Pet peeves and pleasantries

  • I’ve been hunting for something clever to say about Hurricane Dorian, something that would connect it to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Perhaps something along the lines of realizing that the storm is remaining unchanged even as pictures of it grow larger. But so far, I’ve not been able to top the local newspaper, which printed a photograph of two people boarding up their home in Puerto Rico with the headline, “Dorian Blues.”
  • For decades, radio DJs have talked over the instrumental introductions of songs. As I age, I find the practice increasingly annoying. With some songs it doesn’t matter, but the opening chords of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” should never be eclipsed. Likewise for Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose.” And the opening guitar chords to “Shallow” from the recent movie “A Star is Born” set the mood for the song and should be heard without interruption.
  • One reason this practice of talking during the instrumental introduction annoys me is that the afternoon DJ on our local station seems to think she does it well. She doesn’t. At times she keeps on prattling into the opening words of the song. And she often neglects to restore the volume of the music after she has turned it down to hear herself talk. I could turn up the volume, but then I have to hurry to turn it down again before the song ends and her voice blares again from the speakers.
  • Another reason I’m annoyed by the talking DJ is that I only listen to the radio in my car. At work I don’t listen to music; at home if I want music I choose a CD. Now, many other things rattle my equilibrium when I am driving. Some drivers swerve from lane to lane going ten miles above the speed limit; others drift to the edge of the lane while driving ten miles under the speed limit—they are texting while they drive, which is why they drift; their drifting makes it difficult to pass them safely. Ergo, since I’m already annoyed behind the wheel, the DJ is only going to increase my discomfort.
  • Then there’s the issue of turning right at a red light. All too often I’ve had a driver try to squeeze in front of me when that driver was facing a red light and I had a green light. On the other hand, this happened again yesterday, twice: I was trying to turn right on a red light, but every time I inched forward to look for traffic, the car in the left turn lane also inched forward. That driver had nothing to gain from the adjustment, but it was to my disadvantage.
  • If you are a bad driver, please do not advertise your church or your beliefs with a sticker on the back of your car. If you are breaking the law or generally being rude and discourteous, the last thing you want to do is associate your community of faith with your behavior.
  • On a lighter note, one of my students of history made an interesting observation last night. On Tuesday we discussed the Harappan civilization of ancient India: they reached a high level of civilization many centuries ago, with amazing architecture, indoor plumbing, and a written language that no one alive today knows how to read. Afterward, their civilization collapsed, and no one is sure what happened to their descendants. Then, last night, we covered the Olmec and Maya peoples of the western hemisphere. Again, their architecture and use of running water and many other characteristics are astounding for the ancient world. Yet the Olmec abandoned their cities without a trace, and the Maya also walked away from their dwellings (though the Maya writings are being translated, and there are people living today who are descended from the Maya). My student noted that the common threads in these civilizations are their use of plumbing and the collapse of their civilizations; she thought there might be a connection. I told her to write a paper on the subject; it might make her famous.
  • It is worth nothing that one of the theories about the fall of the Roman Empire is related to plumbing. The Romans used lead pipes to bring water into their homes. Lead poisoning is thought to have weakened them to the point that they were overcome by invaders. It’s not a popular theory—many other causes are also given for the fall of Rome—but it’s interesting, all the same. J.
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The final straw

A few years ago I found a radio station I truly enjoyed. It played music from fifties hits to contemporary hits—you could hear Elvis and Taylor Swift and the Beatles and the Police in the same fifteen-minute set. It played the longer version of songs. It never played the same song twice on the same day, and it mixed up its songs enough that you were not likely to hear the same song more than once a week. It boasted that it did not broadcast a lot of “DJ chatter.” OK, it boasted of that a bit too often, but that’s a minor complaint about a station I genuinely loved.

On November 1, 2015, it started playing nothing but Christmas music. Not even carols—just songs like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” As soon as I realized what it was doing—about the third song in—I switched to a classical music station, and my car radio stayed on that station until spring.

I should point out that I listen to the radio only in my car. At home if I want to hear music I choose a CD. Even my morning wake-up alarm is music off a CD. But my car does not have a working CD player. (OK, it does not have a broken CD player either. It has a broken cassette tape deck.) I avoid talk radio. I avoid country music. I avoid current top forty hits, or whatever they call that kind of music now. That leaves me with Oldies and Classic Rock; but I really enjoyed the eclectic mix of that one radio station I had found.

