In my “salad days,” as my mother was wont to say quite often (which is a bit redundant, because if you are wont to do something, it naturally follows that you do it often), I opened and ran one of a small chain of ceiling fan stores, whose home base was in Little Rock, Arkansas (the reason I ended up in that progressive cosmopolitan mecca – never did I receive a question so often as “Why in the world would you move to Little Rock?”*). It was actually a ceiling-fan-slash-framed-art-slash-brassware-slash-portable-lighting-slash-mirror-slash-crystal store, seeing as the ceiling fan aspect of the place only occupied the top 2 feet of the room; something was needed to cut down on the echoing, so they added all the other odds and ends. And let me tell you, solid brassware (as opposed to brass plated zinc) is a true pain in the glutes to maintain, as once it’s touched by human (or simian) hands, the oils break down whatever miniscule protection the brass actually came with, and thus it starts to dull. You have to use Brass-O, rubbing the aforementioned brass piece all over (crikey, he’s already heavily-hyphenated and tossed in an “aforementioned” before exiting the first paragraph!), and then buffing same off after it dries to a dull haze (sort of like Turtle Wax and your dad’s Fiat).

The true rump-reamer was a full-sized solid brass rocking horse (full-sized for a rocking horse, that is, not full-sized for a horse – though I suppose it could be full-sized for one of those cute little miniature horses), of which every one of the stores received one to place prominently in the front window. That was one gigantic tush-tanner to keep bright and shiny, let me tell you.

But I digress (when do I not?).

The retail store was located in a small strip shopping center, replete with grocery store, a greeting card shop, some sort of automotive parts outlet, and a Pizza Hut. I usually ran the store solo, so for lunch I would tape up a piece of paper with “Back in 5 minutes” scribbled on it, and would walk up the slightly-inclined parking lot to get a salad bar to go – to this day, I cannot think of a better salad dressing than Pizza Hut’s Creamy Italian. As I have described before, it’s the kind of thing that sets off whatever those receptors are in the hinges of your jaw, both over-salivating your oral cavity and locking your face up almost to the point of pain, in anticipation of taking the first bite of the incredible tart-salty-deliciousness of the dressing – hell, it’s doing that right now, and I haven’t been to the Hut in 2-3 years. Damn, now I’m going to have to go find one tomorrow just to get the buffet – and they damn sure better have chopped hard boiled eggs on the salad bar. They are an essential part of the taste conglomeration I assemble, prior to slathering on the Italian dressing. Also included is lettuce (usually Iceberg – and I do my best to ensure I don’t get any of the big chunky tasteless cores, which all-too-often remain in the lettuce bowl, adding bulk but no flavor – and why do they insist on shaving bits of purple cabbage and julienned carrots in there? Surely it’s just for color. Anyway, as to the Iceberg, I don’t believe they stock any other varieties, though Hearts of Romaine would be right out, as I do not go to the Hut for Caesar salads), sliced mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, alfalfa (or bean) sprouts, Bac-O’s (not real bacon bits, but the artificial crumbles that are actually supplied by the American Dental Association – along with Corn Nuts and Sugar Babies – as a means to keep teeth in the seats), chopped hardboiled eggs (I already said that), and that’s about it. I don’t really feel like polluting my salad with pine nuts (pines got nuts?), cottage cheese (someday I’m really going to have to look into the etymology of that stuff), or, heaven forefend, beets.

I could go off on an entirely new tangent on beets, though suffice it to say that borscht, or any other beet-laden (Christ, it’s almost impossible to finish a sentence without hyphenating something) comestible, would result in projectile vomiting on the part of the writer, along with sweet potatoes/yams (I don’t know for certain that they are exactly the same thing, but I use the slash nonetheless – and as far as they are concerned, they are one of the few specific entries in my baby book that my mother took pains to detail – “Do NOT feed sweet potatoes!” – evidently projectile vomiting resulted even at the Gerber stage, and continues to this day – and no, don’t tell me “Well, you just haven’t tried them the way I make them.” I hate them ANY way ANYone makes them.).

I’m not sure how much further I can tangentalize… but give me a chance, I bet I can one-up myself…

Where were we? Oh yeah, in my ceiling-fan-slash-solid-brass-rocking-horse outlet. And right in front of the store, among all the other parking spots that T’d right up to the curb, was a Handicapped Parking space (not a Disabled Person Parking space – a Handicapped Parking space). And, for the most part, that space would lay empty, save the occasional visit from someone who had either a permanent handicapped license plate, or (I believe they existed at that time) one of the placards that hangs from the rearview mirror.

Now, while business was often brisk – especially on Saturdays in the spring and summer – there were often lulls in shopper traffic. As there were not computers back in the halcyon days of my young adulthood (this was @1984, you will recall), and we had no television in the store, our only means of recreation included polishing that godd*mn solid brass rocking horse, listening to the radio, or diligently watching the Handicapped Parking spot for violators.

On at least one occasion, I noted the space occupied with a non-appropriately-tagged vehicle, while a very elderly gentleman, walking with a cane, was forced to park slightly uphill (closer to the Pizza Hut, which was not his destination), meander gingerly downhill to buy his groceries, and then trek somewhat laboriously back up the hill with his weekly rations. This pissed me off, justifiably so.

I worked the store with an assistant manager, as well as, on lucky occasions, my footnotedly-mentioned-fiancée, a truly beautiful woman, who was (and is) very intelligent, and a good worker. We took it upon ourselves to become guardians of the Handicapped Parking space. It didn’t matter if the rest of the spaces around it were wide open – if someone parked in that space illegally (and rest assured, it is illegal to park in a Handicapped Parking space unless you have the appropriate license plate or placard), we would call a tow truck.

No polite Post-Its. No stepping out to have a word with the douchebag. If your car resided in that spot, and was not correctly identified as being legitimately parked there, for whatever length of time (“I’m just running in to get a pack of cigarettes”), we called the ever-ready towing company that serviced the shopping center.

