Hell on Wheels
Photo by Keith MayOne year ago, we asked you to contribute to a new regular feature, "Hey, You!" We invited you to send in your "anonymous thanks, confessions or accusations—changing or deleting the names of the guilty and the innocent." And you did. We got stories of love lost and found, corporate tyranny, personal betrayal, and excessive, four-alarm self-indulgence.
But there was this one outstanding feature: you force-fed us a stream of angry stories related to cars.
It was like drinking from the nozzle of a gasoline pump: "Congestion über alles." "I am a slave to my vehicle." "Rising gas-price blues." "My [car] insurance company fucked me over." "40,000 a year dead."
We received tales of drunks who drive drunk and sober people who drive as if smashed. We received stories of men and women—and kids, even—who distilled every perceived insult on the asphalt into pure nitro and poured it into their gas tanks. We received histories (remember the guy who ran down a mother in a Balboa Peninsula alley—a decade ago?) and current events (open letters to gangbangers, taxi drivers and Caltrans).
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Looking for variety in the paper, we held the tales of hell on wheels in a file called "Roadrage," thinking maybe we'd dispense them a little at a time and mix them up with tales of illicit romance or small-time office perfidy. But "Roadrage" ballooned. Reading it was nightmarish, like a marathon viewing of snuff films, as if our own sunny existence at the Weekly was underpinned by a petroleum-driven alternative world in which cars drive humans. Now it's clear the stories are a story; now it's time to share the pleasure.
MINE'S BIGGER THAN YOURS
I was the guy in the Miata. You were the guy in the empty flatbed trying to merge onto the 57 near Katella last week. Remember me? The guy who waved you onto the freeway, slowed down to let you in, and then flashed my lights to indicate that you had room to get on? You were the guy who, perhaps mistaking my friendly wave, slid open the window on the back of your cab to wave a peashooting pistol—probably some piece-of-shit Saturday night special you got to impress your dumb-ass friends. I was the guy who reached into my glove compartment to show you my Glock 9 mm. In the future, you might try being the guy who assumes the best about other drivers.
A few years ago, angry over a girl, you beat the shit out of my car with a baseball bat. You had warned her you were going to do it, but when the police showed up, it was her word against yours. My insurance company covered the damage, so I let it go. Or so I thought. You see, she's left us both now—she abandoned me recently for another guy whose car I'm NOT going to smash with a Louisville Slugger—but I never forgot about your act of blind vengeance. I know I should. I know I shouldn't run shopping carts into the side of your car when I see it in parking lots. Shouldn't drive past your house late at night and run a screwdriver across the hood. Slash your tire. Pour nail-polish remover on your trunk. Put thinner on the new paint job. No, I shouldn't. I used to be in a 12-step program. They taught me better than this. But right now, the need to slowly destroy your car is bigger than me and you put together. My bad.
You were the highflying cyclist riding the wrong way—at night, in dark clothes, down a busy boulevard. I was the woman driving the Ford Expedition who, just before turning right onto an equally busy cross street, stopped suddenly to avoid running into you head-on in the crosswalk. I didn't expect a thanks. But I also didn't expect you to walk your bike alongside my car, pounding on it as you proceeded and cursing me in terms I doubt the Weekly would print. You're probably wondering why I allowed you to bang on my car, why I didn't simply drive away and leave you sputtering in my rear-view mirror. So let me tell you: I was considering opening my glove compartment, pulling out the handgun I keep there, and sticking that gun into your mouth until you forked over whatever money you keep in your expensive-looking riding suit. I battled the temptation. You gambled on a stranger's decency, and this time you won.
In December 1998, you hit my car when you ran a red on Bolsa. You pulled over to inspect the damage and then flexed your muscles—literally. You flexed your biceps and told me you'd kick my ass—"I'll fuck you up," was how you put it—if I called the police. It worked. I didn't call the police, and I borrowed $1,900 to repair my fender. But this isn't an accusatory letter. You may be a pathological asshole, but I'm a coward. I'm still embarrassed about it, and I keep hoping that I'll run into you again. I want to thank you. You revealed to me what I had denied all my life: that I'm afraid, that my whole life —where I go, whom I talk to when I get there, and where I'll work—has been shaped by fear. Since then, I've gotten stronger. Run into my car again, and I'll walk away with your testicles in my purse.
