Don't Hurry; Be Happy
by Richard Risemberg (November 1997)

What's the hurry? Where are you going to that you have to rush around in your car so angrily? I see you all the time, wobbling from lane to lane, looking for a space you can wedge your Beemer into, blasting your horn at other drivers waiting for pedestrians, waving your finger at me because I passed you six times in as many blocks on my skinny little bicycle. You hurry, hurry, hurry, yet you never seem to get anywhere very fast. Certainly no faster than anyone else in a car. What is it that's driving you as you drive the car?

Look at you: veins bulging, eyes popping, mouth twisted open like a toddler's in full howl. The other day you leaned on the horn to warn us you were going to run the red light, and you did--only to skid to a stop at the next red light a block away. And one sweet rainy night last October you rolled down the window to tell me that I wasn't a car, and that I should get off the road--in fact, you were so distraught you attributed to both "car," and "road," sexual capabilities neither will ever have, in spite of the implications of Viper ads. That I accepted the first part of your comment as a compliment didn't seem to soothe your temper. Did it get any worse when I rode away into the darkness, leaving you stuck behind that long line of brakelights that was blocking you? I still don't know why you yelled at me, when it was obviously your compatriots in their cars that were in "your" way. Is it my fault you're all too wide for the road? There was plenty of room for my bike, in spite of your usurpation of the asphalt.

The problem is, you've been bamboozled, my friend. Maybe that's what you're really angry about. "Freedom, mobility, power, prestige"--do you really have any of that as you sit cursing at the stoplight while your fellows inch across your path from left to right? Or sitting in some sunken concrete trench, staring at curves of smog-smeared sheet metal in front of you? A hundred years ago you would have walked to work in less time than it takes you to drive today, and you wouldn't have had that potbelly that the seat belt always chafes. The mobility you paid twenty thousand dollars for conferred freedom not on you but on the real-estate developers, who could buy up cheap land on the outskirts, and sell it to you as a simulacrum of an American dream that hasn't made any sense since Monsanto bought your great-grandfather's farm--or rather, sell it to the bank, who'll own it for the next thirty years, till you've made the final payment. And even if you do get out on the "open" road, what do you see? The sides of the road, the confining stripes, the uniformity of diners and motels. The prestige is not very impressive. You can go fast--sometimes--but you don't do anything; you just sit. You're only a scowl in a tin box as far as anyone can see, stuck in a line of other tin boxes bearing other weary scowls. You move so fast--between stops--you hurry so much, but you never have any time. Go ahead and be prestigious--I'd rather be relaxed. I may not have the horsepower your engine does--but then, neither do you. After all, my bicycle's horsepower is my own; yours depends on monthly payments, mechanics, and the kindness of oil barons. Take away my bike and I can walk all day long. Can you?

So, while you're working yourself into a rage over having had to move over six inches in order to pass me, I'm confused by your hurry. I know I'll pass you back in a block or two. And if I don't, it doesn't matter. Passing you or not passing you is not important. I'll get where I'm going in my own good time, and I'll enjoy myself, and the world around me, on the way. I'll have to put up with the likes of you and your bad manners once in a while, but--despite your noise and your bad smell--as long as you don't run me over, you do me little harm. Except to impede, just a little bit, the dialogue of souls that is civilization--by hiding yourself inside that tin box, inside your anger, inside your hurry....

Here's my suggestion: step out of the box, take a look around you, say "Hello" to someone you have no intention of buying from or selling to. Walk around a little; remember what it's like to live in your body again, as you did for a short while when you were young. Remember what it's like to have friends and neighbors in the place of competitors. Think about moving back to the city, where you can bicycle half an hour to work and there are three good restaurants four blocks away. Then look at your car and think about that long drive home and how you'll feel when the perfected tedium of the freeway sneers back at you tonight. You won't be all that anxious to get back in it. What's the hurry, after all? Are you afraid you'll be late for your heart attack?

Richard Risemberg