Individuals Feeling Exceptional Have Destroyed American Exceptionalism

Photo by Kyle Mills on Unsplash

I was sitting at the metering light at the on-ramp this morning after I dropped my son at school. I had inched my way to the second position. There were two cars in front of me and one car to my right. As soon as the light changed, the two cars in front of me lurched forward as it was their turn to enter the highway. Then I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye. The driver in the car that had been next to me decided he’d waited long enough and was merging onto the highway with the other two cars. I see this occur at least twice a day in my travels, and it happens so frequently that I expect it. The metering lights, which are meant to stagger the plethora of cars merging onto the crowded interstate, seem to be optional these days. I shook my head, waited my turn as I always do, and then entered the highway when the light became green.

I’ve tried to eliminate as many fucks as possible from my change purse. I’ve tried to stop caring about jerks who refuse to believe the rules apply to them. I have not been successful. Every time I get into my car, I get triggered by the effrontery of people who decline to abide by the conventions put in place to keep everyone safe and moving in traffic. It irks the shit out of me. There aren’t enough vials of lavender essential oil, cups of chamomile tea, burning aromatherapy candles, or warm neck wraps in the world to relieve me of the tension I feel around Americans who think the rules, whether they be traffic-related or queue-related or common-decency-related, do not apply to them. The “me first” mindset is pervasive and toxic. When there is no perceived negative consequence, people do whatever they damn well please. Their mothers must be so proud.

This morning, as I stewed for the remainder of my thirty minute commute home, I began thinking about American exceptionalism. I understand what the term entails. It refers to the idea that America, with her ideals and her political system and her geography and abundant natural wealth, is a shining city on a hill, an example of the best a nation can be. Here is what I decided about American exceptionalism these days. America has the potential to be exceptional, when we all work together in our democracy and play by the rules. As it stands now, however, we’ve devolved into a country filled with individuals who believe they are exceptional and the exception to the rule. We’ve become so focused on the individual and individual freedoms that we’ve sacrificed the idea of “one nation indivisible” for it. We can’t agree on anything. Believing in the concept of American exceptionalism doesn’t make us exceptional. History is peppered with examples of city-states that believed they were getting it all right. They no longer exist.

Social psychologist Jonathon Haidt hit the nail on the head in an article in The Atlantic on April 11th: “It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history.” It’s this type of righteous mindset that has led us to the place we are now, where every faction and every individual within that faction believes they have cornered the market on what is best and on what they deserve. We’ve become a nation of petulant children, throwing tantrums while doing whatever we want and hiding behind the talking points of freedom and the First Amendment. We’ve forgotten how to adult, how to put on our grown up panties and accept that we can’t always have our way. We tell our bickering children to follow the rules, to play nice, and to compromise, but I’m not confident we’re capable of those things. How can we be a shining example when we can’t even clean up our own house?

I’m not saying that folks who ignore the on-ramp metering are destroying the fabric of our society. I’m afraid it may be a little too late for that.

Our Nation’s Adults May Need Some Graham Crackers And A Good Nap

At an Avs game in 2011 with my little guys

We went to a Colorado Avalanche hockey game last night. My husband and I have been going to hockey games since we started dating in the mid 90s. At the time, he was working for the Denver Grizzlies IHL organization, a team which moved to Utah in 1995 when Colorado acquired the Quebec Nordiques and became the Colorado Avalanche. We have a long history with the Avs organization. I went into early labor with our oldest the morning after the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2001, presumably from all the screaming and jumping up and down while quite pregnant. Our oldest is named after the then team captain, Joe Sakic. Like I said, we’re tied to this team.

As we were leaving the game last night, parking lot traffic was its usual nightmare. When we got to our car, we were penned in by cars already lined up to exit the lot. These are the times when you see both the best and the worst of our species. Sometimes you are lucky and a calm, rational person will let you into the line ahead of them. Other times, people are complete assholes. Once there was a clearing and we were able to back up, we joined the line and began our wait. My family and I are unfazed by these situations. We’re travelers, and the first rule of traveling anywhere is “hurry up and wait.” So, we are well practiced and wait patiently. I mean, what are you going to do? Everyone has the same goal of getting out of the lot. Sooner or later, you will get there.