A few days ago, while driving south on the 405 near Costa Mesa, the traffic swirling around me like something out of Lagos, Nigeria, I pulled in between a massive truck (its grill filled my rear-view mirror) and your tiny Pintoesque vehicle with a bumper sticker that read, "HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS." So I honked—and thus embarked on the most terrifying few moments of the past year. You very clearly flipped me off and then tapped your brakes. I hit mine to avoid being accordioned by the truck behind me. When I moved to change lanes, you swerved to stay in front of me—and then flipped me off and tapped your brakes again. I backed off. Way off. So did you. Soon cars were flowing around us like river water around rocks. I changed lanes. Twice. You followed, always staying just in front of me. I slowed to 25; you slowed to 25—and then began gesturing at me to pull over. I flashed through a scenario: we'd pull over, I'd explain that I was honking because, like you, I love Jesus, and we'd have a good laugh, share a moment of brotherly love, and part friends. Then again, perhaps you'd just shoot me. Perhaps the car wasn't yours. I began to feel like Dennis Weaver in Steven Spielberg's Duel. I pulled around you and sped toward an offramp. You veered toward the offramp, too, but—thank you, Jesus!—too late, and you satisfied yourself with one long honk and what looked like FUCKYOUFUCKYOUFUCKYOUFUCKYOU! I threw my head back and laughed with relief. I had escaped! Or had I? I'm figuring you live around here somewhere and that you're spreading your peculiar brand of Christian goodwill. Like the ripples from a rock in a pond, your toxic behavior may unsettle others. And who knows what evil those people will commit in turn? Please, for Christ's sake, get rid of the bumper sticker.
Okay, summer is here, and once again, I am surrounded. Everywhere I go—video store, Del Taco drive-through, porn shop—I see them: HARVEST CRUSADE BUMPER STICKERS! As if there aren't enough fundie morons with Jesus-fish bumper stickers out there in OC. Nothing makes me happier than being cut off on the highway by some fucktard in a 4X4 with a "Real Men Love Jesus" sticker on the back. I gotta ask: Do you think your God likes having his name on the back of a car? I wish Christians would show a little more respect for their beliefs than to degrade their messiah into a witty slogan, sharing space with Carl's Jr. "Eat Meat" stickers. How 'bout: "If you can read this, you're not saved"? It's a dang good thing that Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists all have enough taste and sense to keep their beliefs personal and private. Can you imagine, instead of the diamond lane, the crucifix lane? Merging for Methodists only? I call on all freethinkers in OC to view these stickers as I do: targets.
I walk out of my class at Santa Ana College a few weeks ago and stop at a street corner, waiting for the light to change. It's a perfect day: sun shining, light traffic, something like a gentle trade wind blowing. Next to me, a young woman is pushing a stroller with a young kid, maybe 4 years old, and holding a puny dog on a leash. Ah, life! The light changes, the dog charges into the street, hits the limit of his leash, gets tangled around the wheels of the stroller, and locks up the stroller in the perilous path of traffic. Cars stop. I help the woman unwind dog and stroller, and as the light changes again, we return to the safety of our curb. We talk amiably—nice kid, nice dog, thanks for helping, think nothing of it. The light changes again. Crosswalk says walk. Dog leads us off the curb and into the crosswalk—as a car bears down upon us, races through the intersection, and rolls over the dog, the driver tapping the brakes briefly, maybe to consider the possibility of stopping, sensing, perhaps, the oncoming traffic, and then punching it. Gone in a cloud of dust and dog guts. I did not get the license number or even the make of the car. But I will never forget that fender and the sight of that little dog body rolling around the tire not once but twice, bouncing off the wheel well like a shoe in a dryer before being shot out sideways a few feet from the stroller, the crying kid and the freaking woman. I'll never forget that fender. Never.
MAD ABOUT MADD
I shouldn't drive drunk, but I do occasionally because of a lot of very good reasons that are none of your goddamn business, and can I say something, please? I drive better than most of you. I'm assuming you're sober. Or maybe we're all drunk and I just handle the alcohol better. A couple of weeks ago, one of you pulled into my lane without signaling or even looking, forcing me into the carpool lane. I wasn't too drunk that time. But you sure drove like you were smashed. I don't know whether to tell you people to stop drinking or to start. Or maybe just to start doing whatever it is you're not.
So I'm minding my own business driving up Harbor Boulevard on the way to work this morning. I spot you flicking your cigarette butt out the window of your car—one of my major pet peeves, but a common idiot move. Then I notice the tax-exempt license plate on your government-issue white Dodge Aries. As you accelerate away from the stoplight, blowing enough smoke out the exhaust to warrant a call to 1-800-CUT-SMOG, I pull close enough to read the logo on your car door. It gives you away as an employee of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Cruising along to the next light, watching you blow your morning cigarette smoke out your window, I'm sure you're completely oblivious to the fact that your day's work will affect dozens of industries in this area that have to mind their manners much more carefully than you and that will be forced to jump through regulatory hoops about which you clearly don't give a shit—since you seem to feel you're exempt. While the rest of us are restricted now and in the future to the kinds of vehicles we can use, how we can barbecue, what kind of colognes and perfumes we'll be able to use, complying with the DMV's Nazi-like smog-check policies, etc., you perform the function of clueless bureaucrat—performing your daily duties enforcing these moronic rules. My blood boils. We roll along the street while I watch you in your own little government-buffered world on your way to work. As you drag on the next cigarette, I'm sure it'll wind up in the same place as the previous one —washed into the gutters, through the storm drains, into the Santa Ana River and into the ocean to wash up on our beaches with the next good rain. But you're not worried; that's not your department.
