Earlier this week I was driving down San Benito Street in my 2001 Ford truck unwillingly going below the speed limit behind a distracted driver behind the wheel of a Dodge Viper sports car.
I was scheduled to meet my family for lunch at Round Table Pizza and this person decided whatever was going on in her car was much more important than focusing on pressing the gas pedal or paying attention to any rules of the road.
She seemed to be arguing with someone in the back seat or petting her dog or looking for loose change – whatever it was kept her mind off the road. As we turned onto Nash Road, my frustration grew as her speed diminished. It’s not that I was going to be late for lunch, it’s that I felt her decisions behind the wheel were affecting my life; and I didn’t like it.
After I got some food in my stomach and settled back in at work, I started to realize some of my frustration was due in part to the car she was driving.
If she were behind the wheel of a Dodge Dart, maybe I’d give her a break for puttering along. But she had a Dodge Viper at her disposal, and it made no sense to me that she couldn’t at least go the speed limit.
I was judging her based on the car she was driving. We are taught not to be judgmental, but sometimes it’s so hard not to be. I felt that someone behind the wheel of a sports car should take advantage of its gitty-up and go.
People who take a close look at the truck I drive could make some judgments about me, such as:
This guy is lazy: He has hubcaps on three of his four wheels and this is the first time his truck has been semi-clean in six months.
This guy must have had someone get mad at him and throw things at his truck, based on the dents and scratches that it bears.
This guy doesn’t realize that a razor blade could scrape off the weather-worn stickers on his back window. Oh yeah, we already called him lazy.
Those judgments would be fair, I guess. I do have the fourth hubcap in my garage, but I lost the screw that held it onto the wheel and haven’t bothered making the effort to get a new one. And I did get the truck washed within the past few weeks, so it is enjoying its annual one week of cleanliness.
The truck does look like it’s been through a Midwestern hailstorm, but that’s because it has been struck repeatedly over the years by poorly-aimed baseballs while my sons played catch in the front yard. The scratches around the truck’s bed are not from a wolverine or a badger, but from baseball bags that scraped the paint as they were tossed into the back before practice.
And those stickers – one for Hollister Little League and one that used to be a Haybaler “H” – could probably be scraped off, but they still reflect my allegiances and history, so I’m letting them fall off naturally, like a scab.
We all judge other drivers based on their cars, whether we realize it or not. We stereotype them, even though we know we shouldn’t.
The teen in the lowered Honda with the loud muffler? He’s a punk who likes to drag race and play his stereo too loudly. (Or, he’s a kid who enjoys his first taste of freedom and likes to work on his car.)
The guy in the really big truck on really big wheels? He’s really short and the big truck makes him feel big. (Or, he’s a regular-sized guy who likes to take his truck off-road and needs big tires to do it.)
The guy in the white van? He’s creepy. (Or, he’s a hard working, self-employed contractor who uses the windowless van to store his tools.) Nah, he’s probably creepy.
The lady in the minivan? Soccer mom. (Or, just a mom who needed room to haul her kids to school.)
The lady in the Mercedes? Snooty. (Or, maybe she’s a well-off philanthropist who donates much of her time and money to good causes.)
The guy in the 2001 Ford truck? Judgmental. How dare he judge everyone else without knowing them! What a jerk. (Or, he’s a teacher and reporter who didn’t show patience while he was on his way to lunch and became way too focused on the actions of others by turning their choice of vehicle into a reflection of the type of person they are.)
Adam Breen teaches newspaper and yearbook classes at San Benito High School and is a reporter for The Pinnacle. He is former editor of the Free Lance. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @AdamPBreen.