The Murphy who inspired Murphy’s Law — where if something can go wrong, it will — was a licensed driver.
Actually, he was Air Force Capt. Edward Murphy, who coined the phrase at Edwards Air Force Base in California in 1949, working as an engineer on Air Force Project MX981, testing to see how much sudden deceleration a person can stand in a crash —an experiment city drivers update every Friday night in the Hamptons.
So, if driving these days is driving you nuts, don’t feel special. In Ohio in 1895, it has been reported, there were just two gasoline operated automobiles in the entire state. And they collided.
One of the drivers must have been named Murphy. I would not be surprised if the other motorist was named Hamill.
Whether the Ohio story is true or apocryphal, I was thinking about it and Murphy recently as I sat behind the wheel on Montauk Highway driving from East Hampton to Bridgehampton, inching toward a DWI checkpoint. Even though I haven’t had a sip of alcohol since 1991, I got nervous.
Because when I’m driving, Murphy’s Law applies and something always seems to go wrong.
Do I have a dead taillight?
Will the cops spot that Tylenol I dropped on the floor while driving out from the city and lock me up until the lab can confirm, after a weekend in lockup, that it’s only a Tylenol?
What if it’s a potassium cyanide poisoned Tylenol, like the ones that killed seven people in Chicago in 1982?
Will they try to pin those old unsolved murders on me? Or take me for a Russian agent looking to bump off opponents of pro-Trump Congressman Lee Zeldin?
Are you allowed to operate a motor vehicle on amoxicillin and Tylenol, which I was taking for an infected throat?
Will the Chicken Marsala I had for lunch ignite the breathalyzer?
If the cop asks me to walk a straight line, will I be so nervous that I look like the scarecrow pratfalling toward the Wizard of Oz and I wind up in a beige jailhouse jumper in front of no-nonsense Justice Steven Tekulsky at the East Hampton Town Justice Court, having my license suspended and remanded on a mistaken ICE warrant hold?
“But I’m only taking antibiotics and Tylenol for a bad throat, your honor,” I imagine myself pleading.
“Sure, and you were only slugging the Marsala for that chest cough,” I conjure Tekulsky saying, his face like a brick in the Riverhead lockup where he has me frog-marched in chains.
At the DWI stop, a very polite town cops asks, “How are you, sir?”
“F-f-fine,” I say, like Stuttering John from the old Howard Stern show.
“Anything to drink this evening?”
“N-n-not since October 9, 1991.”
I realize this is probably before he was born.
“Ninety-one,” he says, smiling. “Okay, have a nice evening, sir.”
I was discussing the horrors of driving with an East End native recently and she laughed because I’m a Brooklyn born subway “straphanger” who didn’t even learn to drive until I was 26, when I moved to Los Angeles to write a newspaper column.
My astounded editor’s first assignment: “Go to driving school.”
After I got my license, I rented an apartment in Santa Monica, where my landlord looked like a human rock-climbing wall. His name was Arnold Schwarzenegger whose idea of evening humor was to walk to the carport in the rear of his apartment complex, light a big cigar, and watch me adding new dents to my leased Ford Mustang by crashing into the support columns. When I left my headlights on all night and the car wouldn’t start, I rang Arnold’s bell.
“Arnold, my car won’t start, think you can carry it down to the gas station for a jump?”
We had good laughs about my driving prowess and him insisting to me that he was going to be a “moofie stah.” To which I would say, “Not with that accent and that name.”
Guess who had the last laugh?
Anyway, after I finished my driving history with my East End native friend she laughed and said, “Okay, so, the East End locals know in the winter driving is scary because you gotta watch out for deer popping out unexpectedly. During the summer, it’s the ‘cities,’ aka ‘citiots,’ doing unexpected things like just stopping dead in the middle of the road to take a cell phone call. Or trying to fit their enormous Range Rovers into the ‘small space lot’ in East Hampton Village.”
She says a native friend was walking out of Stop & Shop on a recent morning and sensed a scary presence behind her. “She turned and it was a big Mercedes driving on the sidewalk! Right behind her! The motorist didn’t want to wait behind the person at the parking ticket station, so he created another lane that was half road/half sidewalk.”
That’s why natives call ‘em “citiots.”
She says it used to be if locals saw a black Range Rover, they’d think it was citiot trouble. “Before that, you’d give a Mercedes sedan plenty of room,” she says. “The latest citiot car to watch for is the Mini Cooper. See one of them and you can be pretty sure the citiot driver’s gonna do something crazy.”
Her theory from a lifetime of defensive driving is that the summers here attract entitled out-of-towners who only drive when they’re in the Hamptons.
“So they have no skills or experience,” she says. “But also, many just don’t care.”
Some of her other favorite citiot observations include: Out-of-town 18-wheelers with drivers who don’t know how tall their trucks are, hitting the North Main Street trestle and peeling their truck tops off like sardine cans; meek traffic control officers dressed in black polyester in sweltering August, hiding behind parked cars because they can’t take one more obnoxious city driver yelling at them, or almost running them over; an entire Facebook group formed out of traffic/driving complaints called “Douchebags of the Hamptons,” riddled with photos of mostly “cities” parking in two or three spots, or illegally in handicapped spots.
“One of my favorite is the citiot double-parking directly in front of the store you want to visit, even though there’s an empty space three cars up,” says the driven nuts East End native.
My favorite of her stories involved a friend of hers who went to leave a busy village parking lot one day when two citiot drivers converged, honking at each other and facing off for his spot. “They were playing chicken and had inched so close, he couldn’t get out of the spot that they wanted to get into. So, he pulls back in, puts the car in park, climbs out, and takes his bike out of the back of his truck and cycles home.”
Like the two sole motorists who crashed into each other in Ohio in 1895 and the man who in 1949 at Edwards Air Force Base said, “If something can go wrong, it will,” my guess is that at least one of those two citiot drivers had to be named Murphy.
Good chance the other one’s name was Hamill . . .