Virtual road trips!

Youtube is my go-to place for … well, just about everything.   Youtube is a wonder and one of its most wondrous gifts is the ability it gives you, the viewer, to travel anyplace in the world you would like to go, and you don’t need a dime.   The #1 thing on my bucket list is to travel the world.  But since I can’t afford to literally hop all over the world on a  whim, I can still get a pretty good facsimile of the real thing by taking a virtual road trip on Youtube.

You can take a virtual road trip almost anywhere in the world on Youtube.  Just type in “driving in” or “driving to” [fill in country, state or city].”   Chances are, there is a video taken from someone’s dashcam of the actual road trip.  Many of these are accompanied by music.   Obvously, some are much higher quality than others.  I prefer the ones where the driver isn’t talking, and just allows you, the viewer to enjoy the view from the car.

Here is an amazing video (it’s almost seven hours long) of the drive from Los Angeles to New York City.   It’s all here, speeded up (and deleting the parts where the driver had to stop).  Viewing it in full will take a long time, but you don’t have to worry about inconveniences like a full bladder, having to stop for gas, or the discomfort of sitting in a car for hours at a time.   While driving through Nebraska, he pulls over to watch the solar eclipse (this starts at about 3:29:12).   I do wish music had been added, but you can play your own driving music while you watch this, if that’s your preference.  I  also like to enlarge the video to full-screen, which makes the experience even more realistic.

I spent yesterday also “driving” through many parts of Europe.   I was surprised by the fact that driving in most European countries is identical to driving here in the states.   You will see the same green road signs and mile markers, road markings, and exit design.   The same road rules that apply here also apply in these countries.   The UK and China (there may be others) are exceptions, because people drive on the left hand side of the road instead of the right.   That seems very strange (and dangerous) to me.  But in mainland Europe, people drive on the right hand side, the way they do here.

Here is an incredible drive from the Austrian-Italian border through the Italian Alps to the town of Tolmezzo.   The drive covers about 258 km (160 miles).

I find watching these videos a great way to relax, have fun, and satisfy my curiosity about what it’s like driving in places I’ve never been.

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The longest, hottest, most boring drive ever.

Note: Photos were not taken by me.  I found them on Google Image.  

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There are many dangers in driving, but one no one ever talks about is the danger of the long, boring drive.   If anything can put you to sleep, it’s the never-changing, flat as a board, monotonous landscape of Eastern North Carolina along US Route 40.     It’s dangerous because the utter lack of any features of interest can make you fall asleep.

I enjoy driving.  It relaxes me.  Sometimes I just get tired of sitting around the house.  I’m regularly afflicted with attacks of wanderlust.   Sometimes I drive places — sometimes far away — not as a means to an end, but for the sheer joy of just driving.  Sometimes I drive to faraway places just to be able to say I drove there, without having a plan once I get there.

I’ve lived in western North Carolina for 23 years but I have never driven across to the east coast and on a whim, I decided to do just that yesterday morning.    Never mind that the drive there and back totals almost 700 miles.  That’s farther than driving to my son’s place in Florida!  Never mind that the weather forecast yesterday called for afternoon thunderstorms and it was a sweltering 90 degrees out at 9 AM.  Never mind the fact that I had no plan and there would be no time to enjoy the beach even if that was my goal   since, because I can’t see well at night, I’d have to turn right back around when I got there and head back.    No, I just wanted to get out of the house and go somewhere I’d never been before.  I’ve never driven clear across my state and decided it was time to check that off my bucket list.

I didn’t expect it to be the most exciting drive ever — remember, I do these drives to relax —  but I wasn’t prepared for just how mind numbingly dull the ride would actually be.   If you’ve ever driven across South Carolina (which I have), it’s like that, only without the palmetto trees and about four times as long (or at least it seems that way).  Also, along I-26 (the route I take to drive through that state), South Carolina’s dull, flat terrain at least is peppered with interesting sights like ramshackle fireworks stands along the roadsides that are open all year long, ancient and abandoned I-houses sitting all alone in fields of tall weeds, sad trailer parks, and Confederate flags waving gaily in the hot breeze.

