I have been, and I am sure I will continue to be, a distracted driver.
Elvis Costello’s “Pump it Up” is cranked on the car stereo. My foot instinctively presses harder on the accelerator. I go faster than I should. I am distracted.
I slow down to allow a driver out into traffic, but the bonehead is looking in the opposite direction, and my goodwill expires after five seconds. I begin cursing the bonehead, staring at him incredulously. My eyes are not focused on the road. I am distracted.
My wife, in the passenger seats, tells a funny story. I turn my face toward her to laugh and ask, “Are you serious?” My attention is momentarily away from the road in front of me. I am distracted.
I drop a French fry. I cram my fingers between the seat and the console, desperately trying to retrieve the fry, because those things don’t grow on trees, you know. They grow in the dirt. At any rate, I’m looking down, not straight ahead. I am distracted.
So yes, that sort of stuff happens, and it always will. But in my defense, those incidents are few and far between, and last but a few seconds (not that that isn’t enough time in which to wreak havoc on myself or some unwitting pedestrian, cyclist, or motorist). The thing is, I find it far easier to defend myself for such behavior than others, and even easier to pass judgment on those who engage in dangerous practices that last for longer periods of time.
For example, let’s look at the woman I was driving behind the other day from downtown Kennebunk, up Summer Street, and down Sea Road to the intersection with Route 9. To the uninitiated, that is a three-minute route that takes about six minutes to drive – plenty of time in which to form an opinion of the driver in front of you who has no idea how to stay in her goddamn lane.
At first I thought she was a lousy driver. How else to explain the swerving over the center line? Did she drop a fry? When the slow swerving continued, I figured it had to be one of two things: she was texting someone, or she really, really, really loves French fries.
At a stoplight, one of my suspicions was confirmed: the gray-haired, late-fifties-early-sixtysomething woman was texting. From my aerie in the cab of my pickup, I could easily see the smartphone in her hand. I fumed. We all know texting while driving is stupid, selfish, and dangerous. And I should know. I tried it once. For about ten seconds. But, as with my experiment with a cigarette in fifth grade, I quickly determined that the practice was unhealthy and not for me. I gave it up. I neither text while driving nor smoke. I will risk lives while rooting around for French fries, but texting? Absolutely not.
I spent the bulk of Sea Road coming up with adequate curses for the careless woman; most scenarios involved a horrific, one-person accident that didn’t quite kill her, but scared her straight, with me driving by, window down, sanctimoniously tut-tutting her as she desperately struggled to free herself from the burning wreckage. Road rage can be ugly.
Usually incidents like that just end. The offending driver veers off in another direction, you continue on your path, and you pretty much forget about it. But this one had a capper. I couldn’t have asked for a better send-off. No, a cop didn’t pull her over for erratic driving. That would’ve been far too cinematic. Actually, this was better.
She stops at the light at the intersection of Sea Road and Route 9 and puts on her right blinker. I’ll be heading straight down toward the beach. She’s still texting. As I’m spewing the last of my venomous epithets, which I felt had built to an admirable crescendo, I notice a bumper sticker on her car, a bumper sticker in the shape of the palm of a hand, a bumper sticker emblazoned with the safety-conscious phrase: No Text on Board.
I’m tempted to fire another salvo of disdain, but you know what? It can wait.