Chicago Stories by
(354 Stories)

Prompted By Road Rage

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

I have never personally experienced road rage. I tend to steer clear of drivers who seem to be in too much of a hurry, or are weaving in and out of traffic. I give them wide berth and get away as quickly as I can.

Therefore, I will tell two stories from friends during my days of living in Chicago, one humorous, one deadly. These took place in the late 1970s. One might think life was a bit more civilized then, but perhaps not.

The first involves the mother of a close friend. The woman is one of my surrogate mothers, a smart, savvy woman whom I greatly admire. She was driving in Chicago proper, not a highway, but a busy area. Someone tried to cut her off, but she wouldn’t let him. He pulled abreast of her car and gave her the finger. She looked him straight in the face, put her middle finger up and looked at it, bewildered. She slowly looked at that finger from all angles, up, down, bent, straight. She shook her head at him, shrugged her shoulders and pulled ahead of him, glancing back quickly enough to see his bewilderment in the mirror. She howled with laughter that his act of hostility had prompted such a funny reaction. She left him in the dust.

The other episode happened after the terrible blizzard of January, 1979. It snowed for two days, adding 21″ of snow to the several that were already on the ground. The temperature was 18 below, the wind screamed, causing the wind chill to reach 40 degrees below zero. The blizzard happened over the weekend, but I lived in the city and went to work (our office was at 444 N. Michigan Ave.) on Monday. I tried to take the bus, but the line of people waiting, as full buses passed us by (and the wind howled) was too long, so I decided to pull my front-wheel drive VW Rabbit out of my covered spot and drive to a garage in town (I lived north of Diversey at Seridan and Oakdale), a few miles north of work. I crept to work.

Only those who actually lived in Chicago-proper got into the office that day. By early afternoon, a few flakes fell again and we few hearty survivors who had gotten into the office, fled. I was the only one with a car and dropped two fellow employees (including my manager, the infamous AL from Seven Double Chivases on the Rocks) home before trying to get home myself. I lived the furthest north. All the side streets were one way, every other one in opposing directions. Due to the extreme cold, plows broke down and couldn’t plow the streets. Cars were left, abandoned, blocking various streets. I got to my street, turned in, but a car had been left, blocking the street before I could drive past the few buildings to my driveway. I backed out, went up two blocks to the next left turn, same problem, rinse and repeat. I finally made an illegal left turn one block north of my street. It was clear! I drove up the block, took the left turn to drive down to my street and got stuck just before turning onto my block. My little front-wheel drive car was no longer making contact with the road. I got out, seeking help. I found some guys getting off the bus who came and lifted my car back into the ruts in the road and followed me to my apartment to make sure I got home safely. The storm brought out the goodness in some people. I put my car away and vowed to not move it until spring. I also bought a shovel.

I did take the bus to work for the remainder of the week, and thought this was not fit weather for man or beast. Somehow, I survived. The next week, more souls came back to work. We had two great guys working with us, Vietnam vets, burly guys who were gentle giants and close friends, Ben and Darryl. Darryl was going through a rough patch with his wife, an elegant flight attendant. They had an adorable little girl who had just turned five in December. Her birthday was the day before mine. Darryl’s wife was stuck out of town during the blizzard, so he was on child care duty. This Monday was his first day back in the office. He worked the whole day, then had to stop by his apartment to pick up his suitcase and Betamax (yes, really; we sold video training to the data processing industry so sometimes had to travel with equipment to demonstrate our training materials), before flying to Iowa. He lived on Addison, near Wrigley Field.

Some of us were still in the office, just hanging around at the end of the day. Darryl came into my office (which I shared with three other employees) and goofed around with me. The song playing on the office sound system was Rod Steward, “If Ya Think I’m Sexy”…ooo, what a song! It made me feel sexy. Darryl came around behind me as I sat at my desk and gave me a shoulder rub. We really didn’t think much of it in those days.This was not considered inappropriate behavior by either of us. We were both married. We were just joking with each other. He was a joyous person. He gave me a bear hug. He was a big, bear of guy. I weighed 84 lbs. Then he took off for his trip.

