Growing up in Ohio I never really understood this concept of “Road Rage”. I mean, of course I knew that it referred to getting mad at other drivers while on the road and yes, I saw news stories where individuals ended up in a fist fight (or worse) while at a stop light. I never once thought that I would be involved in something like this. It was common-place growing up to see someone sticking their middle finger out of the window in a fit of rage, but it always ended the same way. Both drivers exchange obscenities and then go about their merry way. Unfortunately this was not my Road Rage experience on a beautiful Saturday morning in Tampa.
Mandy and I moved to Tampa in the summer of 2004. We took with us everything we knew of the mid-west and nothing of living in a large city. We lived in Tampa proper which is a very large area in itself. It was impossible to become intimately familiar with every neighborhood in the short amount of time that we had lived there, but we often explored without really considering where we actually were. On the Saturday morning in question we had decided to rent movie at the local Blockbuster. This was our first trip to the video store so we jumped on the internet and quickly found one about two miles from our home.
We were on Waters Avenue about one mile from Blockbuster in our relatively new SUV when a Honda Civic raced up behind us. The vehicle was traveling about twenty miles per hour faster than our car and slammed on their brakes just shy of a collision. They swerved into the lane to the right of ours and began to accelerate around us. Using our expert Ohio driver training Mandy and I simultaneously raised our hands and let them know how we felt… and it felt good.
A moment later we came to a stop at a light where we needed to make a left hand turn into the Blockbuster shopping plaza. To our surprise the Honda Civic was about two car lengths ahead of us stopped in the lane to our right. The driver got out of the car and made motions with his hands that said, “Come on”, “Come on” as if he wanted to end this disagreement with a fight. And now comes the decision that changed my entire outlook on Road Rage. The light turned green and as I turned left into the plaza, I reached my hand out of the window, above the car… and yes, I did it again. I wanted him to feel like an idiot standing in the middle of the street while impatient drivers were behind him forcing him back into his car. In a city so large I was sure that he would just go away after we were separated by massive amounts of traffic and shopping centers.
I wish I had been right, because what was about to happen was one of the scariest experiences of my entire life. As we were pulling into our parking spot at Blockbuster, Mandy said, “That car, it’s driving through the parking lot, I think they’re coming after us”! That’s all it took and I put the car in reverse to head home, but I was running out of time. The Honda was approaching fast, and the exit lane out of the shopping center was blocked by a bald guy in a yellow convertible. I did the only thing that I could do which was to pull to the left of the convertible and risk pulling out of the “exit” side.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is that Waters Avenue is a very, very busy street. In Ohio they would call this a highway but in Tampa, this is just a through street that connects two larger “highways”.
Traffic was so heavy that neither I nor the convertible could turn right and a left turn was definitely not an option. I watched car after car zoom in front of me while the Honda pulled up behind me almost in slow motion. As I waited to see what this man was going to do I was mortified when the car doors opened revealing three men and two women passengers.
We were horrified as they began to approach the car. We immediately locked the doors and Mandy started crying, yelling, “oh my god, what are we going to do”! I shouted, “call 911”! Even making a phone call was almost impossible because these people were now rocking, kicking and pounding on the car. The women approached Mandy’s side as the men approached mine, the driver leading them to my window. They pounded and pounded demanding for us to open the doors, but we knew what would happen if we did. We would be beaten senseless in the street, if not killed.
Amidst the pounding, yelling and crying I finally looked at my aggressor. He was shirtless, and covered in tattoos. But these weren’t your average, everyday tattoos… these were gang tattoos. At this moment, I replayed the events in my mind. My attempts at making this person feel like an idiot succeeded. In his mind, this was a challenge… a challenge that he was going to win. This is not Ohio, this is not the mid-west.
Mandy was still making a phone call to 911, or at least she was trying. I can’t be sure because I was so focused on my rear-view mirror. What I saw was that everyone was retreating to their vehicle, but this didn’t make sense, why would they just stop? They all entered the vehicle except for the driver… what was he doing? He was leaning into the vehicle searching for something. At that moment I knew. He wasn’t going to be made to look like a fool by two Midwesterners in their SUV. Especially not in front of his friends. Whatever he was looking for, I couldn’t afford to see it… and then out of nowhere, Mandy screamed, “GO, GO, GO”! I had about 100 feet of clearance between vehicles moving at fifty miles per hour. It was my only chance. I floored the gas causing the cars behind me to slam on their brakes, and we were moving, but I didn’t feel safe yet.
We were shaking. It took two minutes or so before we finally realized that they wouldn’t catch up to us. We realized that we would never see them again. As the fear subsided we found ourselves yearning for Ohio. We cursed Tampa and the whole state of Florida and blamed it for our frightening experience. For weeks we talked about moving back home but this subsided just as the fear did. That situation will never happen again no matter where I am because now I know what Road Rage is. It’s a challenge between individuals that both want to win, some more than others. I never need to win that kind of a challenge, it’s just not worth it, it’s just too bad it took that situation for me to see it.
Looking back on it now there is one kind of funny thing about the whole story…
What in the hell must the bald guy in the convertible have been thinking?