(Edit: Since hitting “post” on this last night, I’ve had a few more thoughts on this matter, one of which is in response to a comment (thanks Geoff), and the other is this: at this moment, I also find myself thinking about how we blame things like “traffic” and “cars” for causing certain behaviours, when really, the bad behaviour is a result of the shortcomings of the user rather than object. While traffic or cars aren’t directly at fault, then, they do seem to give rise to less than desirable behaviour, and as such, many of us might be wise to spend less of our time pursuing such activities – especially when there are other alternatives that happen to have so many other positive outcomes!)
So as you may have picked up by now, I get everywhere by bike. Or by tram. Or bus. Sometimes a taxi if need be. On rare occasions, probably a few times a year, we’ll hire a car if we are going somewhere. Basically, I don’t drive very often anymore.
Let’s be clear about one thing though – I don’t have an inherent distaste for driving or cars. In fact, I spent much of my life lusting after certain cars, having large amounts of fun with them and bonded with many people over them. Much like what happens now with bicycles.
It’s been a while, though, since I last drove properly. I rented a van a few months ago to move some stuff, but it was many, many months before that when I last spent a proper amount of time behind the wheel. Now that I’m thinking of it, it was probably before I started tinkering with The Sticky Bidon.
Perhaps it is the combination of not having driven in quite some time and having been in a head-space that is increasingly crammed full of issues surrounding behaviour and transportation that caused what I already believed to be true to become tangible: that driving makes you crazy. I drove yesterday and was tense and angry and felt a particular brand of injustice that is probably highly misplaced.
The details are unimportant, but after about three hours in the car and following one specific instance that got me particularly angry, I suddenly realized that driving makes you crazy in a way that is unique to driving a car.
At first I thought it was merely being on the road – that it is traffic itself that makes people crazy. However, pedestrians don’t really get pavement rage, on the bus or tram you can just chill out, and as a passenger in a car I couldn’t care less what others are doing around me (to a certain extent).
With cycling you get mad for many of the same reasons as drivers, but it tends to slip away after a few more pedal strokes go by. I tend to have less patience than some when it comes to behaviour I see that doesn’t correspond with what I would consider to be reasonable or logical or considerate, and as I see that kind of behaviour many, many times every day as I ride, I get annoyed quite a lot. I don’t really do anything about it, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling annoyed, and smug, about it (though I am slowly getting better)…
At any rate, on a bike, the negative energy that boils inside of you gets spent, either from the normal act of cycling, or while you foolishly accelerate hard after the car that cut you off. Then, it subsides as you chalk it up to just another idiot not paying attention and/or lacking respect for the well-being of another human being. Your attention is then turned back to the task at hand, which is both doing your best to stay alive, and enjoying the act of riding a bicycle.
In a car, however, the anger and frustration fester. It’s like an incubator. Isolated from the outside world, your rage, which is mostly based on what your perception of what the other driver, whose face you can’t see and intent you’ll never know, is doing on the other side of your windscreen, just keeps recirculating through your dry climate control system and only wafting away once you step away from the vehicle.
I think that it is because you are insulated from the outside world, both in regards to human interaction and personal safety, as well as having an inflated sense of ego that commanding unreasonably powerful machines gives you, that creates these monsters within us.
You can shout at the top of your voice at the other driver, honk your horn, gesticulate wildly, accelerate hard, follow closely, and do all kinds of things in the safety of your metal and glass room on wheels, all the while feeling protected should an accident occur or the other driver get out to confront you with your doors locked and windows rolled up.
Disney knew, and told us all about it in 1950. Pity we just laugh at the silly cartoon.
After catching myself yesterday as I was quite angry while driving and realizing that it was, in fact, a different kind of frustration that I felt than when I was walking or cycling, I at that moment fully realized the power cars have over us to reduce us to the base creatures we believe we have evolved beyond.
You know, power corrupts, and all that. The kind of power that the combination of power plus security offers, backed up by over 50 years of “the roads are for cars” thinking. That’s why cars are special.
Yes, people behave like complete wankers on bikes too, and cyclists abuse their “power” over pedestrians as well, but I really do believe that cars take it to the next level, not least in terms of the physical danger they present to all and sundry.
The next time you catch yourself behind the wheel raging at a world that neither sees or hears you, just stop and reflect on the possibility that it may in fact be that driving makes you crazy, but that there is also a cure.
A cure that not only restores your sanity, but also your physical health, the health of the natural environment, and the communities you travel through.
Whether it’s Cyclexapro or Pedalazopran, just take one on your way to work or the shops, and one on the way home, and you’ll be better before you know it.
Header image: source