Recently, I had one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Terrifying because I was genuinely fearful I was going to come to physical harm, not to mention it was totally unexpected. I am talking about the most unpleasant instance of road rage one can imagine.
Everyone knows about road rage. We all engage in it sometimes, that spark point of annoyance, usually incited by the combination of traffic and humans with complete lack of awareness of where they are walking or driving, escalating into irritated swearing and the occasional beep on the horn urging pedestrians and other road users out of our way. Thankfully, for most of us that is as far as the experience goes, either yelling or being yelled at. Unfortunately, there are the delightful few who decide to take it further.
So here I was carefully driving around the corner of my local retail complex early on a sunny Tuesday morning. The entrance for the carpark of my local shops is actually in quiet side street with a clear view in each direction. Hence, seeing absolutely no-one driving in the oncoming lane and no other traffic to speak of, I flicked my indicator on, checked all mirrors and blind spots twice just to be absolutely sure, made sure nothing was suddenly going to pull out from the line of parked cars along the kerb, and commenced my turn into the carpark entrance.
Honestly to goodness, I slammed the brakes on so damn fast I came to a dead halt halfway into the entranceway over the sidewalk, halfway still in the road. Taking a deep breath I stared out the windscreen, relieved to find no mangled body sprawled across the pavement. Slowly, I turned my head to look out the passenger window, the direction the urgent horn blast had come from. I locked eyes with the driver of the car which had clearly just pulled out from a kerbside park, a position made obvious by the fact that the vehicle was almost at 90o to the actual roadway. What was more inexplicable was why this car’s indicator was not indicating anything. Commence the angry wheel bashing, yelling, and expressive gestures from the offended driver.
Now, I have been in this situation before in the role of the idiot driver or bemused sensible driver respectively. Usually, affronted swearing and pointing from both sides is sufficient. Having got this ritual out of the way and establishing that no one was hurt, I calmly drove down into the carpark, collected my ticket, proceeded beneath the boom gate, and sedately cruised around before pulling into a parking space against a wall barrier. Getting out, I locked the car, checked the doors have actually locked, and turned around to walk into the shops only to be confronted with a red faced, pitbull of a man slouching menacingly in the gap between the parked cars.
My only exit blocked, I quickly took in the situation. It didn’t look good. I was effectively trapped in a narrow space between my car and the next, a rear retreat effectively skuttled by the barrier, one man before me who no doubtedly was twice my height and weight who had parked his car in the middle of the roadway directly behind my car. The potential for being flattened, or worse, purposely run over if I was to flee was there.
Now, being a rather slight female, I have been told when you encounter such a situation the best course of action is to not engage and stay calm. The theory behind this is that if you present as calm then they likely won’t take physical action as you won’t be reacting in the way they expect and therefore they won’t do something that will make them lose face in their eyes. Thankfully, I also have a natural tendency to freeze and enter some kind of super zen state automatically. Unfortunately, this tactic didn’t work, the man continued to verbally abuse me and mock surge me; the thing where you advance suddenly then back off, rinse and repeat.
I decide to try option 2; state facts using a calm voice and note disengagement if the behaviour continues (something I learnt during one particular job where clients often would abuse you out of frustration). No good, the abuse and violation of my personal space gets worse.
At this point, I’m desperately trying to get around him so I can briskly walk towards the shops entrance where I can distinctly see shoppers milling about. Safety in numbers and all that. I try the last trick I know; I walk forwards to invade his space making him back off, and abruptly tell him that I will no longer tolerate being abused. In the few seconds it took him to stop and process this response, I was past and halfway to the shop doors. Abuse started to trail after me again.
As I got to the entrance, his car cruises silently past me matching my walking pace. With the passenger window wound all the way down, he leant over his female passenger and continues to verbally abuse me. A young child was strapped into the rear leering.
I watched as the car headed towards the carpark exit and left. I realised that this man had gone out of his way to follow me and try to intimidate me. I was suddenly struck by the fact that I should have taken note of the number plate and reported the incident at the local cop shop, located literally above the carpark.
It’s only as I was standing on the travellator that my zen calm broke and I started to shake.