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About the cover



Going Topless

Tis the season to scream at idiot drivers.


As the weather warms up, it will soon be time for one of our guilty Southwest pleasures — driving our little convertible with the top open. Actually, it's not so "guilty" anymore, as the British racing-green Mazda Miata that seemed such an indulgence when we bought it, a few years after moving here, will turn 12 years old this year. We haven't owned it for all that time, but bought it from a guy in Las Cruces who took much better care of it than we have. What a shock this poor little car must have experienced when it pulled into our gravel driveway and no longer got cosseted by a snug-fitting car cover when it was parked!

mouthing off in traffic

When we take to the open road, however, my wife has to annually remind me just how open we are out there in the convertible. She usually drives, as my long legs have to undergo some Olympic-gymnast-level bending in order to slide beneath the steering wheel. That leaves both my hands free for emphatically informing our fellow motorists of my opinions about their driving performance. In the convertible with the top down, as I tend to forget, they can see me.

When my expressions of discontent with other drivers also become verbal, there is even some danger that people in other cars — especially if, say, they have their windows rolled down — can hear me.

It's not that I'm a rude driver (or passenger, in this case). I'm not one of THOSE drivers who are forever leaning on the horn or waving their arms out the window at some imagined slight. (You know who you are.) Seldom even do I give fellow motorists the one-fingered salute — and when that urge to express myself overtakes me, I keep it below dashboard level even in the comparatively private confines of my non-convertible sedan. One never knows these days, after all, who might be "packing" and be moved to answer my little gesture with a Bushmaster gesture of his own.


But I do like to maintain a running commentary on the shortcomings and oddball or downright dangerous and illegal actions of the drivers around me. Sometimes this little play-by-play is also illustrated with gestures such as the classic palms-up signal of puzzlement (or, as Sarah Palin would put it, "WTF?"). You can imagine how in a convertible with the top open, this gesticulating could be misconstrued. Certain phrases ("...idiot!" "...moron!" "...shouldn't be licensed to drive a (expletive) tricycle!") could be misinterpreted as they waft from our open car to the ears of passing motorists at whom these phrases are directed — with, I must add, all good will in the world and a sincere desire for driver's education.

It is not, please note, that I am such a great driver myself. I'm well aware that most Americans believe they are above-average drivers — a mathematical impossibility. But I freely confess that I flunked my first driver's license road test as a feckless 16-year-old. True, I maintain to this day that had those parking cones been actual automobiles, they would have stuck up higher and I would have seen them before dinging them in the parallel-parking portion of the test. Never since have I been called upon to parallel park between orange cones — proof of the inapplicability of this test to real life behind the wheel.

Unlike all too many New Mexico motorists, however, I do signal my turns and lane changes. I drive neither too fast nor too slowly on I-10. I understand that the left ("passing") lane on I-10 is designed for passing (hence the name), not for driving indefinitely at a speed precisely matching the misnomered Swift-brand truck in the right lane. I do not hang in other drivers' blind spots. I do not cut in front of other cars. I obey the rule learned way back in driver's ed class (see?) to wait until I can see the car in the right lane in my rearview mirror before pulling in front of it. I do not have gigantic fuzzy things hanging from said rearview mirror that might distract me or impair my view. I do not drive down Ridge Road toward the dump with stray bits of my material to be dumped flying off the back of my vehicle.

When other drivers insist on doing any of these things, is it not a public service to inform them that they are, well, idiots?


Around here, drivers do not even have to be driving to earn my withering scorn. The other day in the Albertson's parking lot, for example, a parked car was "sharing" its stereo at such a volume that people at the far end of the lot, had they been able to turn it down, would have done so with the haste of someone snatching up "buy one, get two free" ribeyes. OK, I figured, probably some guy waiting for his girlfriend's shift to end. When I came out with my groceries, however, the same car was still blaring at the same earache-inducing volume.

I believe a palms-up gesture of puzzlement, or perhaps a baffled shoulder shrug combined with dual raised eyebrows, would have been appropriate at this point. I may even have said, under my breath to myself, something along the lines of, "Seriously, dude, loud enough for ya?" (Male drivers admonishing each other, I'm pretty sure, refer to the other driver as "dude" when not employing some colorful expletive involving sexual gymnastics.)

Again, though, aside from muttering, I restrained myself. This soon-to-be-deaf driver could very well be packing "heat" and respond to my righteous indignation with a hail of lead, or whatever it is Bushmasters fire these days. (To hear the NRA talk, I assume any day now the ammo will be nuclear.) With his hearing obviously already gone beyond repair, he might figure he has little left to lose by venting his hostility and rage over his hearing loss at hapless Albertson's shoppers.

I'd been much too careful with my shopping list to lose it all in a tiff with some rock-and-roll-addled jerk with nothing better to do than park at Albertson's all afternoon. I'd gotten the last prosciutto "chub" and wasn't about to risk it in gunplay, however righteous my cause.

Once safely ensconced in the anonymity of my sedan (not the convertible, please note), with my own raucous blare of Sirius XM's Watercolors smooth-jazz channel masking my words, I gave that fellow what-for. Bet your ears were burning, buddy, and now you know why!


So, as you can see, I do understand the importance of self-restraint in my crusade to correct the automotive efforts of others. In the Albertson's parking lot or in the open air of our Miata, I try to keep my opinions to myself. With the onset of spring-like weather, I will once again vow to stifle my "suggestions" to other drivers as we zip along. (Though who could not benefit from a suggestion such as, "Get your eyesight checked, (expletive)!" or "Next time you get behind the wheel, (expletive), how's about a warning!"?)

It's a shame, though. Think how much safer and smoother-flowing the highways and byways of our enchanted state could be with a steady stream of advice and instruction spewing from the open top of our convertible.

And if the driver of a truck six times our height somehow managed to catch wind of this freely proffered wisdom and we survived the ensuing attempt to run us off the road, I bet the trucker's insurance company would have to buy us a new automotive indulgence. I hear the latest Mustang convertible is ideal for gesturing from the passenger seat — plenty of arm room....



If Desert Exposure editor David A. Fryxell has insulted you
from his very small car, he is deeply sorry.


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