Here’s a story:
Imagine you’re in your car, making the commute home from work on a Friday night, after the longest of days. You’re exhausted and you just want to get home, so you can take off your work clothes and collapse into a bag of your preferred comfort food in front of Netflix, and not think about work all weekend.
You approach a red light at a three-lane intersection. (You know, one of those where there’s a lane in the middle for driving straight through, and a lane on each side for turning.) There are lines of cars in both side lanes waiting to turn, but you need to go straight here (home is only two blocks away!!), and as luck would have it, there are no cars in front of you in the middle lane. So, because you notice the other light, for cross-traffic, turning yellow, you don’t push down on the brake nearly as hard as you normally would, knowing your light will probably turn green just as you get there, and you can continue your drive just a few seconds faster. (It may be trivial, but hey, you’re super stressed, and getting home a few seconds sooner may make all the difference!)
Out of NOWHERE (okay, not out of literally nowhere–out of the right-turn lane), another car swerves sharply into your lane, mere inches in front of you, forcing you to slam violently onto your brakes.
Why didn’t this jerk figure out which lane to be in before stopping? And why didn’t they bother to look, and see that you were coming up right behind the place they were cutting in? You lay on the horn heavily to make the driver aware of the error.
The light turns green, and the driver in front of you speeds away. Two blocks down, you pull into your driveway, still grumbling, now both about work, and about the idiotic, incompetent driver who nearly caused an accident.
Now, imagine another scenario:
You take a three-day weekend to travel for a funeral. Not exactly what you’d like to be spending your PTO on, but this (death) is part of life, and because the death was of someone close to you, you plan to attend the funeral and grieve with family.
Unfortunately, your deceased loved-one’s home town (where they haven’t been in decades, but where they will be buried), is a place you’ve never been to, and it’s two states away. Because a flight and a hotel would be too costly, you make arrangements to stay in the guest room of a distant relative, and you head out Friday morning to make the long drive.
For hours, as you travel, you’re alone in your car with your travel luggage and your emotional luggage… You pull over a few times to cry. When you aren’t broken up with the sadness of your loss, you’re wracked with anxiety over the weekend you’ll spend in the home of people you barely know. It was uncomfortable enough to make that phone call, but you did it because being there was important to you. Your great-whatever-however-many-times-removed was of course, courteous about it, insisting that it was no trouble at all to make room for you for the weekend, but you still feel a little like you’re inconveniencing them.
After hours of this emotional turmoil, you finally arrive in the outskirts of your destination town. You haven’t heard anything from your phone’s GPS in awhile, so you tap your phone to check it…and find that the battery is dead. You pull into the parking lot of a gas station to start digging through your bag, just to find that you forgot to pack an in-car phone charger. Frustrated (being an understatement), you now have to head inside the store to see if they sell car chargers.
Could this day get any worse?
You go to the counter to borrow a phone, and a phone book to look up the number, because it was only stored in your cell phone, not on paper. (So there is a reason these phone books still get printed!) You call a few wrong numbers, belonging to people with the same last name and first initial as the one you’re looking for. Finally, you reach your family member, apologize for being late, explain your situation, and ask for directions.
After hastily scribbling the directions onto the back of a greasy fast-food receipt you found in your pocket, you get back into your car and on the road.
You were informed during the phone call that the rest of the drive should take no more than ten minutes, but in your nervous state of mind, you far exceed that projected time making wrong turns and driving in circles.
Finally, you glance down to look at one of the last directions: “From 8th avenue N, turn right on 24th street NE.” Up ahead, you see a traffic light at an intersection, and the sign says 24th street! Relieved, you get in line with the right-turn traffic and wait.
While you are idling, you take a second look over your directions, just to make sure. “Yep, 24th street NE…” You look up and see that where you’re about to turn onto 24th street NW. Northwest. Not northeast. This is not the right place to be.
Now exasperated and at your wit’s end, you swerve over to get out of the right-turn lane. You see that the straight lane is empty in front of you, but in your hurry, you forget to check behind you.
You hear tires screech and a long, angry-sounding horn. In your rearview mirror, you notice a car behind you, stopping just in time. The driver looks positively pissed. At this moment, the light turns green, and you gun it away, needing to be as far away from your embarrassment as possible. You’re so flustered, that you don’t notice this other car turned off of this road only two blocks later. In fact, you’re still replaying every mortifying millisecond in your mind over and over, before you finally calm down enough to notice that you’ve ended up at 31st street NE… Past the point where you actually needed to turn.
