It’s literally happened to me dozens of times. I’m sitting at a light and not really focusing on the traffic signal as much as I should, fiddling with something such as a cellphone or the radio, relying on my internal clock to tell me when red will turn to green.
Then I’ll hear it, a horn toot from the person behind me when that internal clock fails me yet again, prompting me to rejoin the human race and eschew impeding the progress of others any longer. My response is either a non-response and an embarrassed punch of the gas pedal or, at other times, a quick rearview mirror wave of a “my-bad” acknowledgment, and we all get on with the rest of our day.
Well, a while back, the momentary-attention lapses to which we occasionally have was on someone else while I sat behind him in a clogged lane on Eastown Road, heading to the mall to do some winter-weather walking with Jane and others of our ilk.
When the traffic in front of me freed and with the driver directly in front of me caught in the throes of cellphone attention deficit, I did what so many have done to me and gave a back-to-reality toot.
After looking up from his cellphone moment, his response was an acknowledgment, all right, as in a clearly presented middle finger in front of his rearview mirror before hitting the gas.
It was easy to resist returning the salute of what my lovely daughters Shannon and Katie once called “the bad finger” because, first, quite frankly, you just never know about the mental stability of those with whom you’re sharing the road, and, second, while sticks and stones may break my bones, names and gestures surely will not.
Stories that can be hashtagged road rage abound these days. Over the last several months, not one but two former NFL players, Will Smith , a defensive specialist who many of you Buckeye fanatics will remember before he was a New Orleans Saint, and Joe McKnight, a former USC star running back before his time toting the rock as a New York Jet, both were shot and killed in road-rage incidents in New Orleans.
Now, certainly my “finger” moment lies at the lowest end of the road-rage scale and only resulted in an indiscernible mental shake-of-the-head for me. Nonetheless, as far as I’m concerned, it’s still quite a disconcerting overreaction, especially because I can recall a handful of similar moments either driving in town or on the open highway when I also was on the receiving end of such a gesture.
Now, when it comes to how we react to one another as we go about our daily paces outside of our cars, I see a far different reaction. Routinely, people hold doors for those behind them, say, at the credit union, hand shopping carts to others in parking lots and, inside, allow others with just one or two items to go in front of them in checkout lines and also fills barrels at Christmastime for Toys for Tots and drop money in those red kettles for the Salvation Army. They are NOT standing there, giving each other the finger.
But something must change when many get into their cars, I think perhaps, because they aren’t face-to-face with others. The inside of the car is an insulated environment, one which solitude somehow detaches some drivers from the rest of humanity, in a sense, making them more likely to see the rest of us more as hindrances than brothers and sisters.
Those in the psychology field in the past several years have studied road rage, and much has been written. One such individual, psychotherapist Barry Markell, offers several tips as to its avoidance, among them getting more sleep as a means to improve alertness when we drive, another, of course, limiting alcohol and, another, leaving earlier when we need to get to our destinations, to reduce stress.
Two others I don’t have to be told by Markell, who admonishes never return an obscenity, either verbal or nonverbal, and always avoid any sort of sustained eye contact with those who do.
On our roadways, it’s certainly not Mayberry-friendly out there. We all know that. However, perhaps focusing a little more on the fact that, even when we’re encapsulated in our little steel compartments, we aren’t any less human when we drive than when we’re face-to-face, be it in a Meijer parking lot or leaving Superior Credit Union. And, while that seems like common sense, it appears to be lost on some behind the wheel.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.