Calmer than you are

11 Sep

I used to own a car. It was a teal blue 1993 Volkswagen Golf hatchback. I bought it when I was in college and had it junked a few months before I graduated, as getting it to pass state inspection would've cost more in repairs than I paid for the car. I used to drive that car a lot, as Middletown, Connecticut is not really a hub of mass transportation, and it was the only way to get back home to Maine.

I say this just to point out that I'm not really some kind of anti-car zealot. A coworker recently jokingly accused me of being such, and I also jokingly showed him my Transportation Alternatives membership card. I know that cars are the predominant form of transportation in the United States and we can't just change that overnight, even if I would enjoy it if we did.
I guess I'd be mad too.I guess I'd be mad too.So, that being said, why are people in cars so angry all the time? Streetsblog has commented on this phenomenon, and I think their description of “the emotional intensity that seems to be part and parcel of car ownership” is spot-on. I experience the side effects of this almost every day when I walk and/or bike around the city.

I get that when you're in a car you don't really sense how fast you're going and how nerve-wracking it is to pedestrians when you turn left while pedestrians are still in the crosswalk, or make it through a light that just turned red. So, that's why I like to smack the windows of cars that do such things. Just to alert them that they really came pretty close to injuring me, had I not reacted in time. No damage to the vehicle, just trying to bring to the driver's attention that I'm right here.

This morning, while walking from the subway to my office, an SUV tore out of a parking garage and onto the street, without even stopping to look if anyone was walking nearby on the sidewalk. It happened to be that I was there, and he missed me by about half a foot, maybe. As the SUV passed me I banged lightly on its rear window to alert the driver that he should have been checking for pedestrians (or at least, I hope they realize that's why I do it).

The fellow driving the SUV did not seem to see it that way, though. As I reached the next cross street, I hear someone yelling Hey! Hey! I ignore it since I assume no one would be talking to me, but it turns out to be the driver of the SUV, who had apparently stopped his vehicle, gotten out, and pursued me down most of a (long) city block to confront me about why I had banged on his window. I explained it, and in response he essentially invited me to fight him. Like, physically. I declined.

But, it takes a special kind of motorist to decide that an unruly (in their opinion) pedestrian is worth 1.) parking their car, again 2.) chasing down and 3.) verbally confronting — for what? I realize you could argue that I instigated by smacking the car; it's true. But the level of anger that people in cars seem to display over a relatively minor and harmless action like having their window tapped is shocking.

Maybe if they walked around or rode a bike they could blow off a little steam.