I drive a Volvo now, and I think that means I am perceived differently by other drivers; also by other bloggers, I suppose. It hadn't occurred to me that this would happen.
I've kind of enjoyed being a "Volvo-driving yuppie," (I saw this term in a comment to one of my favorite blogs, as in "I hate Volvo-driving yuppies.") wearing that title with the dripping irony that only a 41-year-old, underemployed writer with several failed careers in his rearview can employ. But I was reminded this morning that when I drive my new car, I travel in a world vastly different than the one I traversed in my 1998 Subaru. Yes, I have enthusiastically chosen my fate, but I'm not sure I'm altogether ready to assume all of the responsibilities that come with my new ride.
I was casually steering the Volvo up John Daly Boulevard in Daly City, on my way to the gym, a place I go in the morning since I don't have a regular job to go to instead. As I pulled away from the light at the corner of John Daly and Lake Merced Boulevard, I noticed ahead of me an aged Nissan Pathfinder. Next to me was a Toyota Celica. NOTHING SUGGESTED THAT THE TWO VEHICLES WERE RELATED IN ANY WAY.
The Pathfinder took off. I followed. Then I noticed the Celica sliding over into my lane. I slowed down, it slowed down. I sped up. It sped up. Then it tentatively cut me off, leaving me 18 inches from its rear bumper.
Forgetting that I was in a Volvo and thinking I was in my working-class beat-up Subaru, I stayed on the Celica's tail for awhile. Then I remembered what I was driving, under-driving most of the time, if you want to know the truth, so I seized the moment, pulled out and put my foot into the floor, all the better to utilize my turbo, passing the pathetic Celica in a blur of metallic blue Swedish snobbery.
As I passed, I turned my head to sneer, only to find that the woman driving the Celica was waving her arms at me in an animated fashion. "Nuts," I thought. "Cuts me off and gets mad. Whatever."
A few seconds later, as I put some space between the Celica and me, the Pathfinder suddenly found that its path belonged an erratic 18 inches from the front of my car - the same 18 inches, not coincidentally, that the Celica had used earlier. "Everyone on the road is insane," I murmured. Inside the Volvo, 300 watts of stereo were pumping sports radio into my eager ears. My leather seat perfectly supported my body, having memorized my seat settings weeks before. All was well inside, but outside I was surrounded by apparent lunatics.
I came to a stoplight and shook my head. The Celica woman shook hers violently. "WHAT DID I DO?" I said loudly, to myself. I could see her chattering animatedly in her car. We took off. This time the Pathfinder pulled up next to me. Inside, a guy a few years older than me but taking his cues from the culture of my youth glared from behind his wire-rimmed, light-senstive lenses. At home, earlier today, they had been clear, but now, taking their cue from the sun peeking out from behind some clouds, they were tinted a UV-filtering photo gray.
Another red light. Same guy glaring at me. "WHAT DID I DO?" I mouthed, then rolled down my window, genuinely curious at why this team of erratic drivers had chosen me to harass.
"THAT WAS MY WIFE," he said, the words angrily emerging from beneath his large moustache.
"Okay," I said. "She cut me off."
"NO. SHE DIDN'T CUT YOU OFF. YOU WERE TAILGATING HER."
Well, that part was true, but I had my reasons. "Really, she cut me off. Was I not supposed to notice?"
"SHE WAS FOLLOWING ME."
I rolled up my window, not sure of how to respond to his logic. My Volvo is plush, but it is not equipped with the GPS equivalent of ESP. I thought about this for a second, then rolled down my window again.
"You're both insane," I said.
"NO. WE'RE NOT," he answered, then returned to glaring at me. "YOU'RE USING YOUR CAR AS A WEAPON." A phrase which, were I to summon a visual, would look just like a guy in a 1990s Nissan Pathfinder violently swerving into my lane, 18 inches from my front bumper. That sort of offended me.
We pulled away from the light and my confusion turned to anger. In the time it took us to get to the next stop light, I formulated a vast and deep pool of clever questions and comments to share with Moustached Boy given the chance. I rolled down my window and waited, but at the light, he just glared at me and did not roll down his window. We pulled away, me driving soberly, so as to not confirm any assumptions he'd made about my style of driving, them both suddenly driving 20 miles per hour below the speed limit.
I gave them every chance to follow me, maybe toss out some more moustache-and-sunglasses enhanced intimidation, but they wouldn't take the bait.
As I drove, I fumed. I was angry that they hadn't given me the chance to reveal their collective nuttiness and that they were probably going to get wherever they were going and then share their disgust at the yuppie in the Volvo.
Eventually, I calmed down, as a good Volvo yuppie will do. After all, in the end, I'm supposed to be so impressed with my yuppiness that the barbs of a moustache guy in an old SUV is nothing more than confirmation that the world is full of undesirables not worth my time.
But everyone is worth my time, so I thought about this guy and his wife, him leading the way while she tries to follow, unsure of her skills on the road, enough so that she can't handle the idea of another car coming between them.
They were heading down the Peninsula, maybe going to pick up some new furniture they'd stuff into the back of the Pathfinder. Then she'd go off to work, as an office manager or something, while he'd go home, having taken the day off from his job so he can build (with careless and expert ease, naturally) this new piece of furniture they've picked out together.
In the end, I liked that he stood up for his wife, no matter how wrong she was. And make no mistake, she was wrong. She was a menace on the road, tentative and entitled, forcing others to take the blame for the dangerously sloppy execution of her poorly planned decisions. But she was his wife, and he was leading her somewhere, looking after her, making sure she was safe in a crude, straightforward way that included getting right after anyone who might put her into some kind of danger. If that means setting straight some Nancy boy yuppie in a new Volvo with a series of shaky logic and menacing glares, so be it. She was a crappy driver, yes, but she was his wife, and he loved her.
I tip my hat to you, Pathfinder guy, and your unsafe at any speed, hair-trigger tempered wife. In the future, I will concede that stretch of John Daly Boulevard to you and yours. And yes, I know that your rage probably had nothing to do with the fact that I was driving a shiny new Volvo. You just didn't like seeing your wife get tailgated for cutting someone off.
But if any counter-culture blog commenters need me to be their lazy stereotype of what's gone wrong with the world, I'm here for them.