A couple Saturdays ago, I went out to run some errands. As I prepared to turn left off Eastfield Road in northeast Charlotte, I noticed a light brown SUV drawing close in my rear view mirror. One of those aggressive tailgaters.
I began moving into the left turn lane. But not quickly enough for this guy. He double-flashed his high beams at me, speeding close to my back bumper, intent on bullying me out of his path. What could be that urgent on a sleepy Saturday morning?
I’m not prone to impulsiveness, but something about the tensions of navigating traffic draws my emotions closer to the surface. Usually, I’m just lecturing offending motorists as if they can hear me, drawing reproving looks from the wife or snickers from the daughters.
But this time, I flashed this guy the old one-finger salute as he roared past. I was steamed.
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And so was he. He veered into my lane and screeched to a stop, right in front of me. I could see him glaring at me in his driver’s side mirror. He was a young guy, with a temper that clearly ran hotter than mine. What kind of crazy fool does this?
I wasn’t curious enough to find out. I backed up, then nosed around him to the right. He blocked me. I went left. He blocked me. Now we were blocking the intersection. Cars stacked up behind me.
I sat there, hot blood rushing to my face, my head suddenly throbbing as if a thunderstorm were locked inside it. I spat words too uncouth to repeat here.
He sat there, staring. Daring me.
A single, dark impulse overwhelmed me:
Open the door. Settle this. Now.
My last fight came in elementary school. But crazy-town rage was surging now – indignant, insistent, crystalline.
He’s not allowing flight. Open the door.
I knew one of two things would happen. He’d pull off. Or he wouldn’t. From there, who knew?
I thought about how much you’d have to disregard your own safety to do what that guy was doing now. These situations escalate so quickly into deadly violence.
So why, in a time and place when guns legal and illegal are as plentiful as pets, would you antagonize a random stranger like this? There’s only one way it makes sense: If you have a gun on you.
I lifted both hands from the wheel and made an open-palmed “You win” gesture. I tilted my head and lifted my eyebrows to signal: “Can we go on with our lives now?”
He pulled off.
I’ve since thought a lot about all the unforeseen ways violence can enter our lives. As any police officer will tell you, it doesn’t generally arrive with an intruder in the night. It blooms when everyday interactions, too often between loved ones, spiral out of control.
We’re having an intense national debate about gun control, sparked by the latest mass shooting out in Oregon. I don’t know if any meaningful reform will ever come.
I’ve never felt the need for a handgun. But if I carried one, I wouldn’t have gotten out of the car that day without it. I’d have taken it for self-defense only, of course.
But crazy things can happen when you’re angry. I’d like to think I would have reeled in my emotions before doing anything stupid.
I’m glad I never got to find out for sure.
Eric: 704-358-5145; firstname.lastname@example.org