I’m an Excellent Driver

Yeah, No. I’m no more an excellent driver than I am a fabulous navigator (said Miss-lexia!), let alone than the character in the movie Rain Man who made the claim.

But for the moment, my spouse is stuck with me as his chauffeur. It’s a rather novel experience for us both, having me do all the driving, as in addition to my complete lack of any sense of direction, I am not especially fond of driving, and am generally delighted to be spoiled by his driving our one car 99% of the time. He rather likes driving, and is more skillful at it than I—and more tolerant of my passenger-seat critiques than I am of his—so our usual arrangement of him driving me everywhere generally works just fine.

But he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee last week and until the swelling is completely healed and his knee more flexible again, it’s my turn to do him the favor for a bit. He’s certainly earned the privilege of being shuttled around awhile. And it has occurred to me that as the perpetual passenger I get to enjoy much of the local scenery and sights in ways that he rarely has the chance to see, when he’s constantly focused on getting us safely from Point A to Point B. It made me glad there was a pretty sunset this evening while we were coming home from points south around dusk.

And I did get us here safely, so I suppose excellence in driving is something of a relative thing, after all.Photo: On the Road

Clouding My Thoughts

As a cloud-gazing aficionado, I know I’m in good company. It’s hard not to be intrigued by the astounding amount of information, meteorological and otherwise, that one can read and guess and even predict from close observation of clouds; it’s easy to become rather obsessed with watching them and seeing what’s found in them beyond the mere factual.

And you know I am drawn to all things that invite invention.photoOur summer peregrinations offered vast quantities of opportunity in this lovely form. As passenger on 99% of our 6000 mile road trip (just as I am in our everyday life) I was free to stare into the sky whenever I wasn’t on intensive watch duty for a specific exit or landmark, and the sky when seen from the vast American plains is a grand theatre indeed. While ‘Big Sky Country‘ is one state’s nickname, and Montana is indeed a region of wide open views of the sky, even from the rugged-not-flat high plains, the US has millions of acres of land that lies relatively flat under the heavens and allows views across the miles that rival the telescopic.

I would be hard pressed to agree with those who find extensive mid-country travels boring from a viewing standpoint. The landscape may, in places, be no more varied than one kind of wild grass giving way gradually to another over wide sweeps of seldom changing topography, one tumble-down farm very much like the next, but besides that even these have their subtle differences, they are all capped by this apparently limitless height of sky. Mostly, I find this mesmerizing, even meditative. When the weather is cloudless, the intensity of the hot blue depths above, looking as though they never did and never could have anything in them change, have a kind of cobalt stolidity to them that can be oppressive but, when broken by the least irruption–a crop dusting plane coughing out its own skinny clouds, a crow chasing a hawk straight up out of a stand of mowed weeds–suddenly becomes backdrop for high drama. Indeed, as one who grew up before the special effects masters of film took to using the more popularly familiar green screen to allow the insertion of infinite inventions in CGI, I was accustomed to chroma key blue screens, so now the sky has become mine.

Still, as much as I love the clear beauty of a bold blue sky and the endless space for spectacle that it represents, when clouds come into the picture the possibilities are multiplied exponentially.

Not only do they serve as messengers of what sort of travel conditions lie ahead when I’m on the road–especially when observed from so many miles away as is possible in an open landscape–they tell stories and evoke romances tirelessly, keeping my mind a-spin with the permutations and portents I read therein. Much as I find driving in the most intense storms, day or night, a stressful challenge to my technique, never mention my eyes, the colors and textures and patterns in the clouds rarely cease to amaze and delight me, even in the center of the maelstrom. And when things settle down and the clouds begin to part and thin and allow through them those fugitive rays that remind me more truly of both the size of the clouds that it takes to fill such a hyperbolic height of sky and of the power that mere collations of mist can have when they converge for battle? Then I see again the beauty of clouds altogether, and I am on cloud nine.photo

Mirage sur la Mer

P&I drawingSummer Phantasy

One day in my car when I was a-glide

and watching the highway (mostly),

I stopped for a fellow who thumbed a ride

to go farther west, more coast-ly–

After all, the sun was high in the sky

and the temperature creeping northward,

so it seemed a mercy to take the guy

and deliver him farther forth-ward–

He was pleasant, and smiled, and tipped his hat,

but I’d hardly call him talkative,

which I took as caused by the reason that

in the heat he’d been too walk-ative–

So we rode along, Silent Sam and I,

toward the coast and the broad blue sea,

’til I blinked in the glare of the sun to spy

his hat lying next to me–

No sign of the smiling, silent bloke;

what a startled twitch I made!