Sadly, other drivers in that situation often aren’t as big-picture about it as we are. It’s something else to watch a lot filled with impatient people trying to jockey for a prime spot in the queue. The car in front of us was a Lexus sedan. To the right of us just ahead, in the row of parking spots from which we had just emerged, several other cars sat with their lights on, waiting for one driver to show some kindness and let them into the growing line. But the cars in line were unrelenting. Steve and I were remarking about how people can be so petty in parking lots, when a woman in a Lexus SUV on the right began to inch her way forward, hoping to hop in front of the sedan directly in front of us. The men in the sedan would have none of that. They pulled forward as she did, hoping to bully her out of the spot. Undeterred, she inched forward again. Both cars came to a stop as traffic stalled again. I watched the passenger in the sedan become more agitated. I saw him gesturing at her. He unrolled his window, shouted some obscenities, and flipped her off. He then did something I’ve not seen before. He exited the car, walked over to her window and yelled at her some more before walking around the front of her car and parking his grumpy butt right against her front bumper in an act of defiance. Steve and I looked at each other. Here’s a man in his mid 40s getting into a pissing contest over being one car length ahead of someone else, like he owned that spot in line and it was criminal that someone thought they could leave the lot one second ahead of him. The woman looked flabbergasted. Then the man started to direct the car he had been in around him (and her bumper) so the sedan had now inched far enough forward that it blocked her in completely. At that point, the big baby left the front bumper and reclaimed his seat in the sedan, triumphant. For the record, we let her out of her space, so she ended up directly behind him. Hope that one-second gain in travel time helped him out. Geesh!

What is with people? I know that assholes have existed for as long as humans have roamed this planet, but it sure seems like we are witnessing, in person, a lot more episodes like this one lately. The collective emotional IQ of our nation seems to hover right about toddler level these days. Maybe we all just need some graham crackers and a really good nap?

The Weekly Descent Into Zero F***s Given

It’s been a looooong week

I drive my son to and from school, thirty-five minutes one way. Yes. He is 18. He has had his learner’s permit for three years now, but hasn’t shown much interest in acquiring his driver’s license. I suspect this is mainly because the drivers in Denver are terrifying. We saw three near collisions this morning. People here speed and weave in and out of highway traffic like they’re Lightning McQueen. If you struggled with anxiety and saw multiple traffic accidents a day, you might prefer a chauffeur as well.

At any rate, I have noticed recently that as the week progresses, my preparedness for our morning commute diminishes. Allow me to elucidate:

Monday: After a weekend of rest and minimal driving, I am up and at ’em at 6:30. I will be dressed in actual clothes, have make up on, have prepared my own coffee and a smoothie, unloaded the dishwasher, and be ready to depart five minutes before our scheduled exit at 7:10. I rock!

Tuesday: I might have switched to casual jogger pants, rather than denim or decent shorts, but otherwise I am still fairly prepared for the day and presentable as a human being. We’ve got this.

Wednesday: I am moving a little more slowly. I am likely wearing sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and little, if any, make up. I will just put sunglasses over the bags under my eyes and use them to disguise the obvious lack of mascara on my sparse, blonde eyelashes. Hubby, noticing that the struggle is real, hands me a latte to which I have just enough time to add some creamer. I will get through today.

Thursday: I am so dog tired. My attention to self-care has eroded to meh at best. I maybe put a bra on under my pajama top, throw on some leggings, pull my dirty hair into a disheveled ponytail, and call it good. I drag my sorry butt out to my car three minutes later than usual, but at least I have the latte hubby made me. I just have to make it home.

Friday: I am still in bed whining about having to get up twenty minutes after the alarm I set for ten minutes later than the day before has gone off. My audible Friday lament rings through the house: “I’m not getting up. You can’t make me.” I eventually drag myself out of bed with five minutes to go. I have just enough time for the bare minimum. I am wearing my pajama top with flannel pants on my bottom half, hard-soled slippers on my feet, and a baseball hat on my head. As I brush my teeth, I’ve got black silicone pads under my eyes working to reduce the 50-pound baggage there. I rip those off at 7:10, grab the coffee my husband long-since left on the counter for me before heading to his downstairs (no longer downtown) office. I stagger out to the car, back out of the garage, and then realize I’ve left my phone somewhere inside. I trudge back inside and look around until I find it under the covers on the bed, and we depart after 7:15 and pray there will not be much traffic. On the way there, I realize with chagrin I forgot to sweeten my coffee. Jesus help us all.

