Saturday, May 09, 2009

Yelling at terrible drivers

I’ve become very testy about bad drivers lately. One of the joys of driving is being able to cruise around with your windows closed while you scream things at people. Bad drivers. Slow drivers. Ugly cars. People with ugly faces. People with ugly faces who drive ugly cars badly. A car affords you the opportunity to blurt obscenities without others hearing you, avoiding the embarrassing confrontation you might otherwise suffer in a public locale. It’s a wonderful anger management contraption as long as you stay calm and focused on your own driving, channeling your aggression by tongue rather than the gas pedal.

My crabbiness in the car has been coming for a long time. I partly blame my father for this trait. When I was a child, he would drive us around Atlanta in our 1976 spitfire orange Dodge Aspen station wagon, with the CB radio cracking and squealing. He yelled at nearly everyone who drove by. Many of the comments were about women drivers, and my mom would give him a verbal wrist slap for those. He also called a lot of people “turkeys” and “rednecks” and I’m sure there were some “redneck turkeys.”

When you drive around in a spitfire orange Dodge Aspen station wagon, you are also recognized by a lot of people. Some of our friends and neighbors would always honk their car horns to say hi, which made matters worse, because the last thing my grouchy father wanted was people honking at him when he was on the road.

Sometimes, dad’s language was a bit rougher. I remember a bunch of “goddammits” and “shits,” again not warmly welcomed by my mother. However, he was reminded to watch his language not by my mother, but by my sister and me, from the back seat, telling him he should use better language – exactly what a cursing man wants to hear from his kids. My sister, Beth, coined the term “poopycat,” which she and I blurted every time my dad called someone a bad name.

Of course, when the CB radio was active, and it usually was, our language improved and we all spoke with heavy Southern accents. I don’t remember my dad’s handle, but I picked Bugs Bunny, like an idiot kid would, and later switched to Wild Child, enjoying the rhyme and feeling more like Willie Ames or BJ and the Bear. My dad relied on the CB radio to let us know if any smokeys were up ahead of the convoy blockading us on the right side of the interstate. My sister and I would take turns jabbering on the radio about smokeys and talking with truckers and getting that thrill of the open road. It was like the joy we experienced on school field trips, sitting in the last row of the yellow school bus and coaxing the truck driver behind the bus to honk his horn.

The CB was a wonder on the expressway, but not so great in parking structures. Yes, we were the dorks with the extraordinary antenna perched atop the spitfire orange Dodge Aspen station wagon: the antenna that made the loud scraping sound as we drove through the parking structure at Colony Square or Phipps Plaza.

Reliving my childhood. When I ditched the 1990 gray Honda Accord four years ago after 15 years of service and less than 60,000 miles, I was desperate for a station wagon. Fortunately for me, those spitfire orange Dodge Aspen station wagons are no longer made, and I would never opt for a Dodge unless I won it on a game show. I got the next best thing: a bright red Volvo wagon (if you don’t know what spitfire orange looks like, think bright red).

Now I drive around town in my red station wagon, cursing the frigging idiots who don’t know how to drive their Toyota Prius. (Have you noticed that a Toyota Prius is the new Volvo? People who drive them are horrible drivers. Volvo drivers have much improved and the people who would otherwise have bought Volvos have migrated to the Prius. That’s what allowed me to buy the Volvo in the first place, because I didn’t want to be one of those terrible Volvo drivers. I digress…). I yell at the people who don’t know that the car on the right has the right of way (there is a reason it is called “right of way”) in a four-way stop. I snarl at the people looking for a parking space, the people who drive 10 mph down a street signed for 25 mph. I am an asshole in the car. But I make sure my windows are rolled up. And the music is turned up.

It feels so good. It’s perfect anger management.

If only I could have a silencer wrapped around my mouth when I ride the Muni train. I would love to yell at my fellow passengers who block the doors when people are trying to get off or who wear their backpacks on the train, completely clueless that whatever the hell is making their bag stick out two feet behind their back is banging into me through the backpack fabric. I would love to tell the smelly people to get off the train. I would love to curse the terrible train drivers and tell them to do their damn job. But I cannot.

So, I save my comments for my car. In the four years I’ve had it, I’ve driven about 11,000 miles, which means I spend very little time behind the wheel. That doesn’t give me many hours to drive around yelling at people in my screaming box on wheels. I think that’s a good thing.

If I had more time, I’d have to edit myself to avoid becoming a bitter, belligerent driver. I would be stuck with poopycat. I prefer to grouse without those limitations.

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