I listened in rapt fascination and horror as he explained how he drove. This bipolar young man with the fresh face and red hair sat up right in his chair at the meeting and with a giddy smile on his face spoke about how he bore down on slower moving vehicles. He liked to go ninety miles per hour when ever he could get away with it he said. He would charge up behind a car in front and break fast slowing up just quickly enough not to crash. He liked he said the look of terror on the drivers face when he would then dash out from behind, speed by the shaken driver, and zip into their lane. “You’re a crammer,” she said. The older woman looked over at the young man with disgust. “That what I call people like you, who drive so aggressively. You must have a will to death.” The young man smiled knowingly. I thought he did since not only was the young man bipolar; he was also diabetic at a young age. There was a certain angry edge to all his speech.
He reminded me of myself in the past, when I would drive like this in states of high anger. Once I discovered I left a prized book at the airport. I got off the freeway on my way home, turned around, and sped back onto the I-10 toward the airport. My wife and my daughter were in the car with me. I had just picked up my daughter from a flight from San Francisco. I charged onto the freeway without regard for coming traffic. I weaved in and out between the many cars traveling west, cursing at each driver who impeded my way. I accelerated and broke with increasing violence. Nothing was going to stop me from getting back to the airport quickly and pick up the book from a stand where I knew I had left it. I swerved into the inside lane where traffic was not supposed to go, then rushed back into the snarl of traffic, blasting across three lanes in a fury of expletives. My wife and daughter were terrified. They begged me to calm down, but I could not. The lost of the book encapsulated all that was wrong with my life.
I had not just lost a book. I was confronted with my own inadequacies and failures too numerous to count. The book was my life. The book was a daily diary where I recorded all my events, responsibilities, desires, and thoughts. I had to retrieve it. I could not stand the thought of so precious a document to end up in foreign hands, or cast off-handedly in the trash. Too lose it, would only brand my life so carefully constructed to have meaning in spite of life’s meaninglessness as worthless. I could not let that happen.
I raced on, pushed through traffic that ordinarily would have me stalled and waiting in silent frustration. I nearly nicked a hundred cars as I pulled out around them headless of the vehicles in the lanes beside me. If horns blared, I only sat on my own horn, and flipped them the finger. I crunched through the gears not careful to fully disengage the clutch as I downshifted. I ground the gears and swore as I up shifted. My wife and my daughter cowered in the backseat. I was a madman focused on only one thing. Get my book back!
I screamed into the airport parking garage, nearly hitting a pillar. I parked abruptly, jumped out of the car and raced to the concourse. I ran from place to place where I knew I had been: the newsstand- The sales lady had not seen the red diary, the coffee stand- it was not on the counter nor had they picked it up, the toilet room – the counter was empty except for wads of hand drying paper. I looked in the trash cans there and all along the concourse from where I had passed to meet the plane. This was in the day before nine-eleven when you still could meet an airplane at its gate. I didn’t find my book. I was totally deflated. Tremendous fatigue gripped me. A great sadness overwhelmed me. I wandered back to my car where my daughter and wife berated my behavior. I told them to shut up. We drove home in silence and I drove defensively.
This was me on one occasion, mad as mad angry hatter, but as I sat in the meeting and heard the young man recall his own mad behavior, and remembered my own, I also thought how often I have encountered mad drivers on the road. Madness on the roadway is not the province of the mad only. Normal people drive crazy too. They swerve; they race; they cram, all in the pursuit of some personal need. Some no doubt motoring madly to some destination to which they are late or lost, but some – the most I imagine- seem bent on using their heavy armature as a weapon to strike out against the world. The world ignores them; they ignore the rules of road courtesy. They challenge other drivers to test their courage and their resolve. The car is like a sword cutting through the hesitation and concern of others. With rapier speed they zip through the traffic parrying any move with a move more aggressive and more determined to get ahead to that nowhere ahead. Most attacked hold back their aggravation. But what if they didn’t? Our roads would be a massacre of tangled cars and bloody bodies. Few would survive the demolition derby of egos.
So I thanked the many drivers who controlled their own madness on the roadway and let the few who are mad race on. I know however that everyone is capable of road rage, and has probably exercised it more than once. It is too easy to use the heavy club of an automobile to get our way, when all you have to do is press down on a small lever, and watch in glee as you propel yourself beyond the wretched heard. I know madness can come to anyone, and there is nowhere it is more evident than on the highway.