Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Miami driving and a theory on the dumbing down of America...

Miami Driving.  It hit me this morning.  The critical distinction between the commuter experience in Miami versus New York City (or any other major metropolitan city, probably) lies in the striking difference in approach - or attitude - toward the commute itself.  You see, New Yorkers are problem solvers.  (These are people who spend their free time on the subway doing crossword puzzles or sudoku...by contrast, in 2.5 years I have never seen anyone in Miami ever do a crossword puzzle. or sudoku.)   New Yorkers see the commute as sport:  they choose to approach it as a challenge...as a gauntlet to be run.  Each and every day creates an opportunity for increased efficiency or for a better overall time.  Hell, guys used to come into work bragging about a "great move" that shaved minutes, or out-elbowing someone through the turnstile to catch the train door, or discovering a new stairway that allowed for a quicker exit from Penn Station.  You get the idea:  New Yorkers worship at the altar of efficiency and problem-solving.  In part, it helps make The City what it is.  Here?  There is no such approach.  I see the northeastern commuter as a warrior, suiting up for battle each and every day, whereas the Miami commuter brings kitten posters to mind:  Hang in there... or It'll get better.  These are Garfield people, who accept their lot in life and could care less if they get to work sooner or later or even at all.  The message is, the commute is a drag...I don't care.  Where is the heart, people?  Where is the attitude, the effort?  How about rising to the challenge and actually - gasp! - making it better?  Or, how about paying attention at all?  (That would be a start.)  From my perspective, this is incredibly frustrating.  I seem to be the only person, day after day, who understands that you have to make it past that one light in order to catch all the others.  I seem to be the only person who understands that cutting through the parking garage when it looks like I will miss the next light can save valuable minutes.  I seem to be the only person who is actually not texting or talking on the phone during the morning commute.  And I am certainly the only person who is actually ready to accelerate when the light turns green.  Imagine that.  (But hey, I also work in a building where I watch people walk the entire length of the parking garage ramp in order to take an elevator one floor down instead of simply taking the stairs...which are right next to where there parked.  btw, stairs get no love in this day and age.  I might have to do an entire future rant about people who actually take the elevator in between floors of the gym while they are there working out!  I mean, huhn?).  Anyway, go figure:  in Miami, it is what it is...but some days, what "it is" is also waaay too much to handle for any sane person...  (And do you know the punchline of this entire rant?  How long is my commute that it could cause such vitriol?  And also cause the certain knowledge that a texter will crash into me through absolutely no fault of my own and that there is no way I can even prepare for that or avoid it?  Ahem...3.1 miles...which can actually take up to 30 minutes!  Imagine what this blog would look like if I had a ten-mile commute.)

More.  Since I am on a roll here, let's keep going.  Here are a few other observations about Miami, its drivers, and its roadways.  First (and I have never seen this in anywhere else - I just assumed all cities had a uniform infrastructure and copied one another), traffic lights in Miami are not hung over an intersection to give everyone the proper perspective and view of the lights.  Instead, they are generally hung closest to each street approaching the intersection.  That probably sounds vague, so let me say it this way:  when you pull up to the white line at a Miami intersection, you can not see the traffic light unless you are in a convertible because it's directly overhead!  The best view of the "light-change" is thus typically a car length back from the intersection, and most cars at the front either don't see the light change at all, or are too lazy to crane their necks upward to see what is above them.  So in that sense, the infrastructure - the set-up of the roads - is not exactly helping the driving experience.  Second, I may have a theory as to why people don't actually go at a green light.  This has been puzzling to me.  Half the time I can see what the person ahead of me is doing, and it's usually talking on the phone or reading the paper or taking a gulp of coffee instead of watching for the light.  But the other half of the time, I see the brake lights release as they take their foot off the brake...and then...and then...and then...there is this 2-3 second pause before they hit the gas to accelerate.  What does this mean?  Is it that hard to shift your right foot off the brake and onto the gas?  Does everyone in Miami have Parkinson's or something?  Or can people possibly be that lazy?  Hmmm, well...maybe not, actually.  In trying to give Miamians the benefit of the doubt, I came up with this theory, which again stems from a structural issue:  Up north, when one light turns red, there is a one mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi pause before the perpendicular light turns green.  (Which is presumably for smart safety reasons and adds a buffer in case someone blasts through the yellow-to-red coming the other way.)  Every kid who tries to jump all the cars waiting at a light by pulling up alongside in the "right hand turn" lane knows this by the time they are 16-years-and-1-day old.  But in Miami, there is no delay of any kind.  When the other light goes red, yours goes green immediately.  My theory is that people probably run - or at least "close shave" - red lights all the time in Miami...and as a result, the drivers here have built in their own slight safety delay when the light turns green in case some Porsche-driving d-bag late for his tee-time flies through the yellow-to-red light the other way and risks taking you out in the intersection.  So ironically, not going at green may simply be a survival response to another terrible planning/design issue here since there is no "safety" delay at our intersections. 

