Thursday, January 29, 2009

Zen and the Art of Aggravation.

Relax, I tell myself. Be the puppy. It's no use. It's happening anyway.

My mind's been chewing on this strange paralax. Yes, I know some big words and can even use them in sentences. How odd for someone who calls himself a Warrior. In case you don't have a dictionary handy, here's the definition.

paralax: the difference in apparent direction of an object as seen from two different points.

I'm presuming it's correct to use this word in a philosophical sense as well as describing a physical sight picture. Ok, I can hear you talking. Where the heck is he going with this? Fine, I'll put my dictionary away and get to the point.

Riding a motorcycle is supposed to be a relaxing endeavour, right? I've read in other blogs where riders have described motorcycling as a Zen-like experience. I've described it that way myself. I'm sorry, but I have to drag out the dictionary, again.

Zen: A Japanese Buddhist sect that teaches self-discipline, meditation, and attainment of enlightment through direct intuitive insight.

Reading that definition would lead one to believe that the intent of this would be to have a positive outcome. So here's what I've been musing on.

If motorcycling is supposed to be a Zen-like pursuit, then why the heck do I still get so darned pissed off at other road users? I'm getting enlightened for sure. Unfortunately, the enlightment is about how bad other drivers are!

As one who commutes, ( read: rides a lot in commuter traffic ) we're exposed on a frequent basis to people with less than stellar driving habits. Let's just quit being all nicey-nicey and come right out and say it. Most people drive with their heads up their ass. If there's a chance to do something stupid they'll be first in line. Here's an example from Tuesday morning.

I'm heading North on Commercial Street in South Salem. There's two lanes of traffic in each direction with a big refuge / turn lane in the middle. Salem has an extensive mass transit bus system. Which means that the right lane traffic flow is subject to regular interruption as buses stop. Traffic's heavy as befits a city of over a hundred thousand. I'm eventually going to have to turn right so, rather than make a bunch of lane changes, I remain in the right lane and go with the flow. On top of heavy traffic, things are complicated by the fact that it's near freezing and sleet's falling fairly steadily. Better not to do too much dashing about on the bike.

As expected, a bus stops. It can't get out of the lane so traffic has to stop behind it. I'm second in line. Ahead of me is an elderly woman in a beige Buick. She's talking on the cell phone. Is nobody immune, anymore? At some point I figure I'll go around to the left and not worry about the bus anymore. Here's a prime opportunity for people to get stupid. Right on cue, they go for it.

Traffic behind me starts blindly whipping to the left. There were a couple of near collisions with drivers that were already in the left lane. I mean these people didn't even slow down. They just cranked the wheel and hoped for the best, I guess. You know what I'm doing all this time. Yeah, just sitting patiently and waiting for things to clear out. The bus is still stopped. Somebody needed the bus to be lowered and a wheelchair ramp put out. Now there's nobody behind me that will pose a problem to my lane change. Buick Lady is still sitting there talking on the phone. I figure she'll stay put but I keep my eye on her.

I'm starting from a dead stop so my lane change isn't real quick. About the time I get even with Buick Lady's rear door, she starts her own lane change. Her head never turned. No big deal, I was ready for it. I honk but she keeps coming over. I move to the refuge lane. I could have stopped, but I have this perverse streak in me. I wanted to see her reaction when she finally saw me. The car that suddenly pulls into the turn lane facing me makes it a little more complicated but I'd left some attention for things like that. It was a 'No Harm, No Foul" situation as far as danger to me went, but I was still aggravated. On top of it all, having to move quickly to get out of danger meant I couldn't see her face when she wet her Depends!

This isn't about my ability to take care of myself. There's a difference between what we perceive as a close call and "no big deal" which I'll post about later. What really angers me is the actions of other drivers. Specifically, their willingness to put everyone else at risk just to satisfy their own selfish desires. On the flip side, there's the willingness to drive in a total fog of oblivion. Thus is the basis of my ire.

I try not to let it get to me. Several coping mechanisms have been tried. I've made excuses for people and tried to look at things from their point of view. One side result is that I've found it's impossible to get my head inserted that far.

For a while I even tried an analogy. I likened other drivers to dogs that crap in my yard. They can't help it. Dogs are a lower life form and don't know it's wrong to just go dump on someone's grass. Why waste so much energy and stress about it? Just deal with it.

That didn't help and it actually bothered me. Viewing humans as lesser lifeforms are the big keys to allowing everything from stereotypes, racial prejudice, and worse, genocides. I just wasn't comfortable being there. So with a shudder I abandoned that strategy.

No matter what I do, I still get upset. Not so much that I do something crazy or become a candidate for a heart attack or something. Still, I picture myself a few years back with my wife and young family in the van. Somebody decides they need to be going two miles per hour faster. Or get one car length ahead. So they make a dangerous move, putting my family in a high risk situation for a bit. And for what? I still take some of these dangerous acts by others as a personal attack, I guess.

