The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Going On Down the Road

I used to love to drive. Even wrote a poem about it. There is such a feeling of exhilaration, of freedom, of mobility without the achey joints. Driving is good, and if the car is running right, doesn't have any odd noises to concern me, and if there is sufficient gas in the tank, driving is a downright joy.

Now I don't recall paying really close attention, but it seems that more and more drivers on the road either got mail-order drivers licenses, or the rules changed while I was singing along with the radio, be-bopping on down the road.

It used to be that a driver needed to keep an "assured clear distance" of so-many feet between himself and the vehicle ahead. I remember reading it in the manual and I remember it being on the written portion of the driver's license test. I don't remember the answer to the question - but I can measure the distance with my eyes. More and more lately I find a driver so close behind me I think he is trying to see what I have in my back seat. It is usually the same driver who will weave in and out of traffic so I can never be sure where he is. I was taught to drive with mirrors, my instructor of old telling me how important it is to know where all the cars on the road are -- in my immediate area -- at all times.

And what is with the roadway lines these days? In the old Wisconsin manual I read, lo, those many years ago, a solid color line, whether white or yellow, down the middle of the road or approaching an intersection meant do not pass, stay in the lane you are in for now. If there are two lines, and one of them is solid colored and on your side of the road, you stay put in your lane, even if the other side has a broken line. You don't pass another car on the left or right. Doesn't seem to matter much to the drivers I see on the road these days. Keeping track of who is where on the road isn't easy anymore, that's for sure.

And speaking of lines, it used to be common knowledge that the wide lines going across the lanes at a stop light would trigger the light to change if you put your wheels (I am assuming that, for clearance, it is the front wheels, not the rear wheels, that should be) on that wide line. Lately I find that my fellow stop light sitters sit 'way back from the light, almost half a car length away from the wide line with the trigger in it. This is especially annoying when the intersection is at the entrance/exit to an apartment complex or parking lot in the wee hours of the morning. You can sit behind one of these drivers who don't know for a full five minutes before the light cycles by itself, even if there is no traffic on the road.

My favorite bumper sticker that I've seen on the Florida roads these days says, "Just Be Nice."

Now, I know we all have bad days, but I believe we should always keep an eye out for Stupid -- because he is out there on the road. On some days (oops) no matter how good a driver I may be, Stupid is me. Or you. Or one of my kids, or one of yours. None of us sets out to be Stupid on any given day - it happens, and the result, if not actually an accident, is a close call that provokes some of us more than others. Those who react strongly in a negative, I took-that-personally-way behave badly. And if you think Stupid is bad, wait until you run into Stupid in a Snit - which is what we call "Road Rage." Road Rage is furious, frustrated, and not thinking with true clarity, although he/she will tell you he/she is perfectly rational.

Now, if it was my turn to be Stupid that day, I make the 'oops' gesture and mouth the word "sorry" - thereby claiming my title as Stupid. More times than not, this diffuses the wronged driver and we carry on, me being more cautious so as not to be Stupid again, and the other driver getting as far away from me as quickly as he/she can. But too often I see people who have just been Stupid see the driver of the other car (that Stupid just put in danger) raise his hand in a one finger salute - or other meaningful gesture. If Stupid retaliates with an unkind gesture involving his/her hand and fingers, the wronged driver can develop a good and immediate case of Road Rage.

Now here's the thing. When we drive, each of us is in his/her own personal little world. Except for those we see around us if we are paying proper attention, we know nothing about any of the drivers with whom we share the road. That red Civic over there might have a worried mother in it, anxious to get home to a sick child. The guy over this way in the silver Buick might have just been fired. The pick-up truck ahead of you may contain a man who has just finished a 24 hour shift at the Fireshouse. We know nothing about the goings-on in the lives of anyone save ourselves. What if we unwittingly add the last straw to the backs of these folks? What if we actually provoke them to behave badly? Well, now, maybe those we provoke may not poke a gun out the window and shoot at us. Instead he may have no patience with his children; she may miscalculate the entrance to her garage. If it has been an especially hard day, none of us needs even one horn honked at us unnecessarily. After all, these days you can't be sure the other drover doesn't have a gun to poke out the window at us. Just be nice. Don't provoke someone else to behave badly.

On the other hand, if you can not only wave a car in ahead of you in traffic, but do it with a real smile, you can make a difference for the good in those you encounter. Be gracious on the road and it may run over into the rest of your public persona. Imagine the world if everybody did this.

Imagine.

Smokey

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