When road-rage nuts come loose

[Warning: Unladylike language ahead!]

citystreet

© Michele Piacquadio

The driver in the Cadillac CTS apparently felt entitled to remove my right front fender. At least, that’s how I felt about her cutting in front of me, right behind the car I let in, when she had had a quarter-mile to merge to the left.

I laid on the horn long and loud. Behind rolled-up windows, I called her an idiot. Then I called her a rude, f-cking idiot, mouthing the words straight ahead so she could see them on the fat chance that she ever checked her mirrors. I wanted her to know she had done something dumb. To me, she was only another self-centered, oblivious Real Driver of South Orange County. A half-mile later, I turned into the parking lot at my destination. The Cadillac went straight – or so I thought.

When I got back to my car, there was a note under a windshield wiper, a page ripped out of a pocket-size spiral-bound pad. The irregular handwriting said:

“You drive like shit.

“I bet you do The Zipper.

“I bet you need a hug.”

Three sentences, each one a little cooler. Good. I felt glad to be of therapeutic service. It was plenty creepy, though, to think that the driver was nutty enough to circle back, come into the parking lot, find my car among about 200 others, scrawl a note and scurry to tuck it under the windshield wiper. Was she waiting in the lot for me? I didn’t hang around to find out.

The note was two-thirds untrue. I’m pretty sure I don’t drive like shit. I’ve had one long balletic slide on black ice into a snow bank, got rear-ended once in a freeway traffic jam, and got stopped by a cop once for a burned-out license-plate light. That’s it for mishaps. I never do The Zipper; I abhor carnival rides (though the Cars ride at Disneyland is pretty neat). I can always use a hug – but not from that driver.

How weird that my angry reaction to her aggression set her off. Don’t aggressive drivers expect anger in return?

No. Any expression of irritation can make an angry driver angrier, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. I had pissed her off enough to want to find my car and leave me a note.

The prevention: Let the driver have her way. “Use your horn rarely, if ever,” the AAA says. “If another driver seems eager to get in front of you, say ‘Be my guest.’ When you respond this way, after a while ‘be my guest’ becomes your automatic response and you won’t be as offended by other drivers’ rudeness.”

The AAA offers other tips, too, in its brochure “Road Rage: How to Avoid Aggressive Driving.” Above all, “Whatever their reason, it has nothing to do with you. Stay cool and don’t take other drivers’ actions personally.” I figured the driver was just another habitually rude South Orange County driver, but I had toyed with her – and her note made me realize that I had played with fire.

It isn’t hard to let an aggressive driver get away with it. It’s hard for an aggressive person to take on someone who doesn’t react. I learned a lesson today about reacting: We never know what’s happening in the other driver’s head.

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