64 MAY/JUNE 2018 | BETHESDAMAGAZINE.COM
BY APRIL WITT
I’M TRANSFIXED BY the Geico com-
mercial in which an actor portrays
George Washington in one of the iconic
scenes of the American Revolution:
crossing the Delaware in a boat. Only
the Geico George Washington, unlike
the Founding Father, is crossing the
Delaware Turnpike, not the Delaware
River. “Pull together,” Geico George
Washington says as actors playing Con-
tinental Army soldiers use ropes to drag
their boat across the dry terrain of the
turnpike. “A little to the left. Easy, easy.”
As these American heroes make their
way haltingly across the turnpike, block-
ing tra;c, impatient drivers honk. ;e
honking grows louder and angrier until
finally the Geico George Washington
snaps. “All right, all right,” he yells at
the honkers. “We’ve all got places to go!
We’ve all got places to go!”
It is a funny commercial. But it doesn’t
make me laugh. It’s too accurate a parody
of what our nation has become in these
A healthy democracy requires a cer-
tain politeness among its populace and
leaders. “Long before current fears about
incivility in public life—before anxieties
about Twitter-shaming and cable-news
name-calling—politeness was very
much on the minds of United States
leaders,” according to a recent essay by
historian Steven Bullock. ;omas Je;er-
son, Bullock notes, placed “good humor”
at the very top of his list of important
“qualities of mind” for any citizen.
Autocrats and bullies, by contrast, are
rude. ;ey shout and dominate; they run
right over their fellow citizens, sometimes literally.
I don’t have to drag a boat across
the turnpike to encounter drivers who
may be civil in other areas of life but
are capable of turning aggressive and
dangerously selfish. I see it every day.
So do Montgomery County school bus
drivers and police o;cers. Not all of the
county’s school buses are equipped with
cameras yet. Still, in the previous two
years, 34,000 drivers have been caught
on camera and ticketed for passing
school buses that were stopped—lights
flashing and the little red stop sign out—
to let children get on or o;.
I wish those numbers shocked me.
;ey don’t. I watched in horror recently
as a boy of 7 or 8 tried crossing Old
Georgetown Road at a crosswalk near
Bethesda Elementary School during
rush hour. ;e boy, who was carrying a
soccer ball, made a few starts into the
crosswalk, then jumped back to the
curb. Not one driver stopped for him.
Some drivers probably didn’t notice the
boy, too distracted by the unrelenting
whoosh of their daily responsibilities.
;ey had places to go.
I was walking, so it was easy for me to
stop and help. After the child convinced
me that he had his parents’ permission
to cross Old Georgetown and play in the
schoolyard, I escorted him. As we crossed
the road, I eyed drivers warily, trying to
ensure that we weren’t mowed down by
someone talking on their cellphone. One
man met my gaze and honked so loudly
that the little boy and I both jumped. I
guess I should have been grateful that the
driver didn’t flip us the bird.
;ere have always been impatient
jerks behind the wheel, and sometimes
I’ve been one of them. Here’s an old
joke: What’s the shortest time interval
ever measured? It’s the interval between
the tra;c light in front of you turning
green and the driver behind you honking.
;ese days, there’s an entire Reddit.com
thread—listed under Petty Revenge—on
how to respond to impatient honkers at
banter | SUBURBANOLOGY
Whatever happened to
drivers being civil?