Monday, October 26, 2009

Road Rules: The Stare

Jemina Pearl--"Looking For Trouble" (mp3)
Mickey Hart's Music Box--"Look Away" (mp3)

It's pretty amazing, isn't it? How little it takes to turn a simple drive down an interstate into a potentially-lethal confrontation?

I can be driving down the road, listening to music I really like, full of belly from a profitable stop at Chik-Fil-A, riding with pleasant company, and all of a sudden, something can happen, some really small thing, and I become a raging madman, ready to take on all comers, unwilling to back down from the slightest slight, ready to duel another vehicle to the death.

There are many causes for this: 1) someone cuts in front of me, 2) someone slows down in the fast lane, 3) someone rides my ass, 4) someone does anything else that pisses me off.

But what really gets me, and most of us, cranked up is THE STARE.

You know what the stare is. It's that personal contact that you make or that someone makes with you when you have the opportunity to meet eyes on the open road. When you're out in the lane and you stare at the other car as you pass it. When a car blasts past you, and, if you're willing, you meet the eyes of the driver who is passing you. If a truck has been jamming you up, keeping you driving slow, and you finally get past it, and you lean way low and look to your right. That's the stare. And if you don't stare correctly, you risk World War III, or at least a small skirmish that is somehow part of it.

Isn't funny how a set of eyes is one of the greatest gifts that we have been given, maybe even the greatest gift, and yet, if we overuse it, it can get us into all kinds of trouble? I think it's probably okay to connect on a passing glance, just enough to get a sense of who the other driver is, but if we hold that stare just a millisecond too long, we're inviting the finger, explosive anger, at least a "What're you lookin' at, sucker?" response.

Usually, I stare all wrong. When I get to the position where I have a chance to get eye to eye, I meet those other eyes, then I look away, but after I do, I start shaking my head out of disgust because when I bother to look at another driver, it's usually because they have been slowing me up.

Women are a different problem. A man wants a good look at a good-looking woman, but on the highway, he has to make that judgement based on her hair alone, if he's coming up behind her--good-looking hair is the first indicator of a good-looking woman, but it is in no way definitive. That means that once he actually sees her, he has to make a split-second decision: if she isn't good-looking, then he has to turn away, but not so quickly as to acknowledge her non-good-lookingness; after all, he is a gentleman. If she is good-looking, he has to make that assessment equally quickly and take her all in, but not in such a way that either she or his wife makes too much of. We don't want to be Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Vacation, after all. Or do we?

But if, God forbid, someone stares at me or at anyone else who is in the position of being a "perpetrator," meaning that we have supposedly wronged someone else, then look out. And that means that you have pulled up along side of me and given me quite the eye, maybe I see your mouth moving while you're looking at me. That I will not take.

Americans have a hard time admitting they're wrong in the best of circumstances, but on the open road, the whole "blame the accuser" notion kicks into its highest gear. All of us are just trying to get somewhere, and most of us are trying to do it with some kind of clock in our heads. And we don't like someone looking at us, challenging the way we drive.

So, you stare at me, and I'm going to kick off the cruise control and stay with you mile for mile until my wife tells me I can't do it anymore because there are two sleeping children in the back who don't need me to be driving at 90 miles per hour.

Go ahead. Just look at me. I dare you.

1 comment:

Earl said...

When merging onto the Brooklyn Bridge from the FDR, please bear in mind this truth--there is only lane dedicated to that purpose. And that right lane is always backed up at least as far as the Manhattan Bridge. For those of you who zoom straight to the front of the line and attempt to force your way in ahead of the rest of us who have sat in bridge traffic for a 1/2 hour or more, prepare thyself to receive more than a f*$king hard stare.

Seriously, some of my worst Road Rage moments have occurred whilst waiting to cross one of man's greatest engineering feats. Sad, really.