Columnist: What goldfish can teach us about road rage
Before the Internet took over our lives, the road was the only way to anonymously unleash our frustration on complete strangers. It is still so easy, so deliciously righteous, to wallow in all the reasons why the person slowing you down in their ’01 Camry deserves the worst of all possible deaths. Maybe they’re in the left lane when they aren’t passing. Maybe they are barely going the speed limit, and maybe they’re not.
My husband and I spent the monumental winter of 2007-’08 digging ourselves out of a small cabin near Marble. Pets were not allowed within its slightly slanted homestead walls, but we were really beginning to feel the call of nurture, and so, naturally, we resorted to goldfish. Four of them: El Guapo, Fezzig, G’Nesh and a white one which may or may not remember the name that we forgot we gave him. They survived the winter wonderfully, even allowing their tank to don a white ribbon when it became part of our psuedo-elopement’s mini-reception table.
Finally, when the lease was up and Memorial Day began the green-hazy process of beautifying the muddy valley enough to entice the owners of the cabin to return, we realized we would need to somehow transport our illegitimate aquatic children.
At the time, I drove a Subaru wagon (’96). He drove a Ford Ranger (’97, manual, rear wheel drive, no shocks or tailgate). The fish decided to ride with me. We took their tank (sans ribbon), and after siphoning off two-thirds of the square inchage of fishy living space, we nestled it in the passenger seat above a box full of shoes. Would it have made more sense to get them into individual bags for the journey? Yes. Unfortunately, due to a lapse in forethought, the only bags available to us on that morning were the brown, structurally suspect, City Market variety. So their lidless tank sat shotgun. After a heated debate, we decided against the seat belt, and I embarked on a historic drive toward New Castle and our new, pet-friendly rental.
For all those who have not had the fantastic pleasure of visiting the town of Marble, the drive is one filled with stunning mountain vistas, lovely foliage, and Ford Explorer-tipping turns. With the life and well-being of my long-suffering, finned co-pilots dependent on the unstable and sloshy nature of their environment, I approached each asphalt curve with respect and slow dignity. Before long, I had a stunning honor guard of F-350s and Dodge Ram 2000s behind me despite following the “four on your ass, let them pass” rule.
As I considered the evident frustration of those trucks’ drivers wanting to be where they were going now, it occurred to me that I would be behaving similarly if stuck behind my unhurried, sticker-free bumper. The righteous indignation that sprouts from the realization that someone is not taking full advantage of the fullest extent of the speed limit is a constant source of deteriorating stomach linings and misplaced good moods. As I carefully drove the rest of the way into Carbondale (only sloshing once), I ashamedly imagined some of the horrific names I would be calling myself for postponing, by somewhere between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, my hypothetical arrival at some crucial destination.
Since that day, I have struggled (often unsuccessfully) to quell the indignation and irritation that arises from Sunday morning drivers and lost, California license plates by empathetically reminding myself that perhaps, they, too, are transporting goldfish.
So, when you are experiencing those heightened levels of the epinephrine twins in the form of unbridled hatred for the bumper only 3 feet in front of you, I might remind you that you don’t know their story. If that doesn’t work, I might suggest taking several deep, cleansing breaths. Or maybe I would point out the overwhelming natural beauty which somehow manages to escape our notice on a daily basis. I might even remind you to be grateful for the fact that you have a working vehicle and a job to be a little late to. Or I might just tell you, yes, you in the white, ’Merican made, Heavy Duty truck, to please just get off my ass.
Lindsay DeFrates lives and teaches in Carbondale. She writes and rafts, grades and goes down slides, sometimes not in that order. Her column appears on the first Tuesday of the month.
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