Weather: Clear skies and 75Â°F (24Â°C) with rain on the way.
Road Conditions: Dry and clear, with scattered maniacs.
Frogwing and I entered the Tunnel of Hate Freeway in our usual manner this morning. Our entrance is located at the beginning of what they call “Spaghetti Junction” around here, at the confluence of two Interstates: I-94 and I-35E.
So, while we’re still leaned to the right in the cloverleaf on-ramp, I am looking over my shoulder for a break in traffic. Once spotted, we accelerate briskly in third gear to slot-in, grab fourth to match the speed of traffic, and immediately begin looking for our course to the fast lane.
Now, we lean through the left and right turns which lead us out of Spaghetti Junction and onto the freeway proper. But this time, we have aroused somebody’s ire…
I see the headlights swerving between lanes in Frogwing’s mirrors. They are low, and rather closely spaced, so I know that it is a compact car. I’m thinking it’s some youngster in one of those hopped-up Hondas, playing a videogame in meatspace.
Imagine my surprise when a little red Geo Metro pulls alongside, and I get a gunsight glare from the grizzled grey head of an unmistakable combat veteran. We stay like that for a moment, and then he floors it and pulls ahead.
Sure enough, the back of his car is completely festooned with “Retired U.S. Marine”, and “Vietnam Combat Veteran” stickers. The Southeast Asia Campaign Ribbon bumper sticker has pride of place in the bottom center of the rear window, and on his license plate is a Purple Heart.
He is driving as though the Hounds of Hell are after him, torturing every last measure of speed out of the poor little cage. He is tailgating, weaving between lanes, and charging through gaps that I would hesitate to exploit on a motorbike. For some reason; a mixture of morbid fascination and maybe a tiny bit of residual malice towards this ghost of Drill Instructors past, Frogwing and I follow.
We keep our distance, mind you. No telling what kind of havoc this fool might wreak out here. But I take every opportunity to place Frogwing’s headlight squarely in his rearview mirror. I’ve memorized his license number, and I will be a witness to any collateral damage he causes. I want him to know that. Today is my day to be a Bastard, I guess…
After awhile, he calms down a bit. We are still well over the speed limit, and he is still tailgating and passing at random, but somehow it seems a tightly controlled aggression. I find myself wondering where all this rage is coming from. Here is a man, obviously on a military pension, driving a crappy little car to a job he has to start very early.
He is wearing a t-shirt, so it’s obvious he is not The Boss. I wonder how much of his rage originates there.
Though I am loathe to admit it, I know exactly where he is coming from. Many’s the time, driving my own cage, when I felt trapped by the glass and steel around me. Trapped in my vehicle as I sometimes felt trapped in my life.
On a motorbike, I never feel trapped. I have Options.
I want to pull this guy over, tell him to get a motorbike, get out and ride, get over his rage…
But what do I really know about him? I’m just projecting here. I know what I know, but I have no idea what is going through his head.
Twenty-six miles is a long way to keep something like this going. At about eighteen miles, I let him go. Frogwing and I slide over into the middle lane and blend in with the rest of the traffic. Maybe that will take the pressure off this ticking time-bomb of a road-raging cager. Good thing he can’t afford a Hummer…
I really hate the fact that he is so obviously a Marine. It makes me want to take the sticker off the front of Frogwing. We get so much bad press these days, because of the insanity over in Iraq. Just like we got bad press in the `60’s and `70’s over Vietnam.
Sometimes, people at the side of the road begin to smile when they see us riding along, but then I see that smile freeze into a grimace at the sight of that sticker.
Still, I can’t help thinking that riding a motorcycle or scooter would help this guy gain some perspective, just like it has for me. Or, if his fuse gets lit, and he goes off, at least he won’t do as much damage.