06 September 2018

Rant for the day -- road warriors

About a month ago I started a new job.  The people are pretty laid-back, which is good.  The work isn't bad, aside from some issues related to the sheer complexity of the organization (though those are getting maddening).  The commuting is godawful.

I'd been trying to get something closer to where I live, but frankly I wasn't in a position to be choosy.  So I was prepared for a fair bit of wasted time.  I wasn't prepared for the sheer stupidity of some drivers.

There are apparently people to whom driving is a grimly-urgent game whose object is to be ahead of, rather than behind, as many other cars as possible.  People jump from lane to lane through dangerously-small gaps trying to get in front of each other, tailgate, honk furiously in frustration when a move in the game fails, speed up to cut off people properly signaling a lane change or trying to merge onto the freeway, and vroom off with an aggressively flatulent-sounding burst of acceleration when a gap in one lane offers a chance to get a few spots ahead.

And usually that's all that's at stake -- a chance to get one or two car-positions further ahead than they would otherwise be.  You're driving up your blood pressure and stress hormones, and everyone else's, for the sake of an advantage of a few seconds.  What on Earth is the point?  It's as if people feel that getting in front of another car rather than behind it is a test of their manhood.  I can't help thinking of those primate intimidation displays to assert dominance which find echoes in so much of human behavior.

I've already changed my route to avoid the freeway and use regular streets only, even though it takes longer, but I've seen similar behavior there as well during rush hour -- despite the presence of plenty of pedestrians and bicyclists (many of them apparently eager to gamble their lives on drivers' reflexes) and a tangle of construction constricting one major road for most of its length.  The advantage is that a crash there would happen at lower speed than on the freeway and thus be less likely to be deadly.

Don't get me wrong -- it's only a small fraction of drivers who behave this way, maybe one to five percent.  But that's quite enough.  I've seen the aftermath of some spectacular car wrecks in Portland during the time I've lived here, including one that must have been as bad as the picture at the top, and I'm no longer surprised.  Not that I mind the idea of such idiots killing themselves off -- that's just natural selection in action.  But they almost inevitably take other people with them.

I can't swear to it, but, I think it's getting worse.  I've lived here 23 years now and I don't remember it being this bad earlier on.

The daily drive also takes me deep into the northwestern quadrant of downtown, an area I've never been to before.  NW 23rd Avenue has, or had, a reputation for being a classy shopping street, and maybe it is.  My commute doesn't actually take me there, but I have to go through most of the area of the northwestern downtown between NW 23rd and the river.  And it looks like absolute crap, or at least the part I drive through does.  The buildings are OK -- the usual blocky fortresses five to twenty stories high -- but they're separated by huge expanses of parking lots and fenced-off vacant lots choked with undergrowth.  Small encampments of homeless people are scattered everywhere, though many have new-looking camping-style tents -- I wonder if someone donated a bunch of those recently?  An elevated freeway and bridge approach looms over everything like some colossal alien megastructure.  Surely something could be done with all those vacant lots literally within walking distance of the city center.  Put in affordable housing (the Devil knows we need more of that).  Something.  As it is, the area doesn't look dangerous, at least in the daytime.  But it looks depressing as hell.

Ah, well.  This job is a five-month gig.  One month down, four to go.


Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

People drive like friggin maniacs.

06 September, 2018 04:32  
Blogger Ami said...

We moved to Portland in 1989.
I commented *then* that I had never seen more crazy people on the road.
It hasn't gotten better in the 29 years we've been here.

The 205 used to be SO nice... hardly any traffic and in perfect condition. But our 'planners' took care of that. Now it's just as shitty as the rest of the overcrowded (but you can take MAX!!! TryMeth!!)mess that is our freeway system.

I've driven in a lot of the bigger Western US cities from Denver, Salt Lake, LA, San Diego, San Francisco... well, you get it. I had never seen more people with problems driving than here. Until I visited Seattle.

