Liz Ray has Mad Throttle

Getting rear-ended and other misadventures...

Category: No One Knows How To Drive

If You Can’t Have It Right Now, Wait Dammit!

PatienceThe ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said some stuff about patience.  It was deep.  But the modern American philosopher Axl Rose was more direct: “Sometimes I get so tense but I can’t speed up the time.”  This sentiment is true for 1980s GNR power ballads, and it also is true for driving.  It is particularly true if you are driving a large SUV while a bunch of people on scooters and motorcycles are heading down the road for Christmas-themed rides…

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The Illusion of Control

Philosophically, it is disconcerting to think that we are all helpless apes sitting on a rock, flying around a star at 18.5 miles per second.  But for the vagaries of gravity — something we don’t even fully understand — centrifugal force would shear us off the planet and send us careening into the vacuum of space.  Clinging to our rock, we fare little better in day-to-day life, where the chaotic vicissitudes of countless random events conspire to determine where we work, who our friends are, and whether the beer we really wanted just kicked.  Desperate to believe that we wield a modicum of control over the Nietzscheian parade of the nihilistic happenstance of the everyday, we attempt to impose order on the ungovernable — groping about for some weapon to battle the cosmic maelstrom of purposelessness.

Against this absurd incoherence, we impotently put forth: Stop Signs.

Stop Signs: A Feel-Good Charade:

Since we cannot rely on common sense, common decency, or a general desire for self-preservation to entice drivers to slow down or stop at the perpendicular intersection of paths of opposing traffic, we place our faith in Stop Signs.

(Based on anecdotal experience, our faith is misplaced…)

These small red octagons serve as quaint reminders of a bygone era when people were willing to compromise their egocentricity long enough to see whether it was safe to continue ahead without seriously maiming or killing someone.  Now, with the social contract essentially null and void, many people (I call them “assholes”) refuse to bend their will to the imperial dictates of a polygon.

Interestingly, Stop Signs (as I have learned from the Internet, in which we should all place absolute trust) are octagonal to make it easier for drivers traveling from the opposite direction to recognize the sign from the back.  Since people rarely stop  when they encounter the sign head-on from the front, it is  not immediately clear why being able to  recognize the ass-end of the sign should matter.

Given their limited-to-non-existent stopping power,  we must ask ourselves the obvious question: Why Then Do Stop Signs Exist?

Some Other Reasons For Stop Signs:

1.  Good Mental Health:  Some psychologists have argued that positive illusions, including the Illusion of Control, foster mental health.  As humans we like to believe — and are happier when we can believe — that the things we do somehow have some effect on various outcomes in our lives, i.e., that things we do provide an Illusion of Control.  (If we eat kale, we won’t die of cancer tomorrow.  If we are nice to people, they will be nice to us.  If we install a Stop Sign over there, someone someday might pause before barreling through the intersection.  None of these things is true, of course, but it makes us feel better to think they might be true.  Like Fox Moulder, we want to believe.)  Traffic engineers lack state licensing credentials to administer prescription anti-depressants, but perhaps Stop Signs are the next best thing.

2.  Euclidian  Equal Rights:  With the exception of Stop Signs, octagons are an underutilized and underappreciated polygon.  You have to admit that triangles and squares have cornered the polygon market.  Pagans and the U.S. Military have enshrouded all the five-sided stuff.  Bees and Allen wrenches took hexagons.  Without Stop Signs, octagons would be relegated to abject disutility — little more than the ugly step-child to septagons, which (to the best of my knowledge) have no earthly purpose.

3. International Law: In 1968, a group of people (who I can only assume were bored idealistic hippies) gathered for the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals — (yes, this is a thing) — which standardized international specifications for Stop Signs.  (Because facilitating the ability to run Stop Signs across various nation states is a noble undertaking.)  Not much was happening in world history in the late sixties, so it made sense to take a step back from the hurley-burley of geo-politics and focus on things that really matter (like uniform traffic signage).  The 1968 Vienna Convention (really a thing, I swear) “revised and substantially extended” the 1949 Geneva Protocol on Road Signs and Signals.  One can only begin to fathom the awesome advancements in traffic sign technology that had occurred in the intervening decades.  Obviously, Truman-era Stop Signs must have been woefully inadequate by 1968.

With the semicentennial anniversary of the 1968 Convention just around the corner, now is the time to petition the UN to once again focus on this key issue.  (Who knows, a uniform standard for septagonal signs may usher in a bold new era in deceleration communication — or at least get opposing traffic to stop long enough for me to scoot through an intersection.)



By the Way, I Just Cut You Off…

A long time ago, I enrolled in a class devoted to a fascinating aspect of anthropological study.  It was called “Driver’s Ed.”

