Thankfully, the Jerk is Only Skin Deep
May 05, 2012
I just read the Bike Snob's story about how he was riding his bike in NYC on 9/11 and that in an emergency the jerks of the world drop their act and are truly caring underneath. That's a good thing to try to remember.
Here's my own story along the same lines that relates basically the same message, but in more an everyday way. It doesn't take a global tragedy to reveal it.
One day I was driving my old truck through town and waiting at a busy light when it gave a lurch and quit when I went to start up again. I jumped out and looked under the hood and saw that a nut for a bolt that was holding my shift lever on had come off and the lever was popping off of the bolt and disengaging. I instantly realized that I needed someone to push the clutch in while I held the lever on the bolt and then I could get in the passenger door and take over from them and get home. I stood up and looked at the first guy stuck behind me in traffic. He was a large black man and he rolled down his window and started berating me. Then he got out of his car and acted like he wanted to fight, swearing profusely. I was shocked since I was clearly just a driver who'd had a mishap and was only slightly impeding him. I walked up to him and looked him in the eye and said "I'm sorry for the bother, but if you could come push the clutch in I can fix this thing in 10 seconds." His eyes slowly changed from homicidal rage (this was before 9/11 when road rage was peaking) to shock and then finally to actually seeing me and then awareness that he had heard me. He did exactly as I asked. The whole event took 2 minutes from me first stalling out to getting back on the road.
I suppose it was encouraging to see that there was a human beneath his rage. Although, of course, it was appalling that such rage could appear for such a small reason.
The hilarious thing was that the same malfunction occurred a couple intersections away when I couldn't time the lights to avoid stopping. This time it was a COP who pulled up behind me! Since I knew what had happened and how to quickly fix the problem, I popped the hood and walked up to the cop's window. I once again got a "treatment." He had mirrored shades on, was much younger than me, and was enormously muscular in a way that regular biology couldn't achieve. He started ordering me back to my vehicle and I could see steam coming out his ears. I said, "Excuse me, sir, but I'm getting this truck the last mile home and I know exactly what went wrong. If you would please come push on the clutch I can put the shift lever back where it needs to go and get home. It takes two to do it, but it only takes a second." I saw the wires crossing and burning in his brain. He sputtered. Everything was wrong: he's supposed to boss me, give me a ticket. Suddenly the synapses change. I was asking for simple help to help get traffic flowing again. He could help. It was maybe against the rules, but I could see the gears sorting it out. He got out, swaggering and unsure at first, but then I saw his ticketing posture dissolve a little as he got into the truck and I popped the shifter back on. I said "Thanks a bunch!" And in an instant I was back in action. Then I got all the way back home without having to stop again.
Anyway, it was an amazing and kinda funny/awkward thing -- seeing the veneers of violence/power-identity melt off of those guys and see them suddenly actually see me as if I were a human. That's all it takes. Then everything works out.
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