When I returned to that station in the spring of 2016, they had diminished their library to seventies and eighties hits. They played the shorter version of songs. (Think of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” with a truncated monologue at the beginning and the final instrumental riff removed.) Even with those annoyances, I was willing to listen. I like a lot of songs from the early to mid eighties, as well as some songs from the seventies. Listening was not as satisfying as it had been, but it filled the time driving to work and back, driving to school and back, driving to church and back.

In fact, they added one feature I enjoy: on Sunday mornings they rebroadcast a Casey Kasem Top Forty countdown from the eighties. I hear the lower part of the countdown on the way to church and get to enjoy the bigger hits on the way home.

But they went to a Christmas-heavy format again last November, sending me once more to the classical music station. When I returned in January, I found that they had hired a morning DJ who chatters. He has listeners call in (or text or Facebook-message) to converse with him about oddities he has discovered while surfing the internet. Even worse, he talks over the instrumental introductions to songs.

Today he broke the final straw. He talked over the entire instrumental introduction to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” and then he also cut off the ending of the song. The instrumental part of “Eye of the Tiger” makes the song—without that part of the music, it’s actually a pretty lame song.

I have switched back to the classical station. And I probably will never return. J.

 

Why do they call it “rush hour” when no one can possibly rush?

Heavy traffic never results in enjoyable driving. These observations on driving in heavy traffic are based both on actual laws and on common sense. They might be better expressed in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, but for now, I am using this forum to teach drivers what they should already know.

  • Unless you are a Shriner driving a midget car in a parade, you do not need to change lanes two or three times every block. You and I will be stopped by the same traffic light. The only difference is that the other drivers will not be saying bad things about me.
  • You have a turn signal on your steering column for a reason—use it! Driving in heavy traffic is no occasion to submit to your whim to be mysterious and unpredictable. Don’t start the signal as you begin the turn. The point is to give advance warning to other drivers what you intend to do.
  • When the traffic is heavy on the expressway, employ the zipper merge. When cars are crawling well below the speed limit and traffic is entering from a ramp, or when two lanes combine into one, drivers should stay in their lane until the point of the merge, and then they should take turns—one from the right, then one from the left, and so on. This is the most efficient way to use the pavement and to get every driver where he or she wants to be.
  • When leaving the expressway and entering city traffic, do not try to zipper merge. That Yield sign is there for you. A traffic light will give you a chance to join the traffic, usually in less than a moment. Don’t try to push your way into traffic ahead of your turn. (The sixth point is related to this point.)
  • Do not enter an intersection controlled by a traffic light if you will not be able to exit the intersection before the light turns red. Claiming your spot in the intersection while the light changes is both rude and illegal. Wait your turn.
  • Right-turn-on-red should not be claimed in heavy traffic. You may turn right at a red light only if there is no nearby traffic facing the green light. When a driver obeys the fifth point, above, that is not an invitation for you to get in front of that driver. A friendly smile and wave does not make it alright.
  • When you leave home, make sure that you have enough gasoline in your tank to reach your destination. You do not want to run out of gas on a bridge over the river, making the bridge even more of a bottleneck that it was already. You do not want to have your car sitting, stalled on the bridge, protected by a police car with flashing lights, while some kind motorist gets you to a gas station to buy an emergency gallon of gas in a red gas can. You especially do not want this to happen to you if your license plate proudly identifies you as GERALD.

Let’s be careful out there. J.

Untitled–first Friday fiction

Carl often thought of himself as the man in the Eagles’ song, driving down the road with seven women on his mind. When he heard that song, he often could identify seven women who all were in his thoughts, though he doubted that any of them wanted to own him or wanted to kill him.

There was the young woman at church, vulnerable and yet appealing. He prayed for her; he wished he could make some gesture toward her that would comfort her, but anything he did would probably frighten her instead.

Then there was a woman who lived a few blocks from Carl. Sometimes they passed each other in the mornings when they were both taking their walks. She had long, straight, black hair, deep brown eyes, and a shy smile. Carl had never spoken with her. By luck, not by effort, he had been able to identify her house. Carl knew that she had children; he did not know whether or not she had a husband.

There was also the Olympic athlete he had seen on TV. She was also a brunette, with sparkling brown eyes and a lovely smile. Of course she was in top physical condition. They would never meet, but Carl had downloaded pictures of her onto his work computer. When the screen-saver brought up his slideshow, he would pause in his work and wait for her to appear.