My sunglasses flew right off and broke

as if put to shame by a shade–

Well, I got to the shore soon after that,

keeping watch on the highway (mostly),

and was glad for the shade of the shade’s broad hat,

if a shadowy gift, and ghostly.P&I drawing

Escape from the Vortex of Daffy Driving

It is good to be home. It’s especially good whenever one has spent a portion of the preceding time sucked into the malevolent maelstrom that is everyday traffic. There is rarely any simple way to drive or be driven from Point A to Point B without going through what amounts to an epic chase movie, but one whose projectionist speeds up and slows down the film at random intervals, spills a handful of hard candy into the projector where it is shredded into flying bits of sharp debris, and occasionally gives in to the urge to make shadow puppets, in front of the projector’s beam, depicting a snake swallowing a live rabbit. Really now, who thought mere traffic signals and seatbelts sufficient for dealing with this?

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There is no safe place to drive . . .

Here I am, minding my own business but driving sensibly as I always try to do, obeying the rules of the road and what I remember from long-ago drivers’ education training as best I can, and the rest of the wheeled world out there refuses to cooperate. The driver in front of me goes three-quarters of a mile down a straight road with her left turn signal winking ironically at me the whole time, apparently letting me know that she is fully aware that she is two feet into the center turn lane the whole way but has no intention of actually turning. Finally she turns off her left blinker so that she can concentrate better on getting in the left turn lane fifty feet ahead without that distracting noise. Once around the corner, I pass her at last and see her over there in the other lane, driving along while leaning so far toward her passenger that I guess she must be trying to adjust Grandma’s girdle with her teeth.

Meanwhile, I have stopped three times to let the person now in front of me pause in various uncontrolled intersections to decide whether or not to turn to the right out of them. At some point it seems there is inspiration, and the turn is accomplished. This, in the stately local style: slow to an almost complete stop; stare in the direction you are going to go so that your vehicle will understand where you intend it to take you; crawl around the corner at the lowest speed you can manage, lest you hit a pothole or a pony; at the last second, drive up over the curb at the corner because you cut it too close; overcorrect, step on the gas suddenly to free yourself from this unexpected obstacle, and lurch around the rest of the corner almost fully in the oncoming lane. The other favorite place for people here to do the stop-crawl-stop thing is over speed bumps, where I’m slightly perplexed to see so many of those He-Man monster trucks, jacked up so high for off-road adventure that a small elephant could pass underneath, tiptoeing timidly over speed bumps in this fashion. I can only surmise that such studmuffin drivers fear their exceedingly large manly parts hang too low and may be hit by the protruding speed bump if they’re not careful.

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Pay no attention to the color of the lights!

I gather as well that the driver’s handbook in this state fails to offer a definition of the word Merge. Conceptually, I had always thought it to mean something like, ‘before you enter the roadway, observe the traffic already in your intended lane and then adjust your speed higher or lower to accommodate smooth entry as you join the stream of vehicles’. Evidently “merge” sounded too much like “barge” to someone along the way and they thought it far too impolite, so drivers here instead creep up the on-ramp and hover sheepishly on the shoulder, hoping that the four lanes of behemoths whizzing by at full speed will miraculously part like the Red Sea and they can wade on in. If the desired space doesn’t show up quickly, why then the obvious solution is to build up to appropriate freeway speed while still kicking up sideline debris along the shoulder until a good spot clears on the road. Conversely, the warning to “yield” is interpreted as an invitation to stomp on the gas pedal and scream on in lest the optimal moment pass forever. Why this would be more disconcerting when the screamer whizzes by me and I can see only the top of his head over the dashboard is of course a mystery.

Accidents are a given, even at relatively low speeds. I understand that even the most attentive and careful driver can have a dog dash in front of him or have a passing bus throw up a sheet of rainwater onto her windshield. In a land where potholes of epic proportions might swallow a Smart Car, sudden hail turn a Humvee into a convertible, or a meandering red Angus shamble over and divert the oncoming pickup suddenly into my lane, things are bound to happen. But sometimes I do dream of a trip to the grocery store that doesn’t involve riding alongside a texting torpedo <LOL-swerve-OMG-swing-WTF-swissssh> or in front of somebody clearly needing to get to the bathroom NOW or behind the person whose peculiar brand of legal blindness means that all street signs, lights and obstacles look identical to her so she chooses a happy medium for all things and toddles along at the same cheerfully modest speed no matter where she goes or what piles of junk she drives through to send flying at me, and no matter what that light she just potted through might be trying to hint to her she ought to consider doing instead.

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Sending signals right and left . . .

Like selling her car.

I wish.