Decisions, Decisions

I'm driving home from work, and I'm coming up on a traffic light that just turned red, and there are two cars in front of me stopped at the light, one in each lane. We've all been there, so you know what's coming.

You have less than two seconds to decide something that can make or break the rest of your day: Which one of the drivers currently sitting at the light is the bigger asshole. Your brain will apply a well-known but rarely mentioned law of traffic signal dynamics that states that the degree of assholishness present in a person's body is directly proportional to the speed at which said person will accelerate from the traffic light when the light turns green. This is immutable.

Your brain sorts through dozens of variables in the space of seconds. Sight, sound, and --to a lesser extent-- smell, will all combine in a split-second of intuition that will either result in a glorious victory shout, or a spewing forth of obscenities.

Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes the relative assholishness doesn't enter into to it, and it becomes strictly a vehicle comparison. Suppose you get a corvette and a minivan. Bam! Corvette, no contest, even if it turns out there's a blind old lady driving. A garbage truck and a Celica? Celica, hands down. Motorcycle and a Caddy? Take the bike, it's a no-brainer.

Sometimes, it's a little tougher. That's what happened to me today.

First, the vehicles. The one on the left: A newish looking 4x4 pickup truck with huge tires, running boards, a rack of lights, and a back window with an american flag. A bumper sticker tells me that if I don't like logging, I can try wiping my ass with plastic.

The one on the right: A rice-boy Honda Civic with 48" rims, an aluminum rear fin the size of an aircraft carrier, and what appears to be a silver coffee can fastened to the tailpipe. This car is bright red, and seems to be thumping up and down to some sort of dance beat. There is also a big, white, HONDA sticker covering the top half of the rear window, just so everyone knows what kind of car it is, because identifying those Hondas can be tricky business.

I instantly realize this one could go either way.

Jim Bob is going to try to smoke Slim Shady, and Slim is going to try to get the drop on Jim Bob. Someone in a minivan is coming up behind me, so I have to take the shot.

I get behind Slim.

I'm feeling pretty good about my decision, because there's some slight "edging-up" going on. He's obviously gonna go for it. I can hear the Zzzzzzzz-ZZZZZZZ of his awesome 4 cylinder, 1.6 liter lawnmower engine whining above the thumping bass. Jim Bob is oblivious -- either he's ignoring Slim, or he's playing it cool because he already knows that the second the light turns green he's going to jag sharply to the right and just bounce the Civic off his giant right-front tire.

From the edge of the traffic signal, I see the light facing the other lanes at the intersection turn yellow, and I get ready. Up ahead about 100 yards, the two lanes merge into one, so I'm hoping Slim gets a big enough lead that I can squeeze in behind him, safely in front of Jim Bob and the slow cow in the minivan.

The light turns green, and.....

...Slim "the douchebag" Shady blows his shift, and I almost drive my car directly into his back seat.

It becomes clear to me that I somehow managed to get behind the only backwards-baseball-cap-wearing-teenaged-asshole who doesn't yet know how to pop a clutch.


I slam on my brakes and the old lady in the minivan on my left, who wisely chose to weld her front bumper to Jim Bob's rear one, passes me like I was standing still, which, of course, I was.

So I guessed wrong. The cold equations failed me. While I am pretty sure the relative assholishness variable was well-played, I neglected to factor in the Poser theorem, which states that there is an inverse relationship between how fast a Honda Civic looks, and how fast it actually is. I think there is an additional corollary that says something about increasing or decreasing the ratio depending upon whether the backwards baseball cap is adjustable or fitted, but I always sucked at math.

I guess it just proves that even if you bolt 500lbs of extra shit in and around your Civic, it doesn't mean it's any faster than it was before, and it doesn't mean that you know how to drive.

I hate it when I guess wrong. Especially in this case, because Jim Bob snagged a win by default. There's no glory in that. None at all.

Speaking of traffic lights, how did we ever convince people behind the wheel of two ton machines to stop, slow down, and go just because a little light tells them to do so?

I think there should be some common-sense applied. Here's a fer-instance. I think that left on red before 6am should be a law. Why? Because every day I come to work at 6am, and every day the traffic light at the intersection leading into our office park is red. This light is always red.

It is 6am, in a deserted office park. It stays red for hours at a time, until it senses a car sitting at it, then it will wait an additional 2-3 minutes, and turn green until it no longer senses cars. Then back to red.

About 4 out of 5 days, I come to this red light, and I look both ways. If I don't see any headlights, I turn left and drive to the parking garage.

I am not retarded. I am not blind. I know what oncoming traffic looks like. I am not a sheep.

I refuse to sit there for ten minutes, by myself, with no other cars in sight, waiting for a stupid little light to decide when I can and can't go. So I take the turn, and get on with my day.

But on that fifth day, it never fails. I turn the corner, and there's some idiot just sitting there at the light. Waiting. And waiting. And waiting. These people are morons, and I want to get out of my car, walk up to their driver's side door, and kick it repeatedly while screaming "Do you SEE any cars coming? DO YOU? DO YOU? TAKE THE TURN FOR GOD'S SAKE!"

