Road Rage

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / Pre-Draft Limbo /
@ K. 2003 01 17


I had a dentist appointment: on E. 79th off Third. I bomb the lime-green VW Beetle down Central Park West, chug through the park on the 79th Street cross-over, slalom through the grid lock at 5th Avenue and put-put east on 79th. 79th Street is one of Manhattan’s four-lane east-west veins: actually six lanes: a lane for parking on the north side, two lanes for west bound traffic, two lanes for east-bound — that’s me — and one more for parking on the south side of the street. But of course it’s really only two lanes because every other car length somebody’s double parked. Oh well, it’s New York. You want to be in the greatest city, you gotta put up with a few inconveniences: dirt, pollution, a little corruption, a little crime … and a lot of double-parking. Further of course, that gives you the right to double park in an emergency. Hell, on Seventh Avenue, up in Harlem, up around Sherman’s rib joint, people triple park: at 3 AM!

Every once in a while there will be a break in the double parking three or four car lengths in length, and … uh oh, I heard the impatience in the hack’s foot on the accelerator in the yellow Checker cab behind me. Sure enough: he stockcar races into the gap, runs out of space before he’s past me: and he cuts me off. I see and hear what he’s doing. I let him. Hating the noise I’m already in, I even leave the horn alone. He tries it again on the car that had just been in front of me, now in front of him. Whoops, he doesn’t make it. Now he’s back behind me again. Had to cut off the car behind me to be there. Do dee do, we cross Madison Avenue, and there’s another little stretch of open right lane. Vroom! This time I toe ever so little more pressure on my own pedal and I’m right on the tail of the guy in front, and … yai! The cab cuts me off again anyway: I have to hit the brake not to hit him. I stand on the brake and stiff-arm the horn. Clearly, the feeble bleet of the bug didn’t register on the hack’s mensch-meter: VW drivers were sub-human to him.

We cross Lexington. The cab tries his little trick again and again he’s stymied. Back behind me where he belongs. I can hear his engine screaming his frustration, but he’s not at Indy. He’s not on the track by the dump by the river in Freeport; he’s on 79th Street: and goddammit, he’s not going to cut me off a third time. Only a block to go and I’m at my dentist’s anyway: where I’ll have to find a real parking space: next to the curb: no time for double parking when I’m helpless in the chair. I’ve got my eye on him in the rear view mirror. I see him and hear him. I feel his intention. Ready. Here he comes. Roar. He plunges into the open space to our right. Vroom. He speeds abreast of me, gaining like a madman. I touch the accelerator. I close the gap between me and the car ahead. I hate to tailgate. Even though I drive in Manhattan, I want a little bit of safety space: normally. Roar. Here he comes. He doesn’t care that there’s no space, he swings his fender right in front of me. Surely he hears that my revs cut off completely: engine suddenly quite. Surely he hears the more stridently that my horn too is silent this time. By this third time in so many minutes he surely must realize that I am the same little bug he’s already treated to his contempt. He’s making all the noise. I down shift to second. He swings in front of me. Roar. That’s my own roar: compared to the Checker, a sewing machine, but at full revs. I floor the pedal. I pop the clutch. The little Beetle surges forward. Crunch. Smash. Right into his driver side door. I hit him hard enough to buckle the metal: just ever so: right next to his own pig-flesh flank, the bastard. He must be shitting. I ease off. He lurches the rest of the way into the lane, straightens out: sort of: a little dizzy. Pop I hear his door panel pluck itself back out: like a crinkled can returning to round. I wasn’t sure that would happen, though it was my intention: not to have to owe him a lot of damages. I don’t ram cars everyday, so I was just guessing at the force needed. I guessed right. A lot of noise. A lot of terror. No real harm.

And here I am at my dentist’s. Lo and behold, there’s an instant actual space. I prepare to park: a double park position being the standard step one. The yellow Checker jams itself into an angled double park just ahead of me. The guy jumps out of the cab. Turns and reaches back under the seat. Comes up brandishing a tire iron. I cease my parking and lock eyes with the guy. My lip curls into a grim smile. I put all 142 pounds of me into the grimness, the malevolence of my smile. This guy’s got 15% of my bulk just in the forearm wielding the iron. He strides toward me. I lock him with the smile. He gets to my front bumper. I crank down the window and put my face right where he’ll come up on me.

The guy slows his walk. He lowers his tire iron. His step falters. He surges forward again, iron hanging limp at his side. He puts his face smack in front of mine. He’s breathing hard. My smile has the same lock as it’s had all along. “You …” he sputters. “You …

“You’ve got a bigger ego than I’ve got!”

