Canoeing is fun! It’s fun on your own, and it’s fun with one or two friends or family members. More than three people in a canoe, though, can be a safety hazard, because at 14 to 18 feet in length, three’s about the most a regular canoe can handle.

A beginner’s initial experience with canoeing should be on a calm pond or lake, or a calm stretch of river. If it’s especially windy, or the lake is crowded with powerboat users and jetskiers, the experience may not be as much fun and the beginning canoeist may become frustrated.
Don’t try canoeing the first time on your own, or with other novices. While piloting a canoe on on your own is easy enough once you’ve got some experience, it’s best to gain that experience with someone who already has it.

First Things First
A canoe is a fine method of inland nautical transportation and is a fairly stable craft, but it’s nowhere near as stable as some of the more popular, square-sterned craft like rowboats and fishing boats. Thus, it’s absolutely crucial that everybody in a canoe have and wear a US Coast Guard-approved life vest at all times when in the canoe. PERIOD!
When talking about canoeing, it’s best if we all talk the same language. The terms here are shared by a number of watercraft.
The bow of the canoe is the front, and the back is called the stern. The centerline is an imaginary line drawn down the center of the canoe – from the tip of the bow to the tip of the stern. Some canoes have a strip of the construction material – aluminum, wood, or whatever – along the centerline of the canoe on the outside. This is called the keel, and contributes to the canoe’s stability in the water. The left side is called port, and the right side is called starboard. The sides themselves are called gunwales (pronounced “gunnels”), and the things that look like seats that are attached to the gunwales are called thwarts. If I mention the canoe’s deck, I’m talking about the inside of the hull, which you might also call the floor.
In fact, in many modern canoes, the stern and bow thwarts are actually built as seats, but I recommend that beginners learn to paddle a canoe from a kneeling position immediately in front of the thwarts or seats, which provide support, before they start sitting in the seats. Why is this? Because a kneeling paddler has a lower center of gravity. The paddler sitting upright in a canoe seat has a much higher center of gravity, thus increasing the chances of the canoe tipping over [“capsizing”]. A beginner learning to paddle from a kneeling position will find it difficult, if not impossible, to capsize the canoe. Sitting in a seat, though, it’s far more possible to overextend oneself and upset the canoe’s balance, leading either to capsizing the canoe or the canoeist. Bring a sturdy cushion to kneel on – an old kapok flotation device is an excellent cushion for this purpose.
For racing, canoeists will use a racing position, kneeling on the paddling side’s knee, with the other leg extended out in front, with the foot on the deck and the knee bent accordingly. You can get a lot of power into your stroke when you’re in the racing position! Especially for beginners, comfort is important. There’s nothing wrong with shifting positions from kneeling to seated to the racing position to stay comfortable.
Somewhere in here, it’s appropriate to give a minute to a pressing question that often leads to disagreements, arguments, fights and, in rare cases, threats of divorce. Which end of the canoe is the bow? It would be easy to say “the front,” but I’m not known for choosing the easy way . . . Although there is a difference in the taper of the bow and stern in most canoes, an easier way to tell is to look at the thwarts, or seats – the stern seat will only comfortably accommodate a paddler facing the bow. You couldn’t turn around in the stern seat and face the stern – there’d be no room for your legs. Likewise, the bow thwart or seat will have enough room to accommodate a paddler comfortably, facing the bow. Thus, even if you can’t see a difference in the taper, the positioning of the seats or thwarts in the canoe will be a dead giveaway.
A canoe’s movement is controlled by the use of paddles. From the part you hold on to, to the part that goes into the water, the paddle has a grip, a shaft, and a blade. The part where the grip meets the shaft is called the neck, the part where the shaft meets the blade is called the throat, and the very end of the blade is called the tip.
Paddles are generally made from wood or a combination of aluminum and plastic, although other materials are used.

