Thursday, April 11, 2013
I'm a ... What?
On Sunday afternoon I was driving home on Route 202, a narrow state road that curves through the trees and winds around a reservoir.
I was trundling along, minding my own business, when I suddenly noticed bright headlights flashing in my rear-view mirror. I took a closer look and saw a large black SUV filling up the mirror. The car had come out of nowhere, and now was tailgating me, close enough so the headlights were distracting me in my mirror.
I admit I am a slow driver. I try to drive about 5 mph over the speed limit -- which in modern-day American marks me as a slowpoke. Sometimes when it's dark or rainy I can (horrors!) even dip below the speed limit. So I glanced at my speedometer. I was doing 45 mph. What was the speed limit on this section of 202 anyway? To be honest, I wasn't sure.
So, between quick glances up into my mirror to see if this guy was going to rear-end me, I looked for the next speed-limit sign. There it was: 40 mph.
I was doing 5 mph over the speed limit.
I couldn't help but pay attention to the guy behind me, as his lights bounced and wavered in my rear-view mirror, and the big black grille of the SUV looked like it might bump into me at any moment. He was close enough so I could see that the driver was a middle age guy, light brown hair, balding. He had the swollen face of a guy maybe 40 or 50 pounds overweight. Beside him was a woman. And I could see a third person in the car, in their backseat. It looked like a child, but I didn't take my eyes off the road in front of me long enough to ascertain whether the kid was a boy or a girl.
The guy kept on my tail. When we went around a fairly sharp curve, he dropped back a little. I assume that's because I drive a fairly responsive, somewhat sporty sedan than corners pretty well, while he's in a big oversized SUV that leans and wavers when it takes the curves. On the next straightaway he was right back on my rear end, between one and two car lengths behind me. Sitting up high. Was he glowering at me, or was I just imagining it? I checked my speed again. Steady at 45 mph. I spied another speed limit sign. Still 40 mph.
We traveled like this for three or four miles -- maybe five minutes. I was tempted to speed up -- after all, that's clearly what my tailgater wanted me to do, as (in his mind) I had the audacity to slow him down. But I resisted. I told myself that I shouldn't let this guy pressure me into going faster than I felt was safe.
I was also tempted to slow down, just to annoy the guy as much as he was annoying me. But I resisted that temptation as well. I needed to be mature about this, didn't want to stoop to his level.
Finally we got to a red light at a T intersection. I was turning left, and came to a stop. He pulled out to my right, halfway onto the shoulder of the road, slowed down and made the right hand turn. He didn't stop, as required by law; he rolled through the red light. As he did, I glanced over at him. I'm sure I must have had a disapproving look on my face. How could I not? But I didn't say anything; didn't make any gesture; didn't have any obvious look on my face.
He gave me an angry stare and said something. Our windows were closed, so I couldn't hear it. But it didn't take a professional lip reader to discern the epithet he threw my way. "Asshole!" is what he said.
For a millisecond my reaction was confusion. Was I an "asshole" for obeying the speed limit? For getting in his way? Then I wondered what message he was sending to his wife and child -- tailgating a guy who was going over the speed limit, obviously getting upset, and then calling the other driver an "asshole."
Still stopped at the red light, I looked at the back of his car, turning the corner. He was basically gone at this point, heading north, getting ready to harass somebody else. Still, I couldn't help myself. I gave him the finger.