We were running out of food during the great Super Bowl XLV week ice storm in Arlington. The current Mrs. Petruso decided that we needed to venture out for staples. Staple foods, she replied sharply, when I observed that I had an unopened box of a thousand Swinglines in the desk drawer in my study. Since I had left the sprinkler system on for the week, the driveway was coated in a few inches of solid, crystal-clear ice, even before we awoke to a fresh coating of snow on Day 4. Some would say leaving the sprinkler system on is evidence that I am geezing, or at least absentminded. No. Actually, I love the look of crystal-clear icescapes refracting the sun’s rays. Too bad if the sprinklers created difficulties for drivers on the road fronting our property. Not my problem.
This was perhaps not the most auspicious day to venture out, I suggested to the current Mrs. Petruso (I will call her “Nancy” hereafter to protect her identity). But she would not be denied. We negotiated the driveway easily, as it turned out, thanks to some flashy toe-heel work I had learned as a grad student in Bloomington one winter, when the temperature did not rise above 32 for a solid month. My housemate and I had a 1963 Dodge Dartre convertible we had bought for one dollar from a chemistry professor at IU who was eager to get rid of it, and in a hurry. The car’s plastic rear window had been inexplicably torn out, which permitted an impressive snowdrift to accumulate on the rear seat for much of that winter. More to the point, and of relevance to the present narrative, the tires were nearly bald. So I learned a lot that winter about how to drive on ice. Perhaps I will write more on another occasion about that memorable car—an undependable but exceedingly ugly vehicle, embodying every postwar aesthetic fail in automotive design. And I might also relate the moving tale of the large black rat that shared our rented house with us. But I digress.
As “Nancy” and I pulled out onto Green Oaks, I saw that—ice or no ice—I was once again at the mercy of (1) the same maladroit Texas drivers I cope with every day, who experience subfreezing weather so rarely that they retain no memory of the fact that driving on ice is not for the unskilled or the faint of heart; and (2) “Nancy,” who was even more generous than usual in helping me pilot my vehicle.
I had carefully plotted a long but prudent route to Whole Foods that would take us along the gentlest inclines possible. Slowly, steadily and deliberately, I got us there without event, leaving less-accomplished drivers in my wake littering the sides of the road, all the while listening to “Nancy” complain about the irritating ‘80s music I was featuring on the XM ‘80s station (including the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese” and Devo’s “Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy”). The ‘80s is a decade whose music “Nancy” cannot abide (she prefers ‘60s Motown, but tolerates ‘70s soft rock). The thumping, relentless, early electronica rhythms and high-pitched staccato vocals were putting her on edge, and the occasional fishtailing and my zany habit of riding the bumpers of the cars in front of us certainly wasn’t bringing her anxiety level down.
I have long been fascinated by the idiosyncrasies of Texas drivers, not least their God-given inability to fathom the concept of “left lane.” On the way home from Whole Foods—three grocery bags heavier and, exasperatingly, $154 lighter—I got behind a driver who had his hazard lights flashing, helpfully alerting his fellow motorists to the fact that he was moving slowly and should be given wide berth. While normally I would have appreciated his conscientiousness, it did not escape my notice that this linthead was driving in the left lane—that is, the lane reserved for emergency vehicles and Dr. Petruso. (Whenever I am out motoring, I get very impatient when my view ahead is not clear all the way to the horizon.) I eventually could not take it any longer, and as I passed the cretin on the right (i.e., in what I have come to refer to as the “Texas passing” lane), I shook my head with great exaggeration in the hopes that, upon arriving home, the guy would feel humiliated enough to consult his DMV manual for some much-needed remediation. It is not my experience, however, that my fellow drivers frequently participate in self-reflection, and thus I acknowledge that this will not be the last time I encounter such drivers.
As I gingerly backed into our beautiful glistening driveway and “Nancy” began to relax her death grip on the door handle, I pondered our journey, and concluded that the trouble with driving today is: Other drivers—particularly the way they feel entitled to use roads, including but not limited to, left lanes. This is only a metaphor for life writ large, though. One might say that the trouble with life in our hectic modern era is: Other people.