Thursday, October 23, 2008

Just Another Thursday Afternoon?

Over this last 17 months, I haven't done a whole lot of driving. On the rare moments that I have - following many months of bed rest - I found myself feeling strangely unfamiliar with the experience, yet thrilled to be maintaining some independence. When I first got back on the road, I would hear someone honking their horn and wonder if I had made a mistake. And I would also look around constantly, wondering if I might be doing anything wrong - thinking, "I'm on disability and bedrest. Should I be doing this?"

Well all of that passed and I became more and more comfortable driving until I really didn't notice it anymore. Until this afternoon...

I was about 2 miles south of Syracuse heading north on Interstate 81 (on my way to the Apple Store in Syracuse to get a diagnostic and tell me why our computer is crashing every day) when out of nowhere a big ole white pick-up truck pulled up next to me very quickly, window down with the driver screaming expletives at me as loud as he could. Clearly he felt I had done him wrong. Maybe I did. I passed an on-ramp just before seeing him next to me, so I believe he had just merged onto the interstate with us. Maybe he was driving way too fast when he entered the interstate from the on ramp. Maybe I cut him off as I changed lanes. Either way, he was furious and maybe justified, so I did my best to show it with a facial expression that I was sorry for whatever mistake I may have made. (I should point out that I am not on any cold medicine or under the influence of chemotherapy and thus swerving back and forth in and out of my lane. At most I simply didn't see him.)

His response? With blood vessels popping all over his beet-red face, he screamed, "PULL OVER!!!" Hmm. Now I'm not sure why he thought I was going to listen to him, but it was clear he felt he was in the right. And how did I determine that you might ask? By the 64 oz. cup of soda and ice that he threw at my windshield while we drove down the interstate at 60 MPH. Can you believe that? And because that wasn't enough to get me to pull over, he then sped up so that he truck was just a little bit past me and then started driving into my lane in order to force me off the road. Naturally, I hit my brakes and shifted to the left lane to place myself safely behind him, only for have him to hit his brakes and land himself next to me on my right - still screaming "PULL OVER!!!" - now with fire pretty much shooting out of his eye balls.

At this point it was clear to me that he was not going to let up anytime soon. So, wasting no time, I immediately dialed 911 and let the operator know my location and that an incredibly angry man in a white pickup was trying to drive me off the road. I think I forgot to tell her about the large cup of soda he threw at my windshield. But I did ask her if she would please send a squad car onto the interstate to intercept us.

The 911 operator said she was unable to dispatch a police officer to a moving vehicle and that if I wanted immediate police support, I would need to pull off the interstate, park my car and call 911 again, at which point a officer would be dispatched. Or I could provide her his license plate number and the police would track him down. Naturally I told her there was no way I was going to stop my vehicle while this guy is following me. So then she told me those were my two choices and asked what I would like to do.

I did a little thinking out loud not wanting to hang up and trying to come up with something besides following her recommendation to be a sitting duck. Then it hit me and I asked her if she could direct me to a police station. She said she would be happy to and directed me off of the interstate and onto the streets of Syracuse. Of course he followed me so I pretty much crept down the road to avoid having to come to a complete stop at any upcoming traffic lights or stop signs. However, once I was on State Street, the 911 operator informed me that the police station was on State Street on the left hand side and that once I was at arrived there, I could call 911 again and they would send a police officer out to assist me. I immediately said, "There is no way I am going to hang up and then call once I get there. This guy is twice my size. He'll punch holes in me before I ever see a police officer."

Surprisingly, she stayed on the phone with me as I searched for the police station. I thought I saw it, looked around, realized the building was an old bank, then looked in my rear view mirror to see the angry guy in the white pickup truck had pulled into what appeared to be a Rent-A-Center parking lot. I let her know and she said she would dispatch a police officer to that location and asked if I still wanted to someone at the police station. I declined. There was really no reason. He was gone and I was no longer concerned about my well being.

Yet as I drove and found my way back to the interstate, I began to ask myself, "Had I made such a terrible mistake that his response was justified?" That was when I realized that his actions were the worst display of road rage I had ever been dealt. Did I really feel like he may have been justified? Absolutely NOT. It just took me a minute to realize what the hell had just happened.

So as I got back en route to the Apple Store, I found myself being hypersensitive and way overstimulated by the vehicles and traffic control devices that surrounded me. It never hurts to be a little more conscientious of how I am driving, but I was definitely pushed - or should I say slammed - back into the post-bedrest mindset I was in many months ago. I couldn't shake it off on my way to the Apple Store, across town to lunch with my dear friend Pat, or as I drove all the way home from Syracuse.

Man! That vulnerability was right back with me in no time. I don't think it will last. But considering how much time it took for me to finally feel like I'm back in the "real world," this afternoon's experience certainly took me by surprise. Nothing like this has ever been part of my experience in the "real world," but I thought I would let you know how the early part of my afternoon went today. I really wish I got his license plate number. Hopefully someone else who was driving behind him wrote it down and made the call.


  1. Dude, you should have called me. My office is right across the street from the Police Station. I could have come out and said hello.

  2. Wow! That was horrific! I can't believe that happened to you, Bert.

    I totally identify with that feeling of being uncomfortable driving. I stopped driving on a regular basis back in October/November, and only really started driving again this summer. And I did feel nervous about it, especially highway driving.

    However, even a horrible driver (which I don't think you are) does not deserve what you encountered! Unbelievable!

    I'm glad that you were smart enough not to follow her ridiculous advice about pulling over. And I can't believe that the police won't come to your aid when you are being threatened like that.

    I'm glad you are safe. You and Daniella haven't gone through all of this to have some rage-aholic on the highway risk your life like that.

    Maria Brown