Signs of the Times

If any driver thinks that the open road is freedom or that their independence is found in their vehicle, let them rethink the situation. We can not drive without being reminded at every quarter mile by some sign that we are bound by the whims and fancies of rogue puppet dictators: city planners, homeowner associations, and worse, the state department of transportation. Whether we realize it or not, these groups exact a toll upon our driving that we often succumb to without even realizing it. Many of the signs do not make sense. The chief of all nonsensical signs is the “Do Not Pass” sign, which if obeyed, would put an end to most trips real quick. All that is needs to be added is “Do Not Collect $200″. But, the dictators’ attempts to control our driving doesn’t end there.

In many neighborhoods, drivers are immediately confronted with this bold statement: “Slow Children at Play”. I suppose it should say, “Slow: Children at Play”, but the use of the colon was abandoned long ago as an authorized street sign symbol. Apparently, colons cause drivers to pause while reading signs. As a result, five-car pileups could occur right inside the entrance to gated communities.

Regardless, it is recommended that safe drivers keep their eyes peeled for any slow children playing. In truth, the only “play” I ever see in these neighborhoods are by shirtless groups of teenagers playing basketball in the street with one of those rollaway basketball nets that nobody in Florida ever rolls away. These playful youth seem to delight in the challenge of continuing their game while a car drives through it. NBA ticket sales would certainly increase if the rules committee allowed vehicles to plow across the court at random intervals.

Curiously, there is also the ever-increasing use of the “No Outlet” sign when we all know, good and well, that there are plenty of outlets, especially the really cool shortcut that takes us right out to the main road and bypasses the everyday traffic jam at the regular outlet.

These “No Outlet” signs have nearly the same effect that Neighborhood Watch signs have on criminals - mainly to tell criminals that pretty much nobody is watching and that every home has blinds, curtains, or the more traditional aluminum foil, and couldn’t see a jumbo jet land in their street. Similarly, a “No Outlet” sign is a blatant advertisement that there is quite likely, a great outlet that will be of immense use for years to come, if you can find it.

But, even if there truly is no outlet, the thrill of seeking an outlet and trying all the roads in the subdivision is not to be missed. After that, you will know which “No Outlet” signs really mean “No Outlet”, thus being privy to a special knowledge that only the city planners have. “No Outlet” signs are especially tempting, like when your mom says you can never have cookies as an after-school snack but one day gives you a cookie as a “special treat”. If that happens even once, you have no choice but to attempt to have a cookie every day so you don’t miss anymore special treats.

Then there is the agony of reading a sign that says, “Reduced Speed Ahead”. This clearly indicates, as you might guess, that speed is reduced ahead. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. While the speed limit is reduced a short distance ahead, the actual speed of my vehicle goes unchanged. There is also the danger that the sign could be interpreted as an amphetamine sale on the horizon, causing the wrong kind of traffic, if you know what I mean.

What is worse and may be a harbinger of things to come, is some of the red traffic lights flashing a white light at you, like, right in your eyes, while you wait for it to turn green. These white flashing lights are bright enough to make you feel like a celebrity entering a movie premiere. I guess people were using the old courtroom defense, “I didn’t see the red light” to escape blame for accidents. With the new disco strobe lights, the judge can now refute these criminals and suggest, “Don’t you mean to say that you didn’t see the red light with the flashing white light that blinded you for several seconds as you sped through the intersection?” This will inevitably cause defendants to break down and confess.

However, there is nothing more curious than my local police department’s effort to slow speeders. They now use large digital signs that tell me my speed and flash a yellow light to let me know that I am in big trouble for going 39 in a 35 zone. Have you seen them setting these machines up in the early morning? A few kids from the police athletic league drag these out to some street where speeding complaints have been filed. Then, they actually chain the machine down to prevent theft. I am still waiting for the first report of one of these machines being stolen. I don’t have a ball hitch on my van, or else I would have towed one long ago to some little league games to measure the pitching speeds of the youngsters. There’s nothing like adding a little “edge” to a little league game: “Watch out for this pitcher, Tommy! He gets the little yellow light to flash every time!”

The machine supposedly tells you your speed because the police department wants to help you be a better driver. For instance, the last one I approached said that I was going, “62, 12, 94, 41″ all in a span of about two seconds. The light angrily flashed the whole time. This told me that I needed to slow down to zero, get out of my car, grab the tire iron from the trunk, and rap the machine a bit on the side until it properly registered zero. The machine just went blank after a few strikes, but I know the police department will likely thank me for recalibrating their machine. I felt it was the least I could do, under the circumstances.

Of course, the vast majority of drivers immediately speed up when they see these machines. Not only is the absence of real cops practically guaranteed, but there is nothing more satisfying to the male ego, even if you’re a female, than to see your speed registered as 71 when the speed limit sign next to it says 25. It validates you as a person. You are someone who can affect real change. Look what you made that sign do. It responded to your every whim. That sort of powerful head rush can only be compared to blocking a three point shot by taking out a point-guard with the driver-side door.

Technorati : driving, humor, signs, traffic

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