The Marine View Driver: Pondering How a Driver’s Car is not a Castle


In which the author compares rural rodents with urban drivers.

by Mike Smith

Why do people like cars?

I know that not everyone likes cars. But a lot of people do. An overwhelming majority, I’d bet. I wonder if having a car is like the proof of worthiness that many strive for.

Why is having a car a center of so much pride? Is just having a car a mark of independence? Is it a crossing of the Rubicon from being a nobody on a bus to a somebody in front of the bus?

And then, after you have a car for a while, having a better one becomes a sort of life quest.  Is it the car that makes the man so to speak? Is our car a reflection of ourselves? I know if I wash my car, I can see a reflection of myself. There is something in the human DNA that makes us feel incomplete unless we are in possession of a car. At least that’s the way I interpret life.

corvetteCars are great transportation. They give us each a high level of independence. I know that when I used to travel for work it was always preferable to take my car. If I had to fly, I had to rent a car. I even did that in Chicago, where a car is almost useless… unless you are leaving town. That fact, of course, does not deter Chicagoans from owning a car.

No, a car is not really quite useless in Chicago; but compared to other smaller cities, you can get by quite well without a car. We visited our daughter in Chicago late summer and the street in front of her house was so congested we were able to walk from her house to Trader Joe’s a mile away and back and passed the same people going both directions. They were still waiting in the same traffic backup.

And yes, some of those people were in front of a bus.

I drive a bus part time and can tell you: there are some goofy stunts performed with a car. One of the strangest phenomena I’ve noticed is what I call the LOL Effect, or The Facebook Interval, in which it takes a few seconds for people to notice the light has changed to green. Included in this pregnant period is the quick “send” of the latest pictures of the cat, or to LOL your sister’s latest missive to her soon-to-be-future boyfriend;  hence the Facebook Interval.

This interval is about 3 to 5 seconds. Sometimes longer, but it is usually interrupted by someone’s horn after the five-second threshold. And the process is repeated in each successive car in line. It can make for a pretty dicey traffic challenge to make it through the intersection in a sixty-foot bus without having to wait for an entire cycle again. When I miss a light it adds about two minutes to my schedule… which, by the way, is not calculated in the public time schedules for Metro.

triumphIt is entertaining when bus passengers stand at the front of the bus and watch the choreography of traffic zigzagging ahead of the bus. No one wants to be behind a bus it seems. Many will risk life and property to get around a bus.

Often they cross into the lane ahead of me so closely that they brush the bikes that are mounted on the front. Recently a passenger from Washington, D.C. observed: “Man, what were they thinking”? I told them that I had no way to know their motive or what (or if) they were thinking at all. I can usually read drivers’ minds, but I get nothing from them.

Interesting fact: When I was in training to drive a bus, I learned that, statistically speaking, you increase your likelihood of an accident by 300% when you change lanes. Also, for those of you who don’t like to be behind a bus, I’ll give you a key pointer: buses get traffic light preference at some intersections… and they are very hard to stop.

Something I’ve noticed about people in their cars: They appear to be under the assumption that they are in a private kingdom or protected city where nothing can hurt them and nobody can see them. Some drive as though they are invincible. Others do things that you wouldn’t normally do in public. But there they are surrounded by windows brushing their teeth, flossing, applying make-up. Perhaps it is a bit like gophers running to their dens when they are scared.

I used to shoot at gophers with my brother in law in Montana. They run, and you can see them throwing dirt up. But when you walk up to the hole, there they are, staring up at you from the “safety” of their burrow. They think they are safe.

datsunI actually drove past an elderly gentleman whom I had the misfortune of getting stuck behind for the complete trip across the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. He was going about 30 miles an hour during rush hour and my bus does not accelerate well enough to take advantage of any of the gaps in traffic.

So I follow him at a frustrating pace till Montlake. At that point I am able to pass him and I look down and he is eating his breakfast. Not a one-hand grab-and-go like a Breakfast Jack, but eggs, bacon and toast on a plate that was on his lap. When I passed him he was using both hands to cut his eggs with a knife and fork. Presumably the car was being steered by his knees, or by his toast points. He was even wearing a napkin around his neck as a bib. At least he had the wherewithal to mind his manners.

Once some number of moons ago I was cruising Marine View Drive with some friends. We had a mutual female classmate who lived at Woodmont Beach. It was a nice home in a nice area. We decided to throw pebbles at her bedroom window to see, you know, what’s up.

1952-chevrolet-ad-1aAs we were pebbling, suddenly the lights came on and her dad appeared in the front doorway. We of course ran. We were all in sports of some kind and were all pretty fast. Where did we run? To the safety of our car. This bucket of bolts was a rusty old 1964 Ford Falcon. I’m guessing there weren’t many like it in this fancy neighborhood of waterfront houses.

We all get to the car and jump in and get on the floor or seats in the lowest possible position so no one would see us. Unfortunately for this little group of gophers, when we jump into this out-of-place eyesore of a car, someone inadvertently kicked on the dome light. I remember asking out loud, “How safe are we with the dome light on?”

So there we were, face up, stacked on top of each other looking out of our little safe burrow into the laughing face of Kara’s dad. Who actually ran pretty fast for a dad. He thought it was so funny he could barely tell us to leave his daughter alone. We unlearned a lot about our cleverness that night.

LOL.


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