“Beautiful area, nice people, but I don’t like the way y’all drive,” said the visitor to the resident. “You drive too slow, and you know you’re going to drive slow, but you still wait until the last second to pull out in front of me,” he continued. “If you can’t see any better than that, might want to get your eyes checked.”
“Don’t like the way you drive either,” said the resident. “If you’re here on vacation, what’s your hurry? Do you think riding my bumper is going to make the five cars in front of me go any faster? Do you get extra points for being the first one to the traffic light?”
“Do you have to hog the left lane all the way from Hiawassee, just because you’re planning to turn left in Blue Ridge? The visitor continued. “You would never make it on the Interstate.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, 76/515 is not an interstate highway or a controlled access road, and there are lots of left turns between here and there. Besides, I don’t want to “make it” on the Interstate. That’s why we live here. Why are YOU here?”
The conversation ended abruptly, and it occurred to me that I probably wouldn’t like the way either of those guys drive. I don’t like the way emotion crosses the boundary between the skin and the steering wheel, or the foot and the gas pedal. I don’t like the increasing aggression on our roads, active and passive, including the guy who rides your bumper as well as the one who passes you, only to immediately slow down. I don’t like the one who slows down and taps the brakes when you’re 5 car lengths away, and then speeds up 20 mph when you get to the passing lane.
I don’t like the fact that traffic jams are the cumulative result of individual acts of selfishness and stupidity. I don’t like the territory between cussedness and cluelessness which prevents most people from using a pull-out on a mountain road when there is a line of cars behind them, and a simple act of courtesy could eliminate a lot of unnecessary frustration.
Simple acts of courtesy seem harder to come by on the highway. If the way people drive is a measure of the state of civility in a civil society, then we may be in trouble. I don’t want to share the road with people impaired by emotion any more than I want to drive amongst those who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol – both use the same systems in the brain, and the results can be identical. There have always been hot heads on the road, and idiots, and people with the coordination of a half grown puppy. One hundred percent of us have, at one time or another, overestimated our ability to understand and manage the physics of objects in motion, or to react to the unexpected. Unfortunately, the anger and frustration that is now actively cultivated by cultural and political forces and aggravated by economics, is manifesting in many unhealthy ways. When it finds its way into a half ton projectile traveling 70 miles per hour, it makes a hazardous activity even more dangerous.
“Who, oh who will the next fool be? Don’t let it be me. Don’t let it be me.” That is a pretty good driving mantra. It cultivates an awareness of the certainty that we will sooner or later be surprised by something on the road that requires an immediate response, and we’re all capable of being that black swan. In the meantime, it might help our attitudes to remember that we are not in the traffic. We are the traffic.