THOSE OTHER MEMPHIS DRIVERS
Theres something magical about a drive around our city. Choose a path in any direction, and youre met with a dense and ever-shifting landscape that seems to meld past and present into a sometimes breathtaking hybrid creature.
Restored or crumbling exteriors still bear the hand-painted insignias of eras past. Stark or demure gardens encircle the perimeters of houses that were built back when they really built houses.
You see the eclectic and the eccentric holding hands downtown, where new growth blossoms in neon lights. Museums bump into galleries that neighbor arenas and clubs and people, alongside some forgotten streets where the soul of the city dances its dance quietly.
The beauty of Memphis lies in its strange ability to be a city but still a town, where the word metropolitan can stand for something cohesive.
Yet theres one teensy little flaw. One in which we ourselves play a major role. Well
not you and me, but, you know, those other members of we. Its the recreational sport/ safari adventure that is sometimes referred to as driving.
On certain days and at certain times, the operation of vehicles on our city streets creates a level of chaos that is shocking. Though, again, this isnt you or me causing such a ruckus. Its those other drivers, obviously.
But youve got to know what Im talking about.
To be fair, some of the blame must certainly be attributed to the roads themselves. Much like the local culture, the roadways of Memphis are laid out in the manner of a town. This, unfortunately, is nothing akin to quaint when you look at the results.
There are people driving without their lights on, in the rain, at midnight, while on the telephone and watching the tiny televisions mounted to their dashboards. Onboard viewing selections normally include cartoons or porn.
Seeming contests spring up in which motorists compete to top the all-time running of the red light record. Many an Olympic contender can be observed, sometimes from within inches, logging points as they race away from view.
Cars weave like sine waves, vacillating from side-to-side across a yellow-lined axis. A very real and important axis, but one that may as well be as imaginary as the yellow-brick road.
Pedestrians wander into the road at will, as if having forgotten that they cant pass through a few-thousand pounds of metal unharmed, and then glare at you angrily as if you really should have been driving on the sidewalk anyway. I cant count the number of times in the past few years when Ive had to slam on my breaks to avoid the awkward introduction of some stranger to my bumper while traveling well within the posted speed limit.
Besides, one would think that all of the road signs were written in an as yet undeciphered system of hieroglyphics; so speed limits are out the window anyway.
As are most other signs. Those stating one-way are read as pick the direction of your choice
. Yield seems to mean hurry, hurry, dont waste a second
. And stop, obviously, means you better go right this instant. Now. Before those other cars can even think about passing you. Go! Go! Go!
Intersections of busy roads are more like high-speed turnstiles, spitting cars across approaching traffic like marbles in a terribly dangerous game of Hungry Hungry Hippos.
At the sign of an ice cube, or a dime-sized puddle, instantaneous panic ensues, and people begin to ram into each other as if the wheels of their cars had been frozen.
And the saddest thing about this little circus that we call hometown drivin is that much of the above insanity is ultimately avoidable. Of course you and I both know that already, as such transgressions--gasp, the thought of it--are unimaginable when were behind the wheel.
Damn other people.
But in case you happen to know one of those other people, those harbingers of vehicular disorder, why not pass them along a message. Tell them to, um, stop it. Its a simple solution really, with a shockingly easy-to-swallow moral. Driving is not an interactive video game, and we--I mean those other people--need to slow down and pay just a little bit more attention.
So lets apply the formula.
When in the car, pay attention. And when walking the streets or , better yet, the sidewalks, pay attention.
Look both ways. Use turn signals. Get off the phone and drive with both hands.
Memphis is a city with a treasure-trove of rewards awaiting its explorers. Who really has time for the constant interruption of wrecks, near wrecks, and cars that blast across the road like meteors?
Not I, says the perfect driver. (Cough, cough.) Not I.