When I was young, no one, but no one said the “F” word out loud.  This pertained to any situation.  You also didn’t see it in print.  (Norman Mailer was constrained  to using “fug” as the frequent curse of his characters in The Naked and the Dead.)  Accidentally hitting your hand with a hammer, for example, elicited other, albeit equally colorful, language.  Casual conversation especially avoided this word, as it was a sign of coarseness, disrespect or, at best, a limited vocabulary.  Use of the word was stereotyped as part of the vernacular of soldiers, sailors, lowlife and perverts.  Today, the F-bomb is routinely dropped by children, seasoned politicians, texters, posters, comedians, movie characters, gangsta-rappers, rockers, women, men, disgruntled customers and, literally, the average person holding an average (calm) conversation with another average person.  We hear it all the time, in any setting (except maybe church, but keep listening…)  “Foul” language of former times, say ten years ago, has become the lingua franca of modern society.

Why?  What has shifted in our perception of ourselves and others to allow what was once highly offensive and off-putting to become a commonplace?

There are other signs of change for the worse.

Jack-in-the-Box ads in recent years have become consistently sexually suggestive in their drive to sell processed meat.  An example has two teen girls on a bed texting with their phones; their conversation leaves everything to the imagination:  “He just said, ‘It’s big.'”  “How big?”  “Really big.”  “Tell him to send a pic.”  “No!  Okay…”  “Whoa!”  “Whoa!”

Cute, huh.  Of course, the “really big” reference is to a hamburger, not a penis, but we get the idea, right?  The commercial ends with the company’s namesake character, Jack, saying to the male who’s texting to the (underage?) girls in their bedroom, “Oh, and tell her I’m easy.”  Because of the drive-through.  Uh huh.

Advertising has picked up the gauntlet thrown down by cable TV and shock jock radio:  “Sex sells” is a trope and a truism.  Now, obscenity sells as well.

The latest Smurf movie offering is replete with plays on sex and vulgar language:  The official website address is smurfhappens.com; one of the characters is a female  “Naughty” named Vexy; and Neal Patrick Harris has the immortal line, “I’m just smurfing with you.”  Too cute.  Apparently cute (and contemporary) enough to earn a PG rating, so pack up the family and go; you can always lie to the kid who asks what “smurfing” implies…

CreditKarma offers their “free” credit score service in a TV ad depicting four people on the street, including a little girl, each saying the bleeped- and pixeled-out f-word, except it turns out they’re only saying “free.”   Hilarious, to quote the YouTube caption…

The use of children in these ads is disturbing.  My neighbors’ kids learn enough profanity from their parents, as I am a regular witness to, without hearing it promoted on commercials during their favorite Smurfs episodes.

And we can’t ignore the uptick in exposure to public profanity engendered by the wildly popular “reality” shows and ubiquitous video captures gracing every medium known to man.  A national news program offered this plum feel-good on-camera reaction by a woman whose husband surprised her on his return from active duty:  “Are you f***ing  kidding me?”  Touching.

I’m not sure if this is a symptom of a limited vocabulary or just an annoying speech affectation, but using the word “like” to punctuate conversation is another post-modern phenomenon we could do without.  Sitting in the sushi bar recently my wife and I could not help overhearing a garrulous young woman talking to her companion who couldn’t seem to get in a word with a shoehorn.  At times three words out of five were “like.”  I tried to memorize some of what she was saying to memorialize it in print, but was unable to keep up with the gist.  So I asked my wife to count 60 seconds while I counted “like.”

On average she said the word “like” 20 times a minute, or 1,200 times an hour.  I wanted to point out this statistic to her (and her friend whose limited contributions also were peppered with the filler word) but didn’t because I knew my wife wouldn’t “like” that.

As a society we are obviously lowering our standards of literacy and propriety, although some will always argue twas ever thus, there’s just more “opportunity” to experience this moral morass.  But other harbingers of decline are obvious because they are new and newly widespread and “acceptable.”