Granted, the towing company was often too slow to make it in time to haul off the transgressors. Quite often the offending party would leave the motor running and dash in for a pack of cigarettes. The only thing they would get would be a scowl from me, while standing out in front of their vehicle, tapping my foot impatiently.

However, those slugs who parked illegally who were equally sluggish in returning to their vehicles would often find an empty spot where their car once lived. They would usually stop suddenly, look around in shocked horror and disbelief, and then start looking up and down the lot to see if the car hadn’t somehow been naughty and decided to play hide-and-seek (justifiably hyphenated) with its owner. Only after they realized that their automobile was a machine, and not an impish child, did they follow the obvious path, directly into my store, as it was immediately in front of their former parking spot.

“Excuse me, did you see what happened to my car?” “Why yes, yes I did. A towing truck came and took it away.” “Why would they do that?” they blustered (assuming that their vehicle would only have been towed if they were 3-4 months late on the payments). “Well, sir, this shopping center does have a rather strict enforcement policy on illegally parking in a Handicapped Parking space. Perhaps that was the problem? Do you have a Handicapped Parking license plate, or placard?” “Well, no, but I was just going in for a pack of cigarettes.”

I would then proceed to supply them with the telephone number of the towing company, who was always eager to tow anyone, as they profited from the enterprise. As this was pre-cellphone-era, the slugs would then immediately ask to use my phone to call the towing company. “I’m sorry, sir. This phone is only available for company business. We have to leave it open for customers.” Actually, that was not company policy for the telephone. I don’t believe there was a written policy for the telephone, unless it was to drop whatever you were doing – including polishing the damnable solid brass rocking horse – to answer it. So, in denying the slug access to the store telephone, I guess you could say I was being a bit prickish. Hell, you could, and would, say that about me now, whether it had anything to do with Handicapped Parking spots, or something else.

The de-automobiled slug would then have to march about 100 feet down the strip to call using the pay phone located outside the Kroger (at least I think it was a Kroger). Presumably, the slugs would resolve their situation, retrieve their vehicle, at great expense, and then hopefully think twice about parking illegally in a Handicapped Parking spot ever again. That was likely wishful thinking – they probably took the next possible opportunity to violate the law in the next shopping center they visited, never learning from their transgression, or taking their fellow-less-than-able-neighbor into account. Assholes.

 

I love the caption on this...

 

So, even unto this day, I eyeball every single car parked in a Handicapped Parking space on any given lot, whether my own place of business, or someplace I am visiting. If there is no sign of a plate or placard, and I see one of those signs posted on the lot indicating the name and number of the towing company the parking lot owners use, you can bet I will drop a dime on the slug, and hopefully have his ass hauled away before he gets back from buying his pack of cigarettes.

DW

* Because they paid me a (relative) lot of money, at least for 1984, seeing as I was relatively single (OK, I was engaged, and left a truly wonderful, luscious woman… stupid, stupid, stupid), and had only ever worked in retail up to that point. I have made dumber decisions in my life…

OK, so the LowCountry of South Carolina doesn’t get that much snow, granted – although we did actually have a serious blizzard last year (when I say blizzard, in South Carolina-relative terms, I mean it snowed long enough for the ground and roads to get covered for more than 8 hours, and you could pack some really awesome snowballs, because it wasn’t that super-dry powder you want to schuss across – not that I would ever schuss, mind you – nor was it that superfine but unpackable mini-ice-cube snow that hurts like a mother when you get pinged by an iceball to the temple).

And no, I have never resided anyplace that took a serious snow for granted (forecast for Bangor, Maine, 18”-24” of snow in the morning, followed by flurries of 1’-3’ in the afternoon; then the really serious stuff starts coming down – and that’s the July 27th forecast). I have lived where there would be no snow at all, unless it was immediately preceded by the 16 horsesteps of the 4 Horsemen, but I have also lived where snow happened an average of 2-3 times a year – enough that it’s not the end of days, but at the same time panic still runs rampant in the tri-state area.

Unfortunately, that panic metamorphoses the larval slugs whose 1977 Datsun F-10* is coated with a thick sediment of garage dust, with tires sagging deeply at the measly 10psi left of their 1976 air (oh yes, they bought this peach when it was brand new, back when the next year’s models rolled out late in the previous year – of course, that was back when you could reliably count on the new TV season starting in the first 2 weeks of September, running through spring, and then reruns of same until the cycle rebooted the following September; now you have at least 3 TV “seasons,” with mid-summer replacements running in December – leaves me as confused as a newborn in a topless bar).

These aforementioned pre-ugly-butterflies-sitting-in-their-footed-jammies-and-slippers (OK, my most common outfit) apparently only ever gnaw their way out of their cocoons (they were home schooled, so they’ve spent the bulk of their life in this outfit – granted, it’s a bit snug now) when such meteorological happenstances occur, realizing with shock and horror that, for the 2.2 days the roads may be somewhat less than ideal for motoring, they may not have enough of the 4 basic food groups stocked up next to their MREs.

The 4 Basic Food Groups? The same comestibles upon which man has survived since the first knuckles were dragged in an upright, bipedal position: Milk, Bread, Eggs, and Cheese – as if you could not survive those 2.2 days without a toasted egg and cheese sandwich, dunked in 2%. But I guarantee you, before the talking head bimbo (male or female) – you know, the one who has the inkjet “Certified Meteorologist” certificate thumbtacked up in his/her cubicle at the station – can utter the first two letters of the word, these post-cocoon slugs rise with a hue and cry (stick your head out the window – you will hear the cumulative hue and mass cry) as if the spaceship was coming out from behind the comet and they suddenly realized their purple track suit was at the cleaners.

So, what do these dairy/gluten/poultry-deprived wombats do? They thrown on their down parkas or full-length-female mink strollers (because male mink are wider and thus it takes less of them to produce and thus they are cheaper to make and so they cost less, but you can’t be seen wearing a male mink coat, because everyone whose anyone will know you are a cheap bastard) – over their union suits – and go screaming out the door to their waiting Slugmobiles.

