I failed to mention in my Kindergarten story that coloring was a regular activity and that, consistent with the conformist ethos of the times, there was an implicit direction that we “color within the lines”. Not a strong suit for me. So, too, with these prompts. And thus, “dirt road rage”, which, as you will learn, has a tenor not within ordinary usage of the phrase “road rage”. However, in deference to the letter of the prompt, and the reasonable expectations of my readers (both of you), I’ll spend a moment talking about road rage in the familiar sense of the phrase.
(Old Albany Post Road) is a dirt road and will forever be that way. There is an Old Road Society in town, and members are militant. Old Albany is their prized project.
Road rage can take the form of highly aggressive driving that weaponizes the vehicle, of course, but I believe those instances are, fortunately, rare. But “road rage” encompasses a much broader phenomenon, I believe, one that is exclusively a form of communication: following just a bit too close, hand (and finger) gestures and usages not fit for polite conversation. All triggered by real or, more likely, perceived affronts to us from other users of our roads. I admit to such occasional fits. It’s hard not to, given that I have hard evidence.
In late summer of 2012 I had an inspiration for a possible book. Over more than sixty years I traveled certain highways in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island again and again. To and from school. Vacations. Commuting. No doubt tens of thousands of miles. I wondered if the very roads I traveled so often had memories embedded from such repetition, memories that retracing those routes might summon. So off I went on a three-day road trip. I bought a digital recorder to do a real time, continuous narrative of the experience. My only ground rule was, let fly. Whatever crossed my mind. No real time self-editing. In the course of my travel, of course, I encountered situations with other motorists that begged for remonstrance and instruction, and I indulged. In the safety and solitude of my car with windows up, of course, but at volume. Upon realizing that I was recording every word I quickly added, at one point, “I’m gonna have to expurgate some of this.” Upon my return I took to transcribing the recording. Given that I had accumulated about forty-five hours of material I decided to use transcription software. When I reached the aforesaid point in the recording I discovered that the software had rendered my outburst as “I’m gonna have to extirpate feminists.” I decided to abandon the software.*
And now, dirt road rage. Our town is rife with dirt roads, and dirt roads are a passion with certain of our townsfolk. Barbara and I live on a private road that serves a five-lot subdivision platted in 1987. Dirt of course. Like most towns, our planning regulation sets forth certain standards for subdivision site improvements. Drainage and the like. And road paving. Our developer complied. But being a true believer, he covered over the pavement with dirt after the town inspected and then stipulated in the restrictive covenants binding lot owners that the road never be paved.
Our private road is accessed from a public highway, Old Albany Post Road. This is a segment of the old post road that ran from New York City to Albany. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a dirt road and will forever be that way. There is an Old Road Society in town, and members are militant. Old Albany is their prized project. Two charter members of the Society who were instrumental, Terry and Andy, live not far away, and I see them regularly when I’m out walking. They are genial people. Except about paving.**
I am told that the southern end of Old Albany, which slopes down to its intersection with another town road, was essentially obliterated by torrential runoff during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The town insisted on pavement when that stretch was rebuilt. But there was opposition then, just as there is to any, and I do mean any, initiative to pave any dirt road in town.
Truth be told, as irritating as Old Albany can be – and expensive, what with regular wheel alignments and the occasional broken strut – I do not want it paved. It’s just wide enough for two well-behaved vehicles to pass one another; blind spots are commonplace. Traffic already tends to move too fast for conditions as it is, and an improved surface would exacerbate the problem, which exists for both motorists and pedestrians.
Our area is off the beaten path. Almost all of the routines of day-to-day living require automobiles, so I drive Old Albany every day. The road demands common courtesy, and then some. Sad to say too many ignore the demand. Some are just plain obnoxious, only begrudgingly giving just enough room to allow an oncoming car to pass. Or turning onto the road from a side road or driveway immediately rather than allowing a car already in sight to pass first. And failing to acknowledge when a greater courtesy is extended, say, stopping and pulling into a wider spot in the road before the two vehicles would otherwise meet. Suffice it to say that I don’t let breaches of Old Albany etiquette go without remark. Again, of course, in the isolation booth of my car.
On foot is another matter. I walk Old Albany a lot. And at length. To far too many drivers on the road, I might as well be invisible. Drivers who insist on traveling in the middle of the road rather than making some accommodation for foot traffic. Drivers who go way, way too fast for safety. Distracted drivers oblivious to pedestrians. As I encounter such situations I call them out. Loudly. It’s cathartic but usually to no effect. Usually. There is one instance, however, where I was rewarded. A motorist who lives about a mile south (and I know where you live, buddy) was blasting along the sole extended straightaway on Old Albany. I was walking that stretch in the same direction he was traveling. He came up behind me quickly. I could tell from the road noise that he was coming fast and I turned in time to see that he was in the middle of the road. I jumped into the tall grass by the side of the road and screamed at him. I saw that he had braked and seemed to be stopping about a hundred yards ahead, and for whatever reason I decided to confront him, so I started running toward him. Upon seeing me pursue, the driver took off at an even faster clip than before. In the months since then I have not seen him again on any of my walks. I think he’s deliberately avoiding me. Call it a dirt road rage victory.
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* A year or so earlier, during my relatively brief venture with consulting partners, we subscribed to an 800-number service that included a feature that not only created an audio file of messages left but also attempted to transcribe them. The results were mixed. One caller clearly mentioned “Steenburg” in her message, but the automated transcription rendered it as “Jeangrowth”, something that seemed to me to require medical attention or strong detergent.
** Andy’s wife drives an SUV with the vanity plate DIRTROAD