So yesterday I was trying really hard to behave. Specifically, I was driving. After about eight seconds of that kind of thing, the rage coursing in my bloodstream is at illegal and probably toxic levels.
I suppose I’d be a lot better off if I could just learn to be a cynic. A cynic is someone so utterly jaded by the stupidity around him that he’s no longer startled by it. He sneers or laughs or both. Think Oscar Wilde.
Unfortunately, I’m a curmudgeon. A curmudgeon often comes across as a cynic, and sometimes thinks she really is one. But deep inside, a curmudgeon has an overwhelming and insistent faith that human beings really could do better if they just tried a little harder. And so a curmudgeon is shocked and outraged every time she looks around and sees that — hey! wait a minute! — people are just as stupid as they were yesterday! Or even half an hour ago! (Needless to say, Mark Twain is the patron saint of curmudgeons.)
So every time I go anywhere, I’m absolutely assaulted by surprise. Every time some pedestrian messes up traffic by crossing against the light, or just meanders into the middle of the street because apparently that’s where all the fun is kept; every time a bicyclist not only doesn’t stop at a Stop sign but doesn’t think that red light applies to him, either; every time a motorist takes a left turn while clutching a phone as if it’s the last helicopter out of Saigon, or fluctuates wildly between being three nanometers and forty feet behind my car because her response time has been utterly *&#!ed by the attention that all her constant texting demands — every time is like the first time. I’m not just enraged. I’m genuinely startled.
Which is not, I admit, the behavior of one who learns from experience, which some would argue is how we really ought to measure innate intelligence. But I think it would be even creepier to go out and say (out loud or to myself), “That man is simultaneously driving and engaging in behavior that’s been proven again and again to be more harmful to one’s reflexes than being legally drunk. He is operating a vehicle that is in its own way just as dangerous as a gun, in that both cars and guns require very little energy or effort to damage and destroy. People are injured and even killed every day in accidents that didn’t have to happen, because of behavior of the sort I’m currently witnessing. Ho, hum.” Maybe I sound like an idiot doing all that screeching, but at least I still care.
I admit I take this kind of thing more personally than many. Several years ago, I finally had surgery on the sinuses that had been causing me constant and considerable pain for years. It was a really big deal, both moneywise and in terms of my being out of commission for several days afterward. Two days after this surgery, while I was still lying in bed bleeding from the schnozz, my husband was rear-ended on the freeway, with my son in the car, by someone who didn’t bother slowing down when my husband did in order to avoid a collision. Our car was totaled. We’re still paying medical bills. My husband will be in some degree of neck pain for, oh, the rest of his life. And I’m really jittery about the idea of getting some very necessary surgery again. So if you notice that the lady in the car ahead of you is screaming some really inappropriate words in your direction regarding your tailgating, and she’s a redhead, you might be driving behind me. And if my son’s not in the car and I’ve had one too many idiot drivers doing the same damned thing that day, I might decide to test my brakes. On you. So back off, in every sense. But I digress.
(In case you’re wondering if I’m one of those hypocrites who denounces other people while holding herself an exception to the rule: I cross at the light. I stop at the sign, no matter what kind of wheels I’m controlling. I have never, not even once, driven while talking on the phone. Ever. I have a cell phone for emergencies. I don’t know how to do much more than dial or answer it. My son keeps it with him in the back seat, and if it rings and he recognizes the number and it might be someone calling about the very errand we’re currently running, he can get it and pass along any message I need to hear. Usually, I just wait until I get wherever I’m going and check to see if there’s a message. Usually, there isn’t. Because guess what? Most phone calls just aren’t that important. And none of them are important enough for me to risk my life or my son’s. And texting while I’m driving? You’re kidding, right? I can’t believe anyone does that, no matter how many times I see them at it. I can’t even text while I’m walking. Texting while breathing is about all I’m up to, and I don’t do much of that, either.)
Anyway. There’s no way I’m going to stop being angry, because Driving While Stupid is deadly and preventable. But I’ve really been trying to figure out something constructive to do with my traffic-anger. I finally got an idea from Amy Alkon, author of I See Rude People. She suggests carrying a camera and, when safely possible, snapping a picture of whoever’s being a scary idiot in your vicinity.
“Safely” is the key word, of course. Fumbling for your camera while the car is moving and you’re the boss of it has got to be right up there with Long Island Iced Texting in terms of dangerous behavior. But if you keep the camera in the same place all the time and wait until you’re at a red light or (better yet, since you can set the pace there) a Stop sign, snapping a pic is very safe indeed. It calms you down, if you’re me. It gives you something to look forward to. And it really embarrasses the person who’s willing to reveal herself as a complete and total horse’s arse to you, but for some reason doesn’t like the idea of what you might do with a picture of her at it. Such as post it on a blog dedicated to life’s stupidity.
So. Yesterday, while I was driving two children in my car (no, I haven’t had any sudden interesting changes in my reproductive existence — I was just giving a friend’s delightful daughter a lift home from a homeschooling Halloween party), the man driving behind me on Santa Monica’s very busy Lincoln Boulevard decided that he hadn’t been put on this lovely blue planet to wait behind other people in traffic just because they got there before him and are going the speed limit. At a red light, he pulled into the right-turn lane next to me. When the light turned green, he jammed out into the intersection and veered around so that he was now ahead of me.
And no, I wasn’t driving 17 mph in a 35 zone, or anything unforgivable like that. It had nothing to do with me qua me. He did it to the next guy at the next signal, too. Like I said, this man was born for better things.
Naturally, I wanted to get a better look at what might be my only close-up glimpse of royalty. Sadly, it took having another kid in the car — specifically, someone else’s offspring — to remind me that screaming, no matter how justifiable, isn’t the kind of behavior we allegedly responsible grownups are supposed to model for the next generation. Which turned out to be a wonderful thing, because if it had just been my son, who’s resigned to being the child of a howling maniac, alone back there in the back seat, I might have forgotten all about my camera. I’m still getting in the habit of photographing the local wildlife.
As it was, I lucked out. Prince Valiant decided he needed to turn left at the next signal, which was a red light by the time we reached it, and that put him in the lane next to Yours Truly. He was — I know this will shock you — a balding man driving a convertible. And did I mention he was in the lane right next to me?
Sadly, it did take me a minute to haul out my camera. I opened the window and leaned way out — the whole point was to let him know what I was doing — and just clicked desperately without bothering to line up the shot. I think I made my point, because if you look at the photo I’m about to show you, you’ll see the driver in question way up ahead of me, even though we’d both reached the signal at the same time and I’d pulled up right next to him and the light was still red. For some reason, he didn’t feel like sitting there posing for a headshot.
I’m really glad that I made this yo-yo aware that he’s not invisible as well as annoying and aging rapidly. True, the picture in question didn’t turn out quite as I planned. As a condemnation of a particular driver, it’s flawed at best.
But as a work of art, it’s not bad, is it?