Take for example tattoos.  As we say in the Midwest, “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone with a tattoo” today.  Again, tattoos used to be the way sailors (and bikers) proved their manliness, usually after drinking themselves into a mindless stupor.  If, as is known, judgement is the first mental process to suffer from the effects of alcohol on the brain, what is the excuse of the multitude of average people, men and women, teens, grannies, grampas, soccer moms and goth girls who decide getting a permanent ink drawing engraved into their body is a good idea?  As a public service tattoo parlors should offer prospective clients a computerized age-progression image of the desired tattoo, or at least suggest they go look at Uncle Joe’s sagging blue-black Merchant Marine tat on his flabby chest.  Maybe that would stem the tide of reckless ruin of perfectly good skin.

Don’t get me started on piercings.

At this point a little perspective on the issues is warranted.  Obviously I am biased against tattoos and piercings (as is my barber, I was pleased to find out.)  But what does the great moral compass, the Bible, say about the subject of “body art?”  Before you stop reading and accuse me of all sorts of prudery and sanctimoniousness, note what a smattering of historical figures thought about the Bible as a guide to right living:

Daniel Webster (1782-1852), American statesman and political leader, said, “If we abide by the principles taught by the Bible, our country will go on prospering.”

Wernher von Braun (1912-1977), regarded as the father of the American space program, wrote, “In this age of space flight, when we use the modern tools of science to advance into new regions of human activity, the Bible—this grandiose, stirring history of the gradual revelation and unfolding of the moral law—remains in every way an up-to-date book.”

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third U.S. president, stated: “I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, better husbands . . . the Bible makes the best people in the world.”

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), sixth U.S. president, wrote, “So great is my veneration of the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country.” He also stated: “My custom is to read four or five chapters of the Bible every morning immediately after rising . . . It seems to me the most suitable manner of beginning the day . . . It is an invaluable and inexhaustible mine of knowledge and virtue.”

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), seventh U.S. president, said, “The Bible is the rock on which our republic rests.”

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th U.S. president, stated: “I believe the Bible is the best book God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.”

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), 28th U.S. president, stated: “I have a very simple thing to ask of you. I ask every man and woman in this audience that from this day on they will realize that part of the destiny of America lies in their daily perusal of this great Book [the Bible].”

Harry Truman (1884-1972), 33rd U.S. president, said, “The fundamental basis of this nation’s law was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teaching we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don’t think we emphasize that enough these days.”

Queen Elizabeth  (1926 – ), Queen of England said, “To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn than to the imperishable truth to be found in this treasure house, the Bible?”

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the United States said, “It is necessary for the welfare of the nation that men’s lives be based on the principles of the Bible.  No man, educated or uneducated,  can afford to be ignorant of the Bible.”

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), 18th President of the United States said, “Hold fast to the Bible.  To the influence of this Book we are indebted for the progress made to civilization and to this we must look as our guide in the future.”

Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), General of the Confederate Army said, “There are things in the old Book which I may not be able to explain, but I fully accept it as the infallible Word of God, and receive its teachings as inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

Convinced?  If Grant and Lee can agree on the importance and provenance of the Bible, maybe there is something to it.

The question was:  What does the Bible say about body art?  Not a lot, but to the point (pun intended):

“Ye shall not make any cutting in your flesh for the dead, nor print (tattoo) any marks upon you:  I [am] the Lord.”  Leviticus 19:28, King James translation throughout

“They shall not…make any cuttings in their flesh.”  Leviticus 21:5

“Ye [are] children of the Lord your God; ye shall not cut yourselves…”  Deuteronomy 14:1

Repetition is the best form of emphasis, so, you may take this for what it is worth; while you’re thinking about this you might look up a few references to other social quirks, like gender roles, pacifism and greed.

On a lighter note:  The decline of sane social norms can also be tracked in hair styles.  Compare these looks:

Trendsetter Ed Grimley circa 1982

Trendsetter Ed Grimley circa 1982.

