Drive Slow, Those Are My Kids Out There
What is everyone in such a hurry for anyway
What is with you people? Where are you all rushing to? Is there a party somewhere? And if so, why am I not invited?
Last weekend, I spent the afternoon finally tackling my front garden. Actually, I was doing the chores I should have done in the spring (which, come to think of it, puts me ahead for next spring – procrastination rules!).
During the four hours I hoed, weeded, dug and cleared, no less than four cars zoomed up, over and out of my driveway at speeds that would make a Nascar mom proud. I understand that the half-circle shape of our driveway makes it a tempting place to U-turn if you realize you're going the wrong way. Honest, I don't mind. But please – take it slow. We often have a half dozen children, a couple of cats, the neighbor's dog and a flock of chickens and guinea hens on the premises – all of whom regularly make use of the driveway (yes, our chickens do cross the road to get to the other side).
If the detritus of soccer balls, bikes, scooters and kites didn't tip you off that there are anklebiters on premises, surely the bright yellow "SLOW CHILDREN" diamond sign in front of the house alerted you that there may be unexpected objects in the road (and no, the signs are not indicating that the children of the house are slow - they mean you need to drive slow).
In the old days, a person wouldn't dream of passing by a neighbor's front porch without stopping for a cup of tea, a chat or at least a "how do you do?" But these days, everyone is in such a rush, we don't even get out of car to buy a cup of coffee. Instead, it's a double-shot expresso in the drive-through lane at Felcicia's or Double D's.
But then, I'm also guilty of rushing past people. The other day, I drove by a man hitching on Route One. Although he looked presentable, I didn't feel comfortable stopping – but then, neither, apparently, did anyone else. And that made me wonder when we stopped stopping. There was a time when hitching a ride was a regular occurrence on our roads. It was still common enough when I went to college in the early eighties that I managed to regularly thumb my way up and down the entire length of New York State, travelling between home and my dorm, as well as through most of Europe and parts of Africa. I was picked up by truck drivers, mothers, ministers, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. I was even given a ride by Hogster once.
I think, much like the slow meander through town, the near-disappearance of hitchhiking has a lot to do with the de-personalization of the experience of connecting. Think about it: when a lone driver passes a lone hitchhiker going 25mph, it's fairly easy for that driver to do a rapid assessment of that hitchhiker, maybe even being able to look them in the eye, and decide whether to connect. But when hundreds of drivers are passing at 40 or even 50mph, that process gets truncated. So fast driving is a major factor. And then there's the sense of community – I am responsible for the people I live among. But when its hordes instead of one or two cars passing, no one feels even that slight tug of accountability (let someone else do it, not me).
When my family moved to East Greenwich ten years ago, I felt like this was a small town where people were aware of one another. Simply pausing on the sidewalk in front of the pedestrian crossing where the new police station is on First Avenue was enough to cause cars on both sides of the aisle to come to an immediate stop. Now, I need to stand in the road and wave my arms like a madwoman (yes, that was me) to get drivers to notice me. Although I still allow my kids to freerange the neighborhood, I drape them in day-glo vests in hope that the bright color will penetrate the texting/phoning haze most of us drive in (note to kids – I am aware that you stuff these vests in your backpacks the second you turn the corner, so don't think you're fooling me).
I think people who speed through residential neighborhoods are right up there with hedge fund managers, Dick Cheney and the people who created Jackass as the most despicable people on earth. Harsh? Maybe. Perhaps you think that loudmouth you couldn't help but overhear since they were practically shouting into their cell phone while you were trying to have a drink with friends at Fatbelly's is the most despicable person on earth. But answer me this: while annoying, the cell phoner only puts your peace of mind at risk. Speeders put lives in peril.
Which is why speeding through my neighborhood is practically begging me to step in front of your car and scream at you (yes, that was also me). Last Halloween, I was trick or treating with my children and a group of their friends on the Hill. It's dangerous to drive over 20mph on these streets on an ordinary day; on All Hallow's Eve, it's practically a death drive. So when a car sped through, I shouted for the driver to slow down. "I live here," she snapped, as if this was a valid defense. Well, so do I, but I don't think that gives me the right to mow down a gang of Harry Potters, Lady GaGas and Luke Skywalkers. In the past week, I have watched on three separate occasions cars drive straight through a red light without even pausing. Do they think that their time is so valuable that they don't have to wait? Are they color-blind?
Researchers at Purdue University found that the majority of drivers have no problem going 5, 10 or even 20 mph over the speed limit and see no risk in doing so. The reason, they determined, is that few people have any respect for speed limits, which they consider nothing more than vague guidelines they can ignore.
Look, I know it's important that you get to the store around the corner for your morning cheappuccino, to the school to pick up your kids, to the office before your boss and so on, but you're not going to get there any faster by playing Traffic Tetris and swerving around the garbage truck and taking out my cat. If civic duty doesn't make you ease up on the gas pedal, maybe, in these fiscally hard, environmentally-concerned times, the prospect of saving money and the ecology will.
You can get 35 percent better fuel mileage out of your current vehicle by slowing down, according to auto info guru www.Edmunds.com. So if your car gets, say, 22 mpg overall, you could bump that up to 30mpg by accelerating more slowly away from green lights and stopping more gradually for red lights and not going over the speed limit.
No matter what, if you don't slow down, I can promise you this: I will have my revenge. I am not so old that, if I see you speeding past my house, I can't make a note of your license plate and call the police. If you're unlucky enough to be behind me when I'm driving and discourteous enough to think that getting thisclose to my back fender will make me go faster, realize that I'll not only immediately slow down to 5 miles below the speed limit. I'll put on my cruise control to ensure that I don't accidentally speed up. If I'm on a major thoroughfare and feeling pushed enough, I might even pass my own destination to slow you down even longer. Yes, I am that devious. So do me a favor – the next time you come up my driveway, go slow. And please, do come in for a cup of tea.