Sunday, 27 May 2012

The rear view mirror

Some nasty men claim women use it to tweak with their make-up and apart from this the mirror attached to the windscreen is of no use for them. In fact drivers who do not use all three mirrors to control situation on the road almost constantly are more likely to cause an accident than those who use it as prescribed. Apart from keeping track of traffic when the car is in motion, it is worthwhile to look in the mirror inside the vehicle to look at other car users while, for example, waiting for the traffic light to turn green.

Until some time ago, I could enjoy typical sights – women enhancing their make-up, men shaving their facial hair, humans of both sexes talking on their mobile phones, smoking or having their fingers exploring the contents of their noses. The times of ordinary views in the mirror are gone. It’s getting worse…

I can distinguish two types of drivers: most travel on their own, minority take passengers. The former appear either impatient or jaded. Those for who every second is precious would be the happiest if they could push other vehicles away, faces of the more bored drivers show less and less interest in what is going on around – they drive because they have to, it can be judged by their faces they do a routine activity. I usually commute on my own and usually lean towards the “jaded” type… Aggression behind the wheel is not a good advisor…

More interesting are interactions between people travelling in the same vehicle, and here my observations are more disturbing. The first instance is no communication at all – a car is moving behind me for a longer period of time and its passengers show no sign of conversation. I assume they are not strangers for each other / one another, so I suppose it would be natural to talk. It does not happen. I also quite often notice whole families (parents and children) occupying one car and each member of family is doing something else – a driver focuses on traffic, one of the passengers looks outside a window, another reads a book or fiddles with a mobile phone. In times when people spend most of the time outside home, commuting together seems a good opportunity to talk, but for many silence seems to be a preferable option. Or am I the only one to find this strange?

The second instance are arguing people – more and more often I can see in my rear view mirror couples falling out – yelling, waving their hands, their faces getting red. The same applies to parents driving their children to school. For smaller children the case is usually that the unruly offspring wind up their parents. Teenagers in turn behave seemingly properly but fall out over more serious issues. Shouts and gesticulation also in abundance.

Even leaving out the fact quarrelling distracts drivers and may contribute to dangerous situations on the road, my conclusions are unsettling – a malaise overwhelms the society…

I used to commute by public transport only, I still cover more kilometres in public service vehicles than by car each working day and I find populations of car commuters and public transport users entirely different. Generally speaking, those who get around by car are wealthier than those using the public transport. It does not apply to people who live in areas with excellent transport links into centre of Warsaw who use underground as a faster and more convenient for getting into town, but the regularity remains. Judging by what faces of people sitting in other cars and faces of fellow bus / tram / underground passengers express, I infer those who take the public transport are happier than car users.

Some explanations could be found right away – if you travel in a public space with your family, you are generally less eager to wash your dirty linen than in the private space of your depreciating tin. Going further, money does not have to bring happiness; in many cases wealth, if not accompanied by what really matters in life (bonds with family and friends, self-fulfilment, etc.) can bring discontent. The more you have, the more you want to have and the less you are satisfied with what you have achieved, the less you appreciate what you possess, while you should.

For an upbeat ending – I do not consider what I spot among fellow road users significantly upsetting. The sample I observe is not representative for the whole Polish society, although indeed people’s moods have seen better days. It seems the second wave of financial distress (debt crisis in the euro zone) will hit Poland more severely than the aftermaths of banking crisis in 2008. Poland’s GDP is not going to shrink, again, unemployment is unlikely to soar, but is poised to go up, but consumer confidence that kept the Polish economy afloat in early 2009 gives signs of dwindling. More people are afraid of losing their jobs, households are less eager to finance their consumption with debts, purchasing power is on decline due to cost-push inflation (higher prices of food, utilities and fuel, partly owing to excessive volume of speculation on commodity markets and “thanks” to weak PLN, which now, when corporate sector is not throttled by over-hedging, boosts our competitiveness), as growth of salaries has ceased to catch up with the pace in which prices of basic goods mount. Insecurity can be felt in the air (brutal lay-offs are under way in my company), so gloom is likely to prevail and because in economics agents’ actions bring forth a mechanism of self-fulfilling prophecy, I expect harder times than in 2008-2009, not in figures issued by the Stats office, but among ordinary people.

Next week – a short guide to being fired in a corporation – onlooker’s impressions.

In two weeks – road construction programme review at the onset of football championship – will Warsaw be linked to European network of motorways by then?

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