From besthairstyleideas.com Believe It or Not

From besthairstyleideas.com, Believe It or Not.

Yikes.

Yikes.

Yeah, That's Hot.

Yeah, That’s Hot.

Another fashion trend that speaks volumes for the end of civilization as we know it is the really attractive practice of revealing your underwear in your effort to summit the height of haute couture.

I checked out at the grocery store the other day and was looking both ways to decide where to exit the store:  To the left a woman walked away displaying her bra straps badly aligned with the spaghetti straps holding up her top; to the right a woman one-upped her by leaving her bra straps “neat” with no other distractions on her shoulders from the halter top she was wearing.

In line at the post office yesterday a young “man” was attired in the pants du jour that look like they were tailored by Omar the Tent Maker.

Trying to discern his legs in the swathe of fabric, I suddenly realized there was a strategically ripped section in the right buttocks region allowing me full view of his red-patterned underwear.  Oh joy.  Could have been worse, I guess…could have been blossoming out of the waist band of his “pants.”

I’ve wondered why these fashionistas never choose to wear briefs:  always boxers.  Huh.

And what did we do ten years ago to keep up with the world before we had the ability to check Facebook and email and texts while staring at iPhones on the job or walking across the street blind to oncoming traffic?  I mean, having to wait for the evening news and pushing the play button on the answering machine when we get home is so 2003!  Talk about not being able to swing a dead cat!  Have you looked up from YOUR iPhone recently to see all the lonely people living their lives in the cloud?  Eating at a restaurant with a friend who’s staring at the little screen?  Standing on the curb surfing the net until someone yells your name to open the car trunk to put in the packages?  Walking across the street oblivious to traffic while catching up on the latest posts?  Drifting into oncoming traffic while updating your status?  Checking Tweets while talking on the phone while smoking a cigarette while riding a bicycle?

All of this brings to mind Mike Judge’s prescient if ridiculous 2006 film “Idiocracy:”  Everybody has a tattoo.  The Congress is full of rude self-servants.  Pro wrestler politicians are idolized.  Internet search engines are porn hubs.  Restaurants really let you have it “your way.”  Corporate sponsorship is ubiquitous.  Smoking is cool.  New cars have one button (“Go”) to start the engine .  And everyone has devolved to the level of stupid half-wits bent on gratifying their basest desires:  food and sex.

Food and sex.

Sound familiar?

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I’m sure Gutenberg is spinning in his grave.  Johannes, that is, not unfunny comedic actor Steve with two ts.  Old JG, inventor of the moveable type printing press, is probably rotating faster than PSR J1748-2446ad, the fastest-spinning pulsar known, with a period of 0.00139595482(6) seconds, or about 24 percent of the speed of light at 161,040,000 miles per hour.

My point in writing this droll bit of esoteric trivia is simply to illustrate that a rather involved statement can be translated into the written word sans typos given a modicum of attention to detail and care.  Johannes G. is polishing the inside of his coffin because the art of accurate spelling which once was second nature to the average literate person has been largely abandoned in just the last couple of years.

I’m not just talking about text-speak.  This screen caption appeared on the local TV news the other day accompanying a story on budget cuts:  “BUS ROUTES SLAHSED.”  Here’s a recent Facebook post, verbatim:

This sitch isn’t just NYS by any stretch of the truth. Staes ovebler employ so they can keep the votes goingthier way. And by all means someone must get killed before evan a stop sign will be erected. I can not understand how you could think for even a second that NY has a monopoly doing something smart only after all the stupid things have run their course. Voting the dum barstards in or out of office can’t happen. For every time one senceble vote is cast; there is two forced into place to nullify that one right vote. Sorry didn’t mean to carry on.”

Talk about dum barstards.

I Thought "bastard" Had Two Rs...

