Monday, January 17, 2005

Wet Roads

In my opinionation, the sun may not necessarily shine. Discussed herein: the 101, a milk truck, loaded hand gestures, Ann Landers, punching yourself in the face.
Reducing Rain-Induced Road Rage

The recent downpours have reminded me that Californians have a tendency to drive like assholes during rain. It’s bizarre, really. Toss a small amount of water onto the road and far too many Californians will revert to the driving habits of 16-year-olds taking their first behind-the-wheel test. “Oh my god! The light turned red! I - I guess I’d better just floor it!” Or “Shit! The road is slightly slick and shiny! And I need to change lanes! I’d better crank it to the left without signaling! Go!”

I blame it on our lack of familiarity with nasty weather. Californians grow up with sun-bleached stretches of 101 without a single puddle to hydroplane upon. States that must cope with real weather - you know, not the stuff of postcards - would probably prefer our week of rain over snow or ice. Granted, rain makes for less-than-optimal driving conditions, but none so bad that they would account for the behavior of local motorists - myself included.

But, as I cut off that milk truck this morning, I realized two things: that the milkman probably thinks I’m a bigger jerk than I really am, and that motorists have no way of signaling an apology when they’ve done something stupid. I find this odd.

The DMV handbook teaches us nifty hand signals for turns and stops, which I suppose might be useful if you prefer Depression-era automobiles, but it offers no way to convey, “Hi. I acknowledge the boneheadedness of what I just did and I won’t do it again - and please don’t run my car off the road in retaliation.” That might seem like too much content to cram into a simple hand motion, but look how much mileage we’ve been getting out of a single raised finger.

But what sign could possibly fulfill this role? When I’m not driving my car, my typical response to my screw-ups is a shrug. Think, “I’m sorry, buddy. I don’t know what to tell you.” It’s probably not the best for blunders on the go, however, since a proper shrug also requires to two raised shoulders and two upturned hands and such a motion would probably only cause further accidents.

A peace sign - the good ol’ papal benediction - might suffice, but I worry that drivers racing down the road might mistake the two fingers for that one popular finger and again cause more bloodshed.

Speaking of Catholics, those happy churchgoers have a little gesture that they use to express penitence: a few fist taps fist on the chest. It’s usually done with a short prayer called the “Mea Culpa,” which literally means “my fault.” This one might seem perfect for quelling the road rage of wronged motorists, but I feel like subtle chest-beating might not be visible. I’d suggest one solid punch into your own face - but, again, you could just end up causing further badness.

I was about to give up on my mission to determine the best possible apology hand signal when I decided to see what the Internet might offer on the issue. Sure enough, Ann Landers once weighed in on this issue and asked her readers to mail in their suggestions. They mailed ideas - a military salute, the American Sign Language gesture for “I’m sorry,” a throat-slitting finger across the throat - but Ann, true to her personal non-advisory style of advice, offered no conclusion, just, “The most important thing to remember when you do something stupid is accept the blame with a smile and keep on driving.” Thanks a bunch, Ann.

Nearly 10 years later, and even Ann Landers couldn’t convince the country to fuck up politely. I guess there’s a reason we don’t have an apology hand signal: It’s not practical, and it’s too hard to standardize. I think it’s a good idea, however. So if I pass you on the rain-soaked 101 and you see me gesticulating wildly, please understand: There’s a reason.

Daily Nexus training editor Drew got bored of trying to think of polite gestures. Nowadays he just gives everyone the bird because you’re probably an asshole anyway.

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