I ran into this truck the other day as I was driving. Ok, not literally, but you know what I mean. Check out the back doors…smoke, handprints…really unsettling. I mean, what the hell!? Was there an exorcism going on back there? I can see it now, the priest, clinging onto a side wall for dear life as the truck careened through traffic – with his Bible upside down, spilling Holy Water all over the back as the demonically challenged victim, restrained in an office chair, kept rolling just out of reach.
The truth is, every day we are surrounded by people on the road that we don’t know, will never meet, and never think about again. What is going on in those cars? Who are these people?
Let me enlighten you about your fellow drivers.
Bertha Katz: Bertha is a sweet lady who embellishes her bumper with stickers that she doesn’t fully understand. She has a PETA sticker next to the one reading, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” She is blissfully unaware that the reason she gets rear-ended so many times is that people are trying to read that tiny, peeling one in the left corner that reads “Honk if you…” something. Damn it, Bertha, we want to know if we should honk!
Hank Hughes: Hank is driving that gigantic, 1970’s Air Stream in the right lane. And the left lane. And a little over into the far left lane as well. His tags are from a state on the opposite side of the continent. Just what the hell does he want to come here for anyway?? The RV looks ragged and well used. He has actually hidden a fortune in slot machine tokens in the yellow polka dotted cushions of the bench seat in the back. Hank is wearing sunglasses and propping his overly tanned left arm out his open window while singing along to Willie Nelson, his untanned right arm balancing a cup of cold coffee on his lap.
Henry McFadden: Beware the Henry McFaddens of the highway. You can spot them a mile away, wearing sporty caps on their grey heads. He is in the fast lane, doing 25mph with his hazard lights on, cursing all “you young whippersnappers” that tailgate him, horns blaring in frustration before finally passing him in a final barrage of honking. He thinks that 55 mph is a suggestion, and a gosh-darned dangerous one at that.
Ellen Fitzgerald: She is the soccer mom in the over-sized, overly priced SUV in front of you. Until now, you didn’t know that Lamborghini made an SUV. Considering your state has absolutely no mountainous areas whatsoever, and therefore no reason to kick it into 4-wheel drive to overcome treacherous terrain, the purpose of an SUV of this size is unclear. Not that this SUV would ever see a mountain … or know what mud is. The otherwise pristine vehicle has a back window full of those stick figures…two adult men, three adult women, eight children, seven dogs, five cats, and what appears to be an iguana. You will never know anything more about her, but you will obsess over who those stick figures represent the rest of the day.
Michael Mitchell: Ah, Mr. Vanity Plate himself. You can admire a clever plate when you understand it. “I M Gr8” or “2 GUD 4 U” are some of the classics that make you smile. But Michael’s tag, proudly proclaiming “Y RST U” is an enigma. You ponder it for miles, saying it out loud, trying it backwards and forwards, all thoughts of Ellen’s stick figure family gone from your head as the new obsession strikes. You think you almost have it, the solution is so close! Little do you know; Michael’s tag means nothing, and he only got it to mess around with his fellow drivers. Well played, Michael. Well played indeed.
Mandy Smith: As you drive up next to Mandy, you see her frantically shoving a candy bar into her mouth with the wrapper still on, chasing it with a Red Bull, death metal guitars screaming from inside her car. You may initially judge Mandy’s unkempt pony tail and stained sweatshirt, but then you see the back seat lined with three car seats and the sullen teenager in the front passenger seat. As you pass her, you realize that she isn’t listening to death metal at all; those screams are from her three toddlers in the back. Her eyes are haunted as she shoots you a pleading glance; you give her the universally accepted grim lipped smile of the overwhelmed (and overworked) mother, and head nod as your eyes meet in understanding.
Bill Jones: Bill’s bumper sticker proudly proclaims that he “brakes for turtles.” Yay, Bill. Unfortunately, he also brakes for nonexistent bumps, red cars on the opposite side of the road, commercials on the radio, trees, and just to see if his brakes still work or if he needs to use the gift certificate to the local brake repair shop his friends gave him for his birthday.
Lila Hirsch: Lila is frantically arguing with her invisible friend. Both of her hands are off the wheel, at inopportune times, gesticulating wildly to make her point as her car swerves into your lane. You tell yourself she is probably on Blue Tooth…but can we really be sure?
Johnny Miller: Johnny picks a car at random, then begins to target it for his own freeway fun. He tailgates it, passes it, cuts it off, slows down, speeds up, lets it pass again, and so on in a game of cat and mouse with rules that only he knows and which he keeps changing as he goes along. At some point, he apparently wins his game and will drive up casually next to you, looking over at you in distaste, shaking his head, before speeding off. You will never understand Johnny’s game, but you feel sort of honored you were chosen to play, and thankful you survived.
Next time you are on the road, look out for these drivers. Now you know a little more about them, so they are no longer random strangers in a car. If I missed any, let me know; I’d love to hear who you “met” on the road today!