Thursday, May 27, 2010

You get what you give


I have always hated driving a little bit, but for different reasons throughout my life. Nowadays, I hate driving mostly because I hate other drivers. Every time someone screeches up to a stop sign, making me think they aren't going to stop; every time someone tailgates me because I have the audacity to drive close to the speed limit; every time I have to wait to turn because some idiot is driving down the center turn lane; every time I almost get blindsided by the moron cutting across the parking spaces in the parking lot but not paying any attention to any other drivers in the parking lot; every time someone swerves in front of me to turn left even though there's nobody behind me and it's clearly only because they wanted to drive two miles per hour faster;

-[ insert: gave Mal a bath and lost my train of thought - my big list of transgressions ]-

In summary, every time someone does something incredibly dangerous and life-threatening because they are so blindingly self-interested that they can't conceive of common decency in their quest to save what will be, in the end, less than ten seconds of time I hate other drivers more. More and more, every day, the frustration and anger builds up.

I didn't always feel this way. It's certainly not the example my parents modeled. They always drove the speed limit. Not five over. Not only when they thought a police officer might see them. They obeyed the law as written, period. They never intentionally put themselves in other people's way. They stayed aside, stayed quiet, stayed safe. They rarely said anything about the bad habits of other drivers and only did so when placed in danger themselves. I used to be like that. I used to drive the speed limit. I used to enjoy it. I used to be blissfully ignorant of any assumed motivation behind the actions of others. I didn't get enraged about how that other guy must be doing what he's doing specifically for the purpose of annoying me. I didn't care. I drove where I was going.

Then I started getting in other people's way. Intentionally. It wasn't to be mean... not at first. At first it was ambassadorial in my mind. I was making them drive slow so they could see how much better it would be. This didn't last long. It didn't take too many days of being bullied in my "noble" attempt at spreading lawfulness that my attitude shifted from magnanimity to outrage. I started doing things specifically to upset other drivers. I enjoyed it. They got what they deserved for being reckless and endangering others. They deserved to be messed with. They were the enemy.

Then my crusade became a crusade of hypocrisy. I started to get disgusted with the act of driving so I wanted to be done with it as quickly as possible. I started speeding. I started cutting people off. I started bending the rules. I started endangering others. But it was all justified to me. Who cared if I was only saving seconds, the point was to get the other terrible drivers behind me so they stopped getting in my way.

Then I started getting angry. Someone was driving "slow" in front of me. Clearly they were doing it just to spite me. It was obviously directed at ME. How dare they. I started doing more dangerous things. I started trying to run people off the road. They deserved it. It was their fault for messing with me. They should learn to just leave me alone and get out of my way. I became a terror behind the wheel; all rage and cursing and malice.

Then the panic attacks started. I was so consumed with my construct of paranoia, so convinced that I knew exactly what evil misdeed every other driver was plotting that I became overwhelmed. I began to feel light-headed while driving. I began to feel my heart racing for no reason. I began to realize I might pass out at any moment while behind the wheel.

Then my fears were confirmed. I had just blown past someone foolishly driving the speed limit and was rounding a blind corner at eighty miles per hour on my way home from work in Chicago. When traffic came back into view it was stopped. I panicked. I thought the minivan in front of me was closer than it was. My mind went numb and luckily I locked the brakes before I blacked out. The car skidded sideways and slammed into the concrete wall, likely to the amusement of the poor fellow I had just raced rudely past. There was no severe damage. I wasn't injured. The car still drove. I backed up and righted myself so that I could make my way off the interstate on the nearest exit. The front of the car was crumpled badly, enough that I knew I had to talk to Esther about what had happened. I called her, but was too embarrassed to admit the full truth. I made up some half true story and limped the rest of the way home. I realized I had to make a change.

I did change. I toned it way down in the aggression department. I slowed down and stayed near the edge of the road - mostly because I was afraid of losing consciousness and hoped the car would coast harmlessly into the ditch when I did. I still cursed and spat and assumed the worst about everyone else on the road, but I worked hard on reigning in my driving. I have had relapses since. Esther has put up with countless hours of bickering and complaining on my part while driving to various places. It's been many long years and the echoes of my bad decisions still haunt me every time I get behind the wheel.

See, my first mistake was always assuming myself to be a good and altruistic driver. My second mistake was foisting my guilt upon every other driver around me. Today, I still drive around assuming the worst and now I realize you get what you give. I see everyone else as the same kind of driver I am and I hate them for it. But they aren't bad drivers. At least, I am not qualified to judge whether they are. I am the bad driver. I don't really hate everyone else. I hate myself.

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