You also can’t get too bored in South Carolina because I-26 is scary as hell.   Everyone seems to speed on it — the so-called slow pace of the South does not apply on South Carolina highways — and by speeding I mean roaring along at 100 mph when the speed limit is only 65.   The lanes are too narrow and semis and 18-wheelers are all around you, sometimes with only two inches to spare on the passenger side.   It’s common to be completely boxed in by semi-trucks, with a deep ditch on your left as your only escape should one of the truckers decide to switch into your lane suddenly without signaling (another thing drivers seem to do a lot of there).    If you’re in one of the urban centers of Columbia, Greenville or Spartanburg when that happens,  all you can do is pray since there isn’t even a ditch in some places, but a concrete wall.

And there are lots of cops there too.  Cops who allow the speeders to keep on going if they have South Carolina tags, but will pull you over for doing 70 if they see you’re from out of state.  They consider people from North Carolina to be Yankees and apparently hate us.  I know, because I got pulled over in that state twice.  And I’m not speeding type.   In fact, I’m much more the hesitant type that other drivers get mad at for going below the speed limit.  Both times I told the officer I was just trying to keep up with traffic (I was still going slower than almost everyone else), but he wasn’t buying it and still ticketed me.  The first time it happened I had to drive all the way to Travelers Rest to appear in court (this was in the ’90s).  The other time I was allowed to pay by mail.

So my point is, in South Carolina, you can’t nod off from boredom while driving.   Nervous, angry,  hyper-alert, or downright terrified, but I guarantee you won’t fall asleep at the wheel.

iredellcounty

There’s none of that nail-gnawing, white-knuckling, tooth-grinding business along I-40 in North Carolina, at least not east of Raleigh.   Sure, of course, for those not used the the mountains of the western end of the state, the many hairpin curves and steep grades there can cause a lot of gnashing of teeth, cursing, and white-knuckled steering-wheel gripping.  And I do understand about those annoying and sudden telescoping lane changes and merges in the urban areas and during rush hour that can jangle anyone’s nerves, but on a weekend it’s not so bad.  My GPS tells me when these lane changes are coming up, so it’s not really a nuisance or an issue for me.  And once you finally navigate the hundred-plus mile stretch of asphalted urban sprawl with its bloated 6-to-8-lane interstates and all its feeder highways and roads that stretch from Statesville just east of the mountains and the Triad of Winston-Salem/High Point/Greensboro in the Peidmont all the way to the Tri-Cities of Chapel Hill (a charming college town), Raleigh and Durham (still part of the Peidmont), you can rest fairly easy that losing your life on the road is pretty remote (unless you nod off).

Once you pass the massive urban sprawl in the center of the state, which is pretty boring itself (not to mention ugly), you emerge into the Atlantic Coastal Plain, an area that sounds like it could be peaceful and pretty, and to be fair, it is that.   But its prettiness is marred by its devastating sameness.   A long stretch of flat two-lane highway flanked on both sides by endless short pine trees, all of the same size and width, interspersed only occasionally by the odd water tower and farmland as flat as a table, not even broken up by tacky billboards or other jarring sights, can send you into a hypnotic trance.   The various towns are well-hidden along this stretch of I-40, so you don’t even see any tall signs advertising gas stations or fast food places.   It goes on like this for at least a hundred miles, before the landscape changes to a somewhat more coastal-looking one, with even scrubbier, shorter trees and grasslands — but oddly, no visible water.

Granted, the landscape of eastern North Carolina isn’t as  jaw droppingly ugly as the New Jersey Turnpike or as delightfully tacky as US-Route 19 that runs roughly parallel to the west coast of the Florida Gulf,  but at least those things add some interest to the landscape in a kitschy, schadenfreude-ish, thank-God-I-don’t-live here sort of way.   The landscape along I-40 east of the Blue Ridge and the vast urban metropolis that marks the state’s central region lacks any memorable features at all, and all that sameness gives way only to the sad, stunted trees and swampy grasslands of the coastal plain.

ncflatlands

As I drew within 35 miles of the coast, I still didn’t see any evidence of the ocean other than sandy-looking soil along the side of the road and sometimes blowing onto it.     I kept driving, looking for telltale inlets, rivers, or boats, or something indicating the presence of the nearby Atlantic, but nope, nothing.   The stunted trees and sandy soil just got more stunted and sandier, and the land remained as dry as the Sahara.     I kept driving.   25 miles, 20 miles, 15 miles from the coast, but still no water.    Yet I knew I was near the ocean because I began to see fishing tackle places and beach shops here and there.  Here, the lack of trees failed to hide any commercialism lurking behind the exits, and it was hot.  Hellishly hot.

