Monday, October 6, 2014

How John Q Cured My Road Rage

Parked next to a large motorhome the other day, I was reminded of the responsibility one takes on when getting behind the wheel. The bigger the vehicle, the bigger the responsibility. Cue scene from Spiderman....

Most of the time I'm looking forward to getting behind the wheel and driving our home down the road. I would look forward to it more if I thought we could be on the road by ourselves!  Still, I'm very glad I no longer carry around the road rage I once did - surely dangerous when combined with the power of a huge rig.
I learned to drive when I was 11. Four-speed stick-shift dune buggy. Dirt roads and desert washes. Mostly by myself, or with just my dad. It was fun and I was good at it. By the time I was 14 I was leading caravans of friends and relatives through the desert with Dad pulling tail-end-Charlie at the back.

With my learner's permit I drove our '56 Ford pickup on Interstate 10 through Los Angeles on a Friday night, and found Mom's apartment while Dad slept. Standard equipment included one tail light and no turn signals. I remember being a little rattled, but really proud of doing it myself. I really was a good driver. 

Moving to Fullerton, CA, for college gave me my first experience at consistent city driving. Every day. Commuting to work and school. Freeways and major roads. Lots of cars. With drivers who apparently got their licenses at night school, in one night. These were not good drivers. 

Not having fun

I quickly became intolerant of those I perceived to be idiot drivers. The occasional "hand gestures" turned into more aggressive responses. Tailgaters quickly got my brake lights in their face, causing them to slam on their brakes and swerve dangerously behind me. When someone cut in front of me I would take off after them so I could "repay" them by cutting them off as well. Try to pass me on the right? I'll speed up so you can't! Naturally I felt completely justified in my actions. I had been driving for years and these disrespectful imbeciles would learn from my great experience. Certainly they would never do such a thing again!

More frustrating were those times when I was "wronged" in my travels, and then denied the opportunity to teach the lesson! Unable to make eye contact, or unable to catch up with the violator, I was left to stew in my vehicle. Of course complaining to my coworkers when I got to work at least gave me the chance to vent (prolong) my misery. Sometimes I could hold on to it all day, and share it again when I got home. Good stuff!

After many years I learned that I was not alone in my reactions behind the wheel. Apparently "road rage" was fairly common. Now, to hear it described by others, it was pretty awful. Extreme. Scary and dangerous. 

I've been wronged!  You shall pay!
 But what about those drivers who were "causing it"? Certainly they couldn't be allowed to just get away with their henous acts of piracy on the road! Besides I would never take it too far. I wasn't the bad guy here. I was the good driver.

In 2002 a movie came out with Denzel Washington called "John Q". One of those gut-wrenching movies about a father trying to save his son from a medical emergency. Insurance company as villian, desperate parent, hostages, human empathy, life lessons, deep messages. Critics were not kind, claiming the script over-sold all of it.

It had a huge impact on me. But not from the intended message. After seeing the movie, I no longer raged at others on the road. The "ah-ha" for me came early in the movie - before the hospital and hostages.

As parents, we know the joy of cheering for our kids.  Whether it's an athletic competition, or an academic achievement, we are nervous for them, but love being there to encourage them!

That would all change in less than a second if our child were to suddenly drop to the ground unconscious. Our life would change forever, in an instant.

There would be nothing more important than saving them, getting them to medical aide immediately.

When this happens to John Q. Archibald's son in the movie, his priority is clear. Not willing to wait for anyone, he puts the boy in his pick-up and flies out of the parking lot. On the way to the hospital he cuts off several drivers, passes on the shoulder, fishtails around corners - terrifying pedestrians. He is beyond an idiot driver!

In that moment, with my single-mother-of-two-boys heart racing, I realized I don't know the story of those idiot drivers I rage against all the time. 

There could be any number of reasons why a person is driving erratically.  Maybe it is not about me.

I can't explain the powerful impact that scene had on me - it was about 2 minutes long - it was in a movie.

The next time someone raced up on me, speeding around to cut me off, I slowed down to let them pass. I thought about what might be so important to make them drive like that, and was grateful it wasn't happening to me.

And in that moment I realized how miserable I had been making myself all those years!  I saw that all those idiots I spent all those hours ranting and raging about didn't even know they had pissed me off. They didn't give me another thought. I had ruined my own damn day!  Many, many of them.

Now I give myself a point every time I let someone in front of me. Sometimes I get two if they didn't use their turn signal :-). 

What I earn for those points is peace of mind, happiness, and a relaxed drive.

Someone honking their horn, or swerving into my lane can still cause a knee-jerk hand signal. It startles me, and I react. And then I let it go.

Driving is a joy for me, but still a responsibility. I've driven vehicles from two-seat roadsters to small Class A motorhomes. Now that I'm preparing to drive a very long, very heavy, and very powerful motorhome, with a tow vehicle, I'm especially grateful that road rage is no longer part of my experience. 

I don't know what it was in that movie scene that cured my road rage. Maybe everyone who saw it was equally impacted.  Maybe it created a whole cadre of calmer, more relaxed drivers. 

Maybe I was just ready to be a happy driver as well as a good one.


  1. Glad you have calmed your road rage, but I have to say driving in the cities of SoCal is a frustrating experience. It seemed using blinkers only encouraged other drivers to cut off a lane change, so I quit using my blinkers there! I guess its better to see idiot drivers as in some kind of emergency. I always say they are in a hurry to be the first ones at the next accident. Either way, no sense in letting it ruin the day. I can't wait for you to get on the road full time, you write so well and I know you are going to have some great stories to tell!

    1. Thank you Maura :-) I think SoCal freeways breeds the most ragers because it always seems like you're being punished when you try to do the right thing!

  2. Maura is right about how well you write. This is another great post about an important topic. Unlike you, I hate to drive and the other people on the road are the reason. I just don't trust that they aren't going to do something stupid. The LA freeways where even in the 70's you had to be going 60 mph at least coming up the on ramp to even get in the crazy traffic were a big reason I hated living in the valley and couldn't wait to move to some place WAY out in the country. I don't only hate to drive, I even hate to ride. I'm most happen when we get there and can put all the vehicle keys away for as long as possible. Really nice thoughtful post.

    1. not I''m most happen, I'm happiest...................and that would even be more true if I'd proofread more!

    2. I always do my best proofreading after I press the Publish button :-)

    3. Thank you for your kind comments :-) Bill is a great driver but I am a horrible passenger! One of my goals is to share the driving with him without being a totally crazy person in the other seat.

  3. Great thoughts. I'd love to send this to one of my girls....but I'd better not. I think I'll just rent the movie when we are together then start a dialogue.

    1. Probably a better plan :-) - I likely wouldn't have "gotten the message" from Mom, but might have shared the "ah ha" from the movie with her. Hope it works - she'll be happier -)

  4. P.s. And the Hadley Horn is not a source for your amusement my DH.....

    1. Guess he figures if you married him after the "wall incident" all bets are off :-)

  5. I'm so glad my commute to work is only 5 miles! No freeway either :-) If I need to go into the downtown area I make sure I avoid rush hour traffic.
    Ron and I plan to share the driving duties too. Although I'm usually the one who drives the long distance trips.

    1. Ah yes, the "fun" of Q Street at 7:30 on weekday mornings :-) My commutes were generally 15-40 miles so you definitely have it good! And soon it will be zero!!!

  6. Wonderful, as always! Your explanation is so like my husband that I am (quietly ;o) SO thankful he gave up driving & left it all to me! It makes life so much more serene & he's a happier camper, too!