To answer the previous “Could this day get any worse?” …Yes. It could.
You find a place to turn around, and head back toward the correct street, making a mental note to turn left, not right, because you’re now coming from the opposite direction. You’re now in more of a hurry than ever, because you need this drive to be over, and because you’re beginning to wonder if your family members are worrying about how long it’s taking you. You drive just 8 over the speed limit — not enough to get ticketed.
Suddenly, you find yourself approaching a car going at least 10 under the speed limit, and you slow to a crawl behind it. Angrily, you inch closer and closer to the back bumper of that slow driver, hoping to encourage them to speed up. At the next corner, the car turns, without braking, causing it to nearly hit a parked car on that street. You shake your head in disbelief… What is that driver thinking? Are they even licensed?
But now that the slow car is out of your way, you can speed back up. You finally make the correct turn, find the house, and make your way inside, where you are able to break the ice and bond over the story of that ridiculously reckless driver you just saw.
Now, one more:
Imagine you’re barely scraping by, paycheck to paycheck (or maybe you don’t have to imagine, because that’s a very common reality…but that’s not the point of this story). You’re lucky enough to at least have a job, a place to live, and an old, junky car that can get you to and from work. But still, you’re in a very tight situation financially. You just barely make rent and bills, have enough leftover to feed yourself and put gas in the car, but no room for spending on luxuries of any kind, or putting anything into savings. Without savings, you have to constantly be careful to avoid “emergencies” such as car repairs or hospital visits or dental checkups. You’ve had none of these things for years, and see no way out soon.
You’ve noticed for awhile that your car’s brake pads have been getting worn down, but like any stretched-to-the-limits human being, you ignore the problem. There isn’t room in the budget for new brake pads right now, so you don’t want to think about it.
Inevitably, the condition of your brakes eventually deteriorates to the point that it is becoming difficult to stop, and you have to consciously try to begin braking much sooner than before, to make sure you have enough room to come to a full stop.
Now that you can no longer ignore the problem, you call a local car-service place to find out what it would cost. You do the math, and get less food on your next grocery trip, and skip eating every other day to stretch out your food for the week. Then you do it again the next week. And the week after that. In five weeks, you’ve saved enough by not using your food budget that you can finally take your car in. But, by now, your brakes are working so poorly that you can barely drive. For the first four weeks of this process, you were leaving for work early enough to allow for a very slow, deliberate drive, trying to avoid sudden stops. But during the final week, a close call nearly hitting a car that stopped a little too abruptly in front you caused you to be too afraid to drive to work again, because you just can’t plan for every possibility of an emergency stop. So you walked to work the next day. It took a long time, and you were almost too exhausted to work by the time you got there, then had to walk home at the end of the day. You only managed this for two days, and just couldn’t bring yourself to walk for a third day, so you called in sick. (Luckily, it was believable, because of the way you were so tired at work recently.) Only two more days to pay day. You took a risk by calling in sick both of those days, too.
On pay day, you get in your car to drive it to the shop. You plan to inch along carefully, and take the roads with the least traffic, but unfortunately, there’s one short stretch on a busier road (8th avenue) that is unavoidable.
When you turn cautiously onto 8th avenue, you mozy along at as careful a speed as possible. But then, you see a car coming up fast behind you. Too fast. Doesn’t that driver know the speed limit? Afraid of getting rear-ended, you try to speed up, but only allow yourself to get up to about 10 under the speed limit. You don’t want to try any faster; this is already too dangerous. A glance in your rearview mirror allows you to see the car’s license plate, which indicates the car is from two states away. Okay, so that other driver is not local. Maybe they really don’t know the speed limit. But now they’re starting to tailgate you. The car gets way too close for comfort. Why are they in such a hurry? You absolutely cannot risk speeding up, so riding your bumper will get them nowhere!
You’re approaching your turn, but you can’t attempt to slow down while this maniac is right behind you, so you just swing into it, and narrowly avoid hitting a parked car.
Thankfully, the rest of the drive is uneventful, and you pull slowly into the parking lot in one piece.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for bearing with me through the drama. I’ve been wanting to explore the idea of a few different drivers’ perspectives of eachother (you may have noticed that all of these stories are linked together–each bad driver being noticed by the driver in the previous story).
Each of these stories is obviously a major dramatization, but also entirely possible. Even when we’re not in as dire circumstances, we’ve all been in some kind of position where we don’t do our best driving, and for a really good reason. But then, we tend to forget all those reasons when someone else is the offending “bad driver”. Just something to think about.
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