Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"I'm so bad"

I rode, just once, with another smart, savvy, responsible mother of two teens. As we drove down the two-lane road, she straddled the centerline, clearly taking a lane and a half to herself.

"Do you know you're straddling the center line?" I asked.

"Yeah, I know, my daughter bugs me all the time," she answered casually. "I'm so bad."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"I never think of it"

While on my way through midtown St. Louis, I found myself behind a van that glided freely from lane to lane and around turns without using a turn signal.

The van ended up at the same destination I did, and the woman who got out of the van was a friend of mine.

"Don't your turn signals work?" I asked.

"Sure, why?"

"I was behind you and I didn't see you using them."

"Oh, " she said, with a cheery laugh and sunny smile. "I never think of it."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Teenagers, Texting, and Subtexts

Teenagers, whether as drivers, students, or social beings, generally don't discuss their most important consideration--fitting in--with parents. They don't even discuss it among themselves. The correct attitude is being too cool to care.

to fit in is absorbed from media of every kind. The underlying message is: cool teens drive, cell, text, go without seatbelts, do whatever--and if adults think it's dangerous and disapprove, that's all the more reason to do it. One PSA versus a hundred TV characters shown celling while driving--you tell me which message sticks.

I recently watched the pilot episode of Beverly Hills 90210. No seatbelts were used. You can't flounce prettily at the wheel, or be a leather-clad rebel, and wear a seatbelt. Cameron Diaz's appeal in My Best Friend's Wedding is expressed in her happy-go-lucky reckless driving. Her passengers are terrorized--yet charmed! (Audrey Hepburn did the same, but on a small motor scooter.) Dying young in a fast car is the essence of the James Dean legend, and forms more than one teen pop song. Jan and Dean never sang about driving safely. Wildly popular video game--Grand Theft Auto. What are Gone in 60 Seconds and Tokyo Drift about? Signaling your turns?

A teen's driving behavior is only partly about getting from Point A to Point B. The rest is invidious social display. Having a cell phone and using it frequently is a status symbol. Doing it while driving means you can multitask, have an important social agenda, and your own car to drive, too! Talking and texting on the cell while driving, even erratically, is one way to demonstrate wealth and social position. "Don't care if I do crash, daddy's a big shot and has good insurance!" (qv. Fried Green Tomatoes). A little crash--or three or four--by a sweet-faced teenage girl is whimsical and cute on Allstate TV commercials.

Adults reinforce this subtext, all unaware. Some adult men still speak boastfully of car crashes they got themselves into and survived. Some dads (I've heard them) even prompt aggressive driving: "Don't let this guy get ahead of you." "You have to just go at the light." "If you hesitate, they'll take over."

Resistance to overt adult counsel and establishing one's death-defying nervelessness seem as important--maybe more important--to teenagers than surviving to adulthood. The media subtext makes it something of a rite of passage to drive into danger and survive, as if the only event that can make you an adult is to be involved in an MVA and thereby learn a Big Lesson about Life And Death.

Now that there are new distractions (cellphones, iPods, laptops, DVD players, Garmin, etc.), perhaps the modern-day story of rebellion and daring is by the kid who says, "Rolled my mom's Camry talking to my girlfriend the whole time! She called 911!" Where an adult would say Reckless! contemporaries say Awesome. Teenagers have always behaved thoughtlessly and recklessly in pursuit of status--only now their status games employ heavy machines going at highway speed and involve juggling multiple distractions meanwhile. Because I can, one teen said of his texting.

I think it's up to adult drivers to pay attention to what's communicated to teen drivers by the media, by their own driving behavior, and by the way they discuss driving and relate their own driving history. Right now it seems to be one part Do what I say, not what I do and one part I once drove recklessly, and so may you.

Perhaps it's not a good idea to tell your kid--or any kid--about the crashes you got into at his age unless you frame it as a severe cautionary tale. It's probably not a good idea to chuckle over it, or make it some kind of daring war story (Totaled the car, walked away, not a scratch!). Just a thought. As to the media, we're all responsible for that, and it's a huge ocean liner to try and turn around. I wish for far stricter license standards--including no license without a diploma or GED--and more severe penalties for youthful careless driving.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Toad In Love

"Glorious, stirring sight!" murmured Toad, never offering to move. "The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here today--in next week tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped--always somebody else's horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!"

"O stop being an ass, Toad!" cried the Mole despairingly.

"And to think I never knew!" went on the Toad in a dreamy monotone. "All those wasted years that lie behind me, I never knew, never even dreamt! But now--but now that I know, now that I fully realise! O what a flowery track lies spread before me, henceforth! What dust-clouds shall spring up behind me as I speed on my reckless way! What carts I shall fling carelessly into the ditch in the wake of my magnificent onset! Horrid little carts--common carts--canary-coloured carts!"

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Booth Tarkington on automobiles

"With all their speed forward [automobiles] may be a step backward in civilization--that is, in spiritual civilization.

It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men's souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace.

I think men's minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can't have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that . . . the spiritual alteration will be bad for us.

Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn't be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree . . . that automobiles 'had no business to be invented.'"

The Magnificent Ambersons (1918)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dogged Is My Co-Pilot

I know a better way.
Go this way.
Watch this guy.
Here's your turn.
Let this guy in.
Don't let this guy in.
He's letting you go.
He's not letting you go.
Turn here, turn here.
Turn now.
Watch out for this guy.
You're okay.
This is your turn.
This is the exit, get off here.
Are you watching that guy?
Turn left.
Turn right.
Stop sign.
Stop light.
It's green, go.
It's yellow, go for it.
Goose it, you can make it.
Why are you going so slow?
How fast are you going?
Go, go, go!
Stop, stop, stop!
(press imaginary brake pedal to the floor)
(frustrated sigh)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Not That I Ever Worry About It

Four confirmed dead, up to 30 missing in US bridge collapse (Yahoo/AFP)

Divers combed the dark, debris-strewn waters of the Mississipi river Thursday searching for up to 30 people missing after a major bridge collapsed at rush hour, killing at least four people.

Officials expected the death toll to rise, with dozens of cars and trucks dumped in the river after massive sections of the eight-lane bridge roadway were sheared off Wednesday evening in this midwestern US city.

After four hours of frantic rescue efforts before nightfall Wednesday, the head of the fire department Jim Clack said more than 60 people were taken to hospital and it was unlikely that any more survivors would be found.