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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Jerk

Sometimes I can be a real jerk. I am one of the legion of drivers, mostly men I would suggest, who suffer from 'road anger'. It is not quite road rage but it is still very ugly and very unnecessary. Last night, my poor daughter was on the receiving end of one of these breakdowns in my capacity to reason. It left her in tears and left me embarrassed and ashamed.

It all started innocently, as these things almost always do. I had volunteered to drive Alex back to New York City after she had made a quick visit to us in New Jersey. She had a 6 PM class and we started our journey at 5 PM. Big mistake.

From the first, there were signs that this was going to be less than easy. As we struggled to cross the bridge and get to the East side, I decided to take the 178th Street exit, and make my approach to the Harlem River Drive through the streets of New York. You see, one of the lessons learned from years of driving certain routes, is that there is always a short-cut. While traffic may be at a standstill all around, you alone know a way to get to your destination on time.

I did manage this part of the trip relatively well and was on the Drive in short order. But, it was clear that I needed no further delays. I could tolerate no more deviations from the plan, or Alex would be late for class. Thus, internally at least, I began to escalate.

At 132nd Street, the bottleneck appeared. It was a crawl in front of me. I would now pull out another trick from my bag, exit the highway, take the side roads for about a mile, and emerge, unscathed, below all the traffic. Only I didn't. The streets of the city were tied up. Every turn I made only brought a different set of problems. I seemed always to be heading into another disaster.

As my ability to extricate myself from the mess was proven to be ineffective, my attitude and demeanor declined dramatically. My daughter was reading a book in the car that she was thoroughly enjoying. She was frantically trying to finish it on the way to her class, so she could pass it on to me to deliver to her mother. Alex was animated in her discussion concerning the premise of the story and how interesting it had been to follow the journey of the main characters. With my outbursts, cursing the decisions I had made in the car, I had created a stink in the vehicle. Alex put down the book and stopped talking.

When my tirade continued, not directed at Alex, but clearly implying some fault on her part, my daughter began to cry. It jolted me back to reality. What was I doing? What was I saying? What could possibly be so important that I had created this scene?

Alex told me she would never ask me to drive her into the city again. She was right. I wouldn't want to be in an enclosed area with this idiot if there was any other choice.

I have been a repeat offender of this type of behavior for many years. I have always 'gone off' for no purpose and to no end other than to hear myself rant. I have made those around me uncomfortable and unhappy. Yet once the moment passes, I brush off the incident and even take offense if someone questions my attitude.

After I dropped Alex off at her destination, I felt terrible. I wanted to continue the apology to her that I started the moment she began to cry. She had gotten out of the car without tears or anger, but my penance felt far from over. I knew she was going into class and would not emerge for at least 2 hours. The entire trip back to NJ was one marked with guilt. I felt like turning the car around, heading to her class, and bursting in to continue my mea culpa.

As soon as I got home, I asked Jo and Richie to 'text' Alex (yes, I am that limited), to announce my arrival at home and advise that my stupidity had no bounds. Soon thereafter the phone rang. Alex had gotten a break in the middle of her class. She was fine, all was forgiven. I told her that I would be right back to pick her up at the end of class to drive her home. She laughed in a way conveying that everything was ok, that she still loved me, and that I could have the privilege of being her father again tomorrow.

I hope I can learn a lesson. I want to take the worst parts of me and discard them, but this baggage is not so easy to unload. However, the next time I am in a traffic jam and about to dissolve, I will try my best to remember the events of last evening. If that doesn't stop me in my tracks, then I think you will have to consider me a lost cause.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are still a very nice Jerk

Unknown said...

I so can relate. Librarian Liz

Robert said...

thanks so much, I think

Jack said...

Did you get her to class on time?
What's the title of the book she was trying to finish?
As an aside, cars and men often don't mix well. In Italy, the most pleasant, soft spoken man becomes a beast behind the wheel of his car. True story, Kathy and I were in Rome and witnessed a very minor fender bender where both men got out of their cars and began shouting at each other. They literally were in each others faces for half an hour and we thought there would be a homicide at any moment. When finally they were exhausted from screaming they hugged each other, kissed both cheeks, got into their respective vehicles and drove off.

Robert said...

So you sat there for half an hour watching this stupidity?

I may be wrong, but I don't think many American men end up kissing at the end of a road rage argument. Maybe kissing should be required penance. I do believe that would cause a dramatic diminution in road rage battles.

Jack said...

We were having a very nice lunch at an outdoor cafe when this incident occurred. European men, esp. Italians are not homophobic. It is customary to kiss both cheeks and hug when greeting, taking leave, or making amends. American men should try it out and see if the homicide rate declines.
You havn't repsonded to the 2 questions posed.

Robert said...

She was 15 minutes late for class, and I think the name of the book is "The Help" (or something like that)

Nancy said...

Tell Joanne that I call the book after her, and tell Alex that the A train would have had her at NYU in no time and no tears.

Robert said...

1)I think there are a long list of people who now want that book (this is almost like Oprah's book club)

2)Alex was going to a class not associated with NYU and so was not headed near home or school (and not anywhere easy to get by subway)

Alexandra said...

I am partly to blame. Despite my affinity for door-to-door service, I should know that the train--no matter how many transfers required--is almost always a better option. And you should know, of the zillion car rides we've shared (to G.B. and such) more often than not, I enjoy your company. Thanks for all the rides, Dad.

Robert said...

Thank you for being able to see past the noise.

I do mean well, even if I don't always do well.

Anonymous said...

first of all,you didn't have tom hom drive her there.
she would have been there on time regardless of the traffic, because l. you only take the west side hwy goin in at five, and than cut across at 23rd street. 2.
I've always curse at the traffic when I drive, and all my passengers are used to it. so don't feel guilty, drive on

Robert said...

I guess the answer is just to leave the driving to the expert (Dr. Hom).I will call you next time I see a traffic jam in front of me. Be ready.

Pam said...

Since I drive the most with Tom Hom... welcome to my life! I have a copy of The Help if anyone wants it.... I have an oppositional disorder when it come to books.. I am the only person I know who didn't think it was so good.........

Jarred said...

This post brought up one of my favorite memories I have of you which I am laughing about. When we shared the Sunday Yankee tickets we would take the Harlem River Drive to the 155 street bridge. Stopped at a red light before making that left turn onto the bridge, it was a common thing for a guy to attempt to clean your front windshield with a dirty squeegee for a quarter. The best way to get these guys not to try and clean your window would be to put the windshield wipers on as high as possible. One time however, this was not the case. I remember sitting in the back seat of your car. We are at the red light before turning onto the bridge. A guy walks towards the car with a squeegee and you turn your wipers on. Instead of walking past your car the guy cleans the windshield anyway despite the wipers being on. Your reaction was priceless. “NO NO NO…GET AWAY, I DON’T’ WANT IT!!!! It wasn’t an angry or a scary yell, just a loud and annoyed one. It was like a scene out of a Chevy Chase “Vacation” movie. Your reaction giving the guy the quarter with your head shaking put the icing on the cake. Good times.

Robert said...

Once a jerk, always a jerk. I am just older and possibly more bald than at the time of the windshield wiper overreaction.

There were many good moments in our Yankee watching through the years. Your recollection is not one of the highlights I would like you most to remember.