It was a classic case of road rage that I engaged in not that long ago. It happened when I was running late and en route to a doctor’s appointment at a nearby suburb.
I was in a rush; I was wrong. . and I was lucky. Had I been in Berkeley or Oakland, I may not be alive to tell the tale.
Details aren’t important (and way too embarrassing to recount). Let’s just say it involved lots of road rage on my part, such as, leaning on the horn and making various gestures. (Proof positive that you can take the woman out of Berkeley — but not the Berkeley out of the woman.)
After I arrived at my destiny and my tantrum dissipated, I found a parking space in the medical pavilion. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the driver of the car in front of me was also going to the same address and parked a close distance from me.
Legitimately angry, the suburbanite headed over to me. He chastised me and asked why I kept honking at him. I immediately said that I was sorry. Luckily, he accepted the apology and walked away. I felt appropriately embarrassed and contrite.
Many inspiring stories have been written by survivors of catastrophic diseases and other near-death experiences about how the event made them a better human being. I take my hat off to all of them. But from what I witnessed from me that day in civilized suburbia, Berkeley has made me a worse person.
Now it would be very unfair to blame my bad behavior completely on Berkeley. No one forced me to lean on the horn. But there is something contagious about all the anger and negativity a person is subjected to on an almost minute-by-minute basis.
It’s probably not a coincidence that before heading off to the civilized suburb, some crazed driver swore and honked at me — for no good reason. So I started out my trek in a bad mood. And not a day goes by that someone isn’t shouting and gesticulating madly at each other.
It’s not just driving that inflames the temper around here. People can become unhinged for the slightest reason. A line that takes too long; an appointment that isn’t at the desired time; someone (horrors!) trashing a plastic bottle; anything or anyone can make someone go off the deep end.
To me, Berkeley isn’t just one of the most dangerous areas of the country — it’s one of the saddest. While all of this insanity is taking place right before our very eyes, residents maintain that they live in a sane and safe. . no – a superior part of the world. At least the residents who have the misfortune to live in downtown Detroit are under no illusions that they are “lucky.”
It’s like the story of the Emperor with no clothes. Somehow most Berkeley-ites can look beyond the trash-filled streets, the continual street harassment, the astronomical crime rates, and the hellish schools to boast about their great fortune in living around here. I suppose the alternative is to have to accept that one’s utopian dreams and aspirations are all a figment of one’s imagination.
That day in the suburbs, I had a glimpse of how the other half lives — and a reminder that what is considered normal in Berkeley is not. It was startling and humbling to spend time in an area so different than Berkeley and its surroundings. People were polite — and even smiled. No one looked so tense and frustrated that they were seconds away from blowing a gasket.
On the line at the lab, in fact, several people even joked with each other and laughed. This was a complete culture clash for someone who has spent decades operating Berkeley-style: avoiding all eye contact and assuming the worst about the next stranger.
I realized that while negativity is contagious, so is positivity. From my time in the ‘burbs, I felt more relaxed for the rest of the day. I found myself smiling at people, and being a more considerate driver — even when I got home.
The good news about my bad behavior is that I had the sense to apologize to the other driver. And I experienced quite a bit of healthy guilt afterwards about my immature outburst. I’ve also made it a point since then to try not to be another enraged Berkeley resident. I’ve had my ups and downs on the way. . but I’m trying.
So maybe Berkeley hasn’t made me such a bad person after all.