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hang up and drive, will ya!!

i love driving. i've loved driving for ages, and it's something that i tend to do at every opportunity considering both the temporal and financial situations. when out there on the open road, i watch everything. when i was a kid and the family took long road trips, which we did nearly every summer, my sis and i passed the endless miles playing inane childish games. the license plate game: where are they from and what letters do they have? there was actually a bingo format to it, so the first one to match certain characteristics in a row won. i don't recall many personalized plates--that seems to have gained popularity in the last decade or so. the alphabet game: a great pastime for long interstates with periodic billboards--the first person to spell the entire alphabet with words from billboards won. driving through yreka or seeing a sign for a zoo was always a big event.

now i do most of my driving solo, but on those long stretches of highway i find myself engaging in similar activities. of course, i always win; my imaginary traveling partner never seems to gain the upper hand in these games. when i look back on those days of road trips with the whole family, crammed into some vehicle or another, on our way to visit some far-off relative or on the way home again, i'm filled with a distinct sense of something that must be nostalgia. am i too young for nostalgia? who cares. i'm childless, rootless, mateless, and if it weren't for all the bills that accompany this tenuous hold on adulthood, i could feel the ultimate freedom i enjoyed in those days. if that isn't nostalgia, i don't know what is, but the world around me has changed. technology has made such a life as i had as a kid on those trips with the parents nearly obsolete, and that saddens me.

take, for example, the method of transportation. do auto manufacturers even make station wagons any more? i remember the first minivan we ever saw, and it looked strangely out of place. my sis, who always had a knack for coming up with phrases that stick in my head even now, promptly said it looked like a pregnant roller skate. she was right, and they still do. now you can't walk out of the front door without seeing one or ten in the lot or on the street, but still, when i think of a van, my mind conjures an image of a lumbering, nearly-windowless hulk not unlike the ones you see with telco logos emblazoned across the solid side. not unlike the one in which i learned to drive with a three-speed on the column--something i think most people of the generation behind mine would not quite understand. ooh, a manual transmission that isn't a five-speed on the floor! or even just a manual transmission. in this era of extreme laziness and the endless quest for ease, we have all automatic, electronic, computerized, gps guided and cruise controlled vehicles. would anyone in the newer generation even be able to understand what carburetion or manual steering is? would they even care? what is this world coming to?

with all this wonderful technology, how do kids pass the time in the back seat? you can rest assured that it is unlikely to be spent with an educational game or a book. perish the thought in this age of passive parenting. give the kids electronic video games and tell them to shut up. instead of watching the scenery, trying to get passing truckers to honk, reading state mottos and other strange things found on license plates, or playing a game that might encourage learning, let them play at blowing things up and beating their sibling's high score. and now, the newest fad to keep those kids quiet: an in-car entertainment system. put a set of headphones on each kid, pop in a dvd, and drive in peace. now i must admit that my sis and i succeeded in grating the parents' nerves on our road trips, but we learned something in the process. we saw fossils and geological formations, wildlife and giant trees; we learned to distinguish the difference between cattle and pig farms just by the smell. i believe that, if i had been born twenty years later, things would have been much different. worse, actually, because of the technology and the style of passive parenting that abounds now. i'm glad to have missed it.

has technology made driving safer? since i don't know where to begin to research the answer to such a question, allow me to present my opinion: no. technology without education is a recipe for disaster. just ask the couple who set the cruise control then went into the kitchen of their motor home to make a sandwich. the saddest thing about this is the fact that such technological marvels as cruise control are so widespread and common that nobody felt it necessary to educate these people about its proper usage. the egg on their face comes in knowing that they never thought to ask. this is but one example of technology without education, and i'm sure that there are more. drivers were bad enough before...

...before the distractions that technology lends to the task. it's bad enough that people aren't taught to drive well, and now we put cellular phones in their hands. several metropolitan areas around the world have made driving whilst talking on a handset phone illegal. why are we so slow to get the hint? can you pay attention to the vehicles around you with such a pure distraction as a telephone in your hand? i think not. nobody is immune to the effects of full duplex conversation. you might be thinking now, "but, i'm good at multitasking," but you're not that good. believe me. having a conversation with someone who is not a passenger in the car, who can't see what's going on around the vehicle, is an accident waiting to happen. lane drift, a common problem amongst almost all distracted drivers in which the vehicle is allowed to wander across the dividing lines thus endangering those around them, is intensified by mobile phone usage. if you need to make or receive a call whilst on the road, get off the bloody road! you aren't in that much of a hurry that you can't pull off the road for a few minutes.

this endless rush of the mindless rat race in which we find ourselves is disheartening. everybody is in a hurry to get wherever they're going. we don't see the world passing us by as we go racing from place to place. many traffic jams are caused by automobile accidents. does this teach us anything? traffic jams make us later than we were to start with, so why even bother? road rage comes up, but that's a topic for another rant another day. in the meantime, slow down, take a look around, breathe deeply, hang up the blasted phone, put down the makeup brush, and be glad that you've beat the odds--you're alive, and you're damn lucky. and watch out for those idiots out there who don't heed either traffic laws or common sense.


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