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MIAMI—It only took nine weeks of driving around Miami to make me into a genuinely nasty person.
This epiphany came last Friday when I cut off a Toyota SUV. After I slipped in front of him, the driver decided to pull alongside me on the right and then cut me off in return. He slowed down in front of me, dropping from 50 to 40 to 30 m.p.h.. The hazard lights came on at 25 m.p.h. and flashed all the way down to a cruising speed of 5 m.p.h..
At this point I had a couple of choices: pass him; tailgate him; push his car off the road. Passing him reminded me too much of the non-violent teachings from my Quaker high school. Pushing him off the road was a rewarding option, but impractical for a little car versus an SUV. So I settled on tailgating, and the two of us crawled down the highway at 5 m.p.h., locked in low-speed combat.
Sure I was wasting my time. But I was wasting his time, too, and that’s what was important. Before I came to this heart of darkness the natives call Miami, I never used to be like this.
Actually, that’s a lie. I’ve always romanticized road rage. The highlight of Driver’s Ed was the video of a man with a chain attacking another with a broken bottle as the two fought on the shoulder. Much more admirable, I thought, than cursing under your breath. Say it to my face. Or as a wise man once said: “Bring it on.”
In those days I was too civilized to act on my thuggish impulses. The worst I did was give the finger or blast my horn. But speed? Certainly not. And change lanes without signaling? That was too dangerous. Miami, however, is a land of U-turns both physical and psychological. The streets are all long and straight and you’re always driving in a cardinal direction. So when you want to turn around you just pull into the left lane and throw the wheel as far as it goes.
Day after day I plow through the tropical heat, stewing in my silent rage. When I turn around there’s no signal, no wave, and no hesitation. That’s why I had to tailgate the Toyota, and all during the low-speed chase I thought about the monster I’ve become.
The night before, I went to North Broward Medical Center to report on a 14-year-old boy who had drowned in a scuba diving accident. I got to the hospital just after he died, but just before his sister came to hear the news. As she ran through the parking lot, I went up and asked for some comment. “Get away from me you fucker,” was the only comment I got out of her.
I waited by her truck for three hours until she came out again, and this time she just put her black pickup in reverse without even extending the decency of cursing me off.
So I left the hospital...and drove to her house. Where better to confront the whole grieving clan? As the door opened I could hear a family member cry (and I mean cry), “This is incredible.”
No, it’s not incredible; this is quotidian. Every day I drive up to a tragedy to talk with people in the worst moments they’ll ever face, because doesn’t the reader deserve a quote from the family as he shovels Fruit Loops into his mouth?
But the detective who answered the door didn’t see it that way.
“No one has anything to say to you now,” he told me on behalf of the family.
“OK. Should I come back later?”
“No. And let me remind you that you’re on private property.”
So I left the house, taking down some license plate numbers for a few calls later on.
A minute later I hit a U-turn on the lawn, and my little black car sped down the road in the opposite direction.
Jonathan P. Abel ’05, a history concentrator in Quincy House, is an executive editor of The Crimson. He should consider taking the bus more often.
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