December 17, 2003
On a normal weekday, I’m in the car about two hours a day, an entirely too high percentage of which I spend sitting at stoplights waiting for green means go. Sometimes to entertain myself while I sit, I glance into the vehicles around me. It feels a little like spying, getting to peek at what other people are doing. I’d never stop and look in the windows of someone’s house, but peering through their car windows seems okay to me. (I’ll leave the question of whether this is really okay for another day.)
Sometimes I do a seatbelt survey and count how many people are wearing them. Since it’s the law around here, it really should be 100%, but it almost never is. When I see someone unbelted, I speculate about why they made that choice. The big guy in the pickup owned by the construction company, I figure, is too macho and thinks seatbelts are for sissies. If he thinks about what would happen in a collision at all, I expect he thinks he’ll just fly through the windshield and then dust himself off and walk away like the tough man he sees himself as. The teenaged girl, I assume, thinks she’s immortal. I don’t know what’s up with the woman in the minivan. Shouldn’t she be setting a good example for her kids?
Sometimes I watch movies. Well, small segments of movies without the sound. The view through the back window of a minivan isn’t that great, but it’s good enough that I can follow the action. I once got to see quite a bit of Finding Nemo as I followed one family through multiple stoplights (not that I was stalking them, I just happened to be heading to the same freeway as they were).
Sometimes I think good thoughts at the people who look stressed or crabby, and there seem to be a lot of those, especially in the mornings when traffic backs up on the overburdened surface streets in Oakland County. I don’t know if it helps them at all, but it makes me feel better to focus on beaming happiness into the universe than on more irritating things like how few people seem to know how and when to turn on and off their fog lamps.
Sometimes I get to see a story unfold. Once I noticed a couple in the SUV behind me. They were all dressed up; he in a dress shirt and tie, she with her hair pulled back wearing red lipstick and a pearl necklace. They weren’t happy. She was talking fast and gesturing sharply at him when I first saw them. He was quiet, not looking at her. Then the light changed and it was time to watch the road. They stayed behind me, and by the next stoplight they were talking to each other and she wasn’t punctuating her sentences with finger pointing. The stoplight after that, they were both smiling. I was disappointed when they turned right as I continued straight. I wonder if they made up with a kiss at the next intersection.
Sometimes I wonder what people are thinking about me when they look in my car. Do they see me crying when I hear something particularly affecting on NPR and make up stories about why? Do they see me chewing my Kashi bar in the morning and make assumptions about my eating habits? Maybe they don’t notice me at all. Maybe they’re too busy talking on their cell phones to pay any attention to what’s going on around them.
A year ago, I was having technical difficulties.