Let’s take a deep breath and stop the rage

I saw an incident of “road rage” the other day. A driver was shaking his fist at a driver in another car. Not unusual in and of itself, except the driver that was being raged at was driving a hearse at the time – and leading a funeral procession.

We seem to be really ticked off around here. We seem to be the most bothered, bugged, galled, irked, riled, roiled, ruffled, chafed, piqued, peeved and nettled society in human history. (My thanks to the late Peter Roget for his invaluable help in providing the words in the preceding sentence.)

Out on our local roadways people are fuming.

Hospitals are reporting a significant increase in patients who have severely strained middle fingers from overuse. In fact, it is estimated that more “birds” are flipped on our local roads than in all the KFC franchises combined.

Activists are already proposing trigger locks for middle fingers.

That notion doesn’t sit well with strict Constitutionalists, who note that “the right to bear arms” should extend to all parts of those arms.

Yet, something has to be done. The growing incidences of road rage and aggressive driving are getting even peaceable drivers torqued off.

There are actually people these days called “road rage scholars.” Perhaps today’s university student could go for a major in road rage … with a minor in compulsive gambling.

Road rage scholars say aggressive driving has now become the most common way of driving. In other words, it’s not just one or two nut balls – it’s you and me. Well, you. Driving while angry has become a subculture of the daily commute.

So why are we so testy behind the wheel? Those scholars say it could be our ever-worsening traffic and clogged freeways; the increased number of drivers on the roads; or perhaps residual anger over the Sonics moving to Oklahoma City.

Whatever the cause, some of us clearly need to take a time-out. Police ought to pull aggressive drivers over and make them park facing a street corner, with their head down for an hour or two. And no peeking into the rear-view mirror either.

A few years ago, a company started marketing an audio CD called “The Peaceful Driver.” People were supposed to listen to its messages of positive visualization and calming affirmations while driving. But what would happen if the car’s CD player fouled up? How mad would that make you?

The U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration not only has the longest name in the world, but also a list of tips on how drivers can avoid conflict:

1) Use your horn only when necessary. This makes sense. Horns make other drivers angry. Better yet, I suggest hooking up some kind of loudspeaker to your car horn, so that instead of a honk, the other driver will hear a pre-recorded message: “No problem that you almost drove me into the ditch! You have just as much right to be in this lane as I do! Please forgive my thoughtlessness. I apologize on behalf of myself and everybody else in this ambulance.”

2) Avoid direct eye contact. This one is confusing. Does this mean avoiding eye contact only with other drivers – or does it also include averting your eyes from road signs, traffic lights and the road itself?

3) Don’t drive while angry or upset. “Hi, Boss. I’m not coming into work. I saw something on TV last night that got me too upset to risk driving in today.” After all, it really CAN be upsetting to see a contestant with a big lead lose out in Final Jeopardy.

A British newspaper article noted a few years ago that all this rage isn’t just happening on our roads. The article detailed how London shoppers were becoming gripped with “trolley” (shopping cart) rage while waiting in long lines at supermarkets. There’s no doubt that it’s happening in this country, too. I’ve been sideswiped more than once inside Costco. Just last week, I saw a guy’s cart get totaled in a head-on crash – sending cases of wine and packages of toilet paper flying.

Woe to the man who tries to sneak an extra item through an express line – he could wind up deader than the rack of lamb he’s trying to buy. And if somebody bumps into my wife’s cart while she’s coming down the cereal aisle, they’re going to be pulling Lucky Charms out of their nose for a month.

The day is coming when fights will routinely break out at church on Sunday: “Come on, Father! Wrap it up! The Seahawks game starts at 1 o’clock!”

Theater-goers will come in wearing mouth-guards and brass knuckles.

Some people will start attending hockey games just so they can get mellow.

So let me be a voice of reason. Lighten up, everybody. There’s not nobody who shouldn’t not at least try.

Editor’s Note: When our proofreadinging department gently tried to point out to Mr. Cashman that he had used two double negatives in his final sentence, he went on a rampage, overturning our office wastebaskets and breaking an electric pencil sharper. Following his participation in an anger management workshop, his column will resume next week.

Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at pat@patcashman.com.