It was the hottest day of the year, and I don’t enjoy heat. I’m the cool weather type. There was a wedding up the hill, with our dirt road leading to the bride’s parents’ dream home on the ridge.
For a road seldom used we soon found ourselves in an interminable line of four cars also on their way to the wedding. The dust cloud mushroomed and the drivers had the choice of choking on dust or rolling up their windows and baking inside.
Ahead, I saw the source of the trouble - a driver on a small motorbike travelling at barely enough speed to keep the bike upright. This driver was hogging the centre of the road so no one could pass.
We were all trapped in our dust and my annoyance increased, especially after the bike rider glanced back several times yet kept up the slow pace. A decent person would have pulled over and let the cars pass, and resumed once the dust settled. But this rider stubbornly held everyone back on a drive that would normally take only minutes.
Finally, we reached the parking area and while the other cars parked below I continued to the top and stopped behind the inconsiderate rider, unrolled my window and said: “You know that was really rude not pulling over and letting people pass.”
A nearby old friend and brilliant musician, Harry Warner, turned to me and said in a very consciously cheerful greeting: “Hello Brian.” It was the perfect, quick-thinking response to cool me down a little, while the bike rider took off her helmet and I recognized her as a member of Harry’s band, here to play for the wedding reception.
She gave me a scared look and I realized she was not only upset at my remark but that she had been nervous of the road on her little bike. But I wasn’t going to give it up and when she remarked she hadn’t driven on gravel before, I told her that was clear, but it still didn’t give her a reason to make everyone else suffer.
I often lollygag myself, enjoying our dreamy roads, but I always pull over and let those in a hurry pass by.
The conversation simmered down and I parked, but the incident kept nagging at me. Harry’s smart greeting made me feel guilty about my small lecture.
I didn’t have road rage, but I was still transparently annoyed. All this got me thinking about the dual parts of the equation. Anger and self-centeredness.
I checked Youtube and the punch-ups and shout-outs on America’s roads were decidedly impressive. Whooey, there’s a lot of angry people out there and everyone is so self-centred it’s depressing.
As bad as the drivers who don’t pull over are -the ones who arrive at a busy intersection before they turn their signals on, so that you’re trapped behind them - some are even worse. For example, there’s those who sneak up the side of the road before a detour merges two lanes into one. Then they get mad if you don’t let them queue-jump. Weird.
We live in the age of rage. It’s everywhere, vocal abuse of the worst kind. Sometimes physical. The American belief in the rights of the individual has somehow shifted toward the belief of many sick individuals that this gives them the right to abuse the community.
For many years I thought the cult of the dollar had replaced religion’s beneficial restraints, and this was encouraging the rising rage of our culture. But look at today’s fundamentalist creeps who believe they are taking instructions from some figment of their imagination, which gives them the right to kill doctors or abuse gay people or plant suicide bombs.
Fundamentalist religious views are the direct root to hatred, racism, crime, and war. All the things any good Christian or Muslim should be repelled by.
Is our anger fuelled by the media as well as the preachers? It sure is. Who hasn’t watched the news programs of North America turn into vocal versions of the World Wrestling Federation.
Television debate is now two wealthy men (usually) tossing invectives at each other. Thoughtful discussion has been supplanted by abuse and snarky invectives. Fox Television. Rush Limbaugh. Rant radio. Read those awful people on the thankfully dwindling public comment spaces in today’s electronic newspapers.
Take the lies hurled at the minor health-care reforms US President Barack Obama is promoting. Death panels murdering grannies and deformed children? Where did that junk come from? How did it get taken seriously by the media?
And those organized, well-funded packs of people armed with talking points and a rude campaign to destroy town hall information meetings with their loud lungs and placards full of lies. If these are the people protecting democracy, democracy is indeed in danger.
It’s like a perfect storm of big money and big media: the media fuelling anger and fear with daily pervert reports, a pandemic every year, terrorists in every truck, a banker-fuelled depression which demands bonus payouts for the rich while the middle class victims are left overextended on the consumer roller-coaster, going broke, bored with their big screens and their big SUVs they can no longer afford, while our technological society deluges us with irritating and incrementally expensive gadgets with more passwords than Einstein could remember.
Almost gone are the family dinners, the good times with the neighbours, singing together around the piano, the community events. Everyone is handcuffed to their technological rage cage, sweating about everything, being information-blasted into hysteria.
Suddenly, in the hottest part of the hottest day in the year, I realized there is more than one kind of global warming. It’s time for a little global cooling of emotions. And I’m sorry for my petty annoyance, and hope I learn from it. Maybe I’ll start with a cheerful “Hello,” to all of you. May you have a rage-free day.
Brian Brett, poet, journalist and novelist, lives on Salt Spring Island and returns to the Yukon whenever he can. His new book, Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life, is forthcoming from Greystone Books.