Saturday, August 31, 2013

It's That Time Of Year Again!

That it's nearly September conjures all sorts of happy thoughts to mind.  In a few days, throngs of people will gather in places as diverse as Lincoln, Eugene, Norman and Gainesville.  The air will be full of bands playing fight songs, roars of crowds and either joy or angst afterwards.  The national powerhouses will be playing an assortment of Cupcake State squads, truly reminiscent of lambs led to slaughter.  

I suppose there will be tailgating and other such rituals.  I suppose that some player from Ohio State or Georgia or Florida State will earn a half-dozen stickers to put on his helmet.  What happens if one of them fumbles away the game?  Does that person get a demerit, or does that show up as a bald spot on said helmet?

While I have not paid much attention to the polls, I do know that Alabama is favored to win it all, surprising no one.  Texas is supposed to be good; my guess is, if they underachieve again, the highest-paid coach in the game will have to ply his trade elsewhere, certainly for less lucre than he currently gets paid.  At least he won't have to wear that dreadful orange anymore.  My two favorite teams are picked to finish no higher than 3rd place in their respective conference divisions, so it may be a long Autumn for my teams, subjecting me to much ridicule from friends and colleagues.  As long as they come out on top of their arch-rivals, I can tolerate a few defeats.

It has been an active interlude since January.  Coaches have moved on to other spots, either willingly or not.  I have yet to see a picture of any one of them with a smile on his face.  Today, I learned that Urban Meyer has banned any spectators from watching his minions' practices from wearing a blue shirt, as it reminds him of Michigan.  I wonder what he's afraid of?

I recall incidents from years ago that remain stuck in my craw.  Like that high school kid from New Jersey back in the 70's.  Upon enrolling at Notre Dame and being awarded #7, changed the pronunciation of his name, so that it rhymed with Heisman.  I still resent that the only two-time winner of that award was from Ohio State.  I do know that, in one of those years, one of the runners up was the most exciting player of the day, Joe Washington (I can see the headline now: Sooner Slighted!).  Usually, the award does go to one of the very best players in the game.  As such, I have an expectation that the winner will also be a person of character.  While it is not always the case, I do think that several of the recent winners - Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin III - were young men who brought honor to the award.  They certainly did nothing to diminish it.  There are others (hey, Ricky Williams!  Can I borrow your laptop, Cam Newton?), who, well, let's just leave it at that.

I would be remiss if I did not comment on the biggest story of the week, that guy from Texas A&M; you know, the doppelganger for that banjo playing kid from Deliverance, the incumbent Heisman winner.  I must first confess my dislike for anyone known as Johnny Football.  Ted Williams was known by some as Teddy Ballgame, but, that was awarded to him after many years of adding to his Hall of Fame Credentials.  As for this scholar/athlete, I don't believe he has earned that title.

Speaking of earnings, it seems he was unaware that, by signing his name thousands of times on various pieces of memorabilia, someone would profit from it.  So, his university, which allegedly follows an honor code nearly as stringent as those at the service academies, has determined that the resulting profits from the addition of his signature to these items was inadvertent.  As punishment, he will be forced to sit out one half of their opening game, against that perennial juggernaut, Rice.  He will also be compelled to issue an apology to his teammates.

Way to go, Aggies, you really laid the smackdown on him, didn't you?

My point is not to debate the relative merits of the system of college eligibility.  I am, however, offended at the unmitigated chutzpah of the barons of A&M, to disregard so blatantly the rules of the game and common sense.  I hope they lose to one of the lowlights on their schedule, like UTEP, or Missouri.  That would be poetic justice, indeed.    

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Driver's Ed

I have had the good fortune to have lived in many cities.  I confess feeling less enchanted at encountering the myriad gridlocks in these diverse municipalities.  I do not feel enriched at spending so many hours on I-95 in Miami, slowly nudging my way towards the magical Golden Glades interchange, where the roads suddenly opened.  The worst, however, was driving to Logan Airport from the South Shore in the early 90's, while the Big Dig was in its full ditch era.  The highway went from 14 lanes to two in less than a mile.  Not a soul would give an inch to any motorist attempting to merge.  I do believe my younger daughter, who was strapped in the back seat at the time, learned certain words at a far earlier age than had been designed.

