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Should travelers correct others' behavior?

With the overnight snow fresh in people's minds and anticipation building for a potentially larger one Friday and Saturday, here's an issue of storm etiquette.

This is a reader comment that I didn't get a chance to publish during my regular online chat at noon Monday:

Clarendon, Va.: I had an important breakfast meeting today by Reagan National, so I hustled there as quickly as possible. At an intersection in Rosslyn, a pedestrian smacked my car window and told me:

Excuse me, but what RIGHT do YOU have to tell me how to maintain MY car. Do you know how important this client is? Do you understand that I needed to meet him at 7:00 AM because he's catching a flight to San Francisco, and that our DEAL depends on it? If you can explain to me how I am supposed to clean off my Navigator's roof in heels and a business suit, then go ahead. Otherwise, please get over yourself.

Actually, my sympathies are with the pedestrian. And I don't believe it takes very long or imposes a major imposition on any traveler to clear off a car's roof after a storm. And if I were the client, it would inspire confidence to see that the person I'm working with is a safe and courteous driver. A broom is a pretty good tool for clearing a roof without covering yourself in snow. It can even reach the top of a Navigator.

The trickier issue to me is how far the rest of us should go in correcting the behavior of other travelers. It comes up on transit, often in the form of: What should you say to a person eating or drinking on a train and how should you say it? And it comes up on the roads in the form of: Should I let a driver into the lane if the driver has pulled out from farther back and used the shoulder just to gain an advantage at an approaching merge?

I usually argue against self-deputizing to enforce travel rules and laws. The comeback often is some version of: It takes a village. You can't rely on the authorities to see all these violations and enforce penalties. So other travelers must say something, or do something to correct the behavior.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 3, 2010; 8:57 AM ET
Categories:  Weather  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, snowstorm  
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"If you can explain to me how I am supposed to clean off my Navigator's roof in heels and a business suit, then go ahead. Otherwise, please get over yourself." Ha, ha typical self-centered self-important the-hell-with-everyone-else SMUG Washingtonian!! Get over whoself, Ms. "Important Client?" Why should *she* do anything for the world at large if it inconveniences HER?? OF COURSE this person drives a gas-hog Navigator, OF COURSE this person has an "important client,"--meanwhile all of us need to get snow blown or chunked into our windshields because this jerk can't be bothered to get up 1/2 or more earlier to clean her car. No wonder our society is the way it is!!

Posted by: momo1tx | February 3, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

I get the feeling Navigator Woman is the same kind of person who believes she's entitled to speed and otherwise drive aggressively because she's so much more busy and important than the rest of us. You see, the thing is, we *do* have the right to tell you how to maintain your car because you pose a hazard to everyone else on the roads. But I agree it's a hassle to clean snow off the car in heels and a suit. Fortunately Clarendon is Metro-accessible and has plenty of taxis...

Posted by: VDouglass | February 3, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

There are lots of things the driver could do--get up earlier (if you've already tortured yourself with a 7am meeting, what's an extra 20 min. of pre-dawn insanity?), plan the meeting for the night before, since the client was obviously in town, get a longer brush that can do the job (my dad in MI has a telescoping one, and that's just so my short mom can clean the sedan well), plan ahead so as not to be driving a AEGIS cruiser that she can't handle responsibly, take the Metro from Clarendon to DCA or Crystal City (almost the exact reverse of my morning commute, and I can certify that it was running)--all of these things before *endangering the safety of everyone else*.

If a toddler was acting this self important, we would give them a timeout.

Posted by: Stevis16 | February 3, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Couldn't she just have sent Jeeves out to clean the car off for her? What an absurd and embarrassing woman.

Anyhow, as for correcting transit ettiquette, being a Metro user I've found the best way to correct the misbehavior of others is by example. Those who doesn't know the "rules" are easily spotted by regular Metro users, and a polite "excuse me" to those standing in open train doors or on the left of escalators usually does the trick. People will figure it out. That said, it is one thing to be unaware of the ettiquette. Knowing the protocol and ignoring it is something different altogether, and I have little patience for people who do so.

Posted by: Jack45 | February 3, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

This Clarendon woman is only another example of what happened to a once cool community when the Arlington County Board let the developers "yuppify" Clarendon. Boo! Hiss!

Posted by: rdpinva | February 3, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Both the driver and window-smacker are equally rude and immature. Yes, the driver should have cleaned off the roof of the car. But being obnoxious and self-righteous is not the way to change people's behavior; it only makes you feel superior. The window-smacker doesn't really expect that the driver will now get out of her car and clean it off, he only did that to demonstrate his sense of innate superiority. It's like going up to somebody who's smoking and knocking the cigarette out of their hand.

I'll bet that if the driver of the car were a young, muscular man wearing a ball cap askew, the window-smacker wouldn't have done anything out of a fear that the guy would get out off his car and beat the living crap out of him. But a woman dressed in a business suit? Easy target!

Posted by: WashingtonDame | February 3, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

The pedestrian was 100% out of line. But... good lord, fellow Clarendon dweller, have a little sense, would you? You clean off the car wearing ratty old jeans, *THEN* you go back inside and put on the business suit and the nice heels.

Posted by: EtoilePB | February 3, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

How many accidents are caused by snow flying off of the roofs of vehicles (especially SUVs) onto the windshields of other cars? What about pedestrians getting covered in snow when lazy - or in this case lazy and self-important - morons drive around with snow on their cars.

I hope the driver of the Navigator missed her meeting.

