Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Apr 27 2013 12:00 PM

HERB BENHAM: Car trip takes a turn signal for the worse

By The Bakersfield Californian

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to drive with my 88-year-old father. He drove. I sat in the passenger seat.

I have spent most of life not thinking about age -- his or mine. I believe in perpetual, undying youth. It's sweeter that way and it doesn't hurt anybody, does it?

However, when your father is at the wheel and his left-turn signal is on with no left turn in sight, it's hard not to do the simplest of calculations, comparisons and contrasts.

Dad had his left-turn signal on for a reason. A block or two ago, he wanted to move from the right to the left lanes and like any observant, law-abiding driver, he pulled down the turn-signal lever and after looking into his rear-view mirror to check that no one occupied the lane into which he wanted to move, he directed the car smoothly and competently into that lane.

That was a few minutes ago. Should I say something? His left-turn signal was on, and he didn't, as far I knew, have any intention of making a left turn. Our course was straight, and straight we were traveling.

I examined the options. Was there much harm in keeping quiet? In other words, letting it be. In the pantheon of driving infractions, was an unacted-upon left-turn signal any more that a slight party foul?

Maybe, a blinking turn signal had practical value. It might act as a tonic for drivers behind us. A tonic and a way of galvanizing their attention:

What is this guy thinking? Is he really going to turn left and, if so, when? Since he gives no indication that "when" is soon, perhaps I ought to give him plenty of room.

In this way, the road might be safer because our fellow drivers are giving us room. It is a form of traffic calming.

That's fine except the sound of the left-turn signal was insistent, metronome- like and had penetrated my relative calm.

In other words, I had lost my harmonious center and was on my way to chagrin.

I don't like being chagrin, because when I become chagrined (a word I've never fully understood), I become curt and when I become curt, I am not kind and when I am not kind, I can snap. I would prefer not doing that with anybody and especially not my 88-year-old father.

Click, click, click. This noise was the Chinese water torture of car noises. I was ready to tell all, rat out my fellow drivers and, turn state's witness against even the people closest to me.

And, Dad, in my present state of chagrinement, you would be at the top of my list. As I sat there, not knowing what to do, I remembered something.

Recently, I drove with one of my sons and he leaned over to me, after evidently being unable to stand it anymore and said, "Dad, turn off your blinker."

Ah, yes, the blinker. Its usefulness had come and gone.

It appears that leaving on the blinker is genetic. It runs father to son. If it did, would it matter if I mentioned it because I do it as well.

One day, my daughter and sons will leave their blinkers on too. I didn't know. All I knew was that the unattended turn signal was now droning on longer than a John Cage symphony.

"Dad, your turn signal is on," I finally said.

"Oh," he replied, flicking it off.

We rode on in silence, the barometric pressure in the car somewhat relieved.

Ten minutes later, he moved to the right lane. The right-turn signal stayed on. Left-turn signal, now the right. This was his way of balancing the universe, something that happens, independent of our best efforts.

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