Pat Brothwell just had his second encounter with road rage. And he sure hopes it’s his last.
I strongly dislike confrontations. I also don’t get riled up by little things.
This meant I was more surprised than ever when I had my first legitimate issue with road rage last spring. I say first because there is a second, that happened much more recently. I’m not proud, but we’ll get there.
I was driving to my friend’s in Manayunk, a neighborhood of Philadelphia, on a Saturday morning. I can’t for the life of me remember why I was en route but I’m assuming it wasn’t anything that important; typically whenever I go to Manayunk, carousing with college pals and day-drinking is on the menu. I do remember that I was late and that it was brutally hot and I was low on gas so air conditioning wasn’t an option.
If you’ve ever had the privilege of driving the portion of 76 known affectionately as “the Schuylkill,” then you’ll probably give me a pass on road rage on that fact alone. It’s pure driving hell. Traffic was at standstill and I’d sat for almost an hour on a stretch of road that should have taken me ten minutes. Remember, all of this is in scorching heat and I’m going to bank on the fact that I was hungover and dehydrated. I was, in a word, cranky.
I finally got to the exit and thought I was going to be lucky enough to swing down the ramp, underneath the overpass and over the bridge into Manayunk without any stoplights but what’s the fun in that? I was the first car cut off and so sat waiting for the light to change from red to green. When it did, I took more than a millisecond to gun it so the Subaru behind me laid on its horn. I turned around, just long enough to be able to identify it as Subaru and drove out into the intersection when, because Murphy’s Law literally rules my life, my car stalled.
I panicked, not just because I knew what further traffic nightmare this would cause, but also because my car had never stalled before and I’d just thrown down a hefty sum to get it serviced a week or so prior. I turned my car back on and before I was able to shift heard the Subaru blast its horn again. I shifted, drove two more feet forward and the car stalled again.
This time the Subaru traded in a couple of short blasts for straight up laying on the horn and my panic morphed into anger. Like some sort of white-trash hulk I turned in my seat, put my hands on the window and lifted my entire torso out of the window so I was now staring at the middle aged guy behind me. “Do you think I’m doing this on f**king purpose?” I yelled. He threw up both hands to show me he was backing off. I sat back down, took my time starting the car and shifting, then drove away as the light turned back to red. I’d be lying if I didn’t look back and laugh at him sitting there waiting for his turn again, but almost immediately this delight turned to embarrassment. I hoped no one I knew happened to witness my gross display and scolded myself for blowing up so easily. My friends thought it was a funny story and since this was completely out of the ordinary behavior, I chalked up it to just a terribly exhausting morning and moved on.
I’ve never really understood the whole concept behind road rage. I’m a pretty aggressive driver, but I understand that not everyone is. Sure, I might swear in the comfort of my own vehicle when someone cuts me off, I try my damdest to use my blinker every time, but I realize that everyone has the occasional slip up. While my biggest pet peeve is slow people driving in the passing lane on the highway a short and sweet beep is usually enough to get them to merge lanes. Again, I realize that you’re not always cognizant of your speed and have had that courtesy beep given to me.
I can understand that driving is exhausting and frustrating and that there are a lot of legitimate assholes on the road but I’ve historically been good about putting myself in others shoes. Mistakes are made, someone might just be tired or lost, not to mention that not everyone drives the same way. I think this is the general rule of not just driving, but life. People have off days, so give them some leeway. I take this into account when a fast food restaurant messes up my order or a waiter spills some water on me or someone accidentally runs into me at the grocery store. I think it’s generally made me a happier person.
I forgot all of this on Monday when I pulled into the alley I drive through to get to my apartment’s parking lot. It’s two ways but narrow enough that only one car could fit in at a time. I’d already pulled in and gotten far enough down that I couldn’t back out (which would be backing out into a busy road) when I realized I was playing chicken with an SUV. I was idling between two buildings while two driveways were on his side. I assumed he’d pull into one and let me go through but for what seemed like a minute we just sat and stared at one another.
Finally, I pulled up and pulled over and waited for him to drive by. He went by slow, slower than I would’ve, and once again I found myself morphing into white trash. “Thanks, asshole,” I said, loud enough for him to hear. I’d had a long day at work, was tired, hungry and knew I had a couple of hours of grading ahead of me. Once again, I was cranky. I know it’s not a good excuse.
Our windows were both down and he heard me. Instead of giving it back, he stopped and apologized. “Sorry man, it’s just been a real long day and I’m not from here.” I rightfully felt like the biggest dick of all time. I apologized profusely and told him such. He told me no hard feelings, everyone has an off day and drove away, further proving to just take it easy, especially if you only know one side of the story.
So I’ve made a vow to not let the white-trash-road-rage-Pat show his face again, not in driving and not in life. I hope I’m successful but have a feeling I might have a slip-up. I only hope that when I do, someone will give me the same free-pass courtesy this guy did.
Photo: featheredtar / flickr