Reader Reactions & Anecdotes

29 March 2008

Turn-signal Tessie, et al

I readily concede that I’m no paragon as a driver. I’ve done many dumb things at the wheel. And, although I’m presently a lot more careful than I was when I was a young, incipient Evel Knievel, I make no claims to perfection on the highway.

That said, I’m free to add that the rest of American mankind is pretty awful, too. And the true cause is egoism, defined in Webster’s as “the tendency to be self-centered, or to consider only oneself and one’s own interests; selfishness.”

There are two maneuvers favored by American drivers that substantiate my admittedly abstract accusation. One is The Magic-Blinker Lane Change. The other is The Death-Defying Side Road Pullout.

To illustrate the first, I offer the day last week when I was white-knuckling a northbound stretch of I-95 where there are three lanes. Traffic was hubcap-to-hubcap, moving at what seemed to be 322 miles per hour, with all lanes chock full of nuts. I had somehow been compressed into the center lane of the three. Off my starboard bow was a red Belchfire 8, piloted by what appeared to be a proper little lady with blue hair and insect-eye sunglasses.

As usual, I’d guessed wrong. She was no proper little lady. She was Turn-Signal Tessie, Terror of the Turnpikes.

I discovered this when she flicked on her left-turn blinker and swerved from the extreme right lane to the extreme left lane, crossing in an undeviating, single-minded diagonal that set brakes to squealing for miles around. It was as if I’d been suddenly caught up in some grotesque, gigantic carnival dodge ’em ride, with thundering trucks behind, careening cars to all sides, the universe filled with blaring horns.

Tessie, the personification of that serene self-centeredness so characteristic of the U.S. driver, had simply assumed that, once she showed her turn-signal, the blinking light would magically sweep away, dissolve, or otherwise render immobile and immaterial all other vehicles within 500 meters. Unbelievably, no deaths or injuries derived from her assumption. (Tessie appears in other guises too: the arrogant truck jockey who drives by turn-signal and air horn, and the Late-Bloomer — the driver who slows down and begins his turn before he turns on the appropriate blinker. Both are maddening, and I say a pox on them as well.)

As for the Side-Road Pullout, it’s one of the trials I’ve often suffered for many years as a driver, and the scenario is virtually always the same. The latest instance occurred while I was en route as a beat-up veteran to the VA hospital in Gainesville, where I was to have the ears part of my head examined. (The lingering damage caused by World War II explosions has gradually diminished my hearing until I am now as deaf as a flatiron if I don’t wear my 50-caliber hearing aids.) The road I was traveling is a two-lane fright under the best of circumstances, but this day was a nice one with tweeting birds and an amiable sun, and, at a comfortable 55 mph, all seemed well.

I was going west, trailing a white sedan. Coming east on the other lane was a file of cars and trucks. Ahead on the right I could see one of those Rural Florida Masterpieces — a pickup truck that was all huge wheels below and 40 square feet of rust and cracked glass above — poised to enter the highway from a dirt side road. It waited, rocking impatiently, until the white car in front of me passed by. Then, in what appeared to be serene slow motion, it left the dirt road and turned onto the highway — clearing my front bumper by scant feet and loafing into the eastbound lane athwart its on-rushing stream of vehicles.

The rust heap’s driver apparently felt that he’d done his duty toward mankind in general and highway law in specific by waiting for the one white car to pass. Then, by God, it was his turn, no matter what, and he’d begun a stupendously arrogant, low-gear drift across two lanes of fast-moving traffic.

Miraculously, there were no collisions, but there was a fortissimo of angry horn-blowing and tire-squealing and, I’m sure, an awful lot of shocked citizens.

And then came the most incredible part of the whole incredible experience: the driver of the rusty marvel, puttering off with blasé indifference amidst the blaring and hooting, put his hand out his window in the supreme obscene gesture. He simply had to know, in his country boy’s heart-of-hearts, that he’d nearly killed or hurt some two dozen people. Yet he was able to show them all a sign of contempt for being soreheads about it.

That’s egoism, I’d say. Homicidal egoism.

An auto mechanic I admire once told me: “You want to know what kind of guy somebody is? Then watch how he drives. If he drives sloppy, he’s got a sloppy mind. If he drives mean, don’t trust him around your sister. But if he drives good and respectful, he’s probably a good and respectable guy.”

Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.