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Driving While Trumpeting: Car as Living Room

On a 200-mile drive on I-95 recently, I saw three of my fellow motorists bombing along at 60-plus mph while doing things I had never quite seen before:

--A man in a small, oldish Toyota had a paperback book perched against the top of his steering wheel and was engrossed in a novel--it appeared to be science fiction from the art on the cover, but I couldn't get close enough to get a title or author--for an extended period as I drove near him. I did see him turn the page twice over the course of about six minutes.
Now, I've seen plenty of folks reading the paper (and that of course is an Official Encouraged Activity here on Raw Fisher) while driving (not quite so encouraged), but that generally happens in stop-and-go commuting traffic, not on the wide open, middle-of-the-day interstate, as in this case. And a newspaper can at least be scanned, dipped into--you can glance at headlines in the moments when traffic is at a halt. But this guy was engrossed in a novel and had clearly settled in for a long read on a long drive. It's pretty much the scariest distracted driving scene I've encountered.

--Then I saw Movie Man, who had rigged a laptop to the top of his dashboard just right of the steering wheel so that he could watch a DVD full screen while shooting along 95 at about 70 mph. It appeared to be a Bruce Lee flick. Movie Man managed to maintain reasonable lane coverage while taking in the movie. I've seen TVs set up in the space next to the driver's seat, but this full-screen, drive-in theater-style experience was a new one for me. But I've saved the best for last:

--A guy in a beautiful 1965 Bonneville kept his thighs pressed against the steering wheel for stability while leaning forward and holding his shiny brass trumpet over the top of the wheel as he played the instrument at a volume high enough for me to hear bits of his (quite good) tunes when I passed him.
Trumpet Man kept this up for at least the five to seven minutes when I was in his general area. One of his hands occasionally came to rest on the top of the steering wheel, but generally, he was able to do his fingering and blow while keeping the car moving in a fairly straight direction. He appeared to be someone who had done this before.

As astonishing and frightening as such sights can be on the highway, I feel obliged to report that all three of these fellas were driving fairly well. The swervers and drifters I encountered on this trip were all--every single one of them--deeply engrossed in cell conversations. For all the wacky and dumb behavior we see on the road as people spend more and more of their waking hours in the vehicle, it's the cellphone far more than anything else that deeply and dangerously distracts folks from the task at hand.

What have you seen people doing on the road lately?

By Marc Fisher |  July 18, 2007; 10:33 AM ET
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"a beautiful 1965 Bonneville"

Just curious: How can you be so sure of the year?

Posted by: Dan | July 18, 2007 10:54 AM

Hm. To me, it seems safer to read at high, constant highway speeds than in stop-and-go traffic. Well...the consequences of an accident are worse at high speed, of course, but it's just so much more likely that the flow of traffic will change without the driver noticing when you're in stop & go traffic. Either way, though, I do wish people would pay some freakin' attention when they're driving.

Posted by: h3 | July 18, 2007 11:23 AM

This isn't really distracted driving, but it startled (and worried) me.

On the drive in along the Greenway, about a month ago, we passed a middle-aged man who was driving one-handed because he was sucking his thumb.

Not chewing on his thumbnail, not rubbing the tip of the finger along his lips - his whole thumb was in his mouth, like a small child does it.

I was a little unnerved - if driving makes him that nervous, maybe he shouldn't be out on a major road during rush hour.

At any rate, it was one of the weirdest sights I've seen driving lately.

Posted by: Lee | July 18, 2007 11:24 AM

Were you driving solo? If not, please tell me you had your passenger taking photos of the trumpet guy, I almost need to see that to believe it!

Posted by: Greg | July 18, 2007 11:33 AM

I seen people using one hand to hold a plate of food about neck-level while the other hand was holding the fork. It was on a highway and traffic was averaging 80 mph.

But the best one was seeing a guy driving with a can of beer in one hand and a fired chicken leg in the other hand. Again, on the highway at a high rate of speed.

Posted by: motorist | July 18, 2007 12:02 PM

I used to take bong hits while driving.

How I never wrecked, or got arrested, I don't know.

