A few weeks ago, I purchased a car. My time on public transportation had come to an end, expired. The system has slowly eroded and crumbled into an inefficient and poorly ran institution. The priorities seemed to change over the years and passengers – the customers – are the last thought on the minds of the organization that oversees public transit. I say this with a certain amount of confidence but with no evidence except my own experiences. You just have to take a ride to see that morale is at an all-time low. From indifferent bus drivers to stations falling apart to routes being removed to improve ‘efficiencies’, the message of public transit seems to be: If you can afford it, buy a car.
The one thing I will miss about public transit is the people. Riding on a packed bus can be quite an intimate experience, one where your proximity to complete strangers throws out any notion of personal space. Emotions can run high when a bus is late and the wide spectrum of human behaviour on display is often astounding, ranging from the courteous and empathetic to downright insane and ridiculous.
I have discovered an entirely new level of bizarre human behaviour. An aspect of the everyday experience that I really only contemplated marginally when I would directly come into contact with them. In a short span of time – a few weeks – these groups of people have reared their ugly and strange sides, choosing to display a regression in human evolution and a great leap backwards in developing some type of connectivity amongst individuals.
Many people use the roads in different ways. I guess my brain simply turned off recognizing what drivers were doing. My experience on roads was riding a bicycle or as a pedestrian. I have seen strange driver behaviour from these perspectives, but nothing like when I found myself behind the wheel.
When you are walking or riding a bike, you are quite vulnerable to outside forces. There’s not much protection. A car is pretty much a well-designed death machine, complete with armour, speed and in the cases of some pickup trucks, balls (or what is sometimes called Truck Nutz) hanging from the bumper. I assume Truck Nutz are making up for the lack of more biological balls usually associated with the male anatomy.
There is an old saying that the way you dress reflects who you are as a person. The same could be said for what kind of car you drive. My car, for example, is a used Toyota Corolla. It’s not fancy, but it’s reliable, comfortable and gets me from A to B. I think this says a lot about me.
For some reason, I have seen a large number of Hummers on the road. I could understand this, if say, I lived in the jungle or was surrounded by a desert-like terrain. But in the city is this really necessary? The comedian Demetri Martin used his large pad and pointer to distinguish the different people who drive around in Hummers and I would have to agree: “Breakdown of Hummer owners: Tough guys come in at 43%, pricks are 27%, Douche bags are 15%, dildoes are 14.99% and poets are 0.01%.”
Everyone is in such a hurry. It seems that no matter if I’m on a side street or major highway, if the person behind me is a Hummer or a family van, someone is riding my tail. If they were any closer, they’d be in my trunk. What if I had to stop suddenly? I always look at the person through the rearview mirror and try to read their face. But usually, they are not mad or impatient looking, they just wish I was not in front of them. People have passed me on residential streets, only to speed up to the next person in line and ride on their tail.
Traffic patterns are random. For no apparent reason, you will come to a complete stop with a long line of cars in front of you. Pedestrians are no help. I view pedestrians in a completely different way from when I was one. Pedestrians have an entitlement to the road, for example, cross the street when a cross walk is a mere few steps away (I am guilty of this). I should remind pedestrians that these cross walks were designed to ensure your safety. After all, the equation car vs. pedestrian always has the same answer: car.
Drivers would rather inconvenience a long line of people rather than miss a turn. I was driving along a busy two-lane road. A car pulled out of a side street in front of me, changed lanes (cutting the person beside me off) and wanted to turn left. The problem was the long line in the turning lane. Instead of driving straight and turning down the next block, this person blocked two lanes of traffic – the entire road – so they wouldn’t miss the turn. This intersection was a difficult left turn and the traffic wasn’t moving. As the cars piled up behind me and horns started blaring, I watched the driver for any signs of remorse and embarrassment over being the focus of so much animosity. Nothing. The person’s head turned toward me at one point and she kind of shrugged her shoulders, I imagined her saying, “Not my fault, I have to turn left.”
We engage in a social contract when driving that we won’t kill each other. This contract becomes very clear when driving on a major highway. We are driving at high speeds – some at very high speeds – and agree to stay in our lanes, not cut each other off and be nice by allowing last minute lane changes. Some people didn’t get the memo.
Accidents. I could count on one hand the amount of accidents I’ve seen in over ten years of living in this city. Since buying this car a month ago, I’ve witnessed an average of two to three accidents a week. They were almost all due to left turns and almost all the result of very stupid decisions. None of these accidents were that serious or fatal, but the strange thing is that none of the people involved ever got mad. They would simply pull the cars over to the side and exchange information. It was as though they were expecting something like this to happen sooner or later.
I am trying not to give in to driving fast, whipping around, changing lanes unnecessarily, sitting on tails. It is difficult because the message from many drivers seems to be: get with the program.