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You might just be a “California maroon” if…

There is a rumor going around that California drivers are rude and aggressive.

The rumor is true. :-)

I was in a GREAT mood today as I drove to an assignment this morning… right up until I descended the entrance ramp from northbound Airway to westbound I-580. For some reason (Friday??), the day brought several encounters with bad drivers of various types. When I worked at Netscape, I explained to some coworkers that I will not usually call people “morons” (a “derogatory term”). Instead, I will fall back to the word “maroon” (as in Bugs Bunny‘s “Whatta maroon!“), which is a “cartoon term.” In any case, I ALSO fell back to imagining the driver of the oversized pickup truck behind me as (one of our closest relatives) a chimpanzee dressed as the driver, a technique that I found really “breaks the tension” for me! :-) And which is probably correct, much of the time, in terms of primate behavior….

I thought that I would tell you a bit about some of the drivers that i encountered today, since I have not talked about traffic in awhile. Californians really do not have good role models for behavior. It seems like everybody from the State Legislature on down is exhibiting “maroonic behavior” these days!

Just what sort of people become “California maroons?” :-)

You might just be a “California maroon” if:

– you drive past a line of cars, all by yourself, on the metered entrance ramps to I-580 in the CARPOOL LANE, to gain a few seconds on ” the competition” (I have talked about the revenue opportunities for California in ticketing these folks several times, but the police have not taken the hint).

– you never realized that MOST vehicles in California come equipped with TURN SIGNALS, with which you can signal your intent to turn and the direction that you plan to go. :-) What a concept!

– you think that people are “asking permission” when they put on their turn signals. Just to let you know – when I put on my turn signals, you had better prepare to deal with the fact that I will be in your lane soon, because I am signaling my intent to move. The whole phenomenon of lane changing is fascinating in California, because we are ALL dependent upon the courtesy of others in order to get where we want to go (undamaged). If you attempt to intimidate or block lane-changers, you might just be a “California maroon.” I “clunked” my excellent, 13-year-old, 160,000-mile-plus, 19-20-miles-per-gallon (officially “17”) Toyota T-100 truck for a Honda Civic when I had the chance. If you did not clunk your less-reliable 5-10-miles-per-gallon truck when YOU had the chance, because you needed the testosterone surge (ladies have testosterone, too!) of climbing to the driver’s seat eight feet off the ground, you MIGHT just be a “California maroon.”

– you travel at 50-55 mph down 35-mph city streets and then blow your horn and yell at drivers who are going 35 mph (oh, the vehicle AHEAD of them is ALSO going 35 mph), after riding on their back bumper. :-) I always have a hard time deciding whether this type of behavior in drivers is PRE–  or POSTlobotomy.

-And if you drive your Toyota Tundra pickup truck clear over on the right edge of the “Number 1” (left-most) lane, leaving 3-4 feet on the left and BLOCKING motorcyclists who are trying to make their way through the MILES of “parking lot” on I-580 by legal “lane-splitting,” you MIGHT just be a California maroon! :-)

(Update added September 14, 2009: A short drive this morning was not all wasted. I spotted four more “subspecies” of California maroons! :-)

– you speed up to “close the gap” on, and tailgate, people who are trying to enter a highway from an “on-ramp” (given that they have NOWHERE else to go) rather than moving to the left one lane to courteously let them merge. (Sure, they are supposed to YIELD, but YOU are supposed to be “driving several car lengths ahead.” You might just be a California maroon.

– you tailgate and blow your horn while EXITING the highway in an “exit only lane” at a HIGH RATE OF SPEED, because you approach another motorist who is trying to merge ONTO the highway from that lane! The other motorist is SUPPOSED to be MERGING! YOU, on the other hand, are supposed to be THINKING! :-)

– you merge your BMW coupe or sedan [not all “aspiring-to-be-upper-class twits” drive BMWs, just as not all “working-class twits” drive Chevy trucks, but many do! :-) ] BETWEEN two vehicles that are already traveling too closely together to stop without a collision in the “Number 2 [second-to-left-most] lane,” “threading the needle” to get to the “Number 1 [left-most] lane!” You MIGHT just be a California maroon.

