Road Rage, Or Why All Other Drivers Should Be Annihilated

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My name is Sarah, and I suffer from road rage.

You’d think living in a state with relatively little traffic, like Alaska, would have cured me of this illness. Alaska has nothing but wide-open spaces, but even this, unfortunately, has not calmed me. If anything, it may be making my road rage worse. My fellow Alaskans are, by and large, a laidback bunch. In conjunction with this laissez-faire attitude towards life, drivers do not give much thought to when they will arrive at their destination, and instead toddle along, nary a care in the world.

On the other hand, I care very much about my destination and would like to arrive there sometime this calendar year, people, please!

I wasn’t always this frustrated.

As a newly minted driver with a learner’s permit in Fairbanks, I was very intimidated by the rules of the road. All the other cars dwarfed my first car, a 1997 Nissan Maxima. It had once belonged to my grandmother, and much like my grandmother, the car offered shelter and comfort. Also much like my grandmother, the car was smaller than others of its kind in the wild.

My grandmother topped off at a whopping five feet tall and would often complain that the world was not made for people her size. An early adopter of microaggressions, she maintained her whole life that the world discriminated against short people. I would hear her small voice muttering to herself when reaching for things in the cabinets, when climbing into cars, and when sitting in chairs.

“Everyone is against us! The world hates short people!”

As I scooted around Fairbanks in my grandmother’s car as a teenager, I too adopted my grandmother’s ethos. Trucks would loom over me, vans would steam by me, and I would clutch the steering wheel in a death grip. My dad, in his designated role as driving instructor, would sit stone-faced in the passenger seat beside me. Even though I could not bring myself to drive faster than 45 miles per hour, his foot would stamp the floor where the brake pedal would be so hard the car would rock side to side.

As a baby driver, I would get lost in my miniature hometown, drive many miles under the speed limit, and freak out if I encountered a one-way street. I once took the wrong exit off the Johansen Expressway, could not figure out how to get back on the expressway, turned around, and drove the wrong way up the exit ramp. There was absolutely no traffic on the road (it was Fairbanks after all), but I was sure I would be arrested at any moment for the high crime of being a dingbat.

As we all know, however, with practice comes confidence. As I matured in my driving, I had the temerity to approach the speed limit, make left turns, and choose a lane other than the right.

Having mastered the art of the turn, my confidence blossomed into aggression. My fear of my fellow drivers had been replaced with a blind resentment. Who were these other vehicles taking over the road? This place was not big enough for me, my Nissan Maxima, and them too!

This only got worse after I started driving in major metropolitan areas outside of Fairbanks. Drivers on the East Coast are not afraid to drive 80 miles per hour, merge aggressively, or block traffic so they can cut into a long line. Boston was the first place I saw taxi drivers run red lights more often than stop. Man, did those guys have game.

I learned much from these driving giants, and my fellow Alaskans could stand some similar tutelage. For example, upon moving back to Anchorage, I was devastated by my fellow residents’ complete and utter inability to use the passing lane.

Rather than passing the car on the right, and then dutifully moving back into the right-hand lane, drivers simply treated the passing lane as another lane. Two lines of cars, equal in length, meander along together, and I am back at the end of the line calling everyone around me a deadhead.

But the crème-de-la-crème of triggering behavior: nothing sends me into a fury faster than a car which pulls into the left lane, speeds up to pass the car on the right, reaches the car, and then slows down to drive the exact same speed as the car next to it.

People! I beg of you! There is no point in getting into the left lane, speeding up to the car in front of you, and then driving the exact same speed. For crying out loud, just drive the same speed behind them in the right lane. Don’t be a monster!

I’ve spent many hours profiling my fellow drivers, trying to ascertain who amongst me is an obstacle, and who is a fellow traveler; an ally, if you will, merely trying to get to his appointed destination. For example, I always try to follow a truck; they go faster and drive with purpose. I avoid Subarus, as those drivers are nearly always overly cautious. Stay away from boats, buses, and gaggles of RVs.

The worst of the worst drivers, however, is a very specific breed of truck driver who views being passed as an afront to his manhood. This driver will go out of his way to drive slowly on one-lane streets, block the sections of road where there is a passing lane, and then saunter back to the one lane once the passing lane is dispensed with, satisfied he has ruined everyone’s day.

I will be driving south this weekend for Memorial Day. May those who cross my path be speedy.

Sarah Brown takes many deep breaths. Write to her on pain of death at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

A Love Letter to Airplanes

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Long standing readers of this column will recall there was a time when I was a frequent flyer and bona fide road warrior. Since February 2020, however, I largely stopped traveling due to the obvious complexities presented by a global pandemic. I spent a year without voluntarily giving up my civil liberties at Ted Stevens International Airport. I went 365 days sans random cavity searches by TSA. Twelve months lapsed since I last elbowed my fellow passengers while staking claim to overhead bin space.

When it became obvious to everyone that we’d all been grounded for the foreseeable future, I thought, well, there is much to be gained here. My skin will clear up because it will not be exposed to that weird airplane air that always makes me breakout. I will not have to eye my seat prior to lighting for large, half chewed bits of cookie left lovingly behind by the previous passenger. No concern about the stale nose tissue that may, or may not, be lodged way, way, far down at the bottom of the seatback pouch in front of me. I will not have to look at the bathroom floor with trepidation, wondering if the puddles on the ground were caused by people who cannot neatly dry their hands, or by some other, more sinister, fluid.

I was as shocked as anyone to discover after a while … that I missed it. Ironically, despite the ever-present and all-powerful weight of the Federal government, air travel struck me as, well, freedom. I looked back fondly on the stale smelling circulated air, the fiesta mix pretzels in tiny packets, and the unique taste of a Bloody Mary at thirty thousand feet cruising altitude.

I am pleased to report, however, that air travel is returning. Pandemic weary Americans are back to jamming themselves into these tiny cylindrical tubes and jettisoning themselves as far away from home as possible. Iceland is now open to vaccinated Americans, and the European Union is expected to follow suit shortly. Spring break travelers to Hawaii were treated to $1,000 per day car rentals, as demand surged despite companies having previously sold off inventory to stay afloat in 2020.

Personally, I have completed my first pleasure trip post COVID and will begin travelling again for work in May. Expectedly, things have changed since I last flew. TSA now checks your driver’s license, and not your ticket. Masked passengers remove face coverings long enough for the security agents to verify passenger faces match passenger IDs. After a year in quarantine, I can’t imagine all faces look the same, and the agents studied a few of my fellow travelers for a while, trying to determine whether they were imposters, or had just been living life rough for the last thirteen months. I am somewhat dourly resigned to looking like a demented bank robber forever, my baby blue disposable mask covering up the bottom half of my face, and my glasses the top half.

One of the more disappointing changes to airline travel is the meal service. Previously a joyful activity on flights, meal service could be counted on to dependably absorb twenty minutes of flight time, followed by another seven minutes in the bathroom line, three minutes maneuvering in the bathroom itself, and a minute forty-seven seconds spent eyeing all the bathroom puddles. Then there was always the possibility of a bathroom surprise, like the time someone dangled a used Lipton tea bag from the inside bathroom door handle. These little diversions would necessitate me staring for another fifty-two seconds, at least! Altogether, such points of recreation would eat up over half an hour, which would be correspondingly deducted from the amount of time spent in bored silence.

While I am nothing but sympathetic to an industry brought to the brink of extinction one year ago, it was a nevertheless disappointing meal service that brought me a cup of water, half a cracker, and a virtual pat on the head. Snack time lasted thirty-eight seconds, and I swiveled around wildly wanting to know how I was going to burn up all this new quiet time.

With a few accommodations, I was nevertheless thrilled to skip down the jetway for the first time in 2021. TSA, baggage crew, officious ticket checkers abundant… I love you!

Sarah Brown is a Captain of Industry. You may pitch her at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

In the Throes of Air Travel

“P1000720” by jayhay2336 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

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Air travel is a key component of my job description.

Literally. The description reads, “Expected to travel between 30% and 50% of time.”

Given how much experience I’ve had, you think I would be better at it.

Wrong.

It’s a production to get me on an airplane, all of the extensive accommodations of Alaska Airlines aside. My appearance becomes the physical manifestation of my discomfort. I don my airplane pajamas (aka clothes that are at least three sizes too big). On go my eyeglasses, away goes the flat iron, in goes my night guard. And make-up? Don’t make me laugh.

I then adopt my Very Special Air Travel Expression.

