Assholes and Mud Puddles
Every winter for unknown millennia, storms from the Pacific rush across Monterey Bay and up the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountain Range. By the time they get to Patchen, their clouds are so heavy with moisture they burst open with torrents of rain as if to wash away the whole mountain-top. All of the dams and culverts which I have so cleverly constructed during the previous summer promptly get clogged with leaves and branches and the mud and debris washes down on the patio. The driveway gets covered with its annual layer of original Santa Cruz Mountain mud and it is time for the Spring clean-up.
For as many winters as I have lived in these mountains, I have been cleaning up the mess. It isn’t hard work; standing there with a hose in one hand and a flat shovel in the other, washing the mud down the hill. It requires absolutely no skill or concentration and therefore provides several quiet hours of daydreaming and contemplating the mysteries of life. Many years ago I realized that this mentally-idle time held an opportunity to explore one of the most interesting questions of human psychology — why people go out of their way to drive through mud puddles. The reason might be the same as why kids cannot resist stepping in them. I have not come to a conclusion on that question but in the process of working on it, I have made another even more significant observation.
Toward the end of the driveway, a very large mud puddle forms where it meets the Old Santa Cruz Highway – there has always been a low spot there. I usually pick a sunny Spring weekend to do this. That means there are plenty of cars racing up the Old Highway, trying to get to the beach before anyone else. So, the stage is set for my annual experiment; a big puddle, plenty of cars racing by, and a guy standing next to the puddle. The guy (me) gets drenched with muddy water every time someone drives through the puddle. After nearly twenty years, I have probably witnessed more than 2000 cars, trucks, tractors, busses, and motorcycles. The statistics are therefore significant and the conclusions are unarguable.
- If I stand out of sight of the oncoming driver 36% will drive through the puddle. This is the number of drivers who just really love to do it and will do it if nobody is watching. They do it, knowing full-well that it makes a mess of their cars.
- If I stand in clear view of the driver, the number drops dramatically to between 3% and 5%. It varies over this range from year to year and at first, that seemed to represent the percentage who simply must drive through the puddle, knowing that I will get covered with mud and water. I thought that number represented the “sadistic segment” or perhaps the “stupid segment”.
- Currently, I am of the opinion that it is neither of those reasons, but rather poor eyesight. They simply do not see the puddle or me standing next to it. I believe that because when I offer them a “freeway salute”, they never return it, indicating they simply don’t see me.
- Recently I expanded the experiment to include another dimension. It seems that when I wear my shiny stainless steel Ruger Single-Six revolver on my hip, visible from the direction of oncoming traffic the 3% to 5% with poor eyesight drops to absolutely zero. The inescapable conclusion is that the presence of that six-gun has the effect of improving the drivers’ vision sufficiently that they can see me and avoid the puddle.