– you are [what I term] “driving in a parallel dimension,” where everything m-o-v-e-s   m-u-c-h   m-o-r-e   S-L-O-W-L-Y! :-) You have seen these folks driving at 35 mph on Interstate highways that have speed limits of 65! Although the populations of other subspecies of California maroons are STABLE or INCREASING, the population of THIS subspecies is ENDANGERED!) :-)

(Note added September 24, 2009: Yesterday, I drove my car, and it took 25 minutes just to get onto I-580 from my home in Livermore [as the result of all the traffic “improvement” (and RESULTING BACKUP of about a mile) from the installation of metering lights on “on-ramps”]. [Note added October 4, 2009: CALTRANS has finally FIXED the metering light detector on the Airway to I-580 west entrance ramp so that it detects motorcycles, and last week, there was an observer with a folding chair and a surgical mask {sorry, that won’t block carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen} observing the on-ramp. I waved. She should have been standing a mile away, by Livermore airport, where the backup STARTS! :-) ] From there, it only took 10 minutes to get clear across the valley to my destination in Dublin! So… today I decided to ride on TWO wheels [Honda Shadow] to take car pool lanes on the on-ramps and “lane split” [a LEGAL but admittedly dangerous practice – “I did not see the motorcyclist, officer.” :-) ] when needed. I arrived at my destination in half the time, and I saw a different type of California maroon yesterday and today. I am thinking of writing a book – “A Field Guide to the California Maroon.”

– you are a blonde, Lexus driver, who constantly talks on her cell phone WITHOUT USING A “HANDS-FREE” DEVICE [a practice which has been shown to be as dangerous as “driving under the influence” DUI]. How long has a hands-free device been REQUIRED BY LAW in California? One year? Two years? So long that I can’t remember? I had one of these maroons on my back bumper all the way down a metered on-ramp yesterday, and I expected to hear the “crunch” at any moment! California law enforcement – you might just want to consider getting some revenue from this subspecies of maroon.

– you are a “lane-changer” who does not care if you kill a motorcyclist! You knew that I was there and changed lanes in front of me. I don’t know how you feel about old ladies and school children in crosswalks, but I suspect that you don’t care if you kill them either! Sadly, there are more members of this subspecies of maroon in California than the courts and prisons can handle.)

(Note added November 5, 2009: As much as I hate to lengthen this entry, my daily travels have forced me to add four more subspecies of garden-variety California maroon, each of which can be recognized by its “plumage.” I figure that if you made it THIS far in the entry, you will likely make it to the end! :-)

The “Volvo-driving maroon” – This safety-conscious subspecies CAUSES accidents by “hypercautious” behavior. It does not personally PARTICIPATE in the accidents. :-)

The “Lexus-driving maroon” – This subspecies of “Mercedes wannabes” can sometimes be found (this is where I found one) on north-bound Highway 17, descending the mountains from the summit and traveling 40 miles/hour in the left-hand lane while causing a bumper-to-bumper backup of about 10 cars. People who know Highway 17 know that proximity and physics can be a hazardous combination on that road.

The “Prius-driving maroon” – This subspecies can often be found sporting the “Key to the Highway” key stickers that allow high-mileage hybrids to travel with a single occupant in the “carpool lane” without arrest. :-) (I personally call this lane the “motorcycle lane.”) If you drive your Prius in the motorcycle lane at a speed much less than the legal limit, clogging the lane and causing a backup, you might just be a California maroon. Just because you have stickers on your car does not mean that you know how to drive. :-)

The “Maroon-with-front-end-damage” – While “rear-end damage” is sometimes unavoidable, “front-end damage” is almost always avoidable with a modicum of driving skill. When you see one of THESE maroons, it is like they are waving a red flag and saying “Stay the heck away from ME!:-)

That should about do it for the Field Guide to the California Maroon for tonight.)

If you see other types of noteworthy California maroons, please send me an email!

(Note added September 18, 2009: I just found an H.L. Mencken quote that appeals to the biologist in me, “Nature abhors a moron.” )

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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