“Atomic batteries to power. Turbines to speed.” “Roger. Ready to move out.” Then the F-10 fires up – well, not so much fires up as cranks ceaselessly like you were punching a baboon in the solar plexus, and only after a severe case of carpel tunnel from twisting the key so many times does the beast finally roar to life, and they come tearing out of the detached garage.

And why, you ask, rightly so, does any of this matter? Because a) these people, who have nothing more to do than watch TV all day, and thus would have had far greater access to the Weather Channel than “normal” human beings, would have had plenty of forewarning of the impending Donner Party-level blizzard, and could have stocked their stores days or weeks in advance; and 2) BECAUSE THEY DON’T KNOW HOW TO DRIVE UNDER PRISTINE CONDITIONS, LET ALONE DURING PERIODS WHEN THE HIGHWAY PATROL ISSUES A CREEP ACROSS THE BOTTOM OF THE LIFETIME NETWORK’S SCREEN TELLING PEOPLE NOT TO GET OUT AND DRIVE UNLESS THEY ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO.

These piles of monkey nuts so rarely see the bright light of day, that individually cascading flakes of death (which they have to count, owing to their OCD) so totally distract them as to further impede their already nonexistent driving “skills.” They apply their standard driving techniques, extinct as they are, to thoroughfares covered in black ice, melted and refrozen snow – basically anything other than blow-dried asphalt.

While I could ramble on ad nauseum on the entire drivin-in-the-snow theme (oh, god, please, no), I will, for the nonce, stick to bridges.

Firstly, I would naturally admonish those of you who fall into the previously-described states of larvaeness to remain in your houses, curled up next to your 17” black and white Philco TVs with the aluminum foal on the rabbit ears to increase reception. However, as I know you will ignore me, I must instruct you on how to drive across bridges when there’s snow accumulated on same.

The soundest advise I can give is to move to a town where there are no bridges. Or hills. Or curves in the road. Or roads. There, I think that covers it.

No, I know you will foolishly ignore my sound logic, offered only to save my life.

So, I Googled for information on driving across bridges:

Bridges are one of most dangerous things to drive on during a storm. They freeze before roads and you should use extra caution when passing over them. Do not break [sic] [if you don’t know why I put the “[sic]” there, you need to go back to elementary school and understand homonyms – not “homophones” – back when I went to school, we didn’t have “homophones,” something my daughter came home with several years ago, and had I initially seen that in print, I would assume that “Out” magazine was offering gender-specific telephonic devices)] on bridges if you can help it. Even if it is raining and the temperature is just above freezing, be mindful that bridges are probably frozen. Also, remember that some roads that do not have ground on either side of them or just one side of them are also like bridges and will freeze first.

That pretty much covers why you shouldn’t drive over bridges, especially when it snows. Of course, you may already have a pre-existing condition that would thankfully keep you off such structures when it snows – gephyrophobia – which would presumably ward you off bridges full-time.

But no, we’re not lucky enough for you to be gephyrophobic, or have common sense. So, you either floor the accelerator (again, remember that we’re driving on snow/ice-covered roads) to get onto the bridge, and rather than simply allowing your vehicle’s momentum to carry you the rest of the way across, you suddenly realize you are likely moving too fast for current conditions, and so you slam on the “breaks” [sic on purpose – you know it’s brakes].

And what happens? You stop, right? No. Duh. You continue, unimpeded by your nonjudicious braking, and in fact, rather than continuing in a straight line, you are now doing what we in the business call “fishtailing.” First, I didn’t know fish could drive, and second, they REALLY don’t have experience driving in snow. Rain, however, they might have covered.

So, you sideswipe several oncoming and driving-alongside vehicles in your brilliant Emerson Fittipaldi-esque slide, taking out fellow slugnuts whose selfsame goal is the acquisition of 1% (they fit better into their adult onesies than you), lowfat cheddar, Eggland’s Best, and New York Seedless Rye (how can they keep calling this stuff “New York,” when it’s made in West Virginia by people who can’t eat Seeded Rye because those little suckers will get trapped in the dental bridge attached by the only remaining tooth in their head?).

Let’s circle back to the root cause for all of this mayhem. You do not actually NEED the 4 basic food groups for the 2.2 days this crisis will last. You have enough Ramen Noodles in your cupboard – the stuff that contains all the nutrients of life, and is probably what comets carried that seeded the earth with life 2.4 billion years ago – to last until the next millennium.

Milk? Seriously, haven’t you read about how BAD milk probably is for you? Oh sure, when I was a kid you were told if you didn’t drink a gallon a day, you would end up stunted and tongueless (I’m not sure about the tongueless). But now, they are saying – whoever “they” are – that milk is detrimental to you. And thus it follows that cheese is bad for you.

Eggs? The jury’s still out on them. Yes, they’re chock full of protein, but can evidently adversely affect your cholesterol levels. And think about it – how many eggs can you eat in one 2.2 day period without your apartment starting to smell like that additive they put in natural gas to alert you to the fact that you should run screaming out of said apartment because there’s a gas leak (today’s educational tidbit – natural gas has no smell on its own, so the gas companies have to add a chemical to it so your nostrils can spot the presence of it – or supply all natural gas customers with little canaries).

Bread? Carbs. Bad. Unless you go out in the snow that’s already falling to harvest your own wheat (or rye), crush it with your handy mortar and pestle, and make your own flour, mix your own dough, knead that sucker, let it rise, punch it down, let it rise again, drop it into a bread pan, bake it at 350 for 35-40 minutes (oven temperatures may vary – or, simply follow the instructions on your bread-making machine) until the crust is golden brown, then remove to a cooling rack. It will still burn your hands to handle it, because you can’t wait for it to cool, so use a potholder to slice it. But, and this is important, turn the loaf on its side before slicing. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a mashed-down chunk of dough, instead of a nice clean slice – even if you do have one of Ron Popeil’s incredible knives. And then you have the perfect warm slice of healthy, homemade bread. No additives, no preservatives. Actually good for you. Then you slather it with as much butter (or, if you want to pretend to be healthy, use “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” but don’t leave that out of the fridge for more than 20 seconds, or it will revert to its natural form – whale ambergris) as it will hold – so much that it is actually dripping when lifted, and thus turning an all-natural slice of health food into the Shingle of Death.

