GREAT BIG RAGE! …in a tiny little cage.

Weather: Clear skies and 75°F (24°C) with rain on the way.
Road Conditions: Dry and clear, with scattered maniacs.

Zero-dark-thirty.

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.

Fifth gear.

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.

17 Responses to “GREAT BIG RAGE! …in a tiny little cage.”

  1. irondad Says:

    I want to say something but I don’t know what to say. So why the heck am I putting a comment here in the first place? I wanted to connect, I guess. I could feel myself on Frogwing’s seat feeling the exact same things.

    My muscles tense, my heartrate goes up, my airway gets a little tighter. I want to engage the bogey but at the same time I don’t want to become a victim of the red haze. I try to tell myself that this is just a person with deep personal issues and it makes absolutely no difference in my life. They’re just not important enough to let my day get blown out of the water over. So why can’t I let go? Why do I want to slap some sense into this person? Haven’t I come to grips with the fact that not all military people, cops, and riders will exemplify the things I try to? How can anybody, for that matter, be so stupid and selfish that they will so easily put everyone else in danger just to get what they want? It’s so darn complicated and why am I even struggling with it?

    Finally, the moment when I finally let go and ride somewhere else. A few deep breaths and a slow draining of tension. I actually feel drained, somehow. Then comes that magical shrug of the shoulders and the twist of the wrist. Freedom from a lot of things.

  2. Bill Sommers Says:

    The uncertainty of what might happen next will usually get me to put distance between myself and the tweaking driver. Unless he’s pissed me off. Then things get funky.

    As I was pulling up to the blog this evening, I came across a news flash that a bridge had gone down in your town. I don’t know where you are in proximity to this event, but I hope all is safe and well with you and your family.

    Have fun,
    Bill

  3. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Bill: I ride under that bridge almost every night after work. It goes over West River Road on what I call Ramble Plan Alpha. Tonight, I rode underneath it at about 4pm, only 2 hours before the disaster occurred. The traffic above the river was gridlocked, as it usually is during rush hour.

    What else can I say?

    Irondad: I’ll answer your comment later… you brought up some good points that I want to address. But right now, I’m going to go and hug my girls, and be thankful that I’m here to do so.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  4. Steve Williams Says:

    It’s frightening to think of that big highway bridge collapsing and what it must have been like to be on the road. I’ll pray for those people. Glad you are home and hugging the family.

    As far as the angry man in the cage. I don’t see a lot of that here and when I do it is not as extreme. But like dangerous dogs I let dangerous people pass through like a foul wind. I don’t believe there is anything I can do for them at the moment and hope that a calm response will be more powerful to others than anything else I can do.

    But my imagination does get the better of me sometimes….

  5. conchscooter Says:

    I got an apple core lobbed out of a window the other day. The only reason it missed was because i was at the appropriate distance behind him. When I passed him I turned and gave him a toot and a finger and he was shocked, shocked. The stupid little finger was very satisfying and completely cleared my head.

  6. DaveT Says:

    First off, Gary, I’m glad you’re safe and avoided the bridge collapse. I remembered you mentioning Highway 35 in several postings and immediately hopped on here to make sure you were ok.

    As for the guy in the metro… I drive a big truck for a living, I ride motorcycles to stay sane. and because I have ridden for the last 34 years. I can’t imagine a life without motorcycles. When driving a truck, I’m a giant among midgets. They are faster, more agile, able to stop quicker, and generally have higher speed limits and much looser operational rules. As a professional driver, I have a much stricter set of rules to live by. One of those is “unwritten” and goes, “In the grand scheme of things, what that idiot just did doesn’t matter, neither does this load of toilet paper/cat litter/soda cans/etc. I’m not hauling transplant organs or water to hurricane victims. Five minutes doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. Let it go.” Although I prefer the way Jimmy Buffett phrased it in a song, “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.” Maybe the guy in the metro should listen to more Buffett. :)

    Hug your girls, enjoy life, take the long way to work tomorrow and avoid the bridge!

    Ride safe
    Dave T.

