Friday Takeaway: Road Warrior

  • Bill Dwight poses in front of the Pie Bar sign outside of the bar itself on Thursday August, 10, 2017. —

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What is it about cars, or more explicitly driving in cars, that inspires even the kindest among us to express unrestrained rage at the slightest slight? My refined Louisiana debutante grandmother, whom I considered to be a paragon of grace, would go from elegant to enraged in the time it took someone to pass her Dodge Omni. “Go ahead, cowboy! You’re in such a rush to get in an accident!” 

I’m terrible in this regard myself. I grouse, cuss and scream the most ugly invective from behind my tinted glass at every animate and inanimate annoyance. If you’re turning without signaling, you’re going to hell if I have anything to say about it. If you make a left turn in front of my oncoming truck at an intersection, you do so with my expressed contempt. If you drive under the speed limit in the left lane of the highway, you’re probably from Connecticut, and you’re just lucky I’m not in charge of the punishment you should suffer.  

Back in the day, my son used to nap only if he were riding in the back of a car — my road rants served as lullabies. I even came up with a shortcut by putting him in his car seat on top of our washing machine shaking on spin cycle.

I would never behave this way, or even think this way, outside of my vehicle. Civil society would collapse if we all acted the way we do in the confines of our cars. And yet, I know I’m not alone. While I recognize this flaw in myself, I still indulge in the stimulus of outrage.

The relative anonymity of a car’s interior has something to do with this road rage. The same thing happens on the internet in comment sections — we rail against what we deem stupid, outside of our bubble, and by doing so affirm our own wisdom and righteousness. And we exempt ourselves from whatever problems we identify: “This sucks because of that idiot. Not me.”

It’s addictive. Our complicated biochemistry gets a jolt each time we feel wronged and react. The oxymoronic “social” media is just a cheaper and more efficient way to feed the jones. Why go through the aggravation and expense of fueling up a machine and launching it into a sea of potential insults when you can light up your phone or laptop and troll like a boss for free?  

Cursing from inside the solitary space of our cars, or on the internet ... Even the old-school craft of writing witty pronouncements on bathroom walls — it does something for us, I guess. Maybe it even fills a need. But we run the risk of getting stuck in our own misanthropy, because it is so damn easy.

Perhaps we want to be liberated from the burden of civility also referred to as conscientious conduct or being politically correct. We can’t seem to get enough of the thrill of rage.

But ranting to the choir or merely “liking” something isn’t enough. If we don’t take real action and engage with people, we’re just stuck in traffic leaning on our horns, making a whole lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Bill Dwight is a Northampton City Councilor and a pie wrangler at the Florence Pie Bar.