Mary and I have two different ways of communicating. A common way Mary gets her point across is through sarcasm—she says it like it is, with a thrust and a 90-degree twist. She even wears a T-shirt advertising her talents: “Sarcasm,” it says. “Just one more service I offer.” It’s truly one of her love languages, and she seems to love just about everyone. Yes, sarcasm is the mind’s natural defense against stupidity, and Mary has honed her craft to a sharp (tongued) edge.
I, on the other hand, am a master of passive aggressiveness—I say it like it ain’t. I can attack you without you knowing it, leaving you scratching your head and wondering why you want to curl up on the sofa and devour an entire half-gallon of butter pecan ice cream while watching an episode of Six Feet Under. Waa.
Mary can tell you firsthand of past demonstrations of my sweet PA ninja skills. One evening, when she was pregnant with Hannah, we got caught in a torrential storm while driving to church. As heavy rain pounded the windshield and I craned my neck to see the highway, Mary asked me to slow down. Without a word I let off the gas, moved to the right lane, and turned on the flashers. I drove slowly enough to lose a race against a sleeping turtle. While the windshield wipers slapped away the raindrops in time with the incessant clicking of the hazard lights, she finally spoke: “You can be such an ass sometimes,” she declared. Yes, darling. Yes I can.
During our recent road trip from Texas to North Carolina and Virginia, Mary and I got to practice our respective communication styles with passing motorists. I’m a quiet guy for the most part, except when I’m talking, which is often, and stupid drivers tend to evoke the worst in me. If they do something idiotic I’ll demonstrate my expertise in both PA and pure A. A passing driver may glance at me and think I’m talking to myself, but, no, I’m really carrying on an animated conversation with him; in that moment the driver actually has my focused attention, like a bug under a magnifying glass on a hot summer’s day. Just because I’m looking straight ahead and grinding my teeth doesn’t mean I don’t have his best interests in mind. As long as those interests are for him to surrender his driver’s license and hang up his keys for good.
For instance, I’ll most likely begin a conversation with a driver if he rolls up behind me on the freeway, moves into the left lane, pulls alongside, and slows down, keeping pace. I call these types of drivers “pacers,” wondering if they’re fighter pilots by the way they love to drive in formation. When someone pulls up beside me it’s like invading my personal space—he either needs to speed up or slow down, not keep up three feet to my left. It makes me want to wipe potato chip grease on his passenger-side window. I mean, really, if he was in such a big hurry, why doesn’t he commit and follow through with the maneuver he initiated? It’s irritating. …
Talking about commitment and follow-through, what about those drivers who hurriedly pass you, swing back into your lane, and slow down right in front of you? Ugh! I call these folks “blockers.” They manifest a kinetic form of passive aggressiveness, and since I myself suffer from hostility-with-a-smile, I easily recognize it. What’s that old saying? “Familiarity breeds contempt.” So if someone’s gonna pass me, he should act like he means it—keep going at the higher speed, else he’ll see my lips moving with exaggerated smacks and flashes of teeth as I pass him back, notching my cruise control up another mile-per-hour just to outpace him.
While heading back home from Virginia, a guy driving a scary-looking black GMC Yukon XL kept passing us and disappearing over the next rise. Five minutes later I found myself passing him. Ten minutes after that the same black GMC Yukon XL passed me again, and three minutes after that, I passed him. This pattern continued for dozens, maybe even hundreds of miles, causing me not so much to gripe as to wonder what the heck was going on with him. I nicknamed him the “jogger” because he constantly jogged for position then relinquished it. Over and over again.
Back when I was a kid my brothers and I were big-time into walkie-talkies, and C.W. McCall was one of our heroes. We studied Citizens Band lingo and dreamed of the day Dad would break down and purchase a wicked 23-channel Cobra radio so we could practice our 10-codes using cool handles like “Charlie Tuna” and “Big Toe.” One of the CB slang phrases I remember is “rolling roadblock,” a term describing two vehicles cruising side-by-side at a pace slower than the traffic stuck behind them. Practically nothing can loosen my irate tongue more quickly than falling in line behind two semi-trucks keeping pace with each other in adjacent lanes while we roller skates queue up behind them. This can turn me into a bucket mouth faster than feeding the bears for doing 75 in a double-nickel. 10-4, good buddy.
Another conversation stimulator is the driver I refer to as a “weaver.” You know the type, the guy who’s never satisfied staying put in his lane when traffic is dense but moving along at a tolerable clip. Usually driving hopped up cars like late-model Dodge Challengers or Chevy Camaros, these drivers can evoke all sorts of commentary from Mary and I, such as “I wonder what he’s compensating for?” or “Where are the cops when we really need them?” Weavers also inspire communication on a higher-level: I usually end up praying for the guy, asking God to keep the innocent people safe in the event the driver starts a fiery chain-reaction crash.
While driving on Interstate 20 just east of Meridian, Mississippi, a white pickup truck zoomed up behind me in the left lane while I was passing another vehicle. The pickup driver flashed his lights and I moved back into the right lane as soon as I could. As the pickup passed us, I noticed it was a beat-up old work truck driven by a guy who obviously loved his job—why else would he be doing 95 in a 70 and flashing his lights? Within seconds the “aggressive,” as I like to call these kinds of drivers, got blocked by another car cruising in the left lane (I’ve labeled these drivers “cruisers” because they hang out all day in the passing lane doing the speed limit or below). Instead of passing the cruiser on the right, the aggressive rode up on his bumper and continued to flash his lights. Finally frustrated by the unyielding blockade, the driver of the work truck whipped into the right lane, but instead of passing the cruiser right away and moving on, he waved at the guy using various hand gestures reserved for drunken birthday parties and PG-13 movies. Luckily Hannah was absorbed in the world of Minecraft at that very moment so she didn’t get to witness the friendly exchange and beautiful demonstration of communication at its finest.
Communication while driving is imperative to staying safe and to notify other drivers of your intentions. Whether through the practice of employing mechanical signals, eye contact, application of appropriate (or inappropriate) hand signals, or verbally relaying messages, cross-country trips can also provide a prime opportunity to work on your own style. No matter what your approach, be it sarcasm, passive aggressiveness, or any other form of communication, the driving habits of other motorists can provide endless hours of study, polish and honing of your particular brand of panache. Now allow me to prop my pillow against the window, close my eyes and listen to Mary work on her skills. Ahh, road tripping … there’s nothing better than the sound of the wind, 80’s music and the execution of the subtle art of sarcasm to bring a smile to my face.
Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes