It has been six years, but I haven't forgotten this cat, and I doubt if I ever will. Draw up a chair. You'll see why.
The scene was the westbound lanes of U.S. Rte. 50, just before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I was returning from a reporting assignment on the Eastern Shore, which had gone swimmingly (no pun intended, you Ocean Cityers). I was daydreaming about how to organize three notebooks full of quotes when I passed a green Dodge.
I don't know why I looked at the driver, and I'm sorry I did, for I nearly jerked my neck out of line when I did a double-take.
Even though we were both going about 50 miles an hour, this cowboy was reading The Washington Post.
Not glancing at it once in a while, as you might at a map. Not copping a fleeting peek at the furniture ads. Not sneaking a glimpse at the bold-face baseball standings.
No, this guy had the paper folded open and propped up against the steering wheel, and he was reading a story as he drove.
Self-preservation told me to brake sharply, so I could let this clown get far ahead of me, or accelerate sharply, to leave him behind forever.
But morbid fascination made me hang there beside him -- even though it might have been my own morbidity I was inviting.
Matching his speed, I camped beside his driver's side door and watched the driver drink deep optical swallows of what looked to be the A section.
He'd read for ten seconds, then look up at the road for one, then read for ten, then look up for one. In other words, he paid just enough attention to keep from bashing into the guard rail, or me, but no more.
It went on like this all the way across the bridge. Only as he approached the toll plaza did Our Hero put the paper aside. As soon as he had paid, back out came the paper.
Now, in one way, it's hard for me to hate a guy who's that interested in The Washington Post. Not only do I get paid with comforting regularity by this newspaper, but I've gotten similarly engrossed in stories many times.
Once, my nose was so deeply imbedded in the Weekly that I reached across the breakfast table and put salt on my cereal. If a Post story grips someone as hard as the man in the Dodge, maybe we should feature him in one of our ads rather than condemn him in one of our columns.
Still, cereal is one thing and the Bay Bridge is another. The man was a manifest menace. At least I felt confident that he was an isolated one.
But in the last couple of weeks, motorized Post readers have struck again. Twice. Luckily, I don't literally mean that they've struck, although they didn't miss by much.
Case One: Marie Annette Connell of Forestville is driving along Kenilworth Avenue at 9 a.m. on a weekday. Traffic is heavy, of course. She stops for a red light at Greenbelt Road. The man in the car next to hers is reading The Post.
"The light went green and traffic started to move and the guy was still reading the paper," Marie Annette writes. When she honked, he replied with an obscene gesture and sped off. So engrossed in The Post had he been that he had drifted to within two inches of her car, she estimates.
Case Two: Harold Feuerman of Bowie is driving along Annapolis Road in New Carrollton when he notices another preoccupied Post reader rolling along beside him. It's a nice day, so the windows are open, allowing Harold to shout:
"Hey, you nut, what're you doing driving and reading at the same time?"
"It's a free country," replied the other driver, a young man who thereupon went back to his 25 mile-an-hour perusal of the Style section.
But it won't be any kind of a country for the people this Rolling Reader kills some day. Join me, won't you, in pledging three things:
*That you'll put a pad and pencil in your car today, and...
*That you'll use them to write down the license number of anyone you see driving and reading at the same time, and...
*That you'll let the police have that information as soon as you can.
Maybe walking and chewing gum at the same time is possible. Sooner or later, reading and driving at the same time isn't.