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With Her Sword Drawn, She Is Xena, Warrior Princess of the Road

Lifestyle * A motorist turns over a new leaf and practices a little defensive driving--with some help from her handy, plastic play weapon.

October 16, 2000|SUSAN CAMPBELL | HARTFORD COURANT

Brothers and sisters, I come to you a tailgater, a brake-stomper, a speeder. In a quarter-century of driving, I have totaled two cars and dinged a whole bunch more. I've blown through numerous speed traps, and my insurance agent (hi, Noris!) once kept a small file on my extenuating circumstances, should the big guys come to kick me into the high-risk pool.

But I have healed, brothers and sisters. I have stepped off the accelerator and onto the road of safe driving. It was not one last crackup that did it. My conversion came at the hand of a good-hearted 16-year-old who drives the speed limit. And so, I extend my apologies--and I mean them--to:

The young man with the scraggly beard in a truck who blew past me at a stoplight a few months back, gave me the one-finger salute, and then swerved to cut me off. I (stupidly) chased him up the block and then (what was I thinking?) rolled down my window and said mean things to him--but I didn't cuss. It felt extremely good to do that, but he is someone's son, and I am sorry.

To the dread-locked guy in the white Nissan who swooped at the last minute to cut in front of me on the ramp from Route 2 onto I-84 on Tuesday. I had time (barely) to slam on my brakes and let him in, but I admit to swerving left just an inch, to give him a scare. He is a bad driver, but it was stupid of me. I'm sorry.

*

To the mama in the minivan who filled my back window with her grill last weekend and then laid on the horn while traffic in front of us piled up around a fender-bender on a local street. No gesture or words revealed my displeasure (does blowing a horn really part the waters?), but I admit to thinking uncharitable thoughts about her. I'm sorry.

To the middle-aged woman in the Buick who tailgated me on Route 66, heading out to the University of Connecticut one morning. She rode my bumper and then as she passed, she saluted as well. Perhaps I had cut her off back up the road, but I don't think so.

From a 1997 House subcommittee hearing: Road rage is a driver's response to congestion, "territorial defensiveness," and trying to do too much in one day.

From the Internet: You know you suffer from road rage when you answer the driver's license exam question "When passing on right, always . . . " with "shoot to kill." Another sign? You get carpal tunnel syndrome in your middle finger.

I knew I'd crossed some Maginot line when a few months ago, I bought a plastic sword. It cost a buck--and I left it in my car.

This being Connecticut, I bet carrying around a neon-orange plastic sword is illegal, that it flies in the face of the carrying-some-thing-that-could-be-construed -as-a-weapon-but-only-if-you're-very-stupid statute. The sword is so obviously a plaything; I couldn't cut anything with it, and if I tried to use it as a club, it would break. But it comes in handy for tailgaters. Hang that baby out the window and, let me tell you, even the most evil road warrior backs off.

Fight fire with nonsense, I always say, but these days, I am reserving the sword for a greater purpose. I have a new driver in my house. He drives the speed limit, uses his turn signal and generally takes forever to get where he's going. He's safe, methodical, and must have somehow been switched at birth. I can suffer tailgaters, myself, but when someone starts to dog the car while my careful-driver-son is behind the wheel, I pull out the sword, roll down the window, and brandish it, Xena Warrior Princess-style, pointed to the sky. It removes tailgaters like barnacles scraped off the back bumper. I go home happy.

"Why is he following so closely?" I whine, and my son says, "I don't know, Mom. Let it go."

Yeah. Right. OK. Deep breaths. Eventually, I'll abandon even that. The nice thing about being of a certain age, one friend told me, is that road rage dissipates. You realize that if you force the issue and have an accident, you may be laid up for weeks. And then you spend your days hobbling around the local mall. Good health is that precarious.

For now, I'm keeping my options open. I'll back off, I'll let it go, but the sword stays. Call it defensive driving.

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