Crazy, stupid driving; we’re all guilty of it. Everyone has strong opinions about what’s good driving, especially other peoples’ driving. Most of us think we’re good drivers, yet the world is filled with lousy drivers, so as Meg Ryan put it in When Harry Met Sally, you do the math. Some of those lousy drivers are just assholes, some are trying to do too many things at once, and some seem like this is their first solo car trip.
We may not want to admit it, but how we drive is a pretty good indication of who we are. This may seem obvious, but it dawned on me quite suddenly. I was with a friend driving from NYC to Long Island on the Long Island Expressway. It was a weekday morning in August and traffic was light. She was in the left lane and I was in the passenger seat daydreaming and not paying attention to her or the road until we came to an abrupt stop.
I looked up and we were right behind a stopped car with its hazard lights on. Rather than change lanes, she’d balked and continued until we were so close to the stopped car it was difficult to merge back into traffic. I was annoyed, and a little concerned but I could also see that she had maneuvered us into a situation that was a reflection of her life at that moment. Most of us had just graduated from college. Carol had failed to complete her senior thesis and was supposed to be completing it over the summer. She hadn’t even started it. To my knowledge she never did complete it.
My father was the worst kind of driver. He’d sit in his Volkswagen Beetle, seat pulled up tight, hunched over the steering wheel chewing his tongue. He was aggressive and tailgated. Whenever I sat in the front seat I was a wreck. When I recall being in the car with him, that’s what I remember; my hands covering my eyes waiting for the crash that never happened. He was never in an accident, but he was a menace. At home he was the same. Edgy, tense and quick to anger, he believed by keeping tight control on himself he could steer our family, to safety. Oddly that didn’t work.
There are the drivers who refuse to signal when they’re going to turn or change lanes; it’s your problem. I lived with someone like that. I never knew what was coming, and not in an ooh, a surprise kind of way. Some people drive too fast, others too slow. There are the smooth, swift lane changers who weave speedily through traffic. I admire and fear their confidence. Some people think think the rules don’t apply to them, they make left turns from the center lane without even a wave as they cut you off. Or what about the asshole who comes speeding up on the shoulder passing you and everyone else sitting in traffic like we’re just chumps. I hate those people.
Like you, I believe I’m a good driver. I have been in a few accidents, one of which was unequivocally my fault. I did try to blame the tree I hit, but no luck. It was the middle of the day and I hadn’t been drinking which made it more rather than less embarrassing when the police arrived. I was distracted; a friend was marrying someone who wasn’t me. It was my parents’ car and I totaled it. They were mercifully kind and understanding; one of their finer parental moments. The others were most emphatically not my fault, I swear.
When my brother visited the week of Thanksgiving he told me he thinks I am a careless but confident driver. He claimed I am distracted and miss things, I say he has no idea what I do and don’t see. What’s clear is that neither of our views is likely to shift. Because my knee was hurting as well as my feelings (a little) I asked him to drive my car to my sister’s house in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. I don’t recall ever being in a car with him driving. He doesn’t have a car, he lives in NYC and rarely drives.
He is an intensely attentive driver. We had a sixty or so mile stretch of interstate to cover and I suggested he use the cruise control. He seemed tense when he told me he couldn’t take his eyes off the road to turn it on. Again, light traffic, and the only thing he needed to do was push a button on the turn indicator arm. Hardly a risky move from my perspective, but that moment characterizes our different approaches to both driving and life. He is cautious and guarded, a professional worrier, prepared for the worst. Though I am a worrier as well, I’m not in his league. I am confident and a bit careless; I suppose his description of me is more accurate than I like.
You could (and I have) taken the driving metaphor and apply it to all sorts of other human behavior. It mirrors the way we do all sorts of things from bowling to sex. I have a feeling the jerk that cuts me off then flips me the bird probably isn’t the most considerate lover. If you’ve got road rage I doubt it’s just when you’re in the car. You can even take a quiz to see what your steering wheel posture says about you. I am a little bit supporter and a little bit peacekeeper, my dad, definitely the nervous Nellie. No matter your style, you’re probably guilty of some crazy, stupid driving habits, and driving your loved ones as crazy as they are driving you.