I recently saw the movie Drive. It is a fine piece of American cinema, and I believe in sparse dialog and brutal-but-not-too-brutal violence. Aside from sharing a title, the movie has nothing to do with the rest of with this essay (except, perhaps, in contrast by this essay having far too many words and that movie having not very many.) Sorry. Or you’re welcome, depending on which way you swing.
This is not an ‘us vs. them’ diatribe. It is, however, a definitive work on the defining characteristics of certain motor vehicle drivers in an attempt to help define them. It is also a quick lesson on ridiculously redundant sentence structure. Also about shooting holes into my own arguments.
Every road cyclist has encountered drivers with clear and present personalities. Likely, the cyclist will have a system of categories for the drivers based on certain empirical data: the sound of an engine revving or the hum of the tires closing from behind, the position of an oncoming auto in its lane, the model and make of the machine, among many others. In this, I will generalize driver behavior based on motor vehicle model and style based on my experience while riding the roads.
The White Sedan
First and foremost, the white sedan is the most dangerous car on the road. This is especially true when said white sedan is American made. Think for a bit. You’re nodding. Among many other generalizations about white American-made sedans, the driver of a white Pontiac is without fail from Michigan, Indiana or Ohio. Same with Saturn drivers. If the driver is not, then the family member from whom he bought the white American sedan is. And he still lives there, but now drives the SUV version of his old white Pontiac. It too is white. This leads to part of the reason why white American sedans are the most dangerous cars on the road: they are embarrassing cars. Especially Pontiacs, because Pontiac doesn’t even exist as a branch of GM anymore. Outwardly, that won’t be admitted but inside they know their shamefully self-induced social stigma.
The White American Sedan passes as soon as it reaches the cyclist. It will pass uphill, downhill, ten meters before a red light, through a school zone, or in the vicinity of a school bus with red lights flashing. It cares not about oncoming traffic, traffic furniture, or blind curves. The driver will slow as little as possible, if at all, before expertly (read: terrifyingly) passing 7-13 inches from the cyclist. If the cyclist is riding on or à droit the white line, the White American Sedan will not change course at all. The potential for collateral damage is high, especially on twisty roads. In Portland, a frequently ridden road is the unimaginatively named Skyline Blvd. It’s rolly and twisty and accesses every ride west of Portland. While the frequency of White American Sedans on Skyline is less than other roads, the impact is still great. And even though I’m impressed by White American Sedan driving skill, chalked up mostly to good old mid-western work ethic, the reality is likely that this mid-western work ethic is also equal parts mid-western morality (not mortality, mind you) resulting in not skillful driving but moral driving. If the very small but powerful portion of that driver’s brain is ever over-ridden by the larger but weaker part that says “do not go around, go through.” We’re all fucked.
The Prius (applies to all small hybrids, but mostly the Prius)
The Toyota Prius driver is a mobile morality play starring Irony, Freud, Acceptance, Hypocrisy and Hubris. At first encounter, especially in city settings, the Prius is scary. It’s not a big car, no larger than a hippopotamus, but it is a silent car, at certain speeds. And nothing scares me more than a silent hippopotamus. It’s true. Can you imagine a hippo opening its giant mouth and no sound coming out? Or when it walks through swamp and over shrub? Luckily, hippos can never avoid this distracting trait:
The silence of the Prius hippopotamus is not its scariest feature. The deadly internal monologue of the Prius driver is what makes it a terror of the roadways. Prius drivers are psychologically delicate and existentially ponderous, usually as a result of owning a Prius. They must constantly rationalize and justify their existence in the car, of the car, while driving the car. A transcript would read like this:
“Should I drive to work today or ride? I bought this expensive small car; I should probably use it. But before I bought it I rode my bike or took the train everyday. But now I have more independence and can go other places than to and from work. But I can’t do them very fast or I’ll just be driving, not Hybriding. At least when I’m stuck in traffic I won’t be polluting. Do you hear yourself? Oh, there’s a couple bike riders. I’m like them. Hey guys! But they’re out there and I’m in here. Hmm, I have room to pass but what if one of them flats and accidentally swerves into my lane? I could accelerate to get around quicker but then I’d be polluting and my engine noise might startle the bike riders, and when I do get around them they’ll see my Share The Road license plate and think I’m a hypocrite. If I don’t pass them at least I’m still hybriding. But if I don’t pass, then why am I driving? Because I have this car. Not car, hybrid car. My status now depends on this hybrid car and I need to reassure myself by not acting like this hybrid car is just coincidentally that: a hybrid car. It’s a statement about me and my beliefs. I’m just getting around; just commuting. And I’m saving the planet and producing fewer emissions. But they aren’t producing any emissions. But relative to those other cars, like that white Pontiac over there, I’m planting a tree! But what about the battery in this thing? It came from around the world. But so did that bike rider’s Surly bike. That’s true, it had to be shipped across the ocean. My battery is no different than his Surly. Except that near my battery is an internal combustion engine and on his Surly is just, just… Oh, hey I’m at work already. Where did those last 3 miles go?”
Prius drivers don’t know where they are at any time. Ever seen a Prius without a dent or scratch? Nope. Rider beware.
The Pickup Truck
When a pickup truck comes into view, heightened senses take over. The mind and body prepare for war. When the big tire hum joins the other ambient noises, the rider instinctively moves right and compacts his girth. The four point stance is stable; confidence is powerful and disarming. The rider must demonstrate his courage over his surroundings and not give in to terror. The pick up truck will swerve into your lane as he comes at you. It will throw cans, trash, cigarettes, Pizza Hut Pazones, expletives, and homophobic slurs at you. It will tell you to get on the sidewalk. The dog in the truck bed has been trained to bark at the most startling moment. The empty gun rack is worse than the full one. They will always win but we must never let that show. Hold your line (where appropriate. Get the hell out of the way as needed.), smile and wave, flip no birds, taunt not the caged gorilla. The pickup truck is always trouble. There are no good ones.
All generalizations are bad.
*Photo of traffic courtesy of Osvaldo Gago
**Photo of pickup courtesy of CZ Marlin
All other photos public domain ***A tip of the hat to Ira Ryan for the brainstorm.