Come to think of it, though, maybe my ire really is a chance to practice Zen. I'm certainly getting the opportunity to work on the self-discipline part. No matter the actions of others, the responsibility of how we react sits squarely on our own shoulders.

Maybe I'm just overly sensitized. As a man who feels deeply moved to help others learn to take care of themselves, the callous disregard for the well being of others shown by drivers really gets to me.

Is there a takeaway from this post? This time I'd have to answer in the negative. Maybe I just needed to vent a little. At the same time, I'm pretty sure most of you can see yourselves here with me.

What coping mechanisms do you all use? That's a turnaround, isn't it? Instead of me passing along helpful riding advice, I'm asking you all for input. Goes to show you that we all need each other.

Miles and smiles, ( even if the smile is painted on, sometimes )



Steve Williams said...

While I don't practice this perfectly I do try and accept things the way they are rather than the way I believe they should be. I look at things unfolding on the road and think of it as a natural process with each vehicle doing what it naturally desires to do.

Where I get into trouble is when I expect things. Expect people to act as I think they should. Expect them to respect me. Expect them to act responsibly. Those expectations, however right I believe them to be, whatever power or god I believe revealed the truth of things to me, those expectations lead only to disappointment and anger.

For me.

Most of the time it works for me but now and again I still find myself thinking "they should..."

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

American Scooterist Blog said...

I know what you mean. Being a scooterist often means that people will tailgate you. No matter that you're going ten over the limit and holding no one up. The fact you're ahead of them is more important to their limited reason egos than reality. I think its best summed up knowing we live in a society where people are taught what to think rather than how to think. If someone tells them for example, that scooters are slow, rather than check their speedometers as they overtake us, they will tailgate and need to pass us than ask the legitimate question, How fast is that scooter rider really going?

Doesn't happen on the HD... Matter of perception over actual reason and deduction.


Anonymous said...

You bring up an interesting note in regards to Zen, a form of Buddhism in your discussion on motorcycling.

If you were to expand on your view of motorcycling Zen that might change how you are looking at traffic. Let me see if I can explain:

In a nutshell, Buddhism focuses on what they call the 'Four Noble Truths'

Life means Suffering.
Suffering is caused through Attachment.
The cessation of suffering is possible.
There is a path to end suffering.

In this case, your suffering is agitation at others.

You have a conceptual attachment to how you feel they should behave, and one again to how long it should take when stopped behind a bus. (You eventually pulled out from behind it, instead of waiting dispassionately behind it for the person to either load or unload.) You expect them to behave a specific way ... this expectation is something that you are attached to.

By realizing that this irritates you, you are in a place where you can accept that people will do things that can put lives in danger ... and you can determine your own level of choice in how you will react.

By changing your reaction to their input you can control your personal suffering. (Or in this case your irritation.)

Maybe we're all just driving to enlightenment one mile at a time?

cpa3485 said...

For me, as I get a little older, I get less angry about other drivers than I used to. I rationalize it by saying that I try not to get upset about situations that I cannot control. My anger towards other drivers now has changed more to a level of "disappointment".
I simply consider all other vehicles as a potential threat to me on the road and assume that they will not always do the right thing.

Other drivers sure can be "disappointing" at times. Maybe the zen part of the trick is in being able to forgive, not always an easy thing to do.

-Tim said...

Before I post this, I must say to you Dan....never, ever, come to Salt Lake City...your brain would explode...

Since moving here almost two years ago now, I have learned to be very, very patient, and forgiving on the road.
I have come to the point that I don't expect anyone to see me, and even if they do, I figure it was an accident.
When unexpected hazards cut in front of me, tailgate me, or almost end my life; about 95% of the time I expected it, and saw it coming, so I am at peace.

I have learned to take life as it comes.
If I can not control it, why should I worry about.
The Beatles said it best "Let it be."
I say, "life will go on, why worry about the small things."

Lady Ridesalot said...

I expect everyone around me to do something stupid or just not see me. That way, I hope to be ready for it. I still consider myself a newbie ( 3 years riding now) and I'm a pretty defensive rider. I've had my share of what you would classify as "close calls". I also have had my share of wonderful rides with absolutely no aggravating incidents. These make it all worth it!

You also have to consider the odds. Your out on the streets commuting every day, which makes you exposed to the stupids a bit more often than the more casual rider. One who rides occasionally to work and sight seeing around on the weekends.

You teach riding skills to others. Once a teacher, always a teacher. Your never "off" to enjoy the "zen" of the ride. Nothing wrong with that! You'll just have to vent more often to your blogger pals. We don't mind. We think the road is full of idiots too. We just have to find a way to ride around them.


