A psychotherapist thinks out loud about Being Human, and stuff…

Archive for May, 2018

Pro Driving Tips #2

“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” -Dave Berry

Last week I began a series of driving tips learned (sometimes the hard way) during my fifteen years as an inner city transit driver, and prompted by our grandson’s request. Circumstances are forcing him to learn to drive for the first time, and I want to do my best to give him the tools he’ll need, when he hits the streets. I thought, as long as I was doing this, I might as well pass these precepts along to the rest of you, in hope that we can all do our part to make our streets and freeways safer for everyone.

I offer them in no particular order of importance; in fact, they are all important- or, at least, useful. Read these over, and I’ll be interested in any responses you make.

Form the habit of using your turn signals, even when you think you don’t need to. Make it something you always do, without thinking about it- AND, don’t trust turn signals of oncoming cars, until their intention is clear.

Our turn signals communicate intention, and clear communication is important, in traffic and everywhere else. Let people know what you intend to do. Whether they’re seeing you from the front or rear, they’ll thank you. That said, you can’t always trust a signal. We’ve all seen the guy driving down the street with his forgotten signal flashing, but no intention of actually turning. Annoying, sure, but also dangerous when he enters an intersection, you think he’s going to turn, but instead he continues straight. Don’t be that guy. Pay attention to your signals, and let people know what you’re doing before you do it. Form the habit, early.

Never be the first vehicle to enter the intersection when the light changes. A traffic light does not magically stop automobiles, so look for the guy who is not slowing to stop. When the light changes, take a couple of seconds and glance both ways before entering. If someone looks like they’re going to come on through, don’t get in their way. 

Yes, to get this out of the way, you may, occasionally, get honked at by some impatient “A” type behind you. So what? Remember the first principle: you’re responsible for your vehicle, and the people in it; he is not. The chances are, though, that whoever’s behind you won’t notice, even if they’re not checking their phone. Most of the time, once you’ve checked, you’ll proceed before the people behind you even notice your hesitation. Every now and then, though, when that guy does come on through after the light has changed, you’re going to feel very, very grateful you were watching.

Only drive one vehicle at a time. You cannot control, hurry or “punish” the vehicles in front of, behind or next to you. Attempting to do so only creates a dangerous condition for which you are responsible.

I know. I say this a lot, but this one is a biggie. So many, often deadly, collisions are directly caused by our attempts to play “Road Warrior”. Taking something done by another driver as a personal slight, suddenly enraged, we decide to “teach him a lesson”, and we start tailgating, or slowing down, if someone is tailgating us (rather than simply changing lanes, when we’re able). We speed up or slow down, to prevent someone from changing lanes in front of us because, even though we know it will make no difference in our arrival time, we can’t let that happen.

Understand, please: the roadway is not a combat zone. Let me do that in caps: THE ROADWAY IS NOT A COMBAT ZONE! Despite what our lizard brain (such as it is) tells us, we are not under attack, just because someone else does something stupid or careless, intentional or not. Let your fore-brain do the driving, the part that reasons. It’ll tell you that the sensible thing to do is to let the other diver go his (or her) way, and to breath a prayer of gratitude that you’re not him. Whatever the situation, you can made it worse by escalating, or you can make it better by just… letting it go, and going safely on your way. Sometimes you’ll have to do a lot of letting go, but it’s the smart thing to do, and you’ll feel better about yourself. So will your passengers.


-And, that’ll do it for this week. If you have any comments or responses, please share them. I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, whatever your mode of travel, happy trails to you, and be well!  -Buff


John Brownson, MFT, (“Buffalo”, to his friends) is a Counseling psychotherapist in private practice, based in Emeryville, in San Francisco’s East Bay. He works with individuals, couples and affinity groups of various kinds, to make the world a better living place.



Pro Driving Tips #1

“Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.” -Jim Morrison/The Doors

Nearly fifty years ago, smoke from the dumpster fire of my first career still visible in the rear view mirror, I lucked into a job as a bus driver for a large public transit company, serving the San Francisco East Bay. I’m not at all sure why they hired me- the fact that I’d always loved driving doesn’t seem particularly compelling- but, hire me they did, and I spent the next fifteen years driving inner city buses, after which I took early retirement and started the graduate work that, eventually, led me to what I expect to be my final, lasting career, as a psychotherapist.

