I often wish that those visionary inventors to whom we are indebted for our greatest progress as a species would have stopped a moment to also imagine the ill use to which we humans would put their inventions.
Thomas Edison invented nearly everything upon which the modern lifestyle is based: movies, stereos, and lights that you could switch on and off. But could he possibly have imagined all-night ski slopes or surround-sound home movie centers? Could Alexander Graham Bell have envisioned the blight of the cell phone?
There are many such inventions about which I could — and probably will — rail. But one of the worst of the modern inventions, the one that brings out the most vicious traits of our species, is the automobile.
I got to thinking about automobiles in a general way a few months ago, when, one bright winter morning, I pulled out of a parking space too slowly and a woman in an SUV careened around me. She misunderstood my hesitant lurchings as a desire to push ahead of her and, as she passed me by, a young daughter looking on, she gave me an upward-shoved fist.
We have all witnessed road rage firsthand. In urban areas, drivers constantly get into fights about who reached that parking space first. Get out of the car to argue the point, you take your life in your hands. Then, there’s highway rage. Who can forget the story of Donald Graham, the church deacon who, irked by some young punks on the highway, pulled into the breakdown lane, removed a hunting crossbow from his trunk, and shot one of the punks. Dead.
Luckily, I have not yet been shot, but I have been flipped countless times. Usually, it’s for going too slowly in the fast lane, and for refusing to move over when tailgated. At these moments, my husband tells me that my intransigence is dangerous behavior (he doesn’t say it quite that way, however). But I am ready to die rather than to yield to road-bullies, which I suppose is a sort of road-bullyish attitude all by itself. What’s more, as a former New Yorker, it annoys me that these highway desperadoes in my suburban Massachusetts area don’t actually have anywhere important to go. I want to shout at them, you’re heading to nowhere, you deluded moron. What’s the rush?
Road rage is not limited to the road. One dark, winter night, I was backing out of a parking space at the local pharmacy when a man and his daughter emerged out of the fog. I stopped in time not to run them over, but the father behaved as if I had tried to kill them on purpose: he smashed his fist down on my engine cover.