Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 7, 2005, Herald Journal

The green van explains it all


If anyone happened to be driving through Watertown last Sunday night, they might have been dismayed by the peculiar driving habits of a green van.

If they are like me, they were probably annoyed that the van stopped at stop signs longer than it should have, even when no cars were coming, holding up the flow of traffic.

At one particular stop sign, while in the turn lane, the van seemed to linger forever, holding up several motorists, including myself, who just wanted to get home.

Doing my civic duty, I reported the green van, and registered a complaint with the owner, of which I will explain shortly.

Even if you were lucky enough to avoid the green van, I’m sure you can share a similar story. There always seem to be people who are going too slow, not using their turn signals, talking on their cell phones, or dangerously swerving in front of traffic.

If it were up to me, I would favor banning all erratic drivers from the roadways. After all, most of them are endangering lives, or just aggravating the rest of us normal drivers.

While I’m sure this is an attitude many of my fellow motorists share, especially those stuck behind the green van I was driving as it cut out at every stop sign in Watertown, only to completely die in the turning lane on Carver County Road 10, I beg you to reconsider.

After phoning a tow truck, and my dad (the owner of the green van), I preceded to wait the hour and a half that it would take the tow truck to get there.

Thankfully, my car had chosen to die in a fairly good location. I was off to the side in a turning lane, so the traffic could easily go around me.

As a dutiful driver, I put my four-way flashers on to signal to others there was a problem with my car, and they best go around.

Unfortunately, I am not new to car problems, or waiting for tow trucks (AAA employees are probably taking bets on when I’ll pass the 1,000- mile towing mark), so the fact I had to wait did not phase me.

However, I became increasingly irritated with the people who stopped behind me and proceeded to honk.

Couldn’t they see I was stalled?

I waved several people on, and had to get out of the car and wave one young lady on, who simply did not understand.

Forty-five minutes into my wait, my flashers decided they had done enough flashing for the night, and stopped.

If people didn’t get the hint when my flashers were on, I didn’t want to think of all the arm waving I’d have to do when they were off.

Thankfully, my dad arrived shortly after my flashers died, and I made him park in the lane behind the van and put his flashers on.

My dad was not satisfied that the flashers in the van weren’t working, so he tried them again.

As we sat behind the van, the flashers would flash once in awhile, but not continually.

Then, I started wondering if they had been doing that the whole time.

If they had, it made more sense that people couldn’t see them. And even if they were working the whole time, the streetlights on the corner were bright, and it was hard to see the flashers.

Now, I could dwell on the negatives of this experience. The fact that it was cold out, I had to wait an hour and a half for a tow truck, and that people drove by and gawked at the stalled green van.

Putting it in perspective, I was glad I stalled in a town, at a stop sign, in a turn lane. I was glad that I did not stall in the middle of the country road that I was lost on earlier in the journey because a bridge was closed, and I had to take a detour. (But that is another story.)

However, in my opinion, there is something to be learned from everything in life.

Since I am not a mechanic, I doubt I will learn anything about cars from this, other than it is bad when they don’t start. But I do like to analyze things. Consequently, I have decided a stalled car is not much different than the problems we have in life.

The first time my car stalled while I was sitting in a parking lot, looking at directions. I thought nothing of it, because it started right back up.

Then it stalled while I was driving through a stoplight, which succeeding in getting my attention. But, again, it started right away.

A car cutting out is kind of like when we encounter an issue, but sweep it under the rug, thinking nothing of it, until it crops back up again.

Only when it becomes more serious, like the car forcing me to restart it at every stop sign, while people waited behind me, do we understand it is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

By the time the problem gets too big to ignore, it has already influenced others. When my car finally wouldn’t start, I held up traffic behind me.

Frustrated that I could not start my car, or figure out how to fix it, I became irritated with others who sat behind me, not knowing I was stalled.

Sometimes, it is easier to let our own problems envelope us, which we think are obvious to everyone else, but are not.

Even when we think we are asking for help, other people can’t see the signs, because of distractions. Much like people couldn’t see my flashers because of the streetlights.

People can also become impatient with others who are dealing with a problem, because they don’t know. Like the people who were honking at me, who were too busy trying to get where they were going, to realize my situation.

So, I guess I learned three things from my stalled green van. If you ignore your problems, they will eventually catch up with you. Be patient with people, they might be dealing with a problem you can’t see.

And, only a writer could turn a failed alternator into a psychology of life.

Please excuse me

I believe that knowledge is power, so I would like to thank a diligent reader for pointing out a faux pas in my column last week.

I mistakenly used the word “passed” in reference to the Supreme Court’s ruling on eminent domain.

I am aware the Supreme Court actually rules on laws, as stated in the beginning paragraph of my column.

Please accept my apology for this oversight. My opinion on the issue remains unchanged.

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