I love your company's television advertisements, the ones in which happy families gather for picnics to celebrate their common heritage: the purchase of your wondrous automobile. My wife and I had always been pretty fond of ours, too, but no longer. Not since the part you claimed to have inspected when I brought it in last week died an ugly and mysterious death a mere four days later—while I was in rush-hour traffic, just south of Los Angeles. Lights, hazards, blinkers, power steering, all of it was gone as I limped my car off the road, narrowly avoiding being hit. Eventually, we made it to an ARCO station off Inglewood, where my wife and I waited nearly four hours for a tow-truck. Sound bad? Then try this: we were on our way to the most important event of my nascent career, and then, after that, driving to northern California on our honeymoon, as my wife had never seen the redwoods. That's right. Your shoddy workmanship cost me and my wife our honeymoon. And what do you do? You call it an "unfortunate coincidence" that it died mere days after you looked at it. You've done nothing more than knock a few bucks off the cost for our "inconvenience." Well, I've filed official complaints with your corporate office, the Better Business Bureau and the Department of Consumer Affairs, and I'm not stopping there. I don't want this to come to a lawsuit—I want you to live up to your rep and do the decent, red-white-and-blue thing and pay the damages for lost wages. Or do you want people to think that despite your advertising, you really arejust another car company?
How does this happen? You hit me from behind on the 22, and we pull over, inspect the damage, agree that it's your fault and exchange numbers. Everything seems in order, and rather than make you wait out in the sweltering heat, rather than make thousands of drivers move slowly around us, I agree to contact you later. Within 48 hours, police are at my door, arresting me for a hit-and-run in which you have been injured. No matter what I say, the boys in blue say I'm going to the station house. There are no witnesses. I am released on a bond (which cost me $2,500; I am a "flight risk") and advised to get an attorney. Thank God this is a criminal case: because I cannot afford my own defense, the state will pay for one—but not, perhaps, before I am financially ruined. I used to think Satan wandered the Earth; now I know he's found a home: you.
I first caught sight of you in my rear-view mirror, your red Chevy Blazer weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speed, passing the blue Honda, blowing by the white Toyota, spinning out the little red Corvette, and then—like the Space Shuttle hitching a ride on the back of a jumbo jet—tailgating my tail, tight as tight! You couldn't get around me—there was another utility vehicle on your right. You were sandwiched in! You had a menacing look on your face, shoveling stress hither and thither. There was a disturbance in the force. I tuned into the force and remembered what Yoda said about enlightment: to bend and not to break. We all came to a momentous stop at a red light. You didn't shoot anybody! The light turned green, and you, crazy boy, were hell-bent on getting in front of me—and you finally did! Accelerating past me with rage and blood in your eyes—only to pull into a 7-Eleven a half block later on Westminster Boulevard.
Here I was judging you, and all you needed was a Slurpee fix, stat!
SEE YOU AGAIN
To the 45-year-old Infiniti driver, the irresponsible asshole who wrecked my parents' new car on Laguna Canyon Road last month; who made an illegal left turn; who wasn't carrying his driver's license or proof of insurance; who gave the cops false information regarding his insurance; whose insurance company shows no policy on file; who was driving a car registered in his daddy's name; who admitted to the cops that he'd been drinking—but wasn't arrested because he's a white man from Orange County who drives an Infiniti; who won't answer his phone; and who probably votes Republican because he feels people need to exercise more "personal responsibility": I look forward to seeing you run into my parents one more time —in court!
I'VE GOT FRIENDS
You were the guy in the white Toyota T100 pickup with the extra cab and the tinted windows that I had the unfortunate experience of driving behind through my friend's apartment complex two weeks ago. I patiently trailed behind you as you crept along at 5 mph. When the opportunity presented itself, I tried to pass you, only to have you jerk your truck over to the left to block me, causing me to almost hit you. I didn't do anything by way of response: I was stunned that you felt the need to dictate others' driving. Once you "allowed" us both to start moving again—which was, like, a full 15 seconds later—I continued to trail behind you. Then you sped off down a side street and cut back in front of me farther down the road. I slowed to get your plate number as you hung out your window, screaming, "WHAT'S YOUR F****** PROBLEM?!? WHAT'S YOUR F****** PROBLEM?!?" as if I were the one who had done something. It's pretty obvious you're the one with the "fucking problem"—a power trip, a bad mood—and saw that I was a lone female and thus an easy and safe target for your hostility. The only thing you didn't realize is that sometimes females have male family members willing to go back and take care of business on their behalf. We've already gone back to your apartment complex. We know where you park your truck. And now we know where to find it.
NEW PANTS, PLEASE
You were going through the toll booth on the Newport Coast Drive exit this past Sunday. I waited behind your Ford Explorer and wondered about the delay until you plopped down out of the driver's seat and waddled up to my car window. I knew when I saw you coming that you needed coins. No problem there: I use the cheap stretches of the toll road all the time and usually have plenty of quarters. The problem was having to watch you waddle back to scramble into your SUV. Your shorts were hysterically large even on your already large ass. They were slipping down with your every step. My heart was struck with fear that I might have to see what they heretofore barely covered. Fortunately, you clutched those shorts, opened your door and still kept those coins in your chubby little fist. And you got through the toll booth! Thank you. Praise the Lord. Amen.
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