Men in cars are strange creatures. You take a normal man, put him in charge of a two-thousand-pound killing machine, and he’s liable to turn weird.
It was snowing the other night, and the parking lot at Sobeys was slippery from the constant movement of vehicles compacting the snow. I was driving with care. Even so, the Jeep skidded slightly as I emerged from one lane, and I touched the brakes.
A driver in a black BMW, advancing from another lane, over-reacted. He swerved wildly and slammed on his brakes. Staring with menace, he gave me the finger. I smiled back and gave him a thumbs-up. He surged forward, slammed on his brakes again, and once again gave me the finger.
There was room for several cars between us, so I began to inch forward. He interpreted this as a challenge. He had been inching forward himself, but at my blatant display of raw, masculine power he slammed on his brakes again. He gave me the finger again. I smiled again, and raised my thumb.
If he had been angry before, he was furious now.
I imagined myself disarming him with logic.
“Did I stop?”
“Did I hit you?”
“Was there ever the slightest chance that my four-cylinder Cherokee would come into contact with this over-powered symbol of your deep-seated insecurities?”
“Well . . . no.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I’m sorry. I guess I over-reacted.”
Of course, it would not have ended so neatly. I left him seething in his heated leather seat and watched in the rear-view mirror as he mastered his passions and finally drove off into the night.
Another time, again in winter, I was crossing an intersection between two malls when a man in a late-model SUV drove through a red light and came straight at me. I stopped in my tracks. I could see the expression on his face, and it was clear he thought he was in the right. He had no intention of stopping, or even slowing down. He swept past, close enough that I gave his rear side window a thump to let him know that he had nearly run me over.
People do make mistakes, I thought, and dismissed the incident, hoping that this was one mistake he would not repeat.
I hoped in vain. The fellow parked his SUV and hunted me down in the mall. Advancing from behind, he caught me by the arm and tried to spin me around. But he wasn’t strong enough. Curious, and vaguely alarmed, I half-turned to face him, wondering who he was and what he wanted.
“Keep your hands to yourself, buddy!” he said, as if I were Donald Trump caught groping his wife.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You hit my car!”
“Oh.” I recognized him now. “You went straight through a red light and nearly ran me down.”
“I had to clear the intersection, man!”
“You shouldn’t have been in the intersection in the first place.”
“Keep your hands to yourself!” he repeated.
“Was there any damage to your car?” I asked.
“Let’s go and have a look,” he challenged, gesturing for me to follow.
I nearly did — I am an agreeable soul at heart — but I quickly realized how preposterous it was: the idea that I might have scratched the tempered glass window of a $45,000 sport utility vehicle with the palm of a gloved hand as that vehicle passed within centimetres of my breathing body.
“I’m not going to look at your damned car,” I told him.
He hesitated. He wanted to inflict pain, but he wasn’t so sure of himself anymore. With a final, “Keep your hands to yourself, buddy!” he stalked off down the mall, reduced to an unpleasant memory.
The day I turned 16, I went downtown and got my learner’s permit. I passed the exam and the eye test easily, and that night I drove legally for the first time. It wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. But I can’t help but think, in retrospect, that young men who pass their learner’s exam should have to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before they’re actually issued a permit.