Let me start this with a disclaimer: I know I’m not innocent. Though I think that the majority of times I’ve annoyed someone have been accidental – or at least meant in jest but perhaps taken past the point of humour – there have been times where I’ve purposely set out to irritate someone. Sometimes its been out in the open, sometimes its been a stealth attempt, with varying levels of success. But this was something completely out of the blue.
I was just minding my own business – which I know sounds like I’m telling a story sarcastically but I promise I’m not – and topping up the tank in my car. I was taking advantage before the prices spiked before the long weekend. While I was there I wanted to squeegee the windscreens; with all the driving I do, dust and gunk build up a lot more on the car than they did before I Uber-ed, and getting the car washed (or doing it myself) every time it gets to be too much would be a little too expensive for my tastes.
It was time for me to take a break, so I was listening to a podcast while filling the tank. Between the headphones and the mundanity of what I was doing, I wasn’t very aware of what was happening around me. As I finished with the petrol bowser, I was half-aware that a van had pulled up behind my car. Not really paying attention to it, I went to the squeegee. Partway through doing the rear windscreen, I realised that there was some kind of alarm coming from the van. The driver was in the front seat with the door open. I figured it was a “hey your door’s open and the key’s in” kind of alarm, and just ignored it.
I finished up with the rear windscreen, re-dipped the squeegee and moved round to the front of the car. It was at this point that things got really weird for me, because as I was just starting to move the sponge part across the windscreen, I heard from the guy in the van, now leaning out the window and shouting at me, muffled by the headphones “*mumble mumble* c**t, aren’t you?”
I assumed I’d misheard him. I’d not heard the first part of what he said clearly, and the first word I thought I’d recognised was the one that caught me well and truly by surprise. When I looked up he seemed to be looking at me as he was getting out of his van, but maybe he hadn’t been talking to me. Maybe it was anger at the van itself, having some issue with it, perhaps even related to the alarm that had been going off just a few moments before. It would be made clear where he had directed the comment and the nature there of very quickly, by the next things out of his mouth.
“You inconsiderate little c**t, just take your f**king time cleaning your windshield.” I might’ve been wrong, but I was fairly confident that he was talking to me.
As far as I know I was doing something fairly normal. Not everyone cleans their windshields every time they fill up with petrol, but this certainly wasn’t the first time I’d seen someone do it. And in looking around to see if I was alone in my surprise at the sudden escalation of things, I realised that there were actually a pair of bowsers completely free and available. Even if I’d set out to delay this guy for some reason – which wasn’t the case but was becoming a more tempting option by the moment – the most I could expect would be to force him to back up and change direction to go to another bowser. Hardly the cunning and devious plan of a master villain.
Now the course of action I took at this point probably isn’t recommended by too many sane and sober experts in conflict resolution, but it did take me back to my days as parking ranger, having to deal with angry people and having to essentially stand there and cop it or risk punishment from the bosses if a complaint was made about my behaviour, however justified and non-physical/non-expletive-laden it might have been. It also took me back to being bullied in school and the combination of fear and “don’t respond” advice that got me standing like a statue when it happened in the past. So don’t take this as a recommendation to follow my lead if you get in a similar situation. With a lot of experience with these types of situations I made a read of the guy and assessed I would be ok to do what I did. But if I’d gotten it wrong the consequences could have been severe. You’ve been warned.
Now with all of that it might seem like I decided to emulate the greats of the WWE, maybe a Stone Cold Stunner or a Rock Bottom sandwiched between some trash talk. Well there wasn’t any violence. I did however, stop and walk over to him and ask what his problem was. Without wanting to repeat everything (mostly because I don’t want to wear out the <shift> and <8> keys on my keyboard from censoring out his swearing) it seemed I was supposed to intuit that he was in a hurry and move out of his way at the first opportunity, rather than do what I needed to do in a way that was convenient and expedient for me. Again I’ll point out that there was at least one bowser completely empty – no one using either side of it – available at the time.
Despite the seemingly doubly appropriate nature of applying an Attitude Adjustment, I continued to not use physicality. (It should be pointed out that I have minimal physical co-ordination, and zero experience in actual fights, so the WWE comments here are more boasting now than actual options I considered at the time.) I did decide that I was going to be as unhelpful as possible. So I slowly walked back to the front of my car, turning my back on him. I hadn’t taken the headphones off but I had paused the podcast so I could hear what he was saying, and if he tried to come up behind me. I went back to cleaning my windshield, and suggested to him that “Calling me names and using foul language straight off the bat probably isn’t a great way to convince me to help you out, is it.”
He went back to mostly incomprehensible gibberish peppered with expletives, and I went back to my now-much-more-thorough cleaning of my windshield. Somewhere between that point and me going inside to pay for the petrol, the antagonist of the story (hopefully you are all agreeing with me that that refers to the the sweary old guy rather than me) made a few more presumably rude and unnecessary but ultimately useless and not-clearly-heard comments, and actually moved to one of the other bowsers, one closer to the store.
Now we get to the point where my warning up above really applies. As I came out of the store, I spotted the old guy filling up his van, facing away from me, and saw I had an opportunity. I walked up behind him, but in no way trying to sneak up on him. He spotted me and turned around just as I got to about a metre away from him, or the normal distance between two people who aren’t familiar with each other.
But that wasn’t where I stopped; I got as close to him as I could while definitely not touching him. It pleased me immensely when he leaned back away from me. I essentially dared him: “Say something else to me. Say one more word to me.” I didn’t shout, I didn’t even raise my voice. I lowered my voice both in tone and volume. After saying that I had a pause and broke eye contact to look over his face, then came back to look him dead in the eyes again, waited a beat, and leaned in a little bit more and said even quieter “I didn’t think so.” Another beat, and then I turned around and slowly walked away.
I’d love to be able to say I had a plan for all of that. In reality, I got lucky to have managed something as cohesive as I did. Normally, without having a chance to rehearse what I’d say beforehand I’d be stumbling all over my words, and that’s definitely not the effect I was after. I got to my car and drove away, but had a thought as I was waiting for the traffic to clear leaving the petrol station. So I pulled out, drove around the block, and managed to snap this photo:
— Uber-Man (@UberMan_Driver) September 28, 2017
Be careful when you next fill up: doing every day normal things in the usual way could trigger a massive overreaction from the guy behind you. Be prepared for crazy!