I Thought “bastard” Had Two Rs…

We don’t even have to get into grammar, continuity and punctuation, as the three go hand-in-glove with correct spelling.  You either care enough to send the very best, or you’re a dum barstard.

I take small pride in being a stickler as defined in the wonderful, typo-free book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss (Gotham, 2004) about punctuation and ways simple errors can change meaning.  As a stickler I both appreciate when someone  puts two words together in an interesting and literate way, but also abhor lazy writing.  Misspelled words, truncated phrases, bad grammar, gibberish, poor punctuation and nonsense are hallmarks of the modern written word.  I blame the internet.

Like everybody else, I also bang out the words when typing into a search engine without a second thought to spelling:  “whatt is sped oflight?” yields “Showing results for what is speed of light?”  All the incorrectly spelled words are magically corrected by the search engine because they don’t want you to be frustrated in your search by your own ignorance.  Frustrated consumers don’t have time to scan ads and superfluous content if they are attempting to find the speed of light at less than light speed due to dead-end search results.

Chester's Last Name is Actually Spelled "J-O-N-E-S"

Chester’s Last Name is Actually Spelled “J-O-N-E-S”

Why don’t “smart” phones, social media sites, email, advertising, and other forms of written communication have this miraculous feature and save everyone a lot of unrealized embarrassment?  Problem is, because the problem is ubiquitous, nobody calls anybody else out when they make egregious errors in writing.  It’s the elephant in the room that just keeps smashing into the furniture and crapping all over everything.

Another great read is The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson (Crown Publishing Group, 2010) chronicling a cross-country crusade to write the wrongs of modern word usage.  Equipped with writing utensils of every stripe and medium, these two latter-day linguists hunt down and (with permission) correct myriad malapropisms and misprints at every turn of their journey on a circuit of the United States (or “Staes” as noted earlier…)  Men after my own heart, I’m afraid we are just voices crying in the wilderness.

Actually, There's 16...

Actually, There are 16…

I’m guessing if every one who emails or posts (and who doesn’t?) would only take a moment or two to click on “review,” “spell check” and “proofread writing” periodically during composition or when completing a missive, 90 percent of offending verbiage would evaporate into a black hole in cyberspace.  As I write this, misspellings are consistently called out by a red squiggly line underlining each one.  I mean, it’s obvious.  No one, not even we sticklers, is mistake-free.  What we need is a bit more self-awareness and concern for the decline of our language to take responsibility to clean up our own act when it comes to good writing and writing well.

Read the dictionary for fun.  Buy a thesaurus (no, it’s not a kind of dinosaur…)  Use spell checker.  Reread your writing to spot obvious flaws easily corrected.  Pride yourself in your written communication skills.  You might not see the difference, but everyone else does.

By the way, don’t rely 100 percent on your spell checker to get it right vis-a-vis correcting spelling errors.  As you know, “vis-a-vis” is spelled thusly.  Here’s what my spell checker suggested as the correct spelling(s):  bis-a-vis via-a-vis, vi-a-vis, vs-a-vis and, of course, is-a-vis.

Happy hunting and pecking.

I Think "White" is Redundant

I Think “white” is Redundant

As a postscript to my last offering concerning poor driving habits rife in our modern society:  Yesterday, alone, I:  1.  was passed on the right on a one lane (curvy) road while going the speed limit, 2.  was cut off in mid-left turn with the green arrow by a right-turning pickup truck towing a trailer, and 3.  followed a prominently signed corporate vehicle as the driver, first, crossed the double-yellow center line in a curve, then blew through a stop sign, then blew through a red light to turn right into traffic.  I called the cops on the first one and the company on the last one.  The company owner was genuinely appreciative of my call.

Anyway…  I’m guessing most of my readers like to go out to eat occasionally.  My dear, long-suffering wife and I enjoy the ability to dine out on a regular basis, not because we don’t cook (she’s a self-taught hash slinger of the highest order), but because we thoroughly enjoy good food made better if someone else cooks it.  My philosophy is:  If you don’t cook, clean your plate without complaint, because you don’t know where your next meal may be coming from.

