At a stoplight yesterday, I saw a man with one eye. He was in the lane next to me, driving a yellow Jetta. I’d been spacing out. I didn’t realize until he turned to look at me and I saw his left eye had a patch over it. I also hadn’t noticed how long I was looking in his direction until he started to roll down his window.
I immediately felt bad for staring at him—except I hadn’t known he had one eye. I wondered if my retroactive guilt made him feel better. Then I thought, “A white Nick Fury” and felt worse.
Then the light changed and I all but floored it to avoid hearing whatever comment I had evoked.
I tracked his progress the way you do a cop car when you know you’ve broken the law. Did they see me? Am I already busted?
I nearly made it through the next stoplight with him trailing fifty feet behind. That would have done it. But the oh-so-cautious driver in front of me stopped at a fresh yellow. Almost fresh. I’ll never get that. Have you never seen a yellow light before? The Jetta was three cars back. I kept staring forward.
We continued through the series of stoplights on Colorado that makes after-work traffic miserable. I seriously considered pulling into a parking lot and counting to thirty before pulling out again, but I was already running late to pick up Marisa, and preferred to stay married for another day, even if it meant…
What? What was it going to mean? Nothing. A man with a physical impairment (Impairment? Disability? I don’t know, but it must suck for depth perception) rolled down his window to say something about my gawking at him and I sped away. Kind of cowardly. Guilty conscience for something I didn’t even do, which is my favorite kind of guilt. Like when my sister-in-law’s friend accused me, publicly, of staring at a woman in a bar—I felt humiliated and had not noticed this woman. And the woman was attractive. So then I decided to feel awful, anyway.
Now you think I was being paranoid, but the Jetta stayed in the lane next to me and kept speeding up. How do I know? Ikept speeding up, trying to lose him. Sure, maybe just coincidence. Maybe he was driving his usual route home and felt motivated to accelerate at precisely the same moments I did. For all I knew, maybe he didn’t want to get home late for his wife, either.
I was risking a ticket. Getting pulled over in this stretch between Los Robles and Sierra Madre means you stop traffic both ways. Everyone gets a good, long gape at you. They feel sorry for you or happy not to be you, but mostly they hate you for making their lousy drive home worse. I kept rotating my head to check for police, but of course you can’t see one in time to change what you’re doing. If you see them, they’ve seen you and you’re caught. The speed limit is thirty, traffic was going thirty-seven, and I was driving forty-five between lights.
He honked at me. White Nick Fury had just honked at me.
I saw him coming in my side mirror. Then I had to slow down for a jacked-up F-150 in front of me. My pursuer would come up next to me in two seconds.
So I pulled in front of him. What a terrible, stupid move. I’d want to kill anyone who did that to me. I glanced in my rearview just long enough to see him flinging his hand up. No need to study him now to discern his message, nor which finger he used for sending that message. Is there a term for being-paranoid-but-then-causing-the-thing-to-happen-so-now-it’s-not-paranoia?
He started laying hard on his horn. I turned up my stereo.
“You give love a bad–”
I punched the button as fast as I could.
“…and if you find rates this low anywhere else…”
I had read about a rage shooting that morning before I left for work. “Who are these people?” I asked Marisa. She shrugged at me.
“That’s Memphis, not here. People like that, just stay out of their way.”
Of course. Of course her words came back to me after I had already done the opposite. Literally.
I couldn’t keep myself from looking back. He was right on my bumper now, gesturing with his right hand, but not flipping me off. Pointing. Pointing at what?
He wants me to pull over? Settle this like men?
Oh, my deity, how had I gotten myself into this?
Possible lesson here: let the guy tell you off the first time, vent his rage, get it over with. Should I have done that? Adults aren’t actually allowed to punch other adults, legally. Fight him or threaten to bring assault charges? Stupid question. I still didn’t know if he was armed.
Okay, pull over in a very public place. Plenty of witnesses.
I was still in the left lane, so I could get into a left turn lane much easier than I could squeeze back right. The next light had a left turn just before a Chevron station. I signaled way ahead, I guess not wanting to add to my current list of offenses. A little late in the game to appease, isn’t it?
I looked back one more time—and he wasn’t there.
I swung my head around just in time to see the Jetta flash by, the eye patch, the angry red face, and to hear him shouting through his open window and my closed one, even above my stereo,
“Your gas cap’s off!”
After I screwed it back on and closed the gas tank cover, I made it home to my wife on time. The speeding helped.