Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Pulfer: Mean streets?

Maybe we need a new road sign

It was a nasty moment. My mother was holding on to the car door handle. I think she thought I might ram the BMW that kept lane hopping, apparently willing to die for a one-car, 50-second advantage. Actually, I was considering throwing the car into reverse and ramming the guy behind me who kept honking.

And then it happened. I said the F-word. In front of my mother.

Of course, I blamed the other motorists. I proposed deputizing pedestrians, issuing paint-ball guns to them. Whenever they witnessed somebody sneaking through a red light or ignoring a crosswalk, they would be legally empowered to plug 'em. Then, when their cars start looking like a Jackson Pollock mural, they should be hauled off to jail.

"Ha, ha, ha," Mom said. "And I guess you are hoping nobody has a real gun."

This was several years ago. Traffic is worse. And not just in the city. If you don't believe me, just meander along Tylersville Road in West Chester. Last week, I didn't close the gap fast enough and received the familiar digital salute.

The guy looked mean and I was afraid to signal back.

A Gallup poll reports 42 percent of motorists are concerned about road rage, compared with 35 percent who are worried about drunk drivers. The American Institute of Public Safety (AIPS) suggests we should ask ourselves if "getting back at that jerk worth my life?" The Ohio State Highway Patrol says we should avoid eye contact.

Geez. Just how angry are we? "It can begin," the AIPS cautions with "an exchange of gestures." Maybe we need a new gesture. A new sign.

The other day, I could have used a universal sign for: "You were in my blind spot. I'm glad you were paying attention. I take full responsibility and am profoundly sorry."

For $329, you can buy something called the Road Rager MD-550, a handheld transmitter and LED screen for the back of your car. You get 60 customized messages to warn off the offending driver behind you, including "Oops, sorry!!" and "Your exhaust smells." I was thinking of something less complicated and considerably cheaper.

I called Tina Gonzalez, president of Miami Valley Interpreters, who signs for the deaf at Aronoff Center performances, including the Broadway Series and the Enquirer's SmartTalk lectures. She has translated the remarks of everybody from First Mother Barbara Bush to astronaut Mae Jemison to comic Joan Rivers. In other words, she has had to interpret everything from common sense to scientific terms to bodily functions.

When somebody blasts you with his horn, she suggests flashing the Peace Sign. "Somebody did that to me," she says, "and I was humbled and embarrassed." If you're close enough, she says, you can put on your "forgive me face." If nothing else, you might be able to reduce rage to mere disgust.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the reported incidents of road rage dropped. Briefly. Surely that lesson was permanent. Surely we know now that a one-car, 50-second advantage is not a life or death matter. And if we have forgotten, there is the example of young American soldiers dying every day in Iraq. Peace?

I'm looking for a sign.


E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com

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