Frustration and Road Rage

When I was a lot younger, my grandmother told me about a friend of hers who had taken a trip to Europe some years before. This friend, like my grandmother, was a heavy smoker from back in the days when doctors would prescribe cigarettes to women to help "calm their nerves".

My grandmother's friend was traveling about Europe with her family by car, and apparently was stopped at a border crossing, in Germany, for a routine customs check. As the border guard approached her car, she flicked her cigarette out of her window, probably unconsciously freeing her mouth and hands for talking and presenting official documents. To the Americans' surprise, the border guard made her get out of the car, retrieve her cigarette butt, and dispose of it in her car. At this point in the story, my grandmother pointed out that Germans were generally more concerned about such things, and took more pride in their landscape, even (perhaps especially) on international highways.

That image, of a border guard making this otherwise dignified and matronly woman get out of her car and root around on the side of the road for a cigarette butt, has stuck with me for a long, long time. I have often wondered how it is possible that Germans could show more pride in their homeland than Texans, who, regardless of the merits of their claims, are clearly the loudest and proudest people on the planet. I have sometimes fantasized about getting out of my car at a stop light and knocking on a smoker's window, with their still-smoldering cigarette butt in my hand, saying loudly though the glass, "Excuse me, I think you dropped this!" I've heard unconfirmed tales of people doing exactly that, though I think I want to believe them more than I actually can bring myself to. It's a little too gross, and you never know when a Road Rager would run you over or just shoot you.

Beyond the habits of smokers, people do things in their cars that they would not do and probably could not bring themselves to do in person. Wanton rudeness and downright dangerous aggression abound on our roads. The very fact that road rage is a meaningful concept in our modern culture indicates that we have certainly come to find ourselves in a strange and not so wonderful time and place. One reason this rude aggression can proliferate is the anonymity our vehicles provide. Unless there is an accident or a law officer otherwise involved, there are no obvious repercussions to our less-than-friendly actions while driving. There is no reason to be polite, and very little reason to not just do what you want when you want.

Now, a little jot on a notepad at a stop light can lift the spirits of the better drivers, the Above Average Drivers, everywhere. But not only is it fun to take names, it's oddly compelling to ego surf, and discover if we ourselves have made the cut, for good or bad. One good report is enough to make you feel Above Average for the rest of the week.

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