Speaking of work, there was the intern with the blonde hair and the bright blue eyes. She was polite and friendly, probably considering Carl neither an interest nor a threat because of the difference in their ages.

There was the supervisor of another department, efficient without being unfriendly, able to charm customers and coworkers with equally sincere interest in whatever they had to say. A few months ago, she had announced a name change. A little Internet research revealed that she was changing from her married name to her maiden name. Carl wondered if that signaled a divorce or merely a desire to use her family name professionally from now on. He didn’t see her often, but when their paths crossed he generally managed to exchange hellos with her.

Carl remembered the woman from his department who had left for a better job more than three years ago. Carl still missed her. Every day on the way to work he passed the building where her new office was located. He hadn’t seen her since the day she left, but he still marked the anniversary of that day with regret and gloom.

The seventh woman on Carl’s mind had, in a sense, replaced number six. Not that she had been hired to do the same job, or even that she had been hired shortly after number six left the business. Carl was starting to feel the same glow in her presence that he once had felt when he was near number six. Through Facebook, Carl had discovered her birthday. It happened to be the same day that he had been marking in memory of number six. If for no other reason, Carl found that coincidence a reason to consider number seven an appropriate replacement for number six in his mind.

Not that Carl would make an inappropriate advance toward any of these seven women. Carl liked to think of them. He liked to be with them. He didn’t want to marry any of them, and Carl would never want or attempt a one-night stand. Some men had crushes on singers like Taylor Swift or actresses like Amy Adams. Carl’s crushes were (with the exception of the Olympic athlete) on people a little closer to home, but he was no more intending to stalk or to try to seduce these women than the vast majority of fans who follow celebrities.

In his own mind, though, Carl could imagine a closer relationship with any of the seven women on his mind. As he headed to his car at the end of the day, number seven was most on his mind. Before he started the engine, Carl decided that the songs he heard on the way home that evening would represent a conversation between Carl and number seven.

Of course he invited the lady to go first. Her opening song proved to be “You’re my Best Friend,” by Queen. Carl flattered himself that number seven might say some of those lyrics to him, or might be thinking that way about him. At the same time, Carl had a strong negative association to the word “friend.” “Let’s just be friends” was a kind way of saying, “I have no romantic interest in you.” Often, in Carl’s experience, the woman who said “Let’s just be friends” was the woman who would disappear from his life (if not from his mind) in a way that was distinctly unfriendly.

After a string of commercials, Carl’s reply came on the radio. The song was “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. This song was widely treated as a love song—it had even been sung at weddings—but it was a song about obsession and a claim to ownership, not about genuine love. Carl could imagine himself watching number seven as closely as the song described. He knew that a day or two of that behavior would be creepy to his coworker and might easily draw a reprimand from their boss.

Her next song was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce. Carl did not have to stretch to fit this story-telling song into the conversation. It was an unsubtle warning about men who take an interest in women who have already found their life’s partner. The title character, accustomed to taking everything he liked, took an interest in a woman who “looked nice.” This interest led to a brawl with her husband, and by the end of the brawl, Mr. Brown was not in a very good condition.

The deejays chatted about traffic and weather and played a few more commercials before Carl had a chance to answer the warning that had been given. His answer turned out to be Survivor’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Any Longer.” The anthem was a love ballad so schmaltzy that even the writer and singer seemed embarrassed by it. (Carl remembered the group joking about the song at the beginning and ending of their music video.) Calling his beloved a candle in the window was barely passible; promising to land a boat and “throw away the oar” was definitely over the top. After the clear warning involved in the story of Mr. Brown, Carl knew that he would never dare such a bold confession of love.

Number seven’s answer, though, was as enigmatic as the previous four songs had been forthright. She replied with Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” The song was still playing as Carl reached his home. He spent the rest of the evening trying to decide what the song meant. Was it an invitation to some sort of mutual involvement? Or was it a reminder that all Carl had to enjoy was fantasy and dreams? Carl knew that he would have to ponder those questions for a while before he would arrive at an answer. J.

 

Now playing…

One of the games I play while driving involves the songs on the radio. Instead of merely listening and enjoying the music, I add personal meanings to the songs. I imagine, for example, that the songs are a conversation between me and another person—sometimes alternating one song for me and one for the other, and sometimes having the third song be a duet. Or I might think of a list of people and go down the list—each person gets a song to tell me how they are doing or how they feel about me.

