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Gestures drive relations home

Staff column

POSTED: July 17, 2017 4:00 p.m.
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Whitten is editor of the Coastal Courier.

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If you see a balding curmudgeon driving around somewhere with a certain finger extended at the world, pay no mind. It’s just me, having a conniption fit over other drivers.

Besides, lately they’ve been pointing those things at me.

I spied one young fellow in a Nissan of some sort shooting me the old full bird salute Tuesday as he got off I-95 at the I-16 overpass and started that slow circling descent on the ramp down to I-16 east. How he managed to do that, talk on a cell phone and stay on the exit ramp without crashing is beyond me.

Wednesday, some bearded hero in a pickup ran up on my bumper in Pooler (my favorite city) in the middle of wall-to-wall 5:30 p.m. traffic. I thought he was about to drive up my tail pipe, but he managed not only to avoid that, he also had the dexterity to wave the old middle-index finger salute my way as he sped past.

I returned his wave, as I usually do. Hey Bubba, same to you. He was already in South Carolina by then, though.

My wife, who has long told me I need to go live and drive around on my own private island with no other cars allowed, didn’t exactly lend a sympathetic ear when I got home that night.

Her: How was your day?

Me: Some 49-year-old teenager in a pickup shot me a bird on the way home.

Her: Imagine that. (My wife often responds to my statements with those two words).

Me: What’s the world coming too? That’s the second day in a row I’ve gotten the finger.

Her: Imagine that.

Me: I should have chased him and got him to pull over, that’s what I should’ve done.

Her: And do what? See who can make the most gestures at the other? Have a middle-finger pointing showdown?

Me (after a pause): Good point. Besides, he might have hit me with something. A stick, maybe, or a golf club. That would have hurt.

Her: Yes, it would have. Imagine that.

Me: It could’ve also been embarrassing, out there on the side of I-95 and getting chased around with a golf club, or a stick. Running from a golf club would probably be worse, though. There’s something just un-American about being chased by a golfer. It’s unmanly.

Her: I suspect it would be.

The difference between me and my wife is that she is blessed with an abundance of common sense. That’s something I, as a newspaper editor, lack by definition. We are not known in our business for being too smart. If we were, well, we wouldn’t be in newspapers.

We instead would grow up to become bankers or hedge fund managers or lawyers, with full heads of wavy, dignified hair and baritones. Or, we’d of become something cool, like astronauts who also play in rock bands, sue people and manage hedge funds in our spare time. And that’s only when we weren’t busy teaching real estate classes and getting glamor shots to make us look better than we really do, even though we already look plenty good.

Instead, we’re in newspapers. Twenty years in newspapers is like 400 years in a real job. Our hair sticks out and some of us smell funny, like we keep corn chips in our pockets.

But I do know this, which I’ve written at least 300 times by now: if people walked around in crowds the same way they drive in traffic, there would be a fist-fight every 20 seconds.

Do you think people standing in a line would put up with some gum-chewing, cellphone talking teenybopper with one of those top-of-the-head pony tails running up to the front and cutting in at the last minute?

Would we let some creep walk around a half-centimeter behind us and shine LED flashlights over our shoulders?

Would we put up with someone who saw us walking along, waited until we were a step away, then stepped out in front us and either walked real slow or stepped a few paces and then stopped to tie a shoe, forcing us to stop?

I don’t know what it is about getting behind the wheel, but over time it turns people into one of two types - those who can drive, like me, and those who can’t and don’t care.

Those who can’t are out there on the roads in abundance, cutting people off, texting while doing 45 mph in the fast lane and generally giving the rest of us heartburn. And that’s why the rest of us are turning into crazed psychopaths who’d shoot their own grandmother the old you-know-what if she cut them off in traffic.

I know I would. But I’m trying to get better.

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