Aloma was wide open on Sunday morning, but a motorcycle came up abruptly and perched close behind my bumper before I’d traveled 100 yards west toward Semoran. When we reached the light, he abruptly switched into the far left turn lane, made a U-turn and headed east. A black sports car sat in the near left turn lane beside me. A hairy arm rested on the top of the shotgun door, and a white script on the doorframe just behind him read, “Yeah, I know. License and registration.”
A homeless guy wearing sunglasses, a gray coat, and a tassel cap suddenly appeared at the head of the line. He sported a thick but neatly trimmed beard and looked well fed. He made his way between cars holding a “Please help me” cardboard sign. He scowled as he ambled along, and I pretended not to see him. Across the intersection a gaunt man with blond hair made similar rounds amongst the stopped cars. He wore a heavy winter coat and walked with a pronounced limp. I had seen him the day before on my way in to work, and then he had paced on the median without any sign of discomfort until a motorist pulled up to the light.
The motorcyclist growled to a stop in the far left turn lane once more (I recognized his green helmet and white and green striped jacket.), took another U-turn and headed east. I said to Judy, “This guy’s doing laps.” As we finally started up I saw a van blast through a red light four or five seconds after it had changed. A guy in a low slung Beemer with gold plated drum wheels snarled by as we headed toward Winter Park, and cars tailgated and weaved in and out of lanes to cut each other off.
Church was calm, and the sermon did not particularly enlighten or offend. I stood in line to get some coffee and water in the rec hall after the service ended. An ancient woman toddled forward ahead of me, and a younger woman suddenly accosted her. Younger said with a bright smile, “Wasn’t that sermon lovely?” Ancient growled, “Today was all right. Keep the stupid ones away.” The younger woman’s smile faltered, and she quickly made her escape. Ancient reached the coffee stand attended by a man in his eighties who kindly asked her if she wanted coffee. Ancient glared at him and declared, “Not in those Styrofoam cups!” He didn’t follow what she said and asked her again if she wanted anything. She barked, “Not until you replace these cups!” He didn’t comply, and she marched away with her chin held high toward a table laden with cookies and fudge brownies.
When we drove home the homeless guys had left their posts even though the wind had died and the temperature had risen five degrees. Cars cut in and out, but no one seemed truly intent on maiming fellow drivers. One sensed that an uneasy truce had been arranged.
Judy and I got lunch. As we sat talking, I remembered a moment in the service that made our Sunday morning expedition worthwhile. A three year old girl had sat attentively near the junior pastor during a “children’s moment” at the altar. When the lesson ended, the junior pastor and the kids exited down the center aisle. But the little girl wandered up the altar steps toward the lectern. Her father hustled up, took her in his arms, and then led her in pursuit of the other kids. I saw her mouth a few words to Dad as he hurried her along. She said, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”
Last week I waited to make a left turn into my neighborhood and saw a woman jump out of the shot gun seat of a car idling at a red light. She looked as if someone had goosed her. The driver made no effort to call her back though she stood on a nearby curb and stared intently at him. She bounced on her toes as if waiting for him to make a move. She began to walk away after a minute passed, and then he finally turned the car in her direction. Negotiations had begun.
I saw a more vivid version of this story a few years earlier. I heard yelling inside a car beside me on Semoran Boulevard. We were stopped at a red light. The front passenger door flew open. A twenty year old woman slammed it shut and stomped away. She veered behind the car, stepped onto the median and quickly put distance between her and the car’s driver. He leaned out the window and called, “Hey, baby! Come back!” She ignored him and kept going. Then he began to cuss her out in Spanish, shook his fist at her, and hit the horn once. She kept going. When the light turned green he made a u-turn and slowly headed in her direction. He looked grim as if he expected no success in retrieving her.
Twenty years ago I heard yelling up the street from my house. It was 1 a.m., so I peeked out my front door and saw a woman staggering across a lawn at the neighbor’s across the street. Two or three men were inside a car idling at the curb, and one ordered the woman to get back in the car. She screamed at him. Her speech slurred, but I believe she told him to go to hell. She knocked on my neighbor’s door–no one answered. The man in the car yelled again, this time with greater violence. I stepped outside and headed toward the woman. When the men saw me they realized that a witness had arrived, and they sped away.
