you out again if you claim you don’t turn the radio down while you look for an address.  And I know I’m not the only one who hears a song I love, then immediately searches all the other channels to find it again.

Don’t tell me that if your window is open and you are listening to an embarrassing song, say A-Ha’s Take on Me, while playing the air keyboard on your dashboard, that you don’t punch the button to change the station as soon as you hit a red light.  We all know the stations we can tune to for music while other stations are on commercial breaks, and we have at least one station programmed that we never even listen to, wonder why it’s saved, and still refuse to reprogram it.

We get embarrassed when we sing the wrong words to songs, even when we are alone, and play the “Who sings this, it’s right on the tip of my tongue, dang it” game to the point we may even Google it at the next stop light.

But there is a certain type of person who takes car music to a whole different level.

You are at the stoplight, waiting for it to turn green.  You feel it before you hear it.  Your teeth rattle and your car shakes as he pulls up beside you.  It’s Mr. Bass Man.  That’s bass, like the music, not bass like the fish; he is another post altogether, now, isn’t he?

He is wearing something darker, you think, you can’t really tell because his windows are tinted.  You peer through the tint and see a reflection of sunglasses, which makes no sense because it’s eleven at night. His music is so loud that birds are falling from their nests, dogs are howling in protest, house windows are shattering, and the lady in front of you just ran the stoplight to escape.

Not to be outdone – more importantly, to keep the lyrical insult to music Mr. Bass Man is playing at bay, you crank up your John Denver, but Country Roads is no competition for Mr. Bass Man.  Your head is swimming as you are trying to hear about those roads that will take John home, but John Denver has given up.  You crank your windows up; the bass still winds around you like a boa constrictor and won’t let go.

Mr. Bass Man appears to somehow be talking on a cell phone, his voice raised over his musical offerings.  Far be it from Mr. Bass Man to turn down his radio to have his conversation, he is kind enough that he doesn’t want to deprive you of this real music experience.

Thank you, Mr. Bass Man, for showing me that my tastes in music sucks. Thank you for sharing your obviously superior music with the world.  I appreciate the valuable life lesson I have learned here today.  If I had a clue what the hell you were actually listening to, I might even look it up online and continue this valuable education.

Off he goes, his bass fading into the velvety night.  You sit at the light for a moment more, letting your hearing correct itself, and watch him blow the next stoplight.  Mr. Bass Man has important places to go, and won’t let a pesky thing like traffic laws slow him down.

Thank you, again, Mr. Bass Man, for allowing your musical choices to wash over me, and the six city blocks surrounding us.  I feel all the better for having, if only for a brief moment, a glimpse into your life.

And I feel even better knowing that you are somewhere teaching others the error of their musical choices, and spreading the love.  Because at least you’re not next to me anymore.

Meeting Your Freeway Neighbors

I ran into this truck the other day as I was driving.  Ok, not literally, but you know what I mean.  Check out the back doors…smoke, handprints…really unsettling.  I mean, what the hell!? Was there an exorcism going on back there?  I can see it now, the priest, clinging onto a side wall for dear life as the truck careened through traffic – with his Bible upside down, spilling Holy Water all over the back as the demonically challenged victim, restrained in an office chair, kept rolling just out of reach.

 

The truth is, every day we are surrounded by people on the road that we don’t know, will never meet, and never think about again.  What is going on in those cars?  Who are these people?

Let me enlighten you about your fellow drivers.

Bertha Katz:  Bertha is a sweet lady who embellishes her bumper with stickers that she doesn’t fully understand.  She has a PETA sticker next to the one reading, “Beef.  It’s what’s for dinner.”  She is blissfully unaware that the reason she gets rear-ended so many times is that people are trying to read that tiny, peeling one in the left corner that reads “Honk if you…” something.  Damn it, Bertha, we want to know if we should honk!

