My daughter and I drove to Jack’s yesterday to treat ourselves to morning biscuits. Since Hardees closed across the street, there’s typically a long line at the drive-thru just before eight. Not fun.
This is at the North Y in Fort Payne. The restaurant has another back entrance on the far side from Valley Head Road, and there’s always someone who enters that way and hopes to work their way into the line of cars backed up onto U.S. 11/Greenhill Blvd.
Yesterday, a man attempted to break in front of me, edging the front bumper of his truck mere inches from the back of the car directly in front of me, practically daring me to deny him. Sometimes, I’ll wave somebody on, but I wasn’t in the mood for this driver’s particularly aggressive manner.
He didn’t like me getting right up on the bumper of the car ahead and honked his horn angrily. Then he stuck his head and shoulders out the driver’s side window of his truck and unleashed the sort of rage you normally only see on TV. I looked back at him, shrugging in surprise that he was making such a big deal about not getting to make everyone else late for work. Childish!
It was almost as if he felt entitled to do whatever he wanted because he owned that big truck. He growled, “The next time I see you here when I don’t have my granddaughter with me, I’m going to kick your [expletive]!!”
My daughter begged me to just ignore him. I imagine this man’s granddaughter was doing to same and feeling a bit mortified.
He became even angrier when the guy behind me observed his behavior and refused to let him cut before him. He finally managed to jolt in line behind that guy, and we watched him in the rear view mirror having an epic conniption the whole time we all inched closer to enjoying our biscuits. So intense was this episode of road rage that I checked to make sure he wasn’t following us home.
It was almost a viral moment on YouTube.
I don’t know what’s happened, but COVID isn’t the only epidemic our society is grappling with now. So many people are full of uncontrollable anger that can easily spill over to actual violence. The lyrics “Check yourself before you wreck yourself” have rarely been more relevant.
The mascot of this phenomenon is “the Karen” demanding to speak to some kid’s manager to complain or calling the cops on another human being for being African-American at their neighborhood pool. I feel badly for women actually named Karen right now. Believe me, I understand how they feel every time someone barks about how God “created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”
In a way, that fast food restaurant parking lot is a metaphor for the world now. We should be respectful of others, but some people see the world in terms of dominance instead of following the Golden Rule. Feeling entitled to whatever they are assertive enough to take and erupting in furious anger when something is denied to them.
That drive-thru showdown, taken a step further, would illustrate the paradox of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. I’m glad it didn’t come to that, and I hope this fella settled down after getting some food in his belly.
I’m empathetic enough to put myself in his shoes and try to imagine why he was in such a hurry that he could abandon common courtesy.
If he’d calmly said, “Hey, I’m diabetic and I feel my blood sugar crashing,” I would have politely waved him on. No, just old fashioned bullying, which is almost always a reflection of insecurities.
Obviously, society must follow rules or everything crumbles into anarchy. Every inconsiderate driver at the drive-thru or jerk too lazy to return their emptied shopping cart to the bin in the store parking lot is not that far removed from that psychotic motorcycle gang of apocalyptic marauders from “Mad Max” or the infected Londoners from “28 Days Later.” All they need is someone telling them “might makes right” and a lack of accountability for their actions.
The shared rules we live under need to be reasonable, but virtually every rule we face is the result of someone behaving badly enough that the other people said, “I guess we have to explicitly state that this is really uncool.”
This can be taken too far. For example, the Little River Canyon National Preserve recently installed spike strips at the Little River Falls parking area. The National Park Service explained them on Facebook as necessary “to prevent drivers from entering the parking lot incorrectly and to aid rangers in enforcing park closures when the parking lot is full or closed for the night.” If you mistakenly enter the lot through the exit lane or back over them, the spikes will rupture your car tires!
Seriously? I love how nice the NPS has the Canyon looking, but I can’t think of a more poignant example of why some people consider the U.S. government overbearing.
Then again, maybe they’re just reacting to one too many angry old dudes feeling entitled to break rules and do whatever they want.
— Steven Stiefel is the publisher of the Times-Journal. His column appears in Saturday editions. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.