Sunday, February 25, 2007


Road signs

When I studied Spanish in grade school, we used a curriculum called ALM (Audio Lingual Materials), published by Harcourt, Brace, and World. We mostly learned to parrot a series of “dialogues” that were meant to teach us vocabulary and grammar. In fact, though, the dialogues left most of us with little more than the ability to introduce friends, to find the library and to lament that we forgot our notebooks, and to say that we don't like meatballs.

In one of the dialogues, those chatting were meeting someone at the airport. “¡Allí está!”, said one to the other. “Hazle señas con la mano.” We translated that as, “Wave to him," but literally it's, “Make signs to him with your hand,” and, as grade-schoolers will do, we had a different idea than was intended of exactly what sign to make.

And that alternative sign from our youth is one we still use here and there as adults, particularly while driving. It has a variety of related meanings. It might mean, “You did something I didn't like!” It might mean, “You tried to do something I didn't like, but I stopped you. Ha!” Or it might mean, “Nya-nya... I did something you didn't like, and I don't care!” Different nuances of a similar concept... not quite “road rage”, so I call it “road revenge”. Displaying, as columnist Dave Barry puts it, one's “Mr Digit hand puppet” seems to satisfy us that we've somehow righted a wrong.

But there's another sign I've often wished I had on the road. I sometimes want a signal that means, “Oops... I'm sorry. I'm not a jerk; that was a mistake.” Do you ever want that?

I wanted it just the other day. I'd come out of a toll plaza and the lanes were merging. More of the lanes merged more suddenly than I'd expected, and I wound up cutting in front of someone in a way that I shouldn't have. I wanted to flash him the “Oops, sorry” sign, but I didn't have one.

Instead, though, he crossed a double line, passed me, gave me the “You jerk!” sign, and crossed the double line again — entirely unnecessarily — to get in front of me.

Yeah, he sure gave me what for!


Dr. Momentum said...

What a tool. In cases where I made a mistake, I try to wave sheepishly, but most people aren't having it.

It sometimes seems that lizard-brain-level communications are the highest complexity that can be achieved while behind the wheel.

Maggie said...

I wave and mouth "I'm sorry" and hope that they think "ditzy broad" and won't tailgate me all the way home. :-} Sometimes stereotypes can be useful.

OTOH, when I've done nothing wrong but be on the same road as a jerk, I'm not apologetic and I usually laugh at their idiotic behavior, which might get me crossbowed on 195 some day. I had a guy once cut off a person and end up on the wrong side of the road at a red light because he thought I'd cut him off. It's true, I'd pulled onto the road in front of him, but not very close to him at all. It was certainly ironic to see him cut somebody else off so he could gesture at me for cutting him off, and then be stuck there, the ass.

Ray said...

Oh, that was you. Sorry, I didn't realise...

Barry Leiba said...