About Me

My photo
Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What the Hell is the Matter with People (Chapter 1)?

I usually find it hard to return to work after an absence. Reentry is highly overrated. One's daily rhythms have changed and one feels a bit out of sorts getting back into the routine. I'm no different from anyone else in that way, but I've found it far more difficult this week than at almost any other time I can remember. By noon Monday I'd been beaten up on the phones so severely, I went to the sanctuary of David's office doorway to say, "The personality of the general public didn't improve a bit while I was away." He grinned his big, slow David smile and said, "Well, no, and you were unavailable to take their calls for a week, so now they're even more angry." Yep.

A segment of my life that I savor is watching how people behave. I am fascinated by the people immediately surrounding me and the people who accost me on the phone and the people who do lovely things that no one else will ever know about. I'm interested in the people I see on the bus stop and those who walk out in the predawn every day like I do and in the homeless man who sleeps behind our office building and bathes with the hose and soap and towels we are careful to leave out there for him. I am strongly pulled to elderly persons and I like young people like the home dudes. I'm strongly opinionated after long study, and I feel certain that most people treat others either very well or very poorly in a given situation, with not many behaving middle-of-the-road.

In my workplace, we all love Sonia Sotomayor's soundbite, "Reasonable people can disagree." David has printed it and posted it in many vantage points in his world. He wants to remind himself of it at every opportunity. The trouble is, in my opinion, there just aren't all that many reasonable people out there. Those who try to behave reasonably probably get steamrolled often, become bitter and snap back once in awhile. Those who are unreasonable would seem to feed their own frenzy by the frequency with which they go off, thereby drawing more negative energy.

I would claim to you that when I drive past a train wreck, I don't like to look, but I invariably look, so maybe I should rethink my claim. I purposely watch people interact, and then I go into my reverie about why those people just did what they did or said what they said. I'm afraid I walk around looking either startled or dreamy a lot. One should try the people-studying thing. You may never land on a solid answer to "why do they do that?" but the ride will be thrilling!

I am drawn to the blog written by The Old Bag. I am not a cyclist, but I have a good understanding of cyclists, follow a few, get their language and get what's important to them as relates to their cycling. This woman is fun to follow, because she is sharp and creative and has the skill of saying much with few words. What pulls me the most are her posts expressing exuberance about something that happened on the ride or during some other outdoor pursuit. She is passionate about her time on the bike which she propels with her body, which emits no noxious fumes, which makes no noise, which takes up little room on the road. Her mantra is "Please, after you." Yet she draws rude comments from young, dweeby male cyclists, stopped for a rest as she powers past them, to the effect that her male companion might have to slow down for her to catch up. And she has to watch out for her life and limb every time she rides, because motorists will edge and challenge for road space.

It is much the same for The Badger who describes a day on the bike in the best zip code in our city where the residents would be Las Vegas' best educated, with the highest income and the most likely to have some fitness routine - wouldn't you expect them to respect the cyclist? Of course, he has also been paintballed and shot in the streets on his bike, so Friday's little skirmishes are likely anticlimactic, even though he grouses about them. Flipped off and bunny hopping the curb aren't the worst things he's endured.

The puzzle for me is this: OK, nobody is required to love cyclists in their funny outfits on their odd looking bikes. But what is it about them that draws such aggression? Where we live, road rage and aggression are rampant. Motorists don't want to share the road with other motorists. But put a cyclist or a pedestrian in the mix and the stakes are raised. As a long-distance walker, I have my own stories to tell and have sometimes had to sit on the curb almost ill after a near miss. At least two disagreeing drivers are somewhat well matched in their cars. What is it that cranks up the heat when some drivers see "competition" in the form of a human being unprotected by any armor? Simple bullying at work? Predator and prey? People who feel so small about themselves that they have to crush other people to feel a little larger? I've already said, the answer is hard to find. We don't have enough information about the other players. But I'll share an anecdote in closing.

