It was 5 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon and I was in a bad mood, tense and edgy. I’d just left my therapist’s office, the healer whom I’ve been seeing for the past decade. (Though I’m still not cured, and sometimes wonder if the process is worth the time and effort). My therapist is located in the Back Bay, while I work on the North Shore, which requires a long trip toward downtown. The drive into Boston wasn’t bad; it was only when I headed back in the opposite direction, toward my apartment in Medford, which I ran into trouble.
Driving in Boston is frustrating at the best of times, and rush hour on a weekday afternoon was clearly not a good time. I knew, as I slid behind the wheel of my Nissan Versa, that it would be better to leave the driving to someone else, to hop a Red Line or Orange Line train. But I had my car in town and basically no choice but to drive back home.
I zigged and zagged toward Leverett Circle, stopping and starting in a snaky line of traffic. As I approached the circle, a gray sedan edged into my lane, turn signal flashing. After recounting my current worries during the therapy session —one of my best friends was recently diagnosed with recurrent non-Hodgkin lymphoma after 18 years in remission— I simply wanted to get home and zone out in front of my television.
Now some middle-aged woman was blocking my path, asserting her auto into ‘my’ lane. As she wedged her car in front of mine, I pulled alongside, a silent (but somewhat aggressive) protest. Still, I wasn’t going to risk an accident, and once traffic started to move I let her merge in front of me. She shot into the lane on my left while I continued straight onto the ramp that led to Route 93. Looking in my rear view mirror, I noticed that same woman, my new nemesis, behind me. I smiled, satisfied that all her maneuvering was for naught.
Suddenly she began to edge up on my right, threatening to pass me, though we were in a single line of traffic. I slid over into the center of the lane, blocking her progress. A line of traffic was coming in from the TD Bank Garden, so letting her pass on the right was inviting trouble. (Or so I rationalized; the truth was I enjoyed cutting her off).
Though I couldn’t lip-read the curses coming off her lips, I got the gist of the tirade. Then I saw the flash of her cell phone as she recorded my license plate number. When I turned around, she took pictures of my face; she had caught me in the act of doing – what?
I slowed down, lowered my passenger-side window, and planned to explain that it wasn’t safe to pass on my right. More likely, I would have cursed her out as the situation escalated further, one of those countless road rage moments I’ve observed, (but not usually participated in) during my twenty-five years in Boston.
Fortunately, the woman stayed behind me and then we were separated in traffic. Over the next few days, I waited to see if she would find my apartment building and a) trash my car, b) slash my tires, c) send me a nasty letter or d) all of the above. Worst-case scenarios passed through my mind. What if she were a cop? A corrections officer? An insurance agent with access to my personal information?
As I drove cautiously north toward Medford, I tried to breathe, shocked by the rage that was sparked by this aggressive driver, and my own displaced frustration at life events beyond my control.
During my brief encounter with another driver, I’d seeded the cloud of toxic anger and incivility that seems to hang over Boston. Instead of letting her go, I’d intentionally made her journey a bit more difficult, which served to make mine more unpleasant as well.
Since my road rage incident, I’ve made a conscious effort to drive a bit more slowly, to (sometimes) let others into my lane, and to avoid escalating situations. Yesterday, while driving home, several folks refused to let me into the exit lane on I-93, and I missed my exit. The toxic cloud moves on; I’m just trying not to seed it, to make it worse than it already is.
Judah Leblang is a writer, teacher, and storyteller in Boston. His next four-week memoir course, “Writing from Real Life” will be offered at Grub Street writing center in Boston, starting Sunday evening January 19. For more information, and to sign up, go to http://www.grubstreet.org/index.php?id=13#.UoIsRevQHog.
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