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Opinion Column
For the week of September 20 through 26, 2000

Road rage can be a highly infectious driving disease


I view with some dismay a change taking place in our valley. I always appreciated how civil drivers here were to each other…I used to brag about it to my distant friends…I don't think my civic pride is as justified as it once was.

The other day I experienced firsthand the kind of road rage that might lead to further confrontation in a more urban environment. Coincidentally, I read in the Aug. 25 issue of this paper that Blaine County sheriff's deputies are clamping down on the increasing practice of passing in the right lane along Highway 75 near Ohio Gulch. Apparently, this behavior is creating more congestion and prompting incidents of road rage.

Perhaps the problem is here at our doorway instead of conveniently far away on congested freeways in cities like Los Angeles.

My incident was minor but illustrates a point. I was in Twin Falls, occupying the right-turn lane leading to Costco, when a car in the left lane (and ahead of me) indicated by its turn signal that it wanted to come into "my" lane. I slowed down and waited for the small truck to come over.

When it didn't, and the car's passenger leaned out the window to look back at me, I waved my hand in the kind of gesture that means "come on over." I think I even mouthed, "Come on."

The car ahead of me then rapidly moved in front of me, and I was rewarded for my amiability by the passenger’s "flipping me off" with her middle finger.

I reacted in a disturbing way. I didn't do anything overtly, but I was excessively upset and, yes, angry, that I had been misinterpreted, and that the person I was now categorizing as a rude slob was blithely pulling into a good parking place at Costco, right in front of me. I was briefly tempted to get out, go over to the truck and express my dismay. I didn't, of course, and when I saw the passenger emerge—a large woman who fits my concept of a stereotypical Harley groupie, with her sleeves rolled up, a gigantic tattoo on her forearm and frizzy blond hair the size of a parachute—I was glad I hadn't. She might have decked me.

What bothers me most about this unremarkable event, as I reflect on it, is that I allowed this petty minute to ruin several of mine. I thought I had learned to let things roll off my back, to cool it, to realize that this kind of display is usually indicative of another person's problems, not mine. But here I was, mad at her, mad at myself for rising to the bait and yet lacking the courage to confront her, and especially mad at the whole thing for upsetting my serenity.

In reviewing the contretemps, still allowing it too much time in my consciousness, I realized some unpleasant things about myself. First, I am not above all the more base instincts that most humans possess. I, too, view my car as a sanctuary and allow myself to use language inside of it that I would blush to hear on the outside. I have a certain amount of pride in being a polite woman, and yet sometimes in my car I act like what my mother, the daughter of a sea captain, called a "stevedore." (The stevedores who served her father's ship were known for their coarseness.) I, too, get unduly territorial when driving. "How dare he move into my lane?" I might think when cut off by someone on Highway 75. Who said it was "my" lane?

Also, I view with some dismay a change taking place in our valley. I always appreciated how civil drivers here were to each other. One could actually leave a big event at, for example, Trail Creek, and drivers would give each other space to move into an exit line. I used to brag about it to my distant friends.

I don't think my civic pride is as justified as it once was. Recently, I started signaling and trying to move over to the left lane from the right lane while heading south on the stretch of Main Street between the Warm Springs Road turn-off and First Street. I wanted to turn onto Sun Valley Road, but no one would let me over. Then I tried for First Avenue and again was shut out. Finally I gave up and turned right at Rivers Street, went around the block and finally got through back at the signal.

I was reminded of the true story of the new L.A. arrival who got on California's San Diego Freeway heading for Long Beach. After many futile attempts to change lanes, he wound up three hours later in San Diego before he had an opportunity to move to an exit ramp.

We have all heard numerous complaints about increasing traffic, the lack of adequate parking space and the long wait at the signal at Main Street and Sun Valley Road. I accept that much of this is inevitable: we are growing in ways that I have long lamented. I am still puzzled, though, by how entering the hulks of our automobiles generates a change in personality for many of us. When he opens the door to this cubicle, Clark Kent becomes Godzilla instead of Superman—especially if his SUV is bigger than your compact car. I, in turn, act like the last survivor.

At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy, I miss good manners.


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