Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Road Rage, Interrupted

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This post orginally appeared on the Chicago Moms Blog.

While I was out with the boys earlier today we saw a really nasty exhibition of Road Rage.

Driver A swerved out of his lane to avoid someone making a left turn and nearly cut off Driver B. Driver A almost got hit, but forced Driver B to let him into the right-hand lane. (I later surmise that Drive B or one of his passengers flipped off Driver A at this time.)

About 50 yards after this near miss we all arrive in a line at a stoplight. Driver A, a man about 5 foot 10 in his late 20s steps out of his car to inspect the damage, though I wasn't sure if there had actually been an accident.

Driver B, a man of similar height, but a good 30 years older, also exits his vehicle. I am in the next car in the line, taking this all in.

Words are exchanged. Drive A hits and then shoves Driver B. I honk my horn at them and then turn off the car and jump out. “What are you doing?!? Leave that man alone!” I shout.

Is Driver A embarrassed to be put in his place by a five-foot small woman?

No, he defends his actions.

WTF? He’s assaulting a senior citizen!

I frantically try to dial 911 from my cell phone, but I’m shaking and keep messing up. I know, I know. It’s only three digits! First my jittery fingers typed in an extra 2 and then a 0. Had to hit the “talk” button to send the call….

Finally I get through. How to explain? It’s not a traffic accident per se, more of an incident. I can barely hear and I’m frantically trying to explain about the young guy hitting the old man. I’m not sure if I’m coherent, but I have the wits about me to give the cops Driver A’s license plate number and car description.

After a bit more shoving and shouting Driver A returns to his care and takes off at the green
light. (I think it was because he saw people with their cell phones out and heard murmurs of "911" and "cops.")

Driver B heads in another direction.

I return to my car.

OMG. My boys. What did they think of this?

Where they scared? Yes, a bit. Scared of the guys or worried about me? Both.

“When you see something that is so wrong, you just can’t sit by and watch it happen.” I tell them, adrenaline still coursing through my veins. I also tell them that if anyone approaches their car like Driver A did to Driver B, just lock the doors and windows and call the police. (Actually I left the last bit about the police out, but I’ll tell them in the morning.)

Upon reflection it seems almost comical, tiny me playing the role of Big Mama, yelling at these bad boys to play nice.

I acted strictly from my gut. My need to stand up for this stranger outweighed my normal instincts to focus first the safety of my kids. Is that bad? The young healthy guy shoving around an old man was just too much. Sometimes I hate this world.


MoziEsmé said...

Seems to me you did the right thing.

BTW, I've just been wrestling with how to choose what is the right thing when your kids' safety is involved: see

It's complicated . . .

Veronica said...

wow...I do not want to meet you at an intersection! Seriously, I think you did the right thing, but I hope (know) that you explained it to the boys.

adrienne said...

You rock!

At 5 feet you still have the heart and determination of a Kodiak bear.

Your willingness to jump out of your car and stand for a stranger (according to crowd theory at least) meant that every other bystander there was more likely to intervene should things get worse.

Plus, it informed the younger man that 1) all bystanders weren't intimidated, indifferent, or "on his side," and 2) if he had any sense of self-preservation he should leave immediately despite his soaring adrenaline and obvious desire to fight.

When I was about 4, my dad was driving my 5 year old brother and I down a rural Texas road. We came across this roadside scene of a large group of drunk men beating another drunk man.

My dad (huge guy) pulled over our little pickup, told us to lock the doors, and after pulling the tire iron out from behind the seat walked toward the fighting men.

He said loudly and firmly something that my 4 year old mind didn't fully comprehend (much like the fight itself) but the general point was he didn't know what their beef was with this guy, but he couldn't leave anyone to such an unfair fight. He said they should all go home and sleep it off.

Maybe it was the tire iron, maybe it was his steady stride toward them despite being vastly outnumbered, maybe it was two towheaded kids staring at them with eyes as big as saucers, but they scattered to their cars. If my memory serves right, dad helped the guy into the bed of our truck and drove him somewhere where people he knew could help him.

This is one of my earlier memories. And although my brother claims to remember nothing before age 12, about 13 years after this event I watched him wade into a shower room of high school jerks all torturing one younger guy. With a deliberate few words from my brother, the crowd of aggressors scattered out of the bathroom and the younger guy wasn't tormented again.

This stuff has deep impact. I think it means a lot that (though frightened on some levels) you'll stand up for a stranger. It reminds everyone around you about shared humanity.

There was this awful news story when I was college (pre-http, so I've not yet found a link) about a woman being drug from her car and thrown off a bridge in the middle of a rush hour traffic jam. Though there were lots of witnesses no one intervened. The psychologist interviewed explained saying that you're better as a victim to ask one single person for help than to expect a crowd to respond automatically. He continued to say that if one person had tried to intervene, it would have made all the difference no matter which bystander it might be. Someone big inspires fear. Someone petite often inspires someone bigger (and/or many others) to also step up.

I'm proud of you in the same way I've long been proud of my dad and brother. Good job, Momma Kodiak (and excellent use of your cell phone).

adrienne said...

And I finally found a reference to that hqhaunting news story from 1995: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE3DA1530F930A1575BC0A963958260&sec=&spon=

I guess there was a burgeoning www then, but you could still only access most domains with text-based readers like LYNX and GOPHER.

Jen said...

Wow. Congratulations for having the courage to help, although I have seen road rage cases get out of control quickly. Your boys must be so proud of you!
I work in auto insurance and the type of thing you described happens often, too often. And most times, there are no witnesses coming forward even if it happens in the middle of rush hour. I remember reading the story (and others like it) about what Adrienne referenced on the woman who was killed in front of many people and noone came forward, choosing not to help if they would get in trouble or not bother since they didn't want to call attention to themselves. It is the crowd theory at its worst. 20/20 has been doing several hidden camera specials about this with bystanders and staged "incidents" like someone abusing someone else or a kid standing alone on a crowded street in NYC crying, looking obviously lost. It's eye opening. Sorry for the long one, but kudos to you and I hope this inspires others out there to help out a bit more.

Tacky Princess said...

Though I confess to being a little concerned for your safety, what a great lesson in standing up for others you have taught your boys. We have to teach our children that it isn't only wrong to "be" the bully but also to simply "observe" the bully and do nothing to stop them.

Rock on!