For the first four years of my professional life in DC, I was a public transit commuter. In fact, I commuted just about every way possible that doesn’t involve driving: bus, metro, rideshare, bike, and on foot. With my new job has come a host of new things, including a new commuting style. I now join the disgruntled millions on the clogged roadways of the Beltway area on my way to and from work each day. That adds up to a lot of hours spent behind the wheel, a lot of uncomfortably close brushes with accidents, a lot of talk radio, and a lot (read: a LOT) of pent-up rage.
Granted, DC is ranked as having the nation’s 3rd-worst traffic, and there are polls out that say we have the very worst drivers, so there’s plenty to be angry about.
Still, I’m beginning to think I’m a little bit too angry. Do I have to refer through gritted teeth to every individual on the road who chooses to poke along in the left lane at an exact 7.3 miles per hour below the speed limit as a “moron”? Probably not.
Is every speed demon who whizzes by in the right lane after tailgating me in the center for at least three-quarters of a mile when I’m already going over the speed limit and there’s a left lane for speeders and there are TRAFFIC CAMERAS FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE actually a — ah– “jerk”?
Probably. It’s a debatable point.
Do I have to pound my steering wheel and cry to the heavens in exasperation every time the person in front of me decides to slam on his brakes and turn left without using a signal? Perhaps there’s a more peaceful way to tackle the situation.
What it boils down to is charity. I realized this one morning about two weeks ago when it occurred to me as I turned the last corner to my office that I hadn’t encountered a single fellow driver whom I had not called some name or other. “Bozo,” “moron,” “idiot,” and “jerk-face” are my personal favorite epithets. Drivers earn such titles for driving too fast, driving too slow, tailgating, being tailgated, leaning on the horn the moment the light turns green, sitting through a green light to text, turning left from the travel lane without using a turn signal, swerving in their travel lane, running lights, pulling illegal U-turns, stopping suddenly to parallel park and then taking inordinate amounts of time to do so, slowing down or stopping in on-ramps to highways, pretending not to see you or racing ahead to cut you off when you try to change lanes in traffic, or any other host of obnoxious things drivers do when they simply don’t give a damn about the other people on the road.
Ok, I reasoned, so other people are jerks and they can’t drive. (In fairness I have to admit: I’ll bet a lot of the time I look like a total jerk who can’t drive.) Still, at the end of the day, what other people do on the road really shouldn’t be affecting my attitude the way it does. Certainly I should not be reduced to fits of pale, quaking fury every time I hit the area roadways.
What can be done about it? I’ve settled on a few life choices that will (I hope) decrease my blood pressure, save my lower gums from extinction, and help me be a kinder driver.
1) Start off trips with a traveling prayer. While I’ve always said a traveling prayer for protection when I drive, I’ve begun to tack on a plea for calmness and charity as well. It’s amazing how well that works.
2) Leave the house on time. It is not anyone else’s responsibility to drive faster because I left late. Nor is there a vast DC-area-wide conspiracy against me that’s turning all the lights red as soon as I get to them. At least I’m telling myself there’s not.
3) Focus on the positive. For instance, it’s not a whole lot of effort to give a wave of thanks when another driver yields so I can merge.
4) Be positive. It’s that popular slogan: Be the good you want to see in the world. I can yield, slow down, put away the phone, and for heaven’s sake, just calm down.
5) Recognize that there are jerks in the world, and their jerkiness is exacerbated about 8 million times when they get behind the wheel of a car. Oh well, they can continue to be jerks. As my dad always used to tell me when I got bent out of shape about the injustice of the world: You can’t let the bastards get ya down. Their unkindness does not give me license to be anything less than Christian. (In fact, if that whole “Love your enemies” extends to loving bullying drivers, I guess they really require me to be more Christian.)
No one owns the road, quite simply. I might as well drive like I’m sharing it with the people around me.