Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Civility. It’s All the Rage.

Road Rage

Mrs. E. and I were visiting my brother-in-law and some State Department friends in Washington last weekend and decided to take a ride around our nation's rapidly transforming capital (“I believe this used to be an open air drug market when you lived here…”) before heading to the Kennedy Center for “Anything Goes.”

It isn't unusual for traffic to be lousy in The District but that Saturday was an exception; the streets were fairly quiet. What wasn't an exception was the incivility of our fellow drivers. D.C. no longer feels like a southern city in which one didn't sound a horn for anything short of an impending disaster or dire emergency.

Our unfortunate example came in the form of a well-coiffed, blonde thirty year old in a BMW station wagon. We were stuck in back of a bus that was pulled over in the right lane. Mrs. E. put on her blinker, checked over her left shoulder, watched the guy in back of us dart into the center lane, checked again and begin to pull out. Our “local” citizen turned right from a perpendicular street into the center lane, slowed to almost a stop to glare into the car at us and hit the after-burners to blast off down the street.

She must have been late for her C-Span interview.

I know that modern life is hectic, that we are all ten minutes behind schedule from multi-tasking. I also know that by leaving in plenty of time, or calling ahead to tell your hosts that you are en route but unavoidably stuck in traffic will keep your blood pressure in check and result in a more peasant commute. Roll up the windows, put on the a/c, turn on the classical station and let it ride. Better to arrive cool and collected than hot and bothered.

Above all else, remember that you are not the only person on the road/late/ having a bad day. It's not a race, so don't be a rat. Don't blame some poor sap from out of town. you are far too civilized and evolved for that. Deep breath. It'll be fine.

8 thoughts on “Civility. It’s All the Rage.

  1. Dear Chris,
    Very well written and unfortunately there seems to be more and more of that incivility of fellow drivers… scary at times.
    Wishing for a return to civility! Enjoy your summer and keep leaving in time; that’s what we do always.
    Mariette’s Back to Basics

  2. “town and Country” magazine published a great book of essays called “Social Graces”. There is a short essay called ‘The Right of Way’ by Owen Edwards. It is wonderful and can be summed up in five words: we are as we drive. I’ve copied the pages and handed them to each of my children on the day they got their driver’s license. The youngest obtained his last week.

  3. Chris —

    This post is very timely, although it makes one sad to realize how quickly our society has deteriorated when it comes to manners, decency and politeness. It also begs the question: What is it about a multi-ton vehicle that makes far too many people assume an aura of unaccountability and invincibility?

  4. CC, I think it is the illusion of anonymity, combined with the suit of armor mentality, and the availability of a quick get-away. “Do unto others and then split” may be becoming our national motto.

    Mariette, scary, indeed.

    Vern, the GOP’ers are in hiding as far as I can tell. Low profile…

  5. Lisa M is so wise: we are indeed how we drive (and speak and wait in line for people to stop haggling over every last coupon, say).

    In the culture wars, I think it’s cool, calm, and collected responses like your own that will save the day!

    Well played (and written!).

  6. Chris ā€“ Unfortunately, your observation is right on the money. While Washington continues to become increasingly more prosperous, we have a growing deficit when it comes to civility, especially when it comes to driving. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the most aggressive drivers seem to be behind the wheels of the most expensive cars. I can also assure you that this lack of civility is one of the few things in Washington these days that seems to be truly bipartisan.

    During the past several years, Washington has become a wealthier, cleaner, safer, and more beautiful city. If only people would follow your advice ā€” turning up the civility and dialing back the aggression ā€” we could all enjoy it a bit more.

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