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Thursday, April 19 Opinion

Column: Musings & Observations

The stress of modern life is lurking everywhere these days, and most people I know are constantly adding to their worry list. I'm sure there must be some people who can conquer a worry and then subtract it from their list, but for most of us mere mortals, the list only expands over time.

I know people who worry about everything from contracting a tropical disease or the West Nile Virus to "Do I get enough sleep?" and "What did he mean by that text message?"; from "What kind of world are my kids growing up in?" and "Do I make enough money?" to expiration dates on dairy products and committing to a relationship; from "What emails do I respond to?" and "Have I put on too much weight?" to melting glaciers and earthquakes.

We're definitely working more hours a week; we take less holiday time than Western Europeans; we need more money to pay for rising taxes and just about everything else. In 2005, researchers found that chronic emotional stress erodes telomerase, an enzyme in our cells that helps extend our life span, keeping us young and healthy. It seems that we're living a psychological experiment -- in a humongous Skinner Box -- that constantly tests our ability to deal with life's events in an uncertain world.

And given the boom in social networking, do we know who our real friends are anymore? The ones who will help us move, pick us up at LaGuardia at 4 a.m. and meet us for coffee when we need someone to talk to face-to-face.

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The stress of modern life is exacting a heavy toll, putting people on edge and causing them to blow gaskets everywhere imaginable; road rage being just one of the manifestations. For years, scientists have studied how stress is exacerbated by overcrowded roads and can lead to road rage.

Driving on I-95 has become a particularly unpleasant experience. Remember when you would blast your favorite CD, singing along to your heart's content, while driving at a reasonable rate of speed for your lane, without a tailgater inches away? You knew that it was your world and no one was going to interrupt you with a phone call, wanting to know where you were or how you were doing. You were doing just fine.

Now, I-95 tests the bounds of sanity. Some days, when there is eternal gridlock, it seems we're on the verge of highway anarchy and bumper cars I-95-style is just a hand gesture away. It's the Disney ride from hell. "Ya buy your ticket, ya take your chances."

As I was doing my commuter crawl the other day, I looked to my left and then to my right and what did I see? Unhappy commuters wearing the forlorn look of someone who would rather be anywhere else than where they were.

For that moment in time we all had something in common: We were drivers standing still. An oxymoron, but it's a lot better to be an oxymoron than to have to deal with the morons who drive on the roads in Fairfield County.

If truth be known, we've all driven like morons at one time or another, we just have an incredibly difficult time admitting it. It's so much easier to point the finger at the other guy -- the official designated clueless driver.

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In today's "it ain't my fault, I didn't do nuthin' " society, why accept the blame when it's really the fault of society-at-large, our high school biology teacher, the high pollen count, Twinkies, not having had a prom date, and our parents?

I'm listening to WPLR, 99.1 FM; Chaz and AJ and Pam are talking about road rage and bad driving, taking calls from their listeners. It was a perfect synchronous moment. The kind of driving and road rage they're talking about, I'm witness to.

The Multi-Tasker: Drivers who are so talented they can simultaneously talk on their cellular phones, check how they look in their rear view mirror, drink a mocha cappuccino latte extra-lite and munch on a doughnut, all the while doing radio searches for the local traffic report.

The Drifter: Drivers who straddle two lanes or weave between them. Their love of dance is so great that they are compelled to do-si-do from lane to lane, occasionally incorporating the cha-cha, rumba and Electric Slide and when they're feeling romantic, the Viennese waltz.

The traffic starts to move then comes to a complete halt; I look to my left only to see the driver banging his fists against the steering wheel.

I put on Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, "The Live Anthology" Disc 4, and start singing along to "Runnin' Down A Dream."

"It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down, I had the radio on, I was drivin'; Trees flew by, me and Del were singin' little "Runaway;" I was flyin." Just what the rock 'n' roll doctor ordered!

Barry Halpin can be reached at barryhalpin@aol.com.