I was having a bit of trouble getting productive earlier today. It’s been one of those days; what can I say? But @alananoel and @mensahdemary challenged me, over Twitter, to just write 750 words in about an hour. I thought it’d be tough given the amount of trouble I’d been having sticking with anything resembling work today, but I’m happy to report that I finished with 796 words and potentially another (start of a) chapter of my novel. All’s well that ends well!
Stan Manley is not a good driver. No one who knows Stan well would contradict this statement. Even Stan’s mother—a woman who believes Stan can basically do no wrong, ever—refuses to ride with Stan unless all other transportation options have been exhausted. Stan’s chief problem, at least where the operation of motor vehicles is concerned, is that he unfailingly tries to do what he thinks his passengers want him to do, which he does in the interest of pursuing the path of least resistance and maximum driving harmony for all passengers. However, someone as highly anxious as Stan tries to be, for lack of a better term, vehicularly utilitarian, he panics, and the situation quickly deteriorates into utter chaos.
Passengers experience abrupt, somewhat violent lane changes precipitated merely by a passenger’s wayward glance, i.e. if he or she turns his/her head too quickly—a sure sign, Stan thinks, that he’s managed to miss his exit. Jerky stop-and-go acceleration and braking ensues signaling Stan’s attempt to gauge his passenger’s desired speed—a circumstance greatly worsened when Stan finds himself operating a car with a manual transmission, whereby a clutch pedal is added to the whole driving dynamic. Friends also joke that traces of Stan’s childhood dyslexia rear its head when he puts on his left blinker for a right-hand turn.
As a consequence, most times when Stan is with a group of friends or coworkers who need transportation, he simply opts for riding along, as a passenger. Stan, however, is, himself, a model passenger, never uttering a word of criticism despite the inordinate amount of shit he personally gets for his own driving abilities (or lack thereof). However, in a city with a public transportation system that leaves as much to be desired as Omaha’s, it’s nearly impossible to get around efficiently without driving “there” yourself, or catching a ride with a friend. Unfortunately, even when Stan is navigating the grid-patterned streets solo, it’s a no less harrowing experience.
Arguably, Stan’s biggest problem with respect to driving is overthinking. Many people are horrible drivers because of overestimating their abilities where multitasking is concerned. This is not applicable to Stan. Stan does not text while driving, nor does he talk on his smartphone. The mere thought of rear-ending another vehicle at forty-some-miles-per-hour because he was looking down to correct the autocorrected version of whatever he might have been trying to type causes Stan symptoms that suggest imminent hyperventilation.
Stan does not have to worry about being distracted by manipulating the dials on his stereo either. He drives in complete silence. There’s always a chance someone will call him while he’s driving and a too-loud stereo would prevent him from hearing his smartphone’s ringer. In the event he does receive a call, Stan immediately pulls over to the side of the road to answer it. Stan is also worried that he’ll be unable to hear the approach of an emergency vehicle over his music and thus, be unable to react in an appropriate and defensive-type way he was taught in high school driver’s ed. classes—classes Stan personally found tremendously helpful and of which he could never understand the nearly universal scorn of his fellow classmates.
Another, perhaps more significant, reason Stan does not follow other vehicles too closely is—aside from an extreme aversion to rear-ending someone and, therefore, causing his monthly insurance payments to increase—he truly does not want to give the incorrect impression he is consciously following- and/or intending to commit an act of road rage against the motorist whose vehicle is immediately in front of him. The simple idea of road rage causes Stan more than a little anxiety.
But as far as driving-induced anxiety goes, nothing causes Stan more than accidentally following another motorist for than three consecutive turns. If Stan finds himself driving behind a vehicle that he has shadowed for more than three turns, he is nearly reduced to conniptions. His mind automatically begins racing. He tries to anticipate what the other person is thinking after having seen his car in their rearview mirror after making at least three disparate turns that no one who was not following them would conceivably make at the precise time as themselves. Sure Stan thinks, thousands of people go the same way each and every day, but what are the odds that two strangers would have lives their entire lives—in Stan’s case, 31 years—each making a seemingly infinite number of separate life decisions, only to meet at the intersection of 90th and Military Streets in Omaha, Nebraska, this day, and consequently proceed to head, ostensibly, toward the same exact destination?
Stan was not a math major, but the statistical probability seems as if the solution would land somewhere in the neighborhood of “very-fucken unlikely”.