How to Grip the Paddle
A canoe paddle is designed to be held in two hands, with one hand on the throat of the paddle (where the blade and shaft meet), and the other grasping the grip from the top, with the fingers pointing downward, toward the blade. Grasping the shaft of the paddle like an oar, or like a baseball bat, will reduce the amount of power you can put into your stroke and may also increase muscle fatigue and contribute to blister formation. (Wet hands also will form blisters quickly; keep your hands as dry as you can!) To paddle on the port side of the canoe, hold the paddle with the left hand on the throat and the right hand on the grip, Reverse the position of your hands to paddle on the starboard side.

How to Enter the Canoe
From shore: extend the bow into the water far enough so that only a small portion of the stern is resting on the shore. The bow paddler should enter first and be ready to begin paddling before the stern paddler enters. Always crouch low to keep your center of gravity low, stow all gear before entering the canoe (this includes paddles!), and then enter one foot at a time, keeping your weight centered as much as possible. Likewise, kneel (or sit) centered over the canoe’s centerline – sitting to the port or starboard side will destabilize the canoe and make it more difficult to steer. Once the bow paddler is ready to begin paddling, the stern paddler should lift the stern of the canoe off the shore and walk it into the water a few feet until the water’s deep enough that the canoe won’t rest on the bottom when the stern paddler enters. Grasping both gunwales (port and starboard), the stern paddler should put one foot inside the canoe, on the deck, and push forward with the other foot before bringing it into the canoe. The bow paddler should do whatever’s necessary to maintain the canoe’s stability while this is happening. Once in the canoe, the stern paddler should immediately take the paddle and start paddling. (This whole process can be done in reverse, if it’s the bow resting on land – the stern paddler enters first and kneels facing the bow, and the bow paddler lifts the canoe off the beach and walks it into deeper water before entering.)
From a dock, the stern paddler should grasp the canoe firmly by the gunwale closest to the dock, preferably clamping it to the dock, while the bow paddler enters – sit on the dock with the feet in the canoe and, keeping low, place feet on the deck of the canoe and assume the paddling position (kneeling or sitting). Once the bow paddler is in the canoe and ready to paddle (that is, with paddle in hand ready to go), the stern paddler should enter the stern the same way, then take the paddle and start paddling. (Again, the order in which paddlers enters isn’t really that important, as long as the first paddler is braced and ready to start paddling when the second paddler enters.)
Paddling the canoe
Now comes the nitty gritty – make the canoe do what you want it to do – make it move where you tell it to. It’s really not difficult, but it will take a little practice and a little patience.
Remember that the stern paddler is the one whose strokes will control the canoe’s direction. The bow paddler contributes force while the stern paddler contributes force and direction. In general, unless there’s a need to turn the canoe quickly, the two paddlers will paddle on different sides of the canoe.
All the directions given here are for paddling on the port side of the canoe; to paddle on the starboard side, reverse the hands on the paddle.
Forward Strokes
The basic forward stroke is sometimes called a bow stroke. It can be done by either the bow or the stern paddler, but it will be used more by the bow paddler. All the directions here are for performing the stroke on the port – left – side of the canoe, but reverse the position of your hands on the paddle and they can just as easily be done on the starboard side
1. Lean forward slightly
2. Stretch your left arm forward and dip the blade into the water so that about 2/3 of the blade is submerged and the blade is perpendicular to the canoe’s centerline.
3. Pull the blade toward the stern of the canoe, keeping it as close to the gunwale as comfortably possible without banging it.
4. At the end of the stroke, raise the blade out of the water just enough to clear the surface
5. Turn the blade slightly so it’s parallel to the water’s surface and return it to the starting position. (This is called “feathering,” and is designed to minimize the effect of the paddle’s accidentally hitting the water while it’s being brought into the forward position to begin the next stroke, which would slow the canoe and alter its direction.)
Remember, like everything else in life, followup is crucial. The stroke isn’t complete until you’re ready to begin the next one – getting the paddle out of the water and ready to enter the water again is an important part of the process! However, of all the above steps, it’s #4 that’s obviously the heart of the stroke – drawing the paddle toward the stern – that is, pulling the canoe forward.
During this step – drawing the paddle back – the paddle’s shaft should be perpendicular to the water’s surface if viewed from the rear – that means that your upper body should be twisted somewhat to the paddling side (although not leaning, or leaning very little), and the right hand grasping the paddle’s grip should be directly above the line of the blade as it cuts through the water. If the paddle is at an angle – that is, if the grip of the paddle isn’t over the water, but it’s over, or inside, the gunwale, most of the force of the stroke will be spent turning the canoe, not pulling it forward. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if your objective is to turn the canoe, but then the stroke isn’t a bow stroke, it’s called a forward sweep.