First, some general background.

Society has determined (for its own protection, self-preservation, and orderly maintenance) that certain individuals cannot legally purchase alcohol or tobacco, participate in the election of governing officials, serve on a jury, make a will, own land, sue or be sued, or open a bank account in their own name.  We call these powerless whelps “minors” aka: “People Under 18 Years Old.”  Neuroscience provides ample evidence to justify the oppressive treatment of these outcasts: the brains of such individuals have yet to develop completely.  And there is no telling what type of violence and anarchy would ensue if we allowed cerebrally-half-baked sixteen-year-olds to maintain savings accounts or prepare a will.

(I for one feel much safer knowing that our system of laws protects me from such terrible threats.)

Remarkably, however, these same individuals who are barred from willy-nilly running around drafting Trust and Estates documents can — with minimal training, limited practice, and negligible skill — hop into a four-wheeled death machine and go about their merry way.  (Given how some teenagers drive, we might want to revisit their ability to draft wills.  But, not my circus, not my monkeys, as the Polish would say.)

Background over.  Back to Drivers Ed.

Part of the minimalist, Philip-Glass-esque training that we give immature drivers before lobbing them a set of keys and saying “Have fun; Don’t kill anyone” is Drivers Ed.  I remember my Drivers Ed class fondly.  We sat in a dark, cramped room that smelled just a little bit funny and listened to someone (usually a moonlighting gym teacher) read to us from a “How Not To Kill Yourself or Others While Driving” manual.  And we watched fun movies about how failing to follow the manual’s sound teachings would invariably result in blood-soaked asphalt, bodily mutilation, and/or decapitation.

It was a violent, disturbing homage to Thanatos, which also happened to include some information on how to merge onto freeways, parallel park, and use turn signals.

I recall an entire evening being devoted to the life-saving power of turn signals.  Actuarial longevity hinged on one’s ability to distinguish the turn signal lever from the headlights and windshield wipers.  We even had to learn hand signals for left and right turns, just in case the automobile experienced catastrophic turn-signal failure while out on the road — or (equally importantly) in case we happened to encounter someone who (for whatever reason) had resorted to using such anachronistic miming to communicate directional intent.

And thus we arrive at the key philosophical question that I ponder today:

Given all this education, why is it that no one knows how to use a God damn turn signal?

Some simply dispense with the practice altogether.  I can understand the logic of this — if you are driving along and someone veers into your lane, well, the presence of the interloper should clue you in that his intent was to change lanes.  (Res ipsa locitur.)  Then there are others who simply give one quick flash of a signal before invading.  All I can surmise is that these drivers — if called to testify — want to be able to say truthfully that Yes, they did use their turn signal before changing lanes.  Then there are those who put the turn signal on, jut halfway into the path of oncoming travel, and stop dead in their tracks — waiting for a sign from an oncoming driver or from the Almighty that, yes, the attempt to merge has been detected and the signaler should go ahead and get the hell out of the way now.  And, of course, there are some who forget to switch their turn signals off, condemning those of us behind them to the existential agony of wondering whether the next fork in the road will be “The One.”

But recently while out scooting, I encountered a new specimen.  (Very exciting — like discovering a new type of tree frog in the Amazon.)  I found him on 8th Street.  This fellow turned his signal on after he had already shifted 98% of his vehicle into my lane, left the blinker on long enough to confirm that a lane change had occurred (in case, you know, I had missed it), then turned it off.  Just a little blinking reminder that, “By the way, I just cut you off.”  Or, perhaps he thought that a turn signal is supposed to formally memorialize the fact that a lane change has occurred — like how a Notary Public affixes a seal after an official document has been signed.


Pulling ahead to investigate who had brazenly thumbed his nose at temporality’s appropriate order, I saw a teenage driver.

Well, using a turn signal after a turn, what harm could come from that?  At least he can’t prepare a revocable trust instrument or living will, because that would be dangerous.

Can I Use My Invisibility Powers Elsewhere?

Based on empirical observations and anecdotal data collected over a period of several years, I have formulated the following scientific hypothesis: Every scooter and motorcycle comes with a standard-issue Romulan Cloaking Device.

The Case For:

Let us consider the evidence that supports the theory that all scooters and motorcycles come with cloaking devices.  First, there are countless unfortunate examples of cars hitting scooterists and motorcyclists, with drivers mysteriously claiming that they “never saw” the rider.  Second, there are even more countless-er examples of near misses, where cars pull into a rider’s path, cut a rider off, or apply squealing brakes just in time to avoid a collision.  Again, drivers claim that the rider was “invisible.”