Hank Hughes:  Hank is driving that gigantic, 1970’s Air Stream in the right lane.  And the left lane.  And a little over into the far left lane as well.  His tags are from a state on the opposite side of the continent.  Just what the hell does he want to come here for anyway?? The RV looks ragged and well used.  He has actually hidden a fortune in slot machine tokens in the yellow polka dotted cushions of the bench seat in the back.  Hank is wearing sunglasses and propping his overly tanned left arm out his open window while singing along to Willie Nelson, his untanned right arm balancing a cup of cold coffee on his lap.

Henry McFadden:  Beware the Henry McFaddens of the highway.  You can spot them a mile away, wearing sporty caps on their grey heads.  He is in the fast lane, doing 25mph with his hazard lights on, cursing all “you young whippersnappers” that tailgate him, horns blaring in frustration before finally passing him in a final barrage of honking.  He thinks that 55 mph is a suggestion, and a gosh-darned dangerous one at that.

Ellen Fitzgerald:  She is the soccer mom in the over-sized, overly priced SUV in front of you.  Until now, you didn’t know that Lamborghini made an SUV. Considering your state has absolutely no mountainous areas whatsoever, and therefore no reason to kick it into 4-wheel drive to overcome treacherous terrain, the purpose of an SUV of this size is unclear.  Not that this SUV would ever see a mountain … or know what mud is. The otherwise pristine vehicle has a back window full of those stick figures…two adult men, three adult women, eight children, seven dogs, five cats, and what appears to be an iguana.  You will never know anything more about her, but you will obsess over who those stick figures represent the rest of the day.

Michael Mitchell:  Ah, Mr. Vanity Plate himself.  You can admire a clever plate when you understand it. “I M Gr8” or “2 GUD 4 U” are some of the classics that make you smile.  But Michael’s tag, proudly proclaiming “Y RST U” is an enigma.  You ponder it for miles, saying it out loud, trying it backwards and forwards, all thoughts of Ellen’s stick figure family gone from your head as the new obsession strikes.  You think you almost have it, the solution is so close!  Little do you know; Michael’s tag means nothing, and he only got it to mess around with his fellow drivers.  Well played, Michael. Well played indeed.

Mandy Smith:  As you drive up next to Mandy, you see her frantically shoving a candy bar into her mouth with the wrapper still on, chasing it with a Red Bull, death metal guitars screaming from inside her car.  You may initially judge Mandy’s unkempt pony tail and stained sweatshirt, but then you see the back seat lined with three car seats and the sullen teenager in the front passenger seat.  As you pass her, you realize that she isn’t listening to death metal at all; those screams are from her three toddlers in the back.  Her eyes are haunted as she shoots you a pleading glance; you give her the universally accepted grim lipped smile of the overwhelmed (and overworked) mother, and head nod as your eyes meet in understanding.

Bill Jones:  Bill’s bumper sticker proudly proclaims that he “brakes for turtles.”  Yay, Bill.  Unfortunately, he also brakes for nonexistent bumps, red cars on the opposite side of the road, commercials on the radio, trees, and just to see if his brakes still work or if he needs to use the gift certificate to the local brake repair shop his friends gave him for his birthday.

Lila Hirsch:  Lila is frantically arguing with her invisible friend.  Both of her hands are off the wheel, at inopportune times, gesticulating wildly to make her point as her car swerves into your lane.  You tell yourself she is probably on Blue Tooth…but can we really be sure?

Johnny Miller:  Johnny picks a car at random, then begins to target it for his own freeway fun.  He tailgates it, passes it, cuts it off, slows down, speeds up, lets it pass again, and so on in a game of cat and mouse with rules that only he knows and which he keeps changing as he goes along.  At some point, he apparently wins his game and will drive up casually next to you, looking over at you in distaste, shaking his head, before speeding off.  You will never understand Johnny’s game, but you feel sort of honored you were chosen to play, and thankful you survived.

Next time you are on the road, look out for these drivers.  Now you know a little more about them, so they are no longer random strangers in a car.  If I missed any, let me know; I’d love to hear who you “met” on the road today!

