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Monday, April 1, 2013

The Equal Sides of Our Driven Society


Do squares feel superior to other rectangles? I remember in early grade school, maybe even in kindergarten, hearing the phrase, “All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.” I had two reactions to this. The first was that the word rectangle sounded like what happened to my sister’s yarn ball after our cat was done with it. The second was a more profound epiphany – it was my first exposure to elitism.

Just as some rectangles are more ‘special’ than others, some people are the squares among our equiangular quadrilateral society. Whenever I hear the term – doesn’t measure up, I think of some poor rectangle being outed by a square for having his height fall short of his length.

Pretty heady philosophical BS, eh? Yeah, I got layers.  Don't put me in a box though - my thinking is too two-dimensional for that.

The thing is, most rectangles would never know their equilateral failings if there wasn’t some snotty square out there to point them out.
 

THIS is why people don’t carpool. It has nothing to do with convenience, or apathy for the environment. It has everything to do with the fact that when you are at the wheel of your private vehicle you are the judge of what constitutes good and bad driving. YOU are the elite, the square, the standard, and anyone who doesn’t drive just like you do has a deficiency in either his height or length – and (if you’re feeling particularly judgmental,) maybe his angles might not be exactly 90 degrees either.

So the road is full of idiots, bozos, morons and rhombuses. Can anybody reading this not relate to that? If so (and you’re not under the driving age, a wealthy person with a chauffer, or the ghost of Mother Teresa,) write to me at headleyh@hotmail.com.

(If you’re the wealthy person with a chauffer, buy a couple thousand downloads of Trouble in Taos while you’re at it.)

I don’t expect many emails on this one.

While most of my time on the road is spent waving a gas can hoping someone will stop and give me free fuel, when I do drive, I strive to go the most fuel-efficient speed possible. For my twenty-six-year-old Yugo, that is fifty-seven miles an hour. Fifty-seven is marginal ticket bait in a forty-five zone, slightly annoying road hog in a fifty-five, and deadly speed bump in sixty-five. When uneven pavement rattles loose bits of my Balkan engineered understructure, I take it down to fifty-six.

I stay to the right. It’s the least I can do. If I’m going almost ten miles an hour under the limit, I belong in the slow lane. That’s what they taught me in Crash Smedley’s Driver’s Education Class. Crash was right – back in the Ford administration.

Everything changed under Jimmy Carter.

Have no fear political-phobes. I’m not about to resurrect your robo-call nightmares. Political positions are for the naïve and hopeful, and I, Headley H. Hauser, am neither. The reason I mention our former peanut-pickin’ President is that he (at least temporarily) lowered the national speed limit to fifty-five miles-per-hour.

This threw our societal definitions of good driver (already unstable) into total confusion. It was almost like throwing a hex at the definition of square (which you do by adding two equivalent sides and equalizing the resulting angles. I dropped out of Geometry in High School because my Grandmother, Hortense Hauser, didn’t approve of witchcraft.)

Hold-on; I’m lost. Let me reread my last paragraph without the parenthetical comments.

Right! So our traditional law-abiding driver of the Gerald Ford era and before gave new thought to his/her regular practice of always staying to the right, and allowing swifter (careless whipper-snapper) drivers to pass them. If the NATIONAL speed limit was fifty-five, why stay to the right? Was the left lane not in the same nation as the right? Why should those who obey the law get stuck where an open drivers-side window exposes you to law-breakers exhaust? Why not get some of that median weed produced O2 available only in the left lane?

It wasn’t just a privilege; it was a duty!!! Cars are not allowed to pass on the right; that was question seven on the DMV learner’s permit test. If the patriotic law-abider drives at fifty-five in the left-hand lane then… EVERYBODY will have to go fifty-five!

Within a year the incredibly lucrative, Drive and Shoot gun shops opened near onramps all over Southern California. A year after that, ‘whatever’ became an acceptable answer to question seven on the DMV learner’s permit test.

We’ve had mutations over the years. I get people behind me in the right hand lane flashing their lights. I think they’re asking me to pull left so they can pass me in the lane their parents always use to pass people in. A turn signal, once a rule-of-the-road request to make way, is now interpreted as a declaration of impending invasion. I get passed so consistently after turning on my left blinker that I get angry with people who back off and give me space to enter their lane.

My favorite is the driver that pulls up on my left bumper and stays put. I’m not sure what the thinking is – it’s not the patriotic, ‘fifty-five or die!’ thinking of their parents. I think some of them are hoping to draft a few extra miles-per-gallon off my boxy aerodynamics.

Imagine – people are now asking me to break wind in front of them.

A few years ago I wrote a little ditty about these special people:



Don’t Box Me In

(to the tune of Don’t Fence Me In)



There’s a line of trucks afore me and you block the passin’ lane

Don’t box me in

You got us crammed up tighter than the cars along a train

Don’t box me in

So drop the cell phone buddy ‘cause it’s time to get busy

That’s a V6 that you’re drivin’ not an old tin lizzy

There’s a trucker shiftin’ down who’d like ta knock you dizzy

Don’t box me in



So what has all this to do with car pooling? When someone else is in the car, you suddenly have more than one definition of what constitutes good driving. The era of rules of the road has passed. Each driver is now king/queen (emperor in the case of larger SUVs) of their petro-fueled, electrical, or hybrid rolling country. When other drivers buckle in, insurrection ensues.

Except with my darling niece, Hilda, a student of late 60s terminology who rode with me last week. I was tooling along in the right lane of a four-lane highway at my customary fifty-seven miles-per-hour.

Uncle Headley,” she said. “You’re such a square.”

Thank you, Hilda,” I replied. “You’re pretty equilateral yourself.”