When I was a youngster, a neighbor used to drive us to school each morning.  This was perhaps the most educational time of my day, as I learned all sorts of terms to describe the behavior of other drivers.   I probably became a better operator of a vehicle myself, if for no other reason than to defend myself against these behaviors.  For example: I learned that any pickup truck sitting at an intersection ahead would slowly pull into my lane of traffic, whether that movement was safe or not.  I have followed this wise chestnut throughout my years of driving, rarely finding it wrong.

Just as there are regional linguistic quirks, there are regional driving characteristics.  I don't know that they are so pronounced as how various folks describe soft drinks (pop, soda or Coke?), but they do exist.  In Florida one encounters unmistakable third-world driving habits in Miami, the senior driver during the too-crowded season in South Florida and the lost tourists at any time of year in Orlando.  All of which make the Sunshine State not the safest place for driving.

Let's look at a couple of others in my adopted state:

Question 1: When at an intersection with stoplights, if the driver is intending to turn left, after the light turns green the driver should:

(a) Sit behind the thick white line and wait for traffic to clear.  Should the light turn red, wait for the next one.
(b) Slowly enter the intersection and wait for traffic to clear prior to making the left turn.
(c) Throw that cigarette butt out the window.

The operator's manual in every state in which I have been licensed (10 in all) allows movement into the intersection.  If you answered (b), you get to drive, unbothered by the likes of me.  In Georgia, I have noted that most opt for (a), often with a bit of (c) for good measure.  They DO sit there.  While in the car behind the unenlightened, I have attempted waving my arms, honking or making non-obscene gestures in an attempt to get them to move on.  All to no avail; I have resigned to yelling inside my closed car.  Conclusion: local drivers perhaps have not read that particular page in the manual or they missed the question on the test.

Question 2: When approaching an intersection with flashing yellow lights, the driver should:

(a) Stop.  Sit there.  Wait for car behind to honk.
(b) Treat as a yield sign and proceed with caution.
(c) Stop, bark like a dog and throw that cigarette butt out the window.

We're not splitting atoms here, folks, merely operating a motor vehicle.  Again, (b) is the correct answer.  I have seen a combination of (a) and, for those vehicles sporting regalia from the predominant state college, (c).  I guess folks missed that question on their tests, too.

Question 3: What does the sign pictured at the top of this page indicate:

(a) Don't even think about making a U-turn here, buddy.
(b) Oncoming traffic cannot make a U-turn.
(c) Which might work even better if we had a sign that they could see so indicating that proscription.
(d) Stop, bark like a dog, throw that cigarette butt out the window and show us your jorts.

This is a trick question, as the answers are (b) and (c).  I was intrigued by this sign as I had not seen it in all my years of driving.

Bonus question: What is the Michigan Left-Turn?

When I moved to Michigan, I assumed that, as the hub of the automobile industry, I would find traffic designs and patterns that were truly state-of-the-art.  Instead, I found this arcane notion that is so ingenious that not a single other state (to my knowledge) has adopted it.  Even the locals are bemused by it.

The other thing I have noticed in driving all around this country is the variety of bumper stickers.  I discovered this one in a parking garage at DFW:

As a rule, I tend not to characterize those with whom I disagree as stupid or wrong.  Misguided, ill-informed, well-intentioned, perhaps.  But stupid?  To be fair, I should show the image that drew me to examine this sticker.

Since this character obviously did poorly on their driver's exam, perhaps we should use that as a qualification for voting in Texas.  Aren't they in the process of re-writing those rules?

And I did not even touch the topic of parking lots.  Misconnected, unconnected, illogical... I could write a book.  In the meantime, please drive carefully and with common sense, folks; while you're at it, you may want to re-read that operator's manual.  The next car honking at you by an intersection may be me.