Driver’s Ed

Okay, so, when navigating a parking lot, for how long must one be actually in a moving car, before the onus of accountability falls on those who suddenly zip into the previously clear aisle? Or, for that matter, how long does one’s car need to be in motion before it becomes acceptable to squash the pedestrian who clearly sees you from across the way, but in what can only be described as a desire to play chicken sullenly reinforce their right of way as a pedestrian, decides to significantly speed up their gait so as to walk in front of your car?

Just asking for a friend.

Charitable Contributions

Charity starts at home on the road and I just want to give a shout out to all those altruistic folks on the highways, at red lights, and in parking lots who are oh-so-kind enough to share their music with those of us less fortunate who might not have music of our own to listen to.

Without you, we might have to sit in glorious silence going over that speech we have to give in the PR meeting later, or perhaps, god forbid, we might catch up on the news or the latest weather report, or even be forced to listen to that audio book we checked out at the library just for our commute to work.

If it weren’t for you sharing your music at such a loud decibel that our cars shake, we might never know the pleasures of obscenity-laden music or lyrical rape scenarios, all while having our spines realigned and our heads on the verge of implosion from the sheer force of the bass.

So thank you, fellow citizen!

Thank you for doing your part to make what is already an annoying undertaking — our daily commute or running errands — that much more intolerable by giving of yourselves and your delightful taste in music.

Reflections of the Road

Mankind has invented many horrendous torture devices throughout his stay on this earth.  A few that come to mind are those virtually invisible Bluetooth phone earpieces that cause you to assume the user is talking to you but of course they’re not – only you don’t realize this until after you’ve already held a 5 minute conversation with yourself, those automated voice response systems on help lines that force you to say words until you are screaming at a robot which only makes things worse…both for your self-esteem and getting the department you so desperately need which is why you called in the first place, and self-checkout lanes with overly sensitive scales that proudly announce to everyone that you have an unexpected item in the bagging area…a dozen times.

No other device, however, can cause as much horror, anger, embarrassment, and fear as a car horn in a traffic jam. I. Hate. Car. Horns.

The victim of the car horn is usually some unsuspecting person who ended up on the wrong side of a red light, trapped in an intersection with nowhere to go while the traffic he is blocking begins playing the well-known symphony, “The Cacophony of Horns,” on their steering wheels.  The victim has few options and can either respond with the “embarrassed grimace, hands thrown up in helplessness” ploy or the famous “I need to change my radio station right now for the next five minutes while pretending I can’t hear you” trick. And it’s not as if the hapless victim wants to be doing what he’s doing…he doesn’t want to be there either.

The other day found me in a particularly crowded shopping district.  Things were rolling pretty smoothly and I could see the lights lining up in perfect harmonious greenness.  Gotta love it when small miracles happen.  Imagine my surprise when, instead of rolling through this rare alignment of roadway perfection, I found myself reading the bumper stickers on the car in front of me as we all sat at a complete stop.

From where I was sitting, I could see the green light in front of me. There was more than enough time for the cars to siphon through.  The light just beyond my own, the next one in line that you might think would be holding up traffic, was also green, and still we sat.  It really only ever takes one person to wreck your traffic day, and I am sure there was someone daydreaming of God knows what behind the wheel or more likely, talking on their cell phone that was snarling the smooth flow of cars.  The sea of cars stretched through the intersection creating a virtual parking lot at a line of green lights.

I can easily imagine the actions of the drivers in the middle when the inevitable happened and the light turned yellow.  First, they threw their hands up and made a show of yelling something at the cars in front of them. They exaggeratedly leaned over to peer up at the now yellow light, and then to their companion, if they had one, with a show of complete exasperation.  The light turned red, as yellow lights do, and now they were stuck.

These hapless drivers were now in the Traffic Trap of Doom.  Packed in tight, they couldn’t pull to the side, they couldn’t move forward, and backing up was not an option.

The drivers who were trying to cross the road to get to the shopping center on the other side (a joke about a chicken comes to mind, but I digress) take this as a personal assault on their driving freedoms.  The rally cry of “Let’s wait patiently for the light to turn green so the traffic jam can clear up” rang forth.  Ok, not hardly. Wait for the light to change?  Who has time for that?

