Looking at common civility through the rearview mirror | Whale’s Tales

What madness overtakes otherwise decent people when they get behind the wheel of a car?

I see the lunacy manifest every day on our roads, streets and highways, and I can’t help but wonder what goes on inside the heads affixed to the shoulders.

Why does Jones absolutely have to be ahead of everyone else at the peril of his life and theirs, too? Is there some gumball that winds along the porches and gateways of Smith’s mental machinery that pops out every time he makes a flaming ass of himself by climbing up another guy’s bumper at 90 miles an hour and laying on his horn?

Why do so many feel the need to demonstrate that the laws the rest of us have to follow just don’t apply to them? And where are the flashing blue lights when they do?

I don’t get it. Perhaps it’s pride of place. Maybe it’s the self satisfaction such people get because no one can see them behind the tinted glass.

I’m not a psychiatrist, so I can only guess. But as the late anchorman David Brinkley used to say, “It boggles the mind.”

I know for a fact every motorist has a story to tell about tailgating, being cut off, being caught in the potentially fatal games of one-upsmanship in which the rest of humanity drops away and only those two idiots matter.

Here are some of my choicer experiences.

Traveling north on West Valley Highway just past Peasley Canyon one afternoon, I watched in disbelief as a motorist moving along the westbound on-ramp to Highway 18 suddenly dropped down the embankment and drove through the weedy, in-between area. I can only guess the guy had missed his turn and was too lazy to continue on and correct his course at the next intersection.

One evening on the Olympic Peninsula, I was on an on-ramp preparing to merge into the eastbound lanes of Highway 101 near Sequim when I noticed that the driver who had been in my rear-view mirror a moment before had disappeared. So, I looked around. And there the guy was, pulling up the weed-wild embankment to my right to pass in front of me. Even on an on-ramp, that guy absolutely had to be in front.

I remember one guy in a big pickup who was refusing to allow me to enter southbound Highway 167 just outside of Kent — I sped up, he sped up — and with the end of the on-ramp coming up fast, I leaned on the gas to avoid an accident. As the driver passed me, I observed his upraised finger of friendly salutation.

Finally, on one memorable occasion just past the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, I passed to the left of another driver. Immediately, the guy roared out in front of me, and slammed on his brakes, again and again and again. Seems he wasn’t too happy.

Of course, rude driving is not a new phenomenon. But it seems to increase every day, keeping pace with a breakdown of the sort of civil norms most of us used to practice.

While wicked behavior shielded by the anonymity of the internet cannot kill a body outright at the moment, it can open up before us bottomless chasms of incredulity.

Like when a man proud of his 4-year-old son and his first attempts at playing a guitar is hit by a wave of trolls greedy to assure him what a no-talent bum of a kid he has, that his kid would never amount to squat in this world.

Where is this rudeness coming from? What is coarsening us? Have people always been this petty and mean? Have we lost for good the sense of our commonality as human beings on this planet?

I hope not.

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.