From Zero To “C**t” In Nothing Flat

Sometimes you do something that annoys someone, and though it wasn’t intentional you realise you were in the wrong. Then there are times where you’re acting normally, and someone goes bats**t crazy at you for it. This is one of the latter times.

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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:

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!

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Hypothetical Revenge On An Actual Driver

There are times when you’re driving, probably in any big city in the world but definitely in Sydney, when another driver does something stupid causing you a problem. Some of those times you come up with a method for taking revenge, but they’re usually either not very satisfying, or they’re dangerous, illegal or both. This is one such method that I’m absolutely certain would be satisfying, if I took it.

Merging lanes
Merging lanes can be tricky enough when everyone’s doing the right thing.

Driving a car has its issues. The environmental and financial impacts are reasonably obvious to anyone who bothers to think about it. The psychological impacts tend to be harder to recognise. Now some of those impacts can be good or at least better than alternatives:

  • A group of people taking one car is a lot better than everyone taking their own car to the one place.
  • Having a car to drive can mean the difference between being able to do a particular job and earning money, and not having that job. (Perhaps slightly relevant to me as an Uber driver.)
  • Going for a drive can just feel good and be a stress reliever, especially if its to a destination you’re looking forward to reaching.

As I’ve remarked to a some my passengers since I’ve been Uber-ing, dealing with Sydney traffic on a full-time basis is not exactly calming. I’ve actually driven in and experienced Sydney’s traffic, though I’m sure it’s the case in most decent-sized cities.

That lack of calm can come from a number of sources. Sometimes its more on yourself than others. You’re running late for wherever you’re trying to get to, so you’re already feeling the pressure. That pressure gets magnified at every red light and every time someone doesn’t get out of the way despite the imaginary siren and flashing lights implied by the speed your driving at and the way you change lanes around traffic. Sometimes its the unexpected delay caused by an accident, by road work, or the big event that’s putting more people on the roads than would normally be there, effectively blocking your way.

And sometimes its the incompetent drivers around you that refuse to drive any faster than 20% under the speed limit, who leave their right indicator on for so many blocks you’ve lost count now, who decide they want to turn left despite being in the right-turn-only lane, or those special people who assume you’ll phase out of existence because they want to change lanes into the one you occupy.

Everyone’s experienced that last one. If you haven’t, either you’ve never driven or chances are you’re the one who does it assuming everyone else around you is wrong. (If that’s the case, there’s a good chance they’re actually right and you’re wrong.) I happened to have a couple of cases of that in a row with people cutting me off, forcing me to suddenly stop at the last moment to avoid a collision. The last one inspired the revenge that I thought of.

First though a refresher for all drivers in NSW. I’m guessing this will be similar elsewhere, especially in other parts of Australia, but I’m not going to claim its correct anywhere other than NSW. And if you’re looking for official rules for road use, coming to an Uber driver’s blog is probably not the greatest idea, no matter how smart, knowledgeable or handsome I… I mean, “he” may be. When it comes to changing or merging lanes, there’s two types of situations where the rules vary, which you can see at RMS Safety & Rules page on Lanes. If there’s two cars in adjacent lanes, heading in the same direction, essentially it comes down to whether or not the lane marking continues through the merge point to decide which one has the right of way:

  • When the lane marking just stops and then the road narrows down to one lane, then the car that’s in front of the other has right of way, and the trailing car has to give way to it.
  • When the lane marking continues so that one lane ends (either because there’s no more road, or because there’s an obstruction like a parked car) then the car in the lane that continues on has right of way, and the car in the lane that ends has to give way to it.

If that’s as clear as mud, this diagram might help:

img_0239
As shown on the RMS website, the different situations and rules that apply to merging lanes in NSW.

In case you’re interested about the exact wording of the rules, you’d want to see Road Rules 2014, Part 11, Division 4, Rules 148 & 149. For the record, at the time of writing breaching either of those rules incurs a $330 fine and 3 demerit points.

Both situations I’m talking about here are of the second type, where I’m car B, and car A is coming into the lane I’m already in. The first one was where there are two lanes, and most cars are in the centre lane, as there’s a parked car in the kerb lane up ahead. I’m driving along, when a car comes up the kerb lane from behind, and gets to a point where the back seats of his car are about level with my front bumper. He’s running out of room – at least partly because of the speed he’s going) so starts to move into my lane at about the same time he puts his indicator on. As much as I know I legally have right of way, and have generally been raised to stand up for myself and what I believe in, I also know that if I do so the best case scenario results in damage to my car, worst case scenario results in damage to me. Letting instinct take over I brake to avoid the collision, while the rest of my brain agrees with my instinct over the risk vs reward of the situation.