On the other hand, too many dining-out experiences are substandard and therefore worthy of dishonorable mention if not complaint.  Restaurants vary in quality, cleanliness and consistency.  It can be difficult to know in advance what the breakfast, lunch or dinner experience will be like until it’s too late.  By too late I mean:  You’ve ordered your food and now you’re committed to the adventure for good or ill.

Image

    The Object of My Affection

The day I was inspired to begin this string of rants (remember the blue-hair in the Buick who almost creamed my corn in the parking lot?) I was heading for Mickie D’s to buy “lunch.”  Actually, I was in the mood for some comfort food and the McCheeseburger fills the bill if not my stomach.  It’s warm and chewy and tasty, with that little surprise of pickle tang about half-way through it.  I ordered my treat, unpacked it from the sack and wrapper, staged the napkin for easy reach in case the ketchup got loose and tried to escape, and with pleasant anticipation, took a bite.

It was cold.  And crunchy.  Usually even if it was left over from the last batch of mass-produced burgers from five minutes ago, it’s still warm from the heat lamps.  But this was a different animal altogether (although, I am assuming it was cow…)  A horse of a different color to stretch the metaphor and beat a dead horse at the same time.  The bun was the texture of burnt toast.  The meat was tepid and the cheese (the horror, the horror…) was c-o-l-d cold.  How this combination of abominations came together I can’t begin to guess.  I hardly noticed the pickle piquancy.

I finished it, of course.  My dollar investment was not going to go to waste.  That’s wasteful.  Like I said, I don’t cook; not wasting food is a survival technique I learned as a child.

I finished it, but there was no joy in my enjoyment of it.  It satisfied only my hunger, which is small consolation when my expectations were so great to begin with.  Sadly, this comfort food was just the opposite:  discomforting food.

So I went back to the “restaurant” to speak to the manager.  I’m guessing if you are like many people (unlike me) you wouldn’t bother taking the time and composing a complaint for such a trivial matter.  However, it’s what I do.  I have always felt it was productive to give constructive feedback to someone who cares and can do something about the issue at hand.  I’m not expecting or hoping to change the world, just the little corners that I haunt.

Walking up to the counter and turning my back to nearby customers to exclude them from hearing my comments, in a quiet voice I asked to speak to the manager.  Who should I be speaking to but the Manager Herself.  This was perfect, because I did not want to A. “make a scene,” or 2. involve any other customer or employee.  I’ll talk to the manager privately, and let her do her job vis-a-vis quality control.

Holding my receipt as evidence of my veracity, I mentioned the three points of my case:  the bun was dry, the burger was shopworn, and, worst of all, the cheese was slightly icy.  Hardly nonplussed (she did not fall off the prep table yesterday), the manager apologized and offered me a replacement cheeseburger.  While I understand offering to replace the problem product with another one just like the other one, I wonder:  Why would I want to take a chance on another possibly crappy cheeseburger?  Not only did I not want to risk getting a second cold, crunchy, tasteless wad of beef and bread, I also did not want a refund.  Yes, it’s a trivial amount of money (albeit a day’s wages in Sneakerland, Bangladesh), but that’s not the point.  I’m not in it for the money.  I’m interested in  CQI;  in business-speak it’s known as continuous quality improvement.  There has to be a counter to the slippery slope of decline in quality in products and services, and I’m the self-appointed vanguard of this movement.

So, who likes flies in restaurants?  Raise your forelegs.  I thought so:  Only other flies.  Yet how many (indoor) eating establishments have you patronized where there were noisome and numerous winged ordure-eaters present at the table?    I mean, come on!  If you (as the restaurant owner) don’t care enough to monitor and control the vermin and disease vector population, what do you care about?

