I left my rage in New York City


By Evalyn Baron
Published August 2011

Living here eight months now, I’ve discovered a tranquility I never knew back East. A gentle spirit pervades, often in surprising places, and I’ve experienced it while performing even the most mundane errands. Encountered daily, this spirit has opened my eyes to certain man-and-his-car rituals, so, I present my new practice: the Automotive Yoga of San Francisco.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Hands away from the horn, please.
Wikipedia says that yoga’s goal is the “attainment of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility.” In the theater, when I perform and direct, yoga centers me and frees my creative impulses, but yoga is rarely associated with driving our cars. That being said, think about these asanas (postures) I’ve observed, and see if you and your car aren’t already engaging in some of them.
Four-Corners Forward-Facing Owl: New York City is ruled by stoplights and surly traffic cops who all seem to come from Brooklyn. However, a great many of San Francisco’s intersections are ruled only by stop signs. Here, in my new home city, drivers are actually trusted to behave as if they are old enough to drive a car. In this asana, four strangers in cars come to a stop facing each other. Each person pays close attention to the other three human beings in the square and a settled negotiation is reached in silence, without a cursed word or raised hand. One car then moves forward, unscathed. There are driver’s handbook rules governing this, but they are useless if all four drivers aren’t willing to care enough about each other to pay attention. It’s miraculous when four people can agree on anything, but when four people and their automobiles reach a peaceful resolution thousands of times a day, it’s practically magic. It’s seeing one another and caring enough not to cause harm – one of yoga’s timeless tenets – especially of the yoga I’m inventing. A variation is the Four-Corners Upward-Facing Owl, which occurs on steep-hilled streets like Pacific, Divisadero and others where the approaching cars can see only sky, not each other, as they climb upward toward the stop signs. Because I am new at driving here, the Four-Corners Upward-Facing Owl is scary every time I attempt it. I always feel like I am going to overshoot the hill and go sailing off into oblivion. Or roll backward and destroy the car behind me. So far, neither has happened. Circular-Swoop-To-Park Slithering Snake: Parking places are scarce in San Francisco. Everyone knows it and, along with the weather, this is often bemoaned. The shared pain may be the basis of the gentle allowance I’ve observed in the following graceful traffic asana. On a narrow street, with room for only one car going in either direction, a driver spots a parking space on the opposite side of the road. He or she stops, puts on a blinker indicating  intention, and swoops circularly in the direction of the space. The driver inches forward, goes through the ritual of parallel parking with expediency, then nestles into the comfort of the hard-won space. Meanwhile, all other motorists wait, breathe and abide while their fellow man executes this necessary series of moves. Once accomplished, traffic resumes its normal flow. Though this asana may be accompanied by emotional muttering, I’ve yet to see lips move or watches checked. This is an asana for developing patience, kindness and hope – if one place has been found, maybe I can find one too. No doubt, this is what we are all thinking as we wait and wait … and wait. Tolerant-Though-Fuming Let-Me-Swat-You Frog: This asana involves automobiles and bicyclists, two groups bound by karma and global warming. Many San Francisco streets are narrow, leaving little space between vehicles and people on bikes. The driver, skimming dangerously close past one or more cyclists, must breathe even more deeply than usual, stay vigilant and exercise forbearance while the wheeled whizzers speed by, through stop signs, and weaving in and out of heavy traffic with the blithe assurance of invulnerable youth. There are also cyclists of more advanced age who behave as recklessly. It takes only the swat of one car door (called “the Frogs Tongue” in this asana) to bump the gnat-like cyclists flat to the ground. Though I have not yet seen that variation of the Frog here, I often sense patience wearing thin and wouldn’t be surprised to see such a slam-door-into-cyclist move any day now. Intending no harm, I might just incorporate the Frog’s Tongue into this asana myself, chanting for forgiveness afterward. (There’s some New Yorker left in me still, it seems.) I would then hand the bicyclist a brochure advertising my new Automotive Yoga Class and meditate on the bicyclist being well enough to attend.
Ah, the peace, the joy, the satisfaction of sharing yoga with all!