Last night I was indulging in one of my favorite pastimes, watching compilations of road-rage fights on YouTube. It used to be that in a traffic-related fight, two guys would get out, maybe with a pipe or a bat, and duke it out. Now these guys go straight for the gun. It's horrifying to watch some punk getting a well-deserved pounding from an outraged driver, but instead of manning up, they dive straight for the glove compartment. Now if you find yourself in a road-rage incident, the other person will just shoot your ass.
- Carlos Oliveras Palomar | Dreamstime.com
I must confess that I've been afflicted with road rage for about 30 years or so, and there ain't no cure for those boulevard blues. It begins during the daily obstacle course on city streets. Here's a guy trying to make a left from the center lane. Here comes some fool barreling out of a fast food joint and pulling too far into the street so that you have to swerve quickly and pray someone's not in the other lane. Here's a tiny lady who can barely see over the steering wheel driving 25 mph during rush hour. And that guy that speeds past you, cuts over three lanes, and ends up at the same red light as you. They're all just playing their parts assigned for that day to make driving a harrowing experience.
You would not believe the words that come out of my mouth, words that could never be used in any other setting. It usually begins as an irritant from observing another driver's behavior. When something crucially stupid happens, I begin by saying, "You blanking blank. Idiot blankerblanker. Wake the blank up and drive, you blanking blankhole." From there it only gets worse.
Once I was driving east on Peabody, and, as I drew near South Cooper Street, where the road dead-ends and splits either left or right, some knucklehead in front of me couldn't pick a lane. I thought I'd help him by laying on the horn, but he flipped me a particularly vulgar looking bird. Infuriated, I did the old trick of moving my hand in a back and forth motion near my mouth and poking my cheek out with my tongue. Certain that my gesture was far more disgusting than his, he went south and I went north. I stopped in the old record store in the Poplar Plaza, and, while I was perusing the CDs, this scrawny-looking guy in overalls comes up to me and says, "You're the guy that just told me to 'blank a blank' in the street out there." Not wishing to disrupt anyone's business, I took the gentlemanly approach and apologized. I told him that something inexplicable comes over me when I get behind the wheel of a car, but I'm really not that person. He seemed to accept my atonement and left. It was either that or throw down in the middle of the rhythm and blues racks. That's how I learned to keep my vulgarities and hand gestures more discreet.
My wife, Melody, has refused to ride with me for several years now. I don't mind if she wants to drive, but I'm not that great of a passenger either. I enjoy explaining the psychology of traffic. If she passes some massive SUV, I tell her to just watch. Psychologically, the other driver resents being passed by a smaller car and will invariably speed up. She also hates it when I stomp on the passenger's side brakes. I have noticed, however, that she'll occasionally cut loose with a tirade that could peel paint from a dry wall. I have to remind her that we don't go for "blue" language.
Still, the horror is unending. The interstates have become endless ribbons of aggravation. Believe it or not, there was a time when long-haul truckers were considered the most courteous drivers on the road. They moved over to allow you to pass, and, if you made a pulling motion with your arm, they might even let you hear a little airhorn. No longer. Since the petroleum industry lobbyists have stopped all railway progress in this country, the highways are choked with big rigs, and the old Eisenhower expressway system is too obsolete to handle it.
That's why I try not to complain when the old 5:15 a.m. train rolls through the center of town. I know that every boxcar is at least one less truck on the highway. Today's truckers pass you at 80 miles an hour and blow your car off the road.
There was also a time when you could hitchhike on the interstate, and invariably a trucker would pick you up. I thought nothing of being dropped off at an exit ramp in Nashville and thumbing it to Knoxville. Even women once trusted truckers enough to hitchhike. I knew this musician who was around 5'4", thinner than a dime, with long blonde hair flowing down his back. Once, he was hitching with his thumb out and his back to oncoming traffic when an 18-wheeler pulled over. My friend jumped into the cab revealing his mustache and sternum-length beard and said, "I bet you thought I was a girl." The trucker answered, "Don't matter. Imma f**k you anyway."
If I were your president, I would begin building 21st-century super-highways exclusively for automobiles and leave the old interstate to the truckers. What would it take? Four more lanes? We need some auto-friendly roads and not these corkscrew flyovers that claim a life a week. And the next Congress should make drivers' education courses mandatory. That would thin the herd from some of these damn fools out there, and you know who you are.
Just today, I saw some monster truck pull to a sudden stop behind me at a red light, and, when I looked into the rearview mirror, some slob was eating something out of a bowl with a spoon. I thought it must be ice cream, but he was eating it much too fast to avoid brain freeze. I assumed it was either ramen noodles or soup and said loudly, to no one, "You idiot blankblanker."
Sometimes I just wish I had a giant yellow backhoe to cruise down the road, so when I saw someone driving like a selfish idiot bastard I could just crush their roofs and push them to the curb. Oh yeah, I saw that on YouTube too.
Randy Haspel writes the "Recycled Hippies" blog, where a version of this column first appeared.