It was a sweltering mid-summer day and I was stopped at a traffic light. The AC was on the fritz so I had all the car windows open.
Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have heard the cursing.
It came from the car behind me and I could see the driver’s face in my mirror.
It was deep magenta, his eyes were bulging, the veins in his neck standing out like sail shrouds. He was leaning toward his front passenger window, directing a Niagara of expletives at the people in the car alongside him. In that car sat a frail and elderly couple, frozen in fear, staring straight ahead.
I don’t know the nature of the old folks’ driving infraction, real or imagined, but the berserker’s reaction was absurdly over the top. What made it extra ugly was the little boy sitting beside the driver — his son, presumably — also staring straight ahead.
Nice lesson in civil discourse, Dad.
Road rage. What a weird phenomenon. Where did it come from? Was there such a thing as horse-and-buggy rage? Roman chariot rage?
Probably. Where there’s testosterone, there’s a way.
The term, however, is only a few decades old, originating back in the 1980s as a description for a rash of car-to-car shootings that occurred on the freeways around Los Angeles.
Road rage doesn’t always to involve firearms. It can manifest as verbal abuse, rude and menacing gestures or simple aggressive driving.
Had a case of it myself, once, many years ago. A younger, stupider version of yours truly was tooling down Highway 401 north of Toronto. I blew by a middle-aged dawdler in a station wagon, not thinking much about it.
A few seconds later, I looked over and there he was beside me, hunched over his steering wheel, driving fender to fender, determined to pass.
Was I sensible? Did I hit the brakes and let him have his way, tut-tutting him with a mild finger wave?
I mentioned ‘younger and stupider’, right?
I floored it; he floored it; I floored it some more. We both hurtled down the highway at probably twice the speed limit, both of us white-knuckling the wheel, determined that We’d Show That Jerk.
Nothing calamitous happened. There were no rollovers, no caroming off the guardrails or wailing cop sirens.
My exit eventually came up and I took it. As my car and my heart slowed down in tandem I remember thinking: what the hell was that about?
I still wonder.
Why did the doofus in the station wagon feel he suddenly needed to risk his life to pass me? Why did I feel I had to risk my life to prevent him?
That’s the scary thing about road rage: it makes no sense at all. Some drivers describe ‘a red mist’ swirling before their eyes and an overpowering urge to ‘get even’ at any cost.
The typical road rager? Male. Single. Spotty education. Mid-level income.
And of course, young. Usually under 35.
Usually, but not always.
Clyde White of Corbin, Kentucky recently ran afoul of the law. The cops finally collared him, but not until the conclusion of a chase that reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour. And not before White had rammed two other cars with his own.
One of the rammed cars was driven by his brother, aged 82; the other by his sister, aged 83.
Clyde himself is 78. Proving that when it comes to road rage, it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old.
Just as long as you’re stupid.
— Arthur Black is a regular columnist with The News. He lives on Salt Spring Island