It’s late at night and I’m driving home from a friend’s house. As I listen to jazz on the radio, I smile at the dreamscape floating past my car window. An evening mist has risen off the flat waters of New York harbor, thickening Manhattan’s bright lights into a blanket of gauze and hiding the city’s soft insides from prying eyes. Tonight it seems the City isn’t for the bridge and tunnel voyeurs. Tonight New York is just for New Yorkers.
I turn my head away and give the City some privacy. Glancing at my speedometer I realize I’m traveling over eighty-five miles per hour. I lower my speed but not by much. The cops on this stretch of road only get interested when you’re clocking 90 or more.
Several car lengths ahead of me a dirty white car swings into my lane without signaling. Within a millisecond I make several observations. I notice that the car, pitted with rust and missing its rear bumper, was built in the late 1980’s. I postulate that the wobbling right rear tire and the exhaust fumes billowing out the tailpipe mean the car hasn’t passed inspection since 1995. Moreover, the driver’s lack of signaling might mean that the car’s turn signal is broken and, considering the car’s overall condition of disrepair, its owner probably doesn’t possess the financial resources to fix it. It could also mean the driver’s intoxicated, distracted by the radio, talking on a cell phone, or is a self absorbed disorganized asshole incapable of giving a shit about any one outside his or her broke ass existence.
As my brain crunches these probabilities it also calculates that the white car ahead of me is traveling forty miles an hour slower than I am. A mental alarm overrides all other thought processes and warns me that have 1.9875 seconds until I collide with white car’s bumperless rear end, rupture its gas tank, and explode into a ball of flame. As I envision being burned alive I wonder what my editor’s thoughts would be on publishing my book posthumously. Something tells me she wouldn’t like it.
My eyes flash to my rear view mirror while I simultaneously slew my steering wheel to the left. I don’t have time to check my blind spot. I’m counting on the fact that my internal driving radar, honed from 21 years spent driving around the Tri-State area, hasn’t sensed any cars hovering in my escape lane. I’ve also made a cold blooded decision. The odds of surviving a side collision with an innocent car in the neighboring lane are considerably better than ramming directly into the car in front of me. Simple physics.
My car snaps into the left lane. The turbulent roar of air as I zip past the white car reaches my ears before my eyes can return to the road. It was that close.
I glance in my rearview. No one is behind me so I slow down and let the white car catch up. As the driver slides into view I can see he’s talking on a cell phone and trying to read a map spread out over his steering wheel. Since the wind’s blowing though his open window he’s having a hard time. Broke Ass probably doesn’t have air conditioning.
Resisting the homicidal urge to run the man off the road, I roll down my passenger window and honk my horn instead. The man looks up from his map.
“Get off the road you fucking idiot,” I shout, my voice filled with fright and adrenaline. “Before you kill someone!”
The man calmly gives me the finger and returns to his cell phone conversation. Disgusted, I speed up and put as much distance between us as I possibly can. Suddenly I realize my heart feels like it’s trying to punch its way out of my rib cage. I look down at the speedometer. I’m going much too fast. The fog is starting to roll in off the water and visibility is dropping rapidly. I take a deep breath. I almost mated with that white car because I was speeding. If I had been going the posted limit I’d have had more reaction time. I’m just as dangerous as the moron with the map. I’m fortunate nothing happened. I’m fortunate there was no innocent driver in the other lane.
I slow to sixty-five miles an hour. Suddenly a loud bang thumps the roof of my car and my windshield goes yellow. Rivulets of egg matter jitter horizontally cross the window as they’re pushed and stretched by the onrushing wind. Without thinking I activate my wiper blades, douse the windshield with washer fluid, and pull over to the side of the road.
As I exit my car I look at the overpass I just drove under. Two or three shadows dance a jig on top of the thin concrete span before slipping away into the fog. Over the competing Doppler waves of passing cars I swear I can hear a young man’s laughter echoing off the pavement. Little bastard.
I pull a flashlight out of the glove box and examine my car. No dents, but my car is flaked with egg shells and yolk is oozing into the intakes. Suddenly the air fills with a sulfurous stink. These kids didn’t just pelt my car with eggs – they used rotten eggs. Sighing heavily, I get back in my car and call 911. I tell the State Police the location of the overpass and the direction my little ovo-terrorists were last headed. As the officer takes my information I realize the bombers will never be caught. Maybe the egg barrage was my karmic punishment for driving so fast. A warning from the gods.
“One other thing officer,” I say.
“What’s that, sir?”
“You’ve got a guy in an old white car with no bumper going forty in the middle lane while reading a map instead of looking at the road.”
“Yes sir,” the Trooper says wearily. “We’ll check it out.”
“Thank you officer.”
“Get home safe, sir.”
I close my cell phone, start my car, and rejoin the flow of traffic. I know I’m being a bit of a hypocritical dick here – but the odds are high that my directionally challenged driver in his unsafe car presents a greater threat to public safety than I ever will. Maybe I’m saving a life by reporting him. Or maybe I’m just pissed off at how calmly he gave me the finger. I guess I’ll never know. No motive is ever pure. As I drive away I glance over at Manhattan. The City has drawn the fog around its bejeweled spires like a queen hiding her crown under an ermine cloak. She wishes to be left alone.
But I wish she’d tell me where I can find a 24 hour car wash.