My brain also doesn’t like not standing up for what’s right, so I honk my horn at him. Apparently the other driver didn’t agree with my assessment of the legalities of the situation. Or perhaps his understanding of physics was different to mine, believing it possible for two objects to occupy the same place in space and time without a nuclear event occurring. When there were two lanes available again near the red light that was a little further ahead, he made sure I would stop next to him by leaving several car spaces between his car and the one in front. I spotted this, and could feel him staring at me waiting for me to turn and look at him.

I seriously thought about letting him stew and see how long it would take for him to yell loudly enough for me to hear him through my closed window. Thinking he might at least come up with an amusing insult – and never thinking he’d apologise – I rolled my window down and turned to look. It disappointed me to find he only intended to call me names suggesting stupidity or ignorance on my part, or that he’d have an inappropriate interaction with my mother. Though I was about to ask how his girlfriend in the seat next to him felt about his last comment, I unfortunately didn’t get the chance as the light ahead turned green and he drove off at a speed that risked hitting the car in front despite the large gap he’d left.

The second incident was in heavy traffic, where when cars were moving they were doing so slowly. It was along a road where one lane ended and cars are forced to merge with the next lane over (very much like the second drawing above), then further down the road a new lane joined the now merged lane from elsewhere, going back to a total of two lanes. I was in the continuing lane when the car next to me tried to become the second car to merge in front of me, despite being in a similar physical arrangement with me as was in the first situation.

In this sort of barely moving traffic where two lanes go down to one, I go with the reasonably common idea of the “zipper” method, where the cars in each lane take turns, letting one through from one lane then one from the other and repeating on and on until it’s no longer necessary. I’d been happy for the first car to merge in front of me, but was miffed at this second one trying to push in. Though I don’t remember the specifics, its sports car lines combined with the initial behaviour did suggest a level of self-importance on the driver’s part.

Like in the first situation, I avoided the collision and made my unhappiness known. I had ample opportunity to, as the car stopped so the driver could (presumably) rant and (definitely) gesture at me through his window despite the space that was becoming ample in front of him. After what felt like hours he finally moved on and we crawled forward for a bit. Not too long afterwards we reached the point where the other lane joined the one we were in. I was going to turn right up ahead so I needed to get across to this added lane, and was able to without any difficulty. While I’d waited for the window of opportunity to change lanes safely, I’d also come up with an idea for revenge on this latest impediment to my calm.

Having just had some lunch and not yet having got a ride request since going back online, I was chewing some gum to avoid having bad breath for potential passengers. I’d been chewing it for some time now, and felt I was getting diminished returns for its continued use. When the sports car driver did what he did, my first reaction was to immediately throw the gum at his car. I knew that it would be tricky to do (and obviously illegal as well), but the idea festered. It bubbled away in my mind, until I could visualise it with the sort of clarity that would normally mean I’d actually done it: as I was changing lanes to the lane to his right, I’d put my window down, spit my gum into my right hand, stick my arm out the window and lob the gum over my car towards his like a tiny defective grenade. (If I have international readers, remember that we drive on the left side of the road, and the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. To be clear, I was neither performing nor visualising a complex contortion of my body for this.)

Now I would never actually do this. As I said before it would be illegal, and it would be foolish to actively talk about an illegal act that I’d committed, even if it was something as relatively minor and inconsequential to the grand scheme of things as this would have been. Which is why I’m writing about this hypothetical form of vengeance. That I could clearly see – in my mind’s eye of course – the gum stuck to the sports car’s rear windscreen was a testament to my imagination, not my recollection. The thought of it landing close to the edge of the glass on the driver’s side of the car, so that it would be difficult for him to see it pleased me; if I’d done it and he’d managed to hear it hit his car, it’d be tough for him to work out what had happened. The idea of him not finding it until at least the end of that trip, possibly much later, tickled me in such a way that I know for a fact I wouldn’t have laughed harder if I’d actually gone through with it.

But of course, I didn’t actually do it…

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I’m sure this is what you’re thinking about all this “didn’t actually do it” stuff.