Posted by: HeShootsHeScores | February 3, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

If she were really important enough to risk the lives of others, she would have a motorcade - and staff responsible for making sure all the vehicles in it were properly maintained.

Posted by: nevermindtheend | February 3, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Dear Self-Important Moron-

If your car is not roadworthy (and it wasn't), and you have to get somewhere, take a cab.

What? Your meeting wasn't important enough for a $10 cab fare, but it was important enough to put other drivers' lives at risk?

Despicable. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | February 3, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

I really hope that this woman checks back to see her letter posted and checks out the comments. What an unbelievably selfish individual!
1) How about not buying a vehicle that is too big for you to maintain. Do you not own a broom? If you don't want to have to clean your vehicle in the morning, park it in a garage.
2) High heels in the snow - really?! Put on some boots & put your heels in a bag.
3) Clearly, you have no regard for the driver(s) behind your behemoth of a vehicle, as a wall of snow/ice flies off your Navigator onto those in your wake. I hope your client is worth the hazard you're creating with your irresponsibility.

Sitting here this morning, reading this post, while my back was aching from getting UP EARLY to clean off my car and SIDEWALK/DRIVEWAY, made me absolutely LIVID. I have absolutely no sympathy for this person. Let's hope karma catches up with her. GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!

Posted by: bdk64 | February 3, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I saw no less than a half dozen people on 495 this morning driving cars without back windows cleared off and nearly 6" worth of snow piled on to roofs and trunks. What is wrong with these people? Who in their right mind can think that it's safe to drive 65+ mph in a car with severely impaired visibility and potential projectiles hanging precariously from their vehicle?

Unless you are a hermit living on the fringes of society, your actions affect those around you. So, please people, take a few minutes to think of someone other than yourself and remember that as part of a society, we all contribute to each other's welfare.

Posted by: MStreet1 | February 3, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

It's not just owners of Stupid User Vehicles who are too lazy to clean off their roofs. I got smacked in the windshield on 267 this morning by snow flying off the roof of a Ford Focus. Driver just turned on the rear windshield wiper to keep his window clear. Wasn't able to catch up with him or get his license plate to call him in for dangerous driving.

But yes, that woman who wrote in perfectly illustrates the now-typical self-centered, smug, a**holes that have overrun this city.

Posted by: ssolomo | February 3, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

If she's getting smacked by a pedestrian, she's probably also blocking the crosswalk.

But she's important, more important than you little people.

Posted by: member5 | February 3, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Amen - why does one woman need to be drivinga Navigator to begin with? Her self centeredness shows from the get go.

Everyone point and laugh at the contemptuous witch.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | February 3, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Car owners: if it snowed over night, get up 10 minutes earlier and clean the snow off your car. It's dangerous both because you cannot see well and because will hit others. What's so complicated about this?

Posted by: Chaucer2 | February 3, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

No one is expecting you to do this in heels and a business suit. You should, however, be able to do this with a step ladder and a broom while wearing jeans and sneakers. That'll take just a minute or two before you get dressed for your meeting. So did the person you were meeting with see your car? If they had they might have gotten the impression that you're not very detailed oriented or concerned about the well being of others.

Posted by: LionelMandrake | February 3, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Amen - why does one woman need to be drivinga Navigator to begin with? Her self centeredness shows from the get go.

Everyone point and laugh at the contemptuous witch.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | February 3, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Wow, you've got a lot of anger there, buddy. Compared to you, Ms. Navigator is a model citizen.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | February 3, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm a wheelchair user. If I can get the snow cleared off of my minivan there is NO excuse for anyone to not do likewise.

And, the pedestrian was also out of line.

Posted by: ceebee2 | February 3, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

There are several devices on the market designed for removing snow from the roof of a vehicle; typically they're a rectangular foam thing that you use to push the snow off. They don't scratch the paint, whereas a broom might. Very useful gadgets.

If you can't clean the snow off the roof of a specific vehicle, then you shouldn't be driving that vehicle, full stop.

As for the lady who wrote Dr. Gridlock, if I were the pedestrian, my feeling would be that I couldn't care less about her meeting. I had a meeting at 10:00 this morning and I got up half an hour earlier than usual so that I could clear my driveway, given that I knew well that it was snowing when I went to bed. Took all of five minutes with the snowblower, but anyway, the point is that I anticipated the snow and adjusted. Yesterday I had to be in Harrisonburg at 11:30 on business and so I got up an hour and a half earlier than usual to allow plenty of time. Believe me, I'm no morning person and I struggle to get up during the winter, but it seems to me you plan ahead based on your schedule and if it means sucking it up and getting up earlier than usual, then that's what you do. Under no circumstances do you drive with a load of snow on the top of your vehicle and then whine that you were short on time.

Sounds like this woman needs to pull the stick out of her arse.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 3, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Wow - unbelievable. The driver epitomizes all the worst about humanity in general: Selfishness, self-centered-ness, a belief that one's self is so exceptionally important and valuable that nothing she does could possibly put other people at risk of injury or death. I swear, these people actually believe that they and their activities are so important that a supreme being clears the way for them at all times. I can only hope that she does indeed look at this blog post and see how the rest of the world views her obnoxious actions.

Yes, the pedestrian was also obnoxious, but perhaps only a tenth as obnoxious as the driver. If that pedestrian made that driver THINK for once, then the pedestrian's lesser obnoxiousness performed a much higher good.

Posted by: --sg | February 3, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

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