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San Diego, CA, United States
I am 49-years-old and a 4th generation San Diegan. I still live in the San Diego area with my husband. Writing is my emotional outlet and this blog is simply the organization of all my thoughts and feelings. It helps me to make sense of all the craziness in the world and in my life. With every experience I have and with every blog I write, I try to be a bit more introspective and seek to learn something new about myself. Sometimes I like what I learn, other times I don't, but such is my life. Welcome to it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Driving and the skill of observation or lack thereof

I don’t necessarily like driving.  I hate traffic and asshole drivers which seem to make up most of the other drivers on the road.  Things like not using a turn signal, tailgating, merging into 70mph traffic at 50mph and expecting everyone else to get out of their way, and using a cellphone while driving are just a few of the things on my long list of asshole moves that I think make a driver a complete douche.  Since my work commute is at least 45 minutes one way, I encounter a lot of douches.

Most of my drive is spent on the freeway on the outskirts of the city and I go against traffic.  I am not subjected to bumper to bumper, car honking standstills on congested inner city freeways.  

For that I am grateful, because I’d most likely be in prison for some major road rage incident against some jack wagon beeping at me from behind the wheel of a Mini Cooper because the posted speed limit, of which I obey most times, is apparently too slow.  The open road with less traffic allows me to look around at my surroundings and at the other drivers, which is quite interesting at times.

I see people doing a variety of different things in their cars on any given day, yet the one thing that remains constant is that people are not paying attention.  Their stare is straight ahead, even when changing lanes, and they rarely look at the other cars on the road, let alone the drivers behind the wheel.

I suppose, like me, they like to let their mind wander, because once the road opens up, one doesn’t have to pay particular attention to traffic.  A car can simply get in a lane and zoom zoom they’re off with nothing in front of them except for an occasional semi truck, but sometimes looking around can be quite beneficial.  

Being observant while behind the wheel can help you avoid accidents with other asshole drivers and can help you avoid that suicidal deer that twice has tried to jump in front of my car at the last minute. More importantly, being observant can help you identify all the hiding spots along the freeway where the California Highway Patrol officers like to wait in ambush.  

Noticing the absence of observation by my fellow drivers, I decided to conduct an experiment in that one simple, but important, skill that most people lack - observation.  

Everyday for over two weeks I observed my fellow drivers.  To and from work whenever I passed a car, or more likely when a car passed me because according to my husband, I drive like a "grandma,” I attempted to make eye contact. Not a brief glance, but full on prolonged eye contact.

Rarely did the other drivers bother to turn their head in my direction, but when they did, I waved.  Nothing crazy-like, just a quick wag of the fingers and perhaps a head nod to acknowledge them, all the while attempting to maintain direct eye contact because I wanted to see their reactions.  

Out of the hundreds of cars that passed, only two drivers ever made direct eye contact.  Several more glanced in my direction, but our eyes never met, thus my wave went unnoticed.  

The first to make eye contact was an older gentlemen, perhaps in his 70’s, driving a beat up pick up truck with Arizona plates.  I actually passed him as he was driving even slower than me!  As I passed I looked over and we locked eyes.  I waved, smiled, and continued past.

A few miles down the freeway, he passed me, slowing as he came even with my Jeep.  We locked eyes again, he smiled and gave a very enthusiastic wave.  He exited the freeway a few off ramps later and I never saw him again, but I remember him because he responded in kind and had such a great smile.

The second driver I made eye contact with was a younger man driving a U-Haul truck and again, driving way slower than me.  Slow enough to the point he was pissing off other drivers on the freeway.  Nevertheless, as I passed I glanced over.  Our eyes met briefly, but long enough for me to smile and give a quick wave.  

I remember him, because he had the most retarded (I know, not a PC comment, but an accurate description) look on his face with his mouth hanging open and he just stared at me. He didn’t wave, smile, or even nod his head, just stared slack jawed as I passed.  

It was a very weird expression.  Perhaps he was being forced at gunpoint to drive the U-Haul truck by a high ranking member of a drug cartel and the truck was full of heroin? Or maybe he had just killed his wife and was hauling her mutilated body out to dump in the desert?  Or probably he was simply moving and his mind was preoccupied with more pressing matters than the strange woman in the Jeep staring and waving at him.  But whatever the reason for his odd expression, I will never know.

After a week with just about every single driver ignoring me or glancing in my direction but not really seeing what or whom they were looking at, I decided to change the focus of my experiment to the passengers in the passing cars.  Actually, this adjustment came about by accident.  Even though the other drivers had no idea they were partaking in an observational exercise, I was still getting frustrated with their lack of active participation, but it was almost getting into a car accident that caused me to shift my attention to the passengers.

I was attempting a lane change on the freeway and as I began merging into the other lane, I saw a car at the last minute in my blind spot.  I swerved back into my lane and cursed out loud that this idiot thought it safe to drive in another’s blind spot, which is a huge pet peeve of mine.  I glared at them as they passed and it was the woman in the passenger seat with whom I made eye contact.

I would estimate she was in her late 40’s or early 50’s.  Instead of returning my hostile gaze or flipping me the bird because I had almost crashed into them, she smiled.  I was quite taken aback by her response, but her simple gesture of a smile immediately diffused my irritation.  I returned the smile and gave an apologetic wave.  It should be noted, however, that they did not have California plates and I think that was the difference in her giving me a smile versus the middle finger.  

That phase of the experiment didn’t last long, however, as the majority of passengers in the other cars that made eye contact with me were children.  Although they made great eye contact as they passed, they had no other reaction.  They simply stared, often turning around in their seats to continue their unfaltering gaze.  Most times it was I who averted my eyes, otherwise we just stared at one another and after a few seconds it became unnerving as their faces remained passive regardless of whether I waved, smiled or stuck my tongue out at them.  

My experiment has long been over, but I find myself still watching other drivers as they pass me by.  I no longer hope for eye contact, but on the rare occasion when it does happen, I smile and wave, but so far no one has ever been observant enough to notice.

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