Monday, August 16, 2010

Hell Hath No Fury . . . .

by Julia Buckley

I am not a person prone to swearing, especially since I've become a mother. I'm guessing I'm considered staid and conservative by most who know me. But get me behind the wheel of a car (without my children in the backseat) and you'll tap into a whole different me.

I'm not sure what it is about driving that makes me occasionally swear like the proverbial trucker; perhaps it's just a way I found for dealing with the stresses of the road. When my first son was born, I had to curtail my driver's swearing, since his cherubic self watched me from the back seat. The worst I indulged in was the occasional muttered "arse!" at annoying motorists, but I even had to give this up when my two-year-old started saying "Owse" at people in mimicry of me.

After thirty years of driving, I can tell you certain behaviors that really push my buttons. These are the traffic pet peeves that still tempt me to lash out with salty language. Perhaps you recognize some of these scenarios.

1. The driver who thinks turn signals are optional, then suddenly decides to brake in front of me and turn (often not from the turning lane).

2. The driver who insists upon moving at 15 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone. I try to tell myself they're looking for an address, and that's why they're moving so damnably slowly, but let's face it: we only meet these people when we're in a hurry, and then they're so annoying that it's beyond endurance.

We have a street near our house which contains no less than five pedestrian crosswalks. Each one is marked "State Law: You Must Stop for Pedestrians." I've heard many a story about people getting pulled over by the police on this very street because they did not stop and let pedestrians cross the road. So I stop. And I stop. Sometimes I have to stop at almost every crosswalk (there are about six pubs on this road, and it gets a lot of sidewalk traffic). But this brings me to number three:

3. Pedestrians who take their time. I'm perfectly willing to stop for any pedestrian who wants to cross the street. As the sign points out, it's the law. But I've encountered many pedestrians this summer who seem to think that this permission implies that they should cross as slowly as possible. Some people are so slow it's almost as though they're moving backwards. My poor husband, who is less patient than I am, will dive across me to beep the horn at people whom he feels are taking advantage of their power to stop traffic. And I fear that some people are doing just that.

One young woman crossed in front of me while texting on her phone. Halfway across she stopped to study some message on her screen. Apparently she couldn't walk and read at the same time. The cars waited on either side of the crosswalk. My husband, who was on his way to work, struggled to keep his blood pressure in check. I tooted the horn. She didn't look up. Finally, looking neither right nor left at the people she was inconveniencing, she made her slow, plodding way across the street.

While we're on the subject of pedestrians, there are also the

4. Pedestrians who assume they are dent-proof. You've seen the type: they dart right out in front of your car, apparently untroubled by that law of physics that says a person weighing 120 pounds and moving at about one mile an hour can be seriously hurt by a 5 ton vehicle moving at 30 miles per hour. Yet almost every day we encounter at least one person who's willing to take the chance.

There's a certain fruit market near our house on Chicago's very busy Harlem Avenue. This fruit market, for whatever reason, attracts little old ladies from all over the land. Many of them plow right across two lanes of traffic, their babushka heads bowed, their shopping bags clutched tightly against them. Once we saw a lady who held up her little hand as she stepped onto busy Harlem, looking like a crossing guard but without the same authority. Her nonverbal message was: stop for me, all you cars. I need to buy fruit. It would have been funny if it weren't so dangerous.

My last category is one I've posted about before:

5. People who text and drive. This is now considered just as dangerous as drinking and driving and apparently causes just as many accidents (the woman who struck my son last year was texting and driving--in the rain--without insurance or a valid license). I assume that these people don't realize how dangerous it is, how rude it is to their passengers, how inappropriate it is to let one's attention stray from the traffic in front of them--because I hate to think that they know all those things and choose to text and drive anyway.

I see many scary examples of near misses with texters. The weirdest example happened the other day, when my husband and I were stopped at a red light and the woman in the car next to us sat texting while she waited for her turn arrow. In the seat behind her, a boy of about six was holding--I kid you not--a giant knife. It looked as though there was a bag on the seat beside him. Maybe the mom had brought a cake or brownies somewhere and now she was taking her knife home. But there sat her son with this big knife in his hands, and she was texting away, oblivious.

"Tell her he has a knife!" my husband said. "What if she gets in a collision? He could get hurt."

But I didn't have the courage to roll down my window and yell to a stranger that she should be more carefully watching her son.

I understand that texting is the new national addiction; my children both have phones and they enjoy texting. But I've made it clear that they are never to use the phones to replace actual human interaction. Hopefully they'll abide by the rules, but if they don't, then we'll consider taking away the phones.

I am an admittedly cranky person, and like everyone I have pet peeves. Do you have traffic peeves?

And am I the lone swearing driver, or does anyone else indulge in profanity when subjected to the driving (or walking) habits of others?

(Image from


Sheila Connolly said...

My father used to keep up a running commentary about everything that every other driver on the road was doing wrong. He lived in Pennsylvania's Amish country, and was particularly incensed by their driving habits (uh, excuse me, that's a horse?), and would accuse them of various immoral and/or illegal acts regarding their parentage and marriage partners.

I did not inherit his habits, but I'll admit to ranting at those people who think turn signals are optional. Is it a passive-aggressive thing? I don't have to tell you what I'm about to do? I dare you to guess?

Julia Buckley said...

I think your father's behaviors might be a common thing. My husband is even more vocal than I am; in a weird way I guess it's our way of being vigilant.

Sandra Parshall said...

Julia, I hate all the things you do, but I try hard to stay calm while driving because I assume that 90% of the other drivers are nuts. I live in a state where a lot of people carry guns in their cars. And all those frazzled federal workers are just waiting for something to set them off. It's dangerous out there.

Julia Buckley said...

True. I don't think other drivers are ever aware of my agitation. Which is another reason to stop--it's only hurting me.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I've said it before: like any other addict, narcissistic drivers and what I call cellphonistas aren't thinking of their impact, literal or figurative, on you. Julia, was the woman who hit your son tested for alcohol when they caught up with her? The lack of insurance or valid license makes me wonder if maybe she was texting AND drinking. As for language, my mother comfined herself to an infuriated "You blooming idiot!" or "You crumbun!" until she went back to college in the Sixties. The first time she used the F word on a driver who cut her off in traffic, we knew that Mom was indeed getting an education. ;)

Julia Buckley said...

Liz--I'm actually not sure about that. When I was called to the scene I think she'd already talked with police.

I've only used the "F" word once in front of my kids, and they were so shocked they pretended to cry. :)