Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Things That Chap My Ass About Commuting

By the time you read this, I’ll be on the Glenn Highway.

As some of you know, I recently took a job with the US Air Force.

This means that once again I’m a commuter. For the next year, every morning, I have to get up early and drive into Anchorage and do the reciprocal course in the evenings. Oh frabulous jay.

In the two years since I’ve had to regularly commute in rush hour traffic, things have not improved.

I swear, somehow the rush hours are still chock full of idiots.  I find this most vexing. I gave the dumb bastards two damned years. I mean, hell, I figured they’d all be dead by now.

I’ve driven all over the world, France, Spain, Italy, Iceland, Mexico, Canada, various places in the Middle East. New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, Mexico City, Edmonton, Montreal, Honolulu.  I’ve driven everything from sports cars to semi-trucks.  I’ve twice now driven completely around the North American continent, trips in excess of 10,000 miles through dozens of cities, down every major highway in the US and Canada, down thousands of miles of back roads.

I notice things.

Ninety percent of commuters are idiots

And when I say idiots, I mean so goddamned stupid that it must hurt for them to think. I mean they’ve got brains like a square tire – it’ll roll, but Goddamn do you have to push that thing. Commuting already resembles a herd of cattle mooing their way from barn to field and back again, I suppose it’s only fitting that the mental state of the average commuter should be as cud-chewing bovine-like as well.

I’ve noticed that there are two types of commuting stupidity: regional and universal.

Regional Stupidity is like when Mainers, for example, do something called the Mainer Turn, which is where they put on their signal and begin slowing down about five miles before they actually get to the corner – I swear to all that is holy, lobsters on the way to the pot travel faster than Mainers making a turn.  Californians do the Socal Stop, that’s where everybody in eight lanes of traffic just comes to a complete standstill for no apparent reason whatsoever – Californians use this time to read War and Peace and do their taxes and fax the finished forms to the IRS from their cell phones. People who live in Norfolk, Virginia carry lawn chairs in their trunks – about once a week the only tunnel out of town explodes in a giant ball of flame. If you’re not killed outright, what you do is get out a lawn chair and sit on the bridge and read a book – it’s also a great way to meet girls and get free drinks, sort of the Norfolk happy hour.  Texans mostly just drive around in giant trucks wooping and a hollarin’ wearing really big hats and those giant foam hands like you get at a Dallas Cowboys game.  Michiganders consider the speed limit to be a personal thing, they all just sort of choose their own and drive it no matter what – that’s why there’s only one damned speed limit sign in the entire state, they just randomly move it around every once in a while (Note this is especially true in the town of Holland, there’s a reason why people from Ohio and Indiana tell Hollander jokes).  New Yorkers like to add horse carriages to the mix, along with about ten billion taxis driven by people from countries where they worship cows and allow them to wander around in the street – and who swear in the most amazingly creative ways. Hawaiians traded all their consonants for surfboards and those drinks that come on fire in a coconut – seriously, I’ve seen Hawaiians drive, the bastards aren’t fooling anybody they can’t read the damned street signs either and they’re as lost as the tourists.  They just drive around and around the damned Island until they eventually pass their houses. Oh, there it is.  Alaskans, well, my fellow Alaskans like to act surprised every time it snows – What? Snow is slippery again this year? Shit, never saw that coming. Most of them never see the ditch coming either.

But for all the variety, there are certain universal themes wherever you go, the idiots who make you feel at home no matter what highway you should find yourself whiteknuckling your way down.

I like to give these people names.  It amuses me to do so.  And being amused, ever so slightly that I am, makes me just a little less likely to start shooting.

I see these people every morning and every evening:

Left Lane Larry:  (To paraphrase) Dyslexia, Motherfucker, do you speak it?  Look, it’s simple.  Left lane fast, right lane slow. Left lane fast. Right lane slow. Left. Lane. Fast.  But there’s Larry, every goddamned morning and every goddamned night, tooling along at about 50 in the left lane.  You’ve seen him, tapping his fingers to the music, smiling slightly, head tilted to one side, about one doobie away from being an aquatic plant – ignoring the nuns honking and giving him the finger as they sail past in the right lane, late for happy hour or whatever work it is that nuns do.  I swear to God, when I become Emperor of the Universe, I’m going to make driving too slow in the fast an offense punishable by being locked in a car with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Ten Million Bottles of Beer on the Wall and a pack of rabid wolverines with small bladders.