I drove into a gas station and got out of the car to stretch my stiff legs, get a drink and a candy bar, use the bathroom, and fill my tank, and I felt like I was inside a pizza oven. Where was the sea breeze?  There wasn’t any.    The heat was oppressive, sweltering, almost painful.  My brain wasn’t working correctly.  My thoughts limped along like 90-year old men.    I finished my business and got back in the car, immediately blasting the air conditioning.  I noticed the sky was beginning to cloud up pretty badly  and I remembered the forecast about thunderstorms.   I don’t like driving in thunderstorms, and it was also getting pretty late, so I decided right then and there to turn around and head back home — all 350 miles of long, boring drive.   I groaned at the thought of that but what other choice did I have?

The ride home was slightly more interesting.   I got to watch the development of two storms ahead and to the south of me.  I watched the towering cumulonimbus clouds spread out and turn grey-black.   Lightning flashed in the near-distance.   I would have taken pictures except for the fact I was driving.    Fortunately, neither storm hit directly, and the drive back was marred only by a a little rain, not a downpour or a hailstorm.   The storms also cooled things off, and I was finally able to turn off the air and open the windows to let in some fresh air.

I finally passed the storms, and saw nothing but blue sky and the golden light of the late afternoon sun ahead of me.   In my rearview mirror, I saw the most gorgeous rainbow I’ve ever seen.  I wanted to pull over and get a picture of that too, but unfortunately such a thing wasn’t possible in the middle of the interstate.    But I felt like my drive had been worth it, even though I’d never actually made it to the coast.    I took the rainbow behind me and the coppery rain-drenched sunshine ahead of me as validations that my decision to drive hundreds of miles to nowhere in particular for no particular reason had been the correct one.  Besides, people who have driven across the Great Plains tell me that’s even more boring — and there you get tornadoes too.

****

Further reading:

8 Ways to Survive a 637-Mile Car Trip — and Make it Amazing 

15 Things I Love and Hate About Long Road Trips

Driving Before Dawn on a Sunday Morning

8 ways to survive a 637 mile car trip in just one day — and make it amazing.

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I love highway driving and I love long road trips most of all, even if I’m driving alone.   Most experts recommend that for anything over 400 or 500 miles, you should think about staying somewhere overnight and splitting your trip into two days.  It’s good advice, but because I want to spend more time wherever I’m going and less time actually traveling (and saving money by not spending it for an extra night at a motel along the way), I never follow that advice, as sound as it may be.   For anything under 700 miles, I make the whole drive in a day.

I’ve made at least five car trips from North Carolina to the greater New York and New Jersey area, and I clocked those trips at 637 miles one way.  Amazingly,  the Tampa Bay area where my son lives is exactly the same distance from my home in North Carolina as those trips to the greater New York area were — and take about the same amount of hours to traverse.  I also once drove from New York to Chicago in just one day — that was a slightly longer trip at close to 800 miles — but that was a little too much.   I’d definitely split that into two days if I ever had to to it again.

There are apps and online programs that tell  you how long a car trip should take, but you should always add about two hours to it.  Those calculations they give you don’t take into account the various stops you will need to make along the way — and if you’re driving alone (or even if you aren’t), you WILL have to stop.   You can get exhausted and stiff as a board from sitting in a car all day, not to mention you will definitely need to relieve yourself from time to time and fill your gas tank.

Since I’m experienced at one day long road trips and have done so many of them,  I’m going to offer some tips to make your trip not only tolerable, but utterly enjoyable.  I for one, consider the road trip part of the vacation itself — even the road trip back.    As far as I’m concerned, the vacation isn’t over until I’ve stepped inside my house.   The actual road trip is definitely part of the pleasure of a vacation.  I can’t even imagine taking a plane for trips like these because the driving part has become such an integral part of it for me.    There’s a delicious feeling of freedom and adventure driving along the highway, especially when the scenery is lovely and you make music a part of it.

Here are eight things I do to make my long road trips not only tolerable, but an absolute blast.

