Driving to disaster

By John Lovejoy

I spent a lot of time this past summer with my companion, Boxy Brown. Boxy Brown is, of course, my car–a brown 1988 Honda Accord with 280,000 miles on it (a moon-shot and change) that had come into my possession the previous summer. I find driving one of the great pleasures of life. After nine months of school spent riding filthy public transportation, or walking–which is, let’s face it, pretty pedestrian–it’s great to get behind the wheel. Naturally, my car does not accompany me to school, as the 800-mile drive from Baltimore would not leave it in any kind of reasonable shape. Nor do I want it to flame out midway through the trip in Cow Pancreas, Ohio so I can get gouged by some slimebag mechanic/congressman.

But driving can often be a hassle, especially when I have to return to my home in center-city Baltimore after a relaxing weekend jaunt. Now, while many people I know are afraid of driving through my neighborhood, it is really not particularly menacing or dangerous if you are used to it. Its only problem is that it is de rigeur to drive with an absolute disregard for safety and common sense.

People tailgate, drive 20 or 30 miles per hour over the speed limit, and weave in and out of lanes to get in front of people. It’s a nightmare. Add to that the obstacle course that is my street, Madison Avenue, which will never be confused for its counterpart in Manhattan. At any moment, the dented Honda CRV in front of you may wildly swerve to a stop so that the driver can lean on his horn and holler up to his sister in one of the rowhouses. Cars are triple-parked, kids ride bikes the wrong way against traffic, and piles of furniture from evictions lie in the street. It’s the best cure for low blood pressure that doctors never invented.

Three years of driving in these conditions every day have caused me to drive like a crazy person. Now, I have never driven under the influence, nor would I, but frustrating motoring situations would drive my blood to boiling, and getting angry only compounded the problems. At one point, a taxi driver took an eternity getting through a stop sign. After I honked the horn and yelled at him he emerged from his idle cab with a look of murder in his eyes. I calmly drove onto the sidewalk and around him.

Impatiently returning from a late party I ran the red light just before my block. I emerged from my car to find three undercover cops pointing their Glocks at me. After assuring them that, despite my Bush/Cheney bumper sticker and Caucasian ethnic status, I was not looking to buy drugs, but rather to enter my home across the street, they let me go. I vowed not to run a red light again.

But these incidents weren’t enough to prevent further aggressive behavior. It took slamming into a Jersey wall on the Jones Falls Expressway at 80 miles per hour to shock me into realizing what a fool I had become. I and my car were fine, by the grace of God. After that I never drove more than 5 miles over the speed limit again, no matter how much this infuriated the drivers behind me. I also took the Tupac and Biggie Smalls tapes out of my car, replacing them with Enya and the easy listening radio station, which has proved effective in helping check my anger.

I realized soon after my accident that I had been driving like a maniac because it was exciting, and everyone else was doing it, and that here at school I had been doing the same thing. I would take actions and say things I knew were foolhardy and ultimately harmful to me just because I thought I was expected to do so. College is a time when kids, living on their own for the first time, form most of the habits that carry them through life. Blindly following the herd and never questioning the wisdom of doing so is a terrible habit to pick up.

My first year here I frequently showed contempt for people who abstained from heavy partying and carrying-on. Now they are my friends, because I have come to admire their quiet dignity. Next quarter I may use this space to explore some of this school’s social issues: drinking, co-habitation, and other potential hazards. Much of my leisure time the last two-plus years has comprised chasing and catching skirts, throwing back alcohol, and the like. But this year I’ve realized that most of the truly great times I’ve had here had nothing to do with those things: hitting a triple in a ballgame in Washington Park on Columbus Day, performing for Off Off, going to Easter Mass. In any case, gentley readers, it will be a new and improved Lovejoy next quarter, and enjoy break.