Zen and Hollywood Behind the Wheel

There is something to be said for living in a small port city of less than 50,000 at the eastern edge of the pacific northwest with nothing more than a goat trail highway in or out.  Rush hour here is a line of vehicles (mostly jacked up trucks) less than a block long, waiting for one of several red lights on one main street. As far as I know, no one has taken road rage to much of a level beyond a quick horn honk and the ever-popular middle finger.

To put things in perspective, I visit Los Angeles every year or so.  There, I expect to drive 75 mph for 2-3 minutes before coming to a complete stop and crawl for the next hour or so during the morning and evening rush.  While LA may have the most clogged freeways, the drivers are at least consistent and predictable in their snail pace with an occasional leap frog. And it’s a foregone conclusion that motorcycles will blow by you while you’re standing still, so keep your head and arms inside the vehicle at all times.  You still hear about cases of road rage in California, but if LaLaLand taught us anything, it’s that everyone in an LA traffic jam just wants to sing and dance their way out of it.

Arizona, on the other hand, has some of the worst most aggressive drivers on the road.  This includes my brother-in-law, Mr. P.  I have ridden shotgun with Mr. P on each visit to Phoenix, and have seen no less than 1/3 of my life pass before my eyes.  Sometimes I just close them, breathe deeply, and think of a happy place until his Honda’s lane navigation system beeps me back to reality.  To keep his sanity, Mr. P turns off the lane departure warning because “it causes serious migraines.”

Mr. P has a catch phrase for the act of driving at top speed only to cut off another car.  “Eat my grits,” he yells, or, “Ta ta today, junior,” then continues on with the conversation he started before executing a whiplash worthy lane change.  

“See that brick wall over there?” he points.  “See the different colored bricks? Every month there’s a new hole, and a totaled car.  My old neighbor lives on the other side of that wall.”

He claims that driving is nothing more than “a game in which some drivers endanger the lives of others solely because they are overly cautious.”

I can agree that slow drivers are a danger.  Recently, during a trip to Portland, I watched a local news station’s story on the increasing number of traffic accidents caused by slow driving and Oregon’s annoyingly low speed limits.  But for many motorists, including Mr. P, speeding is arbitrary. Traveling at top speed is just the natural pace of life. Lead, follow, but mainly get the hell out of the way.

People are in a hurry, everywhere.  There is no time to waste on being a courteous driver.  Slow down and you become a target, for angry people in a rush to get somewhere, as quickly as possible, or die trying.  The difference between the fast and the furious and my brother-in-law is that Mr. P is the most mellow person I know.

A ride with him usually goes something like this: “Hold on to your ass.  Gotta flip a U-ee on this freeway. Passed a Circle K. Gotta get a Big Gulp.  Yeeeee haaaaa.”

He doesn’t rage, especially when driving.  Instead, driving with him is more like a comedic roller coaster ride where you will get sick, but you will probably laugh while vomiting.  Mr. P may drive like a bat out of hell, but I never worry about him raging in violence at a fellow Phoenician behind the wheel.

Maybe that’s the solution to road rage.  Humor. Comedy. Good natured-ness. Drama.  Watch the road with the same intent you’d watch your favorite Hollywood film.  Keep an eye out for that plot twist of a bad driver, the thrill of the cut off, that dramatic honk of the horn and the horror of a tire screech.  But most importantly, instead of raging in anger, be prepared with those great one liners you can shout out your window with vengeance.

“Quit riding my ass, you son of a motherless goat!”  Method acting at its finest.

I no longer get angry at anyone who pulls out in front of me or cuts me off.  I wave and smile before making lane changes. I patiently wait for people who have never navigated a round-about.  Sometimes I pull a Mr. P and stay in the roundabout yelling “yeeee haaaaa” out the window. I laugh.

Some people will continue to drive their vehicles in assault mode, but you can only control your own Zen, that state of calm attentiveness.  You may not be able to close your eyes, but you can find your happy place behind the wheel and leave the rage on the roadside.

And Mr. P, thanks for the driving lessons.

You can follow Niki on Twitter

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