when one dog barks, they all do. I hardly recognized my neighbor in a mask, but she knew me in line at the grocery store. her name rhymes with mine. she sits with a six pack on the tilted bench outside my apartment— the same spot where a young girl texts the person she likes. I can tell she does by the way she smiles and looks around like some one caught her stealing. this is the same spot where a woman rocks an infant to the sound of leaves singing in wind, where everyone stuffs ducks with bread, which also make house visits now, and apparently they prefer full loaves to breadcrumbs. Bless what's left of this weather, we all seem to agree and stoop over our porches in our pajamas.
The gas station attendant wasn’t moving fast enough. A man in front of me huffed as the attendant scurried about the store fixing things, moving with a slight limp on her left side. She was all of sudden aware that there were people at her door, so she started rushing to please us guests. The man was irritated in an airy, hot headed in summer way. He left with a half-grunt when she told him to enjoy the rest of his day.
When it was my turn at the register, I asked why she apologized so much, and she said it’s something she does (and she was sorry that she was sorry). I do it a lot too, and I tried to tell her with my face and leaning in language. She wore glasses, gray, stringy hair that hung in her face, and heavy wrinkles that sagged on her cheeks. She had to be at least in her 60s. I don’t know; I can only really tell age by how worn-in a soul is. Hers was a broken in mitt, an old tune that everyone remembers the words to when the melody starts to really pick up.
My eyes were hungry for her smile. And then it happened, proud and tooth-heavy. I asked if she could break a five-dollar bill for me, and she made a ripping movement with her hands. I cackled at her joke.
We held up the line talking. Five people were soon standing behind me as I asked her questions about her life, which seemed to revolve around being a gas station attendant. I joked about rushing and time. With a crooked smile, I glanced at the fake watch wrapped around my wrist. She laughed. When she laughed it wasn’t scratchy. It was gurgly and girlish in the way that girls get when they think no one is looking.
Her name is Mary Ann, and she’s alive and limping but well in Empire, Michigan. If you run into to her, hold up the line and make each other laugh. It will carve out the browning parts of your insides.
“Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and then returning home, wondering why the hell you went.” ~John Updike
It’s 8:50 in the morning, and I’m sharing the road with the bag-eyed stragglers who have yet to make it into work. The coffee I shamelessly slurped from a lidless mug has yet to kick in.
Stopped at a light, I peer into my visor’s mirror and use the inside of my sleeve to wipe off yesterday’s leftover makeup. I check the clock again. 8:51, splendid. If I keep this pace up, I can waltz into my place of work on time and grace my co-workers with my disheveled appearance.
My attention staggers to a blue blur in my rear view mirror. Someone is coming up on me fast. My instinct is to move, but instead I check my speedometer. I’m going 50 mph in a 45 mph zone.
No, I will not move, I say in my head to the woman in the four-door blue Mazda. And surprise, surprise, there’s a car on the right side of me that I am keeping pace with.
Sound familiar? Go on, admit it. I won’t judge. I know you have blocked in a speed demon on the road before.
Time for my own confessions: I am not a meek driver. I am usually going at least 5 to 7 mph over the speed limit at all times save for school or work zones. In other words, I won’t mow down a senior citizen crossing the street. I make an ample amount of left hand turns out of risky driveways and bulldoze through yellow lights if I believe in my heart of hearts I can make it. Maybe I’ve had one too many Taco Bell burritos behind the wheel. I’m not an aggressive driver, but I’m also not a purring pussycat.
I will also admit that I am not immune to getting angry at other drivers. Have I ever truly endangered anyone’s life before? Not yet, no. For this, I still have time.
But lately, I have gotten this curious buzzing heat in my ears that I can’t seem to shake off. I have noticed a slight moldy gray color on my knuckles when I grip my steering wheel a little too hard. I sometimes feel something twitching underneath my face, a facial expression of pure constipation. The face of “I’m so angry I look like I need to shit.” What I am describing to you are the beginnings of road rage.
A few times I have even let it possess me. I can’t help myself. Even in traffic, when I know I’m not going anywhere, when I know glaring at the person next to me won’t get me home any sooner, I feel the need to let everyone know that I am just a miserable as they are.
During these times, phrases like: “No, no. By all means, you first, fuck face” and “Wow, you’re a flying douchebag” have left my cynical lips. No one can ever hear me, of course. It just makes me feel better in a pathetic sort of way. Speaking these words to myself somehow sobers my rage.