  7. seagullplayer Says:

    Gary I’m glad to hear your alright! I didn’t hear about the bridge until this mornings news, I said a prayer as soon as I heard. I was pretty sure I remembered your mention of that very bridge in your blog.
    My prayers are with the families that didn’t get such good news.

    About your driver, I also wanted to comment yesterday, but didn’t know what to say, I thought about it most of the way home last night.
    I’m pretty sure if you tried to sell the idea of a motorcycle to the guy, he would just blow you off; “nobody tells me what I need”, kind of way.
    But I am thankful to him that we can continue to make up our own minds about such things…

  8. Mad Says:

    I’d like to echo everyone’s relief that you weren’t on or under the highway bridge Gary and to express my sadness for those who were.

    As for the crazy cager, there’s a guy who NEEDS a motorbike. A bike’s abilities would help with his patience problem and the realisation of vunerability would lower that aggression… hopefully.

  9. Fred Says:

    I have not sent a response for a while. Glad to hear you are OK. I remembered you traveled near the bridge from the blog. When I heard the 35w bridge news last night I called everyone I knew in town and thankfully all were safe at home. My heart goes out to those with loved ones who didn’t get good news.

    As for Metro man…didn’t you weave a tale involving a mad max mini van operator earlier this year? Jeeze Gary what’s next a gun toting octogenarian in a Volvo? What kind of vibes are you sending out anyway? Take care out there!

  10. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Irondad: You were definitely in my thoughts as I was dealing with this guy. That’s why I never did anything to escalate the situation, but rather just sat back and monitored. You, probably more than most, understand the instinct to attack/defend that comes over us in these circumstances.

    When you have enough confidence in your riding ability, it turns the bike into a weapon that can be used for either one. But had I acted on this impulse, it would have only made it worse.

    Steve: Your approach is the sanest one, in a supposedly civilized society. Some of us only wear a thin veneer of civilization, however. Just enough to keep us out of jail…

    Conch: There it is again, The Need to Act. You can rationalize ignoring such insults all you want, but it never feels as satisfying as retribution, however symbolic.

    DaveT: … unless, of course, you drive a large truck for a living. I understand the professional perspective as well. You have to be above it all, both figuratively and literally. I admire those who can do that. There’s nothing worse than an A**hole Trucker.

    SGP: You’re probably right. He would probably tell me “Them things are Dangerous!” – while totally disregarding his own behaviour. Or, he might shoot me, thus avoiding the argument altogether. With this guy, I believe anything would have been possible. He was a real rare specimen.

    Mad: I suspect his “issues” have nothing to do with the road or other motorists. But that’s why they say you never see motorbikes outside a shrink’s office, right? Moto-therapy might be good for him, but I suspect he needs professional help, including medication.

    Fred: We have a lot of these aggro-drivers here these days. “Minnesota Nice” does not apply on the mean streets of the Twin Cities. A lot of these folks are transplants, I suppose, but not all of them.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  11. irondad Says:

    Conchscooter,

    Apple cores? Sensitive bottom? I couldn’t resist the friendly little nudge! I’m sure you get the reference. Motorcycle rider, ex cop, trained investigator. Little things stick in my brain and match up with new things that come in.

    Have a nice day!

    P.S. Thanks for the space, Gary!

  12. allen madding Says:

    Gary,
    I came to your blog specifically to check on you. Glad to know you are well. All of the victims are in our prayers.

    As to the road rage guy, I hear ya, man. I’ve dealt with aggressive behavior from a guy in a pickup and I worked to put myself as far away from him as I could and to put cars between us. Then I just rode from my safe distance and watched – also with his tag number committed to memory. Despite our confidence in our riding abilities, a 500 lb motorcycle is no match for a 3,000 lb vehicle if it is being used as a weapon. Cooler heads do prevail.

    Be safe

  13. Jeff Says:

    My commute rarely involves ragers. I’m fortunate to have a lightly traveled suburban commute of 30 minutes or so that is 1/2 twisties and 1/2 single lane city streets (and just a breif run on a 3 lane – each way – state road to stretch the legs). The only kind of rage I come across are tailgaters. On the roads I travel it still boggles my mind. We usually travel in a nice line of well spaced vehichles, but every once in a while there is that nut that wants to be travelling 3 mph faster and decides to tighten things up to the extreme. I had been playing it cool every time this happened, but it always made me mad. As much as I tried not to, I knew I was spending more time that usual glancing in the mirrors. I resented the fact that if something did happen it would be because my mind was behind me when something unexpected happened in front.