Posted by: anon... | July 18, 2007 12:37 PM

The best (worst?) one I ever saw was coming up on a car on the freeway weaving around, NOT maintaining good lane boundaries. I glanced over and the driver was scratching off lottery tickets and trying to steer at the same time, sort of with the backs or sides of his hands. His focus was definitely on the tickets, not the road!

Posted by: CJB | July 18, 2007 12:46 PM

Dan--on your question about the 1965 Bonneville, folks like me who grew up in the 50's and 60's (not sure of Mark's age) seem to know every car's make and year from those days. We can spot the differences between 55-56-57-58-59-60 Chevys, Fords, etc. The models seemed to change a lot more each year then, than they have since the 70's. Also, every make had a distinctive "look", as opposed to most cars now.

Posted by: Phil | July 18, 2007 2:16 PM

In answer to Dan's question above, I had a passenger in my car--my 11-year-old son--who is a major car nut and he could instantly ID the trumpeter's car as a '65 Bonneville, which we later confirmed in one of his catalogues.

Posted by: Fisher | July 18, 2007 2:16 PM

isn't scratching off lottery tickets, as CJB observed, one the the driving behaviors promoted by one of the insurance companies (Allstate, I think) that offers "accident" forgiveness? No doubt that's where the driver in question got the idea.

Posted by: eo mcmars | July 18, 2007 2:23 PM

This may be the funniest thing I have ever read. Laughing out loud to the point where a co-worker asked what I was doing. Thank you!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 18, 2007 2:27 PM

On 95 a few weeks ago I saw a man doing 70 while talking on a cell phone in one hand, and taking pictures of different cars with a flash camera in the other hand. I don't know exactly what he was looking for, but the constant flashes made it look like a cop car for a second. Scary either way.

Posted by: Fishlaw | July 18, 2007 2:32 PM

I bet all three nutcases brought up by Fisher were driving better than your average old black woman, or any black woman of any age. I think we should pass a law preventing them from operating a motor vehicle in all 50 states.

Posted by: Joe Nash | July 18, 2007 2:50 PM

I've got a better one. Several years ago, I was driving over the Memorial Bridge toward DC, which happened to have little traffic on it at the time. Ahead of me, a car was weaving all over the bridge. I passed him giving him a wide berth, but as I went by him, I could see that he was looking through the viewfinder of a camcorder, taping the monuments as he drove.

Posted by: Andy | July 18, 2007 2:53 PM

When I lived in Northwest DC I had a job in Falls Church and had to cross Key Bridge twice a day. One evening a woman was knitting while crossing Key Bridge. Honest. Apparently controlling the steering wheel with her elbows, she had two knitting needles up to her face and knitting all the while.

Posted by: MD Motorist | July 18, 2007 3:02 PM

But you know what, Joe Nash -- I bet all those women drives are better human beings than you.

Posted by: Annie | July 18, 2007 3:08 PM

Hear, hear Annie! I was chuckling until I read that comment, upon which my jaw hit the floor.

Posted by: Wow | July 18, 2007 3:15 PM

I'll have to agree with Joe Nash -- I stay as far away from black women drivers and Asians as I can. They'll run you down and keep on going. Even when you're trying to change lanes and signalling properly, they'll speed up so you can't change lanes in front of them. The police have a term they use for the Asian drivers -- DWO. "Driving While Oriental."

Posted by: Anonymous | July 18, 2007 3:18 PM

I was on a road trip across the country a few years back, and was engaged in a conversation with my husband about how the long-haul truckers keep themselves from going crazy with the boredom. At that very moment, we pulled level with a big semi rig, looked up at the cab, and watched the large, bearded, tattooed driver sharing a bag of sunflower seeds with the full-sized blue-and-gold macaw perched on the steering wheel. It was quite a beautiful bird, and apparently perfectly happy to sit on this guy's wheel as he drove. I hate to think what the floor of the cab looked like, though.

Posted by: WDC | July 18, 2007 3:21 PM

Ahh yes...the blog trolls.. Joe Nash and "anon" are probably the same account..

