Thursday, January 13, 2011

Revenge of the Tailgated

At first, I thought it was the second coming. That I was being bathed in the light of redemption. Either that or I was being abducted by aliens. Such was the flood of bright white light that engulfed my car.

But there was a stop light at the intersection up ahead. And however limited my experience with second comings and alien abductions, I am positively resolute that traffic signals don’t play a role in either.

A little background.

You see, I was headed south along a two-lane street renown for being a speed trap. With the understanding that driving is a social activity, I motored along at what I assumed to be a cooperative five miles over the speed limit.

I reasoned this would both appease the overscheduled folk who are so frequently behind me, yet at the same time, shield me from unwelcome attention by law enforcement authorities.

And that is when The Light appeared.

I flipped the rear view mirror to nighttime. But my puny efforts were overwhelmed by a glare that made it feel as if I were driving on the surface of the Sun.

Perhaps this was the second coming. My brain was suffused with questions. Had I comported myself in a manner consistent with redemption? Had I sinned in the last twenty-four hours?

Without answering either question, I made a desperate attempt to adjust the exterior mirrors. But The Light would not be denied. I gamely continued towards the strip mall, where it had been my intention to purchase a bag of road salt and some washer fluid.

Unfortunately, this also seemed to be The Light’s destination.

As residential neighborhoods gave way to commercial ones, the ambient light helped lessen the intensity of The Light. It was at that point I discerned the visage of a vehicle—a pick-up truck to be exact.

While relieved that final judgment had been delayed until I could at least procure some windshield washer solvent, I was also highly agitated. What did The Light want? Why was it following me? Was it too much to hope for a break in the solid yellow line that would indicate a passing zone?

It was New Year’s Day evening. It was unlikely The Light was rushing to work. Or picking up its kid from soccer practice. I cursed the construction budget shortfalls that consigned me to this two-lane, halogen hell.

Just as The Light seemed poised to attempt some form of vehicular sodomy, the mall came into view. I turned in and hoped The Light would bypass it and continue on its merry way.

Wrong.

The Light slash pick-up turned in also. It was look-at-me obnoxious, standing about three-feet off the ground with several dozen lights mounted on the front bumper and above the cab. The tires appeared to have been borrowed from a river rapids outfitter in Grand Canyon National Park.

It parked across several spaces, and I watched as the driver climbed down. A baseball cap gathered in a headful of wiry, longish hair. He was slender. Stood about 5’8”. He was wearing a Blackhawks jacket and dark sweatpants.

I remembered an expression I had heard in New Mexico: The bigger the truck, the smaller the man. I smiled. He probably needed a stepladder just to wash the hood.

I got out of my car and followed him in.

The store’s white tile floor was crisscrossed with muddy footprints and shopping cart tracks. A voice on the PA was excitedly informing shoppers of the values to be had in the seasonal close-out section. The fluorescent lights glared.

I caught up with the truck driver at the display of rock salt. I parked my cart and stood very near him as I pretended to inspect the various bags. Within seconds I detected a face turned briefly in my direction. A sigh. And then the sound of a cart being suddenly and forcibly moved.

I loitered near the rock salt for a moment, selected the five-pound bag I needed and continued on.

The truck driver was now in aisle 1—canned fruits and vegetables. I followed, suddenly fascinated by the array of canned goods. A smiling woman holding a wicker basket full of ripe, red tomatoes beckoned from a can of Contadina.

While reaching for her, I brushed the truck driver. I pretended not to notice, but could feel him looking at me. I nonchalantly replaced the can and continued down the aisle.

After locating a bottle of windshield solvent, I encountered the truck driver again, this time by the deli.

I stood directly behind him as he ordered a quarter-pound each of olive and pimento loaf. Upon receiving his packages, he turned to put them in his cart and ran into me. There was another exasperated sigh. He was irritated.

“Excuse me” I said brightly and stepped up to the counter. I could feel him attempting to stare a hole into me.

I debated whether to continue. If I didn’t tell him I was the driver of the car he had been tailgating, the entire exercise would be for naught. A decision needed to be made. Our last encounter would be at the cash registers.

Unbelievably, the old Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway duet “The Closer I Get to You” was playing as I joined the line. I wanted to laugh.

I again stood within inches of him as he stooped to retrieve the jug of milk from beneath the cart. We bumped. His eyes betrayed an anger his face struggled to contain.

I looked at him. “It’s not very nice, is it?”

“Huh?” The truck driver stood there, staring. His body was cocked in a pose of expectation.

I studied his pale face. The watery blue eyes and the half-formed pimples near his chin. He was young.

“Being tailgated.”

“What are you talking about, dude?” It didn’t quite come off as a question.

“I’m just sorry I don’t have a bunch of spots to blind you with. Let’s see. By your rules, I should just shove you out of the way and check out first because I'm bigger than you. What do you think of that?”

“You’re trippin’, man.” He turned to face the cashier. His denial provoked a torrent of self-righteous rage.

“You mean you’re not the guy who followed me down McHenry Road? Really? You’re not the guy who tried to blind me because I wasn’t going fast enough? Because I watched you get out of your fucking truck. You are the asshole who was tailgating me. And you know what? I should beat your scrawny ass to a pulp.”

The truck driver anxiously waited for his change. His outstretched hand was a dictionary entry for the word urgent.

In contrast to the portrayal my kindergarten teacher had offered my parents that I wasn’t an oral child, I now found myself in the position of not being able to keep my mouth shut.

“You’re not so tough outside your truck, are you? Tell me something—how should we handle this? What do you think is fair?”

He quietly collected his bags and hurried from the store. I set the rock salt and washer fluid on the counter.

I felt good.

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