Tag Archives: Driving

A License to Live

“Les, that license in your wallet, that’s not an ordinary piece of paper.”

Within the first week of getting my driver’s license in 1995, I let a woman with two children in her backseat who had just crashed into my rear driver’s-side quarter panel drive off without calling the police or making an insurance claim, and I ran the front-right corner of my car into the back-left corner of a high school classmate’s car while backing out of my parking space at school.

No one had ever told me what to do in a car accident. It was probably only my third or fourth time driving alone. I was just worried about the kids. They were fine. I figured I’d drive home and my parents would make an insurance claim.

Doesn’t work that way, it turned out.

Oops.

My classmate Jill was in her car next to me when I backed my car out and spun the wheel too fast without clearing the front while leaving school my sophomore year.

I scratched her paint pretty significantly. She was really cool about it. I was really embarrassed.

“Les, that license in your wallet, that’s not an ordinary piece of paper. That is a driver’s license. And it’s not only a driver’s license. It’s an automobile license. And it’s not only an automobile license. It’s a license to live, a license to be free, a license to go wherever, whenever and with whomever you choose.” — Dean, License to Drive

Freedom. That’s what turning 16 and getting my driver’s license represented. Next to moving out of my parents’ house and into my college dorm room, nothing in life has ever rivaled the taste of freedom one feels behind the wheel.

I made the mistake with the mom who crashed into me because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I made the steering mistake while backing the car out of the parking space at school because that was literally the first time I’d ever backed out of a parking spot with cars on either side of me.

I hope it goes without saying that neither situation has come even close to happening again. I’m generally pretty good at not making the same mistake twice.

20 Years Later

At 4:37 a.m. Central Time tomorrow, I turn 36.

There are so many parallels between that time in my life and where I now find myself. Rapid change is occurring. I find myself in uncharted life territory with so many new experiences to have and life lessons to learn.

Freedom.

Not freedom I wanted or asked for. But freedom, all the same.

What are you going to do with it, middle-aged guy?

That’s the question we all have to answer about the precious time we have. I mean, maybe I’ll live to be 80. I hope so. But I might not. A heart beat seems like a fickle thing. Many people younger than me have had them stop without warning.

What are you going to do with the time?

One of my favorite writers Austin Kleon always reads a few New York Times obituaries every morning. About the lives of people who don’t have a today or tomorrow to plan for.

He doesn’t do it to be morbid. He does it to every.single.day remember to live. We all have an hourglass constantly getting emptier with no knowledge of how much sand remains in the upper half.

Today better count.

Learn more. Do more. Be more.

Not later. Now.

The divorce changed everything. It’s because divorce changes everything. A little good. A lot bad.

All the sand in the bottom of the hourglass is just going to sit there now. Days that already happened. Will never matter again. Can’t matter anymore because the sand never flows upward, even if we shake it up a lot.

After divorce or some other traumatic life event, you’re just trying to tread water. Just trying to stay alive.

But it’s nearly two years later now. Life can no longer be about treading water. Now, it’s got to be about choosing a direction and going that way. About lifting the sail and steering as best I can.

I’m a little like that 16-year-old again. Capable, but unsure. Bound for mistakes and missteps. But climbing toward good things. Always climbing.

Because this birthday isn’t an ordinary birthday.

It’s my 36th birthday.

And it’s not just my 36th birthday.

It’s the 20-year anniversary of freedom.

And it’s not just the 20-year anniversary of freedom.

It’s a license to live. A license to be free.

A license to go wherever, whenever and with whomever I choose.

Let’s go.

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The Phantom Traffic Jams

Traffic jam

You’re cruising down the highway, getting where you want to be.

Out of nowhere, you’re hitting your brakes.

Then, you’re completely stopped.

Sonofabitch.

You mutter a few bad words. Maybe you call or text someone to tell them you’ll be running late. Maybe your gas tank isn’t as full as you wish it was. Maybe one of your passengers has to pee. Maybe you do.

Or maybe you put a smile on your face. Maybe you grin and bear it.

I can’t control traffic. I can only control me.

Or maybe you lose your shit because you’re a person like me and are always in a hurry to get out of the car. Maybe you get irrationally upset when things annoy you while you’re behind the wheel and you turn into the ugliest version of yourself.

What the-!?!?

Usually, I mutter a bunch of horrible things that make Jesus and all of my dead relatives sad, and then I calm down and remember that I can only control me.

Eventually traffic gets moving again.

You’re super-curious.

What could have caused this massive traffic jam I’ve been stuck in for a half hour?

Eventually, you’re travelling at normal cruising speeds. There was no accident. No obstacle. No construction. No nothing.

A phantom traffic jam.

Weird.

The Power of One

Just one asshole.

That’s all it takes to cause a phantom traffic jam.

I have two routes to choose from every morning when I drive to work. One is highway. One is back roads.

A train crossing was flashing red lights at me this morning, so I turned onto the highway.

Traffic was horrible. Three lanes of horrible.

Some mornings, everything is fine. Many others are just like this. The results are generally the same on this stretch of road.

Phantom traffic jams.

I was in one this morning.

Just a bunch of drivers heading to work. Many people merging onto the highway, and pulling off on their various exits.

While we’re all human and mistake-prone, motor vehicle operation brings out the worst of humankind. And when there are a bunch of drivers travelling 70 miles per hour throughout three lanes of traffic, it only takes one mouth breather to slam on his brakes because he was texting and driving, or some attuned driver braking or swerving to avoid the girl furiously applying her makeup while talking on the phone to one of her friends while merging into highway traffic with a baby in the backseat.

“Horn (an MIT computer scientist) says it’s like a wave flowing backwards,” said NPR science correspondent Joe Palca in a radio interview that you can read here discussing phantom traffic jams. “People who study this talk about chaotic systems and positive feedback, but the practical consequences are that the amount of drivers having to slow down increases the further back you are from the original incident.”

Just one asshole.

Causing hundreds of drivers to make Jesus and their dead relatives sad.

It only takes one.

“Hey Matt! Who Gives a Shit?”

That’s a fair question.

Everything’s a metaphor with me these days. Even phantom traffic jams.

Because it only takes one incident (and that incident may have been an innocent mistake) to cause a huge chain of misery for a bunch of other people.

There’s no way to prevent these from happening. Because the world will always have selfish people taking and taking and taking, or some normal person accidentally getting it wrong.

The world will always have people who don’t care as much as others about doing the right thing.

Men who cheat and lie and abuse women are always going to “ruin it” for the rest of us.

Women who gold dig, use sex as a weapon, and abuse men are always going to “ruin it” for the women trying to do the right thing.

Naughty kids are always going to “ruin it” for the less-naughty kids.

Almost every crappy rule in the world is in place because of those select few who abused the freedom and privilege once afforded them.

Sometimes our spouses make thoughtless mistakes. Our children are clueless. Our friends are busy just like us.

We all accidentally annoy one another. Causing phantom traffic jams. Because we weren’t paying close enough attention.

We can choose to scream a bunch of obscenities and act like assholes. I’ll probably do that for at least a few seconds.

Or we can choose to be in control and make good choices.

Patience will get us through the incident at the exact same speed as if we act like assholes. And if we’re extra astute, we can choose a detour. A different route to get us where we need to be.

The road less traveled.

We can even do one better.

We can be part of the solution.

Paying attention. Keeping an appropriate distance away from the person in front of us. Keeping an eye on the person behind us.

Doing our little part to help ease the congestion by doing all the little things thoughtfully and conscientiously.

Being the change.

Making it just a little bit better for others and ourselves.

Until we’re all smooth sailing again.

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