Posted by: HP | July 18, 2007 3:23 PM

Rather than make generalizations by race, (though there are some trends) I find make, model and age of the car to be a more reliable predictor of jackassery in driving. Plus-sized SUVs are the very worst, by a long shot. Large german sedans and those newish american sedans with the huge grills are next. The newer and shinier the car, the ruder the driver.

Posted by: Anon too | July 18, 2007 3:27 PM

Phil: When I was a little kid (say 3 or so), I was locally renowned for my ability to identify cars by make, model, and year. This was back in the early 60s. Even today I can still get within a year on almost all cars from that era.

They don't make 'em like that anymore -- which is probably a good thing overall. It's no coincidence that the total number of annual highway deaths has remained at around 50,000 for the past several decades, while the country's population has almost doubled over that period.

Posted by: South Loudounian | July 18, 2007 3:29 PM

I once drove for more than 50 miles at over 100 mph with my knees. The first difference was that I was crossing the desert of Arizona on I40 between Flagstaff and Gallop instead of on I95 in traffic. The second was that I had my eyes on the road and hands free to react, just in case.

Bluetooth-enabled cars sure do help with the cell phone distraction. A button on the steering wheel, and a quick tap on the navigation screen is a lot safer than dialing and holding the phone to your ear.

Posted by: Leesburger | July 18, 2007 3:48 PM

And what's with those Mommy vans? They never go faster than 35 miles an hour, driven by a plump woman with a cell phone up to the ear, and every kid in the neighborhood in the back of the van. I was behind one that never signalled any turns, a brake light was out and the fastest she went was 30 mph. Had soccer and cheerleading bumperstickers on the back. If she's that bad a driver, I pray for those kids.

Posted by: Anon3 | July 18, 2007 4:02 PM

Ok, the macaw perched on the steering wheel might just have the edge over the guy playing the trumpet. Imagine if the trumpeter had a parakeet perched on his instrument, though! Then we'd have a winner!

Posted by: h3 | July 18, 2007 4:04 PM

Did he have a patch on his eye too? Road Pirate!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 18, 2007 4:25 PM

No eye patch. But the rest of the image works; good call.

Anyway, I image a pirate would go for a smaller, more maneuverable bird, like an amazon, or a conure. Macaws are really REALLY big, you know?

Posted by: WDC | July 18, 2007 4:29 PM

I saw a woman putting on panty hose while driving in heavy, but not stop and go traffic on I270 during rush hour. One foot was up on the dash, while she drove with the other and used both hands to pull them on.

Posted by: bigdog | July 18, 2007 4:30 PM

I've often painted my nails, at red lights. Never while the car is in motion.

I will say to the ladies...Watch out for an old blue pick up truck when driving I-81 near Woodstock. That guy was doing things while driving that I can't detail here. Ugh! I wish I had written down his plate number. State Police number is #77, just in case.

Posted by: FfxGal | July 18, 2007 4:33 PM

A woman putting on mascara. Boy did I want to rear-end her car - mascara wand right in the eye!

Posted by: Olney | July 18, 2007 4:47 PM

Wow, I just read all these and then I found Marc's blog...Strange!

Posted by: WDC | July 18, 2007 4:52 PM

I'm betting that Anontoo drives a Prius or some other "Green" car. If there is a hold up in the passing lane it is almost always a "Green" car creeping along, defiantly acting as a Pace Car to set the example for the rest of us with big shiny grills. Grow up! By the time we get around these cars, our frustration probably would be perceived by Anontoo as being rude. The amount of rudeness percieved would be directly proportional to the amount of time we were trapped behind him/her. One such car was pulled over and ticketed for going too slow last week. I admit, I smiled as I drove by with my big shiny grill. I restrained myself from waving though, that would have been rude.

Posted by: myob | July 18, 2007 5:08 PM

Bob Livingston (Ex congressman from Louisiana, and great guy) practiced playing a clarinet while commuting to The Hill for a year or two.

Posted by: alfa 67 | July 18, 2007 5:21 PM

To Annie, whom I suspect is a black woman herself....I hope your driving is better than your spelling capabilities. What i hate black women is that they'll try to T-bone you or try to ram into your car, and then stare at you as if was all your fault. Sorry, but that Rosa Parks shtick only goes so far....

