Monday, December 28, 2009


The 101, 2009

When I was in college and was going somewhere with friends who had cars there was usually a race to see who could yell “SHOTGUN!” first to see who got to sit in the front passenger’s seat. It wasn’t that we wanted to sit by the driver. Rather, it was more a matter of not wanting to be stuffed into the back seat of some tiny car with three or four other guys and no legroom.

For those too young to have known such times when everyone didn’t have his or her own personal car, there was once a time when maybe only one in eight or ten college guys might have a car. Gas was cheap and they didn’t really mind being everyone else’s ride. Proper etiquette, of course, mandated that girls be given the shotgun seat if they were the girlfriends of the driver. Otherwise they were tossed in the back seat with the rest of us, which was not such a bad proposition when you think about it.

I was thinking of those crowded days in the back of Shunky’s Chevelle or Tommy’s Corvair when I was driving down a freeway in Los Angeles recently. Hardly any car had more than one person in it.

Actually that’s not quite true. One morning when I was driving up the I-5 traffic was moving in fits and starts. After a while I noticed that there was really no reason for this. It was just that some cars never resumed the posted speed when things cleared up. As I worked my way through the traffic, I realized that it was just one car, a black Honda being driven by an older Asian man, that was holding things up. Regardless of the traffic in front of or behind him, this man drove at a steady 35 mph. And perhaps he shouldn’t have been driving any faster because the whole time he was driving he was also turned around facing and talking to two elderly ladies in the back seat.

Turning around and facing the back while driving seems to be a popular thing to do in LA. One afternoon a couple of days later I was driving down another LA freeway in a different part of town when a young man driving a late model luxury car decided to move over into my lane while I was still in it. When I gently tapped on my horn to make my presence known, that only seemed to increase the vigor of his desire to occupy my space. Not wanting to have to explain to Hertz that I’d destroyed yet another rental car (another story another day), I backed off and let him move over.

But that wasn’t enough for him. Once he got in front of me, the young man stuck his head completely out of the window of his car, turned around to face me and twisted his right hand into the shape of a pistol with which he pretended to shoot me, all the while driving 55 mph in a direction he was not facing.

I wasn’t too alarmed because I knew the young man’s hand wasn’t loaded. But still. Where I live, road rage is usually expressed with the middle finger, a few choice words or blistering looks of disgust.

After this incident, traffic proceeded along in fits and starts. Once again it seemed that traffic was slowing down for no reason. There were no accidents. The number of lanes hadn’t changed; they’d actually increased. Again it seemed to be a matter of a small number of drivers who, when traffic slowed, never resumed the posted speed.

And wouldn’t you know that when I finally worked my way up to where the obstruction was, it was that same Asian man in the black Honda who was still turned around talking to the ladies in the back seat.

What are the odds of that?


  1. Haaaa! There's always one, isn't there? I'll tell you--it drives Joe crazy. I don't actually let it get to me, because I'm quite content to either listen to NPR or tunes I always bring along, but Joe has places to go and people to see, and it kills him. But he loves to tell me if I'm going above the speed limit, too--I just always drive 5 miles above the posted speed limit and put on cruise control.

    Great story. Good to have you back.

  2. The 'shotgun' phenomanon has not stopped. When my three kids drive together, it's the first thing out of their mouths as the head for the car. In fact, there is a whole set of rules as to how and when shotgun can be called. Thanks for reminding us Chris.