We went out to eat the other evening to a local Greek food restaurant in downtown Bellingham, Washington.  (I don’t worry about ruining their “reputation” because, as few readers seem to be hitting on my blog their secret is safe…)  We sat down and I immediately saw a large dead fly on the window sill at my wife’s elbow.  (I don’t know why I emphasized “large:”  fly is a fly is a fly to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.)  The pleasant waiter came up to the table presently and asked if he could get us something to drink besides water.  Unable to contain myself, but in a controlled voice, I said, “No thank you, but could you get rid of that dead fly?”  Pleasantly, he asked rhetorically, “Oh, is there a fly over there?  I’ll get rid of it.”  He went away, presumably to steel himself to the task and gather the necessary equipment.  Shortly, the corpse was removed.

To Name But One in a Long List

To Name But One in a Long List

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spy a live fly buzzing in the window right beside me.  If I had been alone, or twenty years younger and dumber, I would have packed up my appetite and bugged out for the Indian food restaurant next door at that moment.  But I wasn’t and I didn’t.  I simply gave my wife a pained look and stuffed the proverbial sock in it.  We (I) pretended to enjoy the rest of the meal, despite the reduced portion size and increased price since we last ate there.

Which brings me to my next point:  Why is it an inevitable law of nature that portion sizes are inversely related to the price of the entrée?  Go to a buffet, pay $8 and get all the industrial food you can force feed yourself.  Pay $16 for an entrée masquerading as an appetizer, only to find out the dinner salad was “extra.”  A $12 hamburger?

Consistency is another trait some eateries seem to have a problem maintaining.  I have a few favorite restaurants which I depend on to provide a good meal and good service each time I show up, weekdays, weekends, lunch, dinner, whenever.  I’ve been spoiled at home because my live-in chef never misses a beat when it comes to high quality noshing.  Each and every dish she prepares is a feast for the senses.  (Well, there was one time she decided to clean a cast iron skillet with Pine-Sol, then make me tuna casserole…  I still have a vague sense memory of the result…  I think we buried the skillet in the back yard…)

Every once in a while, though, a place we’ve patronized for years suddenly “goes bad.”  A favorite selection  is now bland, or lukewarm, or too spicy, or gristly, or, worst of all, no longer available on the menu.  This happens too often:  I go to a specific restaurant hungry and salivating for a delicious dish I know this joint serves as a regular item.  This happened at the Greek place last week:  Looking at the menu, my wife said,  “They have eggplant moussaka…” in her most come-hither tone of voice.  Tempted beyond my limit I responded, “Cool!  That’s what I’m having!”  The pleasant waiter returned and asked me what I wanted.  “I’ll have the moussaka, please,” in my best Greek-inflected accent.  “I’m sorry, but we don’t have the moussaka tonight,” he said cheerily.  Just like that.  Not “Sorry, we’re sold out of the moussaka,” (the place was empty) nor “No problem, we’re a Greek restaurant, after all, and we can probably scare up some eggplant, potatoes, onions and bechamel sauce and easily create a serving for you, since, after all, we are a Greek restaurant…”  Nope.  Just a polite but perfunctory, “Yes, we have no moussaka, we have no moussaka today!”

Wha?

As you can imagine, despite the fact there are around 420 restaurants to choose from in this small burg in which we live, by choice and necessity we patronize only a handful on a regular basis.  Which makes it all the more heart-breaking when having decided to return after a long absence to one of our former favorite haunts, we sit down to a high-priced mini-meal of poorly prepared  grub that, quite literally, might contain a grub, or two.  Or four.

And it’s not the waiter’s fault, so you still have to tip…

I fully intended to begin this tome yesterday when I was initially pumped up by an incident (not uncommon) that happened while driving through a mall parking lot on my way to Mickie D’s for some comfort food.  I’m fending for myself, nutritionally, as my live-in gourmet cook is visiting my Mom in Kansas City for a week or so, and left me to forage for myself in the meantime.  So, I might have been a bit light-headed from hunger and glucose imbalance to remember to stay angry so I could write what I wanted to say.  Today, another common traffic experience happened and now I’m so full of bile it’s leaking out my ears.

