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Ken takes a Sunday drive back to his future

Once upon a time—back when the wheel had just been invented but not yet patented—I used to worry only about the rare road rage incident with a local farmer and his John Deere tractor when I drove in our local counties. Life was simpler then. We had fewer people, fewer cars on the road, and more cows, as it still should be if I had my way. To this day, I scratch my head and wonder when cows and their bovine union lost control over farmers and their milk parlors. Ferdinand the Bull, you loser.

But I digress. Squirrel!

Everything was simpler and low tech in the 70s. My first car was a 1964 Dodge Polara, with a push button transmission, AM/FM radio, and a “high beam” button in the wheel well. Simple, user-friendly, built for males by those who understood males and our limitations, like a five-button maximum on the radio. Even the trip to Seattle and back then was maybe three hours. And enjoyable! Drivers even waved to each other. I know. Shut the front door, right?

Today, well, times have changed. When I am rudely cut off in city traffic, I resort to humor to protect myself from doing something stupid.

First, I quickly conduct a risk assessment before I react, a kind of commonsense, but no doubt highly inappropriate profiling. Is the driver male and low in testosterone, i.e., is he over 50 years old? Is he unshaved and does he look like he hasn’t bathed recently, i.e., is he retired? Is he wearing an untucked Robert Graham shirt? What music is playing and how loudly? Mozart is good. Rap of any kind is iffy and suggests that he is in a mid-life crisis. Are windows missing or covered by a tarp or piece of plywood, suggesting that his wife would prefer that he hadn’t retired? And what do the bumper stickers say that are holding on his bumper? Words to the wise. Don’t dare make eye contact if the sticker says: “U.S. Air Force: When It Absolutely, Positively, Must Be Destroyed Overnight.”

And lastly, are any of the bumper stickers homemade, aka self-directed bumper sticker therapy? I recently saw one written on yellow legal pad paper and taped to the tailgate that said: “Unless you are willing to pay my car insurance premiums and traffic tickets, get off my bumper. I am going the speed limit.” She scared me.

If the answers to any of these questions don’t make me laugh, I smile a “fake smile” and go back to picking flowers in the middle of the field, like Ferdinand. That, and I reach for my wife’s hand before she salutes him with the equivalent of the universal marital gesture for “it’s my birthday, not our wedding anniversary.” Seriously, her signing ability is so limited. What is the sign to unsign THAT sign?

And as if road rage isn’t enough of a risk, today’s traffic engineering and car technology is going to drive me to a third Cosmopolitan.

I do admit roundabouts are a wonderful traffic flow invention, but they were a challenge to master. I hope that I am not alone here. I ran out of gas twice before I learned how to exit. Anyone with me on this? Thanks to advice from a wonderful 12-year old girl, however, who happened to be watching (and laughing) on the street corner, I am home safely now and I only missed one meal.

Middle-schoolers are so smart these days!

I was so embarrassed, however, that I didn’t have the courage to ask her to explain the advanced technology in my car. What the heck is a liter? What happened to cubic inches? I understand cubic inches. And a brake warning light comes on way, way before I can read the bumper sticker of the car in front of me. What good is that? While I am asking rhetorical questions, who can stay between the road lines without setting off the lane departure warning system? I want to meet that person and buy him or her a drink. Several drinks, actually, and then we will go for another drive!

The only new gizmos that I somewhat enjoy are the GPS navigation systems. They really, really help on roundabouts. But the woman’s voice and directions are so boring that I am tempted to make my own GPS directional recordings. Would you pay a little extra for a navigation system with a sense of humor, like “No, your other left, dear,” or “Clean out your ears — I said ‘Right!’?” Me, too. I would feel at home when my wife is not in the car.

"Would you pay a little extra for a navigation system with a sense of humor, like 'No, your other left, dear,' or 'Clean out your ears — I said ‘Right!’?'"