The second basic forward stroke is called the sweep. Those who read the foregoing section knew this already. In this stroke, the blade describes an arc with the paddler at the center, and the blade about 2/3 in the water. The only difference between the bow stroke and the sweep is the angle of the blade relative to the water (#3) and the direction of the blade through the water (#4):
1. Lean forward slightly
2. Stretch your left arm forward and dip the blade into the water so that about 2/3 of the blade is submerged, this time with the blade perpendicular to the water’s surface.
3. Keeping your left arm straight, move it in an arc toward the rear of the canoe. (Think of the hands of a clock – if the bow is 12:00, the blade would enter the water at around 11:00, then move from 11:00 to 9:00 and then leave the water around 7:00) Try not to let the blade go deeper or shallower than about 2/3 deep.
4. At the end of the stroke, raise the blade out of the water just enough to clear the surface.
5. Turn the blade slightly so it’s parallel to the water’s surface and return it to the starting position. (This is called “feathering,” and is designed to minimize the effect of the paddle’s accidentally hitting the water while it’s being brought into the forward position to begin the next stroke.)
Reverse Strokes
Okay, we’ve gone through the first two plain vanilla forward strokes. The next two strokes are meant to move the canoe backward, and are essentially the exact opposite of the bow stroke and the sweep. They’re called, not surprisingly, the reverse bow stroke and the reverse sweep!
1. Lean backward slightly
2. Stretch your left arm to the rear and dip the blade into the water so that about 2/3 of the blade is submerged. For the reverse bow stroke, the blade should be perpendicular to the canoe’s centerline, and for the reverse sweep, the blade should be perpendicular to the water’s surface.
3. Push the blade forward – as close to the centerline of the canoe for the reverse bow stroke, and in an arc from 7:00 to 11:00 for the reverse sweep.
4. At the end of the stroke, raise the blade out of the water just enough to clear the surface
5. Turn the blade slightly so it’s parallel to the water’s surface and return it to the starting position. (This is called “feathering,” and is designed to minimize the effect of the paddle’s accidentally hitting the water while it’s being brought into the forward position to begin the next stroke.)
The J-Stroke
The next stroke is called the J-stroke, and is the most useful stroke for keeping a canoe on-course and avoiding having to switch sides frequently. (Watching most beginners in a canoe, you’ll see them stroke only three or four times per side, and then switch sides to compensate for the turning of the canoe with each stroke.) Admittedly, the J-stroke is a forward stroke, but I’m segregating it here because it really deserves its own section, it’s that important.
The J-stroke is the bow stroke with one crucial addition – at the end of the stroke, give the blade a quarter twist so that it’s perpendicular to the water’s surface, and give a little push to the outside – if you’re paddling on the portside, your stroke will resemble a “J.” You’ll feel the canoe move a bit to the portside when you do this. When starting from a stop, the turning of the canoe will be more exaggerated, as will be the return swing from the “J,” but once the canoe’s underway and moving well, the swings from port to starboard and back will become less noticeable and the canoe will be moving more smoothly.
Some canoeists, rather than giving that little push at the end of the J-stroke, will just hold the paddle in the water with the blade turned, giving a rudder effect to the end of the stroke. This is useful, especially on long trips when you want to conserve your strength (code for “you’re tired”). The drawback is that by the time the canoe straightens out, it’s started to slow down.
The J-stroke should only be used by the stern paddler. There’s really no need for the bow paddler to use it because his strokes generally won’t be enough to turn the canoe away from his paddling side. On the other hand, the laws of physics rule that the stern paddler’s strokes will be enough to turn the canoe even if he’s much weaker than the bow paddler. Thus, even the weakest paddler, if paddling in the stern, should use the J-stroke to keep the canoe on an even course.
Another stroke that’s not so commonly used is the draw. This stroke is designed to move the canoe sideways toward the paddling side:
1. Reach the paddle as far out from the canoe as comfortably possible.
2. With the blade parallel to the canoe’s centerline, dip it about 2/3 into the water and pull it directly toward you.
3. Just before the blade strikes the gunwale, remove it from the water and, if necessary, repeat.
The reverse draw, also called the pry stroke, is designed to move the canoe sideways away from the paddling side.
1. Dip the paddle into the water as close to the gunwale as possible without striking it, with the blade parallel to the canoe’s centerline.
2. Push the blade away from you.
3. When you can’t push it any farther, remove it from the water and, if necessary, repeat.
Seem complicated? I know it looks that way, but it really isn’t – what’s complicated is putting the whole process into words. As I’ve said a few times, canoeing really is FUN!!

