Road Rage in Russia
Fred was living in southern California in the early ‘80s when he first heard the term “road rage.” There were several freeway shootings in snarled Los Angeles traffic, spawning clever bumper stickers including “Keep Honking, I’m Reloading.” These days in the US, even a small slight of perceived driver etiquette can result in the offender being chased down on the road.
As more drivers and their cars hit the roads and traffic has worsened, road rage has come to Bedrock. But in Bedrock the situation is more complex. The drivers here perform maneuvers that not only would have them hunted down in America, but earn them instant revocation of their driver’s license for life. Back in civilization, I often find myself in traffic chuckling over the reaction I could expect if I performed any of the classic Bedrock maneuvers.
It was about 5 years ago, when I first took to the roads. I had never driven the Bedrock roads before, already sensitive to the challenges. I told Wilma, “I can’t drive here; I’ll have a heart attack in three days.” It takes a lot to set me off, but I can lose it – my first wife knew all the right hot buttons. Nevertheless, I got my first road lessons and over time have learned new skills.
My first big lesson was that some Bedrock drivers could actually take your life, such as by forcing you into oncoming traffic if you don’t move out of the left lane quickly enough. In this maneuver, the offender drives up behind, within centimeters of your back bumper. Then the flashing headlights start. Just as you are about to move to the right, he swings out on your right side and cuts in inches from your right front quarter panel. An inexperienced driver might react by heading into oncoming traffic and by the time the colliding cars had stopped moving, the offender would be a mile away. Late one evening a few months ago, I was driving the Pomegranate Pyaturka down Shmitovsky Proyezd, when I suddenly found a white Volkswagen station wagon flashing lights a few feet off my back bumper. Shmitovsky is essentially a two-lane road, what with cars parked on both sides of the street. The Volkswagen was relentless; he expected me to pull over and let him speed by. Finally he swung out into the oncoming lane (thankfully there wasn’t much traffic) and then, less than expertly, performed the cut-in maneuver, side-swiping my beauty. He took off but stopped at the light where I caught up with him. Dennis and I both got out and exchanged words and at times like this I resort to four-letter English words. He settled down and said in English, “Oh, you’re a foreigner. Take my number. I’ll pay for the damage.” As if he knew he was in the wrong since I was a foreigner, but perfectly within his rights if I had been a dedushka (grandfather).
It has taken a long time, but I have learned virtues, especially patience. Sit back and enjoy the show. Demonstrate politeness. Maybe it will be contagious. After all we all had a hard day. And you really don’t know who the guy is that you’re flipping off – could be mafia, or a government honcho. As a friend pointed out recently in another context – we play with tennis rackets, but these folks play with baseball bats.