1. Before your road trip, make sure your car is road worthy and in good shape for a long trip.  Check your fluids, get your oil changed, and get any repairs made beforehand.  If your tires look worn, it’s a good time to replace them.  There’s nothing worse than breaking down on the side of the road 400 miles from your home in an unfamiliar or remote place, especially if you know no one there.  It’s happened to me and believe me, it’s a nightmare and you’ll waste much of your trip with car repairs and towing, not to mention wasting money.

2. Time your trip well.  Leave early enough — preferably very early morning, or even at dawn, to start your trip.   That way you won’t be rushed, and can actually enjoy the drive instead of stressing out over the possibility of being late or arriving late at night — and absolutely exhausted. In my case, I try to time my trips so no to very little time is spent driving after dark — since I don’t see well at night.

3. If you leave at dawn (as I do), there’s something almost otherworldly yet serene about an empty highway with only you (and maybe a few early morning truckers) on the road.   It’s a very zen-like feeling, and you feel like the whole world consists of just you, your car, and the road.   It’s an incredibly peaceful feeling.  Just be sure to carry a thermos of coffee so you don’t fall asleep!

4. Pace yourself.   Never try to drive straight through to your destination without stopping.   Even if you’ve brought along snacks and don;t plan on stopping to eat anywhere, you will almost certainly need to stop for gas or to use the restroom.   Whenever you stop, get out of the car and walk around, stretching all your limbs and getting the blood running through them.   You will be surprised at how stiff and sore your muscles will feel after hours of nonstop driving (or sitting in the passenger seat).   It can be worse than after a workout at the gym!  Spend about ten or fifteen minutes just walking around or stretching.   When you get back in your car you will feel awake and refreshed — and a lot less sore.

5. Stock up before your trip with high energy, healthy, but light snacks.  Granola bars, trail mix, nuts, high energy but filling fruit such as bananas, orange slices in a plastic container,  juice, water and coffee will keep you going without filling you up so much you feel heavy and sleepy.     Cheese sticks or slices will give you the protein you need, but nuts will too if you prefer those.  I don’t like to eat big meals along the road, because they always make me fall asleep.    Keep a thermos of coffee that will last most of the day.  Water is better than soda — if you don’t like the taste of plain water, stock a small cooler filled with naturally flavored sparkling water.  It tastes like soda but is much better for you.  Make sure it’s sweetened with real sugar or a sugar substitute like aspartame if you can’t eat sugar, but avoid anything with high fructose corn syrup.

6. Enjoy the scenery and local customs.   Even in the most seemingly boring locales, there’s always something of local interest to enjoy.   If you stop for gas, look around at the local fare at the gas stations (you may find things there you never saw before and want to try), and spend time people watching to get a feel of the local culture.  Listen to the local accents too.   If the scenery is breathtaking, just enjoy it — but avoid taking pictures unless you’ve stopped the car to take them (or are with a companion who can take them for you).

7. If at all possible, make your road trips take place on weekends.   There’s a lot less traffic on the highways, and you won’t run into annoying rush hour traffic, which can slow you down and make your trip stressful and less pleasurable.   Also, on the weekends, you won’t have to deal with as many semi-trucks and 18 wheelers, which can sometimes become intimidating when you find yourself boxed in by them on the highway.  That probably won’t happen on a Saturday or Sunday.

And finally, this is probably the most important of all —

8. Make music a big part of your road trip.    A road trip just isn’t quite right without a soundtrack to go with it.   If you enjoy listening to the radio, there’s something compelling about just flipping around the stations and finding music you like.  Personally, I love to listen to stations come in and fade out as you enter new cities and regions.   It gives me a feeling of vast distances and a kind of ineffable mystery.   It’s hard to explain but I love it.    I also enjoy listening to my own music on road trips.   If you have a special “road song” you love and that fills you with energy or happiness while you drive, turn it into your own driving anthem.   Here’s mine — the feeling of freedom this song conveys makes me want to roll down my windows all the way and sing as loud as I can along to it:

 

Further reading:

15 Things I Love and Hate About Long Road Trips

15 things I love and hate about long road trips.

natchez-trace-parkway-photo

I adore road trips, and yesterday’s 635 mile drive from west-central Florida, to western North Carolina was no exception.   I love playing music when I drive, but since my car has no CD player and is not set up for playing pre-recorded music right now, I have to listen to the radio if I want music.  I always think it’s cool hearing the various stations fade in and out. I even love that crackle that means a station is coming in or disappearing.  It gives you that wonderful feeling of traveling for very long distances.

