There is this thing called ‘Playing Chicken‘ that crazy, thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie drivers do, where they drive directly toward each other at top speed and see who can swerve the latest (or not at all) and win over the Chicken that swerves first. To me, the only logical form of this would occur in the middle of a vast desert; everyone in and cheering on the race would crash into instant atomic smithereens and then be roasted to a nice medium-rare by the resultant fire, feeding any passing buzzards and desert rats before the remaining debris became a handy rusted shelter for them from the noonday sun. My personal version of Playing Chicken is simply the act of getting behind the wheel for any driving at all.When my anxiety was untreated and had free rein in my limbic system, this was effectively an internal game exclusively, but it convinced me that everything visible to me from my perch in the driver’s seat was aiming directly for me and moving at the speed of light. After some useful therapy and medication, I learned that my life as a free-range chicken didn’t have to be quite so dramatic, as my perception of danger changed to what I’m told is more Normal or at least more realistic.Being healthier did not, however, make me give up every semblance of being Chicken Little. Recognizing that the sky was not falling helped me to focus more clearly on real dangers. There are still genuine potholes for me to avoid exploring too deeply, signs and speed limits to obey, idiot lights on the dash warning me of troubles inherent in the auto itself. And there are those cocky driving fools out there who don’t have any limbic inhibition or a concept of any limits on them or their privileged status as rulers of the road.All of this in mind, you know just how meaningful it is to me that my spouse likes, is good at, and is willing to do almost all of our driving. He’s perfectly willing to be Driving Miss Lazy [or Crazy] 99% of the time. On our summer road trip, this meant that day and night, rain or shine, on the flats and through the mountains, my favorite chauffeur was at the wheel. Not only did this free me up to be the [so-so] navigator, the [marginally better] comic relief with my goofy car songs and pseudo-conversation, and the camera-in-hand travel documentarian, it made me able to stay closer to calm sanity whether we were on the beautiful Pacific Coast meanderings of old 101 or crossing the hypnotically still stretches of rural West Texas.That makes me one happy traveling chick. With all of that safe and comfortable road behind me it did mean that on the last couple of lengthy days heading ‘back to the barn’ I could reasonably put in a few hours as driver myself, even during blinding thunderstorms, and not fall apart at all. And now, back home, I’m free to look back on the whole cross-country venture as great fun rather than fearful, a golden egg in my memory’s treasury. Maybe I’m not such a dumb cluck.
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?
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.
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.
Like selling her car.