Maneuvering About
Although there are a few more strokes – bow rudder, cross-bow rudder and sculling, for instance, with the seven strokes discussed here you should be able to accomplish pretty much any maneuver you want to in a canoe.
For example, for a relatively straight path through the water, the bow paddler should use the bow stroke on one side of the canoe and the stern paddler, the J-stroke on the opposite side.
For a gradual turn, both paddlers should bow stroke on the same side of the canoe.
For a sharp turn, one paddler executes a forward sweep on one side of the canoe, while the other does a reverse sweep on the opposite side. Another way to execute a sharp turn is for both paddlers to do a forward sweep on the same side.
To back up, both paddlers do a reverse bow stroke.
When starting out, I earnestly recommend you limit your canoeing to simple stuff – paddle around for a while, try going in a straight line, experiment with the different strokes . . . but don’t immediately go on long overnight canoe trips with all sorts of gear in the canoe . . . and don’t try fishing from the canoe until you’re pretty comfortable with it.
As you become proficient, you’ll be able to enjoy a wide variety of activities, like whitewater canoeing, overnight camping trips and solitary fishing. If you find yourself enjoying a particular canoeing activity and spending a lot of time at it, you may want to consider buying your own canoe and associated gear.
Again, canoeing’s a lot of fun if you observe commonsense safety rules and take the time to learn how to do it right. It’s wonderful exercise without being too strenuous, and once you learn to paddle efficiently and silently, you’ll be amazed at how much more you’ll see and appreciate in the natural beauty all around us!

Here in the United States, we point with pride to our Constitution as one of the most remarkable charters of government in the history of humanity. Indeed, the Framers devised an ingenious system of self-government that incorporates democratic ideals into a republican structure, guaranteeing the rights of the minority while simultaneously guaranteeing the rights of all from the appetite of a voracious government.

The Framers’ Fear of the People

The Framers, though, feared the ability of demagogues to sway public opinion to radical points of view. For that reason, the only popular election provided in the Constitution was for US Representatives, and that right was extended to those who were granted the right, by their States, to vote for the lower house of the state’s legislature. Senators were to be appointed by the States’ legislatures, and the President was to be selected by the Electoral College, in which each State was represented by a number of electors, selected as the Legislature saw fit, equal to its total of US Representatives and Senators.

Thus, not only didn’t the Constitution originally establish the popular election of the President, it doesn’t even require citizen participation in the selection of the Electors! Furthermore, the Constitution never requires states to extend the right to vote to all adults over age 18, as is popularly assumed. Instead, it limits the States’ ability to restrict the vote. Let’s look at how the Constitution treats this most cherished of our rights:

Popular Election of Members of Congress

Article 1 of the US Constitution establishes that US Representatives are elected by the people, and establishes that anyone qualified to vote for members of a State’s larger legislative body, usually called the Assembly, can vote for members of the US House. It doesn’t set forth the requirements of electors, though – it leaves that to the states.