Here’s a list of all the things I love and hate about long road trips.

7 Things I Love.

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1. The zen-like feeling of just driving along the highway–no one but you, the car, your deep thoughts, and the road, especially very early in the morning just before or just as the sun rises.

2.  The scenery.  Even if it’s ugly, every location has its own unique “look” and it’s always interesting to see that.   Better still if the scenery is beautiful (but keep your eyes on the road!)

3. Checking out the regional fare at the gas stations and rest stops along the way.

4.  Hearing the radio stations of other states and cities.  Sometimes you get a sampling of the local accent or culture that way.  I love hearing a song I really like, and then I start jamming!   Driving and music go together like peanut butter and jelly!

5.  Seeing the first signs that you’re getting to your destination (a recognizable radio station, actual signs for your destination, the landscape changing to one you’re familiar with).  In my case yesterday, it was all these things, but mostly seeing the distant mountains when I was still in South Carolina.

6.  That feeling of relaxed sleepiness that follows a long day driving.

7.   Counting the miles and/or calculating how many there are left to go.  It appeals to my inner geek.

*****

8 Things I Hate.

Scores Of Travelers Depart For Long Holiday Weekend
Photo of San Francisco jam by David Paul Morris/Getty Images

1.  Having to pee and the next exit is still miles away.

2. Getting lost or taking the wrong exit; I also can’t stand confusing road signs.

3. Traffic.

4. Rude or incompetent drivers who don’t signal, weave in and out, cut you off, or tailgate (my worst pet peeve).

5.  Merges and busy interchanges.  They can be scary!

6. The way your back starts to hurt and your legs and butt feel numb after you’ve been driving for a very long time.  I always have to periodically stop, get out, and walk around to get rid of that feeling.  I usually have to pee or get gas too, so it works out.

7. Dropping food you’re eating while you’re driving where it can’t be easily reached until you stop.

8.  Having to pass an 18 wheeler, especially if there’s a concrete wall on your left.

*****

Further reading:

Driving Before Dawn on a Sunday Morning

Driving before dawn on a Sunday morning.

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There’s something almost otherworldly about driving alone in the wee hours of the morning, just before dawn when the sky is still dark and full of stars. It’s a zen-like experience: the world is silent as it still sleeps, the stores are still dark and locked up for the night, and the highway stretches before you, tapering into a point on the horizon that seems like forever. It’s so quiet you can hear the wheels sing as they progress along on the road. You feel like you’re all alone in the world, but you’re not lonely. There’s just this silence and peaceful solitude, a quiet time to just center yourself and talk to God. It’s a spiritual time; a time to just be.

In about an hour I will be going to sleep. I’m already packed for my 700 mile road trip which will begin at about 4 AM. That’s about three hours before the sky even begins to lighten, since the days are getting noticeably shorter now. By 7 AM, when the sun begins to paint the sky with pink and violet, I’ll already be about 250 miles from here, somewhere near Columbia, South Carolina. Then the world will be waking up and I’ll be thinking about more worldly things, like what I’m going to eat for breakfast–McDonalds or a gas station muffin? I’ll be thinking all about the great time I’m going to have next week and the fun things I will be doing. But I also think this trip is going to prove to be a healing thing for me, a time to reflect, since my son has to work for part of the week and I’ll be spending a lot of time alone by the ocean.

I’ll be taking my laptop with me and posting all about the adventures I have next week, so you’ll still be seeing me around. I’ll probably take a lot of pictures too 🙂

Road rage, bumper stickers and narcissism

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Obnoxious potential road ragers on the left and the right. Don’t get close enough to read their stickers or they might brake check you.

I always enjoy reading the articles on Cracked.com. Some are funny, but I also always learn new things I never knew. Today there’s one called called 6 Things That Annoy You Every Day Explained by Science.
Annoying thing #4 is about the epidemic of Road Rage, which seems to keep getting worse.

The article is hilarious as well as informative. The captions under the photos are always priceless too.

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“I have important, Quesadilla-related business to attend to.”

