Wednesday 07 Dec 2016

Vehicular Vexation
Sjef Frenken

Jack was telling me about his recent experiences as a motorist.

Jack, as I think I've told you, refuses to buy a car, preferring to walk or take the bus. Sometimes he hires a taxi when urgency dictates or the number of grocery bags requires more hands than Mother Nature has equipped him with. Once in a rare while, however, when errands have piled up, or when he has to take a trip to Winnipeg, he'll rent a car for a week or so.

This was the week.

"I can't believe how dumb people are," he said.

I said, "Can you be a bit more specific," Thus setting myself up for one of Jack's harangues.

"Damn right I can," said Jack, seeing his opportunity. "Take tinted windows. Remember when new cars were required to have at least one additional rear brake light just above or at the bottom of the rear window. Do you know why that was done?"

I admitted that I didn't.

"It was done," continued Jack, "because that way you would not only see the brake lights of the car in front of you, but also the higher brake light of the car two cars ahead, and maybe even the one ahead of that one. So you'd know all the sooner that you'd have to slow down or even stop. Good move, right?"

"Yup" was my measured response.

"So what's next? Tinted windows," Jack answered his own question, continuing without pause, "One step forward, one step back. Tinted windows make it more difficult to see that second car ahead of you, if the car right in front of you has tinted windows."

I said "Now that you mention it, I've often been annoyed at cars with tinted windows, especially the dark-tinted ones. For instance, when I'm driving out of a shopping centre, I'm always very aware of little kids accompanying their mothers; they move fast, so you have to be careful. When you can't see through the windows of the other cars beside you, it impedes your vision and makes driving out all the more difficult."

"There, you see!" said Jack triumphantly, pointing at me with the business end of his plastic fork.

"Not only that," I continued, "when I'm driving on the highway, I like to see the driver in front of me. I want to know whether he or she is using a cell phone, whether it's two teenagers necking, whether it's a feeble old man with his nose barely above the steering wheel, all to put me on my guard if I want to pass. If the car has tinted glass, it's all the more difficult to see what's going on."

Jack said "It's so obvious to me that tinted windows should never have been allowed, like the use of cell phones in cars. You just KNOW it's a stupid idea, so why not outlaw it before someone gets hurt?"

I said "Jack, if I'm not mistaken the Quebec government tried to pass a law prohibiting tinted windows, but by that time it had already become a little industry, and it would have put a few dozen people out of work. So, no law."

"Another thing," said Jack, "you know how the municipal government and OCTranspo are always urging people to use the bus? Then why is it that at the same time they're adding more lanes to the Queensway! The left hand not knowing what the right hand is up to. Surely to God if you wanted people to use the bus, you'd CUT DOWN even on the existing lanes!"

I said "spell it out for me."

"Simple," said Jack. "Take the Queensway, three lanes for most of the way through Ottawa. Leave the fastest lane for trucks and cars that are using the Queensway only because they have no other fast way through town. Leave the middle and right lane for cars driving one or two people to work, and the express lane for buses and cars with three or more occupants. Trust me, after a few weeks most people using the middle and right lanes would switch to the bus. It's a win-win situation: bus travel is cheaper, and taxpayers would be on the hoof for more highway construction."

I said "Jack, as usual, you make very good sense. But you forget one thing: people TALK about saving energy and money, and cluck their tongue about the congestion on the Queensway, but they'd SCREAM if City Hall took your proposal seriously, and decided to implement it. We like our comfort, even sitting in stationary traffic on the Queensway during rush hour, is bearable with a Tim Horton's coffee and doughnut in your hand and your favourite CD on."

"Which reminds me," said Jack, "yesterday I drove behind a woman who didn't seem to have good control over her vehicle. So I decided to pass her. You know what? She had a coffee in her left hand, and a cigarette and her cell phone in her right hand.

God knows what would have happened if she'd spilled a bit of hot coffee or ashes in her lap. I fell back again, because I didn't want to risk passing her. A good thing too, as she suddenly switched lanes and -- of course without flicking on her turn signal -- made a left-hand turn, crossing in front of me. How she managed to turn her wheel I'll never know." Jack paused. "Now if it had been a man I might have had an idea..."

Jack, dear reader, will always be Jack.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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