Expect the worst and you might be pleasantly surprised

“I found a shortcut to the airport, and you only have to drive the wrong way for two blocks,” said my pal.

Dave Millhouser

In order to cut five minutes off an airport run, he was willing to risk going “bass-ackward” on a one-way street for two blocks. I’m not sure of the statute of limitations on this kind of thing, so he (John) shall remain nameless.

The point is that, if you were headed to Philadelphia International Airport and were turning onto that one-way street, you’d want to look BOTH ways, even though traffic should have been coming only from one direction.

My nameless friend (John) is the incarnation of the defensive driving principal, “Always assume the other guy will do the wrong thing and he will rarely disappoint you.”

Years ago I was driving my beloved MG Midget in a snowstorm (always a bad idea). The car stopped in front of me was towing a homemade trailer. As he started into the intersection, assuming it was my turn next I looked left and right for oncoming traffic, popped the clutch and plowed into the back of him. Gee whiz, who’d a thunk he’d stop in the middle of the road for no reason?

It was a tragic sight. The trailer’s wood body came off the axle and twirled down the icy road, with all his worldly belongings trailing behind. Silly me for trusting him to do the logical thing and keep going.

A New Jersey-based coach driver was deadheading into Boston’s Logan Airport and assumed there’d be plenty of clearance for his bus. He didn’t even apply his brakes as he entered an underpass.

The 11-foot underpass ate his 12-foot bus. It struck so hard that the top half was shifted five feet back, and ended sorta hanging over the road. The driver’s mistake was taking for granted that a major international airport was well designed. What was he thinking?

One day on my way to deliver a bid on a large bus purchase, I was rolling down a main drag. A lady on a side street stopped, looked both ways, and then pulled out, tearing the front off my car. Gee whiz, she’d looked right at me, so it seemed reasonable that she’d wait until I passed. Nah.

The policeman, who arrived shortly after the crash, was kind enough to let me walk to drop off the bid and come back to complete the paperwork.

In ye olden days the best independent bus repair facility in Atlanta was housed in an old dairy barn. The Scenicruiser I was driving needed some sort of maintenance, and they had me back into a tight spot. The guy directing me had worked there for years and knew the place well, so when he waved and yelled, “Come on back” — I did.

BAM. Meanwhile, he kept yelling to keep backing. Turns out he was watching a wall and the bottom of the bus, but the barn roof had an overhang that had punched through the rear window and was now inside the coach. When he looked up he yelled “stop,” but it was a bit late.

Gee, you’d have thought that being guided by someone who knew both the building and buses would work out OK, and that I could count on him to get it right.

You get it. Assuming the other guy is going to get it right is a risky business. We are far better off expecting the worst and being pleasantly surprised (or amazed) when folks get it right. With all the distractions that today’s drivers entertain it might even be a miracle.

You can make it sort of a game while you’re driving. Is that directional signal sincere, or a feint? Is that car REALLY going to notice that stop sign? Does oncoming traffic think a red light is just a suggestion? Is that really a one-way street or is it a trick?

If you are driving around the ocean captaining an 800-foot tanker and headed into port, you normally pick up a pilot to help navigate. Presumably the pilot is familiar with all the intricacies of the harbor such as tricky turns, currents and obstructions, and you count on that expertise to help you get safely into your tanker-parking place.

One thing you may not know is that, no matter how good (or bad) the pilot’s skills, the captain is always responsible. It may not be fair, but if the ship squats on a sandbar, it will be the captain’s fault. The pilot advises, but the captain is in command.

Assuming others will get things right or use common sense is risky. Control your destiny (and your passengers) by planning for them to mess up, and hoping you’re disappointed.

Dave Millhouser is a bus-industry marketing consultant and freelance writer. Contact him by email at Davemillhouser@gmail.com.

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