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Jul 11, 2019

I’m not sure if anybody’s ever done research on why Americans become rabid, buggy-eyed butt hornets when we get behind the wheel, but if they ever do figure it out, I want to be among the first ones to know. I know it’s easy to want to point a finger at the other guy - usually the middle one - when there’s one road, but more than one driver. But whenever something goes wrong, I’m finding that nine times out of ten, I’m the one with the problem. So I’ll call myself a butt hornet when it fits, but there’ve been occasions when I did nothing wrong and still got the raw end of the deal.
I enjoy driving, for the most part, except when other people do things that get all up under my skin. I’ll list a few examples so you’ll get a solid picture of the kinds of things I’m talking about:
Going too slow in front of me.
Going too slow beside me.
Going too slow when you’re pulling out in front of me.
Going too slow when you’re making your turn in front of me.
Pulling out in front of me.
Making a turn in front of me.
BEING in front of me, etc.
There are too many more to list and I know full well that the issue is with me and my impatience. And I'm trying to learn to be a more gracious driver. I really am. But it's hard, especially when people ignore the rules. Take, for instance, the four-way stop sign. To the best of my knowledge, the driver's manual states that the right of way belongs to the driver who came to a complete stop first and in successive order, until all vehicular operators have made it safely through and on their merry way. That doesn't happen a lot of the time in the south where hospitality tends to be thrown around all helter-skelter whether it's needed or not. At least in my neck of the woods, people with the right of way, have an annoying habit of urging you to go first. Because they're nice and they're courteous and they won't have it mentioned to their grandma that they (gasp) went first! Nobody likes to be slapped in the back of the head and told, You's raised better'nat!
I like me some southern hospitality, but not in traffic.
You go first.
No, you go. You have the right of way.
Naw, naw. I insist - you go ahead of me, good suh!
I will not do such. I'z raised better'nat.
I've sat behind vehicles that were involved in an eternal volley of politeness that made me want to do something drastic like rolling down my window and screaming to them at the top of my lungs. "Somebody GO ALREADY! Hearses have gas pedals, ya know! School busses too, Mrs. Crenshaw!"
And I'm sure all of the people in the funeral procession would feel the same way, even the dead guy. Hurry it up, Director, before somebody else gets my dang grave!
It's probably just me that gets irritated by that kind of thing, really. I just feel like we should all know the rules and if we'll follow them to the letter, traffic will move a lot more efficiently.
Follow the rules to the letter, you say? Are you telling us you've never gone a mile over the speed limit then?
I have to be honest ... that's not what I'm saying. Truth is, I have a lead foot and I've had to curb that in the interest of my health and also the health of my wallet. But I'm not the only person who misbehaves on the road. You should be in the car with my wife some morning if she hasn't gotten the chance to pet an animal. But we're not talking about her Mr. Hyde personality when she's yet to yell, "KITTEH!" and nuzzle the belly of a feline. No, I'm the one on the couch here.
In my early twenties, I worked in a profession I loathed from day one. Stories from the world of small loans is a whole other episode and I've definitely got some interesting stuff to tell you about that part of my life, but for now, just know that a husband trying to jump over the counter to fight me on my very first day put a bad taste in my mouth for the collections industry.
Needless to say that because of hating that job from the start, I dreaded going in every morning and my commute was an irritation, too. It took me about thirty minutes one way and I had to drive around South Carolina backroads to get there as quickly as possible.
One morning was particularly bad and to this day, I point to what I'm about to tell you as one of the reasons I get so completely out of sorts with bad drivers in front of me sometimes. Let me paint a picture for you. I was already running late, which meant I had a certain criteria I expected drivers in front of me to follow and it was very simple: At least go the speed limit. Is that hard? I didn't think so. I never think so. In fact, it's still one of the top criteria I expect from you if I happen to get behind you on the road. And for the record, I won't ride your tailpipe unless you're just being ridiculous about it.