So, don’t drive in the snow, especially on bridges, unless you want to chop years off your life by eating food you shouldn’t be consuming anyway.

DW

* I must, in good conscience, reveal my sources for this vehicle selection. I Googled “ugliest classic car,” and the F-10 popped up at the top of the list. I think you might agree – http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/curbside-classic-the-ugliest-car-ever-1977-datsun-f-10/

In every country, the shape of the sign is the same. Octagon. It’s probably the only thing most people remember from geometry. “What’s an Octagon?” “A Chuck Norris movie?” True, but in this case, it’s the shape of a STOP sign.

It’s always red, with white letters (post-1954, anyway). In most cases, even though English is not the dominant language in a given country, EVERYONE knows what STOP means. Except for the idiots who are usually in front of me at the intersection.

Quoting from History of the Stop Sign:

Originating in Detroit, Michigan in 1915, the earliest stop sign had black letters on a white background and was somewhat smaller in size than the one today.  The smaller sizes of stop signs were initially most common, in that they did not require larger punch presses.

Due to confusion of drivers, the American Association of Highway Officials (AASHO) met in 1922 to standardize the stop sign.  Attempting to design a unique sign to prevent uncertainty, the AASHO devised a unique octagonal shape that would alert drivers to stop. In 1924 the stop sign was changed to black on yellow by the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety (NCSHS), which was the prevailing color until 1954.  They regulated the signs to be mounted two or three feet above the ground. Another group (the predecessor to the MUTCD) had similar, but not identical ideas. The 1935 MUTCD regulation defined that stop signs should be octagonal, but with red or black letters on a yellow background.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) stop sign was altered eight times between 1935 and 1971, generally regarding mounting height or reflectorization. However, the most significant change was the 1954 alteration to white on red color. The modern US stop sign, white on red, mounted 2.1 meters (7 ft) above ground, 30″ long with a 3/4″ white line around the edge, was passed into law in 1971 – although 24″ stop signs are also allowed.

English speaking and European Union stop signs use the word “STOP”. Of course, many non-English speaking countries prefer to use the word in their own language on the front of a stop sign. Most countries have adopted the red octagonal shape, like China, Canada, Brazil, Turkey, Mexico, South Korea, and many others, but there are exceptions, like Japan, which uses a triangular sign. China’s old stop sign was triangular as well, but they too have adopted the octagonal form, simply displaying the Chinese word for stop (pronounced ting). This sign is almost identical to the one used in Taiwan. In Hong Kong, like many countries, English is situated on top of the other more common language.

In Canada, however, there are several different signs used. In Quebec, the French word for stop is written on face of the stop sign, while in Nunavut, they use the word in the Inuktitut language. “PARE”, a Spanish and Portuguese word for stop, is used in Brasil, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Dominican Republic, and Colombia. In Mexico, however, “ALTO” is used.

Although stop signs are not used at every intersection, they are extremely important because they control traffic in dangerous areas. Stop signs require the driver to make a brief and temporary stop, quick glance, and then proceed carefully. This can possibly prevent an accident from occurring. As a result, it is imperative that the sign is comprehensible to everyone of any country, which is why many countries have adopted the format of the modern US stop sign, in terms of shape, size, and color.

Further – and this boggled my already-loosened brain – there is actually a “convention” for stop signs. The Geneva Convention covers war and stuff. Well…

The Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals [let’s pause in stunned amazement that there was actually a CONVENTION for this… ] proposed standard stop sign diameters of 0.6, 0.9 or 1.2 metres. UK and New Zealand stop signs are 750, 900 or 1200 mm, according to sign location and traffic speeds. In the United States, stop signs have a size of 75 cm across opposite flats of the red octagon, with a 20mm white border. The white uppercase letters forming the stop legend are 25 cm tall. Larger signs of 90 cm (36 in) with 30 cm (12 in) legend and 25 mm (⅞ in) border are used on multilane expressways. Regulatory provisions exist for extra-large 120 cm (48 in) signs with 40 cm (16 in) legend and 30 mm (1¼ in) border for use where sign visibility or reaction distance are limited, and the smallest permissible stop sign size for general usage is 60 cm (24 in) with a 20 cm (8 in) legend and 15 mm (⅝ in) border. The metric units specified in the US regulatory manuals are rounded approximations of English units, not exact conversions. Field, legend, and border are all retroreflective.

Damned Austrians…

So, now that we know what a STOP sign is supposed to look like, what are we legally bound to do when we see it?

Well, we are NOT supposed to perform a “California Stop.” According to the oft-quoted www.urbandictionary.com, the “California Stop” (AKA The California Rolling Stop) is:

The act of not completely stopping at a stop sign or a right hand turn, but rather ‘rolling’ through it by slowing down some.

What I really like about their definition is their “Would you please use it in a sentence?” turn:

“Nice California Stop, asshole”

If you would prefer a more specific definition, www.uslegal.com says:

A rolling stop is a term used in traffic law to refer to when a vehicle fails to come to a complete stop. A complete stop is when there is no forward momentum and the needle on the speedometer is at 0. In a rolling stop, the car wheels are still in motion and the car is moving at less than 5 m.p.h. Failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign is a traffic violation governed by state laws, which vary by state. The longer the stop, the more discernable it is to the naked eye, giving a motorist a better chance of avoiding a ticket.

So, while I would never advocate making a California Stop (I’m far too paranoid, fearing Johnny Law is parked immediately behind the STOP sign is his oh-so-slender law enforcement vehicle), I also do not advocate the “Negative California Stop” (NCS – my own term).

Logic would tell you that an NCS would be a non-rolling stop at a STOP sign (well, I suppose logic could also tell you that an NCS was the act of shifting your vehicle into reverse once you came to a STOP sign, but for now we’re going with my definition).

MY definition of an NCS is one where the way-previously-aforementioned idiot in front of me not only doesn’t roll through the STOP sign – he/she sits at said STOP sign for an idiotically-over-extended period of time.