    The other day I tried something a little different that, thinking back on it now, suprises me. A nice wide stretch of road with a coupele of big driveways presented themselves and I just pulled off… put on my blinker, slowed down, and just pulled over to let the SOB by. As I did it I felt like the car won. But, the moment I pulled back out on the road and found myself 3 seconds behind the poor cage (without even trying), the shift in power in the situation was extraordinary. There was a massive release of tension I was not even aware of and, now I exerted control over the tailgater. I could choose to follow at a distance I preferred, and like others here, observe the antics from a safe and objective distance. Every time we pulled up to a stop sign, stop light or slower car the grin on my face got even wider. It was absolutely exhilerating.

    I now look forward to the tailgater. Try to be a lunatic. I’ll just move over and follow you into town, and if the ride is long enough I may actually start laughing…

  14. Bro Shagg Says:

    Parroting what everyone else has said, glad you and yours are OK. We all have to go sometime, but it is always tragic when it isn’t after a full, long life…

    -The apple core story reminds of one that happened when I was young. I was a passenger in a convertible full of my high-school buddies, when the person up the road in the lane to our right threw a core out the window. It hit the road and bounced over the windshield and right into the back seat of our car. At the next light, one of the guys in the back seat yelled, “I think this belongs to you” and whipped it back at the driver. I think he was just littering, but he was certainly surprised to get it back! Ah, the days of youth!

    -Buffett on the radio always calms me down when I’m cagin’, but the local constabulary frowns on me drinking the obligatory margarita while I’m driving!

    -Staying away from bad drivers is always the best strategy. As a former long-haul truck driver, I speak from experience. When sitting up that high, we can see very far down the road, and often not only see accidents happen, but watch the conditions develop that lead to the “accident”. I put that in quotes because most of the time, especially when involving aggressive drivers, they can be prevented. I don’t have official numbers, but I’d be willing to bet that most rush-hour accidents are caused by tailgaters and aggressive drivers. Every one that I’ve witnessed (too many to count) was.

    Talking Metro-maniac into a bike may go a long way towards easing his mind, or he may ride it the same way he drives and quickly find himself turned into street-pizza. Some medicine just doesn’t work for everybody, and as you said, his issues may run deeper.

    It’s a shame that some people’s attitude towards you changes when they see the “Marines” sticker. My Father was in the Army in WW II, but was essentially a pacifist. He believed that war should always be the action of last resort, but when it was necessary, he volunteered and did his part. Whether someone agrees with the policies of the government that sends the services into action shouldn’t matter when it come to their opinion of you or your comrades-in-arms. You people do what needs to be done so that we all can live the lives we do. I thank you and all servicemen & women, past and present- and especially the Metro-maniac. Mentally, he may have made a greater sacrifice in service to his country. The Marine stickers on his car explain to me a possible reason for his state-of-mind and actions. While it doesn’t excuse his dangerous behaviour, I don’t consider him to be an example of all Marines. Take your sticker off Frogwing? What would your Drill Sergeant say if he read that??? Don’t take your sticker off. The more normal people that have those on their vehicles, the more we civilians see the Metro-maniac to be the exception- not the rule. Wear your service, and sticker with pride!

    -BS

  15. shaun Says:

    corect minnesota nice is B.S. when it gets in a cage….. verry glad you made it out of the deal without a geo circle in your dome. You wer one of the first people I thaught of wed night its nice yo see you at work (even if it is at work) It was a good first thursday last night a better mix than usual.

  16. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Guys: Your comments stand on their own here. I just don’t have the time right now to respond in-depth. My commute time has doubled, thanks to the bridge disaster, and I have another entry to write.

    I hope you all understand.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  17. Roy Says:

    As an army veteran and still in reserves my scooter gives me the freedom of mind. Usually it is the best part of the day commuting to and from work…

    Thank you for a great Blog!!!
    Roy.