February 22, 2008

A Road Warrior’s Pet Peeves

Category: News — Ira @ 6:48 pm


“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless
of age, gender, religion or ethnic background, is that we
all believe we are above-average drivers.”

—Dave Barry

The little mini van snuck out in front of me as I crossed Rt. 30 on my way home from work. I usually head out over the mountain to avoid the town of Gap and its clogged, suffocating late afternoon traffic. Down the mountain, through winding curves and hills I followed the mini van, impatient as its driver braked and slowed drastically for every little curve. And every little water puddle. Two miles or so, then it finally turned off. The road ahead was clear. Relieved, I punched Big Blue’s accelerator and we surged forward into freedom.

But no. A quarter mile ahead, another little mini van slowly lurched onto the road like a giant slug. I almost immediately caught up with it. The driver poked along, braking and slowing for every little curve, and sometimes for no discernible reason. Coasted slowly to the stop sign in White Horse, then waited until there wasn’t a car approaching within half a mile in either direction before creeping left onto Rt. 340. The same direction I was going. I expelled a long sigh and calmed myself. It just wasn’t my day. Not when even the mini vans were plotting against me in relays like this. After the mini van obstinately took the next right, onto my road, of course, I accepted the fact that I would be late for the gym.

Putzers, I call them. Idiot drivers. Cell phone yakkers. Constant brakers. Turn-signal ignorers. Lancaster County’s roads are clogged with the entire spectrum, every imag-inable type. And you take your life in your hands every time you venture out. It’s a war zone out there. Drive these roads and you are by definition a Road Warrior. Whether you know it or not.

Mel Gibson in “Mad Max 2 – Road Warrior”

I arrived in Lancaster County for the first time in the summer of 1989. I was almost immediately attracted to the place; its picturesque farms and little country businesses woven into the fabric of the land. Everyone rushed about, hither and yon, busy, busy, busy doing this and that. The people too, were friendly enough, although they kept saying, “We’ll have to get together sometime,” when they didn’t really mean it. I quickly realized this phrase was just a quaint, regional expression of general good will and good vibes, and meant absolutely nothing. Like answering, “Fine,” when someone asks how you are. When you’re not. It’s not a lie. It’s just an expression.

Throughout my college years, I returned each summer to work construction. After graduating from Bob Jones, I officially moved to Lancaster County as a resident in 1993. It has been my home since.

I’ve never had my sense of directions here. Literally, I mean. To me, south seems like west. I’m always mildly amazed that the sun rises from what seems to me the south-ern sky. In my mind, I know Lancaster city is straight west of my house. But to me it seems north.

I like Lancaster County. I consider it my home. And so, as a resident for fifteen years now, I figure I’ve earned the right to air a few pet peeves.

The County’s population increases every year. Substantially. It’s getting a bit crowded. A lot of people like me move in from who knows where. And a lot of people not like me, from nearby large cities. They all need places to live. And the Amish, of course, keep expanding their numbers through large families. Someone must have neglected to inform them the world is overpopulated. (Just kidding. I’m glad they have large families. I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t.) Currently, I think they have an astounding 150 church districts in the area. Those numbers will continue to grow.

Then there are the Lancaster County roads. Little ribbons cut into the picturesque countryside. No ditches. No shoulders. No square grids. And not that well maintained. They meander here and there, curve this way and that. No master planners involved here. From Peters Road, which began hundreds of years ago as an Indian trail (or was it a cow path?), to the thousand other little side roads. All clogged with vehicles, almost all the time.

It could be different. Back in the 1970s, there was a great visionary plan to build a four-lane highway from New Holland to Lancaster. They even built the overpass bridg-es and laid out the road bed. Then for some reason, they stopped. Abruptly. And there it all sits, idle. Even has its own name, The Goat Path. Guess farmers graze goats on it. The political battle continues sporadically, with endless opinion surveys and much heated rhetoric, pro and con, at public meetings.

All the while, purists pontificate about “preserving the land.” There ain’t no such thing. The best use for land is whatever the market decides. A crop of new homes in a field is as beautiful as any other crop. Or a new road. Right now, the Lancaster County market would dictate a nice four-lane highway to help unclog some of the side roads. But market forces are suppressed. I’ll be surprised if they ever get the road built. At least in my lifetime.

Then, of course, there are the drivers.

