Road Rage? Or Just Rage?

Tow Truck 3

Sitting behind the wheel in the afternoon commute, I stifled my impatience.  Mourning the blue sky and balmy temperatures that I’d missed in my windowless office, I opened the sun roof.  Stop it, I said to myself, mentally checking off my many blessings.  You have a good job, you’ve survived cancer, and your loved ones are safe in a world where twelve people were killed by a madman a few miles away.

I braked for a stoplight and opened the windows.  As I looked up at the heavy-duty tow truck in front of me, I saw something fall from the passenger side.  My instinct was to call out, “Hey, you dropped something.”  But before I could say anything, a circular silver CD came sailing out the window, hovering in the air like a Frisbee before falling near my fender.

The light changed, and the line of cars started its slow crawl across a busy intersection.  I put both hands on the wheel and focused.  As we accelerated, the man on the passenger side of the tow truck put his hand out the window and, with a flick of the wrist, sailed a CD backward into my path.

I blew my horn.  “What the heck?”

One after another, the CDs came flying out the window, the flicking wrist faster now.

I blew my horn again, angry at the litter, angry at the careless disregard for the drivers behind him, angry at myself for being so incensed.

The shower of CDs stopped momentarily.  I got out my cell phone and asked Siri to note the license plate number.

As I put the phone down, we crossed a bridge over a tiny stream.  The hand appeared out the window again and flung a stack of CDs into the trickling water below.

I vowed to look up the company on the Web when I got home as the tow truck began to slow down.  As it turned into a long driveway, I noted the company phone number on the side of the truck.

At the next light, I put in my ear-bud, picked up my phone, and dialed the number, scarcely stopping to consider whether the company owned a fleet of trucks or just this one.  But I was so angry I didn’t stop to think that perhaps the men in the truck might answer the phone.

But they did not.  A receptionist listened to my account of the incident and asked for my name and number.  When I refused, she put me on hold and then connected me with the owner, who first denied having a truck like the one I described.  But when I told him I had the license number and that I planned to file a police report, he took the license number and told me he would address the driver.

I breathed and told myself that it wasn’t good to have road rage.  I ended the call and focused on the country road ahead of me, my favorite part of the drive home, where I’ve twice seen double rainbows.

When I got home, I ranted to my husband, who told me I could file a police report online.  I let it go and went for my evening walk, soothed by the carefree joy of our dog at the end of the leash.

Later that evening, I still couldn’t let it go.  I found the county police web site, but the nature of the incident was not among the categories.  I called the nonemergency number, which was answered by a lovely operator who was clearly an expert at managing irritated callers.

I apologized for reporting such a minor incident in a week when the DC area has demanded a lot from its police force.  She pointed out that what the truckers did was dangerous—that they could have punctured someone’s tire or caused a driver to swerve at the distraction.  She told me she could send an officer to my house, and I hesitated, not because I didn’t want to talk to an officer but because it suddenly seemed silly to be fuming when the police have far more serious concerns.

Apologizing again, I told her I didn’t mind talking to an officer but that I was certain this was not something they should be giving their attention to—not this week, maybe not in this lifetime.  She took my name, complimented me for having such specific information, and filed a report.  She said that I would probably get a call because I had such good information about a company that gets a lot of business from their office.  She told me that if such a thing happened again, I should call the police as it was happening.

Now, in the quiet calm of Saturday morning, I think about why I was so outraged.  And I realize that I was displacing my fury at the Navy Yard shooting and directing it to the careless disregard of the tow truck drivers.

That commute came at the end of a day when I had listened to teachers talk about how teens seem unmoved by the tragedy at the Navy Yard.  They said their students scarcely speak of it, and when they do, they speak from a safe distance—except for the two schools where a staff member and a student lost family members.

I don’t believe the teenagers I know are unmoved by violence.  I do believe many of them stifle their fear and displace their anger and some of them act out in violent ways that even they don’t understand.

We adults can’t seem to admit to ourselves that we are paralyzed to do anything to address the issues that face us because we’re so busy holding on to our own passions and beliefs.  I feel helpless.  And as I sat in my car behind those drivers, I wanted to do something to stop them.

And I want to do something to stop the madmen as well.  Perhaps I’ll start by voting in the midterm elections, not for the candidate whose views most closely align with my own, but for the person who seems most inclined to collaborate and cooperate and compromise in search of a better world.

Are those people out there?  I hope so.

Can you tell me a story of such a person?

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