Colson: Are angry driving habits becoming electoral behavior, too?
Hit and Run
It’s been awhile, perhaps a decade or more, since I hit the road on my trusty Moto Guzzi and pointed it toward distant hills and valleys.
But here I am again, cruising along with just the rattle and bang of the engine to keep me company, along with the roaring of the wind in my ears and the tantalizing prospect ahead of a horizon not yet crossed, both inviting me along and daring me to try.
This trip started out, in the planning stage anyway, as a westward exploration of the great Northwest, but at some point I realized there was something not quite right in my plans, and I reoriented toward the East and family and obligations not yet fulfilled.
So today I am in Wisconsin, staying at the home of a boyhood buddy and looking forward to mixing in with what is left of my immediate family here and in Illinois and northern Indiana. There are urban jungles to be crossed in my immediate future, thickets of family histrionics and tensions, and joyful reunions, too.
As it is with some trips, this one started out in a mixture of the good with the bad.
On the good side, it felt really fine to be out on the open road, heading eastward along I-70, over the high mountain passes and down into the Great Plains at the start of my tour.
But before I got to all that, I was once again reminded that this world is full of remarkably bad drivers whose basic mindset behind the wheel is one of anger at the world. And that anger too often ends up directed at one particular fellow traveler in an adjacent lane, in this case myself.
I was heading down the long decline into Denver when it happened.
I had put out my left hand to signal a lane change when, out of nowhere, a big, gray SUV came charging up from behind as I switched lanes, banging into my left-side saddlebag as we both hurtled down the highway at 75 mph or thereabouts.
Thankfully, the SUV pilot realized he was about to commit murder by vehicle and hit his brakes as he hit my saddlebag. At the same time, I goosed the Guzzi with the throttle and shot ahead, thereby avoiding serious bodily mayhem and giving both of us time to calm down, pull over and talk about what had just happened.
At first he wanted to get the cops involved because contact with my saddlebag had scuffed up the right front fender of his rental car and he wanted proof to show the rental-car company that it was not his fault.
But then he poked his head through the window to talk it over with his wife, and she seemed to take the view (I couldn’t hear her, but I could see the emphatic way her lips and her face were communicating) that it was his fault and, since no one was injured, we should all just go our separate ways.
Which is what he told me when he pulled his head back out of the car.
“Just go on,” he said with emphasis, waving his hand to the east in a vague sort of way, “we’ll deal with it,” by which I presumed he meant the charge for return of his rental with scuff marks on the fender.
So I did, getting back up to a full head of steam and ripping my way downhill into Denver and the safety of a friend’s house for the night.
Not that I made it all the way there without further incident.
I happened to witness a near collision on Sixth Avenue involving another big SUV, driven by an angry white man with a disabled-vet license plate on display, who jammed on his horn in order to shoulder aside a compact car driven by a frightened Latina of indeterminate age who had hoped to switch lanes and get around a blockage of cars lined up ahead of her.
She jumped back into the jam, and the disabled vet guy, with a very satisfied look, proceeded to steal her lane and move up a few car lengths before everything blocked up and stopped again.
A little later, still on Sixth, the same guy pulled the same move on me as I tried to switch lanes, rushing in to fill the space I had meant to occupy, again honking his horn angrily as I eased back into my lane and let him get by, though not without a few shouted observations about his questionable driving skills and equally questionable parentage.
I mused for a while after that, as I made my way to the safety of friendship and a haven for the night, about the odd combination of anger, anxiety, pride and prejudice that seems to take over motorized Americans when they get behind the wheel of a 2-ton box of moving steel and plastic.
The open road in America, we’ve been taught through generations, is an important component of what we esteem as our inalienable freedom of expression. Any perceived traffic-oriented slight, aggressive move or even seeming assertiveness of the rights of others to be on the same road appears to affect some as a deliberate assault. And too often the response is to escalate the aggression, pour fuel on the fire of the driver’s anger and generally act as though all the other drivers on the road are clueless idiots who ought never to have been given a license to drive.
Taking the thought a bit further, I perceived that this might help to explain the escalating deterioration of political discourse in the world’s biggest experiment in democratic rule (that would be the United States, if you were wondering).
Having gotten used to bullying our way through traffic, buying ever-bigger and more powerful vehicles to enable us to get our way, we seem to be treating the right to vote in the same way. More money, more lies by politicians and their handlers, more corporate funding that acts as fuel poured on every political fire in sight, and you get the equivalent of a multi-car pileup on every Election Day.
Anyway, those were my thoughts as I headed east on ribbons of asphalt, a little raw and mingled with apprehension as I contemplated the weeks that lay ahead.
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.