Anyone who drives slower than you is a moron. Anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac.
-- My dad
I have been bitchy all week -- irritable and quick to anger. People are annoying me, I'm annoying myself, but more than anything, drivers on the road are driving me crazy -- my road rage has been a spectacular display of misdirected fury. Or is it misdirected? I think the recipients of my rage should be held accountable for eliciting from me the unattractive emotion. David, calm as an incarnation of Buddha, disagrees. Last weekend on the way to L.A. for one of David's gallery openings, he told me I seemed "overly concerned" with other drivers on the freeway.
"But that guy is riding my ass!" I snapped in my defense.
"Then get out of his way," David suggested.
"No. He's the asshole, so he should have to go around me." Even as I said this, I realized how childish I sounded. But it seemed impossible to change my behavior in the heat of this irksome moment. Unfortunately for David, the two-hour drive was nothing but a series of such moments.
"Look at that one. No blinker. What a dick," I said. David sighed.
Thoughtless drivers -- impolite lane changers, tailgaters, unnecessarily slow movers, and aggressive weavers -- ruffle my feathers. When confronted by a thoughtless driver, I can't help but curse out loud. Angrily muttered words run together on my tongue -- fuckbitchdickslut, assmunchingpinprick.
"Barb's not happy unless she has someone to curse at on the road," David said recently to my sister Jenny, who was riding with us on the way to dinner.
"Don't listen to him, Barb," Jenny responded. "You have every right to be pissed." This from the woman who once angered a driver so much he followed her to our apartment on First Avenue. Hearing the commotion from my living room that evening, I stepped outside and made it to the side of the enraged driver's vehicle before he could get out (Jenny had already parked, but his car was right by our door).
I argued with the man about the impropriety of his actions while he simultaneously attempted to shush the poodle on his lap and scream "BITCH" after Jenny, who was taking refuge inside. This psycho eventually backed out of our parking lot, burning my ears with creative obscenities as he did so. I sighed with relief, thinking, Thank God this guy isn't packing. I can see it on the 10 o'clock news: "Sisters shot by poodle-loving man who claims that road rage counts as 'temporary insanity.'"
"Next time you've got some wacko following you, try not to lead him to where you live," I advised Jenny when I got inside. I'm sure she didn't hear me; she was still fuming over the incident.
"Can you believe that guy? I was trying to get around him at the light; it was going to change! He must be on crack. GOD! Can you believe that?" I could, because I had seen how riled people get on the road.
I was shocked when I rode with my Aunt Carol in New York City. Between her work with drug-addicted newborns and breast-feeding mothers, Aunt Carol strikes me as the epitome of goodness. However, behind the wheel this calm Dr. Jekyll turned into a fear-inspiring Mrs. Hyde. Before that day, I had never heard such words come out of her mouth. Soon after, a Disney cartoon about Goofy transforming into a demon when he started his car explained to me what had happened to Aunt Carol. The same thing happens to me now.
Some road rage is understandable -- if someone cuts you off, it's natural to think poorly of him. But other triggers of rage are irrational. If I see a Hummer, I am pissed at the driver, regardless of whether or not she has committed a driving faux pas. I consider the vehicle itself to be a morbid atrocity, and therefore the mere sight of it angers me. I doubt any of the sparkling-clean Hummers I encounter downtown have ever seen the rough terrain for which they were intended -- an impracticality that annoys me to no end.
I'd read of one woman who enjoyed her Hummer because "If I get in an accident, I win." To calm myself when I'm confronted with one of these absurd beasts, I imagine all the parking spaces my svelte Corolla slides into easily that the massive Hummer must pass by.
Whether understandable or irrational, I have never acted on my anger; seeing one do so is frightening. Once, on the way to a party, Stephanie and I saw an insane display of road rage. We don't know what the young girl in the blue sedan had done to piss off the guy in the silver car, but his actions were so crazy and hazardous I called 911.
The road, somewhere near Pershing Drive, went from one lane to two. Blue was in front of me, and Silver was at the head of the line. Silver stopped. And we waited. I thought maybe his car had broken down. But then Blue tried to pass him, and Silver moved to block her. When we got to two lanes, Silver continued to harass Blue, driving parallel, then speeding ahead to stop short in front of Blue. Stephanie and I were shocked and worried that Blue would get run off the road. When we got to the party, Stephanie and I speculated about the relationship between Silver and Blue.
"She probably cheated on him."
"Or maybe he's abusive, and she's trying to get away."
"Or even scarier. Maybe they don't know each other at all, and it's a road rage thing."
One time I was caught off guard by an act of rage. The initial driving sin might have been mine, but if so, I was unaware of it. I was on Washington Street, heading toward the 163 on-ramp, where people turned left onto the ramp (this was before the traffic lights were installed). I was about to turn when the sound of a horn distracted me. A woman swerved her car in front of me, parked it perpendicular to mine, stepped out of her car, and made her way toward me, screaming all the while. I locked my doors and turned to my sisters, Jenny and Heather. Heather held up her cell phone and pretended to call the police. To this day, I'm not sure why she only pretended.
Jenny, who was in the backseat, made dirty faces at the woman now shouting at my window -- it was hard to understand her, but I caught the words "my baby" a few times. I was laughing hysterically -- a nervous defense mechanism. Finally, the honking cars behind us resolved the battle, and the woman got back in her car and peeled out onto the on-ramp. As she drove away, I noticed for the first time the child seat in the back of her car.
I consider myself to be a respectful driver, which could be one of the reasons I get so upset when others don't show me the same courtesy. But if the offender is visibly angrier than I, my cursing ceases. The front of a blue truck was nearly kissing my Corolla's ass on Adams Avenue yesterday, and I could see the driver's face contorted in frustration. You cops don't need to hear this, but I was already going over the speed limit. With a dangerous swerve into oncoming traffic, the guy passed me. As he did so, I met those furious eyes with mine and smiled at him.
Sometimes all it takes is a smile and a wave to diffuse someone's anger. When I merge, even if I had to nose my way in front of an unrelenting vehicle, I smile and send my hand into the air in a universal "thank you" wave. I hope that two things occur: (1) The driver who wasn't letting me over now feels guilty. (2) The driver realizes that an extra car in the lane isn't the end of the world and slows to let others in when appropriate, rather than speeding up to block them. I always let people in my lane, and I am always appreciative when someone else does the same. But I still indulge in a little rage.
David and I are on our way out to run some errands. He's made me promise not to curse at other cars on the road. Maybe I should go without him.