Then there is Larry’s brother, Right Lane Rickey. He’s the guy that drives 50 in the right lane. 50. No matter what. His hands are fixed at ten and two. He never looks left. He never looks right. He never speeds up, he never slows down. He never changes lanes – even when people are trying to get on the highway from the entrance ramp. He’s like one of those tin ducks on a chain at a carnival shooting gallery.  You can shoot at him all day, but he never deviates. Ever. 50, screw you and have a nice day.

And speaking of the entrance ramp, meet On Ramp Ronald.  Ron is the guy who drives 35 down the ramp.  All the way to the end. Then he merges into 70MPH traffic. At 35.  Utterly oblivious the screeching brakes behind him, the blaring horns, the gunfire, the creative hand signals (Ok, that’s all me – but, shit, you’d think he’d at least glance in the rearview mirror).  I think Ron has a little Mainer in him, because he’s also the guy who can’t seem to understand why exit ramps are a half mile long, up hill. Ron likes to brake first, before exiting the highway.

Phone Talk Ted. You all know this guy.  I swear, it’s only a matter of time until it’s legal to just shoot these fucking people.  Shoot them and leave their decaying corpses along the side of the road as an example to the other idiots – or as fertilizer for the wildflowers. Either way, shooting them is a win/win.

My personal favorite, Brake Pedal Bobby.  You’re finally past the bottleneck. Traffic is flowing smoothly along at 70MPH.  Bob watches in his rearview mirror for you to turn your head.  The second you do so, Break Pedal Bobby hits the big rectangular pedal in the middle for no damned reason whatsoever.  Surprise!  One of these days I’m going to replace my front bumper with a railroad tie and a couple of flamethrowers. Think I’m kidding? Sometimes I get drunk and watch The Road Warrior, I get a little misty eyed when Mel drives the semi rig straight through crazy Mohawk hair Wez in a cloud of twisted steel, gay sex appeal, flying debris and flame – it’s just such a beautiful moment.  During the commute I dream of doing that to damned near every car I pass. 

Blindspot Betty.  What the hell is it with this woman? She’s the one that comes sailing up in the other lane, doing twenty miles an hour over the speed limit – right up until she gets in your blind spot. Then it’s like the bitch is fixed to your left rear fender. She’s like a fucking cling-on, you just can’t shake her. Speed up, slow down, but this turd just won’t fall off.

Shoulder Sam. He’s the guy who drives the pickup with the big knobby tires.  He had one too many martinis at lunch.  He drives half on the shoulder, flinging up gravel and hunks of semi tire rubber like Pig-pen from Peanuts. Thanks for paint chips and broken windshield asshole, let’s try to color inside the lines, shall we?

Willy the Weaver and Lane Change Charlie.  Willy weaves back and forth in no discernable pattern.  He’s got the attention span of a five year old.  He can’t stand to be in any one lane for very long. He gets bored, he likes to see what the scenery looks like on the other side of the road for a while.  He sort of drifts slowly back and forth, aimlessly changing lanes. Charlie? Charlie is an opportunist.  He is pathologically incapable of passing up a lane change opportunity.  Leave a gap between you and the car ahead, you know just in case it’s Break Pedal Bobby up there, and Charlie will break hard and slide right in inches from your bumper.  He’ll stay for a moment, then Zip and Swerve, he’s gone again in a cloud of diesel smoke.

Hey! It’s Make up Mary and Cheeseburger Chuck.  Always doing something other than driving. Driving is just so boring. God, it’s boring. That’s why you should bring a book, or use the time to wax your legs, or get rectal surgery, or eat a cheeseburger bigger than your head.  If you’re really lucky these people have a little dog standing in their laps.  I passed a guy the other day who had a hooded falcon on a post in the passenger seat.  The thought of that thing getting loose and ripping him to shreds, screaming, trapped inside his slow ass little pickup truck made me smile all the way home.

