Driving home from work last night, I stopped at the last stop light before I turn into my neighborhood. A few seconds later, glancing in my rear view mirror, I noticed a car pull up behind me. A newer Chevy Malibu. White. And I happened to notice that there was a girl/woman driving the Chevy Malibu. And I also noticed that she was wearing expensive-looking sunglasses, that she had an unnatural but not cheap-looking tan, and that her brunette hair was up in a sassy ponytail. But more than any of this, I noticed her mouth, more specifically her lips, and even more specifically the word those lips appeared to be articulating.
Let me pause for a moment to more fully set the scene. The light was red. Along this stretch, there are two lanes of traffic going in each direction. At this intersection, there are left turn lanes, but no right turn lanes. I was in the far right lane, which was the only natural place to be, given that my next step after going through this intersection would be to turn right into my neighborhood. It is my understanding that, under such circumstances, if one is so inclined, one may turn right on red, provided there is no oncoming traffic. I am not aware of any law suggesting that one must turn right, however.
So here’s this girl, with these shiny, lip-glossed lips, and while I am no expert in lip reading, I am 99.9% certain that the word she was mouthing was “asshole.” In fact, I may be more than 99.9% sure, because she really took her time with it, breaking it into two distinct parts, and really accentuating both parts: “ASS [brief pause for emphasis] HOLE.” And she even repeated it, just to be sure. “ASS…HOLE.”
It took me a few seconds to process. At first I thought, “wow, she must really not like the DJ on the radio station she is listening to.” I next thought, “maybe she has one of those bluetooth thingies, and she is chewing out her boyfriend. Sucks to be that guy.” But it was the stare that ultimately gave her away. The stare and her body language. Because she wasn’t staring at her radio, and she wasn’t staring at her phone, and there was no sign of any bluetooth thingie anyway. It took me a second, but even through the sunglasses, and even just looking in my mirror, it quickly became apparent that she was looking at and talking to me.
Having done nothing wrong, and just to be sure, I did that universal “who me?” or “are you talking to me?” gesture where you take your open palm and touch it to your chest. “Yes” she nodded in confirmation. Which I responded to with the universal “raised eyebrow double shoulder shrug” indicating a “for what?” or “why?” response. Picking up on the hand signal theme, she then proceeded to use some hand signals of her own.
The thing that really bothered me was not even so much what she was doing, but how she was doing it. This wasn’t the cool, tough, flipping of the bird, where the middle finger is extended, and the ring and pointer finger are half folded down, giving the gesture a strong, authoritative feel. This was both hands, all but the middle finger folded all the way down, middle, French-manicured fingers fully and weakly extended, as she proceeded to beat them against her steering wheel, simultaneously shouting either “vacuum, vacuum, vacuum” (I told you I was no good at lip reading) or very much not “vacuum, vacuum, vacuum.” She didn’t look mean or threatening, just silly, like a cross between a chubby, spoiled toddler throwing a tantrum and a Malibu Barbie gone to seed having a hissy fit because Honey Boo-Boo was a rerun.
I weighed my options. As I waited, I continued to keep full eye contact with her in the mirror. She didn’t seem to like this very much, which isn’t surprising (I will explain more why I think this is in a moment). Having apparently already used her best moves, she broke eye contact, and looked out her side window until the light turned green. The whole episode couldn’t have lasted longer than, what? 30 seconds? A minute? Five minutes? It felt much longer, probably for both of us.
As the light turned green, I proceeded through the intersection. Only then did I see that her blinker was on, and that she was turning right. My offense, as near as I can tell, was to obey all traffic rules by driving the speed limit, stopping for stoplights, and having the audacity to not turn right on red in a non-turn lane, thus forcing her to wait the entire length of the light before doing so, even though I had no obligation to turn, no obligation to occupy a different lane on the off chance someone wanting to turn right on red appeared at this intersection, and no way of knowing that she apparently had some urgent need to turn right as quickly as possible.
What is wrong with people? You know me, and my initial impulse is to blame technology. You laugh, but I think there is some truth in this. We are forgetting how to have real human interaction. We get used to saying whatever we want, doing whatever we want, whenever we want, from the safe and anonymous confines of our electronic devices. This was the real world equivalent of some scathing anonymous blog comment or social media post. People forget there is a real person on the other end of those exchanges. I think this girl was pissed that she couldn’t turn right right away, and so automatically gave in to the impulse to have this offensive, immature, outrageous response, with no thought of the consequences.
But what are the potential consequences? From me, probably nothing. Although it would have been fun to turn on my hazard lights and just sit there. Throw my car in reverse and “accidentally” smash up her front bumper. Turn right, follow her to Starbucks or the tanning salon or the mall or wherever the hell she was in such a hurry to get to and ask her “excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice how you appeared to want to express to me that, based on having looked at the back of my head for 5 seconds, you have come to the irrefutable conclusion that I am an ‘asshole’ who you also seem to feel rather adamantly needs to go have sex with himself. I was wondering if you could please tell me what I did wrong so I can avoid such interactions going forward.”
But that’s me. How does she know I am not an ax murderer, or an escaped crazy person, or a stressed out, overworked suburbanite with anger management issues and a baseball bat in my trunk?
I know there was road rage before there were computers. People piss me off all the time, driving and otherwise. But you can’t just react however you want. If we all freaked out and flipped people off every time they did something we found irksome, then where would we be? Anarchy! I don’t know where this girl was going or what her circumstances are, but the same is true for her of me. I just wanted to go home. I just wanted to get there as safely and quickly as possible. It didn’t upset me, not really, and thank goodness I have this anonymous blog to vent to. But I think we should think. I think we should be kind. I think we should give people the benefit of the doubt. I think we just need to slow down and take a breath and realize we are all in this together.