Monday, March 24, 2008

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner

No matter how many times I mention how I love living in LA (the lovely weather, the near-constant sunshine, the number of places to explore) there are inevitably downsides to the City of Angels. Chief among them is the relentless, never-ending traffic and its twin counterpart, rude drivers. On most days I co-exist peacefully with traffic and rude drivers, however painful, but an incident that took place last Thursday that really shook me up.

Last week was Spring Break here in LA’s public school district, and traffic was uncharacteristically good. Almost scary good – for a few days I kept checking my dashboard clock, my watch, and my iPhone to make sure that it was indeed a weekday and that I didn’t oversleep by accident. In my mind, that was the only reason why traffic was so good – I was horribly late for work. Thirty minutes to get to work was like a god-send, a rare luxury in the world of LA commuters. For once, I had gotten to work by 9 am everyday.

Last Thursday my husband needed a ride to work. It was only a mile out of my way, and given the little congestion on the freeway during rush hour, I agreed. After dropping Rene off, I had to make a right turn into a big street in order to get to the freeway entrance. I looked to the left and the right (to make sure I wasn’t mowing down any pedestrians crossing the street) then back to the left again. I saw a pack of cars approaching the intersection a safe distance away and decided to make my right turn. Right after I turned I cut across two lanes to the left (thinking there was no one behind me) so I could make a beeline to the freeway entrance – big mistake. Within seconds of changing lanes, I heard the roar of a motorcycle engine and an irate motorcyclist was soon riding next to me in traffic, on the driver’s side, revving his engine and muttering curses, throwing his fists in the air for emphasis. I was feeling very badly about the situation and my huge miscalculation when he pulled in front of me and kicked my car. That’s when I began to see red. To me, it was the equivalent of being shoved while walking down the street and I was not taking any abuse from this motorist.

After kicking my car the motorcyclist crossed over in front of me and began yelling more obscenities to the passenger side of my car (keep in mind that all of this occurred while in motion, IN TRAFFIC, when cars were moving). I’d had enough – I rolled down my passenger side window and started yelling out things that would make Andrew “Dice” Clay blush, complete with middle-finger action. Oh it was a sight to behold – a screaming match during the morning commute between a white sedan and a motorcycle. This continued for a good minute and finally stopped when the motorcyclist sped off and made a right turn before the freeway entrance.

I was LIVID! It took the rest of the drive to work to calm me down. I called my husband and described the incident – he rides a motorcycle everyday to work – and he said that some motorcyclists will kick or hit cars to make their point. I asked him if he’d ever done anything like that – hitting a car to make a point – and he said no. He said there are too many crazy drivers here in LA, and who knows what kind of retaliation he’d get in return – that driver may have a gun and may be ticked off enough to use it (drive-by shootings do occur here in LA), or worse, the car driver might mow him down and catapult him into oncoming traffic. But apparently, despite these gruesome scenarios, it is common practice for some motorcyclists to bang on cars with their hands or feet. My husband makes sure to stay alert, stay out of blind sides, and generally avoids cars to prevent potential accidents. He said that I shouldn’t take it personally and that it happens to a lot of people, but I couldn’t help but feel slighted for something that I felt was a personal attack. After all, that motorcyclist did curse me out and kick my car – it’s hard to feel any empathy for such a rude reaction. I would’ve been extremely apologetic had he tapped my window (once we came to a stop) and told me what I did wrong – after all, my husband drives a motorcycle, and the last thing I wanted to do was cause an accident.

In retrospect, the incident was entirely my fault. I didn’t see the motorcyclist when I scanned for oncoming cars but SHOULD have looked behind my shoulder before making that left lane change. I was STUPID for not looking, and I caused a motorcyclist to brake hard to avoid colliding with my car. That being said, kicking someone’s car and cursing them out while in traffic is not the appropriate way to point out their mistake. I felt cornered and abused, and the only way I could react at the time was to throw the cursing and hand gestures back to his face. It was not my proudest moment, but I really hated being yelled at and put on the spot. To me, it’s like getting backed into a corner, and I’m left with no other choice but to claw my way out.

There was another instance about three years ago when a taxi driver and I totally went at it. I was in San Francisco for a weeklong business trip, and my co-worker and I hailed a cab at the airport to take us to our hotel. I didn’t sense right away that the cab driver was having a bad day – I politely told him where we were staying (Palace Hotel) and the address. When he didn’t respond I told him again where the hotel was located and its cross-streets – to which he angrily yelled that he heard me the first time, that who was I to think that he was an idiot, and that he was tired of having people repeat things over and over to him. My co-worker Juna later told me that after the cab driver started yelling I stiffened up and my eyes widened in surprise. I yelled back to him that I was NOT going to accept his rudeness (which may have been peppered with F- and S-bombs) and that if he had problems with someone else to not take it out on us. He replied with more F- and S- bombs, turned the taxi around, and took us back to the airport. He practically threw our luggage out of the cab once we got there, and I made sure to give him a piece of my mind before he left. The nerve! I couldn’t believe that I was arguing with a cab driver first thing in the morning, and in my favorite city of all places. Luckily, we ended up getting the next cab and got to our hotel without incident.

Despite these two incidents, I’m normally not one for confrontations – I always try to avoid them and go about my business whenever possible. If a salesperson is rude to me, I don’t get huffy and yell – I just stop shopping at that store (this is why H&M is on my banned list of places to shop). If someone cuts the line because they’re friends with the person in front of me, I just let it go. But if someone yells at me out of anger, for no good reason, then I’m on the defensive and I come out swinging. But talk to me in a respectful manner and I'm all ears, apologetic for the incident and eager to have it resolved.

We should all strive to give each other a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. A little goes a long way.

No comments: