Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Signs for the times

Commentary by Betty Bell


Betty Bell

As I swung out to pass a truck on my way to Hailey last week, a car in the oncoming lane surprised me—it didn't have a tinted windshield. Not only could I plainly see the driver's face, I had a name for it. What a thrill—these days my kids wear name tags.

The deliciously upbeat moment momentarily distracted me and I cut back too close in front of the truck. Not dangerously close, though if I'd been that driver I'd have let loose a "how rude" or something less genteel.

It was a big pickup, close to two stories high, and impeccably white. It screamed "New! ... Mighty!" I watched my rearview mirror as it grew bigger, then menacingly big, then so close the driver couldn't help but hear my old Toyota whispering, "Needs a tune-up ... little old lady shouldn't even be on the road."

What to do was the question. How to accomplish a heartfelt apology? He was too close to see my brake lights if I eased up to pull over and leap from the car with my shoulders scrunched to humble-pie even before I whined, "I'm sorry."

Best to keep going—past Hailey, past Bellevue, and clear on over Timmerman Hill if that's what it'd take to disappear him from my mirror. When he turned left in mid-Hailey I thanked St. Christopher right out loud. St. Christopher's the first advocate I think of when troubles overtake me, whether or not I'm in his parish.

I was particularly attentive on the way home, wouldn't have given a second glance if I saw another clear windshield, but even as engrossed as I was in being a model driver, I had a revelatory moment—I could have instantly neutralized that whole sorry incident, and done so without stopping and putting myself in harm's way from a driver consumed with road rage. I could have had a sign at the ready, with a handle on it, maybe a Popsicle stick, and I could grab it if I'd been inadvertently rude, a big-lettered sign exclaiming, I'M SORRY! Even better, why not a follow-up sign: I'M DREADFULLY SORRY! Who'd shoot a double penitent?

Finally, my Eureka minute! Something about me you might not have guessed is that going way back to the Hula Hoop I've been trying to come up with the next big thing. At the peak of the hoop craze, as I remember, the hoop guy was on the line below Exxon-Mobil on the Forbes eat-your-heart-out list, the wealthiest in the world.

I intend to have packets of "Signs for the Times," and in addition to I'M SORRY! and I'M DREADFULLY SORRY! I've thought of several others that'd help us cope with our daily wildly swinging road emotions:

PAY ATTENTION! A pleasant rebuke for a commute that isn't all-the-way-hell.

· PAY ATTENTION IDIOT! For the typical all-the- way-hell commute and its seriously deviant drivers.

· HANG UP AND DRIVE!—plagiarized from a bumper sticker, and one you'd use only to make your own self feel better. Cell phone users get all wound up in virtual cotton candy entombed in virtual phone booths. There's no distracting them from their distraction.

· SHAME! Perfect when you're stuck behind a car holding fast to 55 in the stretches where everybody knows everything goes. Personally, I'd keep it for Hummers.

I'll have a couple of hopeful cards too:

· AFTER YOU! For intersections on a rare, particularly mellow day.

· THANK YOU! Once in a blue moon this one will be just right. Last Nov. 23, a Wednesday, it was, as I noted in my Alive Body Log—my record of every minute and every mile, or fractions thereof, I devotionally devote to the run ... the swim ... the bike. Anyway, that Wednesday I'd been idling at the Gimlet intersection squandering gas for going on seven minutes when the lights on a beautiful little silver VW flashed, and the driver slowed to let me in. What a touch of class it'd have been if I could have flashed my THANK YOU! then.

The thing is, pilgrims, I've run into a small blip in getting out the next big thing, and I need help. I don't have the moxie to go to the shop, if I had a shop, and transform a Eureka moment into a fetchingly marketable packet. So I'm looking for someone with nitty-gritty skills and a wad of cash. If it's you, and we partner, when the next eat-your-heart-out list comes out, your name absolutely, positively, goes ahead of mine.

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