Anonymous said...

To me zen in biking is "out there" in the mountains, you, bike and road. But i suspect i'm wrong ;-)

Great read, as much as it was a rant ... makes me feel better to know we all face the same dangers (cell phone grannies) and such ...

Also good to know that stuff happens, that you are prepared for ... that's the golden egg, being able to anticipate and evade, ideally with enough space and time left to set them up *grin* I also enjoy that surprised look :D


Bryce said...

"What really angers me is the actions of other drivers. Specifically, their willingness to put everyone else at risk just to satisfy their own selfish desires. On the flip side, there's the willingness to drive in a total fog of oblivion."

Dan, it is not just drivers of vehicles, sadly.

The e"me" generation is alive and well. You're on the road on two wheels, frequently. And when you do arrive to see a client, notice the interaction between you and the client, the client is not always shall we say "with it?" And this is even if the client wanted to see you, the problem solving representative.

It is not you!

Trust me, it is our total environment and being.

Me? I would've stayed behind the bus, wheelchair ramp and all.

Lady in the Buick be damned, let her go around you and the bus, (which I guess could be the Buick in retrospect). Get rid of the bitch.

And riding a motorcycle in sleet can't be enjoyable, even though you've decided to do so.

As to dealing with the problem, must admit the stupidity of others
is one BIG reason why I am now debating whether I really desire to go back on two wheels after my long hiatus due to medical issues.

Too many stupid people talking on cell phones, drinking coffee, smoking and as an afterthought driving a motorized four wheel vehicle that could some real damage to me on a motorcycle.

If anybody on list has some good suggestions I'd be willing to listen/read.

bobskoot said...

there are stupid drivers all over the country. We have them here too, inconsiderate . . . mostly. Only thinking of themselves and how they can get ahead of you and drive faster. Most of my riding is in urban areas, same as yourself, but once you hit the open road you can truly appreciate that Zen feeling you get, like the feeling of the old west, you and your machine against the elements.

Earlier this week while on my way home, I stopped for a red light and waited for the traffic to "cross" before making my right turn. There was a set of headlights, perhaps half a block away, but enough (i thought) to make the turn and keep up with the flow of traffic. I made my turn and see these headlights approaching VERY FAST in my rear view mirror. Next thing you know he is beside me in the next lane. I was heading Westbound, and he had crossed over the centreline and was using the Eastbound lane. Lucky there was no oncoming traffic or he would have hit another vehicle, head on. I am very cautious and in my opinion there was amble room for me to merge after my turn. But in retrospect I think he may have been going Twice the speed of sound.

Conchscooter said...

I passed a panel van on my way home this morning, while he was dawdling at 50 in a 55mph zone. He then caught up to me at 65mph and tailgated viciously. I couldn't pull off onto the gravel shoulder, traffic was oncoming, a stream of headlights in the dark, and he was angrily filling my mirrors. I scooted off and got the Bonneville to 90 mph and left him in the dust. At the first opportunity I pulled off the Overseas Highway and let him roar into what rapidly became a 45mph zone.
His reaction to being passed (signal, pull out accelerate rapidly, signal, pull in well ahead on an open section of road)quite spoiled my commute. I expect whoever had the misfortune of having that maladajusted youth repairing their plumbing probably also got a shitty job today. Bad luck all round. I lived and that's all that matters; bugger Zen I need to get armed.

Jeff in NY said...

I play the, guess what impossible situation will befall me next game, to keep from getting emotional. If someone pulls a stupid move that suprizes me I end up getting mad at myself for not having anticipated it as one of the many bozo moves that could have possibly occured.

As far as the phycology, I try not to think about it because that can get me mad. If I'm in a good mood I usually just chaulk it up to a matter of differing priorities. You know, where our top priority is to avoid any kind of incident, while many drivers seem to have it furthur down on list list below things like using the phone, changing the radio station, looking for an address, putting on makeup, shaving, reading the paper, thinking about the bad day they just had, etc.

David said...

Dan, I forgot the most important similarity between driving this truck and riding a bike. Both are invisible to cage drivers.

Maybe education would help. (Hey, I learned it from you, right? :) There is a book that just came out called "Why we drive the way we do, and what it says about us." Here's an Amazon link. I've not read the book, just some excerpts, but it was amazing info. Give it a shot.

Dave T.

Heinz N Frenchie said...