How long SHOULD you sit at a STOP sign? We turn again to one of the many online resources where people ask such questions (presumably NOT while they are actually in their vehicle, sitting at said STOP sign – more on that in a moment).

Q: Is there a time limit of how many seconds I have to stop at the stop sign?

A: No.

“The law states you have to come to a complete stop, it doesn’t specify how long you have to remain stopped for,” Washintgon State Patrol spokesman Dan McDonald said. “After stopping you may proceed as long as there’s no crossing traffic and/or you have the right-of-way.”

State-to-state, the laws vary. In Georgia:

Except when directed to proceed by a police officer, every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line or, if there is no stop line, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if there is no crosswalk, at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it. After stopping, the driver shall yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another roadway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when such driver is moving across or within the intersection or junction of roadways.

However, there is no stated minimum stopping time. Evidently, that’s the source of many traffic citations, as well as reasons drivers can get out of said citations. It’s all subjective. You can’t time it with a stopwatch. All it apparently requires is the previously-mentioned complete halt of forward momentum (i.e., your speedometer reads 0).

So, in my usual convoluted-and-much-hyphenated style, I finally come ‘round to the point of today’s lesson. YOU DON’T NEED TO SIT AT A STOP SIGN FOR 10 SECONDS OR MORE!!!

  1. You stop.
  2. You look in all directions.
  3. If it doesn’t appear someone else is going to barrel into you, you go.

If you can’t do all of the above within 2-3 seconds, you should return your Edsel to the garage from whence you departed, never to put foot to accelerator again. Use public transportation and save lives and prevent the cost of blood pressure medication from skyrocketing.

A contributing factor to this phenomenon, aside from sheer incompetence behind the wheel, is the smart phone. You have been told not to text while driving. Fine. Unfortunately, you assume that it’s OK to text while sitting at a red light (see a previous blog entry), or at today’s subject, a STOP sign.

You neglect, as always, to check the rearview mirror to see if your smartphone-finger-banging will impede anyone else’s progress, and so you thumb your way through a message to Snookums about how much last night meant to you, and that next time you will bring along smaller-denomination currency to leave on the dresser. You can barely spell as it is, let alone using your Twinkie-padded (or, not to leave out our female motorists, your ridiculously-long-Vietnamese-da Vinci-painted nails – you do know that no heterosexual male finds ludicrously-overgrown fingernails attractive, don’t you?) uncoordinated digits to spell out your vehicular Ode on a Grecian Urn.

We (using the royal “We” in this case) will repeat the earlier-blogged admonition for those who are not following along, as they should. While in your vehicle – not just while you’re driving – don’t use the cell phone for anything other than vocal conversations, and only then if you have a working Bluetooth headset that keeps you from shoulder-wedging said phone while steering, applying makeup, and chain smoking.

This should prevent you from causing unnecessarily-protracted delays at our friend, Mr STOP Sign.

Of course, there will still be those of you afraid to get out on the road – yet you do so anyway – and therefore have to creep to a stop from some 50 yards away from the impending sign. Then, even with no one at any of the opposing other signs, spend an inordinate amount of time looking off into the distance for those rogue vehicles that just might come barreling towards you at 3MPH. We’ve talked about you before, and there is little we can do about you, except hunt you down and take away your keys.

If I ran the zoo, that’s what we’d do…

DW

Cellphones and driving. We are all sick of hearing about the combination. But let’s face it – a very large number of drivers can’t operate an automobile when they’re NOT talking on a cellphone (or putting on makeup, or reading a book[!], or eating a cheeseburger, or any of the myriad other multi-tasking operations they may think they’re capable of), let alone having to hold a phone to their ear in one hand, steer with the other, beat the kids with the third, keep the dog from jumping out the window with the fourth, slurp down a Big Gulp with the fifth… you get the idea.

Many states have downright outlawed talking on a cellphone while driving, or at the very least placed serious restrictions on the practice. From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website on Cellphone Laws ( latest version dated October 2010 – an interesting table of the various combinations of what you can and can’t do vis-à-vis cars and cellphones):

A jurisdiction-wide ban on driving while talking on a hand-held cellphone is in place in 9 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) and the District of Columbia. Utah has named the offense careless driving. Under the Utah law, no one commits an offense when speaking on a cellphone unless they are also committing some other moving violation other than speeding.

Local jurisdictions may or may not need specific state statutory authority to ban cellphones or text messaging. Several of the many localities that have enacted restrictions on cellphone use include: Oahu, HI; Chicago, IL; Brookline, MA; Detroit, MI; Santa Fe, NM; Brooklyn, North Olmstead, and Walton Hills, OH; Conshohocken, Lebanon, and West Conshohocken, PA; Waupaca County, WI; and Cheyenne, WY.

The use of all cellphones while driving a school bus is prohibited in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

The use of all cellphones by novice drivers is restricted in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 30 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, novice drivers are banned from texting in 8 states (Alabama, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia) and school bus drivers are banned from text messaging in 2 states (Oklahoma and Texas).

IMNSHO, it should be quite simple.

Rule 1 – No texting while the vehicle is in motion. Period. I won’t accept that your horrific misspellings are blamed on “Im drivng, so pls parden my speeling.” You can’t spell any better with a copy of Webster’s sitting in your lap. Until such time as Dragon Naturally Speaking comes out with a flawless version of their voice-to-text software (it’s good, but it’s not that good), you will have to do your texting out of the vehicle.

“Why can’t I just text when I’m at a stoplight?” Because, you cavernously-void-craniod, you will inevitably get absorbed in your conversation, your chubby little digits attempting to tell your buddies at which Burger King to meet for lunch (not the one by the gentleman’s club, the other one). You will look up only after the green light is ¾ through the cycle. Eleven cars have already pulled away ahead of you, and you blurt out “Oh sh*t” and slam on the accelerator, barely making it through the yellow light – leaving those drivers unlucky enough to pull up behind you during storytime stalled through yet another red light. You are a jerk. And dangerous, even when sitting still.

