Afterthoughts bumper stickers
"People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing." Will Rogers
When it comes to bumper stickers, as far as I'm concerned my car's a car, not a billboard. They're usually pretty stupid anyway. Although activist slogans like Don't Vote? Don't Bitch! or NO Means NO serve a small purpose -- some people need to see those messages over and over. And I do like this one: If you can read this, thank a Teacher.
I don't like sexist, racist or gratuitously profane bumper stickers, and I'm not all that wild about religious ones either -- true spirituality should be a private covenant of faith, not a pushy automotive slogan. I'm definitely in favor of any and all statements against the war, especially Support Our Soldiers - Bring Them Home NOW.
But in my wildest dreams I've never even imagined a bumper sticker like the one local columnist John Grogan saw on a recent morning commute. It read: I want to kill you.
What kind of person puts such a violent, antisocial message on his car? I'll tell you what kind. I met one a few years ago. He didn't have the sticker, but he sure did have the rage. I've never forgotten the experience. It forced me to tap into my own rage, and changed the way I think and behave in my car.
I was following my then 17-year-old son to drop off his car for maintenance when we got stuck in a huge traffic jam on I-95. We were inching along when out of nowhere a big black Mercedes sped by on the shoulder and then suddenly cut in front of my car. It came within inches of hitting my son's car ahead.
Like most of us, I suspect, I talk to myself when I'm driving. Especially about other drivers. Who aren't nearly as competent behind the wheel as I am. This guy scared the bejezzus out of me and I reacted in a most unladylike fashion -- albeit in the privacy of my own car. Speaking to myself, I used that posteriorly related all-purpose word for idiots. You know the one.
Apparently he read my lips in his rear view mirror. To my horror, his door flew open and he stalked to my car in the middle of all that traffic, veins bulging, face nearly purple with rage. "What did you call me??" he screamed, pounding on my window. I should mention there was a child--not more than 6 years old--in the passenger seat of his car. Taking in this valuable life lesson.
I stared at the man, stunned, speechless, as his enraged pounding and invective continued. I was genuinely terrified he'd smash the car window all over me, and worse. Slowly, carefully, I slid my right hand onto the car phone and pressed 9-1-1. Then, to my greater horror, I saw my son get out of his car, clearly filled with teenage bravado, determined to rescue his mother. I knew my kid wouldn't stand a chance against the man's uncontrollable fury. Did I also mention he was a huge guy, bulging muscles not the least bit concealed by his--get this--three piece banker's suit?
You hear stories about what mothers do to save their children. Mine's not heroic. And I'm not proud of it. I took a substantial risk. But I was out of options with this maniac, and desperate to keep his attention away from my son. Somehow in a flash of clarity I remembered an article on the epidemic of free-floating hostility in our society, and how quickly it can turn to blind rage. The consensus was to back away from anyone who's seriously anger-locked, but if you can't, to mount an over-the-top verbal counterattack, which can shock them back to reality.
So while reving my car engine--hard--I took a deep breath and roared through the window, "Get the F*** away from me NOW or I'll smash your car and your kid!"
Miraculously, it worked. Thank god. The blustering bluto ran to his car, gunned it onto the shoulder and sped away. Police sirens were finally audible and other drivers were getting out of their cars to come to my aid ... after the guy drove off, of course. I guess I should be grateful no one approached him sooner, or the outcome might have been worse.
In true poetic justice, when traffic finally moved again, we saw him surrounded by three police cars about a mile down the highway. A trucker and two other cars were there too, giving their accounts of his actions. My son and I kept moving. We weren't needed, and we didn't need any more rage directed our way.
I keep my mouth firmly shut when I'm driving now, no matter how many idiots tick me off. And so does my son. We learned the hard way that when some people get behind the wheel, whether they advertise it on bumper stickers or not, they just want to kill you.