Sometimes encounters provide insights into human behaviors that can almost be inspiring. Along the way, there is almost always some grief, aggravation and irritation.
I was driving in Georgetown recently to do an errand. I saw an open "legal" parking space and pulled ahead to begin backing in when suddenly a car rushed in behind me, touched my rear and began blowing its horn.
I figured in this competitive world that the other car must have also spotted the place and was angry that I beat them to it. I assumed that they would give up and move on, which is what most folks do.
But no. They simply bellowed the horn interminably. Traffic piled up. Then four women got out and descended on me shouting that it was their space. The driver was a young woman; there were one younger and two older women with her. They were insisting that I had stolen their place.
It turned out that they had spotted the space going up the street on the other side and turned into a side street to turn around, by which time I had passed them (without any realization that they had designs on the space) and was entering the space. They failed to see how the position of the cars demonstrated that they were wrong.
A middle aged man appeared out of nowhere who had observed the whole event from start to finish. He told them they were wrong and should quit and unblock the traffic.
You can guess what followed. They called 911. Time passed. Unpleasant words were continuously being blast at me and the witness.
Finally, after about an hour, a police car arrived. He quickly sized up the situation correctly, but also realized it did not involve the law. He took and exchanged the requisite particulars about insurance, because they were asserting that I had backed into THEIR car.
Then he instructed both of us to move the cars to clear the traffic, which revealed no damage to either car. (Thank you, Mr. Ford, for making me a great car.)
I then pulled into the parking spot that now had been empty for an hour. Here is where the story surprised me.
I was looking for change for the meter when the mother approached me with four quarters, which I accepted. She apologized completely. She said her daughter had a bad temper, and while she had not been able to control her, she felt it necessary to support her.
I thanked her and urged her to get her daughter counseling before she gets into more serious situations. I added that the most offensive thing said by the young woman was when she asked the witness if he was an American citizen. He was from Venezuela, spoke with a bit of an accent, and had long been a citizen -- but of what relevance this was, neither he nor I understood.
Yes, a waste of time all around, but an illustration of how too many Americans, for reasons very few appreciate, are living in an atmosphere of hair-trigger emotions.
Then I realized: Aren't we Americans still very lucky?
I think that we are less likely to hold a grudge than most people, as this story might suggest. I can't think of many places in the world where the actors in such a dispute could end it so quickly, with a resolution that included a gesture of friendship and an apology.
Perhaps things are not so bad after all.