One afternoon last week, I came home to find a car pulled into the driveway next to my house. It’s not my driveway — amazingly, I don’t have a driveway, or a garage — but it’s eight feet from my front porch, so I have a certain proprietary interest in what goes on there.
It was doing one of those half-in-the-driveway, half-blocking-the- sidewalk things, often employed by people who will “just be a minute,” which could be an hour. The car was a Mercedes GLS SUV which “starts” at $68,700. And the engine was running. Someone was at the wheel (hard to tell more because: tinted windows) but she (or he) was just idling, waiting for whatever.
OK, I have a problem with expensive cars. I drive a 17-year old Honda Accord, and, while I don’t expect everyone to follow my example, I think it’s useful to remember that a car is morally complicated transportation device. It seems ostentatious and excessive to own a car that costs more than the average salary of an American worker. Surely there’s a soup kitchen somewhere that could use some of that dough. I think Americans have become too comfortable with extravagant shows of wealth, not just Trumpian excess but also the kind of low-key swagger familiar to people in my area: $20 cups of coffee and $800 dinners and $50 million houses with a separate yoga studio and full-grown tree planted because it invites contemplation of the transient nature of existence.
And I have a problem with parked cars with their engines running. Wasting gas for no reason at all, spewing earth-destroying chemicals into the air because the driver can’t be bothered to turn a key or press a button. Makes me so mad I write incomplete sentences. I’m calmer now.
Now, anyone can tell you that the milk of human kindness flows through my veins. I try to be a good husband, a good father, a good grandfather. I am an exemplary neighbor. I ask “How are you keeping, Missy?” to a woman who might very well be named Missy. I ask “How about those Giants, Fred?” to a disgruntled Oakland A’s fan, implicitly suggesting that he may wish to abandon his long-held allegiance to the local squad.
(Really, there is nothing sadder than an Oakland A’s fan. His team has stopped trying to win. They gladly give up their best players for “prospects,” who, if they’re any good, will immediately be traded in exchange for more prospects. Really, they have no incentive to win. They make money anyway, so why bother? The Giants bother. They may not always win, but they try. I digress.)
I do not hold grudges. I am slow to anger and quick to forgive. I am genial even in hard times. I am, in point of fact, a prince of a fellow.
But, in examining my shortcomings, I do realize I have resentments, and most of them seem to be about motor vehicles. Some days, it’s really fortunate that I do not have a firearm in my Honda. It may be that I cry out to an indifferent universe and ask it to rain fire upon the malefactors. Perhaps I pound the steering wheel. I try to remember not to pound the accelerator.
What behavior causes such a violent reaction? Oh, I’m so glad you asked.
∅ Changing lanes without signaling. It is so damn easy to flip a little lever up or down. It’s a service to people behind you. People might say, “there’s no one behind me.” First of all, you don’t know that. Blind spots, right? Second, just get in the damn habit. Make it automatic.
∅ Refusing to let people into your lane. I may have mentioned this before. You’re accelerating on an on-ramp. The lane does not last forever, because it’s on an on-ramp. There’s a guy to your left, and he just refuses to let you merge naturally. Meantime, you’re running out of lane, so you have to brake precipitously, and if there’s a car behind you: Rear-ender! Who gets all territorial about a lane? Who wants to make the driving experience harder for other people? I ask you. I just asked you. Who?
∅ People who suddenly remember their exit and swerve over three lanes to get to it. Honest to God, pay minimal attention to your destination. Going to San Rafael? Then get in the damn lane that goes to San Rafael. Easy, right? Then you can go back to dreaming of Jennifer Lopez frolicking in the surf.
∅ Tailgaters and high-beam users. I know this is a familiar complaint, but why do people do it? Is it all testosterone poisoning? What if I hit the brakes suddenly, bro? What if I am suddenly blinded and swerve over to your lane and there’s a head-on collision that suddenly involves 12 cars in a carnival of carnage?
∅ Taking two parking places. Doesn’t everyone hate that? In a 17-year-old Honda, one can solve that problem. One scratch more or less; do I care? But the owner of that other car cares. He plunked down a cool $200,000 for his Mercedes G-class off-road (!) vehicle. Not that I would ever suggest intentionally scraping another car, because that would be wrong. Although, taking two parking places is also wrong. So complicated.
Perhaps you think I’m just a cranky old guy. I promise, I have been swearing at other drivers since my mid-20s. There are many indications that I am irritable and elderly, but this is not one of them.
I would like to add arrogant bicyclists and clueless pedestrians, but my bile is spent. It felt good, typing all that. I understand that bad drivers are people too, and I fully support their right to vote, to earn a living, to love the people or peoples of their choice. But I also appreciate that civilized living in a crowded urban environment requires enthusiastic agreement to a set of common principles, the main one of which is: Don’t be a dope.
Photography by Tracy Johnston
All my questions cheerfully answered by Michelle Mizera