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Dan Levitz Headshot

Primal Road Warrior

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Did you ever want to just grab that moron, whoever he is, and just punch him in his stupid face?

The great comedian Louis CK has a bit about how even the most serene & placid person can be transformed, while driving a car, into a raging, angry, freak when confronted with poor driving by others. And, this truth tends to happen in a ridiculously efficient instant. One could be driving away from a Battalli feast, a discreet romantic encounter, the Yankees clinching the pennant, name it......but that sorry jack-ass who cut you off without signaling? This person simply deserves to die (or something else really bad but maybe not so permanent)!

Funny thing is that the extreme's many of us go to while in this singularly agitated state are just completely absurd when placed in context. Every day really bad things happens to a lot of people. Much of this is made public for all to read or see. Nowadays there's even usually video. We're so overrun with it all, all day, that it's barely worth thinking about unless you're effected directly or it's personally meaningful for some reason. Otherwise, unless one is going through some type of "woe is the world" existential melt-down, real outrage is reserved, for many, for that time behind the wheel. There are very few first hand situations in life where right vs. wrong is so clearly defined. And, there are very few instances where you have a deep visceral reaction to wrong doing. Unfortunately, big picture, it's probably not right to embrace this raw and pure vitriol even though you KNOW it is born from you being so goddamn in the right!

Personally, I've tried to rein myself in from having these strong reactions. I think it's really a primal thing though, which makes control difficult. I don't know if it's universal but I have locked eye's with other motorists and our conspicuous parallel rage definitely tapped into some hunter/gatherer, fight or flight, cro-magnon man instinct that still must be hard-wired inside of us.

Still, as a reasonable man with, more or less, an intellect, I know rationally that I should not go into an altered state just because someone made a left turn from the right-hand lane in front of me (Bastard)! So, I subjugate my true instincts in these moments and essentially do a "pins and needles, needles and pins" thing to cool myself out. And, to be perfectly frank, my wife and kids, for some reason, don't enjoy seeing me curse in blind rage while driving to my daugher's swim lesson.

I really should know better anyway. Back in my 20's when I was still happy just to be driving a car, I had a run-in with a fellow late night traveler who clearly wasn't self-conscious about embracing his fury at that high speed moment. For non-New Yorkers reading this, this debacle took place in an outer borough of New York City, pre-Giuliani, in the late 1980's when the roads were pocked with pot-holes and there was just a whiff of danger in the air. I was moving at a healthy pace, south bound on the Cross Island Parkway in the borough of Queens. It was after midnight, only two cars on the road. My little, but perky, Honda Accord hatch-back and His big, worn American sedan. I don't even remember what exactly started it but in the stretch between the Throgs Neck Bridge and Northern Boulevard, It. Was. On. Think of "Ben Hur" and the chariots. I think I was screaming as we passed each other back and forth with increasingly aggressive maneuvers. At one point He swerved ahead of me, cut me off and started pulling away with a powerful acceleration. No rational thought available, I met his pace, pedal to the floor, never once even hesitating to let it escalate. So, I'm maybe 40' or 50' behind him, we must be going 90 and he slams on his breaks, hard! His rear bumper is rapidly approaching my face! My screaming gets louder and turns from adrenaline soaked rage into pure abject terror. As my brakes squeal at a register just slightly higher than my own shreiking, I'm about to hit him and wonder if I'm going to have to fight him if I survive the impact. Not an appealing scenario at all. Right then, my tires burning a streak on the pavement, he hit the gas hard and pulled away. I just stopped and stayed stopped. My arms were tingling as I let go of the wheel I was squeezing. I'd been bettered and was lucky he was so adept at.....whatever the hell that was.

I wish I could say that unfortunate near miss had mellowed my crazy, in the moment, driving rage going forward. I can't. It pretty much remained until my kids came along. There's nothing more ridiculous than calling someone a Mother-F#$%$% while keeping one hand on a rear facing car seat with The Wiggles playing in the background. It just doesn't work. I guess keeping one's kids alive is a primal instinct that trumps wanting to kill that stupid jerk making a u-turn across a double yellow line. I still curse the sorry sons of bitches but keep the volume very, very low