More.  Here's another good one.  I also have a theory that non-native speakers here may very often confuse right and left when following directions.  I have never, ever seen more cars brake to turn, realize it's not their turn, and then swerve across traffic to attempt to make the opposite turn at the same intersection.  Yes, you read all that correctly.  That happens here...a lot.  Look, I have seen plenty of people pause to turn (let's call it a "left" for the sake of illustration), realize it's the wrong turn, and then straighten out and drive forward and make the next left turn.  We've all done that.  And I assume - in part - it's because most of us know we have to turn left, but just turned left too early...maybe at 14th street instead of 15th street or whatever.  But very rarely have I ever gone to turn left and realized "oh wait, that was supposed to be a right."  And IF that ever happened, my logical response would probably be to make that left regardless (but as a u-turn), then make another left to get back on my "main road" for a shot at turning right this time as I re-approached the intersection.  But under NO CIRCUMSTANCE would I say "oh crap, I should be going right here and not left," then break out of my left hand turn and swerve across traffic to force the right hand turn.  I mean, WTF?  Again, I see this once a week in Miami.  And I have no idea why. 

Last driving observation.  Dear Random Miami Driver:  Why are turn signals so difficult for you?  Is it that much of an effort?  Does it require Herculean strength to flick that lever up or down in your car?  Is it stuck?  Or are you purposely trying to trick me... perhaps to get me to careen into the back of your car as you randomly smash on the brakes and violently turn either left or right at a whim?  Or do you feel that driving is a private experience and thus your thoughts and movements are protected under the Constitution and thus not subject to public - and public safety - display?  Is that it - are you just a Libertarian at heart?  Please explain.  Thanks, Ben.  Seriously...I understand that turn-signaling is lax in many places.  But I also know that in places like Rome I am only going 15mph down the little cobblestone street anyway and really it's not that big a deal.  But in Big American cities, on Big American roads, and with Big American cars PLEASE use the damn turn signal!  Do you really want someone to plow into the back of you?  Don't you think the nanosecond flick of a wrist effort is worth staving off a potential pile-up?  Again, I see a near-accident from lack of turn signals at least once a week here.  And once again, I just don't get it. 

Dumbing down of America.  It's easy to rant against television - among other things - as causal to the gradual "dumbing down of America."  It's easy to point the finger at an electronic box that fills in all the blanks for your mind (unlike books - which require you to translate the written word into mental images yourself) and promotes a type of mental atrophy that was outlined in a recent Newsweek cover story on the death of creativity.  But I think it goes further than that.  There is one particular aspect of television - especially cable television - that stands out to me that no one seems to question.  Since roughly 1985 when MTV came on the scene, HBO came into its own, and cable TV exploded, the concept of playing the same movie over and over again became the norm in cable television programming.  And - this is my theory here - the mindless repetitive viewing of those movies probably causes exponential "creativity atrophy" in all our brains.  (While at the same time perhaps surprising the hell out of the cable companies.  Can you imagine that first HBO board meeting when the Neilsen results or whatever measuring-stick they had came back and someone said "holy crap - we never thought we'd get away with this, but people actually watched the same movie three nights in a row!")  Someone please tell me - how come this goes completely unnoticed in today's world?  Remember, before cable TV (and VCRs, I suppose) we all watched favorite movies annually (!!)...The Wizard of Oz was on every year around Halloween...The Ten Commandments was on at Easter time...Singing in the Rain was on sometime in the spring...and I am sure there are other examples.  And all of a sudden cable execs must have been shocked to discover that people will watch the same movie over and over and over again.  But at what cost to our brains?  Why do we watch things when we know exactly what is going to happen?  For my part, as I wrote over New Year's 2010, I have tried to implement a five-year rule for myself when it comes to watching movies.  In other words, if I have seen the movie within the past five years, I cannot watch it again.  (And I am as guilty of this as anyone...I can't seem to pass by Hoosiers, Bull Durham, Trading Places, or any Rocky movie without stopping for at least twenty minutes.  And - as much as I hate to say it - the same thing probably applies for Notting Hill, Serendipity, and Love Actually.)  But no more mindless repetition!   I feel like it literally makes me dumber by the minute - it kills my brain cells...and my time is better spent on a new movie, a new book, or any other new experience.  (And I think about it with my daughter now too...we will have at least a five-year rule in the house when she gets older.)  So my broader question remains, How is the socially-accepted norm of watching the same movie over and over and over not making us all intellectually lazier (and dumber) than previous generations?

That's it for now.
All the Best,  Ben

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