Of all driver types, the Lancaster County Putzer is by far the most irritating. Putzers come in all shapes and sizes, man, woman or youth. They do tend to favor the mini van as their vehicle of choice. And perhaps it is a statistical fact that more women than men drive mini vans. But a Putzer can be driving the latest model SUV, or even, and I shudder to admit this, a pickup truck. Putzers often are tourists, especially during the summer months. But the local Putzer club proudly exists, expanding its bulging mem-bership rolls annually, it seems.

The Putzer will do just that, putz along, usually five to ten miles per hour below the posted speed limit on the back roads. And on the main roads, too. Tourist Putzers slow down or stop completely to gawk at a passing buggy. Other undeniable attributes that will help you identify a Putzer instantly: Braking for every little bump or mud puddle. Slowing down a quarter mile before the stop sign. Creeping along behind a buggy when there’s a double yellow line but they could otherwise pass safely. Weaving while yakking on the cell phone. Sitting there for twenty seconds after the light turns green, then creeping slowly forward through the intersection just as it turns red again, leaving a long line of fuming motorists behind them. And generally doing everything otherwise imaginable to provoke a normal driver over the edge into madness and blind rage.

Another habit that particularly incenses me. This one’s not restricted to Putzers. And that’s not using your turn signal. Especially when I’m trying to make a turn onto a busy road and a vehicle turns into the road I’m on without signaling. Had he signaled, I might have sneaked out into the traffic. Always a major, major irritant. It’s about the only time I wish I were a cop. I’d happily issue tickets (for points) for failure to signal.

And not a week goes by that I don’t flash my lights at idiots who forget to turn on their headlights at dusk. They come at you from the mists like ghosts. Morons.

And then there are the buggies (Did you Amish readers think you’d get off scot-free?). Pop over a hill, and there’s a buggy, plugging along. I can’t fault the buggy drivers for not using the shoulders on the back roads; there are none. But I’ll tell you that if you keep driving along those busy highways with your buggies half on the roomy shoulder, half on the busy traffic lane, someone will take off your wheels. Sooner or later, it’s just gonna happen. On the positive side, it seems that in recent years, the lighting systems for night driving have improved vastly. LED lights, or whatever they’re called. Overall, I have few problems with buggies on the roads, other than occasional good-natured grumbling. Goodness knows I’ve spent enough years riding in one. I’d hate to see the day when the horse and buggy were no longer allowed on public roads.

Lest anyone think I’m this crazy nut of a driver, let me clarify. I consider myself a sane, decent driver. Superior, even. For decades, friends have told me that when they met me on the road, I ignored their waves. I didn’t ignore them; I just didn’t see them. I keep my eyes on the road. Period. I’ve never been ticketed for even one traffic violation (knock on wood). Not for speeding, not for anything. I’ve been stopped by a cop only once, about fifteen years ago, for speeding. Fortunately, when he saw my “Rush is Right” bumper sticker, he didn’t even bother to check my driver’s license. Just told me to slow it down a bit. I was grateful.

Putzers, like the poor, will be with us always, I suppose. At least until the Rapture. Then maybe they’ll get Left Behind to putz at their leisure. (That’s a joke. Hope you Pre-Millennialists have a sense of humor.) Until then, we’ll just have to deal with them the best we can. Drive defensively. Expect anything. Stay alive. And clear the air by venting occasionally.

The Post Frame Builders’ convention was held in Columbus, OH, this week. Usually a lot of people show up from all around the country. I’m sure this year was no exception, especially with this central location. I had long looked forward to attending with my boss, Patrick Miller, and seeing a lot of old friends and some new ones. Including John Schmid, who provided the musical entertainment at the convention.

But no, the Harrisburg Horse World Expo is this weekend, so guess who’s spending four days hobnobbing with whacked-out horse people again. Yep, me. In the middle of a winter snow and sleet storm, yet. Duty calls and all that. Some carry one burden and some carry another. No one can accuse me of not being a company man. Hopefully, Mr. Schmid will look me up as he promised when he comes to Lancaster this summer. I’ve never met the man.

In last week’s comment section, I stated my intention to write an essay about Elmo Stoll. It triggered a minor earthquake from my readers, publicly and privately. But just hold your horses. Such an essay will take some time and a lot of preparation. Includ-ing research, an outline, and mining the depths of my own memories. And taking the time to do it right. I would not look for it before late spring/early summer.

