Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Driving Confessional

Last week, driving back from the kids' school (late, thanks Day Light Savings Cluster Fuck!), the orange sun rose in my glaring rear view mirror and I suddenly had the eerie sensation that I was Matthew Cuthbert driving his wagon to town the morning he picked up Anne from the train station. (Yes, all of life still relates to Anne of Green Gables, always has, always will.) I felt transported in time even as I was traveling at speeds unimagined by the imaginary Mr. Cuthbert. While making my zippy way to a zoomy on-ramp, I felt like an old man bumping along on a wooden wagon.

My kids attend a public school for gifted kids which is housed in an adorable old brick building in the worst part of town, to which we must drive them daily. This neighborhood now has signs posted around it: "Designated Area of High Prostitution Activity," and I've also heard it referred to as the "Prostitution Watch Zone," which makes me think I should bring a bag of popcorn. The official story is that it's part of a "crack" down on illicit commercial activity in an effort to "revitalize" this... um... business district. But I suspect that the signs were...ahem, erected, in response to the city's johns
complaining that they were having trouble locating "some" ever since the police shut down Spokane's thriving network of brothels. It seems more like an attempt to create a red light district, within which my kids go to school, rather than stifle one.
wasp home

One day, on my way to pick up the kids, I stopped for a woman who seemed to be trying to cross the street. Except instead she bee-lined for my passenger side door and while maintaining a talented level of eye contact. It was her giant shoulder bag that gave her away. I mouthed, "OOPS!" and sped off. The strange thing was that this woman looked exactly like me, same age, same hair, same body, same face. It was like looking in to a mirror, except for the bag. I would never have a bag like that. I spent weeks wondering how I got there, what choices, what events, what happened to me? Why did my situation require that I turn to the world's oldest business? What was the tipping point?

This school has also been locked down by SWAT raids on the houses and warehouses around it.

I have swerved around some interesting items on the roads near the school: 1) a very large, anatomically decorated black butt plug with a dangerous looking (but important safety feature) flange and 2) a white chicken that did not actually succeed in crossing the road, making every other chicken of every other joke sound not so much the butt of jokes, but more lucky duck survivors of a high risk venture.

Walking into the school, I have dodged used condoms on the sidewalk, and if you knew this school you'd know they're not from the kids.

And just last week a man in a truck blew through a stop sign near the school because he was... guess. Just guess. Just try. Nope. Nope. Nope. You better give up, you're never going to guess. He was shooting up!

Aspen flower
Almost all the time while I'm driving, anywhere, not just near their school, I'm thinking, "I could be killed (or possibly worse? maimed with piles of medical bills and a never ending stream of paperwork... okay, not worse but just by a soupcon) here. Or here. Or here." When I arrive at my destination, I am surprised. How was I not killed? How many things just went right? How was it that everyone was paying enough attention to not kill me? How did I travel that fast without any incident? How did I make all of those lane changes without running in to anyone in my blondspots or ramming anyone in front of me while I was checking my blondspots? (Officially I've sworn off all blond jokes as everyone but me in my family is blond, but that one was a typo and I am helpless in the face of blond typos.) I'm still alive and it's a goddam miracle!

I have an ancient phobia of cars and driving from two car accidents 13 years ago. A great therapist unraveled the phobia in only 8 weeks. But it still pops up now and again. This brain injury certainly resurrected it, what with my year of missing peripheral vision, the zooming visual cacophony, the quick decisions and always forgetting where I was going, plus the adrenaline dumps that happen as soon as I hit highway speeds. I'm not sure my resurfacing phobia is really a phobia, at least not an irrational one. Graphs like this (from Fear of Flying) freak me out. Sure, flying is safe, but look at the ROADS!!!!

Last week, I had shifted, slightly, from daydreaming about Mr. Cuthbert to day dreaming about this Day Light Savings Crapathon and how ruled by clocks we are and how twice a year we are annoyingly yet cleverly reminded of the glorious fact that numerical time is just a collective hallucination, a social construct we have more control over than we imagine.

Aspen flowers
I was now cruising down our offshoot highway at 60 mph when someone, probably sleep deprived because of the Day Light Savings Shitticane, pulled right in front of me, perpendicular, trying to cross to the other side of the highway. She slammed her brakes and I'm not entirely sure how I managed to swerve so fast. It's easy to imagine twenty different gruesome outcomes, or more, if you count the various ways body parts can land after flying through the air.

Aspen flowers
I did not get angry.

