The Dangerously Distracted Among Us

It’s happened a few times now.  I’ll be driving along and notice the erratic driving of a certain driver ahead of me.  Speed varying from well below the speed limit to well above.  Drifting from side to side in their lane, or well out into the oncoming traffic lane.  It’s clear that this driver is staring at their phone intently, completing some text or email, or maybe watching Netflix for all I know.  All I know is they’re a hazard to all around them. What’s scary is that I’ve been behind this car a few times, or worse,  I’ve been coming the opposite direction and see him straddling both lanes on the street and swerving back to his lane abruptly.  The sad part?  I know this guy.  He’s my next door neighbor.

This guy is a divorced home siding salesman for a large box store.  He lives in a pretty large home with two cars permanently parked in the driveway.  He has no children, no pets, and is rarely home.  The house sits empty for weeks at a time, and then he’ll just show up again for some period of time.  He’s the kind of neighbor who blows the snow from his driveway onto the street, expecting the town to clear it away.  He does the same thing with lawn clippings in the summertime, which he mows infrequently enough that it’s a green mess in the street.  He’s not the sharpest tack in the drawer, so nobody believes he’s being antagonistic to his neighbors, he’s simply ignorant.  I don’t believe he’s a serial killer, but he is definitely a serially distracted driver.  And I wonder when he’s going to run over a jogger or drive head-on into an oncoming car.  He’s a ticking time bomb in this way.

We live in a world full of highly distracted people.  Thankfully most aren’t as dangerous as this guy is.  I was at a basketball game last night and looked around during a timeout at 75% of the people staring at their phones.  There are legitimate reasons to check your phones – checking on the kids, looking at the standings and scores of rival teams playing a game or the statistics for the game your watching.  I get that, and I do the same thing.  But I’m doing my best to limit the screen time.  And I’ve made it a rule to not be like my neighbor, driving like an idiot, staring at nothing important on his phone while driving a killing machine at terminal velocity just looking for some kid on the side of the road.

I once walked into a fire hydrant while reading the back cover of a book.  I’m not proud of it, but I laugh at myself sometimes thinking back on it.  It’s charmingly, stupidly analog to think about now, but I managed to do it.  Walking down the sidewalk and bang!  Shin, meet cast iron.  That hurt like hell for a few minutes but taught me a lesson.  Focus on where you’re going, not what you’re reading.  That certainly applies in the world of today.  I don’t find my neighbor’s texting and driving very funny at all, and I’ve thought about how to handle the situation.  He’s not a person I talk to often, even though he lives right next door to me.  Those interviews with the neighbors of the person who went postal?  Yeah, I can totally see myself being that guy talking about that other guy.  And my other neighbors would agree.

I’d love to wrap this up with a bow, saying I spoke with this dude and he saw the error of his ways, apologized and changed on the spot.  But he’s not a guy you have a heart-to-heart conversation with.  He’s a bit of a moving target, pun not intended.  For now, I shake my head in disbelief and frustration whenever I see him driving.  And of course, give him a lot of space.  I’ve taught my kids that it’s not just that you’re distracted when you’re looking at your phone, it’s that when you aren’t paying attention you can’t avoid the other idiots on the road who are looking at theirs.  There’s no better example for them than the guy next door.

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