Left: Troy Neff and his war wounds (copyright Toledo Blade/Lori King)
I admittedly do not know radio host and financial planner Troy Neff very well, and my interactions with him have largely been limited to electronic communication. Even still, I was surprised to see that he became involved in a road rage incident in which he scuffled with another motorist before being stabbed, as Neff always struck me as pretty level-headed.
Luckily, Neff's injuries were not life-threatening, and it appears that he will make a full recovery.
Yet I do know the anger that can rise when confronted with a traffic incident that spirals out of control. While I am not sure that my own behavior could be defined as "road rage," it certainly had the potential to escalate into the dangerous territory into which Neff found himself Wednesday night.
These days I prefer the sarcastic approach when I am incensed about the brainless actions of another motorist. This usually takes the form of pulling up next to the offending motorist and clapping my hands in an exaggerated mock praise, or pantomiming the motions of a drunk taking a long pull from a whiskey bottle, suggesting that the other driver is an inebriated fool, blasted out of his head. While still provocative, I find that this lets me burn off some anger without blatantly instigating a physical confrontation.
I know, I know: I should just let idiot drivers careen down the road, but occasionally these motorized cretins need to know that they are a menace, or so say the voices of righteous indignation in my head.
A few years ago some idiot cut me off, and as I pulled up at the light, I provided said imbecile a one-fingered assessment of his driving. Instead of the usual exchange of middle fingers or shouted insults, though, this incident took a different, more menacing path.
The other driver screeched into reverse and pulled up right behind me, gesturing wildly and proceeding to tailgate me for about two miles. Rather than driving to my house - thus providing the jackass with my home address for possible further idiocy - I drove into a different subdivision. I should also mention that one of my teenagers was in the car, and that neither of us had a cell phone to call the cops.
I soon tired of driving through someone else's neighborhood with a raging loon on my bumper, and I became convinced that the stalking motorist would not give up. I parked my car, told my son to sit tight, and walked out toward the other vehicle, preparing myself for what looked like would be a fistfight.
Now, while I prefer to settle differences peacefully, I have thrown a few punches in my day (and received even more). Moreover, I am 6'5" and 230 pounds, and I have a decided size advantage in physical altercations.
Fortunately, my gorilla-like bulk and my testosterone-fueled salutation - "Bring it on, you punk-ass motherf**ker" - were enough to convince my would-be assailant that this was not a fight he wanted, and he drove off with a few choice face-saving profanities.
No harm, no foul, game over, right?
But what if Joe Badass decided this was the moment to reach under his seat and pull out his .22, and decided to put a bullet in my skull? Or what if Billy RoadRage found me to be the perfect target for his silver Taurus, and he decided to run my foolish self over?
So to Troy Neff and other angry motorists (including me): try to remind yourself that even the most prodigiously imbecilic knuckle-draggers are simply not worth your rage, no matter how serious the violation of safety standards or common sense. Just let this nonsense go before it gives you ulcers, or before you become a crime statistic.
And never, ever play vehicular vigilante with a kid in the car. Not only are you setting a flawed example for your children, but you just might find yourself on the receiving end of an unexpected bullet. These are not the 1960s or 1970s, when most fights remained limited to a half-dozen punches and someone winding up with a bloody nose and getting tossed into a mud puddle. There are borderline psychopaths packing serious firepower on American roads today, just itching for a reason to bust the proverbial cap in the ass of the next fool willing to take them on.
I shudder to think of how close I might have come to getting flatlined that sunny afternoon right in front of my kid. He recently recalled the event in front of some friends, describing my actions with that reverential awe young men have for times when their dads stood up. I had to cut him off and set him straight, letting him know that it was me who was the idiot that day, since I let my pride get in the way of clear thinking.
He looked a little puzzled that I did not jump in and help commemorate my "manliness," like I would if he was bragging to his friends about his dad scoring a winning touchdown or saving a baby from a burning building (both hypothetical examples, by the way).
I only hope that some day my son understands why I am not proud of my Dirty Harry moments, and that real bravery has little to do with chest-pounding and macho strutting.