I have yet to let it escalate further—being drunk behind the wheel without prior alcohol consumption. I’m sorry, but some people who drive the way they do, intoxicated by their own anger, might as well be drunk. It’s a special form of bat shit crazy.
The woman driving the blur of Mazda behind me resembles a winged, fanged creature that probably escaped from Hell. She wears a pair of sunglasses, but I can imagine her eyes rolling Exorcist style into the back of her head.
She begins to cling to my car’s ass, willing it move faster. There’s a line of traffic further down the road and a car right next to me. Like Melville’s Bartleby, I prefer not to, and choose to do nothing. I continue to drive the same speed.
She’s livid. I can see her mouth reciting incantations in my rear view mirror. I would be lying to say I don’t get some satisfaction at the sight of her babbling mouth starting to foam.
Her car begins to rock in between the lines of the left lane. I check my mirror. Her mouth is wide open now. I can see her teeth, white as shark teeth before they’re covered in mealtime blood. She looks hungry for Sarah flesh.
When that won’t move me, she lays into her horn, and she doesn’t let off. By this point, my exhaustion has officially worn off. Her horn screams and wakes me up from the sleep I haven’t even had yet. For half of a mile, this woman holds her horn. I feel like my car is getting raped.
This is the part where I would normally back down in order to save my life, but there’s nowhere for me to go. Because we’ve stopped. There’s a wall of traffic in front of me and on the other side of me.
Cruella de Vil skins ten puppies before she rolls down her window to call out to me. “Hey you stupid bitch, if you don’t know how to use the left lane, don’t drive in it! Some people have to get to work!!!!!” I watch her beat her steering wheel like a drum at the beat of every syllable she spits outside the window like an enraged camel.
I give her the benefit of the doubt when I wonder if she’s on her way to a hospital or crime scene. As she stuffs her neck more outside her window to scream at me, she reveals a long strand of glossy pearls dangling in front of a ruffled blouse. She probably works in an office like me, not anywhere she’s saving lives. I wonder if there’s any amount of money in the world that gives someone the thumbs up to drive like this.
“Learn how to fucking drive the speed limit! It’s the left lane!! THE LEFT LANE!!” Her voice is hoarse by now. I swear I can actually hear the scratchy, rawness in the back of her throat.
I watch intently. I’m entranced by the monster in my rear view mirror. I think about taking a picture of her so I have a visual aid to accompany this story when I tell it later.
She visibly heaves. She pauses for a second, most likely collecting her breath and saliva for the next round of obscenities. She was burning herself out, screaming, flailing, and savagely pointing to the left lane. She looks like Gumby on fire, all lit up in my mirror.
I talk myself out of whipping around and telling this lady to forget about work, and to drive herself to a facility where she can be assessed properly. Don’t saying anything, Sarah. Keep your calm, woman.
My stomach quakes with acidic hatred as I grip my steering wheel until my palms hurt. I can’t take it. I roll down my window. “Are you serious right now?” I ask her.
That sets her off even more. I watch her throttle out of her seat belt. This is it, I think. This is the part where I die. I have heard stories about people getting out of their cars with a baseball bat, crowbar, or weapon of some kind and using it to smash another person’s car.
The man in the white Honda next to me intervenes. He’s as shaken as I am. “Hey lady, where the hell do you want her to go? Do you see?” He waves his hand, spanning the view in front of us. “We’re all stuck in traffic! No one is going anywhere!”
She won’t bother with his logic. It doesn’t make sense to her. “THE LEFT LANE!!” she bleats raggedly.
Finally, traffic begins to crawl forward. When she gets the first chance she breaks away from behind me. As she passes me on the right side, she shoves her French manicured middle finger out her window.
Further down the road, I pass her up as she gets sandwiched between two trucks. She slams her fists into the steering wheel again like a toddler who just won’t get her way.
5 minutes away from work, I replay the scene in my head. I think about the bulge in her neck, her bugged out eyeballs. I don’t think I have ever seen a woman look less unattractive. What is it about driving to work that makes some people so ugly? Is the job really worth it if this is what you look like going to it?
Nope, not one bit. Luckily, I found a way to curb my own road rage. Whenever I begin to feel that familiar homicidal gurgling in the pit of my stomach, I will think of her. So thanks. Thank you, Ms. Mazda. Thank you for giving me a terrifying taste of what I can become when I begin to let my job, my time, my life control me.