Monday, July 27, 2009

You Can't Mean ME??

I listened to NPR's Talk of the Nation today while taking a shower. They were discussing a proposal, from Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe, to create a Federal ban on talking on the phone while driving. Here's a link to his op-ed piece, which lists the research that suggests that driving while talking on the phone is equivalent to driving after a 3-Martini lunch.

I agree with Mr. Jackson, but that isn't the point of this post. What amazed me was the people who phoned in to comment on the show. To a caller, they all said that yes, yes, it's terrible, other people can't talk and drive - but they can. The callers all have the superior wisdom or multitasking capacity or whatever to drive a car and have a phone conversation - hell, maybe they juggle plates too. One man ("I've been a truck driver for 24 years") even suggested that there should be an advanced driving license that allows one to telephone while driving, after demonstrating ability.

This demonstrates a feature of the American psyche that has been driving me nuts for some time. I sum it up in this phrase:

"You can't mean those rules apply to me??"

People rarely actually say this; but they act it. When you see someone jaywalking, or crossing against the light, or doing some other damn stupid thing that happens to be against the law, they're implying that the rules don't apply to them. And they're terribly offended if they get a ticket for it. The infuriating ones are those who drag their kids along with them, against the light; they're raising the next generation of people who don't believe the rules apply to them.

It's the people whose cell phones go off in movie theaters, or concert halls. I was charmed to learn recently that using a cell phone in a New York theater during a concert will get you a $50 fine.
It's the people who throw McDonald's wrappers on the sidewalk, and Coke cans in the shrubbery. My shrubbery. It's the people who walk their dogs off-leash in leash-only areas, and who don't pick up the poop. From my flower beds.

It's the people in every chorus I've ever sung in, who routinely ignore the director's instructions on singing on pitch, because, of course, she can't mean them; they aren't singing flat. (I said this to my voice coach, who teaches classes as well as individuals; and he just slumped over the keyboard for a minute.) I'm happy to say that eventually the singers do get up to pitch; but we'd get there a lot faster if all of them would stop for a second and ask themselves, can I be doing that?

There was just one caller on Talk of the Nation who admitted that she herself had run 3 red lights while talking on the phone and driving; but that was as close as anyone came.

Yes, folks, the rules do apply to you, just as they apply to me; and we'll all get along together a lot better if we realize that.

Speaking of driving, the activity I really want to see prohibited while driving a car is applying mascara using the rear-view mirror.


  1. I was going to write a blog on this myself, but you did it for me.

    My wife and I think it's so amusing that so many people these days seem unable to get along without being "hooked up".

    I remember when cell phones first came into use: They were initially used by police and emergency workers. They'd sit in restaurants with their big phone receivers mounted on little stands which rested on the table. They thought they were soooooo important!

    Then, it just got worse and worse. I remember one memorable evening when we were eating at Citron Restaurant in Oakland, and one of three surgeons at the next table carried on a 10 minute phone conversation with someone at Kaiser about a complex surgical procedure OUT LOUD! When I deigned to inform him that I thought he might consider not doing that in future, he proceeded to suggest that I mind my own f*cking business or take the consequences out on the sidewalk.

    People who use cellphones--or any of the other fussy little devices--in public or when driving, are savages. They'd piss in public if you let them. I wouldn't mind if cops started giving tickets to these scofflaws--if they need the revenue so bad, that's the best place (way) to get it.

  2. I don't think I did write your blog post, Curtis. You're obviously thinking more narrowly about obnoxious cell phone use - which is a problem. I was thinking about the broader issue of a self-centered attitude which believes that personal convenience outweights the social duty of civility.

  3. Well, hedera, that is the same thing, actually.

    Selfishness will always find self-justifications for its indulgence.

    If my earnestness takes a turn for the brutal, occasionally, it's because there's so little public outcry. People will tolerate increasing levels of inconvenience and nuisance before they develop the gumption actually to do anything. It's another aspect of the apathy of the age.

    Telephone conversations, whether about business, or personal matters, don't belong in public space(s). Phone booths started out correctly--you closed a door. Then there were walkie-talkies and CB radios, along with acknowledgment that the only justification for their use was emergencies and official business in the field. But our current culture of phone over-indulgence is completely idiotic and indefensible. It's got to be reined in.