But I don't because most of the time they park in the same garage that I do, and when they get out of their cars, it turns out that I know them. I don't like them, and I'll never respect them, but I know them.

Left on red before 6am. Think about it. Every vote counts.


  1. I am consistently blown away by how good you are at telling stories. You nailed it on the lawnmower sounding engine. I hate that. I live on a busy road, and those idiotic crap heaps bother me way more than the noisy tractor trailers when they go by.

  2. Ricers are always funny. My friend Dave and I just recently had a debate about the red-light-dilemma, and also called people who bow to their infinte power sheep.

    Great minds think alike!

  3. I had the inverse experience this morning. When I pulled up it was a garbage truck, and a school bus. It was clear that this, too, could go either way. Both are inherently pokey vehicles. The school bus was in the left hand lane, but because this is New Jersey we're talking about, all the turns come off the right hand side of the road. Even the ones where you are turning left. In New Jersey, this evidently makes sense to SOMEone. The point is, the school bus was going to have to get over the right sooner or later, and the garbage truck was gonna want to make sure it was later, so he didn't get stuck behind a slow-ass, stopping-at-every-traintrack-and-hump-in-road yellow snail with screaming goblin children pressing their faces up against the rear windows, mocking his inability to perform his garbage route at maximum efficiency. On the other hand, if the school bus was being driven by the kind of bus driver I remember from MY youth, there was no way some garbage-toting, over-all wearing, dixie-whistling cowboy was going to get off the line faster than that bus. And of course if the bus got off the line faster, it would move over, leaving the field clear for my glorious victory. I chose the bus. And this morning...I won. It was beautiful.

  4. Joh(Nny), discovering a link to your blog one afternoon while trawling through the Dilbert Blog I was, in a word, transported. I haven't laughed that hard since the republican convention in New York. Some day I shall have to invite you and your lovely wife to visit my husband and I in this, the land of jug handles and maniacal bus-drivers. I make a mean salad, although seizures are optional.

  5. stop making me pee in my pants!

    p.s. i chose the logger, but i need help appling traffic signal physics to grocery checkout line physics. i always end up in the slowest lane.

  6. Traffic control implies TRAFFIC, ie, a car other than mine that I need to beat, um, coexist with.

    If I don't see anybody coming I have no problem turning left at a red light. THERE'S NO ONE THERE.

    What makes me laugh hysterically is the guy who whips across 3 lanes and cuts me and about 12 other people off, on the highway home. Inevitably 5 minutes later when the highway turns into a boulevard with a series of stoplights, I'm along side of him at a red light honking my horn and waving "hi, there!!!" Which, with the proper big grin, means "Got real far, didn't ya? You moron."

    I don't really honk and wave (I want to LIVE!) but it's SO tempting.

  7. Nes. You brought a tear to my eye. Masterful. I bow to your innate grasp of traffic signal dynamics.

  8. I agree wholeheartedly with the left on red before 6am. I plan to run for mayor of my small town on that very platform. Stupid red lightards!

  9. As fitch said, you're an incredible story teller, JV.

  10. I am faced with the same decision all the time, and it is a big deal to me. I would have chosen poser-boy too.

    Left on red lights before 6 is alright in my book. As long as you can see oncoming traffic pretty far out.

  11. Jennifer3:30 PM

    JV, I have had to learn to control my "angry driving" since I work for a huge corporation and inevitably end up flipping off someone who works here too…makes meeting kind of awkward. :)

  12. This reminds me of the time that I went to Walmart to get some sleeping medication -- and no, I couldn't wake it up. The medication gets cranky when I do that!

    The light just before Walmart is always red when there's no traffic. I made sure nobody was coming, and I bolted for Walmart on my bike. The next thing you know, there's a siren and lights. The cop pulls me over, asking if I know why he pulled me over. Of course I know; he's an idiot. He then goes on a spiel about not wanting to see my brain splattered all over the road, and went on his merry way.

    So now I'm off the hook, and can go to Walmart. At least, I thought I was, until he turned around and stopped me AGAIN. This time, he asked what I was up to at 2 AM. I told him about the medication. He then asked me if I was on any illicit drugs. Clearly, I'm a criminal mastermind, considering that all I wanted to do was get some sleeping medication. I told him that I wasn't, and pre-emptively volunteered for a drug test. He told me he never heard that one before, said to be careful, and FINALLY left me alone.

    Cops are crazy. Hell, I was walking down the road with my umbrella, and was pulled over because the officer thought I was carrying a rifle!

    I've moved since, and the cops don't mind me here at all -- although I'm usually sporting a trench, and am out walking somewhere between 12-6 AM. That should tell you how safe the neighborhood would be if there really were any suspicious people.

    Anyway, this was a nice read. Gotta love those teenage punks.