Rule 2 – get a headset. Period (I know, the use of the word/sentence “Period.” should mean that the previous statement requires no further explanation – but as I’m targeting those nincompoopers who are infracting the previously-referenced state laws, I figured I’d have to put some more explanation behind the obvious).

The biggest problem with talking on a cellphone while driving is that you have to concentrate not only on your conversation (and mouth-breathing, and remembering to blink occasionally), but on keeping the phone (or handheld device, as laid out in the various aforementioned – I love that word, aforementioned – state laws; presumably, a handheld device could be a cellphone, an iPad, an iPod, a laptop, a death ray, a cigarette-lighter-powered vibrator, etc.) close enough to your ear and mouth/jaw so that you can hear what your fellow infractioner is saying, and vice versa.

A headset alleviates that problem, and as far as I have been able to ascertain, there are no laws yet that prevent a driver from talking into an aural device. As far as a law enforcement official would be concerned, you could be just singing along to your Air Supply CD (though this certainly falls under numerous national and international illegalities). Or, having a conversation with one of your multiple personalities – again, cause for concern, but no violation of civil law.

Plantronics Voyager PRO

Being a gadget geek (in addition to geeking on multiple other levels), I always do extensive research on the best headset to buy. I would recommend visiting CNET for the latest and greatest in any hardware (or software). I’ve gone through numerous Bluetooth headsets/earpieces through the years, each one an improvement over the last, whether better volume at my end, dramatic wind-noise reduction at the other end, etc. Today’s recommendation, if you had to buy just one? Plantronics Voyager PRO+ (click HERE for a list of places to buy one, with pricing). In fact, while writing this entry, I ran across CNET’s latest update on the Best Bluetooth Headsets, with the Plantronics receiving 4 stars out of 5 – on par with the 4 others on their list of the best of the best.

Bang & Olufsen

Bang & Olufsen certainly makes a nice one – and oddly cool looking – though it sits on top of that ear flap (Anti tragus A projection of the auricle of the ear posterior to the tragus, for you ENT freaks out there), instead of plugging into the ear canal (the ONLY way I can decently hear someone else talking at the other end).

You could also buy a vehicle with built-in SYNC capabilities. More and more cars have this feature, allowing you to pair up your Bluetooth phone with the car itself. You can then simply say “Call Hot Redhead Chick” (provided you have a hot redheaded chick so listed in your contacts list), and the car does all the work. It further eliminates the problem that exists even if you do use a headset – finding a number in your address book and/or dialing a number manually.

Classic horrific example? Driving to Macy’s and trying to determine how much credit you still have left on your AMEX. You have to pull your credit card out of your wallet, as you don’t have the number pre-programmed into your phone.

So…

  • Problem 1 – fumbling through your wallet to find the correct card.
  • Problem 2 – reading the ludicrously-small customer service number on the back of said card, which is further complicated by the fact that they have chosen to emboss your account number directly on top of the aforementioned (!) customer service number.
  • Problem 3 – you have to dial in that 10 digit number.
  • Problem 4 – you have to punch in whether or not English is your native language… grrrrrr…
  • Problem 5 – you then have to key in your 15-digit account number, which you don’t have memorized, and so you have to read it from the face of the card – hey, I wonder what’s happening in traffic? Oh sh*t, I missed the light.
  • Problem 6 – you keyed in one number wrong, so you have to re-read and re-enter the number.
  • Problem 7 – you then have to listen to and choose which department you want to talk to.
  • Problem 8 – you have to key in your PIN.
  • Problem 9 – you have to tell the automated system that you want to check your balance.

That’s a lot of problems just to go buy a new purse at Macy’s. Somewhere in the middle of all those problems you’ve likely clipped the paperboy out making his rounds (he’s running seriously late this morning), caused a number of blood pressure medication dosage increases while missing green lights, and hopefully not killed too many pedestrians.

So, as I said, we’re all tired of hearing those PSAs about texting-and-talking while driving. In this case, the cause is well justified – you might end up killing someone I care about [or worse, ME], because you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

  1. Don’t text while inside a vehicle, unless you’re a passenger. Ever!
  2. Get a headset.

Problem solved.

DW

You’ve been behind them far too many times. Drivers who are terrified of the road, yet endanger the lives of their fellow motorists by venturing out behind the wheel.

My own mother was a self-admitted cowardly driver. Unfortunately for her, she was living in New York City when she grew old enough to get her driver’s license. Once she got certified to drive, she hit the pavement in the City, of all places. After a very short tenure gripping the steering wheel with enough force to rip it from the column, she abandoned all hope of ever driving an automobile – not just in Manhattan, but anywhere else. She knew her nerves just couldn’t handle it, and acted appropriately. Of course, that didn’t stop her from regularly telling my father how to drive, or employing the phantom passenger-side brake pedal with great frequency (more on that subject another time). The point is, she recognized and accepted her inadequacies on the road, and removed herself from the giant bumper car ride of life.

Unfortunately, very few fellow “drivers” bother to study themselves in the driving competency mirror, and in so doing not only raise the cumulative blood pressure of every other reasonably-qualified motorist on the highways and byways, but they outright endanger the lives of the population, motorist and pedestrian alike.

These people are so inept that:

