And they are drivers, usually. Most of them are in cars, at least part of the day. If they live in cities, they spend hours looking for parking spots near home. If they live in the country, their trucks kick up clouds of dirt on back roads they rush along to reach town for supplies or to get to work. They drive above the speed limit on residential roads, and they sit bumper-to-bumper on high-speed freeways. Either way, they’re damn angry about it. People on bikes, they better stay out of the way. People on foot, you’ve had fair warning.
But you don’t own a car. You chose your home well–a short walk for groceries, a cafe nearby. You ride a bike here and there, or if you have a long way to go, you take a combination of streetcar, subway and bus. Your commute to work is an hour and a half each way, but you use the time wisely. You study for the exams you have to take, or you read a novel, something you can hold tight to your chest in a crowded vehicle. If there’s a seat free, you study your exam material, or you sharpen your brain against a cryptic crossword or the sudoku puzzle.
If you drove, you’d be there sooner, it’s true. You’d have an extra hour every day to decompress and spend time with your family, or maybe that hour would be set aside to study for your important exams. But you’ve done the drive. You’ve sat beside a friend in a carpool for the hour it takes to get home from work. You’ve put your foot on the imaginary brake on your side of the car, you’ve clutched the seat-rest on a sharp corner. You’ve dealt with the glare from the setting sun, if not from your friend, or the people in cars around you. You saved a half-hour on your commute that day, it’s true, but all you could think about when you got home was having a drink–more than one. The word “decompress” never felt more apt.
Your friend does the drive every day. She’s used to it. But you, no thanks. You don’t mind the extra half hour in transit, if it means you get home unfrazzled. You’ll put the time to good use. After that one time, you find a reason to stay late when she’s ready to leave. After a while she doesn’t offer any more.
No, it’s not you who’s angry. You’re easy-going. You ride a bike across town. It takes you twenty-two minutes, door-to-door, not breaking a sweat, to get to your class. It’s true, in a car you could do it in 17 minutes. Maybe 16. But then there’s parking to find, and a walk to the door. Eight minutes parking, four minutes walking…meanwhile, your bike’s locked to the fence by the door and you’re inside. Never mind the days when the car-drive takes longer. If a main road is under repair, or if there’s a crash, in a car they grit their teeth and wait in line. Sixteen minutes becomes a half-hour, no sweat (and that’s the day they had an important presentation to make, damn it!). On a bike you’d step onto the sidewalk and walk past the obstruction, carrying the machine that carries you. On a bike your 22 minutes is sometimes off by thirty seconds, but you’ll get there when you planned. And you’re still not sweating.
If the city’s shut down for one of its annual marathons, car-drivers freak out. The city’s daily papers fulminate. One mayoral candidate’s entire transportation platform is based on the plan to put runners and bike-riders in city parks, taking them off the street. Bikelanes and residential street-calming strategies get branded the “War on the Car.” It’s all about the driver, and what might slow him or her down.
Drivers are angry, but you’re not. You’re the one they’re angry about. You walk on a green, but that means the drivers have a red. They gun the engine. You slip past them on your bike, in the gutter, but the driver ahead stops only inches from the curb. No biggie. You just pass on the other side. They gun the engine. You better keep your head down. They seem to think if you weren’t there, their day would go faster. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair. Doesn’t that piss you off?
In fact, you should be the angry one. Those car-drivers are using up the world’s resources at an unsustainable rate, and for what? They’re doing the same thing you are, only you’re on foot, or you’ve taken transit, or you’re on your bike. What gives them the right? What about the future? You’re doing your part to reduce climate change. You’re doing your part to preserve non-replaceable resources for future use. You’re doing your part to lower demand, which lowers costs for those other people, the angry ones, the ones in cars. Your small footprint leaves extra room for their super-sized one. What do they have to be angry about?
But maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s you. Maybe your conservation masks intransigence. Maybe you’re just stubborn. Maybe you really are in the way, pressing the button and holding out your hand at the crosswalk. Maybe you could move a little faster if you were in a car, too, even if it just took you to the next red light a little sooner. Maybe your “thoughtfulness” is a mask for inaction. Maybe it’s not that you believe in a “slow” movement, but that you’ve got your back up at being bullied, even if you daren’t say as much. No, you won’t look at the “angry” ones, but you won’t rush out of their way, either. Maybe you secretly like the thought that you’ve slowed them down, even by a second or two. Maybe it pleases you that the person who’s stupid enough to drive, when they could bike or walk just as easily, gets caught in traffic on the day of the marathon and takes an hour just to cross an intersection. The same intersection you slip across on foot, or sail under on the subway. Are you laughing? Are you enjoying their misery? You’re smug, that’s clear. But are you also angry, and taking it out on those idiots?
Maybe it’s time you got a car of your own, and joined the human race.