The Urban Standoff and Triangles of Dysfunction

By Phineas J. Stone

The scene: a narrow street in the downtown neighborhoods that will remain nameless.

Cars park on both sides, and the path is narrow for two-way traffic; but it’s the way it’s been for years.

It always “worked” though because fire hydrant spaces provide “dip-in” room to allow passage for all if one is willing to take the initiative and yield to other drivers so that both can get through.

Too many times these days, no one is willing to make such small sacrifices in order to keep everyone moving.

Whether it’s traffic, politics or standing in line at the pharmacy, no one is willing to yield to anyone else any longer. It’s just one mad dash through a pinhole – elbows flailing and trash mouth running.

It’s how the scene was set recently on the aforementioned street.

A white Lexus came barreling down the street opposite a light blue Prius.

Two world views expressed within automobile choice coming into collision.

I watched as both had an opportunity to duck into a fire hydrant space to let the other pass. Perhaps the Lexus driver was a person of means and accustomed to charity, having a benevolent mindset, I thought, that would cause he or she to yield out of that goodness. One could assume the Prius driver is more in tune with the social justice of the world and its needs, ready to lend a hand to any cause celebre by instantly texting a donation on his or her cell phone, and in that spirit would yield to the other human being behind the wheel of the Lexus. Maybe even the Christmas spirit would grab one of them, so that one or the other would pull over.

Neither did.

Daring the other to give in first, they came bumper to bumper and stopped.

Then came the horn.

The Lexus more like an air horn and the Prius more like a kazoo.

Once again on this little Boston street, we had an urban standoff.

Far too often you see these sorts of things today. No one in this city is willing to make room for anyone else or to slightly inconvenience themselves so that the simple good can be accomplished – whether it’s moving over on a tight street, holding the door open for another at Macy’s or even just looking up from the phone to move out of the way on the sidewalk.

All have planted their flag, and none shall pass.

So, we all clash with and smash into one another – making one giant frustrating ball of hardheaded folks.

Back on the little street, the man in the Lexus – who wore a well-groomed beard – rolled down the window and began yelling at the Prius.

Verbal first blood was drawn.

The man yelled something about a mother and the sound a chicken makes. Fire was in his eyes.

“Move Now!” he said, drawing a line in the sand. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere! I’ll sit here all day.”

The Prius driver, who wore a mop-top hair-do and trendy sideburns, was no less aggravated, using some nasty slang I’d never even considered.

“Fine! Sit here all day. Your choice dude,” he screamed, tidying up the statement with an expletive that we can only say describes a dark place in our anatomy.

And there they sat.

The man in the Lexus took out a newspaper for effect.

The Prius driver made a phone call.

Cars began to pile up behind them and then a woman in an SUV walked up to try to mediate the commotion, except she was extremely angry and got into a yelling match with the both of them.

Never mind the rules of a graceful lady, this woman put together a string of obscenities I hadn’t heard ever before. I wondered where people get the ability to speak like this; it must take some practice. Do they yell into a mirror? Or are people just thinking these things in their head all day long until a situation causes such an eruption?

On the narrow sidewalk beside the urban standoff, two children on scooters began to take notice. They pulled up to one another wide-eyed. As the dirty words poured out and a triangle of dysfunction formed between all parties – horns honking in the background from new arrivals – the children cupped their hands over their mouths in disbelief for what they heard. With a little embarrassed laugh, one moved to the side to let the other pass and then they both scooted off.

On the street, the adults were no further along than before.

Just when you thought a gun or weapon might emerge, the neighbors saved the day. Having grown accustomed to such urban standoffs so often on the street, they told me they had become used to going out and moving their cars so that both cars could pass by without having to give in or compromise.

“They will sit here all day and the police will have to come; no one ever gives in,” laughed one neighbor as he fired up his Jeep. “I’ve had too many broken mirrors and scratched side-panels to chance it.”

The funny part is that the narrow street in this Boston neighborhood has had double-sided parking with two-way traffic for generations, and up to now, people have worked it out rather seamlessly. Now, no one could seem to cooperate well enough to navigate a situation that requires give and take. Neighbors told me they see an urban standoff about once a week.

Once neighbors moved their cars, with ample room to pass one another without having to concede a loss, both drivers hit the gas and sped off.

The Lexus peeled out, ran a stop sign and parked in a handicapped spot literally one block down the street.

The Prius hit the gas, ran a stop sign in the other direction and then abruptly hit the brakes…to let a squirrel cross the street.


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