Have you driven down the lanes in a parking lot and noticed out of the corner of your eye some idiot cutting across the empty parking spaces as if this was her private estate and she was out in the Rover inspecting the livestock?  It happens all the time.  Since when? This person was just cruising along at a diagonal to the parking rows heading away from me (I thought); I turned right to head for the drive-through entrance when, surprise, surprise this well-coiffed blue-hair fresh from the salon comes barging out from between two parked cars right in front of me.  I stomped on the brakes; she stopped also and gave me this stupid grin that screamed “Whoopsie!”  I made it a point to sit there and glare at her for the potential accident she almost caused.  And for what reason?  I can’t figure out why (many) people suspend good sense and drive like they’re on drugs or something.

He's Not Wearing a Seat Belt

He’s Not Wearing a Seat Belt.

I learned a partial explanation reading The Ascent of the A-Word by Geoffrey Nunberg (2012, PublicAffairs), a scholarly study of the use of the word which came to embody the incivility and self-centeredness characterizing our society over the last sixty years, including gradual changes in the way people conduct themselves in traffic situations.  What else makes someone drive as if they are the only one on the asphalt except pure self-absorption and carelessness for the safety and welfare of others?  Who knew Grandma was an asshole?

At the Mall Later That Same Day

At the Mall Later That Same Day

Today was a different story albeit equally common and rude:  I was backing out of an angled parking space on a one way street with parking on both sides and one lane down the middle.  As I moved backwards in reverse (back-up lights shining brightly) first one car jets past behind me not slowing a wit to get past me before I get into the traffic lane.  Not bad enough?  Immediately behind that jerk was Super Jerk who was also determined to keep right on driving behind me as I pulled out into the street.  I guess he expected me to slam on my brakes and let him barge past.  Little did he know (until a second later) I had no intention of obliging him.  I hit the horn and the gas and guess who slammed on the brakes?  Not me.

I use my horn a lot:  God made the auto horn as a wake-up call for assholes.  Sometimes I blow the horn at bicyclists or a pedestrian if they do something patently stupid or reckless or in violation of a traffic law.  I find many opportunities, but refuse to drain my battery using the horn as often as warranted.  I am not tolerant of traffic incivility and indiscretion, but there’s so much these days, it’s exhausting.  I just hope there’s a bit of operant conditioning  going on whereby the next time the miscreant thinks about doing something selfish and dangerous, he remembers everybody looking at him as I blew my horn long and loud.

He Has an Excuse:  He Doesn't Know How to Drive

He Has an Excuse:  He Doesn’t Know How to Drive.

Another commonplace involves a pedestrian crossing a downtown street, or a busy arterial in the middle of the street maybe 20 feet from a signed and signaled crosswalk.  Why do they put their life and my car insurance at risk to save 10 steps?  I don’t get it.  I’ve seen traffic stop, risking rear-end collisions, to allow a mother pushing a baby in a stroller ahead of her into the traffic to cross an arterial street in heavy traffic.  What the hell is going on?  The other day, my wife, God love her, was driving on a major traffic route near a freeway cloverleaf that’s choked with cars at all hours.  Ahead, a guy is making his way across the middle of the street 30 feet from two cross walks.  She stops in the middle of the street, risking getting rear-ended, he scuttles in front of us and completes his jaywalking.  I said, “Don’t stop for him!”  She said, “What do you want me to do, Bill, hit him?”  I said, “No, keep going and he will stop” maybe long enough to reflect on the idiocy of cutting across a busy street at rush hour and risking getting struck by a not-so-attentive driver as my wife.  I stopped short of calling her an enabler, but I thought it.  How do people learn to not be stupid?  (The jaywalker, I mean…)