  • They cannot turn into traffic, or even worse cross 2-way traffic, from a stop sign, unless there is no sign of oncoming vehicles for at least a mile. In so doing, they excessively back up traffic behind them, causing delays and increased dosages of Lisinopril and Benicar.
  • They are petrified of making a left turn across an oncoming lane of traffic, again, only able to do so if the nearest approaching vehicle is at least a mile in the distance. This is aggravating both in “open” traffic lanes – where there is no stop sign or signal with cross traffic, but merely a left turn to an intersecting street – as well as at an actual traffic-light-intersection. Their paralysis inevitably prevents them from making their left turn until the light turns yellow – or red – for their lane (and the oncoming opposite lane), when they can then make a turn without an unreasonable fear of being T-boned. Obviously, this blocks everyone behind them from making it through the traffic signal cycle. And some of these trafficophobes are so bad that they won’t even make the left turn once the light turns yellow – they are usually frozen with their nose out into intersecting traffic, and will never make the turn unless all other drivers at the intersection slam on their brakes and allow these simians to complete their delayed turn.
  • They can’t merge to save their lives. Douchebags. This usually applies to entering the highway via an entrance ramp. They actually pull up to the point where the entrance ramp meets the lanes of traffic and stop – something I expressly recall my driving instructor admonishing against. “Wooten, NEVER stop on the entrance ramp.” I am reminded of the commercial for Toyota’s introduction of a V6 to one of their models, where a carload of blue hairs couldn’t bring themselves to merge onto the highway. It took one of the ballsier geriatric passengers to shout out “Punch it, Ethel!” before the driver – presumably the aforementioned Ethel – would make her move (naturally in her new, higher-powered V6 Toyota). Conversely, these same drivers can’t merge back INTO traffic when coming off the interstate. They come down off the exit ramp (when they aren’t faced with a stop sign) only to slam on the brakes, rather than safely merging into the lane beside them. About a decade or so ago they started putting signs up at such merging spots which said KEEP MOVING – MERGE LATER,” pointing out that there was plenty of additional lane space to keep rolling forward, WITHOUT STOPPING, so that they would not generate a backlog of other vehicles also trying to exit the highway. Unfortunately, far too often you will see the results of these insipid morons’ inability to merge in the form of traffic actually backed up on the interstate.

What this boils down to is very simple – if you’re not confident in your driving, don’t. And don’t give me any of that “But you’re taking away my freedom” crap. No, I’m taking away the multi-ton weapon with which you’ve chosen to terrify the rest of us (we’ll discuss the inverse-proportional-size-of-little-old-lady-to-size-of-land-yacht theorem at a later date).

A corollary is the don’t-keep-a-gun-in-the-house-if-you’re-afraid-to-or-don’t-know-how-to-use-it. If you don’t know what you’re doing, or are afraid of using it, odds are you will not only kill yourself, but other innocent bystanders as well.

So, if you can’t turn across oncoming traffic, or merge into lanes with parallel vehicles (if said vehicles are within proximity of the tri-state area), then leave your vehicle in the garage (better yet, sell it), and take advantage of mass transit, or take a cab. No one wants you on the road. You are a menace.

DW


(Sounded better than Slothstrian, Slugwalker, etc)

I felt compelled to stray – albeit slightly – from drivers who chap my behind to pedestrians who chap my behind. Who am I talking about? You know – those minuscule-cranial-capacity lowbrows who pedate ever so slowly across the street, parking lot, whatever – basically any surface/area clearly labeled as the domain of vehicles, not people.

Where do these infractions occur? Public streets. Parking lots/decks. Any place where the order of user access should be:

  1. Vehicles
  2. People

You know, just like a sidewalk’s user specifications are, in order:

  1. People
  2. Animals (domesticated or wild) – though granted, they can’t read the signs*, and thus violate the rules constantly
  3. Vehicles – and even here, vehicles on the sidewalk are generally frowned upon (frowned upon after the screaming and leaping out of the way subsides)

My point here is that there is a place for people, and a place for vehicles. Granted, people have to get to places often interrupted by vehicular rights-of-way, and thus must occasionally venture into the automotive domain. But, the basic premise of life on earth is:

  • Vehicles – streets
  • People – sidewalks

Streets are for vehicles, sidewalks are for people (don’t worry, this will be repeated later on, in the event your ADD is kicking in…). The breaking of these etched-in-stone tenets interrupts the very flow of the cosmos, and thus should be religiously avoided whenever possible.

But, as I allowed earlier, human beings have to cross streets from time to time (though, unfairly, vehicles are not allowed the same converse courtesy). Therefore, human beings – logical creatures who have elevated themselves above the bulk of the planet’s flora and fauna through the fortune of opposable thumbs and the ability to negotiate cutlery – should always do their best to limit their interactivity with large, faster-moving, heavily-weighted, potentially-explosive-and-definitely-bone-breaking constructs of fiberglass, metal, rubber, glass, and Corinthian leather.

Unfortunately, a large segment of the human population ignores the previously-stated laws of the universe, and unjustly assumes that their domain extends to all surfaces of our planet.  They amble into the kingdom of combustion engines as if they owned it, in no rush to avoid the conglomerations of death waiting to fulfill their manifold destiny by completing their trip unimpeded by meat puppets.

Now granted, some people simply can’t avoid this protracted process. They are disabled, and can only move so fast, with or without the aid of mechanical devices, seeing-eye animals (who are legally entitled to nudge themselves to the top of the previously-mentioned 1-2-3 list), etc. I have no problem with them. I’m not a complete ass (well, yes I am, but that’s another story).

I speak of the obviously-medulla-oblongata-Novocained morons who meander across the street (inside or outside the chalked pedestrian lane) at a pace rivaled by a similarly-doped Megalonychidae (the aforementioned sloth). They are either:

  • on the phone,
  • think that walking at an accelerated pace makes them appear uncool,
  • have their own exaggerated-hilarious-to-watch strut that they believe makes them irresistible to the opposite sex, or,
  • some combination of all of the above.

Inevitably, these geniuses cross against the light, thus preventing your vehicle from completing its mission. Or, they move so slowly with the light that you are unable to turn at a 90° (or 270°) angle, thus blocking the other eager vehicles behind you. Tempers flare. Engines overheat. Words are exchanged. Physical gestures are bandied about. All because these Jello-heads think that wherever they are, the world stops for them.

Let me repeat the previously-clarified rule of the ROAD – streets are for VEHICLES. If you are a pedestrian, and have to cross one of these streets to get where you need to go, do so in an expeditious manner. Sorry, used big words for that segment of the population that was evidently dropped on their collective heads immediately upon exiting the womb. If you have to cross the street, MOVE YOUR ASS!!!

And, as I have rambled on enough about people and streets, I will only touch briefly on people and parking lots/decks.