It’s the sort of expression a corpse would have, if the person who once formed that corpse had died in an eternal state of exasperation. The light leaves my eyes, my jaw goes slack. I only alter this deadpan look to glare at all of my neighbors over the top of my glasses.

Once at the airport, I typically throw my weight around. Not that I have the necessary money, power, or status to intimidate people. Rather, I literally swing my shoulder bags from side to side, yanking my suitcases through the air. Any aggressive movement will do. I want strangers to approach on penalty of death.

All of this contributes to a distinctly nasty persona. When people see me hurtling through airports, they figure they know why I’m alone.

If life were a movie plot, travellers would not be like me. Rather, attractive bubbly strangers would be seated next to each other on airplanes with alarming frequency. They would both be single and looking for love. They would bond instantaneously over shared heartbreaks/divorces/widowhoods/insert romantic tragedy here.

In all my years of air travel, I have never seen this happen. Instead, men and women get drunk at airport bars and throw themselves at unwilling strangers.

Take my recent late-night Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle. I was across the aisle from a young woman, who, like me, was wearing her airplane best. Dressed in a sweatshirt and pajama bottoms, her purple hair was in a topknot on her head. She was wearing scarlet-rimmed eyeglasses, and her acne was showing.

Nevertheless, she was being pursued by a young sloper she’d just met in the bar. With the aid of some liquid courage, he adopted all the confidence of Thor, Son of Odin, and was shouting about how he wanted to sit next to her on our mutual flight.

This plan did not excite her.

She walked on to the plane, sat down, threw up into her airsick bag, and flagged down a predictably gracious Alaska Airlines flight attendant.

“Um, there’s this guy. Like, he …”

She trailed off as she tried to bring the flight attendant into focus.

“I, like, met him in the bar. And now he’s, like, trying to sit next to me?”

The flight attendant looked at her pityingly.

“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“Okay, ‘cause, like, I don’t want to sit next to him. He’s, like. Back. There.”

She jutted her thumb over her shoulder, gesturing to the offending sloper, now sitting in his assigned seat.

The flight attendant followed her thumb.

“You know what? He’s asleep. I think you’re okay.”

The three of us turned around and, sure enough, the man was down for the count, his face mashed up against the window.

It’s not just men pursuing uninterested women on airplanes. Women also proactively live out their Hollywood “meet cute” fantasies. On a flight from Anchorage to Chicago, I spied on a middle-age woman sitting next to a similarly unprepossessing middle-aged man. Before my eyes, the woman became hopelessly infatuated with him, for no reason I could portend. She tried every feminine wile at her disposal to attract his attention. She giggled at him, whispered to him, and petted his arm continuously for the first thirty-five minutes of the flight.

That’s when he couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up, told the flight attendant he was moving to another section, and forbade the woman from following him.

If I were the woman, I would have taken the hint. However, I will never be she; I’m too busy throwing my luggage around.

Rather than accept they would not share a future together beyond the constraints of this six-hour flight, the woman grabbed her bags, and made after him. The flight attendant body blocked her like every great bouncer would, and the woman was forcibly returned to her seat, waving madly at the man to come back.

That’s why I don’t bother primping before flights; I’ve seen too many failed attempts by travelers to meet The One.

But then came the day I found myself sitting next to an acceptably cute blonde bearded guy on a flight to Los Angeles.

Alarm signals went off in my brain: “Don’t be weird! Don’t be weird!”

Naturally, the minute I brought my own weirdness to my attention, I immediately began acting bizarre; I tucked my plastic water cup into the hook holding up my tray table.

The cute guy next to me looked over at my water cup, now dangling helplessly from the seat in front of me, and frowned.

“I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”

I considered explaining that I wanted to place my cup out of my way, such that I could continue typing on my laptop. I couldn’t waste a moment’s time, after all, in plotting my takedown of the ultimate universe. And gosh, by the way, didn’t he want to accompany me on said takedown as my sidekick?

Instead, I coughed and grunted back, “Whatever works.”

            My seatmate shrugged, and went back to texting other, better, girls on his phone.

            Alaska Airlines should really cast me in a commercial. I am, clearly, the young upwardly mobile model of 21st century womanhood to whom they desperately wish to appeal.

Sarah Brown is a road warrior and connoisseur of the Alaska Airlines Economy class free snacks. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.