We all know about road rage. It’s covered in the DMV handbook for California, as it probably is in most states. The handbook describes it as “aggressive driving” and cites examples like tailgating and unnecessary lane changes. It even mentions provocative “hand gestures.”
I am not an aggressive driver. In fact, I probably encourage road rage since I drive at or below the speed limit even on the freeway. That’s when I’m driving. Right now, my car has been parked in the garage at work for two weeks, which means I walk everywhere. And therein lies the problem.
I have sidewalk rage. What is that? I walk fast, weave my way around dog walkers, strollers, and delivery guys, and cut off slow-moving traffic that hogs up the center of the sidewalk or, worse, sways from one side to the other while engaged in a stream-of-consciousness conversation on a cellphone. That is to say, I do not suffer sidewalk fools.
But before you judge me, know that sidewalk rage comes from spending more than a decade navigating the streets of New York City, primarily Manhattan and the Bronx. If you don’t know what that’s like, imagine living in a video game that includes dodgeball and an obstacle course. Add Grand Theft Auto III and the chase scene from Bullitt and you’ll come pretty close (see Walkin Ova Heer!).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, especially with the arrival of Coronavirus, which has created a near paradise for sidewalk ragers like me. I say near, because the number of dog walkers has proliferated in proportion to the rise in COVID-19 cases. Even so, the dog walkers skirt me, giving me ample berth, and often taking to the street to avoid me as I schlep along with groceries or book bags. It is also not uncommon for people to see me coming and deliberately move out of the way to maintain the recommended six feet of distance.
Once, just once, mind you, I drifted toward one of these people to see her reaction. Predictably, she moved onto a lawn so as not to fall within my deadly orbit. I pretended not to notice but then corrected my trajectory and smiled as we passed. She was having none of it, though, and gave me a scowl. Good thing the Distance Deputies have not been organized yet. I would be writing this wearing an ankle bracelet monitor.
I know I’m supposed to be worked up about this–we all are–but I prefer to look on the bright side of the crisis. That includes more walking, better relationships as people spend time with their children and pets, less traffic, and the elimination of sidewalk rage. As I have stated before in this blog, I do not want to trivialize the crisis or the suffering of those who have contracted COVID-19 and their families, not to mention the effect on the economy, but panic doesn’t help anyone.
And it’s not as if social distancing helps reduce stress. On the contrary, it heightens it. This, despite stories of individual acts of charity like buying groceries for an elderly neighbor or deferring rent payments. People are on edge, and you can see it everywhere, even on relatively clear sidewalks. The reason ought to be obvious to anyone with cable. We are long past the question of whether the media reports the news or makes it. They now shape reality and are, for the most part, out of control and unaccountable.
I had first-hand experience of this when I went up to a guy in a store parking lot after he went off on a clerk because she couldn’t give him quarters. He was visibly upset. I told him I had quarters and asked him if he was all right. “All right?” he asked. “How could I be all right? Haven’t you seen the news?”
I’m not sure, but he was probably referring to the latest decree concerning house arrest–uh, sheltering in place–issued by the county. He looked at me suspiciously, got into his car, and sped away. Enraged, no doubt. I turned around and started my long trek back to my house, walking.
That’s when I discovered another benefit to the crisis. I came across a sidewalk that is actually older than me.