I’ve had a driver’s license for almost 50 years now, and during the time I’ve been behind the wheel, I’ve only been involved in a couple of fender benders. The most recent was in a parking lot where I was T-boned while both of us were going approximately 5 mph. (It’s a long story.)
But, surprisingly, none of the accidents were my fault – and that is a minor miracle.
Oh sure, in the beginning, I got a few tickets, but none in the last 20 years or so. I drive safe cars and my insurance is relatively low and yet for all of this until just recently, I was a horrible driver. I was rude, obnoxious, impatient, hateful, and just plain mean. I was convinced that I was the only one on the road that mattered, and you had better stay out of my way.
If you wanted in my lane, you could forget about it. I’d speed up just to keep you out. If you wanted to pass me, I would slow down to the same speed as the car next to me and I would delight in the torment you were suffering behind me.
I was a nightmare on wheels.
Of course, for me, part of the joy of driving was the subtle communication I shared with my fellow motorists. There are certain unpleasant hand gestures that we are all familiar with. In my household, it was referred to as my “driving finger”. Although I used it without hesitation, it is certainly nothing to brag about. I believe it shows a certain lack of character that an otherwise sane man could turn into a raving lunatic simply by sliding behind the wheel of a car.
Here is a good example.
One day while coming home from work a guy passed me and then moved over into my lane actually requiring me to slow down ever so slightly. I was furious. He looked back in his mirror, and I gave him the international gesture for self-love.
We traveled a short distance and then we both took the same exit…and then we made the same turn…and then I followed him into my neighborhood…and then we turned onto my street…and then as we approached my home, he turned into the driveway of the house across the street that had recently been sold……He was my new neighbor!
Embarrassed, I flew right past my house and drove around for a while until I was sure he had gone inside so he wouldn’t see where I lived.
It was not my proudest moment as an adult.
However, when frustrated, I didn’t limit my communication to just gestures, I also liberally employed what could only be accurately described as “colorful” language.
Of course, after our daughter was born, I was careful not to do or say anything in front of her while we were driving – no matter how many jerks I encountered.
But one day as our little family made its way home from the store, I slipped up. I can’t remember specifically what the offending party did, but he must have irritated me to a significant degree because I muttered a slightly disparaging name under my breath – but, as it turned out, not far enough under my breath. Unfortunately, my young daughter was at that precocious age where she was beginning to repeat everything she heard. Both good and bad.
My little girl who has ultra-sensitive hearing, just as her mother does, spoke up immediately proclaiming, “Daddy just said NUMB NUTS!”……There was a long painful pause and then my wife began to patiently explain how there are good words and bad words and that sometimes adults make a mistake and say……well, I’m sure you’ve heard that speech before.
Anyway, I decided to cut my losses and remain silent for the rest of the trip. Of course, as you can well imagine, once we got home there was anything but silence from my wife.
Now, my lovely bride has never held back in her efforts to make it crystal clear what she thinks of my driving. And the fact that I occasionally exceeded the speed limit just a tad always provoked her into unleashing a stream of less than endearing words regarding my skills as a motorist.
But at the other extreme of the speed spectrum is the way she moseys along. The love of my life has always driven like she was 100 years old. This woman drives so slow she not only gets passed by other cars but even bicyclists and joggers fly by her. “I’m in no hurry. They can just go around me!”
Unfortunately, as the years rolled by, my wonderful spouse was forced to continue to put up with my constant complaining about all the “idiots” and “morons” that, for some unfathomable reason, had been given the legal right to operate a vehicle.
But, finally, the day came when she just couldn’t put up with my whining anymore. My wife is an incredibly patient woman, but she had heard enough.
After one of my outbursts, she took a deep breath and calmly said, “Have you ever stopped to think about the other driver’s situation? Maybe they are bringing home a loved one who just had chemotherapy treatment. Perhaps they are driving with a small child who happens to have a disability. Maybe they are heading to a memory care facility to make a heartbreaking visit to a parent who no longer recognizes them. My point is, that every person you are yelling at is a human being carrying some kind of burden, and your screaming and gestures are not making life better for you or them.”
I sat in stunned silence. My wife was absolutely right – and I hate it when she is right because that means I am wrong. Besides she’s right way too often, and frankly, it gets annoying being wrong so much. However, in this particular case, she really made me stop and think.
For years I had been taking ridiculous risks just to shave off a minute or two of driving time – and for what? What important thing was I doing with the few minutes I saved by driving like a maniacal monster?
I’ll tell you what I was doing. Every evening, as soon as I got home, I used those precious minutes to explode in self-righteous indignation about the imbeciles that I was forced to share the road with. It was a nightly ritual that I’m sure my wife looked forward to.
What a waste of time.
Over the years, my behavior had degenerated into the perfect combination of selfishness and stupidity.
So, inspired by my bride’s wisdom, I decided to turn over a new leaf and become a more tolerant person behind the wheel. I’m not saying that I don’t have occasional lapses where I momentarily forget how foolish it is to let the driving habits of others elevate my blood pressure, however, I am proud to say that I now drive finger free!
But just between me and you, I can’t help but wonder how we will ever achieve world peace if we can’t even merge into traffic.