In a more lighthearted vein, I’ve been considering the driving habits of Southern Californians lately. I’m not going to lie; I’ve been wanting to write on this topic for some time, now, and it appears that the moment is come. Upon reflection, several possible approaches appeared: I could rant about things that piss me off during my commute; I could teach a sarcastic driving course; I could make fun of the habits of drivers from various different areas; or I could make fun of drivers by stereotyping their choice of automobiles. The choice has been a difficult one though, so I’m just going to do all four. OK?
So let’s go! Walk around your vehicle and perform your five-point safety inspection, being sure to check tires for proper inflation, lights for functionality, and the ground for any suspicious puddles of leaked fluid. Adjust your mirrors, seat, head restraint and steering wheel angle (if applicable), buckle and adjust your seat belt, engage the clutch and brake, and finally, turn your ignition key to start the motor. E-brake off! First gear! Lightly off the clutch and hard on the accelerator, and don’t forget to make that left turn in Albuquerque.
The Average Janes and Joes of Southern California drive to familiar places daily and know their roadways. As a rule, they break posted speed limits by approximately 10 MPH and eye out-of-state plates with contempt. They usually carry no more than two passengers at a given time (often children) and limit their choice of bumper adornments to one icon or sticker, much like local police cruisers, except that adornments on civilian autos are typically religious or political in nature.
On that score, So-Cal. Average Janes and Joes drive rather like So-Cal. cops drive, since cops give tickets here for failing to drive like a patrolling cop. In short, the Average Jane or Joe in Southern California is a happy conformist, using signals before lane changes and turns, casually commenting on the mistakes of others, and trying not to text too much during long commutes. Nothing spectacular. They may be recognized by their unremarkable vehicle, which generally looks like a nice, shiny used car even when it’s bought brand-new, and which they sell 40,000 miles later with no discernible aesthetic differences.
Personally speaking: I have no beef with the Average Jane or Joe — that is, unless I’ve recently had a run-in with one of the inconsiderate bastards described below. Almost everyone is an Average Jane or Joe sometimes. It can depend on the car we’re driving, current stress levels, how many antidepressants we’re on, or even something dumb like what song is on the radio. So, yeah. As long as you aren’t doing some intensely ignorant shit, I want you to know that I understand. We’re all on the same team. I’ll even let you merge.
The Southern California mode of soccer mom can be seen pacing down the freeway at a static velocity without regard to the surrounding flow of traffic. She often seems to speak animatedly to no one, though this is really a conversation via Blue Tooth or with children hidden behind tinted windows. Of course, it also may purport the onset of schizophrenia. She has a selection of both political and religious bumper stickers on her rear window, and she thinks they look classier there than on the actual bumper.
The So. Cal. soccer mom has also the dubious distinction of pre-menopause, a self-administered sexual repression during what is generally considered to be the peak of female sexuality. Soccer Mom Pre-menopause, or SMP (a reversal of PMS like menopause itself), causes a particular social apathy which is believed to produce her disregard for the surrounding flow of traffic. The cause of this phenomenon is unknown, but researchers widely recognize a probable connection to both Oprah Winfrey and the Lifetime network.
Notable hazards include (but are not limited to): ignorance of nearby vehicles, failure to check blind spots before lane changes, and habitual stopping twenty feet before crosswalks at traffic signals. The latter is particularly dangerous in inner cities, when Soccer Mom’s buffer of twenty feet leaves drivers several cars behind sitting in an intersection when the light changes.
Soccer moms may be recognized by their sensible choice of automobile, typically a minivan or station wagon, though overprotective and so-called “helicopter” parents prefer SUVs and 80s-era trucks such as the Ford Bronco, as these behemoths politely crush anything that otherwise might test the safety specifications of a conventional car or pickup.
