I am normally pretty good-humored. But I’ve recently become quite testy about almost getting run over on a regular basis on the streets of downtown Austin. I know I have my faults and all that, but I do think I deserve something better than ending up as roadkill, plastered on the front grill of some moron’s pickup truck.
I seem to be in the minority when it comes to this view, however. Texas’ driving motto is, “Drive friendly,” for God’s sake, and I have no idea what’s so damned friendly about scaring the hell out of hapless pedestrians.
But who am I to judge? That’s right. I’m not here to judge. I just want to get even.
Twice in the past week, I’ve watched as a couple of tons of steel has roared and throttled toward me, only braking grudgingly at the last minute. I’d love to say I maintained my equanimity and zenlike serenity through it all, and uttered some memorable exit line that might make it into Bartlett’s.
But, oh no. The pathetic truth is, I froze and screamed bloody murder both times. (It’s not bad enough to almost get creamed and smeared on the asphalt, is it? No. I also have to humiliate myself in the process.)
Maybe, I think, if I start carrying something large and weapon-like, I will begin to get some respect from drivers. (I don’t think my purse — although large and heavy enough to cause me to list permanently to one side — will do the trick.)
An umbrella? Nobody in Texas carries umbrellas for the sun and, since it hasn’t rained here in 600 years, people might think I am certifiably deranged and will avoid provoking me. A woman of a certain age, trudging in triple-digit heat with an umbrella and a preemptive scowl on her face, might frighten some people, no?
I consider and discard other promising objects to carry, such as a shotgun or a lifesized, cardboard cutout of that preening dolt, Rick Perry or a placard reading, “Warning, I am litigious and my lawyer is sleazy.” No, no and no. I’d like to maintain a little dignity.
I am thinking about all of this — pedestrians’ rights, the murderous negligence of Texas drivers, the merciless heat, the cruel Darwinian streets — when I realize I am late to a meeting at a nearby civic center. I jump in my car and barrel down the street.
Two blocks away, the left-hand turn lane is backed up and I wait impatiently. Finally, traffic begins to move. I make my turn directly in front of a bicyclist opposite me who’s trying to go straight. He has the right of way, but the rest of us in our cars are bigger.
As I pass directly in front of him, I glance at his face. He’s stopped in the middle of the road, letting us all pass in front of him, his face a mixture of impatience and withering contempt for our swinish behavior.
Withering contempt! I’ll have to remember that expression for the next time I occupy the moral high ground. It stings for a couple of seconds, but I move on. After all, you see, I’m in a hurry.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
To learn how to handle a crisis badly, read crisis is my middle name