Hats that tell

Bill Bishop

December 04, 1992|By Bill Bishop

THE car pulling a two-wheel trailer edged to the side of the four-lane road, as if making a slow exit to the right. It was a good fake. The driver cut the wheels hard to the left, swerving across two lanes of traffic. The car bumped over the median, completing the U-turn by crossing two more lanes before finally straightening out on the shoulder.

People stomped on their brakes and both sides of the road lit up like the Fourth of July. Everyone cursed, slapped wheels, shook their heads -- everyone, that is, but me. It surprised me not a whit that this car pulled a U-ey on a four-lane highway. I had been tipped off. I knew the secret.

The car was driven by a man wearing a hat.

It is one of the absolute rules of the road that men who wear hats are some of the worst drivers on the face of the planet. Their cars drift, jump lanes, turn left when blinking right. Men with hats brake for no reason. They lurch into the middle of intersections and stop. It's better to drive an icy road than to try to pass a man with a hat.

Believe me. Fedora or homburg, Panama or tam-o'shanter, when you see a man with a hat behind the wheel, beware. He's trouble on rubber tires.

The rule of the hat has been passed through the generations. I learned from Vince, who learned from his father, then a bartender at Riney's A-Go-Go in Louisville, Ky. Before anyone in our gang was old enough to drive, Vince repeated his dad's admonition: Watch-the-hell-out for men with hats. It stuck with me, because it has proved true.

(Vince was a well of wisdom. One time, a belligerent science teacher told our class she was going to give a test "all of you will fail." I was in a panic and had my book out before class, studying. Vince, however, sat serenely, staring out the window. I asked what he was doing and he said, calmly, "Why should I study if everyone is going to flunk anyway?" He was right. So, I closed my book and failed the test in tranquillity. Vince had taught me to fold easily and willingly under the waves of fate.)

I have thought these past several decades about why the rule of the hat is true and have come up with no single reason. Vince's dad was not much on theory; the fact that the hat rule was true was good enough for him.

It seems safe to presume that the hat itself is not the cause of the trouble. Rather, the hat is an indicator, a litmus test of driving ability.

My belief is that men with hats are a dead-set lot. They rise early in the morning, put on their hats and get on with business. The hat is protection from the irrationality of life. It shields them from rain of chance and points them bill-straight to the future.

Driving, however, is managed chaos. It requires flexibility. You need to take account of other people, go with the flow. Men with hats are determined to make life, and automobiles, go only their way the hatless take the hindmost.

So, there is trouble. A determined man with a hat who drives into the swirl of human traffic is as dangerous as a box of broken glass. A man with a hat wants to stop when he wants to stop, turn when he wants to turn. Throw that kind of straight-edged will into the swirl of the highway and metal will grind into metal.

There are exceptions to the hat rule. Ranchers who wear cowboy hats and farmers who wear baseball caps (if in trucks) are no more likely to run you off the road than anyone else. Their hats are both signs of their profession and necessary. People who work in the sun need to carry their own shade.

The others, however -- the men who wear little sport caps, or old man hats, or berets, or jaunty plaid hats -- are clearly dangerous. Watch out for 'em.

Bill Bishop is an editorial columnist for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader.

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