My prayer each week is that if one of the Richard Petty wannabes in Denver hits me on I-25, they will do so on Monday or Tuesday. If it’s on Wednesday, that will be okay too. But, I pity the fool who hits me on Thursday or Friday and has to deal with the exhausted, only semi-functioning swamp thing into which I have devolved.

This morning, however, as I slogged through traffic yawning the whole way, I had a glorious thought. This is my last year as chauffeur. Next year at this time, both sons will be off at college, and I will be free to start my day whenever it suits me. Preferably after a long shower and a leisurely, perfectly sweetened latte.

Fetcha Day

Today was Fetcha Day for our new furry baby. After spending the night in Vernal, Utah, we drove into Duchesne and met the breeder at 9 am. She was wonderful, and Loki (whose full AKC name shall be Happy Go Loki Seven) was perfect from the get go. He played with a kitten, ran around the grass, and then settled into our arms like he had always belonged with us.

The drive from Duchesne to our house is approximately seven hours, and with a new pup we wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Along the way, we stopped several times at parks to let Loki use the grassy facilities and stretch his three-inch long corgi legs. By the time we hit Interstate 70, a point where we should have been a little over three hours from home, traffic came to a dead stop and then proceeded at a snail’s pace. That was about 1:30 pm. We got home at 7:30 pm. You do the math. At least it was a gorgeous Colorado fall day with plenty of color on the mountains to make the sluggish day bearable.

Loki could not have been a better travel companion, all five pounds of him. He did all his dirty business on the stops we made and never in the car. He missed his dinner time, but never whined about it. He entered his new kennel on his own and took several naps in there unprompted. And he tolerated ten hours in a car like a seasoned pro. He is a puppy to be sure, all sharpy teeth and nails, but he loves people and could not have a sweeter disposition. I can tell he is going to give us a run for our money, though, because he is smart. He has already proven he learns quickly. We are going to have to be careful because he is sure to pick up bad habits as quickly as good ones if we are not.

When we got home, we had a plan to slowly and respectfully introduce Ruby to the new brother she did not request. We had Luke walk her before we came home to get her in a calmer mental space. We let Loki run around the yard as soon as we arrived and then we put him in his small kennel, carried him in, and set him where Ruby could see him. She came close to investigate, clearly was not thrilled, but walked away without a snarl or as much attitude as I had expected. Then we left the puppy with Luke and took her for another walk. We are going to work to keep them separate by keeping Loki in his pen or crate when he is around her and not allowing him to play around her until Ruby is ready to accept her new roommate. It might take a couple weeks, but I think our slow approach will work. Fingers crossed.

We are all exhausted now after a long day, so it’s time to settle in for the night. So far so good with the puppy, the doggy introduction, and an only mildly sassy Ruby. Life is better with a furry dog friend or two.

Divine Interstate Intervention

When you are stopped for an accident, you can take photos of the fool in the car in front of you

I was driving on the highway today, going about 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in the fast lane, when a shiny, brand new, bright blue Audi S4 came buzzing up behind me way too fast. I quickly moved out of his way, shaking my head at the driver, because there was traffic in front of me. I wasn’t sure exactly where he thought he was going once he got me out of the way because there were plenty of cars ahead of me, but I let him zip around. As he did, I noticed he was on his cell phone texting. I rolled my eyes. I’d like to say that drivers like this dude are a rarity in Denver traffic, but they’re not. On any normal commute, I will encounter at least two accidents slowing traffic because some people haven’t figured out that when you are going 80, weaving in and out and zooming around people like you’re in Mario Kart, you’re creating dangerous situations.

Anyway, I got out of his way because I didn’t want to be in an accident, much less in an accident with a dope like that. A few minutes later, though, continuing along at my same, steady speed, I passed him because he had pulled into the slow lane and was going 65. I looked over and saw he was still texting, though. I assume he thought 65 was a safer speed for that illegal behavior. I shook my head again, merged onto the northbound highway, and was in the process of expunging him from my mind, when I saw him flying up behind me again. Holy hell. I was in the right lane now, and he sped around me on the left going at least 20 miles an hour faster than I was, and then pulled back into the lane in front of me so I could enjoy the tail view of his shiny car once more. Sigh.

Then it happened. Traffic came to a standstill. The blue Audi was suddenly stopped directly in front of me. All five lanes were loaded with cars at full stop. I slowed down, pulled up directly behind him, and smiled. I love it when shit like this happens. It makes me happy. I call it “divine intervention.” Some outside force leveled the playing field. Despite all his speeding, zipping, zooming, and buzzing in his quick little Audi, we were in the same spot. He hadn’t gotten any further than I had. Tee hee.

He noticed me pull up behind him. He adjusted his designed sunglasses in his side view mirror. At least now he could continue texting without potentially killing someone, I thought. I have to admit I was a little tempted to pull an Evelyn Couch from Fried Green Tomatoes, ram into his rear bumper (okay, okay, maybe just tap his bumper enough to scratch it) and tell the young fool, “Face it, dude. I’m older and I have more insurance.” Instead, I sat in my car feeling a little smug because all the speed of his fancy new car was rendered useless. He might have enjoyed passing the old lady in her 2015 Lexus SUV and feeling powerful, but now he was impotent like the rest of us. It almost made sitting for the extra twenty minutes behind him, waiting to get around another highway fender bender, worth it.

Divine intervention for the win.

Closer To Buddha…Sort Of

This is as close as I've ever gotten to Buddha.
This is as close as I’ve ever gotten to Buddha.

Other bunnies are probably not trying to make me suffer. I choose to react compassionately because they also suffer.

Since starting my journey with the Bunny Buddhism book early last week, I’ve read and reread the book several times. Some of the bunny wisdom is immediately accessible and applicable. Some requires deeper reflection for absorption. And then there are the quotes that vex me because I understand what they’re asking for and I know they are going to require some additional effort on my part. Today’s quote is one I have been working on for quite a while because I find opportunities everywhere. Every time another person’s actions negatively affect me, I have a choice: take it personally or realize that this is probably not about me and react compassionately.

This morning I was driving home after dropping the boys at school when a guy in an older model, full-size Chevy pick up came barreling up in my rear view mirror. I was doing the speed limit in the right lane of a three-lane, city street, and he was coming up fast on the car in the center lane. I knew he was going to try to squeeze in front of me to pass the two cars driving side by side in the other two lanes. I thought about speeding up and blocking him in, just because sometimes it’s fun to do that to obnoxious jerks even though it’s not very zen, but I decided that would not be the safest choice. So I let him squeeze between my car and the center car so I could be rid of him. I watched him weave in and out of traffic, cutting other people off left and right, for at least a half a mile up the road until he at last turned into a mall parking lot. The whole time, I tried to be a good bunny. I tried to be compassionate. I tried to envision that perhaps he was late for an important job interview or was running out to get his very pregnant, very cranky, donut-craving wife some breakfast. Then I decided that I should have compassion for him because he is clearly missing the big picture. He doesn’t understand that he’s not the center of the universe, and it’s a burden to live life that way, devoid of inner peace. Yes. I actually had that thought. I know, right? I felt it was pretty evolved of me too.

I could not get that guy out of my head all morning. I kept wondering what his burden was. What was it that made him that impatient, aggressive, and obviously not at peace? What was he suffering from? Finally after recreating the scene this morning in my analytical brain, in a not very bunny way, I decided he was merely suffering from being an asshole. That could be the true depth of his problem. Many people behave nastily because they are carrying a bigger burden than they can bear…the unexpected death of a loved one, the loss of a job, depression, loneliness, poverty. Then there are those people who simply are their own problem. Somehow I’m certain that guy in the truck is the same guy who would yell at the little old lady in the express lane at the grocery store because she was one item over the limit. He’s the same guy who would hog both arm rests on his airline seat. The same one who would repeatedly drop the F-bomb in front of a bunch of Cub Scouts at a hockey game. He’s that guy. And when I look at the quote again (and excuse me for getting technical here) it asked me only to react compassionately, which I did by letting him cut me off so he could win whatever Indy 500 race he was imagining in his little pea brain head. The quote didn’t say I had to like him, so there’s no moral obligation there, right?

Yes. I know. Not very zen. I told you I have been working on this quote for a while. Apparently I still have a way to go before I can say I nailed it. While I’m working on it, though, I suspect Buddha would suggest I find a quote about forgiveness and letting go. Apparently I can’t drive the road to inner peace aggressively…you know, the way that guy was driving this morning.