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On Target, Mad Freeway Drivers and Road Rage

31 Oct

Around daybreak, as I’m turning onto the 605 freeway, my back end is struck by an angry motorist’s travel mug.  The sound, as loud as any blowout, startles me.  I’m supposed to take my grandmother, my yia yia, to an early doctor’s appointment.  She wants me at her home at the crack of dawn as proof she won’t be late.  Apparently my blinker wasn’t enough warning for the driver behind me that I was coming over into the lane.

In California a flashing taillight is no yield sign.  It signals the need to speed up before that poor sucker who is abiding by the traffic rules gets to edge in front.  A rattling old construction truck has swung into the other lane.  I imagine the driver is cursing at me.  But I have on my favorite radio station, KROQ, and I can’t hear over the alternative music.  Not getting the reaction he’s looking for, I’m cut off, faced with a dark puff of environmentally unfriendly smoke from his muffler.  That might cost him a hefty smog ticket if a cop was around, but of course, there isn’t.  No real damage is done to my car when I get out and inspect it, just a lot of beige liquid.  The badass must’ve used dairy creamer.

This is only one instance of a freeway driver behaving badly.  A former student of mine once saw a man on the 91 freeway become so enraged at the bumper to bumper traffic that he decided to pull a baseball bat out from his trunk and bash in the car windows of a fine looking Jaguar in front of him.  Given the slow crawl, it didn’t take long before he was caught a couple exits later.  There were, after all, plenty of eye witnesses.  The local nightly news report countless stories about drivers being pulled out of their cars and beaten.  Many have been shot and killed.

Much later after the incident on the 605, I find myself on the 215.  Ironically, my car is headed for Target when I’m accosted by a man in a Mercedes SUV.  He’s furious I’ve cut him off and for all I know, maybe I have.  Like so many other potential customers of that super store, I’m mentally racking up all the items from all the different departments I need to pick up, and I’m probably not paying enough attention to the road in front of me.  This driver takes it a step further than cursing, airborne travel mugs and spilled coffee creamer.  He follows me off the freeway and stalks me all the way through the parking lot.

I don’t realize this because he uses another exit and circles back.  I’m retrieving a shopping cart when the mad driver confronts me.  He calls me names against my sex.  He calls me names against my color.  The verbal shouts become real physical threats with every step closer I take toward the entrance of the store.  He wants to hurt me, he says, really hurt me, for what I’ve just done to him.  To other customers in the lot, it must sound like an impassioned lover’s spat because nobody does anything to help.  They just stand around clinging to their shopping bags and stare, shocked by the scene.  Inside the store, as the maniac driver is keying my passenger’s side door, I call 911.

The cop who takes my report says I’m lucky I got away with just a scratch along the side of my door.  He says it was a good thing I got out of my car and went on foot.  He has been called out to minor traffic confrontations that have turned into deadly accidents – all twisted steel and bloody body parts.  Road rage, the cop says as matter-of-factly as any shrink, typically brings out the psychoses in a person.  The California Highway Patrol, the ones I’m always checking for with dread in my rear view mirror, the ones I complain are never around when needed, now escort me like I’m the only live member in a funeral procession out of the city and to the exit that will take me safely up the highway to my home in the mountains.

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  1. Lenore

    November 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    That must’ve been so scary for you! It’s too bad they didn’t catch the guy. It’s typical that everybody just stood around and watched. Not many people ever think to actually help someone in trouble.

     
  2. Fiona

    November 1, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    What a terrible experience to go through. I have an epal who lives in LA and she tells me the smog is so bad she (and other workers) have every second Friday off, to cut the traffic on the roads. I know that isn’t really connected to what you’ve written about, but the pollution & heat can’t help. I had no idea.

    Question: when you publish your memoir(?) will you include photos, so the reader has an idea of who you are writing about, or do you prefer the reader to use their imagination, is that too personal?

    Thanks,
    Fi

     
    • Paula

      November 2, 2010 at 12:53 pm

      That’s not off the subject. People overheat out here on jammed So Cal freeways in more ways than one. It’s not pretty.

      Yes, I plan to post pictures of me and my father here and also on Amazon when Etruscan comes up with the cover of my memoir.

       
      • Mary Ann

        November 2, 2010 at 3:21 pm

        I love the line about the guy must have used creamer in his coffee!!! :)

         
        • Paula

          November 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm

          Thanks, as always, for finding humor in my deep emotional and psychological pain. I appreciate you reading!

           
          • I Love Lucy Fan

            November 4, 2010 at 9:15 am

            I loved the line about the creamer too! You strike the right balance between seriousness and humor. Keep writing the blog. You have a fan in me.

             
  3. Miles

    November 4, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    I’m sorry you had to endure being harassed by a volatile individual with such serious psychological issues. Perhaps this piece will serve as a cautionary tale for women drivers to be extra careful when out on the roads.

     
  4. Anonymous

    November 11, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Paula/anyone – can you please explain the reference to using creamer in his coffee? this doesn’t translate to this European reader.

    Thanks,
    Fiona

     
    • Paula

      November 13, 2010 at 9:18 am

      Hi, Fiona,

      Well, a lot of manly men, whatever that means, drink black coffee (as do I – Starbucks). So the fact the crazy driver “creamed me” which is a lighter hearted American saying for hitting someone, with dairy creamer, says a lot about the little girl that threw his coffee mug at my car.

       
  5. Marcus V.

    November 25, 2010 at 5:32 am

    I live in the city and even in the short amount of time I commute I’ve come across drivers who pose trouble for me and others on the streets. You strike the right balance between humor and seriousness. I haven’t read any writer like you before. Keep up the posts!

     
  6. Leticia

    December 2, 2010 at 4:19 am

    Great blog! As an LA driver I sooo know what you mean!

     
  7. Surfer

    December 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I have been surfing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. Road rage is so serious out here in
    LA. Keep up the cool stuff.

     
  8. Naoko Kato

    December 20, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Now I know why blood pressure is not as high as when I used to live in So. Cal. I can’t imagine myself living there again because of those crazy drivers on the road.

     
  9. Pete

    January 31, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Brilliant blog posting. I found your post very interesting, I think you are a brilliant writer. I added your blog to my bookmarks and will return in the future.

     
    • Paula

      January 31, 2011 at 8:26 pm

      Personally, I don’t believe in the word brilliant, but I appreciate you reading my blog.