Traffic Without Tension
I have been a witness to four episodes of road rage: ugly, frightening, violent. Here is the most dramatic: My wife, Chris, and I came out of an off-Broadway theater in Manhattan and walked away from the crowd that was competing for all the cabs. The night offered a drizzle of rain, and taxis were scarce. We walked too far, into a dangerous neighborhood, but we didn’t know that.
Ahead we saw two cabs, which had pulled off into a small parking lot, and we jogged through the drizzle to get there, pulled open the door of the closest cab (other’s were already boarding the second taxi.)
The driver of our cab nodded us inside, but she had a strange look, afraid and angry. We gave her the name of our hotel, but she didn’t move, except to look over at the other taxi and mutter, “Oh, shit. Here he comes.”
We followed her look, and the other taxi driver was out of his car, heading for our cab with his own strange look, not afraid, but stone cold with angry eyes. You should know that both of these cabbies could have been ex-pro football players, linemen (linewoman?).
She rolled up her window and shouted through it to the coming giant.
“I seen the fair and pulled in hea’ an’ didn’t see you!”
He stopped at her closed window, staring with that rigid face. Then he said, “You hit my cab.” He didn’t shout it. She shouted, “It wasn’t my faul…..”
While Chris and I stared without breathing from the back seat, the giant raised a broad, heavy fist and smashed it through the driver-side window. Yeah, THROUGH the safety glass, which showered the inside of the cab, cut our cabbie slightly on the forehead, and made my wife grab her door handle, but she had trouble opening it.
Our Cabbie was stretched across into the passenger seat, half lying down and now screaming. “He’s killin’ me!” Chriswas still attacking her door handle. The giant was leaning into the open window, and I, while shocked and scared, and with my lap full of safety glass, was trying to offer mediation.
“Hey! HEY!” I shouted at him. “Take it easy, she…”
He never even turned to me. His death-ray face stayed on her as he grabbed her shoulder. She screamed.
“He’s killin me!”
Chris got her door open, shouting, “Jerry, get out!” I did, my lap raining bits of glass onto the pavement. We moved away from the cab as a small crowd, drawn by the battle sounds were gathering. Chris and I looked at each other, both unhurt, and turned at the same time to see…a third taxi pull up to the curb and HONK at us. The cavalry had arrived, and we jumped into this taxi as the cabbie shook his head.
“What da hell you two doin’ hea’ near the Terminal? Dis is a bad place, see?”
He reached down to the floor and brought up a sawed-off baseball bat, just right for swinging in a cab.
“Most cabs won’t even come hea’. Where ya goin?”
I’ve seen three similar incidents, but not at such close range. Usually, somebody feels somebody else has cut them off, or somebody honks at somebody else to get moving, and the slow or stopped driver takes great offence at being honked at.
Many of us drive in thick traffic with a short temper, already stressed by the choices and chances and near misses and probably late for some appointment, which will cause us grief. I’ve seen this raw temperament in Rome, where the shouting of insults and the gesturing is without equal, Paris, too, Mexico City and many other urban centers except………..
We signed up for a Wilderness Travel hiking trip three years ago that took us to the foothills of the great mountains, walking ancient stone paths in the place where our earth has grown the tallest, in the shadow of the Himalayas, in Nepal.
Before and after our hiking trip, we hung out in the chaotic and exciting city of Katmandu. I like saying it. Katmandu. It’s one of those place names that drips with adventure, like Zanzibar or Marrakesh. It’s the major city of Nepal, and at it’s center it is a town flooded with traffic every day as if a hundred rivers were coursing through the old town with it’s crammed-together, often ramshackle buildings.
These always-flowing rivers are made up of bicycles, motor-bikes, motorcycles, ancient buses and cars and there are few, if any, rules of the road. It took an hour or two before it hit me – what was missing. Drivers were of course jogging for position, cutting in and out, keeping up a pace, stopping quickly, dodging and driving at speed to get where they were going, but… No one was shouting at other drivers. There was no shouting at all. No quick screech of brakes was followed by a curse. No vying for a lane carried animosity. There was no road anger, let alone rage.
An Asian friend told me that it has partly to do with the sense of ‘my space.’ They don’t feel intruded upon if someone comes close. They seem to carry their space comfortably to the extent of their person and not beyond it. Driving in thick traffic is naturally competitive, but they do not take it personally, and above the wild din of the traffic in old Katmandu, I feel a special pleasure hearing not one voice raised in anger.