Clearly, one scientifically plausible explanation for drivers’ repeated (and arguably constant) inability to see scooters and motorcycles is that the bikes are equipped with a device that bends the path of light as it curves around the bike, thus making the scooter or motorcycle undetectible to the human visual field.   An alternate hypothesis may be that scooters and motorcycles generate such a collosal gravitational pull, that the sheer magnitude of that force is sufficient to bend light’s path.  This second explanation seems less likely, as such a gravitational pull would be expected to disrupt tides and planetary alignments.  Thus, the presence of standard-issue cloaking devices seems more probable.

The Case Against:

While I like to believe that a cloaking device came standard on my scooters (drivers appear to be equally oblivious to both the 50cc and the 600, despite differences in size, power, and color), I fear that it is unlikely that my purported invisibility can be attributed to quantum mechanics or the temporarly disruption of the space-time continum.  As wonderful as my scooters are, I doubt that the Taiwanese or German engineers that created them figured out how to equip my scoots with the ability to manhandle photons.  (If it were possible, the feature would be better used as a theft-deterrant or to avoid parking tickets.)  I guess there is some small measure of comfort in my hypothesis being disproven, as it would be depressing to think that I own something as cool as not one, but TWO, Romulan Cloaking Devices, and all I seem to be able to do with them is make myself the invisible target of oncoming automobiles.

If Not Cloaking Devices, What Gives?

With the cloaking-device hypothesis on the cutting room floor, I needed to develop an alternative explanation.  So I asked myself again the fundamental question, “Why Don’t Cars See Scooters?”  If the natural path of photons is not affected, what other explanation could there be?  What could drivers be doing in there that completely negates their ability to see a two-wheeled object (and attendant human being) directly in their path?  Even if protecting the sanctity of human life and limb is not your cup of tea, what could be so important that it interferes with driver’s desire to protect the sanctity of their STUFF?  Why would drivers be willing to risk having their cars dented or scratched??

A proposed list of things that drivers might find sufficiently compelling to disrupt their natural desire to protect their cars (i.e., by avoiding hitting things or people) is below.  Mundane explanations (e.g., texting, talking on a cell phone, receiving and/or giving oral sex) have been omitted (because this blog eschews the Mundane).

1. All drivers simultaneously ran out of contact lenses and are on their way to get more.

2. Drivers decided to drive with their eyes closed, to heighten the acuity of their other senses.

3. Drivers are trying to reverse-engineer the code for Google’s page-ranking algorithm in their heads.

4. Drivers are thinking about what to have for dinner.

5.  They all have undiagnosed glaucoma.

6. Drivers are double-checking the equations that account for the planet Mercury’s perihelion orbit.

7. They lost their place while singing 100 bottles of beer on the wall and are trying to remember where they were.

8. They are driving with a brown paper bag over their head.

9.  They just came from staring into a solar eclipse.

10.  Retinas in both eyes detached and they are driving themselves to the ER.

The Last Word: If you drive a car, please look where the hell you are going.  Mercury’s perihelion orbit will still be there when you get home.  And if you ride a bike, remember to look where the hell drivers are going (because they probably aren’t).

She Was Looking At Her Shoes.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “I was looking at my shoes.”

That’s what she said, after rear-ending me while I was law-abidingly stopped at a red light — as I rode home from my nearly-new 600cc scooter’s *very* *first* service.

Your shoes?? Really? My bike is a hood ornament because of your footwear??

American roadways offer a host of enchanting visages upon which to gaze: rolling hillsides, quaint towns, meandering paths along the ocean or riversides.  Sometimes, (you know, occasionally) drivers might even be tempted to pay attention to other cars or — God forbid — scooterist and motorcyclists. But this lady thought her footwear should command her utmost attention.

Alas, if only the back end of my BMW had piqued La Femme de Footwear’s interest before I became one with her Toyota…

There was no squealing screech of brakes (why stop when you’re looking at your feet?). I did however catch a glipse of her in my sideview mirror moments before impact.

“Oh my God…that car’s not going to stop…”

Followed quickly by: “Oh my God…that car actually just hit me…”

[And now, a brief discussion of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity:]

In the early 1900s, dissatisfied with Newtonian physics, Albert Einstein engaged in a series of thought experiments that considered how someone traveling near the speed of light and a separate, third-party observer might experience the expansion (i.e., slowing) of time. For his efforts, Einstein received the Nobel prize in Physics in 1921.

Last Wednesday, while having no issue with Sir Isaac Newton whatsoever, I *personally* experienced the relative slowing and telescoping of time as I saw Shoe Lady’s Toyota coming at me in my sideview mirror. (I am hopeful that the Nobel Prize committee will be contacting me soon to discuss my significant contribution to theoretical physics.)

