Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first vehicular confession.
I have to admit that I thought Click and Clack were kidding last Saturday when they said that the Vatican had issued a set of Ten Commandments for the motorist. I did a little Web surfing and almost drowned. It turns out that for the past decade the Church has been studying the subject of “people on the move” with the intensity that they might have brought to bear on, say, original sin at the Council of Trent. Just seeing the Vatican Web site on my computer screen was enough to make me gasp for air. The full document, “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road,” issued in English on June 19, 2007, runs to thirty-two single-spaced pages in four parts, with numbered paragraphs. The Drivers’ Ten Commandments can be found in Part I, Chapter 5, Verse 61. (I will spare you the link—better you should be shopping for Amazing Norbert products.) I had to scan the whole thing in order to find out what I really wanted to know, which was whether or not it had been written in Latin. It had not.
Driving in Rockaway combines the worst features of New York City driving and beach driving. It tends to be both aggressive and lax, executed under the influence of sun and languorousness but with habitual impatience. Last Sunday, on a trip of some seventeen city-beach blocks, I managed to violate at least three traffic laws, and annoy one fellow-motorist, without even thinking about it.
First, instead of turning right at the end of my street, and having to sit at a really long light to make a left, and then make another left, when what I really wanted to do was turn left in the first place, I just shot through the intersection under the El—after looking both ways, of course, to make sure no cars were coming, especially no police cars—easily fitting between the signs marked “Right Turn Only.” Everybody does it, including the police. And though the city annually erects a fourth pole so that a car can’t fit through, someone on the block—which is rich in union men, building supers, engineers, and contractors—makes it his business annually to saw the pole off close to the ground.
At the next corner, I made a perfectly legal left turn, onto Rockaway Beach Boulevard, and two blocks later another legal left turn at the laundromat, where I did a shockingly bad job of parallel parking (the spot was extremely spacious and did not offer enough of a challenge to engage my parking skills; besides, I was only going to be there for a minute). This is a dead-end street, and when I went to pull out, there was a moving van ahead, and no place to make a three-point turn. So I put the car in reverse, intending to back into the near lane of the Boulevard, and then straighten out and proceed, essentially making a right turn. But, seeing that there was no traffic and that I really wanted to go in the other direction, I backed all the way through the intersection to the other side of the Boulevard and made a right (essentially a left).
So far, so good. Now I realized that to get where I was going, I really should have been under the El, on the Rockaway Freeway, where I knew I could make a left-hand turn—a legal left-hand turn—at Beach 84th Street. From the Boulevard, I didn’t know the best place to turn. Suddenly I was inspired by the realization that the good beverage store was just ahead on my left, and I could kill yet another bird on this one-stone trajectory by stopping to buy a case of seltzer. So I slowed down, there in the left-hand lane, and just as the “Closed” sign came into focus (damn—well, it was past seven on a Sunday evening), I became aware of a motorist behind me, who honked and passed on the right. I didn't notice any gesture.
Proceeding on my merry way (as my mother would say), I watched on the left for a through street under the El, and I was so intent on peering down the cross streets that I was halfway into my turn before I noticed that a traffic light was dangling over the intersection and that it was red. Whoops. There was a truck behind me from the D.E.P. I don’t believe that the Department of Environmental Protection is empowered to issue traffic tickets, but I stopped, just in case. Now I was blocking traffic in three directions, or would have been if there had been any traffic to block. Since I was doing more harm than good in this position, I went ahead and completed the turn.
It was this third infraction that made me examine my conscience. I used to be a good driver, and now here I was breaking the law left and right, and straight ahead. Then again, I used to be a good Catholic.