Making Sense of Selfishness

It disturbs me to write this, but I am beginning to understand selfishness.  In the past, I commuted to my office in Manhattan daily on the Long Island Rail Road.  I drove a car perhaps 3000 miles per year, and that was mostly on Sundays, in nice weather, in my 1964 Austin Healey.  It was a sufficiently unusual car that people gave me a relatively wide berth.  I was a courteous driver.

Lately, I’ve been driving much more.  And in a real car instead of my little toy.  And my eyes have been opened.  I believe that this may be a Long Island phenomenon, so if it doesn’t pertain to wherever you are, I understand.  And please don’t tell me that what follows is not your experience.  I pray that my experience is not universal, but don’t rub my nose in it.

People drive offensively.  It’s as if they aim at you, daring you to hit them.  Running stop signs is routine.  By women in SUVs with a gaggle of children in the car.  Of the most remarkable things I’ve seen lately, cars making K-turns on 55 mph roads with a ton of traffic driving at 70 mph, totally oblivious to the mayhem they are about to cause.  If you don’t drive right on the tail of the car in front of you, some truck will squeeze in leaving a hair between it and you. 

But mostly, I’ve learned that if you aren’t dangerously and inappropriately aggressive, you are left without options.  I sit there at a light, after it’s turned green, because I know that at least 5 more cars will run it.  If I don’t make a right on red into a steady stream of traffic, the car behind me will honk incessantly, creep up until our bumpers touch, and start screaming curses. 

I must be wrong.  I must be.  Because everyone else cannot be wrong.  And everyone else disagrees.  No one lets anyone go first anymore.  If there’s the slightest hesitation, you are guaranteed that someone else will bulldoze their way through.  I used to think that they must all be in a bigger rush than me, because I wasn’t in enough of a rush to risk my life or anyone else’s.  But I’ve since learned that this has nothing to do with it.  They have no place to go.  They are just too important to wait.  That’s it.

Is it kids?  Yes.  And women?  Yes.  Men too?  Yes.  Rich people? Sure.  Poor people? You betcha.  Old timers?  Absolutely.  It defies classification.  It’s everyone.  And most have a lot to say, as well, since they are on their cellphones.

When I last appeared in a traffic court, I wondered to myself, “How is it possible that these people got caught?”  What could they have possibly done that is different than what everyone else is doing?”  You see, if the whole world breaks a law, then it can’t be wrong.  Now it’s obvious that they know more about it than I do, since I am firmly convinced that I am totally out of the loop.  But cops, and traffic court judges, surely they know better.  So what must a person do that is so heinous that in a place where no one adheres to the law, they stood out?

I got my answer that day in traffic court.  A cop I knew pretty well was there, awaiting whatever it is that cops await when they stand around at traffic court (I’m tempted here to make a joke about donuts, but that would reflect a certain prejudice about police and I am above such things).  I asked the cop, what happened that you actually felt the need to issue a summons to somebody? 

The cop pointed toward a beautiful woman, maybe early 20s (as if I can tell anymore).  A pretty face, in a blond-haired, blue-eyed sort of way.  But a body worthy of Baywatch, if you know what I mean.  “So what did she do?”  I inquired.  With a sparkle in his eye, he answered, “nothing.  I just wanted to get her name.”  Selfishness.