You may have just parked your car and are heading into the Wal-Mart Supercenter to pick up your U-Haul’s worth of weekly foodstuffs, Mrs. Duggar. Or, you may have just exited the mall, having stocked up on a slice of frozen-then-heated-in-a-toaster-oven pizza and an Orange Julius. In either case, once you have crossed the inevitable and afore-referred-to lane of two-way traffic that circumnavigates your shopping venue, you need to be hugging your posterior to the bumpers of vehicles on one side of the lane or the other. You do NOT need to be wobbling mid-alley between the gutters like some inebriated bowler taking your sobriety test on lane 13 during Midnight Bowling Night.

As with public streets, the asphalt surfaces are relegated to vehicles, and you should be aware of your place in them, to prevent unfortunate-but-likely-not-prosecutable-because-you’re-an-idiot-vehicular-manslaughter.

I’ll say it one more time for the slow people (literally and mentally). Wipe the drool off your chin, then memorize this – STREETS ARE FOR VEHICLES, SIDEWALKS ARE FOR PEOPLE.

DW

* It’s an old Ron White joke, but putting signs up with deer on them is useless. Deer can’t read.

You pull up to a 2-way stop sign (where the cross traffic doesn’t have to stop, but you do) behind another driver. Your intent is to turn right. Your knuckle-dragging lead driver’s intent is evidently to turn left, as indicated by his properly blinking left turn signal.

However, despite this electric indicator of future directional plans, the vehicle itself is situated so far to the right side of your single lane of pavement that you are convinced that the aforementioned Neolithic individual is most certainly dyslexic in his/her turn signal usage. Surely they intend to lurch 90 degrees clockwise, as opposed to the previously-signaled anti-clockwise path so indicated by their excessively starboard vehicular placement.

But no. They evidently pass up the opportunity to turn right, as made eminently clear by the number of apparent missed opportunities to do so provided by the lack of oncoming traffic from the sinister crossing lane. So they must be turning left, and thus have to be wary of both directions of crossing traffic, so as not to be pulverized by another vehicle – something that begins to cross your mind as you wait in arrears…

Why does this concern you, this way-too-far-over-in-the-right-side-of-the-single-lane-of-traffic-when-it-has-become-obvious-that-the-driver-ahead-of-you-intends-to-turn-left-instead-of-right situation? Because, given the Department of Transportation’s brilliant road layout, the single lane of pavement on which you now sit is essentially 2 lanes wide. It is obviously not a converted horse-cart path, barely wide enough for 1 standard-sized vehicle, let alone two – you know the type, a road so narrow as to cause fire-starting sparks to spew across the asphalt whenever vehicles cross each other in opposite directions, forcing each vehicle to drop the outside tires down onto the dramatically-lower shoulder so as not to cause a front-quarter-panel-into-front-quarter-panel rude introduction.

So, in fact, the road on which you sit, patiently waiting for the Cro-Magnon ahead of you to move his/her right-side-of-the-road-idling automobile out of the way (never mind the fact that this is one of those drivers who refuses to turn if there is an oncoming vehicle anywhere in a 3-state area – something that will be addressed in a later blog), is actually wide enough for 4 cars – or, at the very least, 3.75 cars. What does this mean?

Well, in an ideal world, full of conscientious drivers, the shining example of Homo neanderthalensis snoozing in front of you could actually be in the LEFT side of your lane (to clear up any confusion, we are speaking of U.S. standard traffic patterns, with steering wheels on the left side of the vehicle, and cars driving on the right side of the center divider – if I were to wander off into a discussion about driving in the UK, I would inevitably start rambling on about roundabouts, the bane of my UK driving experiences). If this were indeed the case, it would allow for your vehicle to be in the RIGHT side of your lane – side by side with the Australopithecine now slumbering ahead of you.

Your Piltdown Pavement Pal (couldn’t pass up alliteration like that, especially as our antagonist is a fictional character) could sit in his left-side-of-the-single-lane position until the perpetually wandering cows finally returned to their place of residence, aggravating only those fellow motorists who suffer the misfortune of following this unibrow’s same path to their destination. While you, alertly noticing the more-than-ample (damn, there are certainly a lot of multi-hyphenated strung-on phrases in this one…) space to the dexter of this moron, because you are AWARE of your surroundings, do the conscientious thing and move into said space, stop, look both ways, then turn right to continue on to your next destination.

And this would allow for those behind you, also hoping to go anywhere but the same place as Mr. Ramapithecus (hell, they might actually be crossing both lanes of traffic to proceed directly ahead, instead of turning either way), would be able to follow suit, heeding your example and making use of the excess space alongside this mental midget.

Of course, this would not be applicable to oversize vehicles – that is, anything wider that the space we have already hypothetically carved out in our wider-than-normal city street – say, an Airstream trailer, a Peterbilt tractor (with or without trailer), military convoys hauling an M1 Abrams on a flatbed, or even an AMC Pacer, which, while not a full-sized passenger vehicle, is exceptionally wide. Sorry – for drivers of those vehicles, you are forever at the mercy of Mr. Habilis.

So, back to the reason for all of this – Captain Erectus evidently feels that his undersized automobile (for argument’s sake, let’s just say it’s a Honda Civic – nothing against Honda Civics, just pointing out this is actually somewhat of an undersized vehicle) requires a very wide turning radius in order to successfully maneuver into the lane which he intends to pursue. This addled sack of Palæolithic meat is evidently unfamiliar with the amount of space required to make a turn (can you imagine sitting behind this loon as they try to park their car in a low-overhead parking deck?), and thus overestimates the width requirements on the road, to the detriment of all fellow drivers.

Ultimately, this boils down to a simple admonition: If turning left, your vehicle should hug the center line, regardless of whether or not you’re in a single-lane or multiple-lane situation. And, if your intent is to turn right in such a situation, your vehicle should be hugging the shoulder of the road – blocking the left-turners because you don’t have a clue how to turn right is equally as egregious.

Now, all of this being said, what I propose, though performed hourly by hundreds of thousands of drivers in the US, Canada, and the bulk of the international driving community, may, in fact, be illegal. But that is a non sequitur in this discussion. What is legal and what is right are often two different things. Sorry, didn’t mean to get deeply philosophical there…

Thank you.

DW

c'est moi

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