Elmo was my first cousin, the son of my father’s older sister Anna and her husband, Peter Stoll. Elmo’s presence invades many of my childhood memories. He was a brilliant, gifted man. A superb writer. An outstanding orator. A born leader of men and movements. And deeply, tragically flawed, as such men often are. Any honest essay, at least from me, will include a frank discussion of all those attributes, whether positive or negative.

Finally, NASCAR opened its season last Sunday with the great thunder of The Daytona 500. Someday I want to attend that event. It was a great race, high speeds, lots of drafting, several minor pileups. Ryan Neman (Helloooo, Newman) won it for the first time. My hero, Little E, looking strange and a bit uncomfortable in his #88 car and green outfit, came in ninth.




  1. Just for the record – I did NOT read this week’s blog on my phone while trying to make my way WEST to Lancaster behind a line of “putzers” :)

    Comment by Glo — February 22, 2008 @ 7:22 pm

  2. I have noticed the worst Putzer (after the tourist) is a pick-up with an Amish man in the passenger seat! The “driver” ambles ever so slowly along enjoying a leisurely chat..

    Comment by wilma — February 22, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  3. Great story. If you ever want to get your fill of Putzers, you are welcome to ride shotgun in the truck for ten hours as we drive about 150 miles on back roads, occasionally Rte. 23 or Rte 340, never more than 20 miles from your house.

    The Goat Path was named after our family’s herd of 120 goats, that on any given day 30 or more would find a hole in the fence and graze on this deserted highway. It, like many government projects, reeks with bad politics. Back in the 70’s, it cost 9.2 million to get where it still is today, everything but the pavement. Since then they have spent 30 plus million studying the unfinished highway. Our tax dollars hard at work.

    Always looking forward to the next writing. Keep it up.

    Comment by Bear — February 22, 2008 @ 9:51 pm

  4. I have visited Lancaster County often enough to know the yellow light is a “GO” light. Just before it turns red, you go. And as soon as it turns from red to yellow you step on the gas or get honked at.

    I love going the back roads on a Saturday evening just to see how many youth are piled in one buggy. I think it holds true if you can get a hand and a foot in the buggy you are okay. It doesn’t matter where their backside is.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — February 23, 2008 @ 9:07 am

  5. The sad thing is- when I drive AT SPEED around here, I am a “putzer”. Wanna hear one of my bigger pet peeves? These putzers on access ramp. What this ramp is for? It is to SPEED up to match speed of freeway, not at previous speed limit until almost ready to enter!!

    Comment by JTH — February 23, 2008 @ 11:38 am

  6. We all had a great time at the Builders’ show. On the way home we encountered some “idiot drivers.” It was raining and 28 degrees, and the road was just starting to get icy. Somebody slowed down, and everybody else decided to lock up their own brakes. Through a chaos of sideways and backwards cars, cars bumping each other in front of and behind us, our good driver, Schnits, got us out of it without a scratch.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — February 25, 2008 @ 11:00 pm

  7. You want to talk about pet peeves! How about moronic laptops that erase everything you’ve written just because they feel like it?! This is literally the fourth time I’m trying to submit my comment! Technology indeed!

    This was funny reading! Ahem. I mean, this was funny reading. The Rapture and the putzers being left behind. HaHa! And the buggy drivers not using the shoulders on the roads because there aren’t any. Good stuff.

    I suppose we all have our fantasies about what to do with those that break road etiquette. Dweebs. On my many ventures to TN I often run into people who think the left lane is for those going the speed limit. When you get two like minded people in opposite lanes at the same time, going exactly the same speed (cruise blasted control) it’s like hell on earth. “Move over! This is no time for synchronized driving!” Oh, how I rage. I blink my lights, even tooted the horn a time or two. “Get over!” They ignore me for a while. Passive aggressive twits. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. Everybody knows the left lane is for people that want to go a bit faster. You know, five miles over the speed limit. Maybe seven if I’m feeling defiant.

    I remember one time it was two truckers and I mean for miles and miles, side by side. I convinced myself the brute in the left lane was seriously mentally ill. Who else would do such an insane thing-clog up I-65. I had him pegged. He was getting back at the world for his horrible childhood. Passive! Finally, after about half an hour, or so it seemed, the guy gets over in the right lane where he should have been long ago. I gave him the stare. Or should I say glare. There’s only so much looking one can do whilst driving.

    In a way I guess these…people…are like putzers. But I refer to them more as cloggers. How I wish I had a God sized plunger. Swoosh! Gurgle, gurgle.

    Comment by Francine — July 23, 2014 @ 1:36 am

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