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As Long as We Remember...

August 3, 2005

Deer, Pizza Delivery and Idiots

Edward Lulie III

The days of leisurely driving down the quiet and green rural roads of Frederick County are almost gone. I had noticed the increased traffic but the issue really came home to hit me - almost head-on.

One of the responsibilities of parenthood is to teach your children how to drive. Amazingly enough, it is even something the socialistic government of Maryland encourages through their logbook requirement for new drivers. So one recent afternoon I was out on the road with my youngest (but he's 6'3!) son and helping him as he continues to work on learning to drive.

As he slowly drove back home on our mostly rural road, we came to the bottom of a hill as I advised him: "Now pull further to the right hand side and expect to see some teenaged kamikaze doing 50 plus come over the top of this hill."

Almost precisely on cue a small car appeared flying over the crest of the hill and in the precise center of the narrow roadway. He was easily exceeding 50 (in excess of the 35 mph limit) with a pizza delivery sign on top of his car. Had we not already been almost off the road it would have certainly hit us head on.

My son gave me a surprised look; I could almost read his mind: "How the heck did Dad know that was coming?" Well actually in this case I have several strongly etched memories of previously avoided collisions at that very spot; almost always from the same cause - a kid who drives like he's playing video games.

I never drove like that; we didn't have video games back then. In the decades that I have been driving in Maryland there has been a huge increase in traffic. Once empty back roads are now crowded.

By the way, why is it that the Virginia drivers I encounter here are always speeding? Is there some Virginia Traffic Court Judge ruling: "Sir, I bar you from driving here in Virginia! So for the next two years I sentence you to speeding over in Maryland, now get out!"

While traffic has increased, it sure seems like the skill level of drivers has decreased. Probably it is more likely that the small percentage of really bad drivers has stayed the same; but with the huge increase in numbers they now number in the thousands instead of the dozens. As a result we notice them more. The local interstates are rapidly filling up and it is no longer unusual to get stuck in a traffic jam heading to Hagerstown. Vacation traffic now snarls our local interchanges and crashes are no longer rare - but daily.

I live in the still beautiful, but quickly being overbuilt, Middletown Valley. A drive to our local Safeway now has far more hazards to deal with than just the killer ditch hidden to the west side of Holter Road, or the local kamikaze pizza delivery guy. Now we have deer, lots and lots of corn fed deer. They are everywhere. They graze on my lawn, my neighbor's lawn, in Middletown on the golf course, and near the high school.

For some perverse reason, on occasion they love to play "let's jump in front of a moving car." Last year one took out my headlight when I was unable to completely swerve and miss him (I was not speeding either).

I used to think that deer were kind of a noble animal, but lately I'm considering them to be more like dangerous vermin; one night that pizza kid may not make it if some deer decides to leap in his path.

I'm not against hunting deer down, just concerned that some witless wonder will get a hunting license and appear in my rather large back yard thinking that it's some kind of game preserve and shooting range. That's happened before.

My neighbors are farmers, those wonderful and industrious people who are sadly vanishing from our area. They understand the concerns about deer and hunters although they haven't started painting DEER on their cows in white letters yet.

A friend of mine, a very prominent local attorney, owns a farm. Some years back he told me that the deer were causing enormous damage to his crops. He lives not far from Thurmont, and the deer were coming off the mountain in packs of five and more to feast on his farm's produce.

He reported this and in due time an official arrived to be given a personal tour. The fellow spent over an hour observing the damage and nodded sagely as my friend showed him where the deer had trampled and eaten his crops.

Back at the house they sat down together in the kitchen and the fellow produced a large ream of forms: "You certainly do have damage. Now when we fill out all these forms out you can get permission to take care of the problem; you can kill one deer."

The amazing thing wasn't that my friend resisted the urge to inflict immediate bodily harm on the governmental employee for seriously suggesting that eliminating a single deer would have any noticeable impact on the problem. Of course, that was some time ago.

The problem has gotten so bad that - even down in Montgomery County - the number of injuries and damage caused by deer overpopulation has forced local authorities to recognize that a problem exists. Of course, generally, they mostly regard the citizens that complain as the problem, not the deer.

Group hugs and singing to the deer have failed so far to have any noticeable effect, but our progressive neighbors down to our south won't give up so easily. Maybe banning humans from the county will be the perfect solution; after all, it isn't like it is habitable for humans anymore, is it?

I find myself helping to teach driving again. My older son graduated this year from high school and for the most part he's gotten the concept. But teaching young drivers about deer, idiots and pizza delivery is not an easy thing to do.

Between mp3 players, headsets, phones and the car stereo, it seems surprising that there aren't even more wrecks. I believe that it is harder now than ever to become competent to drive. It is obvious from a casual observation of the traffic on any of our local roads that many people have never mastered even a basic competency level at operating a motor vehicle.

Their fellow drivers frequently note their displeasure by way of ritual finger gesturing, ceremonial invocations, and the repeated application of their car horns. Sadly this ritual of conveying the message "please learn how to drive" is now frequently being repeated across our region, often to counterproductive results such as fistfights and high speed chases.

I often wonder what goes through the minds of people driving on Jefferson Boulevard in Braddock Heights. It seems like a normal, even very nice neighborhood. At the intersection of Cherry Lane and South Clifton Road there is a four-way stop sign. Judging from the way drivers act, it seems as if the rules for a four-way intersection were deleted some time ago from drivers-ed.

This intersection has an almost unlimited supply of drivers who either completely ignore the stop sign and go straight through, or who slow down and turn without even looking at the cars already there (and with the right of way).

On one recent occasion I watched an enormous panel truck speed briskly through the intersection without even a hint of pausing, let alone stopping. It narrowly missed destroying another car that had started to turn onto the road without stopping; luckily he had slowed down enough so that he could slam on his brakes in time to avoid the crash.

Under these trying conditions I have learned that patience and courtesy are required and sometimes even rewarding. For example, my local road has several areas where it really isn't safe for two cars to pass, so I have gotten into the habit of pulling to the side and letting the other cars proceed.

Many people just briskly zoom on by, acting as if the local peasants should cringe before visiting royalty thus ignoring me completely (beneath their regal notice, I guess). Yet there are still greater numbers of drivers that appreciate the act and smile and wave back as they go past.

Then there are those kind souls that pull over themselves and wave me on. It 's these drivers that renew my faith in humanity; they are evidence that all drivers do not get their licenses out of a cereal boxes. Perhaps things might not actually be as bad as I think.

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