BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL
“Traffic lights, also known as traffic signals, traffic lamps, signal lights, stop lights–and also known technically as traffic control signals–are signaling devices positioned at road intersections, pedestrian crossings, and other locations to control competing flows of traffic. (Traffic lights were first installed in 1868 in London and are now used all over the world.)
Traffic lights alternate the right of way accorded to road users by displaying lights of a standard color (RED, YELLOW, and GREEN) following a universal color code. In the typical sequence of color phases:
the GREEN light allows traffic to proceed in the direction denoted, if it is safe to do so; the YELLOW light denoting prepare to stop short of the intersection, if it is safe to do so; the RED signal prohibits any traffic from proceeding.” [Wikipedia]
“What kinds of things do you remember most about your dad? Some little stories or anecdotes? A memory of the past, something that you do that always brings an image that is so vivid it’s like he’s there with you when you do it?”
“He taught me how to drive and be a good driver. He taught me to play the lights.”
“He is with me every time I am driving where there are stop lights in a row: down a busy street–not the interstate. I still do this. He taught me about traffic lights–and their time and speed and distance–long before computerized traffic signals.
I watch my speed, see the lights ahead of me, guess when they might change, see the Walk/No Walk signs for pedestrians–and how much time they have, and I have. This requires good eyes and good judgment. Concentration. Paying attention.
In Chicago, when I drove my mom to work, being able to go from Halstead and 55th to Downtown at the Federal Reserve Bank without having to stop for lights was a feat. Possible. Do-able. I still “play the lights” on certain streets where I live now. Even after all these years. I have to be conscious of traffic and timing. And he’s there with me.
Oh, he also taught me to be a great parallel parker, a skill not often required these days. And to back up using only mirrors (though I wasn’t so good with my mail truck in 1962, breaking off a mirror when I hit the truck next to me).
And to be a good left-turn-er (“Never make a left when you can make a right.”).
I also have to stay between the lines: he hated when I drifted on Garfield Boulevard. This was the hardest part for him to teach me: “WATCHIT! DON’T DRIFT!”
My current driver’s license [still] has Safe Driver affixed to it–a trait I owe to my dad.
© James F. O’Neil 2014
“You are what you were. If you have no past, you have no future.” –Anon. 1991