Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Contemplation on Road Rage

I'm sitting here after getting my work done for the day, listening to the ding-dongs outside honk their horns at each other. It's 4:30 PM, EST, so people are heading home, and unfortunately we're at the intersection of two busy streets, and there is no left turn signal to the two-way street which crosses the intersecting one-way street, and invariably this causes backups and frayed nerves, resulting in some ridiculous horn mashers. That aside, I was reminded of what happened to Feri and I earlier this morning and now that I've gotten some distance on it I want to write about it.

There was a road rage incident and I was in the middle of it. Unfortunately Feri was with me and had to suffer through the whole thing. Now my wife is one of the kindest souls on the planet (what she's doing with me as her husband is a constant source of amazement to me and no end of contemplations along the lines of "How in the world did I get so lucky?!?", believe me) and
it's anathema for her to show anger publicly, it's just not cool, it's low-class, it's just not done. Fortunately it wasn't me acting like the total fool, but mind you I did help to set the stage.

Some background: We live in Rhode Island. I think it bears keeping in mind that this state ranked last in driver knowledge in a recent ranking of state drivers. Frankly, I'm not surprised as the drivers here are, often enough, crazy. I'd like to blame what I see on the road as being due to the Boston drivers coming through on their way to Connecticut or New York, but alas, the drivers I note tend to have RI tags on their cars. However you cut it, this can be a rough and tumble driving environment, and it's often reflected in the aggravation, expressed in actions (frequent incessant horn blowing, odd ball road tactics intended to --- what, I'm simply not sure, and looks of rage to make Jack Nicholson in The Shining merely appear as if he had a mild case of constipation vice a severe attack of psychopathic possession) that often defy any semblance of common sense or desire for neighborly good grace.

On Monday and Friday Feri and I normally treat ourselves to a simple morning breakfast of a couple rolls (two sour dough for Feri, one for me and a walnut raisin roll), latte, and Naked Juice (usually Blue Machine --- yummmmmmmmmm), at a place not too far from where we live called Seven Stars Bakery. If you live in RI I highly recommend you visit the place, if you happen to visit the city of Providence ditto. So this morning we made our way to Seven Stars,
indulged our usual routine, and we were on our way back to drop Feri off at work at the lab for her day, with my following onto attending to the oddities of my day. We were traveling up Hope Street, a two to four lane road depending where you at in it, and as I made my way a large gold SUV, probably on the order of an Escalade, moved itself about half way into the single lane I was traveling in. The driver, a woman I swear looks VERY much like the lady with the lug wrench in her hand above (a little older, dressed a bit more conservatively, walking with a cast on her right leg --- well, I'm pretty sure it was her right), responded to my short beep on the horn (honest, just enough to get her attention, making minimal noise for 9 AM) by giving me a look to melt cast iron steel with. Well, I'm from NY, grew up in the Bronx, and I can be as stupid as the rest of them --- I simply shrugged my shoulders and moved my way around her, causing her no apparent end of aggravation and evoking a crescendo of horn bleats from her monster vehicle, which she proceeded to move forward to cut me off, but by the time she reacted her only option was to broadside me --- fortunately she didn't do this as she would have been taking out my wife, not me, and I'm sure I would have gotten a tad bit homicidal had that occurred.

Ok, keep in mind, we're on a two lane street, one lane in each direction. To my left is a gas station (my guess is that she was situating herself to get into the gas station by blocking traffic in my lane, waiting until the traffic in the opposing lane had passed --- she didn't mind blocking
traffic to meet her needs), and at this point I've moved to the traffic light where I was obligated to stop. She now pulls up on the left side, effectively blocking any oncoming traffic in the opposite lane, and rolls down her window. Whooooooooa ... she wants to yell at me from her chariot of energy excess --- I'm stunned, but then not about to listen to her yelling at me from her SUV, so I move my car, therein committing a tactical mistake by backing away from her since I figured she can't yell at someone who isn't there, right? No, this was a woman with a mission, and I was way off the mark on thinking anything about this was going to be easy.

