Last Saturday, I was at a rally against planned cuts to social services announced by Agnès Maltais (my MNA) and the PQ government.
The rally walked down rue Charest and up to rue Saint-Joseph, but stopped in a street linking the two. The crowd was large enough to block two of three (or four) exits for a parking lot where a Metro and a Chez Ashton is located.
We stayed there for long enough that the people in cars trying to leave the parking lot started to drive around to the other side to leave, or laid on their horns in an attempt to get us to move. As there were speeches being made, no one paid much attention to the annoying, car-alarm-ish honking.
I leaned over to my partner and predicted what would happen next. “See that car there? He wants to leave this parking lot. What he should do is get out of his car, talk with the folks standing around the exit and ask if they can move to the side so he can get his car out of the lot.”
We also agreed that that wasn’t likely going to happen. As militant cyclists, we’re deeply aware of the power trip that normally accompanies frustrated people are behind a wheel.
Sure enough, the car deliberately rolled forward into a crowd of protesters. There were at least 20 people in front of his car, and another 40 blocking his access to the street. He was either 1. demonstrating that he’s a dick, 2. serious about either injuring or killing people just to get out of the lot, 3. hoping to scare the hell out of people who would then get out of his way and beg for forgiveness, 4. all of the above.
The group crowded around the car and, rightfully, started yelling at the driver. The police (and journalists) ran to the scene. I didn’t see anything happen after, no one arrested, no cop asking the driver to come with him to learn about why driving your car into a crowd of people is a bad idea.
What is with people in cars?
The experience of being in a car is a strange combination of being in your living room, controlling a really fast robot and operating a weapon. It’s so mundane that we never think of what it does to our sense of ourselves or our environment. We sit in traffic, we hurry about our day driving from one soul-sucking box mall to another. We listen to the radio.
And, when we have to communicate with others, we let the robot do our work for us: we honk, we yell things as if the car will react to our demands, we operate a series of levers that sometimes put the lives of others in danger.
With a society that is as car-obsessed as ours, it’s no surprise that we seem to have had a collective surgery that has removed our sense of community. It’s broken our relationships with each other, especially the relationships we’re supposed to have with people we have never met.
We don’t normally act like this in real life.
When we’re walking on the street, if we take much notice of the people around us, you might find yourself actually smiling at someone. Ever spend time with strangers in a stuck elevator? People talk to each other. Even after a several-hours delay on a tarmac in a cramped and fart-filled airplane, people, through frustrated, tend to remain friendly. At the very least, I’ve never witnessed anyone run up and down the aisles as fast as they can giving the finger to everyone when the airplane’s door finally opens. This stands in total contrast to how people react in traffic, you know, the person who aggressively accelerates towards an off ramp during rush hour across the 401 over top of Toronto.
Next time you’re in a grocery store, imagine operating your car the way you’re operating your cart: oops, someone accidentally took your cart? No matter, ask for it back. Did you bump into someone? Apologize. Is someone blocking you way? Either wait patiently or ask them to move. Mostly, our grocery store etiquette is humane and kind.
Cars should not give people a free pass to be an asshole. We can do all of these things in our cars too; we can be nice, we can talk to each other. We can, as we all heard in Grade 1 use our words. Sometimes, this means that we just have to exit our cars.