I don’t take this seriously, of course. I would never make an important decision based on the music played on the radio. (I might make an important decision based on the number of yellow cars I see, but that’s another story.) But, for the fun of it, I sometimes pretend that the songs on the radio are telling me what is going to happen soon.

Today I had to take the car to the shop to patch or replace a tire. (It ended up being replaced; the puncture was too close to the side of the tire to patch.) I also got the oil changed, and then I drove to work. As soon as I got started on the road, I said to myself, “The next song will give me a hint of how things are going to turn out this week.”

The next song turned out to be Carly Simon singing, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you. You’re so vain. I’ll bet you think this song is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you?”

Of course I laughed. Never have truer words been sung to me over the radio. On the other hand, Carly
Simon did not offer me any hint as to how the rest of the week is going to be.

On the other hand, the last song I heard coming home from work told me, “Don’t stop believing.” Good advice, I think. J.

 

Crawling in the fast lane

My drive home from work was a microcosm of the last three or four days in my life.

Generally, on a four-lane two-way road, I stay to the right, driving at the speed limit or as close to it as conditions allow. Those who want to exceed the speed limit can pass me on the left. The road between my workplace and my home goes past a lot of stores, restaurants, banks, a high school, and side streets into residential neighborhoods. With all the traffic entering and leaving the highway, it’s hard to make progress in the right-hand lane, so I like to drive home in the fast lane.

Today the fast lane was not very fast. A lot of people were turning left out of the fast lane, and a lot of cars were passing me on the right this afternoon.

All weekend my life has been unpredictable, filled with the unexpected, and for the most part unsettling. I don’t even know why it was that way. My big fight with Mrs. Dim was a week ago; I should be over that by now. Nothing unusually stressful has been happening to me or to the rest of my family lately. I don’t think that I’m fighting a virus: I have no fever, no headache or sore muscles, and no more congestion than is to be expected with seasonal allergies.

Yet since Friday night I’ve experienced waves of anxiety, some so strong that my handles tremble, making it hard to type. I have a constant sense of abdominal tension, like a tennis ball pressing on the back of my sternum. I go from place to place with a feeling of dread, as if I didn’t want to go there, or as if I thought something bad was going to happen there.

Through it all I’ve done my job, I made it to church Sunday morning, and I’ve been careful not to lose patience with people. I remind myself to breathe, and I focus attention on my breathing. I set aside time to read and to relax.

Then I go on the internet and read that some of my friends there are feeling discouraged and overwhelmed as well. Maybe they aren’t as prone to anxiety as I am, but they express feelings that match the way I’m feeling. Now, instead of wondering why I feel as badly as I do, I ask myself what I can say to them to help them feel better.

We need each other. We are sinners living in a sinful world, and sometimes our lives become chipped and cracked through contact with other fragile people. God could take away our problems, and sometimes he does, but other times he answers, “My grace is sufficient for you.” When we bear our burdens, and when we help one another bear these burdens, we grow in Christ-like mercy and compassion.

When the fast lane is crawling, other drivers are stuck in traffic too. We’re all in this traffic together. The best we can do is drive with patience and compassion, and eventually we will all make it home. J.

 

The bane of civilization

Civilization has taken two wrong turns which are difficult to reverse. Gasoline-powered automobiles and purely residential land developments are so common in the United States that they are taken for granted. A world without these two features seems like science fiction or fantasy, but such a world would be better than our present condition in many ways.

Nineteenth century inventors in Europe and in North America experimented with several ways to improve transportation. Steam power was favored at first, but electric cars were also tried. By the end of the century, gasoline-powered internal combustion engines had prevailed over other kinds of powered vehicles. Gasoline seemed to be a more efficient energy source, requiring less time to refuel and more travel between refueling stops than electric vehicles. Gasoline was also less expensive, being a byproduct of the production of other petroleum-based chemicals such as kerosene. Electric starters and the use of lead in gasoline to prevent engine knock made gasoline-powered cars the prevailing choice of consumers in the twentieth century.

