Read at the Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series, February, 2015.
Eric Fuller was not a good driver. It was true that he'd never been in an accident, and that he'd never hurt anyone with his driving, but that was just good luck on his part. When he was younger, he had a few speeding tickets, as most teenagers did, and was once pulled over for reckless driving, when he was trying to impress a girl by driving from the passenger side of the car to make it look like no one was driving. When he was ordered by the court to take a defensive driving course, he asked if he could also take an offensive
driving course, although he jokingly said that he could probably teach one.
Eric was always in a hurry to get where he was going, even when there was no real time deadline to meet. He hated being stuck behind people who were only going a little over the speed limit, especially on the highway. If there was a car in his lane going slower then he wanted to go, which was a regular occurrence, he would flash his headlights to try to get them out of his way. If they didn't move over to let him through, or in some instances slow down, just out of spite, Eric would spew a stream of profanity at the other driver, all the while moving the front end of his car closer and closer to the rear bumper of the car in his way. He had been known to tailgate someone like this for miles until they changed lanes, once missing his stop because he wanted to "prove a point."
One day, Eric was cruising down the highway at 20 miles over the posted limit. It was a beautiful sunny day, there were few cars on the road, and Eric had his windows open, the radio loudly playing Deep Purple's "Highway Star". He squinted a little behind his mirrored sunglasses as he saw that he was rapidly approaching a small gray sedan in the same lane as him. He flashed his headlights repeatedly as he got closer and closer to the sedan, but it seemed that the other driver was not paying attention to Eric's car rapidly gaining on him.
Eric felt his blood pressure rise as this sedan caused him to slow his progress down the road. There were no other cars within ten yards of either of them, so he couldn't understand why the driver didn't simply change lanes and let him through. His frustration erupted in a surge of profanity that would make the average truck driver wince. Bits of spittle flew out of his mouth as he insulted the driver, his parents, his grandparents, his spouse, his offspring, his pets, his neighbors, the guy at the DMV who gave him his drivers license, and anyone that other driver had ever met in his life.
As Eric was about to launch into another tirade of vulgarity, he saw the turn signal begin to flash on the sedan. He backed his car off a little, and the sedan slowly drifted into the other lane, a little too slowly for Eric's taste, and he prepared to say a few choice words to the driver as he passed.
When the sedan had barely cleared the broken white line on the pavement, Eric pressed the accelerator pedal hard, and as he passed the driver's door of the sedan, he turned to see a thin, gray-haired man with thick glasses smiling at him. Eric was somewhat bewildered by the kindly smile, and also by what looked like the end of a Pringle's can the man seemed to be pointing in his direction. He turned his attention back to the road, when he felt a brief vibration. It didn't seem to come from his car, but it felt a little like a tremor, as if he just had a chill.
Suddenly, Eric's stomach felt queasy, like the time he ate that restaurant and everyone got food poisoning. Back then he had the urge to throw up, but that's not how he felt now. Instead, he felt the overwhelming urge to go to the bathroom. He looked down the road and saw that it was miles before the next exit. The pressure in his bowels was building and building, and it was all Eric could do to steer his car to the shoulder, but before he could even open the door to try to make it to the bushes, he felt the pressure subside and the warm, moist feeling grow in his pants. As the associated smell hit his nose, he glanced at the road to see the gray sedan, with its smiling driver, drift past, barely doing the speed limit.
Eddie Leonard hated to drive behind anyone. He didn't necessarily want to drive faster than the legal limit, although he did do that on many occasions. But he wanted to be able to go at his own pace, whatever he was in the mood for that day, and he felt that he couldn't do that if someone was in front of him. He especially hated driving behind large trucks or cars with tinted windows, because he couldn't see what was in front of the vehicle in front of him. If he wanted to pass the truck, he couldn't be certain that he'd be able to slip back into the lane in front of his obstruction, and he already had one ticket for reckless driving when a car he was passing took offense to his move and accelerated, leaving Eddie driving in the oncoming lane a little too long, at least in the opinion of the policeman who was sitting in his car on a cross-street, watching the whole thing.
