Image by toddwshaffer via Flickr
I should probably elaborate.
Its a weekday afternoon on a stretch of route 57 that switches back and forth between forty and fifty MPH speed limits as weaves through clusters of residential and agricultural zones. I make it a habit of riding the speed limit on this road, with the cruise control set. I'll admit that a big reason for my strict adherence to the speed limit is the frequency that patrol cars hand out speeding tickets in this area. Self preservation is a great motivator. But in my defense, I've also reached a point in my life where I don't see the point in racing as fast as possible to get nowhere fast. I'm not trying to make myself out as Mr. Zen and rationality, I just can't work up any passion about treating a single-lane highway like a Nascar tryout track. It isn't like I have a pregnant woman a baby's arm hanging out in the back seat, I'm just driving home. What's the rush?
Anyway, I'm cruising at a gentle 50 MPH, and not surprisingly, I end up with an anxious SUV riding my ass because I'm not going fast enough for him. He hangs onto my bumper for a good few miles, and occasionally we get a enough inches between us that I glimpse the driver's angry little face glaring at me over his steering wheel, the curly blonde toupee crouching on top of his head as if it was equally pissed off at me.
This happens to me a lot. Some jackass will speed by me at twenty or so over the speed limit, and a few miles later we'll be sitting together at the same red light. This is why I rarely speed anymore, and why I've never gotten into any traffic-weaving hi-jinx. You can go as fast as you want, but the law of averages will almost always drag you back to the flow of traffic.
So, I found this funny enough that I honked and waved at the SUV guy. I didn't lean on the horn and shake my fist angrily, mind you; just a quick beep and a happy wave. Two angry little hands flew up as if to ask what the Hell I was waving at, so I rolled down the window and shouted out "Congratulations! You made it one car length ahead of me!" No angry voice or harsh screaming, just a friendly voice shouting loud enough so he could hear me if he wanted to. I was actually laughing when I said it.
What happens? The light turns green, he takes off like a bat out of hell, and I cruise right back into the speed limit. End of story. Until I end up right behind the same SUV at the next red light.
Now this is just too funny to me. I have to share my joy with this gentleman. I don't open the window again, that seems a bit too confrontational. I just give my horn a quick beep and wave, laughing.
Then the driver's door swings open.
Now, this is not a scary moment. I already know that this is an old man, and the head-to-steering-wheel ratio guarantees him to be around five feet. I'm six foot five and probably weigh more than him and his wife combined. If I wanted this to get confrontational, I'd have a vast size and age advantage, barring the possibility of Bad Day at Black Rock moment that would have this stand-in tossing me into the passing lane with some one-armed Spencer Tracy judo.
But I don't want this to get confrontational. Sure, I was annoyed that the geezer was tailgating me and sped by me doing seventy, but I wasn't chasing this guy down vindictively. We just kept showing up at the same red lights afterwards. Yeah, technically I was instigating, but I wasn't screaming obscenities at him, I was laughing and waving. I don't want to get into a fist fight over it. I don't even want to get into an argument over it. The guy was driving like an jackass, and I mocked him for not getting anywhere despite his road warrior maneuvers. There's nothing to talk about.
Now, I'm suddenly presented with what could be a truly hilarious situation. All I have to do his let him come up and start screaming at me through my car window, and I have a great phone camera picture to post on Facebook. Worst that happens, maybe my ten-year-old Jetta gets spit on or feebly punched. Well worth the priceless pictures that would result.
A minute or two later, on a three lane stretch of 22, I was laughing so hard that I almost didn't notice the SUV coming up fast behind me. I braced myself for the possibility of impact as the red angry face, toupee askew, filled my rear view mirror. But the frantic screaming of the man's scared elderly wife, clearly visible to me now, snapped the old road warrior out of his kamikaze suicide run. Instead he swerved hard into the middle lane, sped up to pull alongside me so he could scream, and then slammed on his brakes suddenly when the semi in front of him stopped for - you guessed it - another red light.
At this point the angry SUV gave up and sped away in the fast lane, no doubt to cut someone off at the tollbooths up ahead, and that was the end of it. But as funny as it was at the time, and as funny as I still find it, this story does raise a lot of issues.
I know without a doubt that I am not the innocent victim of this story. Even though I had no intention for things to escalate as fast as they did, I was a willing instigator. I take full responsibility for my actions, and if this jackass had indeed rammed my car from behind, or had dropped dead on the hood of my car, or had plowed into the back of that semi because he was too preoccupied with screaming at me through two car windows, even if not legally culpable, I would have been complicit and equally to blame in my eyes.
automobile, completely oblivious as to who would win this altercation if I had been someone with no qualms about running over an elderly man. Selfish enough to put his wife (or whoever his elderly female passenger was) at risk by racing down the highway to defend his ego against some schmuck in a Volkswagen. In short, a hot-headed jerk-off and a danger to himself and others on the day he bumps into a driver as equally stubborn and quick-tempered.
What bothers me is that five or ten years ago I was just like him, and would have either gotten out of my car or engaged him in a bloodthirsty game of road tag. It is startling when you see your own irrational behaviors hideously displayed by others. It also bothers me that there are retired adults driving around who are as emotionally developed as I was in my twenties. Is it possible that despite all of the emphasis our society places on maturity, we're still nothing more but a bunch of spiteful children rushing around in bumper cars? It probably bothers me even more because even though I was most likely the more rational and mature between the two of us, I still failed to be the adult in the room. Moments like this go a long way to remind us exactly how immature we can be in our weakest of moments.
Most of all, I think it bothers me that, looking back, I still get a chuckle out of it. And I still wish I'd gotten that picture.