Cecile Meier: Post-quake stress rules
Last month I made two mistakes. One trivial mistake that led to a crazy and potentially dangerous situation. And one crazy, potentially deadly mistake that led to hugs and forgiveness.
Three and a half years post-quake, Cantabrians are low on tolerance and high on stress.
Police have seen an increase in road rage, petty neighbourly domestic arguments and stress crime. In this context, a slight argument can blow out of proportion. For me, it started when I parked in a shop's car park to do an interview next door.
There was nowhere else to park and I thought I would need only half an hour.
Going back to my car, I saw the shop's car parked right behind me, blocking my way out. I went inside and apologised to the owner.
"Well you were parked there for an hour, so I won't move my car for another hour," he said.
Surely, he did not mean for me to wait outside in the cold for that long. "Again, I am really sorry I blocked your car park.
"Please let me out."
The man shook his head: "I'll see you in an hour".
Blood rushed to my head.
"OK, then I will wait inside your shop," I said, crossing my arms. The man's face turned red.
"No you won't," he said, grabbing my arm and pushing me outside. He did not hurt me but I was shocked he would go so far.
Shaky and in tears, I rang a colleague for help. My boss rang the shop and somehow convinced the guy to move his car.
Later that day with a glass of wine and sympathetic ears, I tried to make sense of the man's disproportionate rage.
Maybe people use his car park all the time and that was one too many times, or maybe his wife had just left him? Maybe, but I think there was more to his reaction.
The city is stressed as a whole and the atmosphere is electric.
Thankfully, some Cantabrians are still able to deal with stressful situations kindly.
The week before the car park incident, I had to take an unfamiliar route driving home from work because Gloucester St was closed. It was dark and raining and there were roadworks everywhere. I did not see the stop sign in Cambridge Tce and crashed into another car in Manchester St. No-one was hurt but both cars were smashed up and everyone in shock. A woman walking past stopped to check on me and gave me a big, long hug.
She did not ask whose fault it was. She just stayed there and made sure I was fine. The other driver had every right to be angry and could have shouted abuse but she did not. "The most important thing is that no-one got hurt. You didn't do it on purpose," she said.
We all make mistakes.
I should not have parked in a shop's visitor car park and I should have seen the stop sign.
But in a city where we are all feeling the strain of collective stress, it might be worth taking a big, deep breath instead of lashing out at another driver, a colleague or a neighbour.