Sometimes when I drive somewhere, and I’m stopped at a red light, I look in the rear-view mirror at the people in the car behind me. Most people are very “normal” with blank expressions, sitting still, just waiting to keep driving; but sometimes they’re a bit more animated, and it can be amusing to watch, even just briefly.
I’ve seen one man swaying side to side, as if dancing, while his passengers sat motionless. I’ve seen people fidget and bite their nails and play with their hair. I’ve seen one-sided conversations, silent couples, and people who don’t seem to stop talking.
I’ve even seen a crying passenger (and a driver who was trying to console him). And then there was the couple who looked like they’d had an argument, and were decidedly not talking to each other.
I find it interesting how people can feel very protected in cars, like it’s a private room completely detached from the world around it. There’s something about being in a car with a close friend that just feels safe (which seems ironic considering how dangerous cars can be). It seems to be a good chance for meaningful conversations, particularly if you’re driving along a familiar route or a very long road where there’s not much to distract from the conversation.
When I look at these people, I wonder where they’re going, and what they’re doing. I wonder why the fidgeting people are so nervous, why the icy couple aren’t talking, why the passenger is crying.
I also sometimes wonder if the person in the car in front of me is peering back at me. Usually I give them a smile, so they can wonder what I’m smiling about.
Driving home from work in sub-pitter-patter rain that barely qualifies as rain, I glanced at my car dashboard. The fuel efficiency bothers me — I can’t get it down any lower. Mostly because of this traffic, not helped by the rain, as pitiful as it is.
I wonder, “why does this bother me so?”
I’m not driving far, I can afford the petrol, I don’t fill up that often anyway.
But it’s the perceived impact — the impact on a world that’s already dying. And yet, looking at all the cars around me, what difference does it really make?
My actions are a drop in the proverbial ocean — a piddly raindrop on the face of the earth. It’s the corporations that must change! It’s the governments that must enforce change!
Still, it’s not an excuse for inaction.
So what if I’m a raindrop?
Following the cars in front of me, I think how we’re all sheep. Raindrop sheep.
But surely in a herd of sheep, you occasionally get one that breaks away from the group. Don’t you?
On my drive to work in the morning, when traffic is starting to get bad, I’ve noticed that I’ve developed a habit of tracking my progress relative to the cars in the next lane. I think I’ve always had a tendency to read other people’s number plates (being the compulsive reader that I am), but it was just out of interest to see what words or phrases I could come up with, or to see what personalised plates people had.
But in the mornings, after I enter the freeway, I commit a few number plates to my short-term memory, and try to figure out if my usual lane is faster, or if I should switch (and then switch back when needed). Often it’s a bit of leap-frog, and I think the overall difference is not significant enough to warrant manoeuvring through traffic when so many other cars are already jumping between lanes. Sometimes I think that I should have changed lanes, but sometimes I’m quite glad I didn’t.
In recent weeks, when I notice that I’m doing this progress tracking, I stop myself and wonder why I do it. Is it just my competitive side coming out? Is it my need to analyse everything, perhaps with the intent of making my commute more efficient? Or am I just trying to make this repetitive trip more interesting?
Sometimes when I get to these questions, I stop looking at the number plates of other cars, and I just tell myself that I’ll get to work around the same time either way — just relax and enjoy the ride.
Last week, as I was driving to work along the freeway, I noticed that the car behind me was driving quite close. So close, in fact, that there’s almost no doubt they were intentionally tailgating. I could even see the driver’s impassive face clearly in my rearview mirror.
Maybe they were in a hurry to go somewhere important, for something important, that they only had short notice about, or were late for some other reason, but they were tailgating on a freeway, and that is dangerous driving.
I was already driving at the speed limit, so I don’t know what they wanted me to do. Exceed the speed limit and tailgate the car in front of me? I glanced at the lanes beside me — the other driver was probably avoiding those because they weren’t any faster.
I’m generally not an aggressive driver. I try to be aware of other vehicles around me, and always let others merge into my lane, provided it’s safe to do so. There’s a certain point on the freeway on the way to work where a lot of lane changing occurs. As we approach the CBD, there is a tributary of traffic flowing steadily in on the left, and then, up ahead, there are exiting lanes on the right and left (depending on which street of the CBD you’re headed to).
This means that there are almost always people in one of the righthand-side lanes that need to move all the way left, and people in one of the lefthand-side lanes who want to get across to the right. It’s at this juncture that I’m on high alert, and will generally leave enough space between me and the car in front to allow someone else to merge/pass by if needed.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you about a car accident. Continue reading
Back in April, on a day like any other except it really wasn’t, I had an interesting encounter. I’ve been meaning to write this post since then, so I figure this week’s as good as any.
I had decided to drive to work that day because I’d planned on visiting a couple of friends that night to collect some cheesecake. However, as luck would have it, there was so much traffic on my drive home. We moved along at a ridiculously slow pace.
By the time I got near home and filled up petrol, it was getting kind of late, so I decided on a whim that I should have dinner before going to visit my friends (my original plan had been to collect the cake and then go have dinner). And that’s how I ended up at Taco Bell. Continue reading