Friday, October 10, 2008
Your role in civilized society
Most of us have never seen a week in the world like this one. Here we are three weeks out from the most notable election of the post-war era - financial markets in free fall and there's no bottom in sight - and then the Norwegian Nobel Committee gives the 2008 peace prize to Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president. I mean, just one whipsaw after another. I can already hear the water cooler chatter across American - "Ahtissari? Who would have guessed?"
So with all these monumental stories in the news, it makes sense that I am concerned today about bad drivers.
You may have read that surveys unfailingly show that some 80% of people consider themselves to be a better than average driver. That's a classic delusion, unless our streets are like Lake Woebegone, where Garrison Keillor tells us "all the children are above average." Math is not my strong suit, but I don't think that's possible.
In fact, we all think we are better than average drivers because we look around us on the road and everyone else acts like a moron, so we give ourselves a little mental boost. "At least I am not a tool like that guy," we think, as we blithely cut off the next guy while changing lanes. I think it was George Carlin who said there were only two types on people on the road - anyone going slower than you, who is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you, who is a maniac.
Other people's driving is nearly unbearable for some folks. I see letters to the editor where you can almost hear the writer's eyes bugging out as they describe someone else's recklessness, or inconsiderateness. "And when you roared by and gave me the finger you really showed how classy you are," and such like that. I know it's unfair, but I can't help but wonder if some of these people are frequent targets of anger on the mean streets, suggesting that perhaps, just perhaps, there are some people out there who really aren't beter than average drivers at all. Dare I say it?
Case in point: the four way stop. The four-way stop is really a marvel of western civilization, and the way it works proves that we are in fact civilized to some degree, if perhaps a little anal about it. After all, other countries use the roundabout or traffic circle, or use the free-for-all system, and somehow they get where they're going and the sun comes up every day and all the toothpaste gets delivered and everything works out. But our device is the four way stop, and it's surely the most likely place you will see through my windshield my face contorted and my lips moving with just a little spittle flying as I creatively interpret and describe the lackluster heritage of some poor fool who happened to get there when did and hasn't managed to figure out how the darn thing works.
So here's a simple lesson on the function of the four way stop.
Rule 1: This is a merit-based system, so whoever gets to the corner first wins and gets to go.
Rule 2: If two cars get to the corner at the same time, the person who is to the right of the other person has what is called the "right of way" (sorrry for the fancy terms, knuckleheads) and gets to go.
Rule 3: There is no rule 3.
Rule 4: If all this seems too complicated, ride the bus. And maybe you should be on the short bus.