The woman spotted me and staggered to where I stood at the bottom of my driveway. She asked if she could use my phone. I let her inside and pointed to our land line. I asked her if she wanted some coffee to help her sober up. She glared and said, “I’m not drunk! My boyfriend hit me!”
I retreated to the kitchen to get her some ice, and while I was gone my wife woke up. Judy came out to the living room half awake. She found a strange woman with crazy hair talking on our phone. The lady’s outfit, cut offs and a sweaty tube top, gave her a street look. I took Judy aside before she could make unfortunate assumptions and explained the situation. The woman put a hand over the mouth piece and asked, “Where am I?” I told her, and then she gave instructions to the person on the line: “Pick me up at the 7/11 at Forsyth and Aloma.”
She hung up, and I offered her a ride to the convenience store. She refused and headed out the door. I followed after her and watched her walk up Bougainvillea Dr. I worried that her tormentors might return. A police car turned the corner and stopped next to her. She waved her arms, shook her head and refused to get in the cruiser. They let her go shortly after, and she strode away with firm, determined steps. She turned the corner and disappeared, and the cops drove on.
Fifty years ago my mother stepped out of a car after an argument with my father. We were stopped at a light about three miles from home. We three kids huddled together in the back seat and wished that the nightmare would end soon. My father drove off, and Mom’s figure grew smaller and smaller in the rear window. I felt an odd sensation that I was the one left behind. Two hours later Mom opened the front door to our house, came inside, and hung up her coat in the hall closet. We all pretended that nothing had happened.
I drove my wife home from an appointment the other day and we pulled into the left hand turn lane leading from Aloma onto Eastbrook. My wife suffers from vertigo, and sudden turns and accelerations aggravate her condition. There were spaces between the cars coming from the opposite direction, but they were all roaring along at high speed. Any attempt at making the turn would require me to floor the accelerator. I was willing to patiently wait, but the guy behind me was not. Every time a car passed and there was a brief opening in the traffic he tooted his horn at me. After the fourth toot the light turned yellow. I edged into the middle of the intersection and ever so slowly crept to the left as several cars ran the light. When the light turned red I made the turn like a doddery old man in an attempt to strand the horn happy driver in the turn lane. I succeeded.
I usually feel anxious when another driver decides to give me the finger, cut me off, lean on his horn, or swear at me, but this time I felt strangely elated. Screwing that guy felt right. And his behavior seemed more childish than threatening. If he wanted to raise his blood pressure by getting angry then that was his choice.
That evening I went to a Publix in Casselberry to pick up some things for the weekend. The exit lane had a traffic light, and there were five cars stacked up ahead of me. The driver in front of my car had pulled over to the far right and had her right hand turn signal on. There was room enough for me to slide ahead of her and get into the left hand turn lane. However when I passed her she looked up from her cell phone and shouted, “Hey!” She sounded offended as if I had jumped her place in line. I wondered if she had flipped the wrong turn signal and wanted to make a left hand turn. When the light turned green I waited to let her pass ahead of me in case she wanted to go left. She didn’t. When she reached the light she turned right. I hadn’t impeded her progress in any fashion. But before she exited the lot and as she passed by me she leaned out the window and cursed. “You fucker!” she screamed at me.
I felt a little quiver of excitement as her verbal assault fully registered, and on the way home I got that strange feeling of elation again. I felt both amused and full of energy as if the woman’s curse had somehow worked in reverse and had become a blessing.
I’ve been driving in Orlando for 24 years. Prolonged exposure to congested roads, tourists wandering lost from lane to lane, and impatient creeps who truly don’t care how recklessly they drive, may have inured me to normal feelings of outrage. Or perhaps I’ve developed a sense of detachment that borders on a state of Zen awareness…or maybe I’ve become a sadistic creep who enjoys the self-inflicted misery of my fellow drivers.