The line of stopped traffic on Interstate 70 stretched as far as I could see.
"Damn it!" I yelled, punching the dashboard yet again.
I was on my way home to Carbondale after a long day of work in Eagle last summer. The sun was setting, and I was cursing myself for not grabbing a snack before I left the office. My stomach twisted in empty pain, and I drank all my water to fill it as the line of cars rolled a few feet forward every now and then.
A full bladder didn't help me relax. It's hard to pee in front of hundreds of strangers! There was a long bridge ahead, however, and I worried about being stuck on it indefinitely, far from any bushes.
The white rental van in front of me creeped ahead a little more. Might as well take care of this while I still have an opportunity, I thought.
I left the car door open and jogged to a patch of waist-high bushes, the only cover I could find. I unzipped my pants and tried to pretend like so many families with little girls were not in plain view. There was a moment of great relief, and then I heard yelling.
"Hey! Hey! Your car just rolled into me!"
I glanced over my shoulder and saw my black Subaru resting against the rear bumper of the white van. I was so worried that people might notice me I forgot to put the car in park.
"Sorry! Just a sec!" I hollered, intending to finish my business, even though I was dying from embarrassment. The driver of the van was calm about it, and we weren't going anywhere, so what else was to be done a moment sooner that could make a difference? Apparently a lot, according to the guy's wife, who yelled from the passenger seat.
"Get your ass up here right now or I'm calling the cops!" She screamed repeatedly as I scrambled back up the hill, still zipping my pants.
I backed up the car and the guy got out to check. I couldn't see a scratch and neither did he. He gave me the OK sign. The woman kept screaming, though. A moment later, she came stomping around to my window.
"Give me your license and insurance! Give them to me or I'm calling the cops!" She accused me of being an irresponsible child and rolled her eyes in a mocking fashion as she pretended to be me apologizing while taking a whiz.
I called her a name that implied she was being very unreasonable, and handed over my license. I could understand why she wanted my information in case the rental car agency had some problems with a scratch that wasn't there, but I wasn't going to let her get away with treating me so poorly.
"I'm stuck in this, too," I said.
She started to calm down and seemed hurt that I would even imagine that she was a crabby person.
"I'm a nurse! I help people!" she argued.
"So what? I'm a good guy, too. I've had a long day of work. I'm starving. I don't know when I'm going to get home and you've been screaming at me from the start."
She offered me some grapes from their cooler. I hated the idea of accepting anything from her. I was extremely hungry, though, and she stood outside my window, refusing to go away.
I finally took the grapes, and when she saw how eagerly I ate them, she offered me a granola bar as well. We parted, both sorry but keen to get out of each other's life.
The truth is, life was telling me something that day. As soon as I realized how my surroundings mirrored my emotions, the traffic started clearing.
I was reminded of this lesson three weeks ago when I met a strange guy on the chairlift near the end of a tedious day. I was annoyed at first. He seemed pretentious.
Then it occurred to me that I was seeing a reflection of my own qualities. I adjusted my eyes and saw the situation in a different way. Soon I was smiling, chasing the fresh acquaintance down the hill.
"A way of life that keeps saying, 'Around the next corner, above the next step,' works against the natural order of things and makes it so difficult to be happy and good, that only a few get to where they naturally would have been in the first place - Happy and Good - and the rest give up and fall by the side of the road, cursing the world, which is not to blame but which is there to help show the way."
- Benjamin Hoff,
"The Tao of Pooh"
- "Open Space" appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.