Personally speaking: when one of these bitches cuts me off while reaching to slap the brat in the back seat, I begin to fantasize about all the ways I’d like to remind her that there’s a world outside the faux-safe environment she’s contrived around her kids. Sometimes we happen to be going to the same place, and I once waited to talk to one as she got her kids out of the car. I wanted to scare her, to invade her sanitary little incubator of a lifestyle, maybe say something to the effect that people who drive like selfish, clueless twats sometimes find Hustler magazine centerfolds flour-pasted to their precious family wagons in the morning, maybe a broken beer bottle or two on the floorboard — oh, wicked world! — but can you believe it took that bitch over five minutes to armor her little maggots against the harsh Orange County elements? I had to give up in disgust. They win again.
Nondescript Van Guy comes from a variety of possible lifestyles. He may be driving an airport shuttle, rideshare, or church bus. He may be a utility worker, IT professional, or caregiver to the elderly. He may work as a courier, electrician, cable guy, or repairman. Several attempts to clarify the taxonomy of homo vana nondescriptus have been made, but these efforts are thwarted by several factors.
Strangely, all vans are white. They have been painted thus since 1994, the year of the popular Harrison Ford movie, “Clear and Present Danger,” in which a string of white vans is exploded with rocket launchers. This lack of color would be confusing enough but they also all sport tinted windows, tinted so black as to be opaque. Many do not have side and rear windows at all, these last belonging to branch Chester molesterus, the purpose of which van is commonly presumed. In addition, many Nondescript Van Guys do not advertise the name or nature of their business on the outside of their vehicles, forcing interested parties to guess at what regularly – or irregularly – transpires within.
Notable hazards include: use of turn signals after lane change has commenced or completed; poor driver field of vision; forward field of vision obscured for following drivers; possible kidnapping/molestation, esp. in 909 area code (watch for TAP OUT, F-Word Industries, or Metal Mulitia logos on bumpers or windows).
Personally speaking: Nondescript Van Guys don’t piss me off too much, usually. Most of these guys have to drive these lugging steel Twinkies for their work, and they hate the lack of windows at least as much as I hate their inability to see. Every now and then one of them gets tired of having to be extra-cautious, though, and casually slides into my lane without so much as a glance at his side mirror. That’s when I take advantage of his lack of a rear window and start chucking stink bombs at his tail. You’d be amazed how well those things seep into a cab from behind at sixty miles per hour. Learned that in high school.
Though not especially confined to this locale, the elderly motorist takes great interest in the mild Mediterranean climate of Southern California, and like most red-blooded Americans, she would rather lose a limb than relinquish her cherished automobile. This trend gives rise to perhaps the most ubiquitous known roadway hazard — the Plodding Doom.
Fortunately, the Doom feels out-of-place in traffic over 25 MPH and shuns freeways and highways in favor of community avenues and boulevards. This sadistic disposition leads Plodding Doom to refrain from exceeding 25 MPH, however, which requires other motorists to evade, circumvent, or simply endure them, even in 45 or 55 MPH zones. This critical danger is augmented more than somewhat by the condition of the motorists who must pass the Doom in sudden bursts of speed, many of whom are themselves Soccer Moms, Nondescript Van Guys, Grand Prix Guys, or hitherto-undocumented roadway hazards.
Approach Plodding Doom with extreme caution! They may be recognized by their slight, non-erratic swerve, intermittent brake lights, driver invisibility, or by their vehicle, which is invariably an early model in far better condition than naturally occurs.
NOTE: the Doom is not a dextrous creature; if you suspect that you are being followed by a member of this genus and species, quickly execute a U-turn; the Doom will not be able to reciprocate, thus facilitating your fortuitous escape. This maneuver is colloquially known as “flipping a bitch,” as the surviving majority of Plodding Dooms are of the female gender.
Personally speaking: I don’t sweat Plodding Doom. I just go around. I mean, shit — these people are rolling toward death as it is, and if they happen to plow into a crowd of people on 4th St. in Santa Monica every now and then, well hey, that’s facilitating evolution, too, isn’t it? Be ever vigilant, my friends!
Modern Harley Guy is a disarming specimen. He observes traffic laws, uses his turn signals, and whenever possible, travels in large packs in order to increase visibility for his own safety and that of others. He is good-natured, magnanimous in heavy traffic, and exudes an aura of a man on holiday. One must remind oneself at every sighting that Modern Harley Guy is a killer, and that one ought not engage him on the highway without the proper precautions: water balloons, for example.
