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Covering All Bases: May 30, 2012

The Long Island 30

This past weekend, an American tradition, the Indianapolis 500 was held. Later that same day, NASCAR held one of its major races, the Coca Cola 600. In both events, drivers steered their vehicles at tremendous speeds while also trying to outmaneuver each other, maintain their course, and make strategic decisions such as when to make a pit stop, and whether to draft behind another race car or make a push for the lead. And they do all this while trying to avoid crashing into a wall.

I have a question for those who drove in these races. Is that all you’ve got?

Here on Long Island we have our own motor vehicle contest which all of us participate in daily. It’s trying to commute back and forth to work, school and all of the other places that we need to get to while trying to avoid being snapped on one of Long Island’s growing number of red light cameras.

Do you think you’re special, Kevin Harvick, because you captured last year’s Coca Cola 600 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel at the end of the race? Please! You may have made all the right decisions to get your vehicle to the checkered flag first, but have you tried approaching one of Nassau’s intersections with a red light camera as the green light switches to yellow? A flood of questions enters a driver’s mind in this situation. Will I make it through before the light switches to red? Is there enough distance for me to safely stop before I reach the white line? Are there any cars also approaching the intersection from a different direction that could crash into me or at least force me to slow down enough so that I won’t get through before the light turns red? Will the car behind me be able to stop in time if I decide to stop, or is the driver too close? Which is worse, a ticket or a smashed rear bumper? If I play it safe and stop on yellow, will I anger the driver behind me and be subjected to the blaring of a car horn while I wait the interminable waiting period for the light to change back to green? And all these questions have to be decided in about one second. Try that Kevin, especially without a crew chief giving you instructions over the radio. It makes Charlotte Motor Speedway seem not so daunting, doesn’t it?

And don’t be too impressed with yourself Danica Patrick. Sure you are the only woman to ever lead at least one lap at the Indy 500, but you did so on an oval track. You didn’t have to make any decisions about where to turn. Not so for us. If you exit the Meadowbrook Parkway at Old Country Road, drive west until you reach Glen Cove Road, turn right and continue onto Jericho Turnpike, you will travel a short distance of about a mile and a half. In that short distance, a driver encounters four red light cameras. Four! Are there ways to avoid this? Perhaps. However, my GPS doesn’t recalculate routes to avoid red light cameras. So either some pre-planning or some en route intuition is needed to tiptoe through the tulips and avoid the dreaded flash of a red light camera. Think about that, Danica, the next time you are not happy with the condition of the racetrack.

Maybe, our daily commute needs a title to emphasize its difficulty. There’s the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500, the Coca Cola 600, so how about the Long Island 30. In auto racing, the number in the name of a race signifies how long the race is, so I chose 30 estimating the length of the average commute. We can work out that detail later.

Then there’s the prize money. Last year’s Indy 500 winner received more than $2.5 million in prize money and, most likely, many opportunities for endorsement deals. The winners of the Long Island 30, those who navigate the maze without getting caught sneaking through a light that changed from yellow to red, get to keep $65 (the current fee in Nassau) that would have been paid in a violation.

And we don’t get to drive into Victory Lane to celebrate with milk, as they do at Indy, either.