The election of Senators, also established by Article 1, but modified by the 17th Amendment, is identical, although the Constitutional history is more complex. Originally, the selection of Senators was specifically the responsibility of each State legislature, but vacancies became common and some states went without full representation in the Senate for years at a time. The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, provided for the popular election of Senators, and also provided that the qualifications of electors for Senator be identical to those for electors of US Representatives – that is, anyone permitted by the State to vote for a member of the Assembly could vote for US Senator.

Indirect Election of the President

The Constitution leaves it to each State to determine how its members of the Electoral College are chosen. No right is established for citizens to vote for Electors, though: those rights are granted by the States. In the very first Presidential election, in 1789, only two States – Maryland and Pennsylvania – had instituted direct election of Presidential electors; the Electors from the other States were selected by their legislatures. By 1824, most states had established some form of direct vote for Electors, with only 6 legislatures still appointing Presidential Electors. South Carolina continued to appoint its Presidential electors until it seceded from the Union in 1860; of the other states, Delaware was the last to switch from legislative appointment of Electors to direct election, in 1832.

Constitutional Amendments Affecting Voting Rights

While the original Constitution refers to voting rights only three times, the Amendment process clarifies them six times, in each case recognizing that although the national government could set broad limitations on what restrictions the States could impose on voting rights, the States still had the final word.

The 14th Amendment was the first to affect voting rights, by extending citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the US, and requiring that due process of law be observed when depriving any citizen of the rights and privileges of citizenship, like voting. The 14th Amendment went on to acknowledge that states can deprive adult males of the right to vote, but promised to reduce the representation in the US House of any State that did so.

The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, clarified voting rights further, prohibiting States from limiting the right to vote by virtue of “. . . race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Thus, while States could restrict the right to vote, they couldn’t do so on those grounds. Fifty years later, the 19th Amendment prohibited the States from denying the vote to women. Note that by this time, about half the States had already extended full or partial voting rights to women, further reinforcing the idea that voting rights are determined by the states, subject only to the constraints of the US Constitution.

Voting rights were further addressed by the Constitution in the 23rd, 24th and 26th Amendments. The first gave three Electoral College votes to the District of Columbia, but gave the Congress, as the District’s governing authority, the responsibility for determining who could vote for those electors. The 24th Amendment, again recognizing that the states held the authority to determine their own electorates within Constitutional guidelines, banned the use of taxpayer status to prevent poor people (mostly black) from voting in elections for members of Congress, or for electors for President and Vice President. The 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971, reduced the minimum voting age from 21 to 18. Again, though, it did so not by extending the right to vote, but by limiting the States’ ability to restrict the right to vote.


There’s really no doubt that the right to vote isn’t granted or guaranteed by the Constitution – even the US Supreme Court confirms it, most recently in Bush v Gore (2000). The fact remains, though, that it’s a de facto right. While this may appear to be a serious problem to some, the fact that the right to vote under State constitutions thrived over the years is testimony that while not guaranteed, the right to vote in the United States is secure.

I’m thrilled to report that we just returned from a trip to my brother-in-law Tony’s house in Florida. We left Friday a week ago, and returned yesterday, and spent the seven days there visiting, shopping, fishing, and watching a good amount of rain from his lanai room. We went to Florida for a couple of reasons. First, it was about time – we hadn’t been in nearly a year, and we usually find a reason to go down once or twice a year. Tony and his wife Enid are very hospitable, and they built themselves quite a gracious home, with room for houseguests.

The second reason it was actually necessary to visit was that my father-in-law, Mars ‘Ardo, as they call him, is visiting with us for a while. This is a project Joni’s been working on for a while – making certain his passport is up-to-date and monitoring his progress in getting him a visa to visit this country.  She secured his ticket a couple of months ago, and he arrived in Atlanta in early April.

