Monday, May 14, 2007

Ruling the Road

I've been living outside of Washington, DC for closing on two years, now. It has its pros and cons, but ultimately, I know that I will be leaving here in one of two ways:

  • In the front seat of my nearly empty pickup, having already packed and shipped the 8.4 metric tons of crap we've acquired since having a child; or
  • In the back seat of a police cruiser, having finally snapped and beaten another driver to death with the hood of his own car.

Seriously, those are the only two choices. And I wouldn't want to lay odds on which one it will be right now.

I understand that different areas of the country have their little driving quirks. Boston drivers are aggressive, but generally kind; if you can convince them that you have no regard for your own safety, they'll usually take pity on you and back off. I chalk this up to the democratic nature of the state. In Rhode Island, the person turning left across traffic has the right to block oncoming traffic for as much time as it takes to complete the turn; this is because Rhode Island has a very high percentage of senior citizens, and they all drive enormous old boats for cars that can stand up to being broadsided repeatedly. Some places insist that the first car making a left after a red light should go before the oncoming traffic starts, and others will gleefully T-bone someone who tries to get away with that. And so on. These are all local interpretations of the rules of the road, and once you've learned them, you can expect to see them followed by the majority of drivers in your locale. I'm perfectly fine with this.

In my time in Northern Virginia, commuting 60 miles a day, I've only learned one local driving rule. That is:

Rule #1: Be the biggest dink you can, to everyone you can, at every opportunity.

No, seriously. And stop before you say, "Don't be such a pantywaist, every place has drivers like that." Yes, every place has drivers like that. And if all of those drivers got together and elected their presidents, and then those presidents got together and elected their Supreme Chancellor, and then that Supreme Chancellor had himself cloned a million times and forced each of the clones to watch nothing but Pauly Shore movies while listening to Bobcat Goldthwait and Roseanne sing "A Horse With No Name" the entire time they were growing up, then gave them all cars and set them loose in a 10' by 10' room, you would have a good approximation of the kinds of drivers we have here.

Take my commute (no really, please). There's one place along the route where the road widens to add a left-turn lane. This was done, presumably, so that the average driver would not be inconvenienced by a fellow driver ahead of him who must wait for the oncoming traffic to pass before making a left turn. A fine idea, to be sure, and very thoughtful of the VA DOT.

That's the theory, anyway. In practice, it works somewhat differently. You see, the left turn is into a church parking lot, which gets very little traffic for at least six (and possibly seven) days of the week. What this left-turn lane becomes, then, is a 200-foot passing lane for any frustrated NASCAR wannabe with an overcompensating car to pull out and race one or two car lengths ahead, only to cut back into traffic and force everyone behind him to jam on their brakes. I see this happen once or twice a week. And that's just when I'm driving by.

So what are your options in this situation? You can try to straddle both lanes, and count on there being enough oncoming traffic to keep Jerk Gordon from pulling around you anyway. You can speed up and tailgate the car in front of you, but then you're hoping that the person in front of you does the same, or Bobby LaButthead will just cut in front of him, and then you're really in trouble when the brake lights come on. Or you can sit there and take it while Dick Trickle (wait a minute, that really is a NASCAR driver's name?) cuts you off. Might as well offer to let him kick your dog and have sex with your wife while you're at it.

I've tried all of these options, and no amount of "Serenity now!"s can make them palatable. We need fresh thinking on this problem. We need an idea that allows us to act out our aggressions in a generally safe (and by that I mean "safe for me") manner. That is why, today, I propose:

Paintball Diplomacy.

A friend and I first worked this out in Boston, never realizing just how much it was needed elsewhere. The basic concept is simple: Every new car comes with a paintball gun. When you renew your registration, you get a certain allotment of paintballs. To keep things relatively under control, these paintballs will be unique in some fashion such that you are not able to obtain more on your own. Then, whenever another driver does something that annoys you, rather than curse or honk your horn, you just pull out your trusty gat and squeeze off as many rounds as it takes to make you feel better. No permanent damage is done, your blood pressure stays nice and low, and everybody goes home happy.

There are so many benefits to this system, I don't even know where to begin:
  • Drivers who claim to not know that they're offensive now have no excuse. If you come home with a couple stray hits on your vehicle, it's probably just a normal day. If you come home with your vehicle completely repainted--guess what, dude. You're the dink.
  • Rather than knocking a couple bucks off your insurance, a safe driving record would let you buy upgrades for your paintball gun, like laser sights, bigger magazine capacity, or--prize of prizes--fully automatic fire. Conversely, drivers who rack up tickets will have their gun downgraded as far as it takes for them to get the message, even if that's all the way down to a stick and a rubber band.
  • Carpooling before: letting weird strangers into your car to do your duty to the environment and get into a marginally faster lane that other people are sneaking into anyway. Carpooling after: three more gunners FTW!
  • The system inherently discriminates against convertible drivers. Isn't that what everyone wants anyway?
I'm convinced that Paintball Diplomacy would be a great leap forward for our country. If I'm ever elected to public office, I would make this the second piece of legislation I push forward, right after the one that lets me slap stupid people whenever I think they need it. I'm still working on the exact wording for that one.

Join with me! Let's take back our streets!

1 comment:

Magisse said...

It's nice to see that "Musings" has been resurrected in a new light. Who knew DC driving was worse than Boston? But you need to mention NYC's driving pattern too: "Lane markers are only suggestions." Oh, and I still contend that the most interesting driving experience anywhere is Brooklyn. It's like a video game with various increasing obstacle levels. My favorite was the guy who cut into oncoming traffic to pass me and make a left on red. Great stuff.