Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Civility, R.I.P.

Not to pose a ridiculously open ended question, but, what is wrong with some people these days? It has been remarked upon by people much more eloquent than I about the decrease of civility in everyday life. I could list, literally, thousands of examples of how civility has seemingly disappeared from day to day life, but let me single out two personal instances in particular. One occurred yesterday, while on the road. Indulge me for a moment, if you would.

Since gas prices are at the highest they've ever been (still over three bucks here, obviously your mileage may vary), it only stands to reason that sensible folks would decide to change some long standing habits regarding its use. For example, by using mass transit, telecommuting, car pooling, etc. I decided to make a concerted effort to drive a bit slower, around 60 - 65 MPH, and try not to exceed it. Has it worked? Probably a little, but at least I feel like I'm doing something.

The funny thing to note is that when driving the speed limit, everyone, with the exception of perhaps some old people, will pass you. (I could only imagine what would happen if the speed limits were actually enforced - the state would make boatloads of cash). Most pass with little or no fanfare, but I always wonder what the big rush is, especially when going to work.

Anyway, yesterday, I'm humming along at 62, in the center lane, when I see an eighteen wheeler two cars back. The car that was between us eventually moved aside and got off, and the truck quickly moved up on my back bumper. At this point I'm expecting him to flash his brights at me, which is the universal symbol for "I'm an arrogant a-hole, get out of my way". He didn't, which I chose to interpret as a sign that he was okay with the pace, or maybe he was aware of some state troopers on the horizon. (Do truckers still do that stuff like in the "Convoy" days, like warn other trucks when "smokey" is around? Remenber "Convoy", and when CB radios were all the rage? "Hey, I'm talking to a REAL TRUCKER!" Ah, the 70's: when entertainment was so much simpler. Think variety shows.) After a few miles, the truck decided to move to the right lane, which had been available to it for at least two miles. Okay, if he passes me, no big deal.

So what does he do? Well, he gets up to the right side of my car, and is matching my speed, and by this point I'm not really paying him alot of attention. Then, "BURT", a short, loud burst of his horn, which scared the hell out of me. I look over and see, as he begins to pull away, a meaty arm, flipping me off, from his driver side window as he pulls away and moves ahead of me. I am ashamed to admit how I reacted: with a stream of profanities, heard only by me, mostly involving how his excessive girth, which I determined by seeing his sausage like fingers, would signal an any-day-now coronary. My point is this: if he was so intent that I was ruining his day, why not just pass me, or at the very least, flip the lights? I find the light flashing to be incredibly obnoxious and annoying, but it usually does get the desired result. I continued home, pissed.

The other story I use to illustrate the death of civility occurred a few years ago. My family and I were taking part in a charity walk, along one of those linear trails that have sprang up in my area over the past few years. Normally these trails are used by people running, rollerblading, cycling, walking, etc. On the day of the walk, a Sunday morning, when approximately a thousand people are going to be walking on the trail, some very slowly, others pulling wagons and pushing strollers, using this trail to get in your morning run might not be the best idea, don't ya think?

Well, you can probably guess where this is going. I had my family, walking with two other familes, as far to the right side of the trail as I could get them, with me on the outside. I had a backpack on, loaded with stuff. As I was turning to my right, I heard a voice shout "On your left!", and as I turned I felt a "BAM" on the backpack. I was barely knocked around, but as I turned to my left I noticed a female rollerbalder going ass over teakettle and slamming into the ground. Fortunately, she hit the ground off the side of the trail and landed (mostly) on the dirt/grass area, and mostly missed the pavement. I quickly moved to help her up, and was genuinely concerned that she might be hurt. That is, until I heard the first thing out of her mouth: "You f_cking people! Always in the WAY!" Needless to say she refused my extended hand to help her get back on her feet. What really shocked not only me, but my wife, was my reaction. I smiled, waved as she sped away angrily, and said "Have a nice day!" I honestly don't know what prevented me from unloading a verbal tapestry of profanity on her; must've been the chartiable mood I was in!

Honestly, what the hell was her problem? She chose the absolute worst possible time to use the trail, and had she waited about 90 minutes the damn thing would have been cleared out. Then, after her recklessness results in her taking a fall, she blames me?

I think both examples point to a larger societal trend - that MY needs supercede anything else. I need to get here, and you're in my way, this you must move! I think this happened gradually, with the 70's being dubbed "The Me Decade", then the "Greed Is Good" self-indulgent 80's taking society down the path of "It's all about me, dammit". The only examples which run opposite, unfortunately, is when there is a catastrophe of some type, from 9/11 to the tsunami and most recently, Hurricane Katrina, which shows the generosity and compassion of most people. I guess it's easy to throw five bucks in a jar toward relief, which makes us all feel like we're doing something, then we can go back to our self-indulgent lives. I honestly hope that Sausage Fingered Trucker and Crazy Ass Rollerblader each made some donations, and felt a little better about themselves for a short while, Then they went back to cursing all who cross their paths.
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