Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Something in the Water

“Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health.” (Pier Massimo Forni, Professor of Italian  Languages, the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore)

            I have driven a car deep into the downtown core of Detroit. What a frightful experience that turned out to be. Car after car intent on going nowhere, but in such a hurry to do just that. In Los Angeles, I spent a few hours on a Greyhound bus, sitting rather than moving towards Hollywood. In the horde, each vehicle seemed strangled, mired in a heavy sea of robots. All the while each detainee raged for freedom, but with nowhere that they really needed to get to. In New York City, Manhattan, the traffic was so dense that I abandoned my transportation and took to walking. It seemed quicker that way and far less expensive. I left the taxi cab many blocks behind me, trapped like a rodent in some assigned little cage.
            Once a week or so, I have to journey in “mein auto” down the 401 corridor and into the heart of Toronto. For the life of me, I have never seen as many cars and trucks heading towards one place. Deep inside these fibreglass shells are countless faces, faces screaming to get going and to zoom faster and faster still. All these places, and those too many to mention, are congested, strangled and choked off by mechanized ease and urban overpopulation. The commute for each is a descent into some kind of hell. These demons have nothing on the Kitchener-Waterloo beasts that lurk on this road and that road. There is terror that travelling in this area brings.
            Nowhere on God’s green earth have I encountered drivers as bad as those in the city where I live. I swear there must be something in the water. Each trip is a constant reminder that this world is not a friendly place. Like some mass narcissism, each vehicle becomes a weapon, but without radar to guide it and no conscience to restrain it. They tour aimlessly, so sure they are the only one using that way that day. They descend as if they own the road. Locked inside those industrial boxes, they treat their route like a sporting event. Each race car driver always ready and able to speed into the lead and get across the finish line first.     
            The daily drive is a quagmire. It doesn’t matter what highway you take or what side street you venture down, the end result is a swamp of steel. I often find myself steering into the very same puddle of this reason and that rhyme. All that anger and all that hostility tends to suck you in. You can’t help but to explode sometimes. With one fell swoop, you become one of them. When I first learnt to drive in the early 1980s, I don’t recall it being like this. Something has happened to warp common civility, and apparently, all it takes is a set of keys and a tank with some gas in it.  

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” (Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist)

            It is a mere 10 minutes from where I live to the front door of Ben’s employer. Straight up Weber Street and back the same way, it is an unpredictable journey on the best of days. Along that 12 kilometre strip, the world seems to abandon all hope and in turn gives in to chaos. Mere mortals surrender to the dark side. Somehow every single traveller, every single day, manages to get a lobotomy before they leave their driveway. Whether in a beautiful Lexus or a 20 year old jalopy, looks can be deceiving. You cannot take your eyes off the way for a second without another moron deciding that the road belongs to them. It is futile to fight it. It is like that on every street, in every alley and especially on the local highways that were built for efficiency.     
            Quite often, I am overwhelmed. There is nothing worse than an 80 year old driver doing 25 in a 60 or 60 in a 90. If you see someone texting from behind the wheel, I think you should be allowed to turn them over to the cops, sight unseen. People who don’t use their signal indicators should be tarred and feathered. There are many in our quiet little city who assume if you cut out in one direction with no signal that everyone will know what the hell you are doing. It turns out that a turn signal is not made for you to know which way you are going, but for the cars in front and behind you. What’s with people who use their signal only after they almost complete their turn or who cross four lanes of the freeway without a single notification? Erratic, senseless, self-absorbed fools taking chances with their lives so they can get someplace 15 minutes sooner. Selfish, unthinking, inconsiderate tools taking chances with my life so they can smoke before they have to go inside and work for 8 hours. I don’t even have to stray beyond my own building to discover stupidity in a four-door Sedan. 

“We have a choice about how we behave, and that means we have the choice to opt for civility and grace.” (Dwight Currie, American Author)

