I must admit I was nervous about driving in Mexico when I went last week, but quickly discovered that it wasn’t all that bad. Because as crazy as some of the intersections get, and as optional some of the stop signs seem to be, it all somehow works out.
After a few days of coping with Rosarito traffic, I returned to the States, and it was on my way out that I almost got in an accident.
Just as I approached the border, the lane I was in unexpectedly turned into an offramp that would take me back to the road to Rosarito, so I had to quickly slow down and cut over a lane. Unfortunately, someone was at that moment parked horizontally across that lane, waiting for traffic to clear so that he could shoot over to the offramp. I checked the mirror and started to drive around him on the right, when all of a sudden someone was honking me, loudly and long. My daughter told me there was someone trying to cut around me from behind. I stopped and let him go first, and as he drove past us I looked at him. He was a very harried-looking overweight American with a very sour expression on his face. He looked exactly like a character in a movie about a grumpy middle-manager.
I was a little shaken and upset at first, as I maneuvered into line in the lane next to him. We had reached the point where the border lines began, so I knew there would be no going anywhere fast for the next hour or so. I tried to catch the man’s eye so I could wave and say sorry, but he just looked away. A few minutes later, the car in front of him didn’t pull up right away when the line moved forward a few feet. The man laid into his horn with the same gusto he had honked me. It was so ridiculous to honk when you’re going to be sitting in line for the next hour, I burst out laughing. What exactly did the man think he would gain by moving up those few feet right away instead of waiting a few seconds?
While he was busy honking in the left lane, I was quickly working my way across the lanes to try to get into one of the right lanes. I had discovered on my last trip that the right lanes at the San Ysidro crossing open up two or three times down the road into multiple lanes, so they go much faster than the two left-hand lanes, which only split once at the very end. If you don’t get into the right hand lanes right away, however, you lose your opportunity to change lanes, as the space between the lanes is filled with vendors and their carts all the way to the border. Within a few minutes, I was 5 or 6 cars ahead of the man. Again I heard the angry honking.
“Oh no,” moaned the 12 year old. “Is he going to keep that up all the way to the border? For the next hour or two?”
“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “We’ll soon be out of earshot. We can just use his honking as a gauge of how far ahead we’re getting in this lane than if we’d stayed in that lane.”
Sure enough, about 10 minutes later we couldn’t hear him any more. He had honked at least twice more before he faded into the distance, however.
All I could do was shake my head and think, “That poor man.” His honking was making no difference to his wait time. It was only fueling his frustration. Suddenly all the stress of the incident with him, which I had realized by then was simply his preponderance for horn-blowing and not actually a near-miss, melted away. I sat back and enjoyed the wait, watching the vendors and talking with the kids.
The vendors have a tough job, standing in the sun all day, threading between constantly moving cars, but many of them (the successful ones, as it turns out) maintain good humor. One vendor walked in front of my van just as traffic started to move, so he quickened his pace and crossed himself with a twinkle in his eye. They don’t let the grumpiness of the drivers get to them. They hawk their wares, exchange pleasantries with each other and help each other out when needed. Smiles sell more goods, and the ones who have found a way to smile sincerely sell the most.
Something clicked into place in my head that day. How many times do I get upset about circumstances outside of my control, fuming and ranting and raving about it? It makes no difference. Even if there is a point where my words might change the situation, those words need to be calm and reasonable, not ranting and raving. I can be saddened by a situation, but working myself up about it — following the excitement plan, as a friend of mine calls it — does nothing but raise my blood pressure. It’s not good for me. It’s not good for my kids. And it does nothing for the situation.
I came back to the States and jumped headlong into Christmas shopping and traffic jams and harried people and long lines, but somehow the lesson I learned at the border stayed with me. I keep finding myself pausing in the middle of chaos and smiling, appreciating details, giving away small kindnesses, stopping to have conversations and putting people above things. Just as I duck under large breaking waves in the ocean, I have been submerging myself under the Christmas frenzy and letting it wash over me instead of knocking me down.
Because the circumstances come and go, and stuff is just stuff, but people are forever.