When I moved to small-town Charlottesville from the big city, I expected everyone to be driving like Miss Daisy's chauffeur: slowly, waving hello, making frequent stops. For months, I wondered where Morgan Freeman was.
One driver lived up to my expectations in his own special way. He stopped his pickup truck at every other block to open his door and spit out tobacco juice. It didn't matter if there was a traffic light or stop sign: He stopped and spit. I think he spit in front of a "Slippery When Wet" road sign.
I could not imagine that road rage would exist here as it does in L.A. Boy was I wrong. A few weeks ago, I was a passenger when a woman drove through a stop sign right in front of us. She then flipped us the bird, and we hadn't even honked at her! She also was holding a cell phone up to her ear and talking while drinking a large soda. Was she steering with her left foot? "Look, Ma! No hands!"
I learned a long time ago that you might regret offending someone in such a small town. When I was at the Martha Jefferson Hospital library, I noticed it was named after my old pathology professor. The librarian proudly said, "He was my husband!" I said it was a small world. She replied, "You can't say anything bad about someone in this town because we are all related to one another or friends." (Maybe I'm that bird-flipping-woman's mother's doctor?)
Considering the #1 cause of death in people ages 15-24 is car accidents, I would think people would drive more carefully and with more courtesy. However, it seems the walls of the car and the power of the engine can turn the nicest Miss Daisy into Mel Gibson's Mad Max. Picture little Miss Daisy commanding her chauffeur, "Put the pedal to the metal and run him down!" while sipping on a mint julep.
Some of my patients who have high blood pressure readings say, "I was in a hurry to get here, and I was following some bozo going 5 mph in a 35mph zone. I hit every red light as well." (Funny how we always seem to hit red lights when we are in a hurry. Murphy's Law.)
My thought is, if your blood pressure increases from frustration while driving, your blood pressure probably increases from frustration in general being stuck in the grocery line, paying car taxes, or waiting for Bodo's to open on the Corner.
We stress about too many things. One Type A personality trait is experiencing anger when thwarted, which is associated with heart disease. When a person gets frustrated, his blood pressure temporarily rises, which stirs up inflammation in the cardiovascular system. That could lead to heart disease and stroke. A Type A personality driver can lead to a scene from Helter Skelter: a bloody mess.
I have ridden with some very calm people who turn into screaming maniacs on the road. Aggressive drivers believe they're the only good drivers and everyone else is a menace to society. It's like having a Bobby Rahal/Dale Earnhardt Jr. complex. "I must race to the finish line, even if it means I save only 15 seconds getting to Barracks Road." I wonder how NASCAR drivers do on the public highways? I've never heard of a NASCAR driver getting into a car accident or getting a major speeding ticket.
Maybe we should have Flintstone cars that we have to propel with our feet. We would all be too exhausted to think about other drivers. Yabba-Dabba-Doo!
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