Friday, July 14, 2006

Being Ordered to Buckle Up in the Backseat

Now here's a good challenge, since I know that virtually nobody agrees with me on this. Can I convince anyone of my absolute correctness on this issue? Everyone I've turned to for support so far has basically said "Yeeaaaah, it's irritating to get told by the driver to buckle up, but it IS the driver's prerogative. Plus it's the law."

You know what? I reject that prerogative. I deny that authority. What? Cause it's your car? Cause you're driving? How exactly does that give you the right to override my own voluntary safety choices?

And no, it's not the law. In fact, as of right now (July 2006) there are only 9 states where you can get pulled over for having an unbuckled adult in the backseat. (hmm... Oregon, Washington, California, New York... biiiiig surprise)

But hold on. Let's back up. It was 10 years ago now that this happened to me, and I still rank it as one of the most exquisitely annoying moments in my life. Even now, the bile rises easily at the merest thought of it, so obnoxious it was. Five of us in the car. All adults. Headed off to a movie. Me in the backseat.

"Is everyone buckled?" asked our driver.

I wasn't buckled. I generally don't buckle in the backseat. I kept silent.

"Rowsdower, would you buckle your seatbelt please?"

I was caught completely off guard. The entire idea of instructing an adult human being when and when not to wear a seatbelt in the backseat is so utterly foreign to the way I think that I just didn't understand that this woman was being serious. She was telling me I had to wear my seatbelt.

Like I was five years old. Like I was incapable of making my own choices. Like she knew what was best for me. Like when I climbed in her car I was entering some kind of dictatorial bubble where it was anything goes with (and I'm being charitable) her warped, unstable mind.

When I am commanded to do something in a situation where I believe the choice is entirely mine, my will steels itself into complete rigidity, and it becomes my sole desire - no matter what my previous preference was - to do the opposite of whatever it was the other person wanted me to do.

So what did I actually do? After a short and tense argument, I buckled. Literally. I am ashamed. I wish I could go back and stand my ground. I don't even remember what movie it was. Austin Powers? Air Force One? What was I thinking? Was the movie really worth it? Wouldn't it have been better to get out of the car instead, slam the door behind me and breathe the free air? Well, never again will I buckle on command in the backseat.

Is it safer to have your backseat passengers buckled? Not just for their own safety but for everyone in the car? Yes! Sure! I admit it, it's safer! But who gives the tiniest flying fuck!

It's a question of magnitude and scale. Look, 42,636 people died in car accidents in the US in 2005. The US has about 300,000,000 people. Let's assume for argument that the average American takes one ride in a car per day. That's 365 x 300000000 = 109.5 billion annual car rides in this country. This means that on average, your chances of dying on any particular ride is around 0.00000045. And if we further stipulate that the driver is sober, and you are buckled, the chances obviously drop even lower. Now if me in the backseat being unbuckled raises your mortality rate from 0.00000045 to 0.00000049, then honestly, who cares? Isn't there a threshold of extreme safety consciousness that, if you cross it and insist I follow suit, I can justifiably squint into your face and say "Leave me alone you fucking insane nazi!"

I mean, do I have to sit here and list dozens and dozens of other choices that you make in the car that jeopardize the safety of your passengers much more - I mean several orders of magnitude more - than ensuring that everyone in the back is buckled? Like if the driver who told me I had to buckle then went on to have a cellphone chat for the duration of the drive, am I not then completely vindicated? I'm sure that just deciding to drive on a rainy day puts your passengers in 10 times more danger than the remote chance of my unbuckled carcass bouncing around your cabin.

But you know, this isn't really about safety. If all this debate was was a friendly discourse on the merits of buckling then I wouldn't be talking about it. It's about more than that. It's about being insulted. It's about these people who need to take power trips. We know who these people are. They live for the opportunity to tell someone what they HAVE to do. And when I accept a ride in their car, this gives them the tiniest, flimsiest, barest scintilla of an excuse to exercise a little authority. Oh, how they love their authority. They savor the opportunity to enforce the most marginal of rules. To tell you either what you can't do, or what you need to be doing.