Then there’s Hybrid Harry.  I get it.  I do really.  He’s saving the planet.  He eats tofu and drives a Prius. Good for him, it’s admirable. Really. Right up until you discover the maximum speed for a Prius is about ten miles per hour slower than everybody else on the road – no matter what the average speed.  If everybody else is doing 50, Hybrid Harry does 40, If everybody else is doing 65, Harry tops out at about 55.  There he is, every goddamned morning like a big ugly boat anchor in middle of the road.  Every time I end up behind a hybrid, I go home and fill my gas tank with the rendered fat of baby harp seals – thanks for the carbon credits, you fucking hippy. 

I swear, Man, I’m not kidding – I pass a place that sells railroad ties every day.

If I can just get my hands on a couple of remote control flamethrowers…


  1. Maybe we could bribe the falcon......

  2. It's worth it Jim.

    Andy had a steel 2x4 as the front bumper of his jeep.

    People get the hell out of your way when they see that.

  3. You must have a very sore ass. It seems to get chapped a lot!

  4. Sheeehit, you think you have a commute?

    Try doing the same distance with the dickwads of the great New York Metro Area.

    And you forgot the bane of the weekend drive - Weekend Wanda. She doesn't drive, probably doesn't own a car, but she rents one to get out of the city on weekends. her skills, never too sharp to start with, have deteriorated from disuse. She can mimic any or all of the above idiots.

    Zipcar is such a fucking bad idea.

  5. Watch Death Race with Jason Statham, there are some good ideas in that one too, armored tails, chain guns, mini guns and pre-aimed RPG's on the hood...

  6. All of those reasons are why i don't drive...and don't miss it at all.

  7. Here, here!!

    ah, back from vacation and had my 'ass-chappin' fix from Jim. Of course nearly decorated the work monitor with yogurt & Coke, but it would have been worth it.

    With Atlanta now either #2 or #3 for commuting times behind LA & NYC, although I have a perfectly valid license in this state, do my commuting by public transportation at this point in time. I get positively squirmy when I have to go somewhere in rush hour with friends...I trust their driving (mostly), it's the other idiots I don't trust!!

    More later. Lunch is over.


  8. Given that I live less then a mile from my office it's times like this that I'm glad I walk to work most days. When I was a field engineer in London I used to have to drive everywhere. I can remember it taking over an hour sometimes to drive the 3 miles from my home to the office. Sure don't miss that much. Railroad ties and flamethrowers? Count me in on that one...

  9. Great post.

    I feel your pain. Before I got the current job, I had to commute from Palmer.

    Getting up at an ungodly hour meant either getting there an hour early or being ten minutes late.

    I hate to drive, and I hated that drive so much I moved into Anchorage. My commute is four blocks, one-way, in midtown.

    There are just far too many better things to spend my time and energy on than driving.

    Should the valley ever see commuter rail, I'd bring my bike aboard. Heck, I'd ride the train just to ride it. Sit back, sip tea, and draw. I love trains. So much more civilized than cars and such.

  10. Trains. Yes, that.

    I walk to work most days. But you know, people can't even stop at intersections properly. Four-way stop? Pedestrian in crosswalk, one who started walking before you even crested the hill? Who cares? Nick's been hit twice, both times while crossing legally and carefully in crosswalks.

    I want self-driving cars. They've got to be better than the dipwits driving now. As long as they don't run on Windows, anyway.

  11. In New Jersey we call them Left Lane Dicks, or Discourteous Richards if you want to be polite about it. They are the only thing that makes me happy about the oppressive gun laws here, otherwise I'd be in jail on a multiple murder wrap.

  12. Not my biggest fury, but since you didn't list it, those asses who pass you then immediately slow down. Then seem to get pissed when you then pass them, and the cycle repeats. Don't have a clever name, alas.