The split personality of Modern Harley Guy contributes to his hazardous behavior. He affords his $25,000 motorbike by working days as a doctor, lawyer, or corporate executive, a lifestyle which affords him much stress, little relaxation, and no time with which to exult in a hobby or family (though many Modern Harley Guys purchase hobbies or families intending to invest time in them at a later date). After his children grow up and monies sufficient for the sustaining of the — often newly divorced — Modern Harley Guy are garnered, the Modharg retires from his job and accedes to a life of leisure: a maximum of four days at the office; two days maintaining recently acquired real estate; and one day on which he forces himself to indulge in the hobby he invested in during the failure of his marriage. Without fail, this new hobby is motorcycling.
The Modharg, having grown up in an era of Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, still associates the Harley Davidson brand with rebelliousness, vigor, and freedom, a delusion which impels him to bizarre highway behavior, such as taking in the sunset at a cool 40 MPH without watching the road. He does not possess any latent mechanical skill and so does not understand some or many attributes of his vehicle. This lack of confidence causes Modern Harley Guy to operate his motorcycle like a Soccer Mom / Nondescript Van Guy hybrid, riding at static speeds, changing lanes without checking his blind spot, and moving down the road with all the apathy and deliberate ignorance of a doctor on his lunch break. If the Modharg achieves a level of confidence with his Sunday plaything, he may take a second, younger and more blonde mate to entertain him on weekends, and in this stage of development ceases to cause problems on the road, being only dangerous when inebriated in the presence of another Modharg in a prior stage.
He may be easily recognized by the perfect condition of his new leather jacket, which is usually bedecked in scores of leather tassels, or by his Willie Nelson stars n’ stripes bandanna, which he may be wearing on his head, around his ankle, or out of his back pocket.
Personally speaking: now seriously, I want to stress that it’s the weekend warrior bastards who tend to be total wastes of water. I mean, I ride, and I’ve met everyone from the crusty ol’ Easy Rider rebels from the 60s to the neon-suited street-bike bros, and honestly, they’re all pretty nice guys. I mean, hell, there’s alot of camaraderie between riders, anyhow. But Modern Harley Guys can really fucking suck! Who gets off the bike and starts bragging about his new Ferrari? Who fucking does that? And what about the needless and careless fuck-you-I’m-riding-here attitude? Needless does not mean independent, asshole. And careless is not the same as carefree. You’ll notice that Modhargs tend to ride with other Modhargs. There’s a reason for that.
Grand Prix Guy is the villain discussed in most driver’s education courses, the type-A personality with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, a disease stemming from various causes without any significant difference in the symptoms. These symptoms include neurotic and unpredictable decision-making with a tendency towards active rather than passive, sharp versus gradual, breaking-through instead of blending-in. Grand Prix Guy finds himself unable to escape the delusion that everyone envies his lightning reflexes and commanding presence on the road, and studies show that the rise in testosterone levels during his commute actually makes him feel sexier to females whom may be sharing the road with him.
Grand Prix Guy may rev his engine at stoplights to entice other drivers to compete against him or as a show of feigned self-confidence. He may also do this as part of a bizarre mating ritual which has baffled experts, baffled them because the mating call has no record of success outside of classic movies and therefore does not lend itself to the evolution of the species. Another step in GPG’s mating ritual is to show his poor taste in music by playing it as loud as possible, music typically of the top-40 hip-hop genre; this has changed through the years, having been gangsta rap in the 90s, heavy metal in the 80s, and in the 70s — disco. He advertises his poor taste in music in order that Grand Prix Girls (also called “Bro Hos”) might associate themselves with him through their own poor taste in music and thereby seek him out if he happens to park nearby. This scenario is also part of GPG’s delusion.
He may be recognized by his erratic behavior and shocking gambles on the road, but not by his vehicle. Terrifyingly, Grand Prix Guy has been known to drive every known make and model of automobile, including even the forklift, the golf cart, and the La-Z-Boy.
Personally speaking: I used to brake-check Grand Prix Guys, until one day this jackass in a fucking Trans-Am (of course) was so close to my bumper that when I hit the brakes he fishtailed behind me and almost lost control, and at the next light he got out to threaten my life. This motherfucker was so high on amphetamines that he looked like his face was about to tear free from his head and float away, and so pissed that he couldn’t even talk. When the light turned green I just cruised on ahead and regretted having almost created a terrible accident. That Trans-Am didn’t hurt anyone. Why should I take my aggression out on a helpless macho relic from the 80s? The moral is, when you see Grand Prix Guy and want to flip him off, remember that GPG is very likely PCP — on wheels.
SUV Captains have been piloting their tuna boats through the narrow straits of our cities and suburbs for a little over a decade, now, and calculating the amount of damage this misgiven trend has caused could crash the most stalwart computer processor. Without even considering ecological complications, drivers of SUVs are six times more likely to kill other drivers in a collision, and they know this. The Southern California breed of SUV Captain often does not own a sports-utility vehicle for sports or utility, but rather for the selfish safety of their families at the expense of other people’s safety everywhere they go. SUVs also afford their owners all the luxury and comfort of an early-model conversion van, with an entertainment center instead of a sink and wooden cabinets. SUV Captains drive without regard to laws, social conventions, or other drivers, and can be expected to commit any of the atrocities here described when it suits their fancy.
Large trucks present an obstacle to the flow of traffic as well as myriad other hazards, and for this reason the drivers of conventional vehicles distaste having one nearby, a lesson that newly commissioned SUV Captains learn soon after leaving his or her port-of-call. They resent that no one wants to let them merge and do not understand that they obscure the forward field of vision of everyone following them, so they quickly begin to neglect their turn signals and opt instead for the “Fuck you, I’m coming over” method. They also do not understand that without being able to see ahead, everyone behind them depends on their SUV’s brake lights to warn them of any approaching danger whatsoever, so they do not keep a large following distance in front of them but instead tailgate others, using their mammoth size to intimidate drivers into making way for them. It takes no time at all before the SUV Captain sees that he is reviled on the road, and rather than rethinking his rash, self-serving decision to buy a behemoth, he sides with the other SUV Captains and simply decides that all common courtesies and civic codes were intended for common people in common cars. A small example of this elitist mentality is pictured above. Note the CA plate. No surprise there.
Personally speaking: when these fucking Tonka toys first gained popularity, people made lots of dick jokes, the kind we used to tell about the Lamborghini owners and Corvette bastards. Guy steps out of something flashy like that, you pretty much automatically figure he’s got a little dick, but it’s always seemed extra true about SUV Captains to me, maybe because I’ve never seen a tall guy step out of one. It’s always some Napoleon motherfucker in a polo shirt, looking around and hiking up his Dockers before strutting into the local Trader Joe’s. If their demeanor were yoked to their driving habits, I could stand being around these Rear Admirals, but the ones I’ve met have almost uniformly been assholes (and having worked in Orange County as a kid for ten years, I’ve met hundreds). My hypothesis is that the “fuck-you-I’m-coming-over” attitude leaks into their personality until they drive their lives the way they drive their fucking Tonka toys. Or, alternately, perhaps they were like that all along, and it took the advent of the S-U-fucking-V for them to feel right at home in their jerkmobiles, a selfish little castle for selfish little men — oh, and for their Soccer Mom Pre-menopausal wives, lest we forget.
Rolling Status Symbol Guy drives like a cross between a Modharg and a Soccer Mom, except I’ve never been able to figure out exactly what it is that causes their utter apathy. They aren’t necessarily assholes in person, and they don’t seem particularly unintelligent. Whatever it is, I know that I should never get behind one, because the nicer the car, the less urgent the business, and I want to get where I’m going preferably before my unborn grandchildren do. You ever notice how a late model Lotus will never exceed the speed limit by even a little? And speaking of the Lotus, why are they all neon? Who wants to spend 60,000 dollars on a lime-green sports car?