You know these individuals. But in case you're not sure, here's the litmus test to judge if you're dealing with one. Just go up to them and express any strong, affirmative sentiment. Say... "I love reading these articles about how good coffee is for you. It seems like every month there's some new study pointing out a new benefit of drinking coffee." A normal person hears that and says "Hmm." or "Yup." or "Like what?" or "Wow, really?" Lots of possible responses. The power tripping, bossy asshole can't respond that way because she doesn't think like that. If I state any kind of conviction, no matter how bland or neutral, and she doesn't share that conviction, then it's as if I've challenged her very existence. The bossy asshole will say "No diuretic is good for you." or "Caffeine is addictive, and it's not healthy to be addicted to anything." or "Actually, my brother drinks a lot of coffee and it makes him hyper and unhappy." etc. etc.

It's not that they actually feel that way about coffee. It's that they derive a special comfort in asserting superiority, and the easiest way to do that is to find fault with anything you say. There was this girl in college who corrected me and said the sun was a planet, not a star, and nothing we could say would make her change her mind. She agreed that the sun was like all the other stars, but that technically, it was still a planet. Her desire to be right was so strong it outweighed anything else, like having an actual encyclopedia opened in front of her, with fingers pointed at the applicable sentence. There was another woman I worked with at my last job who insisted the pronunciation was "Andre A-gozz-i", like the "gos" in gosling. So I asked her: "Then why is it that every sportscaster, announcer, commentator and Andre himself has always pronounced it 'AGa-see' every time, my entire life?" Her response: "................................. It's A-gozz-i." This is the mindset. These are the people who need you to buckle in the backseat. They're asses, all of them, and we should not comply with their "demands". We should not humor their fevered whims, because there will only be more.

We have to always be thwarting these people. Confound them at every turn! Drop soda cans in the regular trash while they're looking! Take all you want, but do not eat all you take! Do not take a pre-shower before the pool! Shop at Walmart conspicuously! Deliberately use words like bum, midget, mulatto - just politically incorrect enough to annoy them, but not bad enough to get called on. And smoke dammit, smoke! Smoke like the wind!

And do not buckle in the backseat! Even if it's your preference to buckle back there - it's more important to show them who's making the call. (And honestly, who IS buckling back there? Isn't it always a little weird to see someone groping around for that middle lap belt? What's their problem?)


Anonymous said...

Doesn't your example of the coffee conversation directly mirror your seatbelt encounter? The person responding to the coffee comment had to take an adverse position, just as you became determined to not buckle up regardless of what you had wanted to do before?

Rowsdower said...

The difference is about being ordered to do something. When someone intrudes on a personal choice and tells me what I *have* to do, then it becomes important to me to show them what I think of their order, even if it means doing something I wouldn't have done in the first place. (within limits, of course) I wouldn't feel similarly compelled to take a contrary stance if someone is merely expressing an opinion, as in the coffee example. I merely point out that you can identify a bossy asshole by his knee-jerk opposition to any opinion, however harmless, that he doesn't already share. -RD

coffeygirlb said...

Hey there. Just wanted to let you know that while I don't nessarily agree with you on THIS particular complaint. I DO however think that you need to be my new best friend. My husband found your blog recently and thought it was great. He told me about it for a couple of reasons I think. One, because he thinks it's hilarious and two in an attempt to make me feel better about my OWN blog not getting much action. It was kind of a "see look honey, this guy is side-splittingly funny and he only has a couple of comments per post". Anyway. I was just reading through your archives and the post about the No Bullshit line had me rolling. You may now consider me a regular!!! I love a fellow social behaviors nazi.

Rowsdower said...

Wow, thanks! And don't worry, not a single human being apparantly will take my side on the buckling issue. I'm going to have to carry that torch alone. Also don't worry about light traffic on your own blog. Don't let traffic become the way you measure success. I think the first comment I got was from a guy who was looking for someone to do him on the hood of his car (I wonder if I kept that), and after that, I stopped giving a shit. The only reason to blog is if you actually enjoy it. Then the people will find you. Btw, my word verification thingy is on and it's asking me to type the word "kluxk", which is just a little weird. -RD

Matt Vella said...

I have that same streak of obstinance, although I am pretty sure I would have buckled in that situation too.

The ones that compulsively contradict are usually "toppers" too.