When I was a kid — and these days that word means, to me, anyone under 45 — I sometimes honked impatiently at older drivers. They were the ones who would bring their cars to complete stops along busy avenues before turning into another street, driveway, or into parking spaces fronting business places. I’d grind my teeth, pull around, and look back only to see some biddy or geezer hunched uncertainly behind the wheel.
I got to thinking about this — defensively — when I got my new driver’s license last week, and realized that most of the seniors of 40 and 50 years ago had learned to navigate on peaceful dirt roads and were not comfortable on bustling thoroughfares, including I-10, the Pontchartrain Expressway, Crescent Connection and the Causeway. Of course not. I, who also learned to steer on dirt roads, could adapt, being only in my 20s and 30s when they were constructed, but good grief — cut ‘em a little belated slack — some of the older folks of the day couldn’t.
They were like me, now, confronted with the intricacies of the menus of my complicated new television set or computer and cell phone — but without the public safety and aggravation issues.
They’d get in the left lane on one of the above-mentioned super structures, and drive at a reasonable 35 mph, fellow travelers honking and cussin’ behind them, and refuse to go to the right which is understandable when you’re penned in by cars on either side and behind traveling at such a great speed and zipping around you.
I get into similar situations today when I’m doing 65, got into the fast lane trying to avoid some of the numerous exit lanes, and fellow travelers just won’t give me the room I require to move.
Which brings me to this: Have you ever been in a car with a friend in a place like, say, Chicago and heard her say bitterly but with a tinge of pride, “Our drivers are the worst in the country; stupid and thoroughly obnoxious.”
Excuuse me. I thought New Orleans held that dubious honor, like the one for most fat people.
My 16-year-old grandson thinks I’m a bad driver because I get honked at all the time. (He hasn’t told me this, but I know that he and his mother have had discussions about it. It was obvious that he was growing up and getting attitude one day when he was 12 and told me, “My mother NEVER gets in this lane.”) He doesn’t drive quite yet, but one day he’ll understand that in New Orleans you get honked at just for presuming to pull out in front of another driver, even when they’re half a block away.
He hasn’t ridden with his grandfather as much as he has with me, but if he had he’d never have gotten to school on time, what with Paw-Paw‘s habit of getting in the right lane on the approach to the bridge instead of cruising along the left side and waiting for a lucky break like I do.
My husband and I have totally different philosophies of driving, which in 52 years of marriage is why I‘ve seldom been allowed behind the wheel when we‘re out together. When we pull out of the driveway on our independent journeys, I turn to the right to get to the main drag; he turns to the left. We never go anywhere by the same route. If either of us attempts to set the other straight on his driving patterns, you have a nasty squabble. He thinks because he’s lived in New Orleans for 81 years he knows the shortest distance between any two points. Sometimes he’s right.
But if only he could just stop leaving the blinker on.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living Section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her email@example.com.