Arriving on time for things has never been my forte. Perhaps I have what could be called a “punctuality disorder.” So there I was, running late for a meeting once again, with the words of my boss’ last email racing through my brain: “You will be at the table, laptops plugged in, and ready to roll at 9:30. No excuses!” I was pretty sure the strong language had been aimed at me, the one employee who is perpetually 20 minutes late…for everything. This meeting having been set aside for some sort of training, I knew it would be pretty awkward of me to saunter in ten or fifteen minutes late in the middle of an instructor’s presentation.
But naturally, I’d left the house a bit later than I should have, and had to blast down the freeway accordingly, trying to make better use of road space than those dullards who like to park in the left lane going 55 miles an hour (there’s something about California drivers that rules out proper understanding of what a left lane is for). In and out, back and forth I went in my friend’s battered blue 1984 Volvo 240, executing a handful of flawless, highly technical slalom maneuvers along the way. As I approached Santa Barbara‘s Garden street exit, I noticed that I’d managed to make a mistake, and had inadvertently boxed myself into a tricky situation that was going to take a pretty bold move to get out of in time to make the exit ramp.
In situations like that, losing your nerve at the last minute is not an option. All it takes is a solid cognizance of your vehicle’s dimensions (trust me when I say that there aren’t many people who possess that sort of knowledge), a brief moment of opportunity, and nerves of steel to pull it off without causing a pileup. Seize the moment and you’re in like flint. Needless to say, I executed the maneuver perfectly, eeking into a tiny and rapidly closing space with ease. Unfortunately, the bro driving the truck I had just cut off didn’t share the enthusiasm I had for my driving prowess, and signaled his displeasure with a series of crazy lane changes that seemed aimed at following me wherever I happened to be going.
Shooting for the center lane of the exit ramp, I noticed with dismay that the light was red, and pulled to a stop. The truck behind me — a white Toyota Tacoma with slightly larger-than-normal BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires — swerved into the right lane, stopping alongside me. All I was really expecting at that point was for the guy inside to roll down his window and shout, or maybe even throw something at the beat up car I was driving. But no. he got out of the truck and strode purposefully toward me. He was a deeply tanned, muscular man with a shaved head and goatee who — judging by his physique and the steel utility rack on the back of his truck — must have been a construction worker.
Have you ever been confronted by an angry motorist who stands in front of or beside your car, shouting profanities and waving his arms wildly? Yeah, not this guy. He marched quickly and quietly up to the passenger side of the car, and before I could say, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, asshole?!,” he had opened the door, leaned across the center console, and punched me right in the face. In the face!
As soon as I realized what had happened, he had already dove into his strategically-parked truck and was speeding around the corner, obviously going about 50 miles per hour. In my blind rage, I ground the gears trying to squeeze my way out of the traffic cue, inadvertently ripping the knob off of the shifter handle and scattering pieces of my now-broken cheap sunglasses in the process. When I finally escaped the snarl, I took off with a squeal of spinning tires, swerving crazily as I approached the corner.
I suppose part of me just wanted to get his license plate number, but my darker side pictured this man running in terror before the dilapidated Volvo as I chased him through an abandoned construction yard at top speed, cackling evilly as I kept him within the rifle-like sights of the car’s long snout. By some stroke of divine providence, though, anger got the best of my motor functions, and I clipped the curb as the car rounded the corner in hot pursuit. As luck (or basic physics) would have it, when you hit a curb with both right tires while traveling at 35 miles per hour, those same tires have a tendency to pop like inexpensive party balloons. Such was the case on my friend’s poor Volvo, and I felt myself awash in the shame of a double defeat as the car loped along the side of the road, lilting to one side on two flats.
The industrial park next to the freeway turned out to be an ideal place to park the thing until after the meeting I was by then late to had reached its denouement. There was no way I’d have time to take care of the two punctured tires until then, especially since I was a little afraid I’d be fired for failing to show up on time in the face of so dire a warning.
There was nothing left to do but sling my computer bag onto my shoulder and begin jogging the rest of the way to the office in the building morning heat. Aside from the bleeding eyebrow, two flat tires, and severely injured sense of pride I’d just received, all that seemed to be missing from my morning so far was to get fired from my job right after receiving a “Hey loverboy, I’m pregnant with your baby!” call from some random bar hookup. I felt like an utter loser.
In a few short minutes — minutes that were well after the appointed meeting time — I showed up at the meeting dripping with sweat and with a small trickle of blood running down my forehead onto my eyebrow. As it turned out, the guy who was supposed to have come to train everyone on some website function hadn’t even bothered to show up, so everyone was just sitting around wondering what to do. My arrival sparked curiosity, as everyone wanted to know what had happened, but I kept my poker face when I told them I had been punched in the face, and proudly let the blood dry into my eyebrow hairs as I opened up my laptop as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Looking back on the incident, I’ve had conflicting feelings about it. On the one hand, what I considered to be skilled execution of driving skills most likely appeared to be erratic driving to others on the freeway, and probably wasn’t the most responsible thing to have been doing. But while it clearly warranted some kind of reprisal, who the hell goes around punching people in the face?! Based on the surgical precision with which my attacker had carried out his assault, my guess is that this hadn’t been his first rodeo. Whether or not the guy goes home and beats his wife and kids — a point raised by more than a few self-righteous suburban white people types with whom I’ve shared the story — at the end of the day, the little cut where he hit me healed in a matter of days. If it had been a cop who had gotten out of the car instead of an angry bro, I may still be dealing with the consequences. Besides, it makes for a funny story and an excuse to buy a new pair of cheap sunglasses.