What’s wrong with gasoline-powered cars? Problem one is air pollution. Some air pollution comes from wildfires, dust storms, volcanoes, and cattle; some comes from factories, power plants, and landfills. A great deal of air pollution comes from transportation. Sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other dangerous chemicals are produced by burning gasoline. Expensive fuel additives and automobile components try to reduce air pollution from automobiles, but the benefit is insufficient. Problem two is expense. Every generation of cars is more complicated than the previous generation because of safety devices, anti-pollution technology, computer-operated components, and conveniences. What once was a helpful tool that cost a few hundred dollars and was easily maintained and repaired by the typical owner has become an investment of thousands of dollars that requires maintenance and repairs by trained professionals. Problem three is volume. Every day the roads are packed with cars (as well as trucks, buses, and motorcycles) carrying people to and from work, school, stores, social events, and other destinations. People arrive in bad moods because of the traffic. Road rage is increasingly common. Problem four is the constant construction, widening, and repair of roads, making them less usable for months, sometimes years, before the project is completed. The benefit of automobiles is largely offset by the burden these tools have become.

Around the middle of the twentieth century, the convenience of automobiles led to a change in housing patterns. At first, the United States had imitated Europe with several urban centers separated by vast regions of farmland. Small towns along transportation corridors met the needs of farmers and travelers, but most non-farmers lived in cities. They did not really need cars: they could walk to school, to work, to church, and to neighborhood stores, or they could ride a bus or a trolley to get where they wanted to go. Churches and stores did not need parking lots. People knew their neighbors because they passed each other on the streets and sidewalks and alleys. After World War II, new housing developments began to be built in the suburbs. Each house had a carport or a garage, because the only buildings in walking distance from each home were the homes of neighbors. Stores and churches built in the suburbs now needed parking lots. People did not need to meet their neighbors—they went from their houses to their cars and drove wherever they were going—to work, to church, to shop, or to the gym to exercise, since they were doing much less walking than before.
Several factors led to this new way of living. A strong economy allowed families to live further away from the cities and to drive their cars wherever they wanted to go. Attempts to end segregated education through busing persuaded a lot of families to move farther away from urban areas. Simple stubborn individuality and independence made American workers decide to live where they wanted in spite of inconvenient distances to work and shopping and church. Land developers persuaded Americans we wanted to live this way, with big housing developments and big shopping malls and superstores and everything else that goes along with these changes.

I grew up in the suburbs. I don’t hate them unconditionally. But for nine years, living in the suburbs, I was still able to walk to school; and, when we wished, my parents and I could walk to church. My father rode the train to work for several years, until the company built a new office structure in the suburbs; after that, he had to drive to work. My mother drove to the grocery store every Friday; most weeks she carpooled with my grandmother and my aunt. Occasionally the family would drive to a shopping mall to buy clothing or Christmas presents.

Now it’s a rare day when I do not drive a car. I drive to work and back. I drive to church and back. Usually I drive to the store and back—the nearest grocery store is about a mile from my house, so if I have enough time and little enough to carry home, I sometimes walk there. I drive to the bank, to the doctor’s office, and to the mall. I drive to the mechanic, or on occasion I have to pay to have the car towed there.

Civilization has spent centuries building these problems. They cannot be fixed overnight. But, in the words of Bill McCay, “There has to be a better way.” Tomorrow I will describe a better way. J.

Traffic sighs

For more than a year I have been taking medicine to reduce anxiety. As a result, I am a calmer driver than I used to be. When other drivers do foolish or dangerous or illegal things, I used to shout and lose my temper. I would arrive at work already out of sorts, a bad way to start the day. Now I just sigh, or roll my eyes, or grit my teeth. I might grumble something sarcastic, such as, “Nice turn signal you didn’t use there.” I might even bark out a brief complaint. For the most part, though, I’m doing better behind the wheel than I was doing a year or two ago.

I am the kind of driver who stops at red lights. Even if the light turns yellow while I am still a thousand yards or more from the intersection, I begin slowing rather than planning to drive through the red light. As a result, I am often the front car in the group waiting for a light to change green. Of course when the light turns from green to yellow, I check my mirrors; if another driver is close behind me, I might not stop at the changing light. Many a time I have gone through an intersection when I thought I should have stopped, only to have another car or two follow me past the red light. Many a time I have seen the light turn green, but two more cars from the other direction entered and cleared the intersection before it was safe for me to start. The effect is like that of watching something from a distance, seeing the action before you hear the sound. Sometimes I wonder if the synapses between my eyes and my brain are faster than average, since I seem to notice the change of traffic lights more quickly than the average driver.

The last week has produced some other traffic sighs in my car. Not once, but twice—twice!—this week the following scenario happened. My light was green and I was approaching the intersection, when a driver facing a red light decided to take advantage of the right-turn-on-red privilege. There was room enough to squeeze one car ahead of me and I did not sigh about that right-turn-on-red, but I did react when a second car followed the first car into the intersection, turning right on red without coming to a stop and coming within a few feet of mutual damage to both our cars.

