Are Missoula Drivers the Worst?


Growing up in a military family, I moved around a lot. I was born in California, but I’ve lived in a couple dozen cities from Hawaii to Florida and everywhere in between. Every town I’ve lived in shared one trait: they all boasted that they have the worst drivers in the world.

Missoula is no exception. Our roads are cluttered with knuckleheads. I’m talking to you, little old blue-haired lady driving the 1967 Dodge Dart, looking like a life-size bobble-head. I see you rolling down Higgins Avenue at a prudent 14 mph, staring intently through the steering wheel, your right turn signal blinking endlessly, seat belt dragging on the road. I can practically hear Paul Harvey blaring on your AM Philco. Come on, Nana, choose a lane and stick with it.

Not that all seniors are bad drivers, nor are all bad drivers seniors. But it’s called a stereotype because it’s based on a kernel of truth. Or, in this case, a caraway seed that gets stuck in your dentures. When you drive like you’re always looking for an address, it might be time to consider public transportation. My own grandmother, Byrdona Wire, finally surrendered her driver’s license when, at age 88, she lost control of her 1974 Datsun and created a three-car pileup, causing several injuries and one fatality. And she was just pulling out of her garage.

But I don’t want to bash on the seniors. Cracked-brain driving knows no age. Exhibit A: anywhere near Sentinel High School around 3:30 on a weekday. As smart as the Hope of America’s Future claims to be, they can’t seem to figure out what to do at the four-way stop at Bancroft and South Avenue. It’s simple, kids, really. Stop. Let three other cars go. Go. And that’s all there is to it! Maybe Sentinel should include that in the curriculum, along with Underwear Goes On The Inside.


Okay, this is new.

I think intersections in general seem to be a mind-blowing concept to high school and college age drivers (I’m generalizing here. Perhaps I should say: anyone driving too fast for conditions, while wearing a flat-brimmed baseball hat, triggering seismographs with their stereos, and/or texting banalities to a friend during a spontaneous lane change). Venture into the university neighborhood during the fall semester, and all the students new to Missoula (Mizzoobs) will come flying through every 4-way no-stop like it’s the autobahn and they’re on their way to snag the last ticket to an Imagine Dragons show.

Of course, the traffic and shitty driving in Missoula is caused, in large part, by the dopey roadway architecture and confusing signage. I swear, I’ve never seen any town that has such a bad case of NoLeftTurn-itis. Trying to turn left onto Brooks anywhere west of Russell? Not possible. I’m afraid you’re going to have to make several dozen right turns until you end up in Deer Lodge, then you can take the freeway back. Caught going north on Higgins after 4:00 PM? Guess what—it’s over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s roundabout we go. The message is succinct, definitive and incontrovertible: No Left Turn!

Still, some people figure they are just too important to heed these signs (I know they can see them—the lighted signs are brighter than a thousand suns) and sit there in the intersection on a green light, stubbornly waiting to turn left, while the driver behind them completely loses his shit, cussing and leaning on his horn like he’s giving CPR to his dashboard.

I turned left once under a sign that read No Left Turn. But it said that because it was a one-way street. Hey, it could happen to anybody, even an expert driver such as myself. I was promptly pulled over by John Q. Law on a motorbike.

“This is a one-way street,” said the polyester-clad cop, who looked like he was younger than the Boston CD playing on my stereo.

“I was only going one way, Ponch,” I said.

“But you weren’t going the right way,” he said.

“How do you know that?” I asked. “You don’t even know where I’m going.”

My sentencing is in two weeks.

Sometimes it’s a force of nature that can cause a driver to screw up traffic. I stopped behind a Honda Civic at Malfunction Junction last week, and there was a young couple groping each other in the front seats, chewing face like one of them was leaving for a prison stint. The light turned green, but the mutual mauling continued. I politely tapped my horn: Hey, buddy, is that a manual transmission, or are you just glad to be here?

Tailgating is another common behavior among Missoula’s patience-challenged drivers. Sometimes I’ll look in the rearview and some shitheel will be so close to my bumper that I can see the color of his nose hairs. One reason for all this vehicular intimacy is interesting bumper stickers. Missoula loves it some bumper stickers, mostly groovy liberal hoo-ha of some kind or another. I always love seeing a Hummer sporting an old Kerry/Edwards sticker, or a Trans Am with Tool roaring on the stereo, with a “Be Your Own Goddess” sticker.

I was trapped behind a maroon Volvo wagon recently on Orange Street, mesmerized by the dozens of colorful hippie stickers that covered the rear window. Head shop stickers. Peace sign stickers. A Grateful Dead dancing bear. Bob Marley’s face next to Che Guevara’s. This thing was a rolling cliché.

I had a meeting downtown, and I was running late. Traffic was heavy. I was losing my patience. “For crying out loud, Cheech,” I yelled out my window. “Can you celebrate diversity a little faster?”

Seeing a chance to pass, I made my move. As I overtook the Volvo, a small bony fist emerged from the driver’s window. From the middle of the gnarly fist extended a slender, wrinkled finger. The driver, a little old blue-haired lady, looked at me with hate in her eyes.

“Asshole tailgater!” she yelled. “Go back to California!”


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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