Sunday, April 15, 2007

She drives me crazy

‘Sure you do honey, but this one’s about the way you drive’

A Sunday ago, maybe there was something in the breakfast she prepared, or perhaps it was a heady concoction of her bewitching smile and some spring sunshine . . . Whatever the reason, my six-year-old nephew and I threw caution in the boot and settled down for the quarter kilometre ride to his house with my wife behind the wheel. I don’t know what it is like on the outside when she is driving, but on the inside it’s a bit like sitting on an angry bull high on Spanish rum at the Pamplona Bull Run. With a loud bellow, it charges . . . backwards. Stops. Bellows again, louder this time, perhaps as much in embarrassment as in anger, and then charges forward, lurching to a hobbled stop. Eventually, it gathers its bearings and charges straight ahead, on blind faith and adrenaline. Belief reinforced that there is a God after all, the car reaches its destination without a scratch. Well almost, if one discounts the mouthfuls of seat foam I needed to chew on to get through the ride. I kept repeating to myself the findings of a 1996 survey that claims that women drivers might scrape and bump their cars more often than men but somehow are not involved in a quarter as many serious accidents. Guess choking on seat foam isn’t all that serious accident after all.

This is where the plot thickens. Researchers, from the criminally blissful pair of Allan and Barbara Pease to Desmond Morris and beyond have all suggested that men can only do one thing at a thing at a time (which is why I guess we are advised not to drink and drive) and though blessed with better spatial judgement than women, are better, more confident and therefore more dangerous drivers (you figure that) while women, though irritatingly and infuriatingly safe drivers, while driving forward, are like bowling balls in a pin deck while reversing (I didn’t say that ladies, the research did). Speaking of what men can and can’t do, I distinctly remember that the first car I ever drove, a free spirited Contessa, had this rather disconcerting habit of swinging the driver’s door open every time I would turn left, and therefore I had developed a handy technique of holding on to the door with my right hand even as I would be steering the car with my left (So take that Allan, and dear Barbara).

Some years ago, I was sitting by lake Geneva, watching the Jet d’Eau kiss the sky when a man on a bicycle stopped to ask for a match. Well, no match, but we got talking. Conversation veered toward a uniquely Swiss situation where Italian, German and French-Swiss live together in typical Swiss harmony. I asked Paul, our new friend, if he could ever make out the difference between the three by just looking at them. He said “If they are driving, I don’t even need to look at them. You see, the Germans, they always follow the rules, and if they catch you breaking any rule, they’ll follow you home before mildly rebuking you and asking you to drive carefully. The French, well they don’t really break a rule unless they have to but if you do, they’ll give you a cold stare and an angry honk. And the Italians, as a rule, break every rule, and if you happen to be in the way because you’re following the rules, they’ll call you things that crawl in hell and swear to set the mafia on you.” That seemed simple enough. As we rose to leave, Paul, rode away toward the street. An errant driver screeched to a halt, millimetres away from him. The driver was in the wrong lane and so he apologised. Paul though would have none of it and went on and on in every tongue known to man, even as the car reversed out of the lane. So that makes him..? ...French-Italian?

One’s driving style perhaps really does reveal a fair bit about age or gender, but what it reveals most of all is culture and character. Honestly, I’m a rash, bully of a driver when in a hurry but am always the first to apologise if I make a mistake. And I realise that by using the phone while driving, not only do I endanger my own self but also pedestrians and other road users. I know it isn’t right but guess I give in far too easily to the convenient habit of putting immediate self-interest above the ethics of driving. I really hope that both you and I, dear reader, mend our ways before we make a mistake we can’t mend, for a moment’s convenience could cost someone a lifetime and I hope we learn our lessons without becoming an example for each other. As for women drivers, we men might huff and puff, snigger and giggle, but the truth is they are here to stay, and perhaps for the better. After all, if we are chivalrous enough to open the door for them in our drawing rooms and bedrooms, why should our roads be any different. As for you honey, of course you should keep driving but just sometimes, I’ll just listen to mom and try walking instead . . . Like she says, it’s good for the heart.


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