It’s an interesting proposition, hosting an elderly gentleman (he’s 90) with whom you allegedly share a common language. Jamaican people speak a patois whose words are largely English, but whose pronunciation and grammar are based on something else entirely. You might remember the old Steven Segal movie where the Jamaican villain says “Welcome to I island,” and “Everybody want heaven, but nobody want dead.” There are little Jamaican phrasebooks, usually available in airport gift shops and the like, that contain hundreds of such formulations. There’s also a good Wikipedia article about Jamaican patois at

It’s hard to describe the pronunciation of the Jamaican patois. They also speak fairly fast, and the overall effect is to make their speech pretty much unintelligible. I rarely understood anything my late mother-in-law said, except one memorable occasion when I asked her some question and she looked at me with pity, perhaps marveling that an adult might ask such a silly question, and said “Yeah mon.”

Now, despite the fact that Joni’s dad is 90, that’s not really considered old in a family where people generally reach triple digits. True, he takes a bit more time to get around, and he’s somewhat more fragile, but he was well into his eighties before he stopped walking several miles daily to attend to his farm and performing sometimes strenuous farmwork. So anyone describing this visit to see family members in the States as a swan song would be dramatically wrong. We’re already talking about a bunch of the family getting together in a few years in Jamaica to visit him!

When we planned our trip to Florida, the idea was that we’d stay a week, and a few weeks later, Tony and Yvonne would come up to Georgia, bringing dad with them. Yesterday, accordingly, we awoke early and did our packing, and were surprised to see dad packing as well – nobody had told him he’d be staying with his son and daughter-in-law in Florida for a couple more weeks. This is a habit we have in this country that’s pretty demeaning to seniors – we often talk about them and not to them, and we sometimes neglect to include them in planning things that largely are being planned for their benefit. I actually had a nice, albeit short, discussion about this with him before we left Florida, and I made certain to tell him that if I did it – talked about him without talking to him – it was inadvertent.

In a few weeks, we head out west to visit another of Mars ‘Ardo’s children, Joni’s sister. This time, we’ll be certain to have a nice talk, the three of us, about the trip, so that this time he’s not taken by surprise!




Right now I write for a few different content mills – enterprises whose main purpose is to produce content for the web. One was pretty good for a while, but it recently slashed compensation rates by more than 50%, and so what used to be a nice comfortable gig is now essentially a minimum wage job. It’s disappointing – they must have made the conscious decision to get worse, both in the relationship they had with their freelance writers and editors, and also with respect to the quality of the content they delivered to clients. Plus they hired so many writers, it’s hard to find any work at all!

One of the mills often has small tasks on an on-demand basis – if you’ve got a few minutes free, literally, you can knock off a few quick tasks. The pay isn’t great, but I’d rather earn a few bucks and practice my writing than sit for half an hour waiting for a job to come my way.

There’s quite a good post on a blog I visited recently.  It’s one of the first times I’ve seen honest appraisal of content mills, in many cases from the perspective of writers who have made their living at their craft, and can recognize the content mills for what they are. See, that’s where I was behind the 8-ball. Before getting these online gigs, I was really unaware that there were such things as content mills, or that I had any shot at writing more substantive pieces for websites and magazines, for significantly more substantial pay. Here’s a link to the post. Reading it, and the many replies, opened my eyes to two main facts:

1. Compared to other content mills, I didn’t know how good I had it, both at the beginning, when I was earning 7 cents per word, and later, when the pay was a flat rate of $20 per 300-word biography.

2. Compared to other gigs – magazines, websites, white papers for corporations, and other technical and professional-level writing – I had no idea how short I was selling myself, both at the beginning, when I was earning only 7 cents per word, and later, when I was paid just $20 per 300-word biography.

