Recreational Road Rage for Dummies
// by tim sandlin // Illustrations by birgitta sif
So, here is a true story, or at least as true as I ever allow. Sometimes the endings get away from me.
Last August, up at the semi-new Gros Ventre traffic circle, a man with
L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E tattooed in blue ink on his knuckles cut his extended-cab Chevy Tahoe—Nevada plates—in front a tourist driving a Hyundai hybrid. Nevada man had a toddler strapped into a baby chair in the second row of seats. Hyundai man—Florida dealer plates—had a wife who was listening to a book on tape through ear pods in the passenger seat and two teenagers Snapchatting in back.
Nevada man roared through the Yield sign on the Kelly side of the circle without so much as a glance to the left. Florida man slammed on the brakes, which made his wife lurch into the glove box and the kids in back not wearing seatbelts spew whatever liquid was in the Slurpee cups they had tucked between their legs.
PaulBoy—time to use names instead of license plates—smashed his horn with his left hand and flipped the bird with his right, while his wife chewed him out as if the near wreck was on purpose. Her name was and still is Nicolette.
The man in the Tahoe—Claude—stopped in the center of the right lane and jumped out of the truck, leaving the toddler to fend for himself. PaulBoy sprang from the Hyundai, and they both charged. Without a word of rage, the two men commenced to punch each other senseless.
I wasn’t there. I got the full story from Maurey Pierce, who blocked the far lane and saw it all.
“There was more blood than I expected,” Maurey said. “Nose spray and the car man bit the truck man’s chin. Practically tore it off.”
“Why did you expect less blood?” I asked.
“Have you ever observed when two men fight, they try to incapacitate the other—knock him out cold—whereas when two women fight, the goal is to make your opponent ugly. They pull hair and scratch eyes out. On the street, you never see a woman throw a left hook.”
“That sounds fairly sexist,” I said, which is what I always say when someone says, “Men do it this way and women do it that way.”
The toddler started yowling, and Nicolette went over to comfort the baby, but Claude took it the wrong way. He ran to the truck, reached into the front console, and pulled out a pistol.
He growled, “No one kidnaps my Vermillion.”
Nicolette blinked in some confusion. “I was babysitting, I wasn’t kidnapping. And who names a child Vermillion?”
“It was my mother’s name.”
“Yeah, well, you ran off to beat up my husband, so I figured somebody had to take care of the child. You’re going to warp this kid to no end, bleeding like a stuck pig in front of him.”
“If you don’t look out, he’ll grow up to be like you.”
The teenagers in the Hyundai never glanced up from their Snapchat. The last thing they cared about was reality.
And the onlookers did what Americans always do in a crisis these days, they started filming. First with the live upload gets the clicks.
That’s when Rustin Cobb, the ranger in charge of mask enforcement on the south end of Grand Teton showed up, lights and siren blasting.
Rustin leapt from his Park Service SUV, waved his iPad like a billy club, and yelled, “Where are your masks?”
Claude slipped his pistol back in the truck.
Nicolette rocked the baby and sang, “Freedom isn’t free, you’ve got to sacrifice, you’ve got to pay the price, for your liberty.”
“You got that right,” Rustin said. He wrote them all tickets for $70 each and passed out blue hospital masks. Somehow in the chaos, Nicolette ended up in handcuffs while Claude and PaulBoy shared a beer.
“What I don’t understand is why there’s so much rampant road rage this summer,” Maurey said later when we social distanced on the walking path behind the post office.
I tutted like I thought she was naïve and I wasn’t. “For one thing, there’s hordes more tourists this summer than ever before. Fifty thousand a day coming through on roads built for small-town America. They flock here to escape the stress of not living here only to find themselves in three-mile-long traffic jams, not to mention two-hour waits for a table at a restaurant where the waitress on her 14th hour of work both scorns and fears anyone outside her Instagram feed.”
Here are the gradations of road rage: 1) the two-handed WTF shrug, 2) the shaken fist, 3) the leaned-on horn, and 4) the bird flip. Now that Wyoming has made it legal to shoot anyone who makes a person feel threatened, we may be headed for a fifth level of traffic psychosis.
Maurey continued as I ruminated tiers of anger: “The point of a vacation is to have fun. Chill out. Stop shunning every stranger you come in contact with. That is why we take vacations. To relax.”
“Relax is no longer a word in English. Our problem this summer is too many amateur tourists. They’ve been trapped in lockdown hell for over a year. Somehow they came up with the notion Wyoming would be open.”
Maurey said, “I blame the Chamber of Commerce.”
“Then they get cut off at an intersection or suffer through childhood toilet panics in a traffic stoppage, or someone either with or without a mask jumps in their face, and they delaminate.”
Maurey made a noise that sounded like huff. “That may be so, but the next bozo who delaminates in front of me’s going to get his head twisted.”
“That’s the cowboy spirit.” JH