If you met me in a coffee shop, you would think I’m nice. And I am. I tip well, address the barista by name, and let that harried customer behind me go ahead in line to order.
My local teashop even knows me by name. “Hi, Heather! Iced or hot today?”
So sweet, I am…
But, get me behind the wheel of my car, I transform. It’s as if horns sprout from my head and fangs overlay my bottom lip. I’m a monster on the road.
It’s a buildup of ferrying kids across town and years of having to go from Pasadena to the Westside to visit my aging mother in declining health. “If I never see Sunset and the 405 again,” I told my sister, April, “I’ll be satisfied with life.”
Or, maybe it began back when our oldest, Allan, was eighteen months old and learning to talk. He commuted with me to my work at the Santa Monica Athletic Club across town. That Christmas we were driving to my mother’s home in Hancock Park. Hank was at the wheel when a snappy red Camaro cut him off as he was changing lanes, causing Hank to step on the brakes to avoid a collision.
Allan, seated in back clutching his gingham blanket in his car seat, called out: “Fucka!”
Hank turned to me, “Heather, where’d he learn that?”
Hank turned to me, “Heather, where’d he learn that?”
I’m not alone. There are a lot of us out there. I see them daily on my jaunts. Only they act on it, speeding, swerving and cutting in. I just swear and police in my head. Yesterday, I counted four illegal maneuvers in a two-mile stretch on the 134.
This morning on a call to April, I’m behind the wheel. She was greeted with a cheery hello and conversation interspersed with: “No, you don’t, damnit,” as I inched my way closer to the car in front not to let in the guy in the Mustang who’d been riding the side lane that wasn’t even a lane. “I need to teach this jerk a lesson!”
“Oh, boy,” she laughed. “Sounds bad out there this morning. Be careful!”
Just then, I saw a woman zipping over two lanes across traffic to make an offramp. “Plan, ahead! You’re taking other motorist’s life in your hands, you F**er!”
“Sorry, Ape. Now, where were we?”
“Is that your sister swearing at the drivers again?” her husband, Dennis, said in the background while she had me on speaker. “I love it when Heather swears. I can’t believe it’s coming from her!”
And don’t get me started on drivers who text. Yesterday, I saw a young guy on the 101 in the fast lane. He had two phones going - one in one hand to his ear and on the other phone he was texting. “Jesus!” I’d said aloud to myself. “How’s he steering? Frigging idiot!”
When I see an Uber or Lift driver vacillating or dropping a passenger in an unsafe corner, it’s all out. “You’re not a professional driver! You A**hole!”
This all coming from me, who at sixteen, failed my behind-the-wheel driver’s test by accidentally running over a cat that had darted out in front of me.
Who am I to swear and criticize?
Yet, I do my best to be a safe and courteous driver. No texting and I’m always “hands-free” when I’m on the phone. I’ve only had a few tickets in forty-four years of driving and, thankfully, no accidents since that fateful driving test. Perhaps, that’s why I try to be diligent out there. In the blink of an eye, anything can happen.
Becoming a monster behind the wheel can be a hazard in Los Angeles when you spend hours on the road and I’m getting worse. I mean, I’m not that person who is about to get out of my car and take a pipe to an errant motorist, but I need to calm down here.
So, I’ve taken steps. I’m leaving earlier so I don’t get revved up in snarled traffic and I’m turning to “Chill” on Sirius XM when I start to feel my temperature rise.
Has it worked? Not really. “Chill” is for the spa. Not the transition from the 101 to the 405. But, leaving early is key.
I think back to my daughter, Hilary, the ultimate in nice, a clinical therapist and social worker, when she moved back to Los Angeles. After riding the rails in New York for three years, she was ready to get back behind the wheel. “Mom,” she’d said, “it feels so good to just drive around. I miss being in a car by myself.”
Didn’t take long, though. Now, in my morning line-up of calls, I’m hearing myself back at me as Hilary and I talk while she is driving to work. “Shoot,” she’d said, the other day, “Just go ahead, mister!” I hear a honk. “Ugh, these drivers!” Another honk. “What’d you say, Mom?”
Maybe it’s hereditary and in a matter of time, she, too, will begin to insert those profanities. It gets to one out there on the roads in this city.
This afternoon on Colorado Boulevard, I put my indicator on to slip into a coveted parking space, turning my head (I never trust the back-up camera), I slowly backed up, breaking to an abrupt stop when a guy in a grey Camry, ignoring my signal, sped up from behind and zipped into the spot.
I shook my head at him, mouthing, “Are you kidding?! You Sh**t!”
Miraculously, on this busy shopping street, another space opened up down the block. I dashed in to Bird Pic to get a quick iced tea. There, in front of me, the guy in the Camry. He grabbed his iced tea and shot me a quizzical glance. Is she the same woman…fumbling, he dropped his straw.
I picked it up and handed it to him with a smile. “Have a good day.”