Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I Brake for Baby Seals: On choosing your battles, and other life lessons.

There's this awful Geico commercial that shows squirrels as they take turns sprinting into the path of an approaching car, competing to see which one can cause the most accidents. The little miscreants give each other high fives whenever they send a motorist spinning off the road. I think that actually happens. I mean, seriously- have you ever seen an animal, from a distance, wavering on the side of the road, pacing, faltering, calculating, waiting for the right time to cross? And have you also noticed that the moment of their bravery is often followed immediately by their moment of reckoning? What exactly is happening here? Is this a depth perception issue? Is it untreated animal depression? A possum at the end of its rope? What aspect of a raccoon's meandering gait makes him think that crossing a street is ever a good idea?!

When I was growing up, my parents would tell me about the horrific car accidents that people got into when they swerved to avoid hitting some animal in the road. Did your parents do this? My mom would bemoan the ridiculousness of the crazies who gave into temporary insanity and lost control of their vehicles, veering into another lane in order to avoid hitting a comparatively insignificant fuzzy thingie. I have to say I agree; the exchange of human for animal is quite a short-change.

Now before you all PETA on me, let me say that I love animals as much as the next person. I heart kittens and stuff. Sarah McLachlan's blatantly manipulative ad for the SPCA tugs at my heartstrings and I cry when I watch Old Yeller.

But I also love my
own life, thank you very much. And my mom has promised me that if I ever swerve to miss a animal darting out into the road, she will kill me.

So here's whats running through my mind this past weekend as I'm driving along a dimly lit country road in my newly acquired little 87 Toyota Corolla; I hunker down at the steering wheel as my eyes dart to the right and left, assessing possible animal movements. And all the while, I'm preparing myself for the fact that I
will not stop in the event of an unexpected animal crossing. Its like a recording I play in my head as I go: Thou shalt not stop, thou shalt not stop.... There are enough cars driving in either direction on this two lane road that swerving or braking suddenly would jeopardize the lives of fellow drivers. Its kind of a sad and scary thing, practicing an unwavering, rather militant trajectory and hoping against hope that Peter Rabbit doesn't run out of Lithium and decide to throw himself under my tires.

Its important that we know how we will react if this ever happens, because... it happens. I nearly swerved across the off-ramp on my way to church last weekend in an attempt to avoid hitting what appeared to be an unusually large kangaroo rat, or a very small possum, twiddling his little thumbs on the shoulder, carelessly skirting the line between life and death. Neither of these creatures would be pet of the month; their presence prompts a call to the exterminator. But the swerve instinct is inborn, I tell you. Next to me was a minivan carrying a family of non-possums, innocently going about their business, blissfully unaware of the sudden dilemma I had faced in the neighboring lane.

Its difficult to drive through rural countryside and know that your disciplined callousness toward squirrels and possums is really for the best. Breaking for ROUS's is a bad habit.

Larger, cuter animals are a different story. You know the ones... deer, cows, dogs, cats, owls... (Cats aren't
really larger than possums, but how many people keep domesticated possums and tie little bells around their necks and give them scratching posts in their living rooms? Ask Jeff Foxworthy and Roseanne Barr for exact numbers.) You wouldn't want to hit a deer, either. At least, not with your car. If you want to hit them with other things, thats your business... But its Bambi; and depending on what car you drive, you never know who will come out on top in this sort of encounter. My car would put up a mighty fight but she'd probably be put out of commission. As for owls; well, those winged creatures.... they definitely choose you. It's a special moment. Our windshield, for example, experienced the impact of an owl the size of a tricycle.

To swerve or not to swerve; that is the question. But it is not nobler to die so that Reepicheep and Alvin can live. These are the things they don't tell you in school. Secretly, they hope that you
will brake/swerve. If you don't, possums and kangaroo rats might become endangered, and then we wont be able to drill for oil in our attics, basements, and other traditional rodent habitats, until all the rodent life is re-located to ANWR. If you die or get maimed in the process of swerving to save, at least you had good intentions. Which is a sweet sentiment, really. And so is socialism.

So don't jump on the bandwagon of "I Brake for Baby Seals." As Jimmy Neutron's father said: "Well, Jimmy, if all your friends were made of cliffs, would you jump off them? I don't think you would."

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