Friday, March 27, 2009

Applying Miss Manners' Advice

Mil - li - sec - ond [mil - uh - sek - uhnd]
(1) one thousandth of a second
(2) the amount of time between when the light turns green and the person in the car behind you honks her horn
Abbreviation: msec.

When I was in college, I used to carpool to work during the summer with an older fellow, Bob, who worked upstairs in the same building and was friends with my step-mom. And by carpool, I mean that he happily drove me to work every day so that he could park in the parking lot close to the door that was reserved for carpoolers instead of having to hike half a mile or more from the remote parking lot for the masses.

He drove a VW Beetle. It was a well-kept early 1970's model (this was in the mid-1980's, so it wasn’t all *that* old yet), with a stick shift transmission, and the engine in the back of the car. It looked sort of like this one:

Photo by Dr. Keats on flikr. Used under a creative commons attribution license. Use of the photo does not imply that Dr. Keats endorses this blog or even knows it exists. See the creative commons license here.

Bob liked to take the back roads to work, to avoid the traffic on the freeways; he said he couldn’t stand all the rude and aggressive drivers on the big roads.

One day, we were first in line at a (rather long) red light, waiting to turn left. The light changed to green. Bob was ready - clutch in, gear engaged - but apparently took an entire millisecond to get the car moving. The gentle lady in the car behind us honked her horn -- urgently and loudly.

Bob, being an ardent follower of “Miss Manners,” of course took no offense but instead was immediately concerned that the gentle lady behind us might be in some distress. So, he engaged the parking brake so that, as Miss Manners once recommended in a column, he could get out of his car and ask her whether he might be of assistance to her in her distress. But he forgot to disengage the gear before letting out the clutch, so the engine coughed and then stalled. Oops.

But Bob, ever the gentleman, put the gentle lady’s problems ahead of his own problems, and he hurried on back to the car behind him and said to the lady, “Were you trying to get my attention? Is there something I can help you with?”

She glared at him and said in a steely tone, “The. Light. Is. Green. WHY DON’T YOU GO?!?”

Bob said cheerily, “Oh, is that all? Well, I can certainly help with that, now can’t I? But – oh, bummer – I was going, but then when I stopped to get out of the car to talk to you, it stalled out. I’ll have to check on what the problem is. We’ll be on our way shortly!”

So Bob jogged back around to the front of the Beetle, popped open the front cover (that’s the trunk, for those of you unfamiliar with the Beetle), and peered inside while tugging at his beard, with a look of genuine worry and puzzlement on his face. He shouted to me, “DID SOMEONE STEAL THE ENGINE WHILE I WAS TALKING TO THAT NICE LADY BEHIND ME?”

Meanwhile, the light turned red again.

Then he shut the front cover and as he walked back toward the driver’s door looking surprised and puzzled, the woman yelled at him, “The engine is in the BACK of your car, you idiot!!!”

He pretended he couldn’t hear her: “What’s that?” he asked, as he walked closer to her car.


Bob stammered, in an apologetic and surprised tone as he approached her window again, “Really?!? It’s new... I didn’t realize.... I wondered why the engine compartment was empty.... Thank you!” So he dutifully walked to the back of his car and opened the rear cover and peered inside while tugging at his beard.

Meanwhile, the light had changed to green again.

As Bob stood there looking at his engine, the gentle lady was becoming noticeably more distressed. “WILL YOU GO, YOU ASSHOLE?!?” she shouted, and she began backing up her car (there was no one behind her) and checking her mirror as if to go around him. But traffic was heavy in the non-turn lane, so she couldn’t pull around him.

Bob cheerily chirped, “Oh, Madam, I'm so sorry I've been unable to determine the cause of the problem. Well, let’s just try her again, then!”

Then he shut the back cover, jogged back to the driver’s door, hopped back into his car, cranked the engine, put it in gear and began to move..... and then popped the clutch and stalled the car again. Then, he restarted the engine again just as the light changed to yellow, and continued through the intersection.

The gentle lady behind him had to wait for the third red light.

Do you think the short "time out" helped her feel better?

* * *

Moral of this story: Don’t honk rudely at Bob. He’s very polite.

* * *

Disclaimer, aka, the fine print (because I'm a lawyer, that's why): Miss Manners apparently gave that particular advice (to consult with the honking driver regarding the cause of his/her distress) back when the roads were not filled with raging, gun-toting maniacs; she probably would not advise approaching another driver's window these days. Certainly, you should not try this at home in your big city, or with any "gentle driver" who looks even remotely homicidal. Although you should also keep in mind that the neighbors of homicidal maniacs almost universally state that he "seemed like a nice guy," so if I were you, I wouldn't trust my ability to judge whether someone is a homicidal maniac merely by looking at them in the rearview mirror. In short, this could be a dangerous activity if your "victim" keeps a gun in her glove box, so I don't recommend that you try it. Even though it *was* fun.


SkylersDad said...

That is wonderful, if I had any guts I would try it!

Gaston Studio said...

Love your friend Bob. He has the right attitude about how to treat overly aggressive drivers at stop lights.

Fragrant Liar said...

Well, I'm not sure he is as smart as he is polite, but he is definitely funny. :)

Lisa said...

omg. i love bob. that's a great one!

Fancy Schmancy said...

Bob rocks. If I'm behind someone and see that they truly aren't paying attention, I've been known to give a quick 2-push on the horn like "heads up". But I try to make sure they don't look like homicidal maniacs, first!

Nan said...

I've done something similar, but never to the point of walking back to talk to a driver. I have, however, had vehicles mysteriously stall out to the point where I had to pop the hood, walk around to the front of the truck, and poke at various wires before it would start again. Passive aggressiveness at its finest.

Johnny Yen said...

I had a '76 Beetle in college (early and mid eighties) that was the last of the old Beetles-- rear engine, etc.

I was guilty of beeping at someone today in a similiar situation, but he was sitting for several seconds. I sometimes have people beeping for me to move when there's an impediment to me moving-- like a woman with a baby in a stroller right in front of my car. I usually just beep right back at them, and stick a finger out the window. I'm a six foot tall 200 pound guy who doesn't mind a good fight. I haven't had a problem yet.

Green said...

Bob sounds great, like my kind of person. I have been known to say loudly, "Excuse me! You dropped something!" to people who litter.

Mulled Vine said...

Gee, thanks a bunch! I have just wet myself. :-D

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Bwahahahaha! Oh that Bob was just a pistol now, wasn't he?

Great post-and I'm with you on the fine print!