“Cars are the most evil invention.”
So said a friend of mine in seminary, wielding his bike lock with pride. I imagined him to mean that they pollute the air, give humanity an air of too much power and self-reliance, and cause all kinds of fatal accidents, but this past weekend, I came to a new understanding, and I wonder if this is some of what he meant.
While I was on the way to the park yesterday afternoon, pushing the stroller loaded with an energetic one-year old and dragging the leash, on the end of which was an equally-energetic 100-pound dog, a red SUV vroomed around a curve and zoomed down the street I was in the middle of crossing. My eyes went wide like that one emoji, not trusting that the big red octagon would be heeded, speeding my step and boldly (?) pointing my arm toward the sign.
The tinted window was lowered, and the burly middle-aged man snarled, “What? I see the sign. Welcome to the neighborhood!” …in a way that wasn’t so neighborly.
We made it to the park. We climbed, we threw wood chips, we slid, we chased geese. We threw a fit getting back into the stroller, of course.
And just when I’d processed and let go of the last run-in with a vehicle, I was (figuratively!) side-swiped again.
Two blocks from home, I stood at a stop sign, this time, a silver sports car dashing down the lane — toward a stop sign. She rolled right on through, nary a pause for the mother and babe waiting to cross, and then was immediately stopped in her tracks by a car backing out of a driveway.
Keyed up as I was, I looked toward her rearview mirror and shook my head as I crossed the street behind her. For the second time that afternoon (and like, the third time ever in my life), the car window flew down and the perky young thing with an edgy haircut said, “Do we have a problem here?! I saw you. I stopped. You have a baby and a dog, you think I wouldn’t have stopped?! YOU need an attitude adjustment!” (let it be known, I did not suggest that she needed an attitude adjustment, when she asked if I thought she wouldn’t stop, I sheepishly replied, “I don’t know.” which apparently needs adjusting)
Then, of course, the waterworks started. The thoughts flew fast and furious — was I playing the victim? Was I being self-righteous? DID I need an attitude adjustment?
Thankfully, walks provide needed perspective, and I was soon able to console myself that to think a pedestrian with child and animal was “playing the victim” to a car is ridiculous, whatever the circumstances; by default, the power differential is great. Further, in both instances, I’d simply expressed my displeasure at bad, unsafe behavior — I’d held my neighbors accountable for their careless actions, and they rankled. People do not like being told they are wrong, especially when they probably know their behavior is unsafe and outside the law, but they’re used to getting away with it.
Which leads to the evil of cars.
When I’m in the car, even with my baby in the backseat, I feel like I’m alone, as if nobody’s watching me, I’m my own master. The temptation to sin in my perceived freedom, trespassing the boundaries of others’ lives, is often too great to overcome, in part because my windshield and loud radio veil me from any serious consequences. No one is going to hold me to account, and I have a quick getaway from the situation. I’m not speaking of serious violations, but of the sort of zooming about residential streets, rolling stops for signs on deserted avenues, and myriad small habits that nevertheless corrode virtue.
The isolation that cars often provide, the insulation from small, everyday accountabilities that, I suspect, would deter the shift into those larger accountabilities of serious vehicular violations (and, is it too extreme to suggest, serious ethical violations in life, too?).