Don't know if you're a George Carlin fan. I definitely am. I frequently use his phrase, Mongolian Clusterf*ck. Quite often when referring to freeway traffic. I have to drive over to the other side of town this morning as a matter of fact. I put in a karaoke CD and sing. And hope for the best. Mongolian indeed.

06 September, 2018 08:24  
Blogger Filosofa's Word said...

I'm relieved! When I first saw the picture I feared you were going to tell us that was your car! I've been retired for 10 years now, and the one thing I absolutely do NOT miss is rush hour traffic! I'll never forget one year that it took me 6 hours during a snowstorm to travel the 20 miles to my home! Hang in there ... only 4 more months!

06 September, 2018 11:48  
Blogger LadyAtheist said...

There's a reason that people in Washington, DC are so well read -- you can keep up on your slow-as-molasses bus, Metro, or car commute. Take your pick. I used to put on make-up during my 50-minute, 11-mile drive to work!

06 September, 2018 15:06  
Blogger Scottie said...

I have heard it said some people drive like it is a contact sport. Hugs

06 September, 2018 15:14  
Anonymous PsiCop said...

My home state of Connecticut is a bastion of bad driving. And it's bad here, trust me. Tailgating, blowing stop signs, it's all too common. It doesn't help that the Nutmeg State is home to a crapload of terrible road designs, including left exits on highways.

Still, I've seen worse driving in other places. Boston is eye-opening, by comparison. People cruise through stop lights, cross multiple lanes in one swoop, etc. Oh, and Washington DC is enlightening, too ... all of that, plus people doing things like passing other cars on the outside while turning through an intersection. (Yep, saw that more than once in the nation's capital.)

06 September, 2018 19:06  
Blogger Professor Chaos said...

Jeez, sounds like Portland's getting to be as bad as Atlanta. I thought it was just red states where they allow developers to build huge projects everywhere but won't spend any tax dollars on new roads or adding lanes.

06 September, 2018 19:22  
Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

Sadly this sort of crap is fairly prevalent in my part of the world too. I'll often find myself trying to cross a busy road in which the traffic is banking up at a stoplight, only to have assholes refuse to pause a few seconds and leave a gap for me to pass through (because, obviously, crawling a few more metres is somehow far more important than showing the remotest bit of consideration to anyone else). Grrr. I've also encountered assholes who speed up to close a gap I would've otherwise been able to slip through (seemingly for no other reason than to engage in their random act of dickery for the day), or who accelerate to keep you from passing them. Admittedly, the last thing's not really an issue for me now (as 99% of the time, there's no realistic way I'm going to be able to overtake someone on my pushbike), but I used to encounter it a fair bit as a child riding in the family car. Often it'd happen when whichever of my parents was driving was trying to overtake a semi-trailer on a country highway, and the cockwomble behind the wheel of the latter vehicle would accelerate to prevent us from passing, leaving us stuck on the wrong side of the road. Just thinking about that now still makes my blood boil - that sort of behaviour wasn't just irritating; it was downright freaking dangerous!

Some other things that piss me off personally are parents who let their teenage children learn to drive in SUVs (those things are dangerous enough without someone utterly inexperienced behind the wheel), idiots who're too busy playing with their stupid mobile phones to pay attention to what's in front of them[*], and cowards who think it's the height of hilarity or machismo to scream abuse at you from the safety of a fast-moving car.

What really pisses me off, though, is a type of asshole I'll often encounter when trying to cross an ordinarily busy road during a momentary lull in traffic. He (or she!) will be the only driver in the immediate vicinity coming along said road, and will be driving just fast enough to make it unsafe to try and cross, yet at the same time just slow enough to hold me up until the traffic screaming up behind him (or coming down the opposite side of the road) closes the gap again. Truly someone deserving of an eternity in "special hell" (to steal a phrase from Firefly)!

*That said, the biggest idiot of this kind I saw wasn't actually looking at a mobile phone - he was rifling through the contents of his wallet (an activity that naturally required him to use both hands and take his eyes off the road) while driving!

07 September, 2018 02:05  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

Some people are just nuts on the road. When I have to get somewhere I leave 30 minutes earlier just so I can be more careful and keep away from those crazies that seem to want to fight on the roads. Be careful out there.

