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.