I’ve begun to notice a disturbing trend over the last month. By describing it here I hope to forewarn you, maybe to arm you. Maybe it’s due to the holiday season.
Several weeks ago after visiting our son in Chico, CA, my wife, Judie, and I were driving back to the east bay of San Francisco to our home in Walnut Creek. On this perfect California afternoon-are there any other kinds of afternoons here?- under a cobalt sky, listening to Cold Play, with our puppy, Dylan, asleep in the back seat, we were headed home filled with the happiness that parents feel after visiting their only child.
Bumping along at 70-75 mph in clotted traffic, we negotiated the ramp from Int. 80 onto southbound 680. After a few minutes we were in rural Fairfield southbound for the bridge over the north bay. This was one of my favorite stretches of interstate where Zephyrus, throned behind the afternoon sun, hurls primitive coastal winds across the golden hills that batter speeding drivers who thought they were in control. These winds lashed the scrub oaks along the west side of the highway and permanently bent them in obeisance to Sol. It’s a wild stretch of highway where the gods rule capriciously, if they rule at all.
Driving along at speed twenty minutes from home, I looked, as I often did, into the rear view mirror. A gleaming white pick-up truck with a grisly black grill snapping like a rabid beast filled our rear window. Fear shot through me and then anger sloshed in. A moment of disorientation passed quickly.
Just as I saw the danger in my mirror, the traffic, catching my attention, slowed a bit and I drew my foot slowly up from the accelerator, slowing my wife’s 8 year old BMW 325 a couple of miles per hour hoping the idiot behind me would slow, too. White Truck had pulled right up on our bumper, as if we were a throbbing string of garishly painted stock cars, nose to tail, drafting each other for extra speed on the high banked track of the Daytona 500. Only we weren’t. We were just ordinary people headed wherever, not professional drivers surrounded by cars hurtling on a dagger’s edge at 200 mph. Frightened, I eased back into the throttle, shaking my head and muttering, “Son of a bitch!”
“Look out the rear window,” I said with an edge in my voice. Adrenaline hammered in my temples. Fight or flight? Fight or flight?
“Jesus, what’s wrong with that maniac?” Judie asked.
“Don’t know, but what he’s doing is awfully stupid. That prick doesn’t give a shit what danger we’re in.”
The car in front of me in the left lane, and I guessed most of the cars in front of him, crept up to 80 mph. I throttled hard to keep pace, hoping White Truck would back off a bit.
No such luck. He was still drafting my bumper and now flashing his lights at me. I decided to try to pull into the right lane but traffic was keeping pace next to me and there were no safe openings.
“What’s he doing?”
“Thought maybe he was in a hurry and wanted to get around me, but look, there’s no place for this asshole to go.”
“Pull over and let him pass, Mark.”
“I would, but there’s no place to go. Traffic’s nose to tail in both lanes,” I growled at her advice.
Sweat broke out on my face, down my back. Clammy. All I could see of the driver in my mirror was a dark,mean shadow. I thought young, a teenager, perhaps. Great, all testosterone and no fucking brains! Worse? Crank?
A black Mercedes sedan with dark tinted windows slid by on my right and, materializing behind him, blessed open space, maybe five car lengths of open space. I tapped my turn signal on and began to ease over to the right lane. As I gently pressed the steering wheel right I looked back into the mirror. “Oh, Jesus!” White Truck, welded to my bumper, followed. Why didn’t he gun past me in the left lane?
He was fucking with me. Menace was his game. Intimidation. For the hell of it.
I felt helpless. Worried for Judie and Dylan. Worried for Doc, my son back in Chico.
I quickly flicked our car left and stood on the throttle hoping he’d go by on my right. Judie’s car, unfortunately doesn’t accelerate well.
He came with me at speed kissing our rear end.
“He’s fucking with us, Judie. He’s into menacing. Doubt we’re his first victims today.”
“Ignore him, Mark. Just ignore him. He’ll get tired and go around us.”
“A little hard ignoring a 9000 pound truck at 80 hooked onto my bumper,” I shot back.
Looking into the right side view mirror I saw an opening, with a smaller margin for error than I wanted, but fuck it. I nicked the steering wheel right and White Truck, mindlessly followed. But as he saw, nearly too late, that there was no room for him, he jerked that arctic behemoth into the left lane and, with a vibrating growl White Truck prowled past in slow motion.
Would he swerve into us sending us across the breakdown lane snagging us in the tangled scrub in the verge?
No sooner than this worry appeared, White Truck dropped into a lower gear and hammered away.
My shoulders slumped in relief. I became aware of the pain up and down my spine, with most of it pulsing in the back of my head.
“Look,” Judie said, pointing to White Truck. “He’s menacing the guy in front of him just like us.”
At that moment, a metallic blue Audi sedan pulled out from behind and passed us on the left. I looked into the rear view mirror and watched in resignation and simmering hatred as a late model white Impala roared up on my bumper. I tensed again.
This asshole followed us at close quarters for about a mile, eventually saw his opportunity, swerved left and smoked us. This guy wasn’t just out to harass other drivers, he was just a garden variety douche bag in a hurry.