The honking started innocently, as it always does.  A single frustrated tap from an unknown car to the left.  Like a wolf pack on the prowl, that honk was taken up by another driver.  And another.  And another.  Soon, the symphony lifted to the sky and magically, nothing happened.

Not a thing.  Despite their best attempts, traffic was still sitting exactly where it was before they started their raucous assault on those of us with ears.  The hard lesson learned this day was that a car horn does not summon a traffic fairy to come lift cars out of the way, no matter how loud and long you blare it.  Did the honkers expect that their efforts would somehow create an opening, like Moses parting the Red Sea?  The only thing these frustrated drivers accomplished was to give everyone a headache.

The victims in the Traffic Trap of Doom continued to pretend they couldn’t hear the honking, cheeks flushed with embarrassment, silent prayers lifted to the traffic light gods that the light would change soon and their five minutes of fame would be over.

Normally I would be just as frustrated as the next person to see a blocked intersection, but in this case, I could see from my position that there was no way the stuck drivers should have expected the cars ahead at the first green light to just stop.  It wasn’t a matter of mistimed lights or people pushing to get through a yellow light. They saw the alluring vision of two green lights ahead and assumed they would shortly be moving forward, flowing as smoothly as the rum they would later be pouring into their coffee as they retold the harrowing experience to their family later that night.  It’s a natural assumption.

Who knew a distracted driver could back traffic up into the next state just by glancing at Map Quest or porn or whatever it was he was doing up there?

Of course, it didn’t stay backed up for long.  The distracted driver got his shit together, and life resumed normally for all involved.

The horn blowers duly patted themselves on the back for the role they played this day; for without them, however would we have survived?

Well played, anonymous horn blowers.  Well played.  We thank you.

Savage Beast

I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in the clutches of a really crappy, sucky, frowny-faced bad mood and thought “Well, there’s no way out of this. I’m just gonna be in this terrible, suck-the-life-out-of-me mood for the rest of my life.” That tends to be the case when I’m in the middle of a road rage meltdown. The struggle is just too real, people! Bad traffic and stupid drivers are my triggers. Maybe for you it’s slow grocery store lines or annoying coworkers or internet outages. Whatever the cause, it’s a scientific fact that each of us can plummet into a bad mood if faced with one of our most formidable pet peeves. Hey, it said so in an online article, so it must be true.

But fear not! It’s also a scientific fact that there’s an instant cure: Music. Music is the answer for so many of life’s problems. And yes, we all have that one song that can unclench our teeth, ease the tension out of our shoulders, and literally turn that frown upside down. I’m lucky…I have three songs in particular that do the trick when I’m spiraling down into a road rage tantrum.

  1. Walking on Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves
  2. All About That Bass – Meghan Trainor
  3. Shut Up and Dance – Walk the Moon

No matter the funk I’m in, if one of those song comes on the radio, everyone else in the car knows it’s “Me” time and adheres to the strict code of silence while I rock out to my feel good tune. Of course if the situation is really dire, if the perils of the road build up to dangerous “curse words are about to flow” levels, I have the songs ready to go on CD. I pop one of those bad boys in, crank it up to 11, and it’s like instant audio joy, a form of intense meditation if you will. It never fails to cause a passionate bout of head bopping, finger tapping, and sing along-ing. I simply can’t stay mad. It’s amazing really. The road rage just immediately melts away. Good news for the drivers around me…and for me as well. I don’t like being in foul moods any more than the people it’s directed at.

And God bless my sweet daughter. After sitting shotgun for so many years, she knows all my tell-tale signs of impending meltdown. Like a stress-reducing super-heroine she knows exactly when I’m veering (ha! pun!) into dangerous territory and queues up one of those songs before I reach the danger zone…reminiscent of an experienced lion tamer throwing fresh meat to her charges.

We should all be so lucky to not only know what can chill us out in times when a bad mood hits, but also that we have a supporting cast ready to help out whenever possible.