He storms back to his cab. Sees that his door is scratched but not creamed. Throws his tire iron back under his seat, and gets in. I complete my parking maneuver.

Now, for a different kind of pain. Root canal.

Note: What I love remembering about the merciless smile I fixed him with as he got his tire iron relates to how I imagine what may have been going on in his mind. He’s gonna smash my skull in, in broad daylight, in front of dozens of witnesses: he thinks. But what if I’m smiling because I’ve got a .45 aimed right at his belly? What if I’m smiling because I have a Ben Hur castration scythe that will un-slash-man him as he arrives at my door for his stroke. What if James Bond has disguised himself in a Beetle instead of broadcast himself in a Lotus? The cabbie has got to know that he’s not James Bond: in his dreams. He’s a hack. Truly. His equipment accurately IDs him. What even if I’m really the pipsqueak I look but I’m suicidal: and have a TV camera radioed direct to my lawyer, to the police precinct. What if he’s about to be posted at the Post Office. He’s shown his weapon: like an amateur.

Should he think that I’ll believe that the weapon he’s showing is a fake? that he actually has a Berretta that he’s really very fast and deadly with?

No. I’m the unknown.

What actually would have happened was that he would have cleaved my skull and I would have died with a smile that proved to be a dud. But he doesn’t know that! Not for sure.

It’s poker. If the game counts, I can bluff with anybody.

I’ve looked death in the face many times. And so far, it’s always Death that’s chickened out.

Few days later: note.
2012 08 28 Now I’m 73, will be 74 in a couple of days. How’d that happen? Tuesday I was at the VA. A guy I recognized from dances here and there told us he was 76: “If I’d known I was gonna live this long I would have taken care of myself,” he said, heard it before, true enough.
Who’d have believe that the runt who would deliberately crunch a hack with a VW bug would be coming up hard on 74. Doctor told me yesterday I was healthy as a horse, strong as a bull.

I’ve already mentioned at, when I first arrived in the city full time, I loved to ride the subway. I’d pay my nickel, soon my dime, just to be aboard, in the crush, at rush hour: no purpose, no destination for pk, other than to be squeezed among the mass of men. I’ve also told (moved to an anyonymous blog) how by the time I was in the army, aged twenty-three and in uniform, that young women would rub up against me in the crowd. Soon enough I was rubbing up against them whether they’d rubbed first or not, my rubbing being gratefully accepted many times for the one time she went for my eyes with her polished nails. (She missed, so I don’t think she can have really been trying hard.)

I was still in high school, aged maybe fifteen, when I took my first long walks in the Apple: I’d taken the wrong subway and now had to get from way west of Harlem to way east in Harlem if I wanted to attend the bilingual Presbyterian Church service that had been my goal.

In college a friend and I walked from 120th Street to Battery Park and back, discussing Nietzsche. I used my legs in the city and I used the public transportation systems: trains, subways, buses. I loved to be at Columbia, in Birdland, at the Modern. I loved to be in any of my apartments around Morningside Heights. I just loved the Apple. Until I started graduate school. That’s when my allergies started to choke me. My sinuses acted up worse than when I was a kid. The pollution choked me: I mean like I was really being strangled, violently. But worst of all, that was when my girl friend decides she wants a car. I’d just borrowed $1,200 for NYU. She found a Beetle for $1,200. I gave the entire sum to her: with her promise that she’d park it, she’d maintain it, etc. All lies, it turned out. She paid me back the money: and that’s all she did. So suddenly I was stuck with a car in a city in which a car (without the budget for chauffeurs and garages and parking tickets and incompetent maintenance …) was a torture, not a freedom.

I said the above to emphasize: I loved the Apple because I was not territorial. I did not need to own or control it or any part of it. It was the crush that I loved. I loved the Darwinian struggle on the roads, but I loved them from the sidewalk. I was audience, not gladiator.

All that changes with a car. With a car, the space around you is YOURS. The space just ahead of you is YOURS.

As McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” With autos, both auto and road carry the message Go, Go, Go.

Unless you drive a Beetle. Beetles in NY are like spics, like n-s, like motorcycles … The normal drivers hate you, want to crush you. You get no respect. You have no rights. Any Beetle is supposed to yield for any Cadillac.

Unless I’m driving. Then the Cadillac cuts me off at his peril.

[Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 02 To me a syncopated word is even more offensive than the straight vulgar term.]