If you asked Eddie what his main pet peeve was when he was driving, he would quickly tell you "Old people! They never keep up with the flow of traffic, they always take too long to change lanes, and they take forever to get going when the light turns green."
Whenever Eddie found himself behind a car driven by a person with gray hair, he immediately began watching for an opportunity to get in front of them. If there was another lane on the road, he watched for the first chance to get out of the lane he was in, then roared past the other car, swerving back into their lane and slowing to the same speed he was at before passing.
Sometimes, when the road was only one lane in either direction, but with parking along the curb, Eddie was lucky to find a break in the parked cars long enough that he could use it as a passing lane. That was a little more dangerous, depending on how long the break was, and how bad the pavement was closer to the curb, but the move was worthwhile to him, so that he would not have to follow the "rolling roadblock."
On this day, Eddie was driving down one of the major streets in his neighborhood, when he found himself trapped behind a car in which the driver was obeying the posted speed limit. This incensed Eddie, as he was in a hurry to pick up dinner from his favorite pizza parlor before going home to watch the ballgame that was starting shortly. The car ahead of him slowed as it approached an intersection at which the light had turned yellow. As the car stopped, Eddie had to slam on his brakes, since he expected to be able to drift through the intersection after the other car went through. In his opinion, there was plenty of time for the two cars to drive clear through before the light turned red.
Mumbling curses under his breath, Eddie stared daggers at the gray-haired driver in front of him. He thought of moving into the right lane and jumping ahead of the car which prevented him from making that light, but someone already was in that lane to make a turn, and would not be turning yet as it was a 'No Turn On Red' corner. The light changed and the car in the turning lane made its turn before the brake lights on the car in front of Eddie even went out. Eddie blasted the horn just as the other car started to move.
Block after block, Eddie looked for a way around the car, a small gray sedan, but there was too much traffic coming the other way to allow him to pass, and there were cars parked all along the street.
As the gray sedan pulled to a stop at the next red light, Eddie saw his opportunity. He pulled into the right lane as if he was turning. There was a gas station on the next block, so it was some distance before there were any cars parked, so he was certain that if he got the jump on the other driver, he could swerve in front of the sedan and be in the lead. Maybe he would even slow down, let the other guy trail for a while. That would show him.
As he was waiting at the light, Eddie glanced over at the driver of the gray sedan. The driver, a thin, gray-haired man with thick glasses, turned and smiled at Eddie. Eddie sneered and turned his attention to the traffic light. The second that the light turned green, Eddie punched the accelerator. The wheels spun for a second before gripping, and Eddie's car shot into the intersection. He saw out of the side mirror that the other car had barely started, so he swerved over and took his foot off the gas, slowing down below the posted limit. He looked in the rear view mirror to see the reaction of the man in the other car, and saw that the man was still smiling. Eddie thought that was curious, and also curious was the round tube on the other car's dashboard.
He looked back at the road just as he felt a vibration run down his spine, like a cold chill but without the cold. He felt his stomach rumble once, twice, and then he had an almost unbearable sudden urge to fart. He leaned slightly to one side, to allow the gas to escape, but at the last minute, too late to stop it, he realized that it was not gas that was trying to escape. He soiled himself in a way that he probably hadn't done since he was a baby. He turned off the road onto a side street and stopped by the curb, in case he was going to be ill further, but nothing else seemed to be coming out. Overall, he felt fine, although he knew he had to head home for a shower and some clean clothes. He hoped he didn't have to have the car's upholstery cleaned. He put the car into gear and carefully pulled away from the curb to drive towards home.
Mike Griffin was on his way home from work. More accurately, he was on his way home from the bar where he spent his afternoon. He had gone to lunch with two of his co-workers, and after having a few cocktails with his club sandwich, he decided not to go back to the office. It was a slow day, and he had a few "sick" days available, so he figured he would just have a relaxing afternoon, watching the ball game on the big TV behind the bar.