At first glance, the gap between driving buses and shrinkery seems wide, but I can tell you that driving an inner city bus is, actually, excellent training for a therapist. Perhaps someday, I’ll write a piece on what I mean- but this is not that day.

If you drive in the city, you’ll be happy to know that months of training preceded the day when I actually began to carry passengers, training that has stayed with me to this day, allowing me to drive, nearly accident (or incident) free for those fifty years. (Can you imagine how nervous I am, to be making that statement? The Celtic gods of my forebears knew what to do with braggarts- so, let me just modify that by saying, I’m doing alright so far, thank you.)

I mention this because this spring our grandson, Michael, completed his studies at the University of Portland, and will, this fall, begin his first teaching assignment, as he works toward his graduate degree. And, I mention this, because, for the first time, he is going to have to drive, a skill he hasn’t needed till now. He has asked me to give him “some driving tips”, and, in response, I’ve tried to remember all the things I learned, both on the job, and on the streets, since. I’ve come up with fifteen “do’s and don’t’s” (so far), and it occurred to me that sharing these precepts with my readers might prove useful, and even valuable to you. I’m going to dole them out, three to a post, complete with comments. I’ll give them to you more or less in the order they occurred to me and (with the exception of the first one) not in any order of importance.

As always, I’ll be interested in any feedback, comments or questions you might have. Buckle up; here we go:

  • You are driving the vehicle. With few exceptions, no one else is responsible. Your job is to be prepared, as much as is humanly possible, for whatever might happen.                                                                                                                            -This might seem a little harsh. After all, stuff happens and we can’t be prepared for everything, right? Absolutely true, but my point (to which I’ll be returning frequently), is that we can be prepared for far more than we think, if we form good habits. Almost every unfortunate thing that happens out there, happens because we missed something, ignored something that we would have seen if we’d been paying attention, failed to prepare for what might happen, or were driving too fast. It’s on us. This was driven home (no pun intended) when I had a minor scrape, early on, and I tried to tell the Supervisor about what the other driver did. He stopped me, and said, “You were behind the wheel, right?” Right. “Well, then, you should have seen this coming and avoided it.” Right. Point taken.
  • In traffic, be aware of, and prepare for, what could happen, not what you think will happen- or what you think “should” happen.    This is a biggie. Whatever we’re doing, we have expectations of others, and this extends to the streets. So often, we expect other drivers to do the reasonable thing, just as we would- to not suddenly pull out in front of you; to stop at a stop sign or light, to not stop abruptly for no reason we can see. Most of the time this works…except when it doesn’t. A good driver is always preparing for the other driver to do the unexpected thing, asking herself how she will react when he fails to stop, or suddenly pulls into her path. Consciousness is your friend, (even when the habit becomes unconscious). Be conscious of what the other driver- who might be confused, stoned, drunk; you don’t know- could do, and be ready. Don’t let wishful thinking drive. That woman taking her sick cat to the vet isn’t watching for you. Watch out for her.
  •  Never drive too fast for conditions. This means, even if conditions dictate a speed slower than the posted limit, travel at that, slower, speed. If you cannot safely stop for a suddenly presenting condition- a child running into the street, for example- you are driving too fast. 

    – This is about consciousness, again; seems to be a reoccurring theme. As you are driving, you are (because you’re a good driver) aware of conditions: kids playing, construction, rain-slick streets, and factor them into your speed. It’s about awareness, and being prepared for the unexpected, but it’s also about physics. Even if you have good reflexes, the amount of distance it will take for your car to stop, or maneuver around a suddenly presented obstacle, will largely depend on how fast you are traveling. The laws of physics apply here (as they do everywhere, as far as I know). See that your speed allows you to react safely.

    And, let’s stop there, for now. I’ve got about a dozen more- I’ll probably think of a few more, as well- and I’ll parcel them out, every week or so. I hope you find some of this useful. Please let me know, and I’ll be seeing you down the trail- whatever your mode of transportation. Thanks for reading, and…

    be well. -Buff