Pedestrians wait at a crosswalk, then start across the street.
Here comes an SUV right through the intersection anyway. Back up, fella, he’s not stopping.
That’s a red light, jackass, one pedestrian yells.
Jackass stops and barks back, something unintelligible but decidedly uncivil.
There’s the quick OK-now-what holding of the breath, and jackass drives off. Yeah, that’s why I didn’t say anything, says another pedestrian. Not worth it.
I was one of the non-screaming non-fatalities in this little moment of modern life at 12th and Oak in Kansas City earlier this week, and it strikes me this has become the way of things. It happens every day in every city.
Let me be clear. I do not get my news or world view from paranoid radio. I do not yield to the shallow and lazy idea that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, or at least no faster than it was 100 or 500 years ago.
I have no hard data. I have my own eyes and ears. It just seems that the tension in the air – the economy, the boss, the ex, Congress, aliens, who knows? – has hardened into a straight-up to-hell-with-you attitude that is nowhere more evident than on the streets.
The extreme examples stick out. One guy swung around me on the left, on an onramp, to swerve back to the right and make a right-hand turn into the wrong lane. Left on red is a classic. And twice this has happened to me recently: I get a left arrow – meaning it’s my turn only right now – and here comes a car, through a red light, straight into my path. Those did-that-just-happen moments seem to be proliferating.
But it’s daily stuff that’s more worrisome. It’s the one aggressive driver in 20 who tailgates and weaves across lanes where there are not safe distances between cars, the driver who thinks Noland Road during rush hour can be handled like I-70 in western Kansas.
Look, this isn’t Chicago, the East Coast or, ye gods, most of California. Kansas City has crazy sprawl for a metro area of its size, but you can get around. If you’re running so late that red lights don’t apply to you, that’s on you. Leave the house on time, get going and, as traffic dictates, wait your turn.
I can’t escape the sense that that’s the problem. People – a certain number of people – just don’t want to wait their turn. That’s part of being civil, part of being a grownup, part of being reasonable. When is the last time some jackass got called out for it and responded with a contrite “sorry, my bad” instead of the usual entitled hostility?
Driving is largely anonymous. Kind acts – letting a driver cut in, taking our turns escaping the stadium – are appreciated, maybe with a wave, but soon forgotten.
The door is open to more rude acts because you’re surrounded by strangers you’ll be shed of in two minutes, if that. There is seldom any reckoning for the tailgating, the blaring horn, or the extended finger. Those are the drivers who let others know what they really think and who they really are.
But there is a cost. Their driving endangers others. Spewing their anger, instead of exercising restraint, diminishes our community.