Believe it or not, road rage increases with number of bumper stickers the driver has on their car. I see a pattern here. Drivers with bumper stickers are more territorial than other drivers, and my guess is that the more territorial drivers are probably more narcissistic than other drivers too. I would also suspect a narcissist would also be more inclined to road rage than a non-narcissist–because they imagine everyone else is violating their territory. The more bumper stickers, the more narcissistic the driver, and so it follows the most narcissistic drivers would also be the most likely to become enraged if someone dares to cut them off, tailgate them, pass them in the breakdown lane, or commit some other rude or not so rude faux pas on the road.

Even one sticker or decal is enough to raise the likelihood of the driver having to be physically restrained by loved ones after somebody doesn’t let him in to the lane in time.

People think of their vehicles as extensions of themselves, and to a narcissist, a vehicle is like his own little kingdom on wheels. A vehicle gives any driver more power (and a way to hide behind a big bad machine even if said narcissist is a 97 pound weakling or a little old lady), but a narcissist will use his vehicle to intimidate, harass and scare others on the road who dare offend him or get in his way.

Wealthy narcissists are probably likely to drive a huge SUV or Hummer or a high end car like a BMW * (see joke at bottom), Mercedes or Prius, and these types of vehicles probably won’t be sporting bumper stickers. Too declasse for a rich, snobby narc.

Someone driving a Ford or a Honda without bumper stickers and who drives in a hesitant manner or is considerate to other drivers and actually does things like yield for them is probably codependent and attracts narcs like honey attracts flies. They’re the kind of drivers obnoxious narcissists in big SUVs like to tailgate and honk at just so they can watch them get flustered and panic on the road. Drivers like me, to be honest. I piss off narcs on the road.

From Cracked.com:

#4. Road Rage

It doesn’t take much to get most of us enraged when we’re driving a car. People cutting us off, people not using their blinkers, people using their blinkers too much, people driving annoyingly blue-colored cars. When someone cuts us off when we’re on foot, we might feel slightly annoyed, but we don’t usually have the same urge to yell, swear and honk a horn at them. Not unless there’s some major problems in other parts in our life, or we’re a clown.

Not all drivers are equally aggressive, though. Some of us just take a few deep, calming breaths when a guy drives all the way past the line of waiting cars in an exit lane, and then cuts in right at the front. Others actually get out of their cars and break his windshield with a crowbar. Why this extra rage?

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Not pictured: The “coexist” bumper stickers on both cars.

What The Hell Is Going On Here?

First, a question: What do you think is the best predictor of whether someone is prone to road rage and aggressive driving? Whether he’s driving a beat-up pickup or a lavender Prius? The presence or absence of prison tattoos? The presence or absence of a crowbar holster on the back of the passenger seat? No. It’s the number of bumper stickers on his car. Even one sticker or decal is enough to raise the likelihood of the driver having to be physically restrained by loved ones after somebody doesn’t let him in to the lane in time.

How does this work? Well, consider the hypothetical person who gets into your personal space on the street. Unless he’s a total dick, chances are he will make up for it in some way. If he doesn’t actually say “sorry,” he’ll usually display some sort of unconscious, apologetic body language. Most of the time, this is all that’s needed to defuse the bumping-into situation. Machines, on the other hand, are incapable of this kind of polite signal, which is probably why you’re more likely to yell at your computer when it freezes up than you are to yell at your servant when he drops your caviar.

When driving a car, we humans consider our vehicles a part of our territorial space. So when someone cuts us off, or behaves discourteously, we instinctively react as if someone had run into us on the street and then ignored us completely.

So what’s with the rage-causing stickers? Scientists have theorized that the act of marking a car means that the driver has a greater sense of this territoriality — in other words, he identifies the car more as an extension of himself. Which is why they feel the need to mark it with a sign of his personality. Researchers have found that it makes no difference whether a bumper sticker says “Visualize World Peace” or “Guns Don’t Kill People, I Do.” To sticker-users, any vehicle-based rudeness means you’ve basically done the road equivalent of cutting in front of them in line and then flipping them the bird two inches from their nose.

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Add in an exhaust fart to the face if you really want to piss them off.

Read more here:
http://www.cracked.com/article_19004_6-things-that-annoy-you-every-day-explained-by-science.html#ixzz3SKQb44GI

* Q: How does a BMW differ from a porcupine?
A: The pricks are on the inside.