Anyhoo, it turns out that halfway through the commute, just as my coffee had started to get cool enough to drink and I'd actually come to terms with the fact that I'd be late and calling people to tell them they had to pay on their loan would be blissfully delayed for a little longer, I got behind a young woman in an old hatchback, going about 15 miles under the speed limit.
Imagine my joy at being behind her on an old country back road where you don't get many chances to pass and if you do, there's probably going to be 57 cars coming the other direction. I didn't want to call people and ruin their mornings any more than those people wanted to be called, but I also didn't like getting fussed at for being late. So you might be able to come up with some of the words I probably let slip out while I was behind her - words I can't use here, but went colorfully beyond the initial commentaries of, "Can you not see the speed limit?!" or "The gas pedal is ON THE RIGHT!" or maybe even "I WILL CUT YOU!"
Of course, she couldn't hear me. I know it was a she because of what happened next. After a couple of missed opportunities to pass because there was a parade going on in the opposite lane when the center line was broken and it was legal to, I finally saw it, bright and glowing with a choir of angels singing and pointing the way ahead ... AHHHH ... Come thou labored and weary vehicular operator ... pass and be weary no moooooorrrre!
So I did. I pressed my foot to the accelerator and felt the heavenly vibration of a motor picking up speed and chewing up the asphalt as God intended.
But something was wrong. As I moved into the oncoming lane to pass, the car ahead of me sped up and I had to press the gas harder. But the woman in the old hatchback also pressed harder so that I had to go way faster than I wanted to in order to get around her and the line was about to go double up ahead due to a looming sharp curve.
As I made it even to her car, I looked over and the woman ... hold on while I take a deep breath because this part still gets me madder'n a yella jacketr at a picnic ... (deep breath aaaannnnndddd relax) ... She looked at me, shook her head as if to say, NO. YOU SHALL NOT PASS! and sped up more.
I panicked and looked behind me, but the line of cars that had moved up to fill in where I'd been was too long and my only option was to channel my inner Earnhart and go NASCAR fast to get around her, which would have been fine, but ...
I got back over into my lane just after the legality of my passing ran out before the curve. Which would have been fine, but ...
I hadn't had a chance to slow down to the speed limit from the insane amount of speed I had to get to in order to pass the witch in the old hatchback. Which would have been fine, but ...
The first car in the line coming around the corning in the opposing lane was a State Trooper.
Yeah.
He licked his chops and threw on the lights immediately and my goose was cooked. He didn't want to hear my excuse. He didn't care about my story titled, The Ho In The Hatchback. All he was concerned with was the fact that I was going lightspeed and passing on a double yellow line. And he was rude about it. With how our noble law enforcers are paid way too little for their sacrifice, I assumed maybe he'd gotten a call that morning from a bill collector or something, because he seemed to be in a really bad mood.
I don't know what the woman's problem was. Maybe she saw me railing at her about her slowness in her rearview mirror before I passed and that set her off. If so, that ought to be a lesson to me.
It's funny, I've gotten insulted when it was the other way around before. I was once driving at exactly the speed limit and a redneck in a pickup truck was riding my tail so close that I could smell his breath. Boon's Farm, anyone?
He didn't like me going the speed limit, but I wasn't going to speed just to make him and the tooth he had left happy. He eventually got the opportunity to pass me and did. He needed a muffler, by the way. Not sure if he knew it or not. I shook my head when he went by and as he was moving back over into the lane, I assume he had to put down his bottle of Boon's Farm before sticking his arm out the window and flipping me the bird. That actually made me laugh.
Once again, I was on my way to work one morning when a carload of rednecks got behind me. I assume everybody who acts like an idiot is a redneck because so often ... they are. And once again, they rode my butt so close I could smell their cologne. High Karate anyone? I like to drive the speed limit or just over it, maybe by five miles an hour or so. I've had too many speeding tickets over the years and I don't care for them. But five miles over wasn't good enough and the crazy thing was, they had plenty of opportunities to pass. I still don't understand why these people stayed behind my car to harass me, but they did. Later, they turned off, but not before apparently thinking it would just be hilarious to call the cops and give them my license plate number and vehicle description, telling them I was driving drunk.