Now, there’s little real difference from other content mills, except for the fact that I’ve already passed the tests and gotten my foot in the door. I looked into signing up for some others, but the list of things I had to do to get on the list of approved writers – before being permitted to bid on any jobs – was ridiculous. Plus I’m not giving anyone any “writing samples” on a topic of their choosing. If you want to see how I write, visit the Georgia Yankee blog or visit WiseGEEK, where there are over 200 articles under my byline. (You can see a clickable list of those articles here!)

Previously known as “What’s the Matter With Atlanta Drivers? – Part 4


What’s the fascination with traffic lights here? I understand that when traffic lights change from green to red, we’re all supposed to stop, but why is it so important to slow, sometimes to a crawl, when encountering a green light? Is this phenomenon anything akin to that of rubbernecking, where drivers slow down, against almost to a crawl, so that they can get an eyeful of anything that’s already slowing down traffic, whether it’s an accident or a road construction gang? And often, they wait so long to start after the light changes from red to green, I’m certain they’re calling their parents – or their pastor – for guidance.

Here in Atlanta, drivers have some really nice cars. I rarely see a car more than ten years old, and I usually see cars that were made within the last five years or so. So perhaps the reason people drive so recklessly is that they know they’re driving safer cars . . . But it bothers me, it really does, that with all these nice cars, none of the drivers thought to get them equipped with turn signals! Especially when they so often need to cross four or five lanes of I-75 to make their exit!

I mean, come on now. When a driver’s actions are predictable, they contribute to a safer driving environment for everyone around! If the driver ahead of you on a two-lane country road starts signaling right, it’s a safe bet he’s going to start slowing down – and you’re going to be prepared for it if you’re driving along behind him. Compare that with driving behind some clown who decides, at the very last minute, to turn right, either slowing down without warning (or apparent reason), or slamming on the brakes at the last minute. Either is much more fraught with danger than signaling a right turn, gradually slowing, and making that turn.

And if you’re tooling along the Interstate and your exit’s coming up, be proactive and slide on over to the right lane beforehand. If you find you’re in the left lane and passing your exit, don’t slam on the brakes and try to veer across four or five lanes of traffic! Instead, bite the bullet and get off at the next exit!

 Or What’s the Matter with Atlanta Drivers? Part 3

The stupid driver behaviors described here certainly aren’t unique to Atlanta, and one – the “driving hat” – is more likely to be found in other places, especially where there are plenty of retired folks. I’m not going to waste your time with the stupid driver tricks we’re all too familiar with, though, like texting, eating cereal, or reading a newspaper while driving.

The Rolling Roadblock

Ever hear of the rolling roadblock? I hadn’t heard of it until a radio fellow named Jim Gearhart up in New Jersey started complaining about them. Here’s how it works: You’re on the road, driving merrily along in the right lane at a few miles over the limit (hey, this is Atlanta!). Like many roads, this one has two lanes going your way and two coming the other way – a four-lane road. You come over the top of a hill (and there are plenty of hills in Atlanta!) and slam on the brakes – you’ve encountered a rolling roadblock. In front of you, in the right lane, is a happy motorist who’s doing precisely the speed limit, and next to him, in the passing lane, is some yutz who’s matching his speed, preventing anyone from passing.

Why do these people do this? There’s no consensus. Some folks seem to think they’re smugly self-righteous drivers who think that it’s their mission to make sure that nobody breaks the speed limit. Others think they’re just idiots. Whichever, they’re dangerous because they impede the flow of traffic. The standard was, at least when I was learning to drive, that you drove in the right lane and used the left lane only for passing, after which you returned to the right lane. I’m assured by reliable sources that the standard still exists, even though it’s usually ignored. Well, d’uh!

The Space Cadet

Related to the rolling roadblock is the moron who drives slower than the flow of traffic in some lane other than the rightmost lane. Now, if someone doesn’t want to keep up with the flow of traffic, or exceed the speed limit, that’s fine, and if I’m stuck behind them on a 2-lane road (one lane in each direction), I don’t bear any grudge. Really! I wait for a passing opportunity and move along, but I’m not going to develop a bad feeling for someone who’s obeying the law, even if they’re slowing me down in the process.