What a great post and the comments are priceless. Really enjoyed reading all of them. We ride scooters casually in South Florida and of course don't go on I95. We do often take the ocean drive which is a two lane road along the ocean. One would think that most people would take that route for a leisure drive to enjoy the view and relax away from the stress of a major highway. Most of the road is double yellow lines and no passing signs. We do the speed limit which is between 25 and 35 depending on the zones. And there are still crazies that tailgate us and blow their horns and fly past us. Sometimes to turn into a driveway a few yards further on the road. There is something about being behind the wheel of a car that makes some people agressive. We cannot control that, but we can control our reactions to their power trips. Maybe that is a sort of Zen.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sir:

While the motorcycle has evolved to increase the rider's perception and interaction with the road, the automobile has devolved and strives to isolate the driver from the road.

Cars are virtually soundproof, virtually float above the imperfection of the road, boast concernt-hall sound systems, and on-board computers that free the operator to talk on the phone, send text messages, and groom themselves for the office.

In addition to these services, superb brakes, increased traction, and instant acceleration have produced a generation of drivers who operate cars like rthey are elements of a video game. The introduction of a little fog, ice, oil slick, or the unexpected renders these drivers awestruck.

They are so isolated from the road, so often, that they are compelled to carry their personal life into the car -- and place before everything else -- as they drive.

Regretably, your odds of meeting these folks dramatically increase in an urban commuting situation. Though not always. The little old lady who hit me head-on with her mini van was out for ice cream, on the main street of a little town that made Mayberry seem like Sin City.

I cordially invite you to ride the New Jersey Turnpike, between exits 14a and 8, on any week night, around 6:30pm. The average speed is 86 miles per hour. The average distance between vehicles is 2.75 feet. The proper signal for changing lanes is to hold up your middle finger. By law, you are required to change lanes every three minutes.

I recommend you read Hunter S. Thompson's "The Sausage Monster" before every commute. It's very soothing.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Biker Betty said...

While riding in the city, I'm alert and try to be always watchful. I think I read it here to think of yourself as invisible and alway on the alert. I only feel the "zen" when on roads with hardly any traffic.

I love riding, even though city riding is a challenge.

jon said...

Great post and great response.
On of my "coping mechanisms" is to regularly monitor an RSS feed which informs me of motorcycle accidents in the country where I live.
I know it sounds morbid, but it reminds me what is at stake.

Dean W said...

a) I can help you with those horns...

b) I need to do that guest spot I promised you, which ties in kind of nicely with this one...

irondad said...

Steve W,
I still expect people to act intelligently, I guess. The part that bothers me about accepting things for what they are is what that says about humans these days. Does that mean accepting that most people will act stupidly?

You are so right about the being told what to think, not taught how to think. I have to admit, though, that I sort of do the same thing. I see a big truck, for instance, and figure it will be something I need to pass. Even if it is actually clicking along pretty good. At least in my defense, this is a rare happening!

To my anonymous commenter,
I sincerely thank you for sharing. I wish you had signed your name. There is much of merit in your comment. For example, you stated that we are in charge of how we react to things. I guess it's still something I need to work on.

I hear what you're saying. I just have this issue with people getting away with things. I'm a firm believer that there should be consequences for wrong actions. When everyone else looks out for bad drivers, then forgives them, how does that change the bad behaviour? That's my narrow minded attitude, at least. Like you, though, I'm getting a little more mellow about it as I get older.

You have a great attitude. I, too, try to be prepared so that the drivers don't create situations critical to me. I'm just having a hard time emulating the rest of your attitude. I still tilt at windmills, I guess.

Lady R,
Thank you for being so gracious as to my venting. Some people would tell me to just shut up about it. Your comment brings me comfort!

You are correct. The whole crux of the matter, where the rubber meets the road, is to be prepared and not let them get you. Never thought of it as a golden egg, though. I better watch out for the goose!

It definitely shows up in other areas of life. I think cars act as some sort of amplifier, though.

Scary story. I wish someone could answer the question for me of why are all these people driving so fast? Is everybody in the world late for appointments? Are they much in a hurry to get to a job they hate?

Mach II, huh? Good thing you didn't yell at him, he wouldn't have been able to hear you!

The finishing touch would have been for him to get a citation for speeding. I have the armed part covered. That actually keeps me more calm. You know what I mean.

Exactly! I'm convinced people forget how badly their actions could end up. That's the reason I listed ignorant along with stupid.

Dave T,
It amazes me that a big truck could be invisible to drivers. Yet, I've seen it over and over. I'll have to check out that book. Thanks.

Heinz & Frenchie,
Your comment elegantly sums up a lot of what's been said here. I wish I could take back roads everywhere I go.

Great point. I like the video game analogy. They really are disconnected from their driving. I see it all the time.

I guess my turn signal indicator would fit right in on the Turnpike,huh?

I've read Hunter Thompson before. That is a strange trip, Sir!

Biker Betty,
I hope you never lose that enthusiasm!

Brutal, but effective! Actually, it's a great strategy to keep risk in the forefront.

Dean W,
Yes, and yes, thank you!

Take care,