An article by Hanna Bork.
Hanna Bork is a passionate bibliophile and graduate of University of Washington, Bothell.
Since moving from Washington to Kentucky she is attempting to find her way in a foreign land.
The car has always been a symbol of possibilities, independence, and conquering the vanishing horizon. As teenagers we couldn’t wait until we had that piece of paper that allowed us to escape our angst-ridden lives. We felt that we were adults in every sense of the word and should be allowed all of the perks of the position. We were more than happy to vocalize our criticism of our parents’ speed limit abidance, whether it be too slow or too fast, their parking abilities, or lackthereof, and every other little annoyance that grew to be insurmountable when approached with our own lack of driving privilege. Some of our parents tolerated our naiveté with good humor and cautioned us that someday, we would not enjoy driving as much as we looked forward to the idea of driving.
And then, the day came when we liberated ourselves from our Metro-dependent prisons. The world was our oyster and we could go to whatever fast-food ‘restaurant’ we wanted to, whenever we wanted (provided it didn’t violate curfew). We filled our mom’s minivans our crew and cruised like we were supporting actors in “Grease.” After a few days though, our lives failed to instantaneously mirror the hip and happenin’ fellas in music videos and the shiny newness of our new status started to tarnish.
The best part was the first time we had to actually pay for our new wheels. Whether the reality came in the form of car insurance payments, new brakes, new tires, or reparations for an egregious lapse in motor judgment, the reality of our fantasy became very jarring to us. We hated the smug looks on our parents’ faces, the “I told you so’s” and the long monologues on RESPONSIBILITY. None of this seemed to match the ideal of road-rebellion we had built up in our heads.
After we became fully jaded we started to drive a little less, hitch more rides (just like the olden days), and began to complain about how stressful driving is (just like our boring, freedom-hating, parents). Eventually we built our own coping mechanisms: only driving at certain times to avoid traffic, not going to certain places because of the traffic, and when we were in the aforementioned traffic we began to evolve our language of frustration and impatience for incompetence. Whether we skipped straight to strategic finger demonstration or began small with impassioned, inarticulate mutterings, we all behaved in ways and talked with words that we could never imagine ourselves doing before becoming a master of the open road.
I have used more colorful descriptions of driving strangers than I knew I was capable of. I take a great deal of pride in the Shakespearean portraits I paint of others and their inability to drive in a way that would warrant my approval. I’ve made dramatic gestures, had dialogues with myself about how frustrating others can be, and been embarrassed when my shouted, private expletives became a matter of public forum when my windows were down.
This week however, I had to do a serious diagnostics check on how my attitude in the car doesn’t affect the person I want to present to others. I was in the drive-thru at Wendy’s (yeah I love the Baconator, you would too if you infused it with nostalgia like I do), and I had my window down preemptively down as I waited; which allowed me a front-row seat at the EPIC WENDY’S DRIVE-THRU DRAMA behind me. Evidently, a white car had been idling in the proximity of the drive-thru line, but wasn’t really paying full attention. Making a logical assumption, a red car passed the idling Whitey (no race judgments here, it’s just a convenient nickname), and zoomed into line right behind yours truly. I was alerted to this injustice when Whitey began shrieking, “Why would you do that? What is wrong with YOU!” (I could not exaggerate the volume to which I was alerted to this travesty; Whitey had some vocal cords worthy of the grandest stages.) Eventually deciding that mere bellowing would not express his/her frustration with nearly the impact, Whitey again pulled out of line to come alongside Red, for some reason Red rolled down their passenger window, and Whitey continued to express their displeasure with the current psychological shape of Red. “Why would you do that? What kind of person does that? Why would you do that?” etc. etc. I felt bad for the person in front of me, ordering, and attempting to decide on Small or Medium between the inserts of drama behind us. I suppose Red also assumed that Whitey was a calm and logical individual, I don’t know what gave them that impression, and Red attempted to explain that they didn’t think Whitey was actually waiting in line as Whitey was not physical in line. Whitey’s response was, “Why would you do that? Why would you think that? I was just looking down in my lap at a text message, What kind of person does that?” (It all becomes clear; cell-phone usage while driving truly is a menace). I believe that Red apologized and allowed Whitey to go ahead of them in line and get their Frosty a whole minute sooner than had been previously aligned. Witnessing this whole exchange left me physically shaken.
At first I found it amusing to witness the emotional depths people at which took their fast-food access. I laughed inwardly as I made judgments on the ‘kinds of people that eat fast-food.’ (Irony acknowledged) But then I had to take a hard look at myself, waiting for the gourmet culinary experience before me, and really question what separated me from Whitey. I have also shouted at people, sworn at them, accused of them of improper sexual proclivities, and truly sounded like a bigot/asshole/morally corrupt individual. (I’m not, really, I’m really a generous, loving person, I swear). If my generosity, love, and patience are not evident in EVERY SINGLE indiscriminate activity I engage in, are they true characteristics of my person? Unless I advertise my moral character with the fine print of “except for when I’m driving,” then I truly am a farce. After this internal chastisement of myself, I had to confront the reality that Whitey and I were not that different. I too have reacted with inordinate amounts of passion toward things that may have seemed minute. I too have had awful days that have caused me to radiate my unhappiness towards every person I interacted with.
The journey of discovery associated with increased auto freedom has not come with a journey of discover associated with auto-etiquette. No matter how much you paid for driving lessons, or how many times you took the driver’s test, ‘how to treat other drivers’ was never covered. This is probably why we all improvise, with varying levels of coherence and civility, as we go. It is a problem rampant with our ever-growing technological society: as we have access to more ‘freedoms’ we are not going on an ever-growing lesson of the morality of said freedoms. No matter how fast we are able to move, how many advancements we engage in that allows us minimal human contact, we should not forget that this world is made up of humans. Humans that are imperfect, fighting so very hard for sanity, and humans that are just like us.