I learned to drive when I was 16, even though I went to high school in the middle of Manhattan and took the subway everywhere I needed to go. In fact, I had been taking the subway to school by myself since I was 12 years old. That's what a lot of New York City kids do. But I still couldn't wait to get my license. It seems every American kid, no matter where they live, wants to get their driver's license when they turn 16. Learning to drive is like a rite of passage in the United States. It's the closest thing we have to a national coming-of-age ritual. There are plenty of people in the States who don't, but for the most part, we are a nation driven to drive. Unfortunately, that doesn't always mean we are driven to drive well. Every day, just when I am certain I will never see someone driving as badly as I did the day before, someone proves me wrong. I think lately, Americans on a whole are driving worse than ever. There are so many news reports of road rage incidents, accidents being caused by someone texting or talking on the phone and not paying attention to the road, pedestrians being hit and the driver who did it speeding away as fast as they could. And way too many cases of drunk driving. In the last month alone, I have heard no less than seven reports of someone driving the wrong way on a major roadway, and in almost all of those cases, alcohol was involved. Two of those cases happened just last night, locally! I shudder to think how many times this happens weekly or even daily across the country.
Lately, I've got a new pet driving peeve. When I am driving on local roads, either urban or suburban, I constantly have to switch lanes or swerve into the lane to the left of me, ( if there is no traffic in that lane) or stop all together, because someone emerging from a parking lot or side street has stuck the nose of their car directly into oncoming traffic. This happens so often now, I have to wonder why. Why is it suddenly OK to obstruct oncoming traffic, to jut out way beyond a stop sign or driveway in order to get into the oncoming flow? Sometimes they even try to cross two or three lanes of oncoming traffic flow, as well as a double yellow line, in order to make a left turn. Are people that bad at spatial analysis ( probably, judging by most peoples' parallel parking aptitude) or are they just that rude?( yes). But I am really curious as to why, all of a sudden, this is such a common thing to do. Are they being taught that it's ok? Is there a driving school somewhere that teaches special courses in jerky driving? This new pet peeve even tops my last one, which is people driving on local well-lit streets with their high beams on. Not even on the highway. On local streets and boulevards. Why do you need your brights on to drive in the Metropolitan New York area? The only places I can think of that are more brightly lit are possibly Tokyo and Las Vegas. Oh, and the face of the sun. Possibly. Rounding out my top three pet driving peeves is people who don't use their directionals. I'm not talking about signaling to turn into your driveway from a side street or signaling to turn on an empty country road ( though I do-force of habit regardless of where I am). I'm talking about drivers who can see there are cars waiting to know what they will do, and pedestrians who are waiting to see whether they can cross a street. These drivers just don't seem to think they need to signal. Why should they do something like that, why tip their hand? And why in the world would you signal to change lanes on a busy highway? You would lose the element of surprise. Those directionals are obviously pointless. They should replace them with some kind of tricked out running lights or something else really useful. Maybe a horn that plays "la Cucaracha". Sweet.
