An Extra 37 Seconds …

By Ryan Leake
February 24, 2012

Karma: nounaction, seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation; fate, destiny. (

The Bad

Drivers in Northern California are terrible.  Other than myself, there aren’t many smart, safe, or smooth drivers anywhere in the world.  But people up here are an absolute disaster on the road.  I’ve driven in Sweden where getting from point A to point B may include a coffee break (termed fika) at point C, a potty stop at point D, an impulsive detour to point E, and some meatballs with lingonberries at point Q (also known as Ikea).  That’s fine in Sweden; Swedes are the happiest, most care-free people I’ve ever met and speed isn’t really part of life as a Swede.

I’ve driven in Peru, and despite constantly fearing for my life, Peruvians are clearly talented.  Even without road signs, stop lights, any trace of traffic laws, or regard for pedestrians, Peruvians somehow find a way to navigate tumultuous roads paved with uneven brick and cobblestone.  In Peru a driver can’t really tell which way a “one-way” road is supposed to flow so if two cars meet heading in opposite directions it becomes a scene from any great getaway movie where the vigilante driver quickly throws the car in reverse.

Germans (and formerly the state of Montana) may be the smartest when it comes to operating a motor vehicle: go as fast as you want, just don’t get killed.

The British Isles and Australia have everything backwards.

I don’t think the automobile has been introduced in Canada quite yet.  However Canadian canoes are marvelous.

Japan manufactures great cars but its people are savvy and dare not go down that road when they have the Bullet Train and efficient intra-city public transportation.  Instead the Japanese let Americans buy their products to help stabilize their economy.

There’s nowhere to drive in Russia.

Chinese roads have undergone hostile takeover by a combination of pedestrians, bikers, and rickshaws.

In Africa you never know when a giraffe and rhinoceros will simultaneously step on, and rush, your car, respectively.

All of these continents, countries, and people have built-in excuses.  What’s the excuse for Northern Californians?  Are the road signs not big enough?  Are the lights not bright enough?  Is it that scary to even approach the speed limit?  Drivers up here are the absolute pits!  I’ve never seen so many drivers willingly sit in traffic because they’re too absent-minded to move a lane to the left and allow merging cars on to the freeway.  Stop lights in the region are horrid…I’ll concede that point.  But shouldn’t that make everyone a little quicker off the line?  Do drivers have to take a hell-a-long time to move their foot from brake to gas pedal, look left, then right, assess that the light is actually green, then depress their right foot to make the car move forward?  There’s a lot of cars behind you, could you speed it up please?  Being the best driver anywhere is tough because you see things that other drivers just aren’t capable of seeing.  It’s a chess game out there and everyone else is an idiotic opponent.  If I were in charge, driving would be an idyllic experience in NorCal.  That’s what I thought when Karma decided to keep me in check.

A couple months ago I was driving home from work and approaching the intersection of Hamilton and Winchester, about two blocks from the apartment I share with Ose and Campo.  The right turn at this intersection is notoriously frustrating because I think drivers actually enjoy sitting idly in their cars.  The right turn concept may be the mystery that leaves Northern Californians perplexed for eternity.  Do I turn or do I wait?  Is it ok now?  What about the old lady on the opposite sidewalk with absolutely no intention of crossing the street in my direction?  Is she coming this way?  Do I have time to turn or will I hit her?  What does that green arrow pointing right mean?  Maybe if I drift out into traffic far enough everyone will stop so I feel more comfortable turning?  Are you kidding me!!!

I’d finally had enough that afternoon when the line to turn right stretched a good quarter-mile from the intersection.  I pulled up with enough space to maneuver my car further right and into a parking lot that cut across to a side street.  The car in front of me, we’ll call it a Camry (I don’t actually remember but will go with America’s top selling passenger car), attempted the same move but was too far ahead of the driveway and hit its front tire against the curb…sucker!!!

I had to slow over a couple speed bumps in the parking lot but looking back in my rearview it was clear that the Camry had yet to move.  I made a left out of the lot and crept to a stop sign where my next right turn would put me onto Winchester, ahead of the fools who make that intersection a nightmare.  As I came to rest at the limit-line I glanced left and saw a car turn right onto Winchester; I had to hurry if my shortcut was going to be worthwhile.  Just as I shifted my foot from brake to accelerator, and the wheels lurched a few feet over the limit-line, I peeked to the right and found two innocent people, mother and pre-adolescent daughter, hoping to cross the street in front of me.

I was at an impasse.  If I didn’t turn at that moment I would risk losing my position in front of all those half-wits who insensibly waited for their turn (pun definitely intended).  If I did take my chance I’d be ahead of the half-wits and on my way to an extra 37 seconds of time at home.  If I turned at that moment I’d have to look myself in the mirror and say: “I had to cut off a woman and child to do it, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t put on a right turn clinic!”  I looked directly at the mother and her daughter.  They stood unassumingly, not quite sure if the guy in the truck would allow them the right-of-way.  They were motionless, as if they preferred not to allow movement to influence my decision.

With only a breath between me and missed opportunity my eyes locked on those of the small daughter.  She gave nothing away, but gave everything away all at once.  Her eyes were beautifully transparent; they were the inevitable result.  A voice spoke softly through those eyes, in a barely audible whisper.  The voice belonged to Karma; and Karma had put her there with her mother.  It chose to put her on that sidewalk, at that exact moment, at precisely the time my Toyota Tacoma cut across a parking lot and rolled to that stop sign.  Karma had used those eyes to give me a chance at redemption.

I moved my right foot back to the brake, raised my right hand, and graciously waved them on.  As the pedestrians scurried across the street the same stream of cars I thought I had outsmarted sped past.  Once I caught sight of the Camry I knew I had been humbled and defeated.  The line of cars passed and I looked one last time to the left, where mother and daughter now stood facing their point of origin.  I inquisitively cocked my head and examined the girl’s eyes.  My look asked her what they were waiting for; why they hadn’t chosen to move on?  A sly, knowing smile appeared at the corner of her mouth as Karma averted her eyes back across to the opposite corner.  Now its grandpa’s turn to cross the street…sucker!!!

The Good

Santa Clara Baseball won its first three games this past weekend.  I wasn’t there to take part in the excitement but can you think of a better way to start a season than two extra-inning wins and a come-from-behind, six-run, eighth inning rally to cap it?  I don’t want to overstep my bounds and assume too much in regards to forces of nature, but either every Bronco is a good driver or Karma really respects RD.



4 comments on “An Extra 37 Seconds …

  1. Southern California drivers- Doing their makeup (guys included) and rehearsing for an “audition” while sitting in traffic on a smog covered highway.

    Canoes are sweet. #canadawins

  2. Native N. California guy here, but 20 yrs in NW. I was in LA for the first time ever last summer and drove all over the region for 4 days between baseball games. Two things amazed me about driving there. One, whenever humanly possible the default freeway speed limit is 80 mph, with the left lane politely left for the people who need to go even faster and the far right left for the folks whose cars simply won’t go over 65. Two, something surprising I talked for quite awhile about in the airport with a women from Virginia, who also had expected something every different because of LA’s reputation as hell on earth for traffic – LA drivers are some of the most polite in the world! Only when they make room for people to merge? They expect you to do it at 80mph with everybody else.

    Now, I live in place with a reputation for waiting for the light to turn green a second time – just to be sure…

    Have fun at the game tonight!

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