A few years ago, I was on the receiving end of the only “road rage” incident I have experienced in over 20 years in Costa Rica. It was near the airport, at night, at a stoplight on the multi-lane highway from Alajuela. I had unknowingly moved in front of another car while coming to a stop at the red light, concerned with positioning myself for the upcoming airport exit.
While awaiting the green light, the driver began flashing his high beams and blowing his horn. When the light turned green, he blew around me, cut dangerously in front of me and braked. When I attempted to pass, he sped up and when I returned behind him, he slowed down again.
Whatever I had done while approaching the previous stoplight had enraged him enough to risk an accident while he worked out his anger toward my benign driving error. (He was actually very lucky, as I was driving a sleek rental car, on the way to pick up a friend at the airport.
Had I been driving my Trooper or Pathfinder—whichever aged and battered model I owned at that time—I might have just rammed into him when he cut in front of me and slowed abruptly). I sometimes think of that driver when I am driving the roads of Costa Rica. Every day, I encounter situations that could push me over the edge— were it not for the fact that I practice what I like to call “road tranquility” while behind the wheel.
An endless soundtrack of soothing harp music plays in my head, the smiling face of Maharishi Whoever appears in my mind’s eye, and I calmly adjust to whatever highway idiocies are thrown in my path. That pirate taxi driver coming around the curve at high speed well over the faded double yellow line?
No problem, I will just move quickly to the right while also slowing enough to avoid the family of four walking side by side, backs to the
passing cars. That guy in front of me driving distractedly at about 15 miles per hour through town while he waves at everyone he knows.
Tranquilo, mae, we’re in no hurry here. I have long accepted that a fair number of drivers in this country suffer from some form of
attention deficit disorder, so when the one in front of me slows from 80 kph to 20 kph for no visible reason, I do my best to slow down with him, and pass him if it is safe to do so, without blowing the horn or flipping him the bird.
Those pedestrians who step in front of me even when I have the right of way are greeted with a friendly wave of the hand and a smile. That Maharishi in my mind’s eye smiles too, to make sure I resist the urge to barrel through the intersection. Most of my driving is done in the outer regions of Costa Rica so my practice of “road tranquility” is not tested as thoroughly as it would be if I lived in San Jose.
Driving there presents its own set of patience destroying challenges. Lanes that merge abruptly, center lanes that suddenly become
left turn only lanes, unmarked and unnamed streets, faded street signs, important road signs with letters the size of the bottom line of an eye chart, are all part of the mix of driving in San Jose. I am pushed to my beatific limit there.
My youngest daughter once told me that the first time she ever heard me use the f-word was in the car, while I was navigating the streets of San Jose. I smiled, and hoped she understood that those f-bombs helped me maintain a state of road tranquility under the most trying of circumstances; after all, there are occasions when imaginary harp music and visions of blissfully smiling holy men just isn’t enough.