Sunday, July 16, 2006

Road Rage

Sometimes I wonder if there's a new element in the air making people crazy. I especially wonder when I find myself fighting an urge to do something stupid while I'm driving, like drag a car that's trying to pass me. (By the way, I lost. A Pontiac Vibe, even a very nice Pontiac Vibe, is no match for a Datsun 280-Z.)

That type of behavior is totally out of character for me as I am normally a very mild-mannered person. Some of my friends even call me Maryann Milquetoast.

But I'm beginning to understand Road Rage.

I get it when I'm tooling along the Interstate with my cruise set about seven above the posted speed limit. Then I glance in my rear-view mirror to see the grill of pickup truck bearing down on me like some wild beast straight out of Japanese animation.

Why does he wait until he's crawling up my bumper to pass? We're on a flat stretch of road for Pete's sake. He could clearly see my car while he was still a half a mile back; plenty of space and time to move over. But, no, he's got to practically crawl into my trunk just to let me know what he thinks of my lollygaging.

Road Rage also threatens when I get stuck in a construction area where two lanes are siphoned into one. Nobody likes the idea of a delay, but most folks simply sigh and get in line. But some folks think they don't have to. Despite the signs that have warned for a mile that the right lane is closed ahead, drivers zoom up to the flashing arrow and inch their way into the bottleneck.

Of course, they don't consider themselves a primary cause of the bottleneck. Hey, they've got places to go and people to see, and they're just making sure they get to their places faster than anyone else. Too bad for the fools who all dutifully lined up in the left lane.

As they force their way into the line, careful not to make eye contact, do they really think we don't know what they're thinking?

Years ago when I had a big Chevy van, I liked to straddle the line between the two lanes to prevent cars from slipping around me. I'd seen a Semi driver do this once and thought it was a nifty idea, but an eighteen-wheeler is a lot more imposing than a van.

I still had people try to squeeze past and we'd do this weird little road-dance familiar to racing fans who've watched drivers maneuver to keep a car from passing on the straight-away.

Keeping all the cars behind me did wonders for my blood pressure. I could feel it subsiding from near stroke level with every little giggle of delight. And I didn't even mind that the success had less to do with driving skill and more to do with the fact that I was driving a vehicle that wouldn't even notice another dent.

Of course, this isn't something I could try now. People no longer vent their frustration with severe pounding on their steering wheels. Now they pull a Colt 45.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Taking a Break

My son called recently to tell us that his wife had gone to visit relatives for a few days and had taken their baby. So he was alone in the house - except for the dogs - for the first time since baby's arrival in their lives.

He sounded a little wistful as he talked about missing the normal routine of feeding, bathing, and entertaining their little girl. Without his family at the house, he didn't know what to do when he came home from work, so he threw the ball for the dogs, but that diversion only lasted a few minutes. They are old and play time is very brief now.

But he also sounded - did he dare even say the word - free. He mentioned going out with a friend the night before and having a beer, also mentioning that he couldn't remember the last time he'd done that. Then in case we misunderstood the thrill in his voice, he quickly clarified that he's not entertaining thoughts of abandoning family responsibilities for nights out with the boys. It just felt good to revisit his carefree youth when he didn't have to worry about who might be worrying if he didn't come home at a reasonable hour.

I understood completely. When my husband traveled for business, I occasionally welcomed a brief respite from all that it means to have another person to defer to. If I didn't feel like cooking a regular meal, I could get by with soup and sandwiches for the kids. That was definitely not my husband's idea of a meal. I could read in bed at night for as long as I wanted without worrying whether my light was bothering him. And I could soak in the tub until I turned into a prune without holding up anybody's shower.

That didn't mean I didn't love my husband and enjoy his company. It was just nice to be alone now and then. And when I was finally able to say that to him, he admitted that those short business trips were like a vacation for him, too. He could actually watch an entire television program without some kid bounding through the room in hot pursuit of the brother who punched him for no reason.

I actually think those brief 'vacations' from regular family life can strengthen a relationship. When my husband returned from a trip were thrilled to be together again. Now he could fix all the things that broke while he was gone and I could practice my cooking again.