I published this piece in the Ithaca Journal on 6.12.15
The type of driving error that I find most annoying is what my friend affectionately calls a ‘farmer turn’. Swinging wide, as if driving a tractor, the perpetrator of this crime seems to feel the need to move far to the right before turning to the left. I immediately want to give the driver a lesson in angles. Musing on the strange bodily distortion that is the source of this maneuver, I find myself reflecting on the various types of driving behavior that we all witness on the roads.
Take the timid passer. You are driving along on the highway and you find yourself behind a car who is attempting to pass a truck. Picture the truck in the right lane, and your timid driver in the right land beside him. The pass begins well enough, but then, when right along side the truck, the driver seems to loose courage. Apparently unable to speed up or slow down, this driver forms an effective block to an increasingly long line of cars behind him.
What lies behind the behavior of the timid passer? When the driver is a woman, I find myself coming up with explanations like a failure to be assertive. What imaginary force would she violate if she sped ahead confidently? When the driver is a man, I tend to imagine that he is passive aggressive. Maybe he is punishing me for my desire to pass, and thinks that by stopping me, I will get my just deserts for my crime of self-interest.
Among my clients, too, there are multiple tales of road related torments. One such story led to a psychological break through. The client had a history of annoyance that occurred within him when he attempted to parallel park or scoot into a small spot lining the street. His annoyance was invariably directed toward the other drivers who treated him as an obstacle, and bore down on him, leaving him little time for the necessary vehicular adjustments. One day, he found himself on the other side of this event. A driver was scurrying to pull into a small spot on the side of the road causing my client to wait an extra minute or two. Worse than the arduous extra seconds of a computer search, my client was irritated to no end by the wait imposed upon him by the other driver’s maneuvers. Fortunately, my client had the insight to recognize the irony of the situation. He wanted to be unimpeded. We discussed the secret juvenile desires that lay secreted within each of us. Why can’t I go where I want and do what I want without any external limitation? These seemingly absurd desires lie at the heart of many an interpersonal trouble.
Human consciousness has the capacity to experience their vehicle as an extension of their own body in space. The moment we step into our car, we become that car by some secret calculation. When you witness strange behaviors on the road, you are seeing the manifestation of attitude. You notice the lingering next to a truck by the one who passes it, or the fierce, almost predatory behavior of the speeder who comes up on you so suddenly from behind that you scoot out the way in fear. Even the person who seems to veer into your lane very slightly as you pass-each of these are subtle indications of attitude.
When given a large, metallic body, a person becomes willing to demonstrate behaviors that he or she would never manifest during a leisurely stroll. Road rage evidences feelings that are ordinarily repressed. Our angers, insistences and fears take on an almost cartoon-like quality when we don the clothing of a vehicle. Take a moment to join me in a meditation on this fascinating, and sometimes dangerous phenomena. Then, if you are willing, reflect on what clues your own driving offers you about yourself.