One thought ahead. Two sentences behind.

Not Cool – Jerks


“I don’t like it. Not one bit.”

So far it had been an agreeable trip.  My sister, Sarah, was getting married in Biloxi, MS and my dad, mom, brother, Chris, and I were making our way to the celebration.

The first day of the road trip was pleasant.  With well-paved roads and few cars, driving in Iowa felt like no other commute.  We even saw an Amish farmer take over the road at one point with a wooden cart the size of a river barge.

Being pulled by two stout German workhorses, the farmer looked a tiny version of himself as he stood on the giant wooden planks, leather straps in hand, guiding the cart like he was floating between the wide banks of the Mississippi.

After spending the night in Mark Twain’s home town of Hannibal, MO, we took a lazy drive through his National Forest just south of St. Louis.

After lunch in Poplar Bluff, we jumped onto Interstate 55.

Transitioning from State Highway 67 in Missouri to I-55 in northeast Arkansas was like leaving the weightlessness of space and landing hard on the moon. The road was rough. Traffic was everywhere.  It was loud and bumpy.

My dad sitting in the front passenger’s seat looked up from his map.

“What’s wrong?”

I raised my index finger from the steering wheel and pointed.

“Does that mattress look secure to you?”

I’ve always been leery of vehicles carrying open cargo. City streets? Country highways? Okay.  But seeing a pickup truck hauling a wooden dresser at eighty miles an hour is like catching a glimpse of a mountain lion crossing your front lawn or watching your boss being hauled out by the FBI.  Something isn’t quite right and all you feel is a nervous panic. Any household item can turn into an airborne projectile. It could happen. It does happen. It happened to my friend Ron on his way to the airport.

Ron had the first flight out of Ft. Lauderdale, FL one Saturday morning. It was early, still dark. There wasn’t much traffic on I-595, but there was a car in front of him and it was carrying a ten-speed bike.

How quickly it happened.

Before Ron knew it, the bike vaulted from its rack and slammed into his car.

The bike was destroyed and that was all the woman cared about when she pulled over; not that she forgot to strap in the bike; not that she wrecked Ron’s car; not that she could have created more havoc if it would have been earlier in the day.  No, she complained that Ron ran over her bike and she would be unable to participate in a morning triathlon.

“Is everything all right?”

My mom stirred from the back seat and asked the question.

No, it wasn’t all right.  I was driving in the right lane with a semi trailer closing from behind. Cars streamed along the left in a high-speed parade. And in front was a truck hauling a mattress that inched closer and closer to the windshield.

“Is there only one strap holding that mattress,” I asked.

I could see the earlier purchase.  The driver got a GREAT DEAL at some factory outlet in the middle of nowhere. Only one problem: How do you get it home?

“It will fit in the bed of your truck, not completely flat, but maybe we can mash it down a bit and string a rope,” said the teenager at the warehouse who was paid exactly $7.00 an hour to offer such advice.

It wasn’t even a nylon strap you could ratchet down with a metal clamp. It wasn’t even a rope used to secure boats or lasso cattle. It was barely thicker than a laundry line. It had as much chance keeping the mattress in the bed of the truck as string of cooked linguini.

I really liked my car. I liked how it used little gas. I like how it provided a semblance of comfort to our small group. What it didn’t provide: enough muscle too quickly get around this truck. But there wasn’t much choice with a semi bearing down.

 I punched the gas and turned on my blinker.  And as we slowly crept alongside, we looked over to the cab.

Inside was a middle-aged woman with a bouffant of blond hair. She wasn’t paying much attention to the road for she was gabbing on her cell phone. A small dog the size of a Nerf football bounced all over the cab. When it noticed us, it jumped over to the driver’s side window to bark. Its silent yips were drowned out by the high-pitch whine of spinning tires.

Eventually, there was enough room to slide back. I wished there was more, but I had to get out of the way for traffic was piling up.  It wasn’t dangerous, but it was tight.

Jerk moves come in all shapes and sizes, but there is something visceral when someone cuts in front of you. First, they may break protocol by not waiting their turn, but more importantly is the back. It’s a physical act that states the person behind not only doesn’t matter, he or she may not even exist.

I knew that when it came to the rules of the road, I slid into the right lane too soon. And if my reaction to my own move was disappointment, I knew the southern firecracker with the 5.7 liter engine behind me would be furious.

Before I could even turn off my blinker, the woman gunned the truck’s massive engine and whipped around me.

We were back to where we started except for one wrinkle. The woman stayed in the left lane to make sure I couldn’t pass her again.

There is a far bigger jerk than the one who cuts in front of you. It’s the jerk that tries to deny you a place.

It happened to me once on a bike trail. I came upon a group of cyclist coming from the opposite direction. Most strung themselves along a long singular column, but one lady remained in the oncoming lane and made no attempt to merge when she saw me. Instead she gave a look that could be best described as abhorrent. Her face told me that not only did I need to completely get off the path. I needed to be banished from her sight.

How could someone be filled with so much indignation while breaking so many rules?

I couldn’t answer the question for the king-size mattress leapt out of the bed of the truck and sailed into the air…

When I volunteered to take my family to my sister’s wedding, I didn’t know how the multi-day road trip would go. Would there be constant complaints? Would one pit stop need to be quickly followed by another? Would we come upon an accident? Would we be in an accident? Would we even make it to the Gulf Shore?

At that moment it didn’t matter how much I planned or how careful I was. Our fate hung in the air like a giant question mark.  But as quickly as it sailed, the mattress lost its will to fly and plopped onto the road like a wet sponge. It didn’t bounce, it didn’t move and it gave me just enough room to slide around it.

I swung back from the shoulder and saw the semi follow my lead.  I punched the gas and passed the truck for the lady finally slowed.  She was still on the phone, but now in a complete panic.  Her tit-for-tat move lost her a brand new mattress, which was now wrecking havoc in the middle of the interstate.  I wanted to say something, but there’s nothing to say at eighty miles an hour. It was best to get past and move onto Memphis.

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