An even scarier near-event happened closer to home one morning this week. Less than a mile from my house I must turn left onto a road where there is a two-way stop: the northbound and southbound traffic has to stop, but the eastbound and westbound drivers are cross and need not stop. Parked cars in driveways and on the road make it hard to see the cross traffic, especially that coming from the right when I am trying to turn left. This time of year, the rising sun aligns with the westbound traffic, requiring extra attention to my left before making a turn. A speed bump has been built to slow the eastbound traffic, coming from my right, but the speed bump only makes the decision whether or not to turn more complicated. Predicting which drivers will slow for the speed bump and which will hit it at full speed makes the decision whether to turn or to wait about as certain as a coin flip, but with a much higher risk potential.

So that morning I came to the intersection, stopped at the stop sign, and (as I always do) looked right and left and scanned the intersection. My top priority is watching for cars, trucks, and other moving vehicles, but I am also alert for joggers, bicyclists, dogs, and small children. Nothing was coming from the left, but two cars were coming from the right, so I waited. By the time the two cars crossed the speed bump and cleared the intersection, a car was coming out of the sun from the left, so I waited. When that car had passed in front of me, I saw two cars—a dark-colored car to my right, but slowing for the speed bump, and a white-colored car approaching the intersection in front of me, not yet arrived at its stop sign. The occasion seemed propitious, so I made my left turn. Afterward I checked my mirrors, expecting the dark-colored car to be behind me. Instead, the white car was behindmethisclosetome. Not only was it clear that the driver had not stopped at the stop sign; even a “rolling stop” would have had the white car farther behind me.

A year or two ago I would have been screaming my head off at that white car and its driver. Now a simple sigh and a roll of the eyes is all I produced. The proper medication can make a world of difference in one’s attitude, even behind the wheel. J.

Burrs under my saddle

I should be flying high… on top of the world with my head in the clouds… unstoppable with giddy joy. Put me behind the wheel of a car, put that car in traffic, and quickly I find I have burrs under my saddle.

On my way to work, I travel through a place where two lines from the right join with two lanes from the left, but the four-lane highway quickly becomes three-lane because the right-hand lane is “for exit only.” Needless to say, I squeeze into the next lane as quickly as I can, and then sit in slow-moving traffic while other drives zip by on the right. Few of them are using the exit (and, although I have no proof, I think some get off on the exit only to get back on the highway a few hundred feet later, possibly passing a car or five in the process). I would have no objection if the two lanes merged as a zipper—a car from the right, then a car from the left, taking turns as they taught us to do when we were children. Instead, judging by the relative speed in the two lanes, about ten cars are getting through in the right lane for every one that passes the merge in the left lane.

I’m tempted, as always in this situation, to sit close to the car in front of me, so none of those terrible people will take advantage of me. The driver of a large black pick-up truck was bolder than I was and managed to squeeze in front of me at the last second. I guess he cared less about the danger of a collision than I did. I said one of those things I’m not proud of saying—words I’d be ashamed for my mother or my daughter to hear me saying. I think the driver of the pick-up truck could read my lips. His lips were moving too, but I didn’t bother trying to read what he was saying. For all I know, he was singing along with the radio or talking on a handless cell phone.

At least he stayed in front of me. Other drivers kept changing lanes—without signaling, of course—in the hopes that they could get to work two or three seconds sooner. I think that all the traffic would flow smoother and quicker, if people would just stay in the same line, but then I’m not a traffic engineer.

Later the same day, on my way home from work, I stopped to buy a tank of gas. As the gas was flowing and I was washing the windows, I heard an explosion that very nearly moved me to drop to the pavement. It sounded very much like a gunshot, but it was not from a gun. The driver of the motorcycle had started his engine and it backfired, and I’m sure he did it on purpose. On his way out of the station he revved his engine and managed to create two more backfires along with a lot of other unneeded noise.

Later that afternoon, driving to the campus where I teach, I was first in line to turn left when the light changed when I heard a siren. I turned off the radio, looked left and then right, and saw the ambulance coming down the road from my right. Of course the light changed before the ambulance reached the intersection. Of course I stayed where I was, yielding the intersection to the ambulance. Of course the person behind me honked a horn. I pointed dramatically in the direction of the ambulance, and I think that driver got the point; he or she did not honk again.