That’s nothing compared to the Lamborghinis, though. The way Lamborghini drivers get around is irony beyond compare. Imagine! $300,000 just to putt around like you were in a Volvo. What the fuck is the point in that? If I could afford something exorbitant like that, and if I could justify its expense to myself, I’d be able to justify driving like I was on the autobahn, too, and I’d poo-pooh speeding tickets just as if I were shooing a fly.
Of course, maybe it really is just a status symbol. Really? Really? These fucktards are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars so other people are forced to accept that in some parts of the world, this is considered a standard purchase? I guess if I were at the top, I’d be lonely, too, and this sort of reaching out for some semblance of respect, some distant glimpse of a smile in my direction might be all I had that kept my uneventful existence from becoming an exciting front page murder/suicide story.
On the other hand and to be fair: maybe they’re just sleepy, boring fuckers with irrational spending habits and a penchant for leather seats? Couldn’t tell you. Last time I tried to interview one, I practically jumped out the window myself. Those poor bastards converse like a real-estate firm’s answering machine.
OK, OK, I know — the fixed-gear bicycle is not technically a car. But they’re on my fucking roads, and they’re in my fucking way everywhere I turn here in Long Beach, CA. These entitled sons of bitches actually seem to think that I have some obligation to them and their $3,000 fashion accessory. They want to merge into traffic at 30 MPH in the 45 zone. They want extra room in the slow lane so they can ride in their trendy little cliques, three people abreast, their cute little capri shorts showing off their cute little emo bottoms. They actually lobbied and won their own stupid lane in the road here where I live! Never mind the heavy traffic — we have goddamn fixers to coddle.
That was to decriminalize behavior like this jackass exhibits here, in the above photo, shown doing a K-rad skid out in the middle of the fucking roadway during heavy traffic. Awesome! Good job. And who would you suppose snapped up this fantastic photo opportunity? The driver of the car behind, who was completely impressed, I’m sure? No, it was one of the other fixers in the fashion-fuck echelon of Tour de France assholes behind him, of course. They probably took turns doing fabulous skid outs for one another to take iPhone pictures of while riding one-handed, downhill, in traffic, so that they’d all have the eye-catching splendor of themselves in fixed-gear fashion on their Facebook pages.
Well, fuck them. And you know what? Even if they weren’t riding around like they owned the place, popping up in swarms of self-acceptance like the result of a Lance Armstrong gangbang via members of Paramour and My Chemical Romance, I still wouldn’t be OK with the spandex-free cycling fad, because fixers’d still contend that they’re engaged in this ridiculous trend for reasons other than that it’s fashionable, and I can’t stand a lack of introspection that grievous.
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So that’s that. I’m not going to say any more about any of the other kinds of shitty highway behavior or anyone else’s lack of etiquette. To be completely honest, it’s frickin’ horrifying to look back on all this and see that this is the amalgam of death that we gamble our lives on here every day. It’s even more chilling to reflect on ourselves honestly and realize that from time to time, we’ve all been one or two of these assholes. Some of us are Grand Prix Guy every Friday after work. Others are Plodding Death every Sunday after church when we’re still feeling “the spirit of the Lord.” Still others of us much resemble the Rolling Status Symbol Guy, except that instead of Vivaldi’s “Quattro Stagioni” on the stereo, we have Sly and the Family Stone, and instead of a Bentley, we’re bouncing along in a VW bus, and instead of a Cuban cigar, we have a British-Columbian cigarette. . . You get the picture.
Anyhow, the point is, nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Today, world, I am going to drive like utter shit all over you, and on top of that, I intend to be a total dick.” Nobody says that, so keep it in mind when you really loathe that motherfucker in front of you clogging up the fast lane, or start to kind of hate the swerving madman who really may be drunk, or begin to detest whoever parked that goddamn SUV half on the sidewalk in front of your apartment. If there’s any difference between your Average John or Jane Doe and the other people on this list, it’s that some drivers work together to keep from getting home any later than necessary, and some fuck it up by trying to do it their own way. I guess that’s all I have to say about that.
Have an Awesome Trip and Happy Motoring,