February 25, 2011
Some psychologists have discovered what they say is a new syndrome–or rather it’s a previously unidentified syndrome, but one that’s probably been around for some time, sort of like when scientists discover a "new" planet, and you know there have got to be at least a couple of aliens sitting on it monitoring our newscasts and saying, "Shucks, we’ve known about this place for ages. Now tourists are gonna ruin it." The new syndrome is called "sidewalk rage", an intense feeling of aggression some people walking on sidewalks feel when they get stuck behind someone who’s walking more slowly than they are. Some people who’ve experienced sidewalk rage have reported actually wanting to punch the person in front of them in the back of the neck. Psychologists, of course, don’t call it "sidewalk rage", they call it "Pedestrian Aggression Syndrome", or, to be more scientifically accurate, "being an asshole." On the one hand I find it really hard to believe there’s such a syndrome. I’m pretty sure I’ve never experienced sidewalk rage myself because I’ve never been in a sidewalk situation where I couldn’t move around someone in front of me who was walking slowly. Even on a really crowded sidewalk I’ve been able to step into the grass or just move into a line of people that’s moving slightly faster, sort of like changing lanes in a car when you’re stuck in a really slow lane.
Of course the major difference is that when people are walking slowly it’s probably because they’re just slow walkers, whereas when you’re in the car and the cars in the lane on the left is creeping along while the cars in the lane on the right are zooming by it’s probably because a mile up the road the right lane is closed and all the idiots who went zooming by are now holding everybody up while they pull over. And in the car it’s hard to just step off into the grass, which is why road rage is an understandable phenomenon. People who experience sidewalk rage are just causing themselves unnecessary grief. On the other hand, though, I think I have experienced something like sidewalk rage in the grocery store when I’ve come down one aisle and found two old women with their grocery carts blocking the entire aisle while they stand and talk right in front of the falafel mix which is the last thing on my list. But even in those situations I don’t really get angry. I just move one aisle over and start lobbing satsumas over the wall so they think it’s raining fruit and decide to move along before cantaloupes start falling. And then there are the times when I’ve been out walking on a sidewalk and I stop at a crosswalk because I need to cross the street, and some guy in a Hummer stops and gives me the little three-fingered motion to go on ahead and cross. That little finger motion always annoys me, but I also understand that these guys do it because, even when stopped, they need to keep one hand on steering wheel and the other hand on their beer. And while I’m about halfway across he’ll blow his horn or start to move forward and laugh. That always enrages me, but, now that I think about it, maybe that guy has a problem. Maybe he’s suffering from some as-yet undiscovered syndrome. I think I even know a scientifically accurate term for it.