So I pull back, fortunately her moving in front of me as she did left me room for this, and she moves forward, but not just moving forward but taking her vehicle and parking it at a 90 degree angle to the street we are in, effectively entirely blocking off the lane I'm in. This I hadn't anticipated at all, though I'll certainly keep it in mind in any future situations like this. She has now blocked traffic, the only way to get around her is to move my car over into the oncoming lane, and the climax of the moment was yet to come. She steps out of her vehicle, at which point I see the cast on her right leg, and she proceeds to limp her way over to my car. I'm incredulous --- this woman is yelling at me as she moves towards my car, demanding I open my window. I had enough presence of mind to know that opening my window was not the thing to do, and then she went on and on about what I can't really recall, and my saying something to her through the window to the effect of "You're not supposed to be blocking the street" --- duh. I do remember her standing there and saying, "Well, see how much pulling in front of me got you anywhere!" I also recall, as I moved to make my way around her vehicle and seeing a bus coming at me, her saying, "Go ahead, go, there's a bus there!" Whooooooooa ... the bus passed, and I stupidly made my way around her. Stupid, you ask? Why? There was more traffic there, but it seemed they were in something of a shocked state themselves as they sat there watching what was happening, for as much as they could see, so there was no immediate danger, though, alas, I had no way of knowing this and I could very well have gotten into a collision, but at the same time I had no clue what this lady was going for in her vehicle and at this point I didn't put anything past her.

Part of the problem with this is that so much happened in such a short period of time that I wasn't sure how to put it all together. Pulling in front of someone as I did this woman, who shouldn't have been waiting in the street where she was to begin with, should not have induced lunacy on her part. Lesson here: I'm not sure --- don't pull out in front of someone who's waiting to get into a gas station who otherwise clearly feels she/he owns the road? Maybe that is the better thing to do, I still have to mull that one over. I am pleased with myself, to the extent that this is possible given how all this unfolded, that I didn't get into an expletive match with this woman, or otherwise get crazy about the whole thing --- frankly I was too stunned by what was happening and I was very conscious of Feri being in the car and what this must be doing to her to allow any rage of mine to kick in. Feri was upset, though she took it better than I would have hoped --- it was sort of hard not to be impressed by the extent of how far this SUV woman was "out there" and I think this gave me some measure of cover with Feri. After it was over and I had dropped off Feri I was seething --- I was bent with myself over anything stupid I had done, and there was this desire to put this stupid woman in her place, with her driving her faux-gold SUV and hogging the road. It was about at that point that I realized I had some anger management issues to work through --- not horrible ones, clearly, but running scenarios through my mind where I stuffed this woman up the tail pipe of her gas hog (and in all honesty this was one of the nicer thoughts running through my head) was definitely not healthy and totally counter productive.

A definite take-away lesson from all of this is that I need to be more consciously mindful of being respectful of people on the street or in their cars, even if they've managed to do something that for the life of me has me convinced they're morons or selfish buttheads. I need to instill a greater sense of reverence in myself. I am reading a book by Paul Woodruff, appropriately entitled Reverence, where he tells us "Reverence is the virtue keeps human beings from acting like gods." The woman in her SUV was not in the least bit reverent, for that moment in her anger nothing in the world existed but herself, nothing else mattered but getting back at someone whom she believed, in however petty a fashion it may have been, somehow had done her wrong. I was not reverent of drivers in the opposite lane when I zipped around this woman's tactically situated SUV. I can't say whose lack of reverence was the worst, though off the top mine seems like it would have resulted most easily in someone being hurt so I have to say I was the most lacking in a necessary sense of reverence. I need to make sure this isn't a habit, I need to make sure I have more presence of mind in situations such as this and that I don't contribute to bad situations spiraling into something worse, and I need to be more reverent of my fellow human beings, even those who give me no immediate reason whatsoever to like them.


Blogger GrrlScientist said...

It seems like the size of SUVs make people's egos inflate correspondingly. Normally mild-mannered people seem to become tigers after they've been behind the wheel of an SUV for very long. She sounds like a whack-job. I am glad she forgot her tire iron yesterday.


8:54 AM  
Blogger James said...

"I am glad she forgot her tire iron yesterday." You and me both!

9:30 AM  
Blogger BotanicalGirl said...

I would have called the cops and reported a driver behaving erratically. May not have done anything, but if any of the other nearby drivers had done the same, you bet they'd check it out.

1:49 PM  
Blogger James said...

