Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, people in technological professions struggled with an image problem perpetuated by both Hollywood and the media. Even as late as last year, Saturday Night Live created a “Your company’s computer guy” character, an antisocial know-it-all suffering from a God complex.
The stereotype is so pervasive that even some of us in tech professions have embraced it as fact. But for every antisocial know-it-all with a God complex, there’s someone generally outgoing and well adjusted in the same line of work.
That said, I admit to falling into the stereotype in at least one regard: As a general rule, I dislike people. I always have. It’s not that I think I’m better or smarter than anyone else or that I think most people are bad. I simply cannot be around people for an extended period without craving solitude. That’s why I hold particular disdain for the November and December holidays, a time when people are hustling and bustling all over the place.
However, there comes a time in even the most solitary individual’s life when he must reach out and be a part of the human racea time when he must put aside his own selfish desires and help others.
Such is the sentiment of the holidays. It is why we give more to charities around this time of year and why we give to each other.
But when I let another driver turning onto 10th Avenue in front of Cummins Station pull out ahead of me in traffic recently, I was not thinking of seasonal giving. And when he turned left onto Demonbreuntoward the constructionwith gas spraying from the place where his gas cap was supposed to be, it was not the holiday spirit that prompted me to try to get this driver’s attention.
In hindsight, it’s hard to determine without prejudice what my motives were for trying to stop this man. I can confirm that my Chevy Blazer was recently painted, and that fuel spraying onto a freshly painted automobile is most definitely a bad thing. I can confirm that freshly spilled fuel on pavement creates a slick spot, one in which my left rear tire slipped as I followed the other driver into traffic. And I can confirm that at least part of me worried about what might happen to this driverand others following himduring his journey if he wasn’t informed that he was spilling fuel around every sharp left turn.
I flashed my lights in the driver’s rear windshield, and offered a few brief Morse Code-like SOS toots on the horn. Then to my amazement, I saw him look at me in the mirror, glare, mouth what was most certainly an insult, and speed away into traffic.
Not until after the man revved his car into high gear and turned a quick-escape corner onto 12th Avenue did I begin to think about our season of caring, and to wonder exactly why this driver wanted to escape from someone who was only trying to help.
I tried to go on about my errand, but I couldn’t shake the frustration. I gripped the steering wheel harder, turning my knuckles white, gritted my teeth, and glared at others on the streets. I’m quite certain that, sitting there fuming behind the wheel, I bore some resemblance to a Looney Tunes character reaching the boiling point after being foiled so many times by that “wascaly wabbit.”
“Nashville drivers,” I spat, almost able to feel the steam coming out of my ears.
This is supposed to be the one time of year when people look out for each other, I thought. It’s the one time of year when people shouldn’t be pushing and shoving in department stores, flipping each other off on the interstate, and making angry faces through windshields. Above all, it’s the one time when I should be able to help someone by calling attention to the danger he’s creating for othersmy inherent dislike for people in general aside.
Finally, I finished my errand, got back in the car, and drove back to work, but not before resolving to forget this year about helping others. No more would I try to help someone in a predicament that is the automotive equivalent of standing in front of an audience with your fly down. And if I see someone else on the road attempting to do something that ticks me off, well, they’ll get an eyeful and an earful, just like I did.
When I arrived back at work, still frustrated and fuming, I flopped down in my chair and accidentally knocked a postcard off my desk. It’s a simple form letter postcard, a thank-you for my annual contribution to a favorite charity, with my name written in a blue-inked cursive scrawl after the typed greeting “Dear.” They probably send out hundreds every year, each personalized by a committee of people with blue ink pens and a list of contributors. It probably won’t make me think twice about my dislike of people in general and Nashville drivers in particular, but it was enough to make me change my mind about not caring at all.
Even if I am just a faceless name on a signed check, at least somebody appreciates my willingness to help. And I suppose it really is that thought that counts.