It was late afternoon on New Year's Eve and we'd shared a great walk with lots of invigorating conversation. It was still light enough that the cars didn't need their headlights. We entered a crosswalk. On the other side of the street, preparing to make a right-hand turn, was a mammoth SUV. We know what to watch for. She'd likely make that turn before we finished crossing, so we needed to pace ourselves. We watched her. She didn't jump, so we stepped it up a little bit to clear the crosswalk. Ten steps from the curb, we heard her engine start to accelerate. We looked up to see her looking over her shoulder for oncoming traffic, talking animatedly on her cell phone, and accelerating - perhaps that phone call caused her pedal foot too much excitement. We couldn't jump backwards into the busy street. My knees went weak and I wasn't sure I'd make it all the way to the curb. The Badger leapt into action, snatching me by the arm, pulling me onto the curb. What he did next was pretty remarkable. He leapt into the air as if he were a frog, not a badger, and flat-hand smacked the passenger side window, startling the passenger who also seemed not to have noticed us. He let fly with some good plain language in a very loud voice [one might say he shouted] and we staggered a few yards away to where we planted our arses against a block wall and hyperventilated.

We could hear the woman's SUV as she made the turn and it seemed she had slowed down quite a bit. The gas pedal was probably not floored. She was pulling up near us, so I began to compose myself, because if she apologized - as it seemed she was about to - I wanted to say "OK, but please - be careful. Watch the crosswalks. Put down the cell phone. Ask your passenger to be your co-pilot. We were about 30 seconds from being killed beneath your tires." When her mighty war wagon came to a complete (illegal) stop in the bike lane and the window was completely down, she leaned across the passenger and delivered her message: "Potty mouth!" They roared off toward the fine, exciting mall on the fun, exciting Las Vegas Strip as we dragged ourselves to my home for dinner where we both were rather subdued . . . . .

In my ears right now: Bloomsbury and Benson Bird chirping their heads off. One could take a lesson from them. No matter how nasty everyone is, they're happy all the time. But then, they are birdbrains!

Something that charmed me: An e-mail I received that was so lovely and welcomed, though simple. "Good night, Limes. I'm looking forward to seeing you." Don't we all want to have someone whose eyes light up at the thought of getting together? Connecting with others is what it's all about for me. I think I'll brew us some really special coffee to share.


  1. Reasonable people may disagree, but unreasonable people want to WIN. Even if they end up trashing the prize in the process.

  2. Kirk, that is PERFECTLY stated. The cause becomes secondary to the WIN. Thursday, Erin and I were popping back and forth on that very thing. I'm writing a post on it for publication in a couple of days.

  3. Freedom from fear, yes, and freedom to choose one's own way!

  4. Pretty tough gig, Badger, when everyone else in the streets wants to herd you their way!

  5. Thanks for the shout-out, Limes.

    Luckily, I live in a city that has a ton of cyclists (year-round, I might add) so drivers are somewhat tolerant...but there are days.

    Your incident? letter to the editor complete with license plate #. Just a thought.

  6. Well, I'm sorry to say we didn't get her plates, but I think more quickly on my feet now and always have a camera!

    Re: cyclists. We already know I'm on one extreme end of the spectrum. I like and admire them. And many people would be in the middle of the spectrum and still others on the extreme other end. But I just can't wrap my head around why cyclists arouse such animosity. I don't understand.

  7. Hi Limes, In my younger, nimbler days I owned the crosswalk. I had absolutely no reason not to jump up on a cars hood if they were blocking my crosswalk. Right turn or not. that space was mine. Of course now its only a polite nod of the head and a Japanese salute to the driver. Fingers to the forehead and an apologetic Sumimasenu (sorry).

  8. Hey, Tag ~ welcome aboard my bus! I've been seeing you at Kirk's. You're right about adjusting one's approach. Not so very long ago, the Badger may have leapt aboard that mighty war wagon and become its hood ornament. But since you don't know us, I'll just say that we're both small and in our 50s. Not feeling so bullet-proof any more. Maybe a little wiser than once upon a time. He's lost none of his language arts skills, however. ;} His words fell upon that SUV like a torrent of acid rain.