Actually that makes for a great idea: Calling the cops may not be necessary so much as simply picking up the cell phone and appearing to call the cops, in the course of this making like you're taking note of the license plate, etc. THAT would have gotten her attention!

Something to remember. I think actually calling the cops, shy of being really threatened, would have resulted in more aggravation than anything else, though if there were back up she'd have a hard time making a case that she wasn't erratic, and sure as heck she was.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Josh Canel said...

A friend of mine has created the following syllogism to deal with "bad drivers."

First, one must admit that bad drivers are stupid. Oh, they may very well be smart in non-driving ways, but on that road, they're stupid.

Second, stupidity is a handicap. While education is an environmental factor that can go a long way in influencing how stupid one may end up, we are basically stuck with some genetics that make us bright or not so bright.

Third, if a handicapped person in a wheelchair missed the Don't Walk sign by enough seconds that you're forced to wait a bit at a green light, you're probably able to go, "Oh, well. The poor guy can't help it."

Conclusion, as the handicapped people that they are, bad drivers are to be looked out for and treated with patience.

Or something like that.

8:47 PM  
Blogger James said...

:::Smiling::: I'm not sure if I'll be totally able to absorb the philosophy, but I appreciate the logic, the perspective of understanding and kindness that goes with it. Something for me to aspire to!

9:10 PM  
Blogger Africanuck said...

How about this then: Bad drivers will eventually remove themselves from the gene pool? lol

8:15 AM  
Blogger James said...

Likely not quick enough before they take a few of us with them, I would guess.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Dr. Charles said...

i'll take your sounds advice, thank you. the idea of reverence is a good one. i've begun playing classical music or jazz on my commute home each night so that i can drown out the curses and invectives in my head against the a-holes sharing the road!

10:59 AM  
Blogger James said...

Dr. C --- I strongly recommend Woodruff's book "Reverence". I find that I need to re-visit it myself. For some reason it seems so very easy to lose track of the foundations it alludes to, and that's not a good thing.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I often think non-working SUVs contribute to the human issues on the roads. People who buy trucks and SUVs for practical reasons don't have time to haggle over 20' of asphalt along a public road. The rest ~ well, it's like Huge SUV + teeny cell phone = success. Silly people!

1:04 PM  
Blogger James said...

You're SO right --- somehow what we drive and own for toys is more an indicator of what we are as a person than the person we really are. How skewed, artificial, and, as you said, silly.

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry James, but it sounds like you screwed up by passing her while she was waiting to turn. At least this is my impression.
She got mad and confronted you and you made another mistake by not either saying that you felt you were right or by admitting you were wrong. (In a calm manner.)
Instead you try avoiding the issue and then after its all over, THEN you "run scenarios" through your mind as to what you should/would have liked to have done.

One way or the other, either you were right or you were wrong.
Stick by your guns if your right or have the guts to admit you were wrong.

Have a great day.

1:24 PM  
Blogger James said...

If it were as considered AND as logical as you convey it, interestingly enough sans your being there, I'd say you were right, but that's not quite how it unfolded.

Now regardless of what I did, shy of hitting her vehicle or herself, there was no way to justify her whipping her SUV around my car, parking it at a 90 degree angle in the middle of the street effectively blocking traffic, and then her walking out of her parked vehicle and confronting me directly at my window - what possible scenario are you reading that would in anyway justify such aberrant and potentially dangerous behavior?

The point of the posting was to facilitate reflection, and indeed my mistake here was in not calling the police as a woman who clearly took the situation way beyond anything it should have come to screeched outside my window. There was no opportunity for rational conversation with a woman clearly pissed off and clearly doing something illegal that she didn't much care about - she had a point to make and it was anyone's guess as to how far she was willing to go to make it.

"Then you run scenarios through your mind ..." -- what world do you live in? I suppose given how you come across here you're always sure how to act when it's needed and you have no need for thinking about it or what you should have done in the event you encounter such a situation again in the future. No, I guess some of us have it wired like that, and unfortunately I'm not one of them. When I've been involved in something that makes me question what happened and what part I played in it I think it merits some thoughtful reflection and introspection, and that was what this was all about. I might add that having someone who doesn't know me advising me about having the guts to admit I'm right or wrong - well, thank you very much.

Your advice is noted, not that it was needed or, in point of fact, especially appreciated.

4:01 PM  

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