The very Best Alternative to Giving That Guy the Finger

March 12, 2015 in Blog, Conversations with Isobel

When I was … I don’t know, twenty or so, a friend told me that I wore a terribly angry expression when driving. It’s been a whole lot of years and I still think about that. What you have to understand is that I learned to drive between Chicago, IL and New Haven, CT. Well, most of the mechanics around starting the car and using the clutch and parallel parking happened in the Southern New England Telephone (SNET) parking lot in West Haven, but the actual driving learning that comes from negotiating traffic and stuff like that happened between the ages of 12 and 16 on cross country trips with my dad between Chicago and New Haven. Following that, my early solo experience was earned in those cities and surrounding suburbs. The general mood among drivers there is basically low grade anger. I didn’t notice that I’d taken on that resting expression until my friend mentioned it that one day and once you know, it’s hard not to know. As a result, if I’ve been driving alone in the car for a while I’ve been known to freeze my expression and check it out in the mirror. It has changed with much practice and now I tend to look at other people’s expressions instead.

road-rage[1]So there’s a T intersection by our house that provides ample opportunity to display geographic specific driving style. Yankees such as myself tend to mosey on up the side of the road that aligns with the turn we are about to make. So if I’m making a right, I’ll likely creep up that side, edging right next to a car making a left, even if it means getting a few tire marks on the grassy shoulder. If I’m making a left I’ll hug the center (so as to leave room for someone behind me to make a right) of the lane but stop forward enough to be able to clearly see traffic coming from either direction. Southerners, on the other hand, tend to like to use the whole road. (In their defense, it IS a one lane road). I’ve also noticed that they like a wide radius when turning. So when someone is turning left into the street I’m getting ready to turn left off of, it’s not uncommon for our cars to come really close to each other, giving us the opportunity to get a real clear look at each other. A very familiar angry driver face was usually looking at me from the other car. But here’s the thing, if the other guy would just wait till he was actually in the intersection to start the turn (you know – to get closer to a 90 degree turn) then we’d all have plenty of room, so you can understand why my angry driver face would also tend to make an appearance. Angry driver, meet angry driver. On more than one occasion the single finger salute was in order.

And then one day, on our way to wherever we were going, Isobel, who was in the back seat, said “why does that guy look so angry?” Hmm. Innocent bystander, welcome to our party.

Recognizing this as a learnable moment, I took stock of the situation and decided to make a change.  If someone gives me an angry glare and I return with my angry glare, what would happen if I gave them a contrite smile? I’ll tell you what happens, they usually smile back. If not a full on smile, at least it broke the glare.

Soon, Isobel started to notice that most of the drivers making that turn looked a little cranky, regardless of how far I had pulled up.  They just had resting grouchy face.  Many were on the phone. We started experimenting with the faces we could make.  Pleasantly content – this felt nice but didn’t really pack a punch.  The I-Know-Something-You-Don’t look sometimes gets a little rubber neck action.  But what really seems to get a rise out of people is the simply perfect lovingly happy face. Everyone who sees that one tends to take a pause and get a little grin themselves.  It’s like they’re asking themselves, how do I want to spend this moment here? Anger is contagious. But so is joy. But what’s great is you get to pick your infection.

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