Friday, August 08, 2008

Road Rage, or At Least Crankiness

(News-Herald, August 7) Thanks to unexpected circumstances, last weekend I hopped into the car (actually, “hopped” may be an overstatement) and made the twelve-hours-or-so road trip to Maine.

Combined with my earlier trip to LA, this gave me a full continental span of travel for the summer. I have had my feet in both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. I have freeloaded on both coasts (if you must travel, I suggest destinations where you have family who can put you up for free). And I have sampled driving on both coasts.

New England drivers have a bit of a reputation. Massachusetts drivers are supposed to be the worst on the planet, but on this trip it was Connecticut that seemed to be celebrating Hand Your Car Keys to a Mentally Challenged Person Day.

LA drivers drive fast and aggressively, but they at least drive as if they are going somewhere. In Connecticut, people observed the unofficial interstate speed limit (65 MPH must be the speed limit posted in base-fifteen)—right up until the point that they randomly slowed down to contemplate birds or pretty clouds or their navels. Then traffic backed up very quickly.

New England drivers also proved to be merge-challenged. Instead of gliding smoothly into one forward-moving line of traffic, these drivers—well, it’s the same maneuver your grandmother uses when she comes to a dead stop in the middle of the road before entering her driveway.

One other thing that LA gets right is the use of automotive cell phones. In California it’s against the law to drive while using a handheld cell phone (those bluetooth headpieces are okay). It used to be when someone in the car ahead of you was doing something stupid or erratic they’d turn out to have a cigarette in hand. Nowadays nicotine idiots are rare; the guy swerving back and forth across three lanes of traffic is using his cell to conduct some important business (“Definitely rent the first Ghsotbusters, honey”).

I think California is on the right track. If you’re caught talking on the phone while driving, you should be fined enough money to operate a school bus for a year. And your phone should be taken away. If you are caught texting while driving, your phone should be taken and smashed into your carburetor assertively enough that you will never be able to use either the phone or the car again.

But my greatest heap of road rage is reserved for Left Lane Bandits. These are the folks who pull out into the passing lane, move up beside the next car in the right lane, and then match speed, blocking the road for the next hundred miles.

I am always interested in the workings of the human mind. I am particularly fascinated by the ways that we find to rationalize the things that we have already chosen to do. Hardly anybody thinks that they’re doing something wrong. In our heads, we find a way to make it right.

If you have a problem with someone, and you really want to solve it, you don’t need to know why you believe they’re wrong; you need to understand why they think they’re right.

It’s been the sticking point with the hospital, the county park, whatever it is that Bedow and Company are upset about this week—if you are sure that the other side is choosing to oppose you because they are misguided/stupid/evil, you will have real trouble ever bridging the gap between you, because I guarantee you, they do not believe they are any of those things.

I find the self-justification process fascinating, but there are times when I have trouble imagining its workings.

What do left lane bandits tell themselves. As they drive along, miles of cars backed up behind them, making no discernable attempt to let others pass, what are they thinking? “I’m a hero—I’m saving these people from driving fast.” “HahahahahaHAAAAAA! The raw power is all mine!!”

Maybe they’re just oblivious. Maybe they’re thinking “I love being all alone on the open road” or “How great that the government built this road just for me. Me me MEEEEEEEE!!!!!”

There are scientists out there trying to create a system to have all traffic controlled by computers instead of humans. I’m not a supporter; I can’t think of any activity so simple that a computer hasn’t screwed it up. But after my time on the road this summer, I can understand how someone would think computer-controlled traffic would be a good idea.

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