We generally use the term space cadet to describe anyone who’s so distracted by surrounding events that they’re only peripherally involved in what they’re actually doing, and it’s easy to call the right-lane dawdler a space cadet as well. At least he (or she) is following the rules, though. The people I’m calling space cadets here are those whose lack of attention to what they’re doing is putting others’ health and lives at risk. On a moderately busy road, every instance of space cadets – slower cars not in the right lane – slows down the rest of the traffic, potentially leading to congestion and accidents, and definitely leading to irritated drivers.

Driving Hats

Mentioning Gearhart reminds me of a New Jersey driving phenomenon I haven’t seen (yet) in Atlanta – the “driving hat.” This is seen with alarming frequency in South Jersey. You’ll be driving along and come up on a car – usually a Cadillac or a big Buick – where the only clue that there’s a driver is the presence of a hat where a driver’s head should be. As you pass the car (because it’s usually going about half the speed limit) you stare in wonder, because all that you can see, from any direction, is that hat! The only time you can be certain that there’s an actual person there is if you see them park and get out of the car – at which point you find out it’s a little old man or woman, apparently well into the triple digits in age, and just as frequently no more than five feet tall, if that.

Other annoying things drivers do

Well, again, where do I start? The driver who never learned about turn signals (my wife calls them indicators) or who thinks they’re unnecessary optional equipment in the car (unnecessary because he knows where he’s going). The idiot who, at twilight, turns on his parking lights only when all other drivers have turned on their headlights. Or his cousin, who doesn’t bother turning on his headlights until it’s pitch black outside, because he can see where he’s going. (Hey, stupid – it helps other people see you, you moron!) Related to these fools is the clown who leaves his lights off in the most drenching downpour, and likely for the same reason – he can see the road just fine.

I could probably go on and on, but I actually have to get back to some writing that will help pay the bills . . .

This is the second of five parts of an article I wrote in 2007 about the foibles and follies of Atlanta drivers. Despite the passage of enough time for each of them to have had the article read to them personally by me, they continue to baffle and bewilder casual observer and frightened fellow-drivers alike.

More about cellphones. We all see drivers cruising along, cellphone pressed to their ear, and we’re certain they’re pretty much oblivious to what’s going on around them. So why is it that we can carry on a conversation with someone next to us in the car, but it becomes a bad thing when we talk to someone who’s not there? That’s the reason – they’re not there. When you’re talking to someone in the same car, you’re both watching the road, and if things get interesting, the conversation dies away until the road situation’s been dealt with.

When you’re driving and talking on the phone with someone, though, they don’t see the road. Hell, they may not even know you’re in a car! I remember once talking to my boss about salaries, a pretty detailed conversation, and all of a sudden I realized, from something he said, that he was driving – in an airport parking lot! (I told him to call me back when he got to his destination and hung up.)

So what happens – often – is that the conversation takes priority and the driver is only marginally involved in the act of driving, much more so than when talking to someone in the car with you. The miracle here – again – is that there aren’t a lot more fatalities.

Atlanta drivers engage in all sorts of other strange behavior behind the wheel as well. We’ve all seen someone eating a burger so large there’s no way he can keep his eyes on the road (“It takes two hands . . .”), but how many have seen someone reading a newspaper or book? Or the contortionist who’s watching the television installed for the rear-seat set? Or people with laptop computers in their laps, websurfing while they drive? And women are famous for putting on their makeup while driving to work, using the rearview mirror for guidance.

NOTE: Since I published this article, another annoying behavior surfaced, one which is highly dangerous: texting while driving. I’ve seen this extremely foolish behavior on Atlanta’s roads and highways, and it’s scary as hell. In fact, I’m tempted to blow my horn at such drivers, but I’m worried I’ll startle them and cause an accident.