Last night I drove a half an hour west of Ann Arbor and back, and this morning I drove half an hour east and back. People are in a hurry, and many of them seem stressed. Bad drivers stand out more than ever. Michigan’s biggest problem is that it has set two different highway speed limits — 60 mph for trucks and 70 mph for cars. It used to be 55 for trucks (it was raised in 2006) and while I guess the idea is safety, much of the time (especially when half of the vehicles on the road are trucks) it merely creates a trap for the unwary. People in the left hand lane go at least 75 (usually 80 and over), while people in the right are limited to the truck speed, because that’s usually where the trucks are. So with any traffic volume, you can be stuck in that right lane for a long time, waiting and hoping for a chance to make an escape. But then when you get in the left lane, you are faced with another balancing act, which is when to get back over into the right.

I try to be courteous to other drivers, as one of the things that galls me is these cretins who seem to believe they have a God-given right to stay in the left lane at whatever speed they happen to have set the cruise control on. So, when I see someone behind me going faster, I get over. But OTOH, I don’t like to have to immediately get over when doing that entails sandwiching myself between two slow-moving trucks. And what really ticks me off is when I am not the one obstructing the passing lane, but the asshole in front of me who won’t get over is the problem. Still, I try to comply with demands of the tailgating asshole behind me, not only because that’s the law and it’s polite, but because I hate being stuck in this phenomenon of endless mutual tailgating. It seems the unofficial rule of the road (assuming you want to get from point A to point B) boils down to this:

When you are tailgated, you must tailgate!

What could suck more than that? Anyway, this morning I was noticing and getting annoyed by the usual bad driving to and from the airport, but on the drive home I uncharacteristically grew reflective for a moment, and I noticed something I almost never, ever notice. Two things, in fact.

First was a driver in front of me in the left. I had my cruise control set somewhere in the low 70s (always safe if you don’t want a ticket), and I saw a car in front of me in the left going more slowly. Conditioned to think of the slow people as assholes, I began to plan my strategy accordingly, and I looked over to find the longest gap in what ought to be called “the truck lane.” As I was gauging what to do, the driver simply pulled over into the right courteously as he was supposed to. My first thought was how abnormal that seemed. But as I reflected, I realized that this happens all the time. Most people know the rules of the road, and they do get over. But I don’t notice that. It is wholly unremarkable. 

As I thought over the remarkable nature of the unremarkable, I noticed another car in front of me which looked as if it might be going too slowly, but at that point the highway had widened, which meant the addition of an invaluable middle lane. Rather than tailgate the driver in front of me (as if to test his politeness), I just thought I would move over to the middle. Not to pass on the right (because I didn’t know whether I would be doing that) but just so I could effortlessly maintain my cruise control speed. Not long after I had done that, a speeding pickup truck (easily doing 90) zoomed up behind the car in the left lane, then cut right in front of me (without signaling of course) and, seeing another car in front of me, continued all the way over to the right lane, stayed there long enough to get in front of the car in front of me, and then zoomed back in. Basically he just swerved rapidly all the way across the road, cutting off all drivers without ever signalling at all.

“Typical!” I thought. 

But not long after that I saw another car using turn signals in the normal fashion, and I grew reflective again, because as I realize that it was remarkable only in contrast to the maniac who had just crisscrossed the road, I thought of how many thousands of times I have utterly failed to notice people who signal properly (as several did later). They are doing what they should do. It is normal, and therefore boring.

If ordinary things and people are too boring to notice, who would bother keeping track of them?

Imagine if I wrote a blog post about normal people behaving in a courteous manner! What could be more tedious than that? We just don’t notice the norm. Not that we should notice the norm; only the abnormal, the annoying or the unusual is worthy of attention. That’s what I spend my time noticing, dammit! If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have much to say in this blog. The downside is that this can lead to illogical and mistaken thinking, especially when it is compounded by stereotypes. Old damn broken down falling apart cars! Hippie cars covered with leftist bumperstickers! Cars with stuffed animals cluttering up the back windshield! Cars with New Jersey license plates! Subarus (aka “lesbarus”) that refuse to go faster than the “green” speed of 55! Or their stereotypical opposite, BMWs that seem to be driven only by people who think they are professional race car drivers with a God-given right to tailgate! Or the cars that blast BOOM-BA-BOOM-BOOM! garbage noise at concert hall pitch as they drive through residential neighborhoods! (I am sure I missed a few obnoxious minorities, but it is tedious enough without trying to list them all.)

If all you do is focus on the obnoxious, the rude, the loud, the annoying, and the abnormal, then that tends to become your norm. Normal means potential disaster — everywhere and in all directions. I don’t mean to deny the existence of and constant possibility of potential disasters — even catastrophes — but sometimes it is worth remembering that there’s a lot of ordinary, non-disastrous, normal, quiet, even polite, “dullness” out there.

Ignoring the unremarkable has its pitfalls. It can lead to having a view of life which is, well, inaccurate.

I mean, who wants to spend a life completely missing the reality which actually exists for a majority of people most of the time?