Friday, November 30, 2012

Holiday Travel Inferno: Driving

That much-dreaded-and-anticipated chunk of the year is upon us; the stretch of days starting in late November and ending in early January, nebulously known as the "holidays."

We all know what that means.

People will be visiting their families.  To accomplish this, many of them must travel.

Therefore, as a public service, I present for your reading pleasure a run-down of all the annoyances and dangers holiday travelers are likely to encounter while desperately schlubbing their mountains of luggage from point A to point B.

First up: a healthy dose of road rage.

1.  The Cell Phone Zombie

I am fully prepared to acknowledge the fact that some people are fully capable of talking on their cell phones while driving.  The problem here is the sizable chunk of the population who fervently believe that they belong to this group when the truth is...they really don't.  In fact, most sensible people wonder what rare reality-warping drug they must have pumped into their sickly little brains to come anywhere near this conclusion.  I see dozens of these cotton-pated cretins zig-zagging all over the road every time I go for a drive, and that's just in town.  Imagine how many hundreds of these jerks will be clogging up our highways in the days before Christmas, blissfully failing to notice that they just wandered into the other lane in front of a speeding eighteen-wheeler that can't slow down in time, or that you're trying to pass them and failing because, despite knowing their way around the thousand-dollar smartphone glued to their ear, they somehow lack the intelligence to figure out cruise control.

How to defeat it:

Get a military strength cell phone jammer.  Or, if you're the law-abiding type, engage your passengers in a rousing game of Dub The Shitty Driver.  Use your imagination to re-create the conversation the Cell Phone Zombie is having.  Make it as inane as possible.  Use funny voices.  Whoever injects the highest quantity of stupid textspeak wins.

2.  The Shrieking Rage-Banshee

Everything pisses the Rage-Banshee off.  Absolutely everything.  Traffic moving too slow? Rage-fit.  Traffic moving too fast? Rage-fit.  An accident or construction zone forcing everyone to take a short detour? The light just turned red and he has to--gasp--stop his car for a minute or two? Animal ran across the road and the car in front of him slowed down to let it pass? Steering-wheel-pounding, cuss-word-spewing, face-reddening rage-fit.  Hell, if his trip went exactly to his liking and he encountered no annoyances whatsoever, he'd still inflict a horrifying rage-fit on every car within a ten-mile radius of his, out of pure frustration at not having anything worth throwing a rage-fit over.

How to defeat it:

Don't try.  Rage-Banshees are a volatile and unpredictable bunch; they vary from the obnoxious-but-only-momentarily-unsettling* to the obnoxious-and-potentially-lethal.  Playing hardball with one likely won't get you anything worse than a one-finger salute and some muffled swear words, but there's always that less-than-zero chance that this particular Rage-Banshee is one of the few so thoroughly disengaged from his own humanity by his vicious animal rage that he wouldn't hesitate to shoot/ram you, or follow you home and set your house on fire.  Quietly let him roar by you, and pray that you won't be the one he takes out when, inevitably, he someday perishes in a fiery crash of his own making.

3.  The Lumbering Behemoth

At some point in your driving career you'll get stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle many times larger and heavier than yours.  Maybe it's a convoy of eighteen-wheelers taking turns passing each other and you can't get around until they're done.  Maybe it's one truck carrying an over-sized load.  Maybe the left lane is closed for construction, and nobody's passing anyone until the construction zone ends.  Whatever it is, you're going to have to go slow for a while, and try not to let your nervous side fret about the possibility of random logs or crates getting knocked loose from that flatbed in front of you and sliding through your windshield.

How to defeat it:

This one's pretty easy, actually.  Get off at the next exit and kill time for a while.  Once you get back on the highway, the Lumbering Behemoth will be long gone.  This isn't always worth doing--sometimes getting stuck behind a wide load for a while loses you less time than stopping to let it pass--but for some situations, it's a big sanity-saver.  If I had to choose between stopping to get lunch and being an hour late, and having one of those road-salting trucks flinging rock-hard salt pellets at me all the way across Pennsylvania, tardiness doesn't look so bad.

