Thursday, May 3, 2007

Keep on Truckin'

I was sitting at a traffic light, just outside of the parking lot of the local Costco. A semi tractor-trailer rig was attempting to make the right turn into the driveway. It's something of a steep bend, the driveway isn't quite at a 90 degree angle to the curving cross street. The truck had already bowed out to the left somewhat, so that it would have the required clearance to make the turn. Expecting that it would be let into the parking lot, traffic quickly lined up behind it. Coming up the drive from the parking lot was a big blue four-door sport utility vehicle. From my vantage point, the second car behind the big rig, I could see that the driver was your stereotypical, middle-aged, suburban woman. She pulled all the way up to the stop line before the intersection, in the left-hand turn lane. This placed her pretty much exactly dead center of the mouth of the driveway. With her up that far, the truck could no longer make the turn, but unless the truck pulled into the driveway, the woman and her SUV were going to be unable to make the left turn. Two cars were on the driveway behind her. The first person stopped far back from the blue sport ute, about three car lengths. The second driver left some distance between themselves and the first person. Clearly, they were expecting that the woman in the SUV was going to back up a bit while their light was red, so the truck could get in. But she didn't. She just sat there. The truck was blocking both lanes of traffic were I was, and drivers started to honk their horns. After all, the woman had plenty of room to back up - the two drivers in the cars behind her had seen to that. She didn't budge. She threw up her hands in frustration, the classic: "What do you want ME to do?" gesture. "Back up, Lady!" was probably the universal answer. The big rig wasn't going ANYWHERE. There were too many cars behind it for it to reverse far enough to clear the lane, so the woman in the SUV could make a smooth left. In the meantime, other cars had pulled onto the driveway behind SUV. All of the drivers were careful to leave plenty of space for the her to back up enough to let the truck in. I think that some of the drivers there honked at her, to let her know that she had the room to roll back. She didn't. She just sat there, until her light turned green again. Then she wound up pulling over all the way to the right to squeeze around the truck (since everyone had left the lane next to her open), and making her left turn from the right hand lane, and a couple of cars followed her. Then the truck pulled into the parking lot driveway, and traffic started moving again.

Watching this all with a certain level of fascination, I realized that I was looking at the embodiment of why any number of people who don't drive sport utility vehicles have such a passionate dislike for both the vehicles and their drivers. Tractor-trailer trucks are huge, and they don't negotiate sharp corners well, especially when there are traffic signals, telephone poles, mailboxes, et cetera within a few feet of the curb. To clear these (and the curbs themselves), they have to make wide turns, and I've done my share of backing up, to make the tricky task of taking those corners easier. Everybody does it. It's common road courtesy. But this woman in the blue sport ute didn't budge. Forty or fifty cars, and the big rig, were held up by her standing her ground. Either because she didn't realize that she had the room to back up, or because she felt that she had the right of way, or some other reason that I can't begin to guess at. But I could see in some disgusted faces of other drivers a very simple attribution. They felt they'd been told: "Don't you see that I'm in a big car? I'm too important to be inconvenienced by this. YOU move."

The feeling, among people who don't drive them, that SUVs in urban and suburban areas are the preferred mode of transportation for self-important and self-absorbed prigs, people who need to buttress their tattered egos with massive, gas guzzling vehicles, is somewhat rooted in a disagreement over priorities, and often falls squarely into the "It's a sin to not be like me," mode of thinking that it's often very easy to fall prey to. But this anonymous woman in her massive vehicle played the role, intentionally or not, to the hilt. And provided a kernel of reality that (sometimes with the help of a LOT of distortion) so many stereotypes are predicated on.

1 comment:

ben said...

A guy i know recently said "I like my F150 because I think people are more scared of me and I can dominate the situation". When I was pumping gas in high-school I used to keep stats about how nice/mean people where and the type of car they drove. Big pick up truck owners were the nastiest group (this was before SUVs).

The bored house wife set is really pathetic - it's like being a stay at home mom turns you into a fucking retard... so why not give them cell phones, screaming kids, an Lincoln Navigator... nothing but good could come of that!