Turn, turn, turn? That's for the birds

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The obvious disdain Hoosiers show for the turn signals car and truck manufacturers put on their vehicles for seemingly no apparent reason continues to bewilder me.

Having followed one of my neighbors home from work before, I've seen her execute four or five turns in the process -- all without the benefit of a single signal. Not one at Shadowlawn and U.S. 231 or even at the final destination of her driveway.

It worries me that I could be in the midst of other drivers oblivious to any need to let others around you know what the heck you are about to do with that 3,500 pounds of metal under your control.

And I knew sooner or later, something was going to happen because of that.

Of course it did.

Without a care in the world -- what with the 90-degree heat wave and the fair finally over -- I rolled along eastbound down Shadowlawn the other evening, not looking for adventure as much as I was just enjoying the ride.

As I rolled up to the four-way stop sign at Arlington Street, a big, black pickup truck pulled up westbound. I had obviously stopped first, but being polite, I waited to see if he was going straight, or like so many others, would be turning without a signal.

With his windows tinted so ominously dark, I couldn't see across the intersection into the eyes of my beholder. Couldn't catch a wink or a nod if I had wanted.

You go.

No, you go.

No! You go ...

The silence and indecision screamed at me.

So there we were in some kind of Mexican standoff (that's still PC, isn't it?). The Greencastle National Guard Armory was destined to become my Alamo.

Yes, it was my turn to go all right, but I really didn't trust him, so I gave one of those little nods in his direction. You know the kind where you jut you chin forward and up a little, barely raising your head while looking in their direction. It's as if to say, "You first." But through the darkness I couldn't detect any return signal.

That's when I heard his engine rev a little and spied black smoke wafting from his diesel pipes. I realized this late-model extended cab truck must be some descendant of the Death Truck from "Duel" -- the 1955 Peterbilt tanker that faced off with Dennis Weaver and his red Plymouth Valiant in that early 1970s Steven Spielberg flick.

Remember now, I grew up in Chicago, and driving there, you get more than your share of intersection encounters, especially at rush hour when left-turn artists are at their worst. So I arched my back and decided to stand my ground. I wanted to tell him where to put his big truck and his tinted windows and his smoking pipes.

I inched forward. Sent the little red convertible creeping into that intersection just in case my unseen nemesis decided to stomp on it, turn left and cut me off.

He rolled forward as well, just not quite as gingerly, nonetheless inching into the intersection from the east. His truck was close enough I thought his big, old mirror was going to tear off my side mirror.

Surprisingly, my previously unseen adversary began to roll down his driver's side window. Instantly I thought about stomping the gas and getting out of dodge in my Mitsubishi.

But I was ready for a confrontation. Had some of my best comebacks poised on the tip of my tongue.

He spoke first. My heart was in my throat.

Calmly, and looking older and wiser than I ever imagined, he offered succinctly: "Your right headlight is out."

All those comebacks I had just rehearsed in my mind? They evaporated in an instant.

"Uh ... oh, thanks" was all I could stutter in response -- like Dennis Weaver had morphed back into Chester.

With that, I took off for the nearest auto parts store to the east. He eased away to the west.

No turn signal necessary. Not that there's anything wrong with that.