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Driving Miss Crazy

Although I like to consider myself beyond reproach, I will cop to one very particular personal flaw: I constantly provide feedback, mostly negative, to my fellow drivers. I’m not talking about my fellow drivers on “life’s highway,” but rather fellow drivers on whatever road I am also driving on, in the literal sense. At least I hope I’m not as judgmental with my fellow human beings as I am with a stranger driving in the lane next to me—or in front of me, or at an intersection, or in a parking lot. But it might be a sign of a greater, or at least more generalized, personal flaw.

It’s not exactly road rage. If I am attempting to merge, for instance, I might say, “C’mon. Be nice.” Or perhaps, “Where exactly do you want me to go, fella?” Or if someone else is in a position to merge, but as a Minnesotan does not want to be construed as pushy and thus hangs back just enough so that it becomes difficult not to sideswipe her, I might say, “Get along, now. There ya go.” At a suburban intersection where, it seems, no one wants to offend anyone else by proceeding in their intended direction, I often use the international gesture for “you go now” while reading aloud from the drivers-ed manual in my mind: “The person to the right has right of way.”

My theory is that the other folks at the intersection either A) can’t remember the law, or B) don’t know their right from their left. So even though these dumbasses can’t hear me, I hope that by sharing this information with the universe, it will somehow reach them and be retained for future use.

I think this is an especially dangerous practice because I mostly do it when my children are in the car. My 17-year-old son recently asked me if I talk aloud to other drivers when I am alone in the car. I honestly couldn’t say. Regardless, I know I think it. I always think it.

So lately I’ve heard about this thing called practicing loving-kindness. (Don’t be alarmed, true practitioners hyphenate it, even when not used as a modifier.) As part of loving-kindness meditation, you’re supposed to think about various people in your life. One category of people to think about is those you feel neutral about, such as a clerk in a store. This led me to realize that I don’t feel neutral about anyone, even those I barely know. I make snap decisions about who’s a good witch and who’s a bad one. Even if the feelings are mostly positive, I don’t have neutral feelings about people I don’t really know.

The other day I was on one of those endless “customer service” calls to my bank. I became enraged at the robo-rep, who kept saying, “I’m sorry. I didn’t get that. Please enter the number from the following menu of options.” But the thing I was calling about wasn’t specifically noted on her menu of options, and when I said the thing I was calling about, she said she didn’t understand. She didn’t even understand the word “Representative,” which I stated forcefully many times.

Somehow, I was finally connected to a live human being. As the call rang through, I was thinking, I would not want to be whoever answers, as if I were the kid in the backseat of my life. But from the other end of the line, amid the “Thank you for calling” opening line, she let out an ungodly gulpy sound. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I have the hiccups.”

She continued to hiccup throughout our entire conversation, while being extremely helpful. She spoke in a delightful southern accent that bespoke wisdom and humor. Hic. She was charming. I laughed, then apologized for laughing and suggested that a spoonful of peanut butter always cures hiccups for me. And somehow through the fitful gulps, she gave me the information I needed.She had never heard of the peanut butter remedy and thanked me for the suggestion. No problem, I said, and thank you. I refrained from mentioning that if we ever happened to arrive at a four-way stop at exactly the same time, whoever was to the right should go first. I figured she already knew that.
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