4.  The Construction Phantoms

This is the most baffling of annoyances.  Every now and then you'll come across a construction zone that is set up like an ordinary construction zone in every respect (temporary signs warning you that the left lane is closed in half a mile, orange barrels and those flashing arrow signs to mark said closed lane, etc.) except for one minor detail: there are no workers.  That makes sense, you think to yourself, somewhat nervously.  It is Sunday, after all.  They must have the day off...  Yet you can't help but notice other eerie signs.  There's not a single piece of heavy equipment in sight on this lonely stretch of road, except for a single rusty backhoe that looks like it hasn't been driven in years.  Its dirt-caked bucket stretches toward the sky as if in a last desperate gesture of supplication.  There are no signs of construction on the road itself, either; the pavement is smooth and unbroken.  Too smooth and unbroken.  Cold fear builds within you, and you long to flee this haunted road.  But you can't, because you are stuck in a single open lane behind a hundred other cars creeping along at five miles an hour.      

How to defeat it:

I have no idea.  I guess if you live in the area, you could call your local transit authority and complain about the construction not getting done, or ask them to send out a professional highway exorcist.  Really, your best bet is to just creep patiently along until you've passed it.  No point in angering the thousands of tormented ghosts that roam our nation's abandoned construction sites.

5.  The Curse of the Inveterate Bumbler

Let's face it: some people are just bad drivers, and they'll always be bad drivers.  No matter how many comprehensive driving courses they take and how many private teachers they hire and how many hours they practice each day, they will remain hopelessly, abysmally incapable of operating an automobile with any semblance of competence.  I'm sure that there are many theories for why this is; maybe it's related to some organic disability, like an inner ear problem or a chemical imbalance in the brain that messes with their sense of distance and speed.  Maybe they hate driving so much that they subconsciously sabotage their own performance on the road, hoping someone will notice and take their license away.  Or maybe a malevolent wizard cursed them to a lifetime of never doing anything right behind the wheel because he's still bitter about the time he took their mom out for a date in college and she made fun of the clunker of a used car he had to buy to save money for all those expensive Thaumaturgy 101 textbooks.

How to defeat it:

This is a particularly tough one to pin down because, like the Rage-Banshee, it comes in so many different variations and levels of severity.  For instance, one of Technomancer's friends is a perfectly fine and safe driver...except for the fact that being in a car causes him to instantly lose all sense of direction and end up someplace literally miles away from wherever he wanted to go.  I've also known several people who had jovial and kindly personalities in real life, but turned into minor Rage-Banshees behind the wheel, which strikes me as more dangerous.  Then you have the most severe and unmanageable form, as seen in the dumbass who knocked down our telephone pole.**  Really, unless you have some form of direct familial authority over one of these cursed souls and can force or persuade them to let you drive them everywhere, there's not much you can do about them except give them a wide berth and pray that someone with the power to confiscate their license catches up to them before any lives are lost.

In conclusion:

If you should run into any of these monsters of the roadway, stay calm, don't attract its attention, and quietly make fun of it on your blog later.  Remember that the holidays are to creatures such as this what the full moon is to a werewolf: busy holiday traffic turns them into much more terrifying and fearsome versions of themselves.  Drive safely, don't get into too many fights with relatives once you've finished driving, and have a happy and low-stress holiday season.

*This douchebag decided he didn't want to wait for the passing lane to clear up so he could get around me and the slow-moving (read: going two or three MPH under the speed limit) car in front of me, so he roared around both of us at about eighty, on the shoulder.  As I told some friends while describing the incident to them, I used my New York words that day.

**This one was pretty spectacular.  I woke up at about two in the morning one day and realized the power was out.  As I dutifully searched for my cell phone to report the outage, I noticed about five police cars and an ambulance parked on the street outside, lights flashing...and in the bright blue light illuminating the street I also noticed a rather crumpled-looking car with the utility pole that feeds our house and the house next door resting squarely on top of it.  This was a regular-sized compact car too, not a huge SUV or Hummer; Technomancer calculated that the driver would have to be going well over sixty in our residential forty zone to completely knock the pole out of the ground like that.  It took the power company about ten hours to fix the damage, and the whole incident made me a little leery about walking down to our street-side mailbox for a few days.        

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