As I drove the rest of the way home on the Freeway I ruminated about how, with this crummy disease and the destruction of my joints, I could no longer defend myself or Judie. Years ago, living in New York, having recognized the same thing, I carried a bat in my Jeep. A bat I could still swing. With a bat in my hands, I knew I’d probably look a bit deranged and figured that would be to my advantage in any kind of confrontation, and if you’ve lived in New York, well, it’s simply combat driving and to the winner go the spoils.
But now, I’m not even sure a bat would help. Feeling unprotected makes me feel helpless, pissed off, but knew in my heart that it was my reality. I’d just have to steer clear of confrontations and make sure my normal inclination to incite the anger of an idiot would have to be curtailed, if not completely eliminated. A sad, very sad recognition.
Is this what it is to be civilized?
Enter the third White Vehicle.
Every morning I walk with my puppy, Dylan four miles. We travel the side walks from the north end of our town, Walnut Creek, to the south end, going through downtown, and back. You’re probably thinking, wow, 4 miles and he’s disabled? Well it is the only exercise that I can do and I pay a high price of increased pain. When we get back from our walks, I have to lie down with a cold pack on my left knee and wait for the worst of the pain to leech away. I walk, in spite of the pain, because I’m trying to stay in as good a shape as I can so when some hectoring disease or condition invades me, I’m as strong as I can be to fight it off. Not much of a reason, but it does get me out of the house.
On a brisk Friday morning after Thanksgiving, just a few weeks after White Truck, Dylan and I were stopped at a busy downtown intersection waiting for the lights to turn in our favor. In a moment or two, the lights for the east-west traffic turned red allowing Dylan and me to cross the street going north. We hadn’t waited long enough, I rarely do, I’m an inveterate j-walker.
Just as we stepped off the curb, a speeding, yes, you guessed it, White pick-up truck swerved into the turn lane to my left just off my hip and Dylan’s tail. He nosed in as close as he could without nudging us, trying to intimidate Dylan and me into moving faster out of his regal way.
Oh, yes, I was breaking the law, but really, dear readers, I only cost Mr. Tommy Truck maybe, well…2 seconds? So as not to delay him further, Dylan and I broke into a light trot. As soon as we did White Truck edged up to us and laid heavily on a jazzed up horn spooking Dylan into a frenzied gyration, flipping his head back and forth trying to free himself from his leash and run away to safety. I knelt down on the pavement next to him and held him a moment, talking softly into his ear. Mr. Tommy blared his horn again just a few feet behind us.
All right, I was being a shit by not waiting my turn. And kneeling down next to my pouch was probably pushing it, but did this fucker have to lay on such a loud horn again after having seeing only moments before its effect on an 8 month old puppy?
Abuse me, but leave a defenseless puppy alone. Especially this puppy, who we suspected experience some bad shit before we rescued him.
Standing after settling Dylan, I raised my right arm with my hand around an imaginary cock, and pumped it thrice in universal disdain as I walked on without looking back at ‘ol Tom.
This, of course, had the desired effect. Tommy Truck leaned his head out his window, by this time I had turned to look at the damage I’d done, and he was calling me an asshole, a mother fucker, a stupid shit, a cock sucker, a pussy, even. All the while oblivious to blocking traffic behind him.
By then, the non-p.c. part of my brain took over, some atavistic remnant that has us waving red flags in front of frothing bulls, snapped to attention, kicked aside my rational mind and took over. I became a spectator.
I smiled at him, shook my head and-now this was particularly insensitive and certainly against my usual values and behavior, but lame as it is, and against my recent resolve to avoid confrontation, and because I was pissed off that he purposely scared my puppy-and yelled, “Hey, macho boy, you kiss your boyfriend with that mouth? Do you big boy, do you?”
Tommy turned vermilion. He sputtered incoherently as I, laughing, walked on down the side walk with, let’s face it, an unearned smile on my face. This was just too easy.
Truth be told, I knew I was safe. There was no way he was going to abandon his truck at a busy intersection and risk kicking the shit out of me with a passel of pedestrians for witnesses.
As I walked on, I wondered, what was it in me that recognized that this guy was probably homophobic? And what in me would stoop to using that to piss this guy off? Was it just that he upset Dylan, or did he upset something deep in me. Was it the blow back from feeling so helpless when menaced by that guy on the freeway a few weeks ago. Maybe. But I landed on this dirt bag scaring my puppy that made me side step caution and use a slur to goad Tommy Truck to come after me.
I realized I threw caution under the buss because, stupid and self destructive as it was, I wanted to hurt that bastard. Smart, huh? A disable 62 year old man in a fight with a guy 25 years younger and a hundred pounds heavier.
But here’s a sad truth for people like me who live in constant pain. I think this might break down on gender lines, but I know no of any data to support this, so I might just be blowing smoke. But I think that some men like me, more often than women, for what looks like no good reason, go blank with rage, do and say things we wouldn’t ordinarily dream of, shed caution and invite disaster. The sorry fact is that many of us live with undiluted rage. Rage at the insensate PAIN. We try very hard to keep it out of sight, buried deep with trusted Centurions on guard. But sometimes…Irene, the goddess of peace, is abruptly replaced by the god, Ares.
Like I said. Something atavistic.
But really, what’s with white vehicles these days?