            She refused to move. I was coming down the final ramp to park the Sunfire when she pulled up in front of me. She stopped dead centre and left me nowhere to go but backwards. It was the most idiotic thing I had seen in years. I sat looking at her, waiting for her to retreat. Soon enough, I realized she had no such intention. There was no way in hell I was going to gear down and reverse up the steep and regularly damaging incline. I was there first, and even so, I had nowhere to safely go. I suppose I could have rammed the shit out of her car, and although I played with that notion, she still refused to adjust her position so that I could pass.  
            I love a loud horn. Nothing pisses off the narcissist more than someone honking at them. I imagine it is like yelling at a know-it-all when they just assume that they are correct. God forbid someone should shatter their rose-coloured glasses. With no other option left to me, I leaned heavy on my steering wheel, then released. When she still would not move, I held it for what seemed like forever. The shrill of it echoed throughout the underground garage. For a moment, I thought that an Asian retard had escaped from tranquility, stealing someone’s transportation in an attempt to finally be free. Perhaps I stood like some mental block, refusing to go away without her taking proper medication and a cookie for snack.    
            At 6 foot tall and 200 pounds, I intimidate a lot of people, especially strangers.  The fact that I normally look like I am ready to punch someone in the face doesn’t hurt, particularly when I am truly angered. I cursed her as I shifted into park, turned off the car and applied the safety brake. I was so furious that I could have smacked the bitch. Almost in sync with me stepping out in front of my vehicle, she floored it in reverse and finally let me go past her. I still can’t make sense of why she would be more afraid of me than a running car, humming in place and ready to proceed. I’ve seen her a few times on the elevator and I wasn’t far off on that retard judgment. I know this may seem rather harsh, but if it looks like a retard and acts like a retard, then that’s exactly what it is.   

"Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none."
(Benjamin Franklin, American polymath)

            Using a car in Kitchener makes me paranoid. Every time I park at the mall, I have to find the most secluded and distant spot from all the other automobiles. Unfortunately, something always comes along to affirm one’s inclinations. I was so far away from the Wal-Mart entrance that I had no idea what I was about to find. Somehow, someone had managed to sideswipe the Sunfire, even though I was parked out in the boondocks. You could tell from the gouge, and the resulting scrapes, that they had not even bothered to look and see if a car was there. They backed into the passenger’s door, right in the middle of no man’s land. For the life of me, I could not locate a note. I am not sure how they did it, but they must have been drunk. I was at least 500 feet from any other vehicle. 
            The brand new Jetta I now drive has not eased my sense of bewilderment and any related psychosis. It has only made me worse. I stand firm that you can trust no one, particularly those behind the wheel. Like in most metropolitan centres, warm weather means construction. I can’t remember any season when the streets in this town were free of complications masquerading as improvements, but that is beside the point. Heading home down Weber Street, the right lane beside me ended slowly with a large flashing arrow at its end. I just assumed it meant get over for everyone. I stayed my course, slowing down with no vehicle in front of me, and went to stop at the red light. Suddenly, as I attempted to pull up to the line, a mid-sized four by four sped up on my right. He pulled out from the construction lane and right in front of me. I suppose he thought that I would just let him in, but I didn’t have the chance. There was little room for him to navigate. As he proceeded, his eight foot long flat bed trailer, attached to his rear, slid over and missed me by mere inches. He continued on like I wasn’t even there so I let him know I most certainly was. I even let out a girlish scream when it appeared he was about to clash with the side of my new car. I laid on my horn.  When he reached out his window, giving me the finger, I did so again then again and then again. I was pissed! 
            Almost methodically, he opened his door and stepped out on to the road. I had no idea it was okay to park in the middle of the street at a red light. As he walked towards me, I powered down my window and readied myself for anything. After a few distant catcalls, he finally managed to get his asshole to the front side of my car. He stopped like he had seen a ghost. His tirade went on pause and I went on his dignity. You could tell he had not expected someone like me to be behind the wheel. He seemed dumbfounded as I ripped him another orifice. It was clear I would not need to get out of the car since he began slowly inching his way back towards his truck. He was a little man, despite his tall frame. Had he just turned sideways, he might well have disappeared. Well prepared to stand up and fight, I watched him slither back into the overcompensation that he came in. When the light turned green, I honked again for good measure.

"When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency." (Samuel Johnson, English writer )

            I am sure that most people, at one time or another, lament as I have about drivers in their city or town and the dimwitted nature that seems to come with them. I am not alone in my frustration, that much is very clear. It is either this or that for all of us. In the end, it would appear that road rage is an inconvenient trap. The behaviour which we despise so much in others serves to bring out the very same conduct in us. Watch out for the monster you fight, lest you become one yourself. Sometimes I forget that if there is something in the water, I have been drinking it too.
            It appears that in these modern times, once you sit behind the wheel, civility is lost on the best us. The longer you stay there, the worse you get. It all comes down to perspective. The very things we hate in other people, we fail to see in ourselves. The truth is that we have all been corrupted. We lack consideration. Kindness, politeness and tolerance have been sacrificed, en masse, to selfishness and the inability to see past ourselves. We no longer treat each other the way we wish to be treated. While we have a choice to rise above and respond with understanding, we do not. Then again, it’s a difficult thing to not get angry when someone puts their schedule ahead of your safety.

“When the healthy pursuit of self-interest and self-realization turns into self-absorption, other people can lose their intrinsic value in our eyes and become mere means to the fulfillment of our needs and desires.” (The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude, Pier Massimo Forni)