07 September, 2018 10:17  
Blogger Martha said...

There are so many lunatics on the road! I used to hate driving when we lived in the big city, but since we moved away from there 9 years ago, I don't mind it anymore. It's so wonderfully quiet here! Whenever I spend the day in my hometown, I am reminded of the madness I left behind. I feel like I'm in a video game fighting to stay alive!

07 September, 2018 16:18  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Debra: Some of them are maniacs.

Ami: I have the impression that it's worse here than elsewhere in the US. I went to Texas in 2002 and I had the impression the driving was more polite overall. On the other hand, I'd rather have Portland driving conditions than what I saw in Syria or Kiev.

The biggest problem with the buses and MAX trains is that you're exposed to all the creeps and weirdos. In my experience it's actually worse on the trains because there's no authority figure (driver) in the same space with the passengers.

Unknown: Thanks for your concern! It didn't occur to me that the pic might make someone think that. Although a previous car of mine was once wrecked in a crash, many years ago. Just a modest intersection, but a car on the crossing street ran the red light at high speed just as I was passing through it.

Lady A: It may not be much better here. My trip is under 14 miles and it's taken an hour to get home sometimes.

Scottie: In some cases it is a contact sport. Just yesterday I saw a car hit a motorcycle. Not hard or anything, and I doubt there was any damage, but it was careless on both sides.

PsiCop: They need to start taking licenses away for using cell phones while driving. I keep mine turned off until I need it to avoid the distraction. Anyone can see that it's dangerous.

Professor: Unfortunately liberal cities are bad at building roads to keep up too. I think it's an ideological thing about wanting to make people use cars less, which will never work. I've heard that the best US metro area for building new roads to keep up with population is actually Dallas Ft Worth.

Zosimus: You really should have your own blog. Most of those things are familiar to me too. I've run into the screaming-abuse types here a couple of times.

We seem to be stuck in another SUV era in the US, especially with pick-up trucks so big they can't fit in conventional parking spaces. Why somebody needs that for ordinary city driving I can't imagine, unless they have a hauling business on the side or it really is dong size compensation.

And we need to introduce the word "cockwomble" into American English.

Mary: I do the same. I hate to waste time, but I'd rather leave a few minutes early than have to do all this dangerous bullshit to get somewhere on time.

Martha: I hope to be able to say the same someday.

08 September, 2018 02:31  
Blogger Ten Bears said...

People wonder why when I find it necessary to go to Portland I get out of there as fast as I can. Often, I'll park out in Gresham and ride the trains. Sadly, it's become as bad in Bend.

I've been know to hollar out the window as we roll up to the same intersection "didn't get there any quicker, did ya'?" You know, put on my best biker face, dare 'em to say something.

Really just boils down to, like the bitch that killed my grandson and not only walked away from it but got away with murder - bitch was talking on the cell-phone while illegally passing a motor-home - simply inattentive, self absorbed too goddamned important to slow down. It's a reflection of what we as a society have become.

Kudos on the gig, man, I know how it goes.

08 September, 2018 07:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Your grandson! That's horrible. These assholes need to realize what terrible consequences their carelessness can have when they're driving a car. No one would think it was acceptable to be equally careless with a gun.

Not good news if it's just as bad in Bend. I'd thought of the smaller places as being less frenetic, but that may just be a stereotype.

08 September, 2018 15:35  
Anonymous PsiCop said...

Re: Using cell phones while driving, if someone has a recent-model car, they have no excuse for not using a bluetooth connection to the car. I do this in mine, and it works very well. To answer an incoming call I only need to press a button on the steering wheel, there's a mic in the cabin and I hear the call through the car stereo. Making calls is dicier, and I don't do it while the car is moving, but in a pinch it can be done through the stereo display and it takes a couple of taps on the screen. The only time I've placed a call while driving, I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped, dialed the number on the cell phone, then resumed driving as the call went through. Seemed to me the safer way to do it.

10 September, 2018 13:10  

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