Sometimes I do get angry, with occasional bouts of admittedly pointless road rage. I don't typically feel insulted or challenged when cut-off or swerved at. I feel terrified. That's where my yelling comes from, fear for my life and for the lives of my children (attentively listening in the back seat), fear of bills and insurance companies, and fear of accidentally harming someone else and being put on trial for it. My intended audience can't hear a damn thing, but my unintended one in the back seat certainly does. But that's okay; It's important to teach children how to vent at clueless and/or self-absorbed drivers, right? They need to know what to say, how to say it. It's an important life skill. I learned it from my father, although he always included the withering insult, "Woman driver." And my children will learn it from me. Blue, precocious and creative always, created her own phrase when she was just three. "Fuck Ass!" she called out to another driver on my behalf.

When the kids are around I do try to come up with tamer insults and curses, usually involving penile appearance and function. You know, hit those jerks right where it counts. If your gonna drive like dick, then I hope it turns green with pink polkadots and sprouts a tutu before it rots off your body. Since my head injury, my curses have been shortened to "Privates go BAD!"

I also get road rage when people drive dysfunctionally too nice. These are the ones that wave every damn car through at the four way stop while I remain trapped behind them, polite to everyone but me. Once I sat through four stop lights as the person in front of me waved through 12 cars. Meanwhile my kids lingered outside their school, in THAT neighborhood, waiting for me to pick them up. And I yell at these people... or rather, I yell at my windshield, "You are the most sactimonious, self-righteous, clueless fucking moron! You pious pile of crapola!" Then I go all analytical: "You just want to look good, you just want recognition! That's why you don't have tinted windows! That's why you're only nice to people who can see your fucking face! Turn around and let ME get a good look your mug! Go jack-off your self-rightousness in your own driveway! Just take your turn! Ain't no brownie points in heaven for not taking it!"

Aspen flower
The other place where road rage sneaks in is with assumptions about the motivations of other drivers. The person who speeds up while I'm trying to time a tricky merge? "OH, I can't get in YOUR lane?! Really?! well this lane doesn't have your name on it, asshole! It's not like your mama paid for this lane from Seattle to St. Paul!" So I try my assumptions on the opposite way: they might be actually trying to make space for me, although it just screws up my timing. Or maybe they are in labor and headed to the hospital and don't give a shit about my merge. Or maybe they have a head injury and it's all they can do to stay inside the lines. I apparently need to be told a little bed time story about the actions of other drivers. 

And then there are the timid mergers who seem to need a bottle and diaper change and 400 car lengths, "What, do you need me to hold your fucking hand for this merge? I can only baby you for so long!"

A sticker knock-off of demi-god Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) pissing on anything can also be a trigger.

I can tell how serious the threat to my safety by how I feel afterward. Obviously the person crossing the highway made a serious and stupid mistake. It's a mistake that has killed many on Hwy 195, but I wasn't angry, I was simply grateful. I felt lucky, like a chicken who'd successfully crossed the road.


the flowers are resurrecting!
I've heard people say that who you are in your car, alone, isolated in your steel and glass bubble and yet still interacting with the world, is who you REALLY are. I object. Driving is a curious psychological scenario, certainly. It's like a physical version of the internet: no one knows you personally, yet you are interacting. There are driving trolls, of course. But I can't bring myself to believe that who you are at your worst is who you "really" are. When we are at our ickiest, it's not our truest self. I also don't think your Sunday Best is our truest self either. These are parts of ourselves, parts what we value, what we fear, what we hope.

Don't even pretend you don't experience flushes of frustration when you drive. That's just a pile right there. Maybe you don't express it exactly the way I do, but it's a crime to deny your humanity entirely. We cope with 1000's of random who-knows-who's on the daily and not one of them ever gets your goat?! Oh please.
Sunflower seed spring holdouts

I was recently dishing about this with someone who proclaimed that they NEVER get mad and certainly NEVER with kids in the car. What's wrong with me that I do? And then 20 minutes later the confessions started rolling out.

I've also known people who maintain a saintly public disposition, but while driving they shriek from start to finish. Everyone is evil and the only perfect driver on the road is them, never mind they're cussing someone out for a move they just pulled not 1/4 mile back.

Do I think it's wonderful? This silly ineffectual road rage? Obviously not. I'm not advocating for it. But my blog isn't about donning a wordy halo of sainthood. We've all got it somewhere inside. When we drive, or bike, or walk through city crowds, inevitably we'll cross paths with someone whose methods of motion disagree with us. And we get disagreeable.  It's enough to make me wish I really was an old man with a wagon. Although, I'm not sure there wasn't road rage back then too, more likely involving the horses than other drivers.

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