A Caddy cuts me off. We’re on the West Side Highway. Hilary is with me. I’m driving, of course. So much for her promise to share 50/50. I suspend my normal preference to leave plenty of braking space and practically touch bumpers. He speeds up. I’m on his bumper. He slows down. Likewise, I’m on his bumper. I pass our exit at 96th Street to stay on his bumper. He finally exits in the Bronx somewhere. I follow him. He has to stop at a light. I leap out. I rush his driver’s window: all 142 LBs of me. “Roll the window down,” I command him. I start heel-of-my-palm pounding his window when he doesn’t. By now I see that the driver is some shriveled old man. I can’t say why, but he finally did lower he window, looking even smaller. I showed no mercy. I hardened my right fore- and middle-fingers into a stiletto. I poke him — hard — between his shoulder, arm, and chest, just by his underarm. My hard pokes accent each word:

“You cut me off.

That last, the “fucker,” was accompanied by the hardest poke of all. The guy was still sitting there at the intersection, while the light changed and changed again, while I U-turned back to the highway.

I don’t remember what Hilary was screaming at me that particular time. Sometimes she’s screamed at me, sometimes she’d didn’t bother. When this missile is on automatic, you need more than a Hilary to deflect it.

Many too are the times that Hilary stared Death in the face whether she wanted to or not.

Catskills Hilary, early 1960s
Catskills Hilary, early 1960s

2017 06 23 These days there are rage stories galore, some of them traffic related, some of them religious: burn a church, bomb a mosque. Some of these perps went crazy, some knew what they were doing: and did it anyway.
Yesterday I watched the sound-version of Flaherty’s 1926 Moana. The Samoans are said to be peaceful people. Robert Louis Stevenson said so. But watching Moana in the context of reading Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday (and recalling Atanarjuat’s The Fast Runner in the context of Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, I see the humans of yesterday as far more in the camp of Hitler than of Jesus. You could crucify a Jewsus a minute, and we’d still be beating on war drums and inflicting macho tattoos on pubescent boys. Oh, but those women with their breasts everywhere are nice though.

Diamond is a riot acting as though what we’re like, who we are, what we do is a conscious choice; not blind instinct. Funniest is where he presents anarchism as a rational choice, possible to civilized men: yet sees it as narrowly resticted: we could change A, B, C; but not M, N, O. He ommits my FLEX from the choices. But he’s not the first, mankind as a whole duplicates his limitation. The world was offered FLEX; the world “chose” not to take it. Freedom takes effort, coordinated effort; slavery to habit takes nothing but being a slave.

Anyway I love the frequency of highway erruptions we hear about. Samoans may appear peoceful but actually they’re one step from war. Diamond acts as though ending war would automatically be a good thing: how can we be sure? Have we ever done it? We talk about Christianity but have we ever tried it?
Have we ever earned a choice? Has God?

Quotes About pk


Taxi Cut-offs Update:

I might have gotten around to writing my road rage stories eventually but the actual composition was triggered by an article on the boorishness imposed on average drivers by SUVs published by friend Billy Mac. I scribbled it, retouched it a bit the following day, and swore to him in my announcement of its mounting that it was the literal truth the best I could remember: unembellished except by style. Whoops! I’m now less sure that’s true. I question one detail. That is I have two conflicting memories of a single detail: whether the hack actually had a tire iron in his hand when he charged my car on foot.

The alternate memory is identical in the events of his reaching under the seat, screened from me by the open taxi door, rummaging around, picking something up … but now I think he paused and replaced whatever it was — a tire iron, a crowbar, a .38 … — before starting toward me. Thus, I interpret that he reached for a weapon, thought better of it while still at his own vehicle — broad, populated, day light and all, then came on foot with nothing in his hand but a fist.

I like the memory either way. I suspect that the adjusted memory is correct. A blunt instrument in his hand is the kind of thing even an “honest” story teller might unwittingly write in.

2012 08 28 I stole time today to resurrect this story because of an urge I felt yesterday to tell it, combined with an idea to expand the subject to Road Rage: Made to Order. But now I see I’d already made the custom rage point in the original: we’re given a road, a car, we think we have the right to move: road implies unimpeded velocity: fill the road and it implies traffic stall. Those of us who believed promise #1 go nuts when we encounter reality #2. But I’d said that, well, citing McLuhan.

Intension: very funny, I find a misspelling, I fix it: but this typo has significance: not a Freudian slip; a Korzybskian slip. Check around, I’m always talking about intension: a word most people don’t know and can’t have explained to them. Write intension, they read intention. But there I wrote the opposite of what I meant! even I!

Double Parking

The New Yorker is famous for its cartoons. I remember a favorite which showed people jockying to double park in the space where the current double-parker is being towed away!

Stories by Age by Theme by Others

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in limbo and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s