Then there are the random acts of driving stupidity that I see constantly. A few weeks ago, on my way down to Philadelphia for a family function, my brother, my mother and I were driving through Staten Island on a heavily traveled highway when we saw a car weaving slightly, and not keeping constant speed. The driver would go very very fast in spurts, trying to get past whatever trucks were next to him, or he would slow down to a crawl for no apparent reason. He would waver and take up two lanes so often, it was not safe to try to pass him. We all assumed he was drunk, or perhaps over-tired and it was effecting his driving. Finally, there was a chance to pass him, and my brother did just that. As we passed, we saw what was causing the erratic behavior. The man was driving and reading a newspaper. At speeds upwards of 55 miles per hour. I'd seen people drive and read papers in traffic jams, where they would inch forward at speeds of ten or so miles per hour. I think this is stupid enough, since one of these shining diamond intellects rear-ended me while doing just that. When I looked at him in my rearview mirror, he gave me this stupid shrug as if to say, "hey, what can ya do? I was just readin' here", as if it was fine and dandy that he hit another car, since it wasn't a major accident and there was no damage. This time. I've seen plenty of stupid drivers like him reading and texting in traffic jams, but I have never before seen someone driving at that speed while seriously reading, not glancing at, but reading a paper. This is topped only by the women who put on their makeup in their car while driving to work or to the restaurant/bar/club where they are meeting their equally idiotic friends at breakneck speeds. You can see them everywhere, if you look. They are using the rearview mirror to apply their mascara and eyeshadow, fix their lipstick, spray their hair into place. Sometimes they are stopped at a light. Sometimes they are barreling down a highway. I always wonder what their driving records look like. I knew a girl from Austria who was living in Key West years ago, and she used a moped scooter to get around the island. I realized what a good choice this was when I sat on the moped once and found that both her rearview mirrors were adjusted so that she could look at herself when driving, not at surrounding traffic. Mopeds don't go very fast, but motorcycles and cars do. A moped was a good choice for her. A bus or taxi would have been better.
One time, when I was working with(for) my mom one summer during college, we were driving on Queens Boulevard, near the 59th street Queensborough bridge ( just now re-named the Ed Koch bridge, after a beloved mayor of New York) when a livery cab cut us off. Hard. My mom had to step on the brakes quickly and hope no one rear-ended us. It was an area of massive traffic. Queens Boulevard's nickname is "The Boulevard of Death", because of all the pedestrians who are killed while trying to cross it each year. To be fair, many of these pedestrians try to cross not at a light, but at a random point, and Queens Boulevard is, in some areas, 8-10 lanes wide. At other times, they do try to cross at lights that do not afford them enough time to finish crossing, and drivers speed outrageously there, so something bad is bound to happen. And happen it does. Again and again. But we were in a car, not trying to cross the Boulevard. We were ok, but the guy was a really bad driver and a worse jerk. My mother had honked her horn when he was cutting her off, mostly to tell him we were THERE, since he didn't act like he'd seen us, taking up actual physical space in the lane next to him. But I'd be lying if I didn't say she was honking partly to express her opinion of him and his driving. Well, he was not going to take THAT. No one was going to honk at him. He would show us. So he put his car in reverse and tried to back it into our car. I thought this was so ridiculous, I burst out laughing. My mother, though shocked, also thought it was pretty funny, but she was very cautious and just stopped, waiting for a chance to change lanes and get the hell away from him. I think he saw me laughing, and this made him even angrier, so he tried to back into us again, two more times. We passed him and he was gesticulating and twitching like a dog full of fleas. We probably should have taken down his license and reported him to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, but this sort of thing happens every day in New York. It was all in a day's drive. My mother and I still recall the time "that crazy guy tried to back into us in traffic". We laugh now, and we laughed then. I wonder if the cab driver remembers the incident or if it was just par for the course for him. Judging by the driving I see on a daily basis, I would think "par for the course" is a safe bet.
This is not a political blog. I have no desire to rant and rattle on about my political views and why you should or should not vote for this one, that one, or the third one who really shouldn't even be running because he's just mucking up the chances of the second one. There are plenty of blogs exactly like that, though, so if that's the horse you want to ride, well, do a search and saddle up, cowboy.
This is not a blog about the short-comings of the American education system or the stupidity of the next ( or any) generation. If you think the school system failed you and you can still read this, then congratulations,Kilroy! You managed to rise above it. Kudos to you.
This is absolutely not an anti-American blog. I may have named it "Stupid America", but as corny as it sounds, I really do love this country. I will, however, admit I am often embarrassed by it. I just don't understand how a country that once gave us Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Sojourner Truth and Walt Whitman could now be serving up Real Housewives, teen vampires, info-mercials, Humvee limousines and all things Kardashian. Where, exactly, did we go off-script? This blog is my journal of musings on American culture and mores as I try to find some answers.