Unsafe at Any Speed

one-way_street_sign_on_central_avenue._june_9_2014

I think I need to surrender my license, hand over my keys, and stop driving for a while.  It’s been a rough week, vehicularly speaking.  On Sunday, I drove to Seattle, an hour from home, to attend a metal show.  I would be relying on my phone’s Google Maps app to direct me to the venue.  All I needed to do was type in the address.  Unfortunately, there was a major middle-aged First World problem to be dealt with.  When I go to metal shows, I like to wear contact lenses, as the spectacles I normally wear are at risk for significant damage in a mosh pit.  My eye doctor provides me with a few pairs of single-use contacts for just such an occasion.  Well, he thinks he’s providing them for some civil activity, like scuba diving.  I don’t feel a need to point out that he’s enabling me to participate in a sort of riot.  It’s been a good system for many years, but my doctor recently prescribed bifocals for my aging eyes.  When I put in the contact lenses, which are not bifocals, I found I was unable to read the small text on my phone.  I handed it to my wife to look up the address for the venue and enter it into Google Maps.  This is an example of how my advancing age is at the “inconvenient stage.”  I’m told it gets worse.

Fortunately, driving doesn’t require the ability to read small text, as road signs are designed for far-sightedness.  The kind female voice of Google Maps directed me to the venue with no problems, and, as she predicted, I arrived an hour and ten minutes after departure. The next order of business was finding a parking space.  My goal was to achieve the “sweet spot” balance between the cost of parking and distance from the venue.  As I was pondering how many factors of ten would be withdrawn from my bank account to park, I observed the car in front of me pull into an alley directly behind the venue.  With hope in my heart, I followed him, and we pulled into the last two spaces in a row of eight cars.  It seemed perfect, except for one potential flaw: we were parked in front of a row of twelve overflowing garbage barrels.  While there were no signs forbidding it, parking in front of the club’s dump seemed unwise at best.  In an unusual bit of bravado, I took the risk.  While I am terrified at the thought of having my car towed, this spot was just too good to pass up, and if my car was going to be towed away, I knew I would have eight other drivers with whom I could strategize to get our cars back from where they were impounded.  My judgment may have been impaired by my desperate need to see a metal show.  It had been almost five months since I’d moshed it up, and I needed a heavy metal fix.

Not having entirely lost my senses of fear and paranoia, I took advantage of the club’s generous in-and-out privileges to check on my car between each band’s set.  In total, there were six bands on the bill, and by the time the last two were set to perform, I stopped worrying and surrendered to the metal madness that was breathing new life into my weary bureaucratic soul.  When the show did come to an end, I hastily made my exit in hopes that my chariot awaited.  I walked along the side of the building and craned my neck to get a look at the parking space as quickly as possible.  What caught my eye first was the garbage truck looming behind my car.  Fortunately, the garbage truck was not accompanied by a tow truck.  As a devotee of the subjunctive mood, I shuddered at the thought of the garbage removal service provider having an earlier shift.  If he had rolled up to the club an hour earlier, I may have had a serious problem, as he would have had plenty of time to call his colleague at the tow truck company.  As it was, the driver pulled across the street to wait for the metal heads to vacate the area so he could go to work.  I got in my car, quickly removing my contact lenses and putting on my bifocals to ensure I could make good use of Google Maps to direct me to the freeway.

My map maven directed me to turn left on 1st Avenue and proceed to Spokane Street, and, even with my limited sense of direction, I recognized this was a case of going back the way I came, which is my favorite kind of directions.  I was on 1st Avenue, and I saw Spokane Street approaching.  I stopped at the light, read the sign for Spokane Street, heard Ms. Google instruct me to turn left, and engaged my left turn signal.  When the light changed, I turned left and felt satisfaction that I would soon be at the freeway entrance.  My elation was short-lived as I observed two sets of headlights coming at me from the other direction. I considered the possibility that the driver on the right was in the wrong lane but realized it was more likely I was going the wrong way on a one-way street.  I put on the brakes to avoid a disaster unfolding more quickly than necessary.  Fortunately, the other drivers, including the one in the car that had been behind me on 1st Avenue, the guy who saw me turn onto a one-way street, all seemed to recognize that there was an idiot amongst them, and they should all come to a stop and let the poor soul work this out for himself.  I backed up, reversing my left turn, and  proceeded in a straight line on 1st Avenue, heart racing.  Ms. Google recalculated and told me to take a left on the next street. However, now leery of her advice and counsel, I scrutinized the signage and saw that this, too, was a one-way street and, again, the wrong way.  I declined her suggestion and continued on 1st.  I needed time to think.  Ms. Google took a breath and recalculated.  Her new plan took me on a Odysseus-like journey through the industrial parks of South Seattle. Scylla on the left, Charybdis on the right.  I thought perhaps she was angry at me for having failed to follow her earlier instructions and was taking me on a snipe hunt.  However, after a few miles of meandering, I was safely delivered to a freeway entrance.  From here, it was just a one-hour drive home on a sparsely populated post-midnight Interstate 5.  The wide open spaces gave me a chance to reflect on what had transpired, including the fact that no law enforcement officers had witnessed my spectacular wrong-way one-way turn.  I had much to be grateful for – a great night of heavy metal and no arrest for reckless driving – and, when I got home, I slept well.

After surviving those travails, I crashed on the way to work the next morning. Yup. I was distracted by an accident on the side of the road and when my eyes returned to the traffic in front of me, I  found the car ahead had stopped more suddenly than I had expected.  Bang!  My bumper is in bad shape, more concave than convex.  The other parties – yes, there were two other cars involved – are relatively unscathed, but my insurance will be going up soon.  I’ve gotten to know several insurance agents who wanted to get my perspective on what happened.  I kept my remarks focused on the circumstances of the crash, leaving out the sordid details of my sketchy parking decisions and blatant disregard for one-way traffic requirements, but I was tempted, as it’s a good story.  Finally, the next morning, I arrived at work unscathed, having carefully obeyed all driving laws and best practices, only to lock my keys in the truck.  Dammit.  My wife was kind enough to bring me the spare key, so that I didn’t have to walk home or figure out how Uber works.  It is now Friday night, I’m home, and the vehicles are nestled all snug in their spots.  I think I’ll stick close to home this weekend.

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