Monday, December 04, 2006

Red Light, Green Light

It was the perfect day. After working 7 days straight, including over 65 hours, I took Monday off. My only goals for the entire day were to go swimming and to drink coffee. Anything more would be considered too taxing and too structured for my day off.

And so I was happily on my way to a great day off. The day started around 7 am when I found myself in my kitchen listening to the radio and drinking coffee. A few hours later I found myself in the pool. By 1 pm, I was ready to start my day – for real – and decided I would head to Panera to exploit their WiFi and further exploit their endless supply of creamy Hazelnut coffee.

Driving on my way to Panera, and the most perfect part of my perfect day, I noticed the woman in a white car ahead of me. I only took note of her because she was traveling about 25 mph on a street intended to be driven at 30 mph. Actually, it’s a street meant to be driven around 40 mph but the city doesn’t seem to agree with that. So 30 mph we go. Well, thanks to her, 25 mph we were going.

After about a day, we finally reach a stoplight. The woman in the white car stopped at the stoplight to turn left. But she put on her signal to turn right. Oh, one of the those people, I thought. The in-the-car-and-driving-but-not-really-paying-attention-to-driving-the-car type of people.

And my suspicions were confirmed as she sat at the stoplight shuffling around with either a cell phone or something else that was held close to her mouth which distracted her from responding appropriately when the light turned green. And so she was also one of those people that needed a little tap on the horn when the light turned green.

A timeout to talk about stoplights. At the stoplight, you have one job and one job only – to wait until the light turns green. And when it does, you go. You don’t think about going, or consider where you’re going, or take your time going – you GO. NOW. Around here, we’ll graciously give you about 3 seconds to get your ass on the gas, but after your 3 courtesy seconds have expired – you will get the horn.
Light turns green, count to 1 – 2 – 3. Nothing. Still fiddling with miscellaneous purse contents or cellular phone. So I tapped on my horn, politely suggesting she turn her car – right or left – whichever direction she decided. And in response, she turned left (with signal still blinking right, brilliant, yes, YES, let’s continue to license people like this).

She took her time. I, with intimate knowledge of the ebb and flow of stoplights in this area, punched the gas a bit in an effort to get around her and get through the next green light, a little stale and a ready to turn red. But alas the red light changed ahead of me and I was stopped.

Damn. Coffee so close I can taste the warm Hazelnut in my mouth. So close, getting impatient, almost there, and……

That’s it. I’m turning right. As I pulled into the right lane, I realized that the woman in the white car was turning right too.

Not stopping at the red light, she rolled right through and made herright turn. Light turns green and she stops. Light is red and she goes? Sometimes I think we need stricter laws for who should and should not be licensed to drive.

A short distance later, a small left turn lane branches off towards the shopping mall. The woman in the white car continued straight, so I slid into the turn lane and turned left. To my surprise, as I was turning left the woman also decided to turn left, from the right lane, and nearly turned right into me.

Crisis averted, I continue weaving my way through the sea of strip mall parking lot to the Panera. I’m thinking about what just happened and thinking that this woman is probably lunatic enough to think I was the driver that was wrong. That I was the crazy, maniac driver turning left from an imaginary turn lane.

But that was not the case.

You cannot decide to turn left from the right lane. Well you can do that, but chances are you’ll run right into someone like me who was properly using the turn lane.

You might think I was asking for it. That my driving was laced with a bit of rage and impatience, that I had this coming. But let me warn you – around here, you need to drive defensively. What I mean by that is you need to drive under the assumption that everyone else does not know how to drive, or that they are just barely 16, or that they are too distracted by their cell phone, or simultaneously trying to steer 2 tons of metal while also texting their friend on a Blackberry. Add on top of it the fact that it is Monday at 1 pm. Most of the people out driving at this time are convicts, addicts, unemployed, over 70, or those driving around 10 small children in their backseat.

And then there’s the random, solo woman driving a Toyota Camry. Always trouble.

At that moment, still driving towards Panera and thinking about all of the hazards we face in the form of former felons and women on the road, I notice trouble in my rearview mirror.

I continue to drive, past the Taco Bell, past PetSmart, a dry cleaners, a bank, all of the other things that we just can’t seem to live without 5 miles from our home in any direction, and I finally reach the Panera. I am pleased to see a plethora of parking spaces available and I am closer than ever to coffee. But then I look up and notice the woman, in the white car, still behind me.

Hoping I was wrong, I wondered if she was following me. Could she? Would she? Really? Come on. What kind of crazy does a thing like that? Shaking off what can only be described as the most ludicrous and lunatic of plots that might unfold in a Panera parking lot, I drive a little further down to a parking space.

And there she was…..still right behind me.

Now I was suspicious about being followed by this bundle of estrogen and rage. I was curious – how far could it go? I felt a little manic, a little risky, a little like living on the day-off edge.

And so I drove another loop around the Panera parking lot.

I stopped, looked in my rear view mirror. STILL THERE.

One more loop, I decide, perhaps it was just an uncanny coincidence. We circle the parking lot, reach a stop sign, and look in my mirror to see she is still there.

(insert sinister laugh and crazed look in my eyes)


I keep driving. I reach another stop sign. She’s still there. I drive past the grocery store. She follows. Another stop sign, a right turn, past the bank. She’s still on me, a maniac on four wheels disguised in the all too common and safe cover of the Toyota Camry.

Snaking through the parking lots, I try to drop her but she’s right there. Relentless. Not giving this one up easily. And then I start to wonder - who follows someone through a parking lot? And on top of that, what kind if woman follows another woman? Really – what was she going to do? Stop when I stopped, get out of her car and what? Yell at me? Throw her
purse at me? Feeling pretty pumped up from lifting weights after the pool, I was ready to go. I’d take her on. I may be elf-like and tiny, but like the blog says I can pack a big punch. Need I show her?

That was it. If she would follow, I would bring it there. Oh you want more, I think to myself? You really want to tangle with me? Time to take this on to the real road, I thought. She chose the wrong person to follow, the person with the entire day off with plenty of time for an all day joy ride towards western Illinois.

I take a left onto a major road, throwing the bait, wondering if she’ll bite. She follows.

A bit of traffic ties me up waiting to turn right on a state route and she catches up, waiting with me. My eyes narrow. I watch her in the mirror.

The light turns green. I turn right. I bolt, accelerating to the permissible 50 mph until the lane narrows and I own the now single lane. I’ve dropped her completely leaving a trail of 3 – 4 cars in front of her and in my wake. I’m putting time between myself and the pack behind me so I decide to take a risk. To take the time to slow down and take a right turn into a subdivision. If she somehow sees me, and still chooses to follow then I decide I will stop the car and see what crazy looks like face to face.

I make the turn. Watching in my mirror I wait until the white car goes by, still heading west on Route 56. For all I know, she could still be chasing the phantom from the Panera parking lot, heading west on the state route until it meets the interstate and disappears into Iowa. Hope she likes corn.

I turn the car around, and make my way back towards Panera parking myself there for the rest of the afternoon. And from the table with my coffee and WiFi, I kept a careful, close eye on my car and waited for a white Camry to roll by.

It never happened and I’m glad about that. After all, this was my day off and nowhere on my list of things to do today, between coffee and the pool, was there an open time slot for getting into a cat fight with a woman driving a white Camry.

But just for the record, if there was, I totally would have taken her on and shown her what this clown car was all about.

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