So I'm minding my own business, coming into town and sipping my coffee because it had just gotten cool enough to drink, and a city policeman slips in behind me without my noticing. The scenario went a little something like this.
"Know why I pulled you over?"
"No, officer. I don't think I was speeding. If I was, it wouldn't have been more than four or five miles an hour over because I'm a good driver, even if I sometimes get frustrated with women of ill repute who cause me to have to speed and pass on a double yellow line, but that didn't happen, so no. I can't say that I do."
"Well somebody called us saying you were driving all over the road and it looked like you were drunk. Have you had anything to drink today, Mr. ..... Blackston?" (I'd handed him my license and registration without him having to ask. I know the drill.)
"Yes, sir. Orange juice and this coffee." (He laughed, which was a good sign.)
"I didn't think you'd had any alcohol. I've been following you for a while and you've done nothing to make me have to pull you over, but when we get these calls, we have to check it out, you understand? I'm going to have to give you a breath-a-lizer, which you can refuse, but if you do, I have to make you get out of the car and do some physical tests."
"I'll take a breath-a-lizer." (Which I did and the results made him laugh again.)
He apologized for the inconvenience and I told him there was no apology needed and I hoped he didn't get any calls from bill collectors. I told him who I suspected made the call and why and he said it wasn't unusual for people to waste time and resources like that.
That was uncomfortable and unnecessary. I was the one not breaking the law, well ... not by much. And it wasn't like they young hooligans playing a prank. They were not nice people who tried to ruin my day. The jokes on them. I got a funny story out of it. It did bother me until I realized nobody I knew drove by while I was getting a breath-a-lizer done. If it had happened on the main drag through town, there would have probably been a blurb about it on page three of the paper right next to an article about how Blackberries don't grow like they used to and a piece describing a local marketer's pitch to Boone's Farm about rolling out a High Karate flavored brew.
My temper and my mouth are a constant process of improvement, though and as much as I still say things I shouldn't and then wish I hadn't, especially when I'm behind the wheel, there was a time when I was a lot worse about it. I make no secret or apologies that I'm a follower of Christ. But for a while back in my twenties, I lost my way and became somebody I'm not proud of - somebody my wife eventually had to tell me she was at times embarrassed to be around. For reasons I won't go into in this episode - maybe in a different one - I went through a phase of using extremely foul language and not just around my peers. It got to where I relished the idera of saying something that made other people uncomfortable. I thought they'd look up to me as a renegade - maybe somebody they secretly wished they had the guts to be like. I was absolutely not behaving in a way Jesus Christ would approve of and whether or not you see things the way I do spiritually, is beside the point. I knew what I sincerely believed, but had strayed from it.
What does this have to do with road rage, Michael?
Nothing so far, but wait. It's about learning to control myself and an amazing thing that happened which you're welcome to consider a coincidence, but I truly and totally do not. It was a miracle - a gift directly from God and an immediate answer to prayer.
I used to work at a large market radio station on the weekends in Greenville, SC. Overnights. It didn't pay much, but I hadn't been married long and we needed the money from a second job. The overnight weekend shift made it easy to get away with things on-air that should've gotten me fired.
There was a Friday night at the end of a week long revival at my church and the preacher had made a point that stuck with me. He said you don't have to act like a Christian. Nobody does - it's your choice. But don't say you're a follower of Christ in one breath and act like the devil in the next. Be what you are and own it, basically. That night it hit me that I was living two lives and I needed to decided which one it was gonna be that defined me. I believed in Jesus Christ and that He is who He says He is. I decided that if I was going to be a man of integrity, I had a choice to make, but I couldn't have it both ways and so I re-dedicated my life.
