A new Age of Rude

The Old Man did most of his driving in New York City. So he explained to me that the definition of “instantaneous” was the time between the traffic light turning green and the knucklehead behind you blasting his horn for you to get moving.

I lived for three decades in Indiana, crossroads of the peaceable folk. It was an adjustment for a New Yorker who carried that unfocused ferocity like a birthright.

True Indiana story: A buddy had come back to Indiana after visiting family in Long Island. Still in a New York state of mind, he was standing in front of the corner deli counter. The guy running the show asked, “Who’s next?” and pointed to a woman who had arrived a minute after my friend.

“Hey!” my friend hollered, “I’m standing here!” The Hoosiers looked at him as if he had just fired a bazooka at the bread rack. Mortified, he said, “I’m sorry. I just got back from New York.” All was forgiven.

A defining Hoosier experience is an intersection with a four-way traffic stop. These work because there is not that much traffic, and because Hoosiers are perfect at waiting their turn.

But every so often there is what we call “Hoosier gridlock.” This is four cars at a four-way stop each politely waving the other to go ahead. So nobody moves. Rumor is that the record for Hoosier gridlock is a good 10 minutes of persistent politeness.

A few weeks ago I was back in Indiana. The spouse had some family business to attend to, so I had time to wander through the fields I used to roam.

The first temptation is to say that nothing has changed, and in Indiana, more than most anywhere else, you would seem to be pretty close to the truth. The neighborhoods seem the same, the corn fields seem the same, the old fishing ponds seem the same.

But we all know that just isn’t true. The only thing that goes on now with trusted regularity is change. Even in Indiana.

It happened the first time just an hour after my arrival. Sitting at a traffic light, I was trying to remember which old building to my left had been home to the local newspaper where I had paid a dime back in 1971 to scan the classifieds for a room to rent.

And a horn blasted.

Reverting to my New York roots, I immediately looked up at the green light, floored the car and nearly said a word my mother never taught me.

It was only moments later that I realized the full impact of what had happened. I had the Old Man’s “instantaneous” in a small town in Indiana. And I wasn’t New York angry any longer. Just depressed.

In the next few days, I heard the same thing. Not once, not twice, but three times. Someone wasn’t moving fast enough. The horn blasted in self-righteous fury. Mumbled obscenities floated up into the Hoosier sky.

The new-mown hay still sends out its fragrance. But something had changed in Indiana, just like everywhere else.

The great rush, the self-inflicted epidemic of noise, the victory of polemics — all had now come home to roost in Indiana, signaled not by a cock crowing, but a horn blasting.

The Psalmist sings of that moment when “Kindness and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss. Truth will spring from the earth; justice will look down from heaven” (Ps 85:11-12).

We so desperately need for kindness and truth to meet more often. We seem to be obsessed with the culture of screaming at one another in the vernacular of anger. Electronic media has ushered in a new Age of Rude, and its adherents are legion.

And God help us, looking back now it all seemed to happen instantaneously.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.