The Early Tears with Vic Pasternak: Lesson 6 — Traffic is the language of Babel

Illustration by Josh Carroll
Illustration by Josh Carroll

#1. You don’t have to know how the machinery of 30,000 whirring parts makes your car go vroom, but you should consider the physics at play. Velocity, friction, vector relationships and turning radii are all up for consideration.

#2. Participation is mandatory. Science confirms this.

#3. People live like they drive, and as such we all make mistakes. But as any veteran of anything will tell you, it’s easier and more cost-effective to recover from the small fuck ups than the big.

#4. Be aware of your physical environment. Maintain situational awareness. Understand the footprint and silhouette of your vehicle. Know where your tires touch ground. Only then will you know how to thread the needle.

#5. Figure out what D=RT means and practice it until the answer comes without you having to think about it.

#6. In this country, it’s always more efficient to take a right than a left. (#5 taught me that so credit goes to her.)

#7. Adjust your route to avoid stopping at traffic lights. Bonus: Figure out how the lights are chained together, and, using good D=RT, move across the grid using without having to stop at the lights.

#8. When you do get stopped at a light, don’t get trapped behind other cars. Never pull so close that you can’t see the bottom of the rear tires of the car ahead.

#9. Any and all of you fuckfaces can drive fast in a straight line over smooth, unobstructed ground. But what you apparently don’t know how to do is turn. I attribute this generally to the ten-and-two o’clock American standard, a.k.a. the White Knuckler (Passive Form). Try eight-and-four o’clock. And don’t turn from the top of the wheel as this causes your hand to cross your center, reducing both its strength and its maneuverability. Instead, turn from the bottom and dial the wheel through your fingers. This is called shuffle steering and it allows you to execute precision turns without sacrificing strength or control. Stunt drivers and redcoats are all about it.

#10. Feet off the pedals when crossing railroad and rough ground. Out in the county or in the alleys downtown, steer around potholes and ruts. Maneuver around debris. A block of concrete seen at 70mph looks a lot like paper trash. And what looks like a trash bag might be a body in the roadway.

#11. Avoid tailgating or racing. It is best to blow ahead of all other traffic or fall back to wait out a space. Don’t rush ahead to cut off another. Rushing causes other drivers to defend their lead. Which can also be helpful; see below.

#12. When somebody’s riding your ass, don’t brake check. That’s the kind of shit do-gooder traditionalist assholes pull when they force us to drive as they do — which is shit because they drive like shit, as evidenced by the brake check.

#13. But back to somebody riding your ass: Pull out of their way, if you want. Or don’t, if it’s a high-dollar car; in which case, that dude laid out a lot of dough because he wanted to drive an overpriced hunk of European engineering. So let him put the work in.

#14. And if you still can’t get somebody off your ass, roll down your window and hold out one of the truck bearings you’ve so thoughtfully stored in the glove box. An observant driver backs away. (Credit to my trucker dad.)

#15. Parlay bad positions into good maneuvers. For example, you’re caught in the middle of a three-lane and exit is a quarter-mile: If a driver occupies the exit lane and actively refuses to give up space, open the throttle and bull ahead. Ordinary jagoffs will speed up in a savage show of dominance. This racing effect, however, has a delayed effect on the vehicle behind the rival. So sacrifice the lead and exit the freeway like a boss by passing through the gap you’ve created.

#16. Anticipate green lights running stale. Throttle or coast accordingly. Conversely: When red is about to go green, don’t rush into the stop. Cut your speed to conserve your momentum so you can punch it the moment the light turns. A vehicle travelling 5mph on a fresh green will resultantly be car-lengths ahead of the one coming out dead.

#17. The blind spot can be reduced to a myth in most modern sedans. Lean against the driver-side window and adjust the left mirror outward until you can see just the edge of your rear panel. Next, lean to the center of the helm and push the right mirror way out to the same degree.

#18. Watch your peripheries and rear; i.e. check your newly adjusted mirrors all the time. And don’t just gaze out at the pavement rushing underneath you. Look far ahead and mind everything between you and the edge of the world.

#19. Don’t drive into shit. Stay out of accidents. If you’ve been hit, you’re still at fault by virtue that you were in the hitting place at the hitting time. This condition does not remove liability from the party at fault, although this party may be you, but either way insurance will nail you for years to come.

#20. Besides which: A crash will shear heads off; pile firewall and steering into chest; engine block chopping knees, splintering bone, bursting guts and muscle, making blood run like whiskey. If you survive, be advised that helicopter rides are more expensive than bottom-dollar Uber. If you don’t, your former vehicle is what tow drivers call an F-car.

#21. React to what’s happening. Don’t freak out and not do anything. To claim freezing up or panicking is an excuse. Everyone panics. Survivors drive through the panic. And having seen trucks brutally crush over more than one compact car, I give due respect that the universe doesn’t always allow for time and space. So maximize all you have.

#22. Most important, don’t let your loved ones remember the last time they talked to you forever. Get home safe.

Sean Preciado Genell is author of the Vic Pasternak novel ‘All the Help You Need,’ available now at Prairie Lights. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 202.

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