Driving

“I’m just going to break it to you right off the bat, I get road rage.”

I’m just going to break it to you right off the bat, I get road rage. Hollering at maniac drivers is the closest I come to swearing. My Mom taught me how to holler at “Stupid Idiots” and “Ignorant Savages ” while driving. I’m in the process of passing this family tradition on to my children. The other day I was driving Wes to get a haircut and I had to holler at a “Moron” to get on their side of the road. They didn’t though and I had to swerve to avoid being hit. “Maybe they didn’t hear you Dad.” Wes said calmly.

I guess road rage is putting it harshly. I’ve never tried to run someone off the road, or pulled a pistol. Although I have been in the car when my Uncle Scott pulled a pistol on a crazy driver we saw on the interstate. Looking back now it was a bit surreal, but in the moment you probably would have done the same thing. That’s why I don’t carry a pistol. I can’t remember what offense the other driver had committed, but we didn’t have anymore trouble with him after he saw the pistol. At any rate, I don’t get the kind of road rage that you see on the evening news, I just have little patience with people who are endangering the lives of others on the road, but if you want to know the real reason, I’ve never fully acclimated to being a “city” driver.

Aside from my Uncle Tony letting all of us kids steer an ancient sedan around in the cotton field behind my grandmother’s place, my introduction to driving was in the hayfield. Somewhere around first or second grade I learned to drive in a manual transmission flatbed dually truck. Pop only let me use two pedals, the brake and the clutch. Once you get those trucks into first gear, they’ll pull a load of hay without any acceleration, but every boy craves speed, and the surest way to get an eight year old boy to mess with something is to tell him not to mess with it. It seems that I was overtaken in this temptation and pressed the gas once while we were getting up a load of hay. The truck lurched forward, spilling a stack of hay on the unsuspecting stacker, and it seems like everyone shouted in unison “Stop the truck!” I’m glad they didn’t call me an ignorant savage. My air conditioner privileges were revoked because Pop made me roll the window down for the rest of the day so I could hear him better, and he wouldn’t stand for running the air conditioner with the window down. I was mortally afraid of pressing the gas after that. Even going at a snail’s pace in granny gear I managed to run over quite a few square bales. In my defense though, it was my job to drive and their job to pick up the hay, and many times I ran over a bale that had been neglected. I’d rather not talk about the other times. I also managed to run into the same fence with two different trucks, but I’m writing about driving, not wrecking.

Because my brother was older, he always got to drive the hay truck on the highway if Pop deemed it necessary to break the underage driving law. He was already breaking all the child labor laws, so I don’t know why he made any fuss at all about us driving on the road. We didn’t do this often, mainly just going from one field to another. We’d have done it more if Mom hadn’t have passed Zach on the road. She probably wouldn’t have noticed if Zach hadn’t have blown the horn at her. I normally wouldn’t condone underage driving, but we were on the river loop and there were more cows than people, on top of that, they don’t even line half the roads over there. All the same, Moms are pretty touchy when it comes to the law and all that.

If you learned to drive in the city, you probably wonder about people like me who use animated hand gestures to try to communicate with you on the road. I learned these hand gestures from my Pop as a way to communicate over long distances in the hayfield. I’ve never been able to see all that far anyway and once he had limited range of motion due to Parkinson’s, confusion abounded. I still get that look of bewilderment from drivers when I try to hand gesture to them that they have a blown headlight. These hand signals, like smoke signals and morse code, are mostly a dead language now. The killer: Cell phones.

I did not learn to drive in the city, I learned to drive in a town with only one red light. As a consequence, I despise sitting in traffic, and disdain red lights. I dislike red lights so much that for two years I drove ten miles out of the way on my commute just to avoid four red lights. Growing up, there were only two times that you could expect to sit in traffic in my community. First, there was the annual roadblock to check for drunk drivers.You really wouldn’t have to wait long at the road block once the police recognized you as a local and waved you on by. Then there was the  Christmas Parade. The Christmas Parade was the only time that the main road was shut down. The Parade would start at the High School, go through the red light all the way to the other side of town, about a half a mile away. Once the parade reached the outskirts of town, it circled around and went back to the High School. All the while, the poor folks who didn’t know about the parade were subjected to wait a good half hour while our community celebrated the incarnation and listened to speeches from inebriated judges. All the time there were dozens of cars just lining up to get through, what a mess of traffic!

By the time I was old enough to take drivers education in High School, I had already been driving professionally for eight years. The biggest perk to taking drivers education was that you could take the test to get your license with the same instructor that had been teaching you to drive. My teacher was Coach Livingston, and he only had a couple of rules, the driver got to pick the tunes, and no talking during the exam. We used to zip around in that modified Ford Taurus and talk about Rock’N’Roll. Coach Livingston thought that I should have gone on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, a popular show at the time. I learned a lot from Coach Livingston.

“Don’t swerve for roadkill, you could overcorrect and have an accident.”

“Don’t answer the phone while you’re driving, you could get distracted and have an accident.”

“If you have to eat and drive, don’t go to Taco Bell, tacos are too messy and you could have an accident.”

I took serious notes, because I knew how much of a hard time my parents would give me if I wrecked their car. I’d already been through that with Pop. Twice. So I was careful to follow these instructions when it was my turn to drive around the backroads of my hometown. There was hardly ever anyone behind you and if we were lucky, we might pass two cars in an hour. Mostly we had the road to ourselves and it was quite relaxing. There was one time when we didn’t have the supreme reign over the highway. It was my turn behind the wheel and we were on highway 62, headed West toward the BP, when we came upon a whole flock of chickens. I blew the horn and made some hand signals at the chickens, but they didn’t understand. In retrospect, I probably could have checked my speed and applied the brakes. There was an audible and tangible whump, whump as both tires took the life of one of Lamar Hines’ free range chickens.

Driver’s Education in rural Alabama was fun, but in no way prepared me for the rat race of traffic that I would meet in metropolitan St. Louis, Missouri, and Northern Virginia. I don’t even want to talk about trying to drive in the snow. I now have to stop at five red lights just to get to work, and in that time I’ll meet at least one moron, a couple of ignorant savages, and a stupid idiot. Maybe it’s me, I tend to drive below the speed limit on the interstate and major highways, and above the speed limit on backroads and rural areas. My driving  still makes my wife stiffen out and grab that roof handle on the passenger side whenever we make it back to where I grew up. I guess I’m just more comfortable with back roads and stop signs.

Whenever my friends find out that New York City is an easy day trip from where I currently live, and Washington DC is only about an hour and half drive, they are amazed that I have lived here for ten years and never made it to New York, and that I only go to D.C. about once a year. To be frank, I’d rather have a peg leg than have to drive in that D.C. traffic every week. Besides, there are too many red lights.

 

 

 

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