The Oxen Are Slow But The Earth is Patient

It’s that time of year again. The summer people are here, and summer is a month away. Tourists are touring on, and if you live here, there are places you just don’t go on the weekend.

It was late Sunday afternoon and we were waiting to turn right onto a divided highway. The migration back to the city was extending our stay at the intersection.

“It doesn’t look like anyone is going to give us a break,” said my wife, “but we’re not in a hurry.”

“It’s a sign of the times,” grumbled the voice in my head, the one that sounds suspiciously like a 6 o’clock news reader, and that gave me pause to consider. Since I had plenty of time to consider, sitting there at the intersection with my blinker on, I considered the following:

For the sake of argument, let’s divide most drivers into two main categories: Those who consciously contribute to the safe and efficient flow of traffic – and those who prefer to get where they’re going before anyone else, by whatever means necessary.

I think we could apply that taxonomy retroactively to the time when the “drivers” were using oxen to pull their carts, and even before. “I have to get to the market before all the best goods are sold,” said an angry driver, laying the whip to his ox. “The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient,” said the farmer, shaking his head.

Not too many years ago, an observant driver seeing someone waiting to turn onto a divided highway might have signalled a lane change and yielded the right lane. You may not believe this, but there was a time when many a driver, upon noticing a line of cars behind him while going over a mountain, would have pulled into a turnout as a courtesy. Once upon a time, tailgating was rated somewhere between rude and dangerously aggressive.

We all know that highway courtesy (and what is courtesy but another form of common sense) is about as rare as a white man in a tv commercial, and those of us who have time to consider such things, might ask why.

“City folk,” suggested another voice, the one that sounds like Jack Palance’s character, Curly, in the movie, “City Slickers.” That voice has obviously forgotten the number of years we spent living in cities and jockeying for position on the freeway, but it may have a point.

If you have lived in a city or spent much time on Interstate highways, you know that the level of aggression on those roads is so common that it isn’t even considered aggression. More people always means there is less to go around of many of the things we value in the country. There is less space, less privacy. There is less time.

A friend from the city visited for a long weekend. He spends several hours every day on 285 getting to work and back. As he was driving us to dinner one evening, he attached himself to the bumper of every vehicle in front of us, totally oblivious as to why many of those drivers were slowing down and glaring into their rear view mirrors. He wasn’t in a hurry. He wasn’t angry; in fact, he was chatting away happily during the whole trip. It was simply that his behavior on the road was common, perhaps even necessary where he lives. (Tailgating can be a sign of impatience, but it also prevents the idiot whipping his ox behind you from pulling his cart into the narrow space between you and the driver in front and causing you and all the drivers behind you to slam on the brakes.)

Life moves a lot faster than it once did, and not just in the cities. There are more of us everywhere, even in the country, and we are all conditioned to expect a constant progression of “more and faster,” faster cars, faster computers, faster food. We are all a little fast and a little furious, and it seems like we are always running late. A little courtesy would go a long way toward improving the flow of things, but patience is not valued as it once was.

“Time is money,” said the merchant while he goaded his ox. “If you run out of money you can make more, but when you’re out of time, you can’t add a single hour to your life,” said the farmer.

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