Friday, October 07, 2005

#82 - Color Me Two-Toned

It's finally time for me to come out of whatever closet holds such things and admit that I am a vehicular schizophrenic. I say this with all due respect and apologies to those who have to deal with the real thing. I would submit, however, that most of us are "closet" schizos in one respect or another, and my dual personality just happens to manifest itself in the car.

Those of you old enough to remember actually sitting as a family on Sunday evenings to watch "Wonderful World of Disney" will remember that terrific cartoon (“Motor Mania” – 1950) of Goofy who transforms from a mild-mannered CPA (Mr. Walker) into the Road Demon from Heck (Mr. Wheeler) the moment he gets behind the wheel. Even in the sixties this disease was known to medical science. And since no sitting president has ever taken on this issue, I feel it my duty to at least go public with it and try to increase social awareness of this insidious malady.

For the most part, I consider myself to be a fairly even-headed individual. I am both a fiscal and social conservative, which means that I try to practice moderation in most aspects of my life. There are exceptions, of course. I am a sometime actor which indicates an ability to enjoy making a complete fool of myself every once in awhile. I only do this every few years or so, and this last stretch has actually lasted about five years now. Also, I don't mind singing in front of an audience. At least, I don't mind it if I've been asked well in advance, and there's a piano (with pianist!) handy.

But other than those quirks, I feel fairly conservative in my habits. I'm a teetotaler, I've never inhaled anything more dangerous than local Los Angeles air, and I've never met a needle that wasn't attached at the other end to a medical personnel.

I am also, however, an Orange County driver. [Begin theme from "Jaws."]

I can't be the only commuter in the country who goes through this same routine every day. Every morning I get in my car and silently swear to myself that I will not be in any kind of hurry to get to work. Gone for me are the days when I had to beat the timeclock or incur the wrath of my supervisor. These days I can stroll in pretty much whenever I get there, because my boss (who is on a telecon at home and hasn't yet shown up himself) knows that he will likely see me log on later that evening to work on whatever I didn't complete that day. Instant Messaging is both a blessing and a curse. My point is that I have no need to hurry in to work. I can take my time.

Mentally I know that I traverse parts of three freeways to get to work. If I manage to leave the house before 6:00 in the morning, my commute will almost always be relatively smooth. I can hit all three freeways with only minimal slowing at junctions, and arrive at the office less than half an hour after leaving my driveway. This includes the 22 Freeway which is currently undergoing widening that will probably not be completed before I retire in another 20 years or so. During construction, officials have lowered the speed limit to 55. Veteran drivers know that this is what Dave Barry used to call the "national pretend speed limit." This is precisely how all but three Orange County commuters choose to handle this speed limit. Oh, we tried. We really did. It took a full two months before most commuters even noticed that they had lowered the speed limit. Then for, oh, about three weeks everyone slowed down to about 67 out of deference to the construction crews. Then - you know how it is with these guys - some dude in a jacked-up pickup that sits taller than a pilot in a 747 decided he'd had enough of this mamby-pamby 67 miles per hour and whizzed by everyone on the left shoulder doing a solid 85. It's been business as usual ever since.

I have mentioned before that I drive two of the most gutless vehicles ever created. The Honda was not created gutless. But after more than 200,000 miles, I'd wanna go a little slower, too. The Saturn, on the other hand, was not built for Gran Prix racing. It was built to give beginning roller skaters a run for their money. I suffer mightily in this car because it doesn't understand my disease. (You thought I'd forgotten about my disease, didn't you?)

If I happen to leave after 6:00 in the morning, which happens frequently, my thought processes go something like this:

Hm. 91 looks chokey this morning. Better take the canyon and get on the 55 that way. Hey! Not fair! That was my idea! Go back to the rodeo, you stinkin' pickup, and go ride a bull! Oh, sure... get in front of me and hit the brakes. That's nice. And why don't you hang up that cell phone while you're at it?

[At this point, the disease has fully manifested itself, and I will devote the entire rest of my time on the canyon road jockeying for position with this turnip-brained redneck.]

Finally. The 55. Looks about normal. Nice transition from the on-ramp. Seems to be moving along fairly... Hey! Where'd that garbage hauler come from?? Doggone it, I can't get around. No one will open up and let me into the next lane!

[By this time I am in a funk that will not lift until the Second Coming.]

Okay, 22 is moving along at a crisp 70+. I’ll just keep it at 70.

[Here I am making at least an attempt to fight the disease. I will fail miserably.]

Hey! Why do you idiots think you can just jump in front of me and drive like little old ladies from Pasadena? Now you force me to show you how disgusted I am!

[Jump into the next lane and kick out of overdrive so I can “blaze” past, which almost immediately traps me behind some landscaper whose truck has not gone faster than 45 since it was manufactured in Yugoslavia.]

By the time I get to work, I am once again full of virtuous thoughts. Those crazy OC drivers need to calm down. They really do.

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