Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Road Rage part 1: Three cars, three near-misses

News Item: Miami has rudest drivers, Portland has fewest cases of road rage, Chicago ranks number 7 in annual list.
Two places I would consider moving to without ever having visited--Miami and Portland--are at opposite spectrums when it comes to anger on the roads. Neither city has a nasty winter, yet they are opposites. Miami I'd move to for the heat, the sun, the beaches, the bikinis, the hurricanes; Portland for the environment and environmentalists, the mountains, the cool weather and cool kids, the rain and the manic depression. Opposites--like my moods in any given week, or day, or hour.

This road rage survey, though, has got me thinking. Of how Chicago compares to some places I'd like to move to. Of my own driving experiences. Of the times I've come close to dying. They're connected.

I love to travel. And I love to drive. However, when I travel, I hate to drive. But still. I've done some adventurous stuff on my travels--white water rafting with non-English speaking guides, hiking up mountains here and there, cycling on Beijing streets. But I'd say the times I've come closest to death all happened here in Chicago, while driving, while antagonizing or being antagonized by other drivers.

These must have been significant events because I remember details clearly. Usually I have a hard time remembering who I talked to and what we said 10 minutes ago. So, when something stands out, there must be a reason.

Here are three near-misses, all while driving different cars at different points in my life:

Car 1: 1980 Buick Regal
Age: 16

What happened: I had probably been driving for a month. So, of course, I sucked. Heading east on Addison, over the Kennedy expressway, I quickly (and without really checked) switched lanes to avoid getting stuck behind some people turning left. I heard screeching brakes, a blaring horn, and someone yelling. Oops. Thankfully he stopped in time. However, he didn't stop there.

The other driver gunned his engine, cut around me, and slammed his brakes, cutting me off and stopping perpendicular to sidewalk right in front of me. Sort of like a cop stopping a suspect. The other driver jumped out of his car and came running at me, screaming his head off. With cars piling up behind me, I had nowhere to go.

Here's the thing: The guy was probably 5-5, maybe 5-6, 150 pounds, balding, wearing glasses and a shirt and tie. Red in the face, about to have a heart attack, giving me hell for cutting him off. I've never been a big guy, or a fighter, but I probably could've kicked his ass. Then again, in his state, he looked pretty violent and plenty scary. I rolled up my window and just sat there, hoping everyone else would at least serve as witnesses. Eventually, because there was enough honking and I guess because I ignored him long enough, he jumped in his car and screeched off.

Other than the memory of this event, what I took from this experience was this: always use your turn signal. Also: Ignore maniacs and eventually they'll go away. This is what I now recommend to anyone complaining about our current president. Patience, friends.

Car 2: 1995 Honda Civic VX
Age: 29

What happened: You know, long before the hybrids came out, there was this Civic. I was pretty fanatical about it when I first got it, so this I remember: Several times, I got more than 50 miles to a gallon. This was highway driving, it wasn't that great in the city, but seriously, I don't see what's so great about the current hybrids getting 40, 50 miles to a gallon when my Civic was getting that in the mid-90s.

Whatever. When I moved to Japan, I kept my trusty Civic in my parents' garage. When I returned, I was almost a new driver again. I kept wanting to drive on the wrong side of the road. No, that's a lie, because I only drove once in two years in Japan. But I guess I did a lot of cycling on the streets there, so maybe I did get used to going the opposite direction.

In any case. One time I was turning right onto Clark, waiting for a space in traffic, when a taxi behind me decided to swerve around me and make the turn ahead of me. He did it very maliciously, angrily. And so it pissed me off. I gunned my trusty VX engine, cutting him off and speeding south towards Peterson. Clark is wide on this stretch, so the taxi driver decided to pass me on the right. I cut him off before he had a chance, so he bounced into the left lane, tried passing, and I cut him off again. Eventually we were both stopped, side-by-side, screaming, him about me being a complete asshole and me about him going back to his country where he could drive however the hell he wanted because here we don't cut people off.

I could describe him in detail. But I won't. I'm a bit embarrassed about this situation and I'd like to think I wouldn't do it again. My evidence is that I haven't done anything like it since.

Car 3: 2004 Toyota Corolla
Age: 36

Whatever: Returning from a party one recent Saturday at about 10 p.m. (yeah, I can be that lame), I realized some guy was tailgating me. This was on Devon around Harlem, heading east. I don't think I did anything to him, but anything's possible I suppose. I sped up a bit. He sped up. I slowed way the hell down. He stayed right there on my bumper. So I did what I thought was most proper: I signaled, pulled over into the parking lane, and let him pass. When he was about a half-a-block ahead of me, I pulled back into traffic, expecting to continue on my merry way. I figured he just wanted to pass me, so this would make him happy. Was he happy, though?

Nope. As soon as I was driving again, he slammed on his brakes. In the middle of the road. I was still well back of him, but I slowed down, looking for escape routes. He pulled over, did exactly what I had just done, so I passed him and kept driving. He pulled back into traffic and once again got up right behind me and stayed there, mere inches from my bumper, gunning his engine and slamming on his brakes, trying to intimidate me to do ... something. I went into ignore mode. I drove the speed limit. I drove 5 over the limit. When the road became two lanes, other drivers passed me on the left. My friend stayed right behind me.

At one red light, I glanced in my rearview mirror. He was yelling, wagging his finger at me. Youngish guy, hair buzzed, that's about the best way I could describe him, although I would say he definitely looked Polish.

I had a ways to go, but I figured if he was still behind me when I got to my neighborhood, I'd just pull up to the local police station. We could go from there. Eventually, though, at Kedzie, he unexpectedly turned left, and sped off.

Lesson learned: None.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This is what I now recommend to anyone complaining about our current president."

this is good, even from 7/30/09 milwaukee

10:21 AM  

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