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.


Janette said...

I simply pull off the road and let these people pass me. Seems like a "I lett you win." Move- but there is enough road rage out there for me to become preventive. I like being alive.

Juhli said...

Living in a big city this isn't usually a problem because there are ways for the person to get around. However, I was driving Tuesday on a very curvy two lane highway in rural NH where speed limits vary between 55 and 20 depending on the turns and farmland vs villages. I had to pull over twice to let people zoom past and I was never driving less than the speed limit. I have to remind myself that I have no control over or ability to influence their behavior and just let stay safe myself. It is very annoying though.

DJan said...

I too will pull over and let somebody like this pass me. He's not living a happy life, is he? You did the right thing, including giving him a one-fingered salute. :-)

Anonymous said...

I would be too afraid of road rage to give him the finger.

Mac n' Janet said...

Good for you! I have to admit that when someone tailgates me I slow down to a crawl and if I'm on a 4 lane I get next to another car so they can't pass.

Linda Myers said...

I usually pull over. My husband usually slows down.

I'd rather have a peaceful experience on the road than a contest.

schmidleysscribblins, said...

I hate drivers like that, but its best to leave them alone. I had a fellow follow me (he tailgated me) home one day, and yell at me, as I got out of my car. He then sped off. I called the police, but they could do nothing.

After that incident, I always tell David to pull over and let them pass. Some of them carry concealed weapons in their glove compartments. Dianne

Joanne Noragon said...

If I were at 45, I'd stay there. If I was 40, I'd stay there. But I probably would have been at 50 or so, and he still would not have been happy. I'm real big on pulling over, at my convenience, and not too big on the finger. I often have a grandchild in the car. I love to remark calmly, "That man is a really bad driver."

Woman Seeking Center said...

So much anger and angst played out on the roadways now.

I often wonder if it's because, like the internet, there's a large degree of anonimity and a small degree of consequence for rude/dangerous behaviors?

I fondly remember when driving was enjoyable at best, uneventful at worst....

I recall weekend drives to get ice cream and then scoot along unknown roadways afterwards to enjoy the sights, sounds, warmth of a summer afternoon or evening.

Way too much anger and angst in these times (on roads and elsewhere) and way too little inclination to curb it most of the time.....

I'm a pull-over-rather-have-it-ahead-of-me too (and I can see the flip off being hard to resist, lol)


MerCyn said...

I vote for the pull over and let him pass action, but if my husband is driving he will slow down to piss him off. I worry about the result being a bad road rage scene.

Stephen Hayes said...

I'd have given him the finger much earlier. I have a bumper sticker that reads: I brake for no apparent reason. When someone gets too close I tap my brakes erratically and they drop far behind. I do get a lot of fingers aimed at me.

Cathy said...

LOL - I thought you were building up to a confrontation - so let out a chuckle when the finger waving started.
We have those dimwits down here as well - makes no difference if it's city or country roads, they want to be in front and make it clear in no uncertain ways. I tend to do the 'touch the brake light thingy' as well - keeps them on their toes, they do pull back a bit and gives my eyes a breather from their headlights glaring into the rear vision mirror.
Take care

June said...

I feel your pain. People who seem to want to push their cars right up my . . . tailpipe . . . abound. The worst was, one day a few years ago, when a big, B-I-G commercial dumptruck had his truck so close that the grille and his truck number, 3102, were all I could see in my mirror.
That was truly frightening.

Olga said...

My husband drives at the +5 level and pulls off if someone is behind him like that. I drive at the speed limit because I never, ever got away with speeding. I have had me share of looking at the finger. I just figure some people have way more interesting places to be than I do. I like to smile and wave back.

Kay Dennison said...

My mission, since I've become older, is that I reach my destination and I don't worry about how fast I get there. A friend has this bumper sticker: I might be slow but I'm ahead of you. I like that.

Bottom line: we all own the road.

Anonymous said...

Irritating as tailgaters can be, I follow the "pull over" philosophy when possible. I mentally allow as how the other driver may be rushing a child to a hospital; although, to my knowledge, only once has that been the case.
Cop Car
P.S. "For a millisecond my reaction was confusion. Was I an "asshole" for obeying the speed limit?" In what universe is driving 5 miles/hour above the speed limit considered obeying the speed limit? I haven't believed that since about year 5 of my own driving. I thought it was a youthful error.

Anonymous said...

Great job! I think driving in your normal fashion and saving the venting for when he couldn't see it was the best course of action.

I tend to stick with the '5 miles or less over the limit' myself and others can just go around. If they're really bad I do pull over. The main goal is to stay alive.

jul said...

That sounds like the sort of person who would shout the same thing to a driver tailagting him!! Some peop are never happy....not a good way to live. I have found if you wave hi and send this Type a big smile they get very confused......they cant figure out what just happened! Love doing that

Anonymous said...

You were absolutely right to drive within the speed limit and not be bullied by the other driver. I feel bad for his wife and child. This happens to me a lot since I live in L.A. But I would rather not be the recipient of a speeding ticket (and the raise in insurance rates and having to attend traffic school for it), just to let some high strung, angry bully have his way. This also happens when I'm in the carpool lane - I've noticed that other drivers think the speed limit goes up there. We need more drivers like you on the road!

Matt Starvelous said...

George Carlin set the definitions for drivers: Slower than me, you're a moron. Faster than me, you're a maniac.