I remember vividly a poster in my grade school depicting a little boy, horrified look on his face, flying through the air having been struck from behind by a car because he was walking with the flow of traffic and therefore harder to see from the back.  The objective was to train us kids to walk against traffic so our bright faces would be more visible to oncoming cars, and so we could watch oncoming traffic for signs of trouble, like weaving over the fog line.  It made sense then and it makes sense now.  But look how many walkers and joggers you see (with difficulty) moving in the same direction of the traffic flow today.  And, likewise, how many bicyclists, skateboarders and skaters do you see rolling against the traffic, despite being classified as vehicles and rightly moving with the flow of traffic?  So many people seem to be taking their lives in their hands without a thought to common sense.

I Was Such a Dope to Ride Against the Traffic!

I Was Such a Dope to Ride Against the Traffic!

If you think I’m just being cranky and making this up, you’re right on the first count but wrong on the second:  traffic safety laws and practices make sense because they reduce accidents and deaths, if followed.

Yet there is a cornucopia of practical and sensible directives regarding traffic etiquette that have gone completely out the window in modern times.  I have witnessed or experienced each of the following within the past year on the road:

  • passing on the shoulder of a one-lane street, past a moving or stopped car
  • passing at an intersection or on a bridge with a single lane of traffic
  • cutting diagonally across the opposing lane when turning left
  • tailgating (the leading cause of motorcycle-caused accidents)
  • passing at a yellow center line
  • entering from a side street ahead of oncoming traffic causing braking
  • red light running
  • the American Stop formerly known as the California Stop
  • blocking the road when an emergency vehicle approaches by stopping in place instead of “moving right for sirens and lights”
  • inattentive texters and phoners weaving into oncoming traffic or over the fog line
  • passing bicycles or pedestrians by charging headlong into oncoming traffic
  • charging a stop sign and stopping well past it, if at all
  • stopping, then accelerating, then stopping, then accelerating…
  • failure to use turn signals
  • personalized hand signals by bicyclists
  • bicyclists failing to stop or slow down at control points like intersections
  • bicyclists using the sidewalk for a road
  • stopping in the lane of traffic to talk on the phone
  • cutting curves or overshooting curves
  • straddling the center line (a.k.a. “taking your half out of the middle”)
  • walking after dark in Goth clothing, wearing eyeliner
  • texting, smoking and surfing the net while riding a bike (sometimes all at once)
  • bicyclists turning left from the right shoulder
  • turning left into oncoming traffic
  • turning right into oncoming traffic
  • blocking the road to ask (or give) directions
  • walkers failing to look left, look right, or look up from their hand-held device when stepping into the street
  • drivers failing to slow down or stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk

And these are just off the top of my head, in addition to the crazy behavior mentioned earlier.  Again I ask:  What the hell is going on that causes so much bad road manners?  Apparently law enforcement has thrown in the towel, as you see police officers in their cruisers cruising along running stop signs while jabbering on their cell phones…

Multitasking for a New Millenium

Multitasking for a New Millennium

Maybe we are not only more uncivil and thoughtless as a people, but also more complacent in our state-of-the-art car cocoons.  Maybe we need less power equipment that removes the true sensations of controlling a two-ton hunk of metal, plastic and glass.  Maybe cars should have fewer personal safety features like air bags and crumple zones designed to assure us that, despite our poor driving habits, we’ll be okay in the next head-on collision.

But how would this help change the equally risky actions of so many walkers and wheelers?  It wouldn’t.  Some universal approach needs to be tried, to get the attention of everyone “on the road” because everyone on the road is a risk to everyone else otherwise.

What is this Unified Theory of Best Practices which all citizens can follow?  Here’s a thought:  Be considerate enough to think about somebody other than yourself, and think about something other than your schedule, your life and your world.  Walk, bike, or drive a mile, just a mile to start, fully aware of your habits and idiosyncrasies as they relate to the safety and well-being of others.

Think about that.

It's Not a Movie.  It's Real Life.

It’s Not a Movie. It’s Real Life.