Posted by: Joe Nash | July 18, 2007 6:14 PM

The best still has to be britney spears breast feeding her infant child, while talking on the cell phone and writing down her husband's instructions on a pad. LOL.

Posted by: Anon | July 18, 2007 7:47 PM

Hey Joe Nash, I've always wondered, and surely you must know: how do you make sure the eye slits in that white hood are big enough to be able to read but small enough to keep your cowardly anonymity?


Posted by: Parlay | July 18, 2007 8:47 PM

Anyone notice MPVs being particularly bad? It seems like every single one of them is driven by a bad driver! My daughter has nicknamed them Mobility Prohibiting vehicles.

Without making generalizations, there are definitely some particular demographics I avoid confronting depending on where I'm driving in the city, or even city vs. suburbs. Social standards, mores, and respect for property are different in different places.

Posted by: Nathant | July 18, 2007 10:42 PM

Re alfa 67 - The world needs good clarinet players but, for those who forget, Rep. Bob Livingston was the adulterous Speaker-elect who quit and was replaced in a special election - by David Vitter.

Posted by: Mike Licht | July 19, 2007 7:14 AM

DC Distracted Driving: Worst offenders -- and denters of fenders - are most tour buses in DC. Drivers grasp a microphone in one hand and steer a 6-ton behemoth through city streets with the other. This violates DC Municipal Regulation 19, Section 47-2836 as well as DC traffic laws, Federal safety regulations and common sense.

Posted by: Mike Licht | July 19, 2007 7:38 AM

When I used to live in Bowie and go to Bolling AFB, I would see a guy in his sedan playing the bagpipes while driving down 295. That was impressive. The usual I see now are the women who are putting on makeup while driving. I'm a woman, it doesn't take that much longer in the house to put on your makeup!

Posted by: k | July 19, 2007 9:11 AM

Sweetheart, I'm a 25 year old white woman, but it doesn't mean I can't recognize bigotry when I see it. And dropping an r accidentally doesn't come close to approaching your level of trollitude, but nice try!

I hope you're enjoying the life under that bridge.

Posted by: Annie | July 19, 2007 9:52 AM

Saw a guy on 95 the other day pleasuring himself while he was driving. I actually had to applaud the guy for when he climaxed, he grabbed a Washington Post and made the best use possible of a Marc Fisher column.

Posted by: Friday Knight | July 19, 2007 9:52 AM

People, it not funny. This area (WMA) is the worse possible geographical entity to drive while distacted. Oh many accidents a day are reported on the am traffic reports? How many can be attributed to distracted driving? There are 5 New York teenagers dead before their time due to the driver texting.

Posted by: A Hardwick | July 19, 2007 12:02 PM

Trumpet Guy will make an amusing corpse, what with the mouthpiece sticking out the back of his head. We'll get some shots of it for when (not if) he shows up on our slab.

Posted by: Mortuary Worker | July 19, 2007 12:02 PM

A couple of weeks ago I was driving on Rt 123 through Tyson's Corners. I turned to my left and the woman driving in the next lane was breast feeding her baby while driving. I hate to think what would have happened if she hit the car in front of her and the air bag went off!

Posted by: Andy | July 19, 2007 12:41 PM

I doubt that it's true, but there's an old urban legend about the police coming up to investigate a fatal accident involving one car and a young couple. The woman was supposedly leaning over from her seat into the man's private parts with his Johnson in her mouth. At the moment of truth, the man lost control and crashed, causing the woman to do a Lorena Bobbit on his member, which the police found still in her mouth.

I heard this in the 1970s in college. It was probably just about as true as everything else I learned in college in those days.

Posted by: Scott | July 20, 2007 9:52 AM

I posted, a few months ago, a photograph of a man playing the trumpet while driving. It can be found here:

And for those who think it a "set-up" or a fake, I was NOT driving when I took the photo. The trumpet player was driving and yes, his car was moving when I shot the photo!

Posted by: Jeff Schwartz | August 12, 2007 12:36 AM

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