When I was younger, my buddies and I used to have kind of a joke.
You see, I grew up in a small town. If you started in the center of town and drove 2.5 miles in any direction, you’d be out in the country. We used to do laps around town on Friday & Saturday nights, which is basically just driving around aimlessly along a known pattern in town. This was our thing: doing laps. We would say , “Saw you doing laps on Saturday with Skip.” And we would say, “Yeah, did laps with Jenna the night before though,” the implication of course being that doing laps with a chick in the car was like almost a date, comparable to maybe going for coffee today.
And even though I know this sounds incredibly exciting – going ’round and ’round and ’round the same streets in the same small town seeing the same people and the same houses and the IGA and the non-corporate pharmacy and the local pizza place and the church and the school and the drive-thru and the car wash and the other drive-thru and the ice cream place and everything else over and over and over again – we would sometimes get a little board with it. Unbelievable, I know. But trust me: it happened.
When lap-ennui set in, we would instead drive around aimlessly in the country. The reason this cured boredom was because of our little joke. If you’ve ever been to northwest Ohio you know it’s about as geologically interesting as the back of a pizza box. The only thing that might potentially obstruct you from seeing literally as far as the eye can see might be fields of corn. At night you could see headlights that were miles away. Which is why we came up with our little joke:
Any stop sign with a white border is optional.
The joke, of course, being that every stop sign, at least in the U.S., has a white border. Except for those sad little two-thirds-scale stop signs in like mall parking lots that no one knows for sure if they’re even enforceable. But the real ones, the ones meant to keep people from dying tragically young have white borders.
And being tragically young and even more tragically bored, we would drive around in the country running stop signs like the law was after us.
The only positive thing I can tell you for sure about this little joke is that no one I know ever died or even got hurt doing it. I don’t think anyone ever even got busted.
But otherwise, it was a dumb game that we played – one, honestly, amongst a whole host of dumb games that I can maybe get to another day when I’m waxing equally nostalgic.
There was even an unspoken competition to see who could run the most in a row. This was not an easy thing. It required an intricate knowledge of the county’s geography. If your route took you across one of several highways you might have to stop. If you weren’t aware of which farmer had planted corn and if it was August through November, you wouldn’t be able to see approaching cars. Or you might come across a patrolman who might follow you for a while and bust you on every stop sign you ran.
But it was a game we played. It was a joke we had. Because we were young and stupid.
And sometimes, like today, when I almost got into an accident because some kid barely stopped at a stop sign, I kinda miss it a little bit. I mean yeah sure, I was mad as hell at the kid this morning. He wasn’t playing some dumb game; he was just in too much of hurry to bother with things meant to keep him from dying tragically young. But the moment he drove off ignoring my emphatically extended middle finger, I began thinking about the optional stop signs of my youth.
And, yeah. I kinda miss them.
Or really, I miss the certainty that everything would be okay, which is what lies at the core of the joke we had. I miss that I could blaze through a handful of stop signs and nothing bad would happen. That there were consequences, yes, but not serious ones. That maybe sometimes I would take things to the wire but in the end I always sped away, no problem.
So then, this morning. Was I angry that this kid nearly wrecked my car? Or was I angry that he knew he wouldn’t?