By Thomas Day
Out of some sort of cosmic coincidence, the last week has been a regular repeat of unexpected events, most of them bad; or they would have been bad if I were any kind of optimist. I’m not optimistic at all. I’m as brutally realistic as I can manage and I am always anticipating something weird to happen at the least convenient time. (Yeah, Murphy. Get over it. I’m on to you.) I scan the horizon aggressively for everything from drunk-or-cell-phone-disabled drivers to chunks of cars dislodging and bouncing down the highway at me. I assume every car owner is a moron and has a chimp’s driving skills. I assume that anything on a truck was tied down by a thumb-less gorilla who was more interested in his next break than worrying about what tons of crap set loose on the freeway would destroy. In fact, driving heavily occupied roads usually reinforces my low opinion of the human species. (We’re not quick or coordinated enough to be called “the human race.”)
My wife thinks I’m paranoid. It’s possible, but I’m comfortable with the thought that “you’re not paranoid if they are really out to get you.” Like most cagers, she often rolls through stop signs without looking in any direction but the one she is traveling. She often dives deep into corners at speed, realizing too late that she is carrying too much speed, and bails out on the gas and even brakes when either of those moves is exactly wrong. Like 90% of Minnesotans, she will leave a stop sign or light and, ten feet later, hit the brakes before making a left or right turn. Like almost all Minnesotans, she can’t merge and has no idea what “tailgating” means in terms of speed and distance. If I were afraid of dying, I’d be cowering on the floor when she drives. I’m not, so I usually just ignore the threats and read while she’s behind the wheel. I’d rather risk death than drive myself, so it’s a fair tradeoff.
On the other hand, when I’m driving she thinks I’m way too cautious. I brake before most intersections if I see any sign that another car might not be slowing for a stop light or sign. I either hold back or hammer my way past semis on the freeway, because I wouldn’t trust truck driver skills or their ability to see me with your life. If someone tailgates me, I slow down to force them past or back. I don’t pay any attention to their hand signals they offer when they finally grow a pair and pass me. There is no chance in hell that I’m ever going to like or respect someone dumb enough to tailgate, so I don’t care what they think of me.
The list of unexpected/expected stupid moves from other road users, just this past week, includes two high speed ignored stop lights, one wrong-way on a one-way SUV dimbulb, a half-dozen three lane sweeps from the left lane to an exit by clueless morons who were so infatuated with their cell phone WMD that they probably didn’t hear the chorus of horns and screeching tires, and one cell phone idiot who failed to notice that traffic had stopped until he was less than thirty feet from my tail light. I treat my morning and evening commute like a sporting event or a gun fight where I am only armed with a knife. Being among fools and crazies is invigorating. A near miss reminds me that life is precious, short, and nobody gets out alive. A half-dozen near misses reminds me that when the next killer asteroid arrives humans will be long past due for extinction.
A dirt biking friend spent the last two years rehab’ing from major back injuries. No, he didn’t crash on a motocross track. He was driving his family home from church when a brain-dead old fart failed to notice the red stop light or the stopped vehicle at the light and plowed into the back of my friend’s minivan and put most of his family in the hospital. An acquaintance spent a couple of years recovering from being run over by a UPS truck that failed to measure a turn and hopped over the curb and hit a couple of pedestrians who were on the sidewalk. A few years back, a friend in California barely escaped getting killed in his own living room when a speeding moron hopped the curb and plowed into the front of the house. I have some big rocks and a guard rail decorating the front of my house in commemoration (and avoidance) of that event.
Supposedly, P.T. Barnum said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Political parties count on that fact, too. My take is that no motorcyclist was ever injured by assuming every cager on the highway is an idiot. There are exceptions, but they are rare enough that they won’t mess with the general statistic. In other words, the exception proves the rule. It’s silly to assume cagers are homicidal. Homicide requires intent and a small degree of cleverness. Most cagers are rarely involved in their driving enough to bother with planning or skill, but incompetence, carelessness, and inattention will kill you just as dead as murderous intent.