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High Beams, Brights, or Hypno-Aggressifying-Stimulights

I used to have a problem. I don’t anymore.

While driving home tonight, a compact, highly fuel-efficient-looking vehicle pulled in front of me in such a way as to indicate that the driver was either drunk, high, manic, texting, or listening to the music in between news reports on NPR.

The body of the car was covered in professional artwork advertising a local solar company, such that I couldn’t discern its make and model. The driving was so bad I almost memorized the phone number on the rear window to report their reckless driving to the company.

Before I had a chance, the car changed lanes and I happily passed to the right.

The gears of my mind automatically shifted back to Autopilot Mode, a trance-like state I enter while driving, bathing, and karaoking that somehow gets me to my destination with little memory of what happened along the way.

A few moments later, I again snapped out of Autopilot Mode when I noticed through the rearview mirror that a car was flashing it’s headlights at me. Their lights flickered on and off several times.

I was surprised to find that the solar company car was the flasher when it passed me again. A young man was driving. While passing, he flashed his lights and made pointing gestures toward the front of my car.

It took me a second to realize that my brights were on. I turned them off. He then drove away into the night.

Yes, I call the brightest light setting on a vehicle “brights.” You may call them by the more correct “high beams.” I never liked “high beams” because:

  1. It’s one syllable longer than “brights.”
  2. When someone calls them “high beams” they sound like a DMV driving test.
  3. The term “high beams” draws attention to another term I don’t like, or “low beams.”
  4. “Low beams” suggests to me that the light isn’t that bright. Fact is, low beams are very bright.
  5. I think “parking lights” should be called low beams and low beams should be called “just right beams.”
  6. High beams should be called “brights.”

As for the driver tonight who put in a lot of time and energy to tell me I was using my brights, little did he know my story.

I am intensely familiar with irritating drivers who use their brights in the wrong places because I used to be one of them.


Why I Drove at Night With My Brights On for Nine Years

Post-Thanksgiving Black Friday 2003 was my most memorable Black Friday shopping experience and my only Black Friday shopping experience. It involved shopping for a new car.

I’m one of those weird people that enjoys the car buying process because I’m really, really good at it.

The new car I was shopping for was to be new for me, not brand new. The car I settled on was a few years old and had a sleek, modern look to it.

I found two cars of the same model, year and color: one in Maryland and the other in Virginia. I worked the salesmen at both dealerships into the ground. Ultimately, we went with the car in Maryland because I negotiated an incredible deal even I couldn’t believe.

Turns out, the car I drove off the lot that day had sustained significant front-end damage on the dealer’s lot that had gone unreported, which is why I’m really terrible at negotiating for cars.

One night soon after my purchase I noticed a car in the opposing lane flashing their brights at me.

A few days later, the same thing happened at a red light when a car flashed its lights at me.

Not long after that, a car that had been in front of me moved behind my car and began flashing their lights.

As dumb as I am, I began to notice a pattern.

I tested the lights one day to see what was the matter and found that my low beams were actually as bright as high beams.

Even more amazing was the fact that the high beams were so bright they could have lit Dodger Stadium. I say that because during a southern California power grid failure in 2004 my car was actually used to provide light to Dodger Stadium.

After I made the discovery of my vehicle’s defect, I prepared myself for a glorious defensive measure that would teach every brights-hater not to mess with me.

The next time a driver flashed their lights at me, I would flash my true brights back to show them they were flat wrong.

Soon thereafter when I was confronted with a light flasher, I was reflexively unprepared. Angrily, I slammed my fist against the steering wheel, accidentally honking the horn.

The time after that when a driver flashed their lights at me, I again wasn’t fast enough to react. Right after they passed me, I flashed my ultra-brights back. But it was too late.

I began to drive with my right middle finger wrapped around the lights lever, ready to pull it when a good citizen flashed their lights at me. It must have been nearing Christmas because for at least a week-long period, no one did.

Then one day, I remember it as if it were a decade ago, driving well after sunset on Magarity Road in northern Virginia, an oncoming vehicle flashed their lights at me several times.

What do you think I did?

I flashed my lights back at them. Several times. I shouted an unintelligible battle-cry.

I won.

For nine more years until my car passed away peacefully in my garage three days before Christmas in 2012, I flashed hundreds, perhaps thousands of times at the kind of people who want you to stop driving with your brights. I grew to consider these people as my enemies.

Because it was always dark during these encounters, I never saw my enemy face to face.

There are so many people in the world who feel that they must take action driving in front of or facing someone who has their brights on.

I don’t know who they are or why they hate brights so badly.

Are you one of those people? If so, I come to you in peace. I want to know more about you. I want to understand you.

What are your motivations? Do bright objects startle you? Are you an educator? Do people find you annoying in person?

If you were one of the hundreds of people I flashed back with my ultras and you’re just now discovering who I am, how did you feel when you found out I wasn’t technically driving with my high beams?

Can we set aside our differences and begin anew?