The question I often ponder is: are people fundamentally good or fundamentally bad? My answer to that depends on the day. And whether or not I’m behind the wheel of a car.
It is easy to judge others on the road. In fact, that’s my main sport while I’m driving. There goes the guy who cuts everyone off like he owns the road. Here is the woman who tailgates maddeningly. Everywhere around me there is road rage. The biggest culprit?
I am an appalling version of myself on the road. Nowhere am I more selfish or callous. If who we are is truly revealed when we’re safe in our glass and metal bubble, I am an awful person. I always have the right of way. I always ascribe the worst of intentions to my fellow drivers and preemptively retaliate. Some of my saltiest language gets dusted off for the other souls commanding their death machines in my vicinity. My current favorite is “dick bag.”
I am a pacifist. I believe in peace and the value of life. (I don’t even kill bugs in my house. I escort them out lovingly in an effort to send out ripples of peace into the world). But put me on the road with someone who beeps at me and watch me wish them a fiery death for pressing their horn.
The other day, I was taking my kids to school without a lot of time to spare. I was on edge. I got to the toughest intersection on the ride, a small side street from which I have to make a turn onto a busy county road with a curve that makes visibility about half a block. So cars zoom at me at forty miles an hour, but I can only spot them about a half a block before I’ve got to jump in front of them.
I waited, inching forward as each opportunity to go was thwarted by yet another speeding vehicle materializing around the curve. The seconds ticked by, bringing my kids closer to a late slip. I’m usually pretty intrepid about breaking into traffic, but I was not catching a break.
Suddenly, the vehicle behind me beeped at me, impatient at my progress, judging my ability to cut into the steady stream of speeding cars. I lost my mind. I started spewing expletives, a pretty silly strategy, since only my children could hear me. I glimpsed a glint of blond bob in the rearview mirror, so I knew it was a woman, although I couldn’t see her face. For one nutty second I considered getting out of my car to go scream at her for her audacity and unfairness. Instead, I stewed and blurted out nonsense while my children giggled at me.
I was finally able to make the turn. So did the evil, beeping blond woman. I made the quick left that needs to be made a half block after getting on the high-speed road. So did my tormentor. I made a right, followed the circle near some train tracks, then got on the little side street that goes down to our local high school. The horn-blower stayed on my heels.
A few blocks later, I pulled up to the school. (You know where this is going). When she pulled up behind me, the light illuminated her so that I could finally see that she was a mom whose daughter has been in my daughter’s class since the first grade, a lovely older woman who speaks softly and volunteers for a local charity. Our girls have played soccer together and have slept over each other’s houses. And yet I may or may not have suggested she earns her living through less than legal means because she honked the horn in her car at me.
So are people good or bad? I’m not sure. But cars are instruments of the devil.