A Thinking Man

What Men May Want to Know


By Don Wright

Driving vehicles has always been one of my greatest pleasures. Not only driving them, but modifying and customizing too – since I was a teenager. I achieved my driver’s license about the same time the van craze took off here in America and back then all I wanted was a van of my own to customize. I ended up with a 1973 Ford Econoline and spent the next few years making it into something unique.

Those were the days. Van clubs, cruise ins, traveling around the south with my new “family.” It was a blast. It was also relatively short-lived. Vans went the way of bell bottoms, long hair and paisley shirts.

Since then it’s been motorcycles and quasi race-cars. But at the root of it all was driving and freedom that went along with it. I’ve always enjoyed the responsibility, the precision, the focus and concentration that went along for the ride.

Some of my best memories were after my divorce in 1986 where I was free for the first time in my life to drive to points unknown with only me to please. Many of those trips were to Rock Hill, North Carolina to visit friends – we’d spend a couple of days flying RC aircraft; heaven.

We all look back at those times as a bit kinder and gentler and in many ways they were, but our minds play tricks on us – hiding the negative, accentuating the positive.

But one thing I do remember is that people didn’t take driving as serious as they do today. If I had to drive over to a friend’s house back during the 70’s and had an unfinished beer, well it went along for the ride too. Not today – and with good reason.

What I’m writing about is just how uptight everyone is about their “space” on the road, as if the particular piece of real estate their car is on, or soon will be, is theirs by right. Don’t invade my space. Not only don’t invade my space, don’t break any rules of road etiquette that I might believe are important to me.

Case in point – today I’m taking shirts to the dry cleaners, the wife is with me. The road turning into the shopping center is a “surface street,” meaning simply a neighborhood road. I make my right hander into the shopping center, but the cleaner’s drive-thru is on the end of the building and the wife’s car does not turn very sharp (front wheel drive).  Meanwhile, on the same surface street, there had been a white pickup in oncoming traffic waiting for me to clear so he could turn in, presumably right behind me.

Now, I’m in a situation where I need to reverse a couple of feet, get another angle and head into the drive through, which I do. I’ve got situational awareness around me and know that I’m in no danger of making the maneuver.

The pickup driver is now making his way behind me and see’s me backing up, immediately him and his passenger begin bellowing in my direction from open windows much like irate baboons that have had their bananas taken away.

I ignore them and make my move – no one was ever in danger of contacting anyone. But, in their eyes, I was about to encroach on their “space,” which gave them the a reason for being enraged.

But did it?

Here’s how I saw it from their perspective. They, in a higher vehicle, waiting on me to pass had a complete overview of the entire situation. They saw me turn in and nose into the cleaners before they even moved from their lane – they also saw that the car didn’t make it and the only recourse was backing up and readjusting. A couple of seconds grace on their part and ranting is unnecessary.

But we want to rant. We want to become enraged. I’ll even admit that when they bellowed from their passing windows I felt a twinge of “defensiveness” myself.

In many ways we’ve become removed from each other and see “them” instead of “us.” Sure, people can be very gracious and congenial on the road – “You go ahead first.” “No, you.” But skins have become very thin and litigious. Indignation is always right below the surface.  I remember when you bought accident insurance – but today there are no accidents. If you make a mistake today there’s an entire industry geared and ready to prove negligence or worse.

It’s enough to give you pause. It’s enough to nick the paint of a freedom we once had.

Given these circumstances I’ve made some adjustments in my driving over the last few years, reminiscent of the days of riding a motorcycle.

I drive as if I’m a ghost. Today’s episode aside – if I’ve made and run successfully there would be no one along my path that could testify to seeing me.

I drive without ego and that might be hard to explain how to do. It’s almost as if you’re a ninja on the road. Merging, changing lanes, turning in – it’s all done in such as way as to not give anyone cause to notice or make any adjustments in their driving.

Comedian, Louis C. K. recent had a comedy special where he talks about driving and how tight everyone is, himself included. He commented on how someone coasted into his lane for an instant and it caused him to move his steering wheel a little and that enraged him. The point being how silly that reaction was.

Here’s my take on it. Cars have at a least three controls. The steering wheel, brake and  go pedal. As a conscientious driver we’re expected to have mastery of these three basic controls. It’s our job while operating the vehicle. And in successfully completing our journey we will have to constantly make adjustments to these controls. If we have to make any adjustment to avoid an accident, congratulations, we’re doing good work.

For the most part it’s our personal responsibility to avoid accidents regardless of what another driver is doing.

Consider the area around your vehicle a force field for calm and graciousness. You will affect those around you in the most positive ways. It all begins with you.

Just stay away from the dry cleaner’s drive through.

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