This was not something that Mike did frequently, but occasionally when the mood struck him, he would take a half-day and spend it at the bar. Everyone in the office knew about it, but as long as the work got done, and it didn't happen too frequently, the bosses turned a blind eye. Mike didn't consider himself an alcoholic, although behavior like this is usually a pretty good indication that someone is moving in that direction. He just considered it his way of relaxing, taking the edge off.
The real problem with this was that he had to get home after an afternoon of "relaxing". Mike always prided himself that he was able to drive home most of the time, and that he always knew when he his judgment was too impaired to drive and would call a cab. The truth was that sometimes his judgment was too impaired to know that he shouldn't drive. He was somehow fortunate to have never been pulled over when he was in this state.
That was the case this day. After a multiple-martini lunch, and a rousing come-from-behind win by his favorite ball team, Mike headed out to his car to drive home. He was certain that he was in fine shape to drive. He attributed his dropping of his keys to the numbness he'd been feeling in his wrist lately. Carpal tunnel, he though, and resolved to call his doctor to have it checked out.
Mike cautiously pulled out of the parking lot and turned to go down the main thoroughfare towards home, not realizing that he pulled in front of an oncoming car, causing the car to swerve around him. Mike scowled and shook his head at the "crazy driver".
He reached the next corner, where the light had just turned red. Blinking his eyes against the setting sun, he dug in the console for his sunglasses after stopping. When he put them on, he noticed a woman with a baby stroller shouting at him and waving her fist. Not realizing that he had stopped in the middle of the crosswalk, he just smiled and waved at her, wondering what her problem was.
The light changed and Mike proceeded down the street. He was surprised that there was not more traffic, but what he didn't realize was that he kept drifting out of his lane, and the other cars were giving him a wide berth, because they were unsure what he was going to do next.
He stopped at the next light, and as he waited for it to change, he glanced over and saw a gray sedan waiting next to him. The driver, a thin, gray-haired man with thick glasses and a pleasant smile on his face, was holding something in his hands. It looked to be a cardboard tube, like the kind Mike's office used to mail blueprints to their customers. The man was holding it across his body, with the open end pointed towards Mike.
As Mike saw the traffic light change, he felt a shudder go through his body, as if his car was bumped from behind. He glanced in his rear-view mirror and saw there was no car behind him. As he pulled into the intersection, he felt a great pressure in his stomach. As the pressure quickly subsided, he realized that he had soiled himself. He felt the pressure building up again, and pulled over to the side of the road, his front wheel rolling up onto the curb. He saw the gray sedan drive past as he composed himself, and was about to pull away from the curb when he saw the police car turn from the cross street and park behind him, colorful lights blinking from the bar across its roof.
Harold Watson drove up to his garage door and pressed the button on the remote control box clipped to his visor. The door opened and he parked his gray sedan in his spotless garage. It was a two-car garage, but since he only had one car, he had plenty of room to park along one side of the space. The other side of the garage was taken up with a long workbench full of tools and electronic parts, all neatly organized. The tools not on the bench were carefully stored on the pegboard that ran along the wall over the bench.
Harold unplugged the device from the cigarette lighter, smiling as he thought that after all the years he was driving, since he was 14 and his brother taught him how, he finally found a use for that outlet that had been in every car he had owned. He opened the door and carefully climbed out of the car, moving slowly as he had since he fell and broke his hip some months back. The doctors say it's healed, but he is still wary and doesn't want to risk reinjuring it. He leaned into the car and removed the brown note generator he built, the cardboard tube with the black box on the end and the wires that were plugged into the lighter. He carefully walked to the workbench and placed the device on the cleared spot in the center. He locked the car and left the garage via the side door, pressing the button on the wall which closed the overhead door.
Harold's wife, Doris, was at the kitchen sink, washing a large pan. Harold walked up behind her and kissed her on the nape of the neck. "Hi, dear," she said, "dinner's almost done. Did you have a nice drive?"
"It was okay," he replied. "but there are a lot of crazy drivers out there."
"I know," she said, "but what can you do?"
Harold just shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
© Matthew Bieniek, 2015