Everyone talks about road rage, but there's not enough discussion of sidewalk rage. The other day, driving home, I saw a fellow sauntering across the middle of the block, unconcerned with the river of metal and plastic heading his way. When a driver beeped a horn to hasten his journey to the curb, the fellow stopped, made the car go around him, then picked up something from the street and threw it at the auto.
This is all quite brave if it's 1989 and you're in Tiananmen Square, but otherwise I'd reserve that reaction for a car that heads through a playground.
In all fairness: The driver didn't just beep. He put up a hand in the universal "what the hey" gesture, and the jaywalker might have felt his manhood challenged. If so, then I witnessed actual road rage, since "gestures" are one of the things that has put Minneapolis/St. Paul on a new list of cities with discourteous drivers.
We're No. 5.
Honking, tailgating, gestures: We're a seething mass of rage. The survey also includes "eating and driving behind the wheel," which doesn't seem particularly discourteous, unless we're expected to share, and "loud music." Agreed: I hate it when a car pulls up at a stop light, and the driver's got Beethoven cranked up so high the timpani is capable of dissolving small dogs. Louts.
Here's what makes you suspicious of these surveys: We were the fourth most courteous last year.
Yes, in 2008, 94 percent of drivers gave the Spock "Live long and prosper" hand signal to people who ran them off the road, stayed five car-lengths back even at stop signs, and rolled up the window when passing a hospital so the theme music from "All Things Considered" didn't bother anyone on the tenth floor.
This year, I guess, we're setting the hood on fire and ramming oil tankers. Why did we fare so poorly? Possible reasons:
1. Last year's survey was taken during Nun Day at the Back to the '50s car rally
2. Influx of New Yorkers, who will lay on their horn to tell other drivers to stop blowing their horn, and also use the horn to inform drivers six cars ahead of them that traffic is not moving
3. Since we lost the entire $830 million rainy-day fund to that fellow in Nigeria who needed help moving money out of his country -- OR SO HE SAID -- we have collectively decided that Minnesota Nice isn't getting us anywhere
4. The friendly wave has been reclassified as an obscene gesture. You know the wave: It's intended to absolve yourself of any sin or imposition. You can blow someone into a tree and it's OK if you wave, although you should really drive around and wave again, because they might not have seen you over the airbags.
It works only in cars -- cut in line at the store and offer a cheery wave, and people think about throwing a can of corn at your head. (This being an enlightened part of the world, they imagine organic corn.) But in your car, the wave sutures all grievances.
Apparently it's now obscene, to some -- perhaps the survey taker thought, "In my culture, it means, "May your face be rubbed by the hand of a privy cleaner.' So that would explain it."
Let's be honest: Everyone is a bad driver, except for retired highway patrol officers. The people who go too fast are bad drivers. Correction: the people who go faster than you -- you're just fine. The people who drive 5 miles under the limit so you'll tailgate them and have the opportunity to read the various subtly argued positions expressed on their 27 bumper stickers are bad drivers. (Iron rule: The more stickers, the worse the driver.)
The people who believe they can impel a pokey driver to speed up by hanging 6 inches off the rear bumper -- they're as deluded as someone who thinks you can shame a sinner by standing very close to them.
We're all bad in our own special way, but I find it hard to believe we're worse than Phoenix, which is No. 6.
Should be the other way around, given all the Minnesotans who've moved there.