[And thus concludes our brief discussion of space-time and special relativity.]

Meanwhile, back at the red light, the force of the impact had been sufficient to impale the tail end of my bike into the Toyota’s grill. So, when Shoe-Looking-At-Lady threw it in reverse, she pulled me along. The combined force of my throttle and her reverse managed to remove her 600cc hood ornament.

While she was explaining how her footwear figured into recent events, I was surveying the damage she’d caused. The top case mount was snapped to pieces and the top case that had been added only an hour before was strewn into the street. The left turn signal, brake light, license plate holder, and plate light were smashed to hell. And, as I would eventually learn, the seat locking mechanism had been jammed shut by the force of the blow.

And — if you’re wondering — her shoes were completely unremarkable and not-at-all-worthy-of-being-stared-at-while-operating-a-motor-vehicle.

As I peeled off my helmet, the comedy of errors truly began.

“Oh my God,” Shoe-Lady exclaimed, “you’re a girl? I hit a girl?!?”

“Do you have insurance?” I asked.

“Yes.” she said, and handed me her Medicare card.

After pausing a split second to confirm in my own head that Medicare hadn’t recently begun offering senior citizens automobile liability coverage, I pointed out that she had handed me her Medicare card.

(There was a pause.)

“Do you have CAR insurance? Insurance for the CAR that you HIT me with because you were looking at your SHOES?”

After a few seconds of thumbing through her wallet, Lady Shoe-Gazer suggested that the insurance information must be at home and could she drive home to fetch it.

“No. No you cannot.”

Then she noted — with an odd mixture of pride and glee — that I was her first automobile accident ever!

(Not sharing her enthusiasm, I instead wondered to myself, “Are you an actor?  You can’t really be this stupid.”)

Her Eyes Were Watching Shoes then said she needed to leave because she was late for her dentist appointment.

“I think you missed your dentist appointment when your front grill married my bike.”

She then suggested that I simply ride home. When I pointed at the top case (which was packed with stuff) that lay in the street and asked her where I was supposed to put that, she helpfully suggested that I stick it between my legs (or something).

She then asked why I couldn’t just drive my car home the rest of the way (because I clearly would have thought ahead to park a spare vehicle nearby in the event I was rear-ended).

“This IS my car. You HIT my ‘car.'”

Then she got crabby and pointed out that her Toyota’s grill had been damaged too.

“Yes,” I acknowledged, “because you rear-ended me while I was lawfully stopped for a red light, because — as you admitted — you were LOOKING AT YOUR SHOES!!!!!!!!!”

(This is when two cops thankfully drove by and pulled over.)

It was when the officers asked me for my proof of insurance and registration that I discovered the seat was jammed shut.

“Officer, I can’t give you my registration.”

“Why not, Ma’am?”

“It’s in the bike.”


“The seat is jammed shut from the impact — of her hitting me while she was LOOKING AT HER SHOES.”

“Are you sure you’re turning the key the right way?”

Not believing that I really did know how to unlatch my own seat cover, the officer fiddled with it.

(The gas tank valve popped open.  He asked if it was the seat latch.)

As I sobbed, the officer encouraged me to calm down and look at the bright side (i.e., not being dead), as accidents happen.

[And now, a brief discussion of Philosophy:]

Yes.  Accidents happen.  If a bolt of lightning had frightened a rabid puma, prompting it to jump into the lady’s Totoya and maul her as she approached the red light, thus causing her to temporarily lose control of her vehicle as she attempted to fend off the crazed feline — fine, that would have been an ‘accident.’  (Potentially a preventable one, if she had been driving with her windows closed.) Rear-ending someone because you are looking at your shoes is not an event that happens by chance, without apparent or deliberate cause (i.e., not an accident).  Instead, rear-ending someone is the foreseeable result of approaching a red light while allowing your gaze and attention to be captivated by something other than What The Hell Is Going On Right In Front Of You.  Some might even argue that deliberate study of What The Hell Is Going On Right In Front Of You is the first step towards solving many of the world’s problems.

[Thus concludes our brief discussion of Philosophy.]

Meanwhile, Shoe Gazer was still talking about her erstwhile dentist appointment, while I was desperately loooking for melting clocks, phones made of lobsters, or any other evidence that my life had temporarily been replaced by a surrealist fantasy and none of this was actually happening.

“I really am sorry that I was looking at my shoes,” she offered again.

“Dammit,” I thought, “not a temporary surrealist fantasy.  She’s still here.”

And I picked up my non-lobster phone to call for a tow and a lift home.