But when the ambulance had gone through the intersection, the woman facing me decided that if I would yield to an ambulance with flashing lights and siren and honking horn, surely I wouldn’t mind yielding to her. She made her right turn on a red light, cutting me off. I didn’t say anything, but she must have expected some words from me, because she went ahead and made a gesture of contempt in my direction in spite of my silence.

None of these things should matter. They all come from living in a sinful world populated by thoughtless and self-centered sinners. Like the apostle Paul, I could count myself chief of sinners, most desperately in need of redemption. I should be flying high, not complaining about the idiots on the ground.

But haters are gonna hate, and curmudgeons are going to grumble. It’s the way we are. Have a good day. J.

Bitter driving

I recently calculated that, in a typical week, I spend between five and six hours driving my car. That’s right: about 3.25 percent of my life is spent strapped in a metal box, powered by highly explosive fuel, moving at varying speeds down a strip of artificial rock surrounded by similar metal boxes. I admit, I am bitter about that discovery. (Are you listening, Bitter Ben?) Until we find a better way to travel—until Star Trek transporters become everyday devices—I can either drop out of life and join a rural commune, or I must continue my bitter driving.

Part of my bitterness about driving comes from the fact that these explosive metal boxes do not all travel in the same way. Some move faster and some move slower. George Carlin had a very funny routine about that fact, one in which he had vulgar insults for those who drove faster than he did and more vulgar insults for those who drove slower than he did. We all know that the highways would be safer if we all drove the same way. Various levels of government have made laws and posted signs about the speeds we should drive on different roads. Some drivers see those signs as mere suggestions, and they work hard to drive much faster, weaving in and out of lanes, dodging metal boxes with explosive fuel. Other drivers—for lack of confidence, or distracted by phone conversations and texts—drive slower than the limit, clogging our cities’ arteries like blobs of cholesterol.

One of the rules which many drivers take only as a friendly suggestion is Slower Traffic Stay Right. This rule has the corollary, always pass on the left. If there is only one lane of traffic, of course, this rule is hard to break. Where two lanes of traffic are traveling the same direction, slower traffic really should stay to the right and people who want to pass should be able to use the passing lane. Only one on road to I generally break this rule. Between work and home there is a four-lane road (two lanes each direction) with a lot of stores and parking lots, with traffic leaving and entering the highway. Here I stay in the left-hand lane for more than a mile, particularly since I will be turning left of this highway when I am nearly home. Of course if conditions allow, I am driving at the speed limit on this highway. I am bitter about those drivers who want to exceed the speed limit, who drive right behind me until I feel that I must be towing their vehicle, or who blast into the right-hand lane to zip beyond me. My bitterness is slightly relieved when I reencounter them at the next traffic light. I’m tempted to open the window and ask them if they enjoyed getting to the red light before I got there.

When three lanes are going the same direction, slower traffic should still stay right and faster drivers should still pass on the left. Depending upon traffic conditions, I usually follow this rule, but sometimes I will drive at the speed limit in the center lane, particularly in an area where a lot of cars are entering and leaving the highway on various ramps. I am bitter about those drivers who could pass me on the left but instead choose to pass me on the right. If they want to drive faster than the speed limit, can’t they at least do so in the fast lane? And why do those drivers who weave around the law-abiding vehicles think that they never have to single a lane change? If they are going to drive at unsafe speeds, can’t they at least let the rest of us have a clue as to where they are going next?

I am bitter about drivers who think that rules are for other people but not for them. I am bitter about drivers whose first priority is to reach their destination as quickly as possible, while safety is far down the list of their interests. I am bitter about roads that merge lanes due to construction or just to traffic design. I would prefer the zipper merge, in which each vehicle remained in its lane until the merge, at which point vehicles then would take turns—one from the left and the next from the right, and so on. Of course I’m not one of those drivers who follows the zipper merge. If a sign tells me that my lane ends in a mile, I get out of that lane as soon as possible. Then I am bitter about the drivers who go full speed down the disappearing lane to pass as many cars as possible. I am tempted to try to prevent those drivers from merging in front of me when their lane ends. Especially when another driver tries to continue to pass more cars after the lane has ended and turned into a shoulder, I want to strand them at the side of the road. In the interests of safety, I resist that temptation.

Driving makes me bitter. Having to drive from place to place can ruin an otherwise nice day. When, oh when, will technology get rid of these explosive metal boxes and offer us a better way to get from one place to another?

J.