JULIA BAYLY

Road rage is nothing to be proud of

Julia Bayly
Julia Bayly
Posted Aug. 09, 2012, at 4:19 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — There are very good reasons why, despite having grown up in a city, I no longer live in one.

For starters, it’s hard to imagine the Rusty Metal sled dogs, bees or chickens — heck, even the rusty metal itself — being welcome in an urban neighborhood.

But it’s more than that.

This is not something of which I am proud, but it’s time to face the facts that somewhere in my genetic code is a definite Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde gene.

Unlike Robert Louis Stevenson’s tragic hero, it’s not some concoction whipped up in a lab that transforms me from a mild-mannered reporter into a shrieking harpy.

All I have to do is get behind the wheel in any traffic situation.

Yes, friends and neighbors, I am a genetic carrier of road rage.

Living here in northern Maine it’s really not that much of an issue. Traffic is simply not that bad up here.

Sure, once in awhile traffic gets backed up on the International Bridge — especially now that construction on the new bridge has begun. And during potato harvest more often than not I get behind a slow-moving tractor or farm truck, but those instances barely register on my blood pressure.

No, to get my stress level to climb, I need to head south. And the farther down I-95 I go, the higher those numbers rise.

It all starts out quite innocently. I’m cruising along (well within the posted speed limit, of course), radio playing, scenery flying by and somewhere around Old Town someone in another vehicle will do something to annoy me.

Maybe they cut into my lane too close in front of me. Or perhaps it’s someone moving at a snail’s pace in the fast lane.

In any case, my hands tighten around the wheel, my jaw clenches and my eyes narrow into menacing slits.

It’s on.

By the time I get past the first few exits into Bangor it is more than apparent the whole notion of “merge” has changed over the years since I took driver’s education.

I mean, at what point did it go from easing down the entry ramp, slowing until there is a break in the flow of traffic and then pulling out onto the highway to the present day practice of speeding down the ramp and playing a game of “chicken” with all the drivers already on the freeway?

Time after time I would see people zooming down those ramps to my right and, if I had not been able to pull into the left hand lane on I-95, I am quite certain there would have been an accident.

It’s enough to make my blood boil as my hands grip the wheel even tighter and my mutterings become more colorful.

Then there are the texters and cellphone users.

There have been countless stories in this very newspaper about accidents — from minor to serious — caused because some driver was distracted due to using some sort of communications technology.

By now, it should be well apparent to all that driving is not the time to be multitasking.

Of course, glaring at these drivers does absolutely no good as they are totally engrossed in reading or responding to the most recent tweet, Facebook post or some other snippet of social networking information.

And this is just Bangor. Get me into a larger metropolitan area and I suspect it would end in fisticuffs.

Several years ago I was driving in downtown Portland, Ore., when someone in front of me did something so overtly misguided and dangerous, I really felt someone should tell him so, and that someone might as well be me.

Rolling down my window I passed along my observations on his driving abilities, to which he replied with his own observations on my conduct.

Things escalated from there as creative names were exchanged accompanied by equally eloquent hand gestures.

Now, it’s important to understand I come by this maniacal driving behavior quite honestly.

I learned to drive from my father who, before a stroke ended his own career behind the wheel, was an excellent driver. With one small flaw.

My dad’s road rage makes mine look like road snit.

This is a man who actually would get out at red lights and approach other drivers with his comments on their abilities on the open road.

Come to think of it, this may be where I learned some of my most colorful language skills as well.

We are not alone, those of us who carry the road rage gene.

In fact, there is a whole community of us and we have our own safe place at www.roadragers.com.

“You should always avoid road rage,” according to the site’s homepage. “Back off and calm down. This is hard for some people [because] like bad weather, stupid drivers are just part of the environment.”

Rather than engage in verbal confrontations, the folks at roadragers have another suggestion and encourage irate drivers to fill out its online bad driver “citation” to report an alleged offense.

“Instead of flipping a finger, run your fingers over your keyboard by submitting their vehicle make, model and license number,” the site says.

This information is not forwarded to any law enforcement agency and is really just for entertainment and allowing the injured party to let off some steam.

Not a bad idea when you think of it, and it certainly beats getting into a shouting match on the street.

All kidding aside, road rage can be quite serious and it seems to be getting more so as drivers more and more appear to be abandoning common courtesy and good manners.

I’ve already written several articles and columns on the need for all of us to share the road with nonmotorized vehicles like bicycles.

Just this week a friend of mine was struck by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bike. And yes, he’s suffering from some pretty good road rage right now along with some abrasions, bruises and road rash.

The answer to all of this seems pretty basic — those of us who suffer from road rage simply need to take deep breaths and calm down.

No one ever got anywhere faster by yelling, swearing or gesturing at the drivers around us.

Sure, maybe the other guy did something that meant I had to slam on the brakes or take evasive action, but in the big scheme of things, is it worth getting upset over?

Moreover, given the miles I put on the roads, it’s a pretty sure bet I’ve done something stupid that’s triggered some rage in someone else.

Common sense dictates we all need to share the road and look out for each other.

In the meantime, I think I’ll just stay in northern Maine.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at jbayly@bangordailynews.com.

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