  13. What you (and apparently John) don't understand about NYC driving is that if you do it right, it can be totally a Zen experience. You just picture yourself in the lane in front of that annoying asshole 3 cars up and "poof" it happens. Best Part?: The cab drivers totally respect this if you yell a constant stream of "Moo Motherfucker!" because they think they should slow down for the cows.

    Disclaimer: There may be a tad of recklessness involved in this strategy but I prefer to look at it as a religious experience. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

  14. And then in South Carolina, they have the tailgate-then-cut-you-off maneuver. It could be a completely empty road with just me and the South Carolinian on it. He'll still come right up to my back bumper, then get back into my lane as fast as physically possible after passing.

    There was also one time some idiot wanted to tailgate me for the entire length of the state. It didn't matter whether I sped up or slowed down or changed lanes to get around other traffic - he just wanted to cling to my back bumper the whole way.

  15. Mensley and MWT: those are two of my pet driving peeves. I'd call Mensley's one Passing Fancy. :-)

  16. @Neurondoc:
    "Passing Fancy," I like it!

    I think MWT's is just the more aggressive form, psychotic tailgaiting aside as a separate disease.

  17. Surprisingly you forgot to mention Texting Timmy and Tammy. They occupy the same vehicle but rather than have a conversation you see both driver and passenger texting as they blow through red lights, drift from one lane to the other, slam into the side of a Firetruck dumping the fire chief onto the sidewalk and piling up eight other cars and the best yet, slam directly into the side of the light rail train. But hey Phoenix is the third safest city to commute in in the whole U S of A! According to them anyway. Wonder which NASCAR tracks got numbers 1 and 2? And that ain't even mentioning the low riders, box of Raisins, Scotsdale children in oversized SUVs or the remainder of us on the road just dodging the whole mess.

  18. Hey! All of you needing a laugh, do yourself a favor and go read Songstress' live journal post about Giant Jesus Quilt.

    Really, trust me. Go read it.

  19. *hehe* I'm glad you liked it. I'm a couple of glasses of sangria into my evening and every time I remember that chick and her Kenny Rogers remark I giggle. =)

  20. Speaking of Texting Timmy and Tammy, here's an anti-texting ad created by the Gwent police. Be aware that it is really, really graphic, especially when the third car hits.


  21. As to commuting, I'm glad I don't have to do it. They won't let me install front-loading laser cannons in my Toyota. :(

  22. Tim, typo fixed.

    And you know, the graphic content warning on that video just plain guarantees this crowd will run right over to watch it, right?

  23. The great thing about trains is that they win all arguments with cars and most other vehicles, save gasoline tankers (which have kill switches activated by railroad grade crossings, apparently) and cement trucks.

    There's a reason I like teaching part-time and can choose to commute after the usual wreckage has been cleared.


    Dr. Phil

  24. Jim,

    Well, maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, but I thought the video was disturbing, in a "scared straight" sort of way, so I didn't send the link to my daughter, but Stonkettle readers are hardened by repeated exposure to disturbing things.

  25. you forgot the woman who brakes every time she sees's a cop .... thats me by the way :)
    Just started the Anchorage commute too traffic sucks.

  26. See? Who says Canadians don't have a biting sense of humor? Thanks, Tim. ;)

    Anon, you didn't happen to catch the cop and the breakdown just past the North bound Eagle River bridge yesterday did you? About 4PM? Nice. Took me an hour to go two miles.

  27. And they ask me why I live in northern Minnesota. As much as Nathan is appalled by the lack of bear crossing signs so the bears must cross properly in the crosswalk, most of the idiots we have are young and like trucks with loud, noisy exhaust systems with great, big tires.

    "Great big tires - itty bitty pee-pees!"

  28. There's no excuse for the Prius monkeys. I drive one and it's perfectly capable of hauling. We did our first 10,000 mile road trip last summer in it and Texas has some stretches where the speed limit is 80. The Prius handled 85 MPH surprisingly nicely.

  29. "Prius Monkey" is my new favorite phrase of the day


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