There was an issue, though. I could put an end to being a jerk and trying to behave in ways that weren't becoming of a Christian. Unfortunately, the language and temper thing was a bigger hurdle and on my way to work at the station that night, I asked God to take that from me. I told Him I couldn't do it on my own and that this was one of those things I'd need the Holy Spirit to intervene on. And it worked. I'd tried to tame my tongue before, but suddenly it felt true and I actually cried all the rest of the way to the station.
Jump ahead a couple of weeks and I'm on the way there again. I'd made the decision to quit the station because I could find extra work elsewhere in a place that wasn't so tempting to slide back into my old ways and somewhere else would probably pay better anyway. But I'd given them a few week's notice and this was one of my final weekends.
The road is dark and desolate for a stretch just before you get to the interstate and it was there that my back left tire decided to blow. This was before cell phones were in everybody's hand and I didn't have one. It was also before I made enough money to have anything fancier for a jack than one of the cheapie kind that comes with the car and starts to buckle about two inches into the lift. And I had no flash light.
Perfect.
I pulled to the side of the road, got out, and could see in the moonlight that my tire was completely flat. I wanted to cuss. No, that's not right - I wanted to fly into a profanity laced tyrade that would include, but not be limited to, screaming it at the top of my lungs and throwing something through the window of my car.
I started to do that. I started to cuss - we call it cuss in the south, get used to it - and I think I might have actually kicked the side of the car. But then there was a voice in my head. not audible, but that soft, comforting voice and it reminded me of my new dedication and that while nobody else was around and it was late at night, I needed to exercise control in reverence to my promise, because it will be honorable to God. So I calmed down and prayed. I said I was sorry and that although I didn't know what I was going to do because the jack I had wasn't going to be enough and I had no light, I would obey and trust in Him.
I calmly took the spare out of the back, still praying, and the moment I set it against the car, there were headlights that appeared over the hill.
I hoped they would stop and I hoped they would be nice to me. I could be robbed, murdered, tortured there and nobody would know it.
The driver topped the hill and came to my position, pulling their car in behind me in a manner that suggested they expected to find me in need of some help. The driver left on his lights so that my car was illuminated and because of that, I couldn't tell much about them, other than it was a man. A very, very, incredibly large man. He was both tall and wide and could have had whatever way he wanted with puny little me.
He didn't say anything when he got out, but went directly around to his trunk and took out one of those impressive hydraulic jacks, the metal bar that went with it, and a lug wrench.
I already considered him a miracle. God had taken no time in answering my prayers and I wanted to thank him for stopping.
"You don't know what an answer to prayer you are."
He didn't reply. I thought it was odd, but he might be in a hurry - maybe even not really happy to have to help someone, but obligated, so he just wanted to get it over with. He bent and started working on my tire.
"I can do the work. I hate to make you do it," I told him.
Nothing, not even a nod.
"My names Mike. What's yours?"
He looked up at me sternly and put up a hand to shush me, but still, he refused to say a word.
I started to get a little bit irritated. I mean, if you didn't want to help, fine. I'd figure something out. But if you're gonna stop and lend a hand, at least you don't have to be rude about it. I kept all of that to myself, though, and shut up until finished.
When he was done, he took his tools back to his car and put them in the trunk, then walked back to where I was standing.
"Thanks again. Can I give you anything for your trouble?"
He put up a massive paw again and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. From there, he pulled a worn, feathered at the edges business card and handed it to me. I don't remember what it said his name was, but here's what it said his title was:
Pastor for the church of the deaf, mute, and blind.
He left me the card and shook my hand, then turned back toward his car. I thought about calling out my thanks again, but didn't. I don't think he would have heard me and he wouldn't have been able to tell me, you're welcome.
I'm a lot older and wiser now and it stabs me every time I think about the fact that I misplaced the card and never got a better chance to show my appreciation. Maybe that was the way it was supposed to be. But now, if I'm about to totally lose it, that miracle is brought to mind and the lesson in it that might have been overwhelmingly silent, but that I heard loud and clear. And it calms me.
Rage is natural and anger is justified at times. Just don't let it define you.