I’m never one to participate in road rage. If someone cuts me off, I let him or her pass without a honk or gesture. It doesn’t make sense to get hyperactive if to engage may bring about a far worse fate. On the nightly news and the stories we tell, we spin stories where a simple road violation brought about a fracas. Nowadays who knows what a person in another car might do?
For a time I lived in downtown Minneapolis, and the only thing that made the tiny apartment less appealing was the parking. There wasn’t any. On a good night I could find a spot three blocks away. On most nights it was further down the road. Then there was one wintry night…
Already, I plowed through a twenty-minute search and found no street parking. But since my car was the size of a golf cart, I looked for a sliver, any tiny fit, which I finally did.
As I backed into the spot, I knew it was going to be tight. My back bumper was going to touch the car behind me, but it would be okay. If you lived downtown, you bumped into parked cars all the time. The trick was to gently tap and not rip off the front grill.
So I eased in and bumped the car. I then put my car into first gear and BAM!!! My car rocked forward.
I looked into the rear-view mirror. Dashboard Plastic Jesus! There were people in the car behind me.
I froze. I didn’t know what to do. On any other night, I would flee, but this was no normal night. I had no other place to go. I looked back into the rear-view mirror. I hit them. They hit me. Détente.
I gently put my car into reverse to flush my car with the curb. I planned on easing back slowly, but in a heightened state I popped the car again.
BAM!!! The car rocked me forward.
I quickly I slipped my car into park and took a deep breath.
What do you do when you hit someone… twice?
I leaned into the rear-view mirror to get a better look. It looked like a man and a woman. Shadows were all I could see. If they wanted to retaliate, why didn’t they jump out of their car and come after me? No, they were waiting. It was up to me to make the first move.
I gently opened the door and eased my body out with hands in the air. I slowly brought my hands to my chest, physically indicating that I meant no harm and, yes, I was an idiot. I then waited for a response.
I remained standing next to my car not knowing what to do. I knew I couldn’t leave without a verbal confirmation that everything was fine. So I eased towards the car until I reached the driver’s side window. I dropped down to the guy’s level and said: “Sorry I hit your car… twice.” I then took a deep breath and asked: “Are we cool?”
The guy didn’t say anything nor did he or the woman look at me. Instead, they remained frozen, staring dead ahead like mannequins waiting for the next crash test.
Had I violated some roadside etiquette? Was I making a bad situation worse? I didn’t know. I knew I needed a response. So I leaned further to get eye contact with the driver. I leaned so far I ended up on the front hood of his car. I then looked directly into his eyes and shouted: “Are you deaf or are we cool?”
The guy did not respond. Instead he flipped on his windshield wipers that smacked my nose.
The pain was instantaneous as tears poured from my eyes. Fury exploded inside of me and I started to pound on the windshield, screaming: “Big man with the wiper blades. Why don’t you fight your own fight?”
The driver instead jerked his car into drive and reverse to dislodge his car.
I held for dear life on for I knew I was now riding a wild mustang that I would have to break or die trying…
Actually, the moment didn’t turn into a motorized rodeo. Instead, the driver gave a slight nod that everything was cool. I then stepped back and walked away.
In that moment I think we frightened each other. Who knows what would have happened if one of us had lost our cool?
That night changed me. I started to drive and park with a little more care but you can only do so much in the middle of January. With snow and ice and cars and more snow it was only a matter of time…
The sun had long set by the time I got off work, but there was still enough dim light for me to notice my front left tire completely flat.
I quickly pulled out my doughnut (spare tire), jacked up my car and switched tires. It was late and I was tired. Fixing the flat tire could wait until tomorrow. So I started to drive home.
It only took four blocks for my doughnut to turn into a pancake.
I threw my car into park and tried to think. There was no way I could drive home with a flat front tire. Behind me was a tire shop a mile away. I had no other options. I put my car in drive and slowly turned the wheels.
For those of you who never driven with a front, flat tire don’t. You can only go about five miles-an-hour as any bump reverberates all the way into your back molars.
I tried to keep my car on the road, but motorists came up and honked for me to get out of the way, which I did. I pulled over to let them pass; then eased my car back onto the road only to have another motorist force me to the curb.
With fraught nerves and white knuckles I crept through the intolerable night until I came to an intersection and saw the blinking yellow sign of a fully inflated tire. I took my foot off the brake, but a car from behind pulled in front and blocked my path to the store.
Sweet Madonna, what did I do?
A glace, a word, even something as driving too slow is enough to set off another person. The world is so tight, so tight with rage, so tightly wound. Keep the peace pipe and hand me the loaded gun. This lane is my lane. And before those lanes, our forefathers blazed a trail with a bible in one hand and a Winchester in the other. Few conflicts were ever resolved by federal mediators at an airport Holiday Inn. They ended with shootouts in dusty saloons and grassy knolls. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that after they blazed a path through the wide open prairie, we would drive in with our Ford Mustangs, Jeep Cherokees, Dodge Dakotas and start to cannibalize each other. Nowadays it’s so touch and go. Who knows what the person in the next car may do?
I looked into my rear-view mirror for a possible escape, but where would I go? I had a flat front tire. The car in front of me held all the cards. My heart began to pound. Sharp gasps refused to let me breathe.
The car door opened, then a pause…
For the first time in my life I felt genuine terror. For the first time I wished I had a loaded gun.
I glanced back into my rear-view mirror for any help, but the mirror held no headlights.
I quickly looked back to the car and saw a pair of long legs stretch out and sway towards to me. It was a woman and this woman was beautiful. She was so beautiful all I could think was I’m about to get pummeled by a runway model.
I scanned one last time for a weapon in my car, but all I had was a plastic ice-scrapper.
It was over. There was nothing left to do. So I did my best. I checked my hair, tested my breath and rolled down the window as the woman approached.
“Do you need help?”
“Do you need any help?”
She pointed to the flat tire.
It never dawned on me. Semi-stranded motorist. Good Samaritan. How far had I dropped? How far had I removed myself from my fellow commuter where the simple act of lending a hand wasn’t even an option?
The woman dropped to my passenger window and asked once more.
“Tire flat,” I stuttered. Then pointing to the blinking tire I said: “Good!”
The woman swung around. “Oh,” she replied. She then smiled and walked back to her car. But before she dipped into her seat, I leaned my head out the window and shouted: “Thank you!”
A crappy evening ended with a beautiful moment. And I’m not talking about the woman being beautiful. I’m talking about a fellow traveler reaching out to help another. Even though I was going to spend the rest of the evening sitting on a hard, plastic chair in a stuffy lobby, it was going to be a wonderful night. A moment like this might even spread into the next day. I could even help a stranded motorist on my way to work if my car still retained four fully inflated tires.