We came into the office the next morning, stunned as word spread about what happened to Darryl when he went to his apartment after leaving the office. He turned up Addison in his car. He only had a limited amount of time, as he had to catch a flight. There was a car blocking the street. It wasn’t stuck. The owner just couldn’t find a parking spot, so the car had been left there with blinkers on. Darryl laid on his horn. Three people came out of the adjacent apartment, two men and a woman, high on crack cocaine. Darryl started yelling at them to move the car! One of the men had a two by four, the other man had a knife. They were amped up; looking for trouble. Darryl was a big, black man, but one of the guys struck him with the board several times and the other stabbed him repeatedly with the knife. Darryl tried to fend them off, but was gravely wounded. He crawled to his apartment building up the block, buzzed the buzzer for help, but collapsed in the doorway. An ambulance came, but he died that night in the hospital. Was this road rage? Cabin fever? Drug-fueled craziness? All of the above.

We, in the office could barely function when we heard the news. Ben, Darryl’s best friend and fellow Vietnam survivor, was speechless; with rage, with horror, with guilt that he wasn’t there to protect and help his friend. My husband and I commuted at this point in our lives and it was his turn to visit me, but he gently suggested that I come to Boston. I could use the change of scenery. So, after attending the funeral on Friday, I flew to Boston. I escaped the blizzard-weary city, the horror of the murder of my friend and colleague, and, for a moment, my Chicago life in general.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: friend's humor, Jan-79 blizzard, death, Chicago
Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    Wow, Betsy, I am so sorry this happened to your friend in my city. I remember the winter of 1979. It was really bad. My husband gave a friend a ride home from downtown and it took them eight hours. I guess having someone to share the journey in those pre-cell phone days was a good thing. Winter can definitely bring out the worst in drivers, including me. Although driving around Newton can also be special!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Massachusetts drivers are notoriously awful, Laurie. When I first moved from Detroit, I couldn’t believe all those people taking left turns in front of me. I used to fantasize about driving a tank into the next guy who did that to me! Growing up in suburban Detroit, we learned proper driving etiquette!

      Yes, that Chicago winter was particularly harrowing. Thanks for your empathy.

  2. I’m so sorry, Betsy…what a devastating story! And part of why I (almost) always refrain from using my middle finger to express my road rage. But I do love what your friend did with hers…I might just try that should the occasion arise.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I had to admire that my friend kept her cool, thought quickly and defused the situation using humor. Pretty clever.

      The other situation was just tragic. When I reminded my husband about it, he asked if the murderers went to trail. They did, were convicted and went to prison. I no longer remember how long their sentence was, but I do remember that they were convicted, so some justice was served, but it hardly mattered, for it was totally senseless.

  3. How awful, Betsy. I lived in Chicagoland from ’99 to ’04 – not in the city, in the northern/northwestern suburbs. When I saw your headline I thought I was going to read about some of the monumental battles that took place (probably still do) among city people who assert proprietary rights to parking spaces by placing shopping carts, etc. in the way. Woe betide a novitiate who tried to move such a marker, especially in snow emergencies where the “owner” had cleared the space himself. Was that going on when you lived there?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I never looked for street parking in those days, Tom. Really only used my car for business to commute to the suburbs or to see friends in the suburbs. Otherwise it was bus, walking or cabs in the city. We have the same system in Boston…using something to denote a shoveled out parking space and woe to him or her who tries to take someone’s shoveled space. When we lived in the Back Bay, we always had deeded parking behind our condo, or even better, a garage space!

  4. Suzy says:

    Thanks for this story, Betsy. Love the first incident, with your friend bewildering the hostile guy. The second incident is truly tragic. I remember your telling it once before, either to me in person or here on Retrospect. And the contrast you present — the guys who lifted up your car when it was stuck in the snow and made sure you got home safely, and the other guys who savagely attacked someone for asking them to move their car from the middle of the street. Just mind-blowing!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, my spunky friend is now 92 and just as spunky as ever, though no longer driving. I would never have the presence of mind to respond like that.

      Thank you for pointing out the difference between the strangers who helped me get safely home that first week, and those awful people who murdered Darryl a week later. Nice juxtaposition; quite frankly, I hadn’t thought about it.

  5. Marian says:

    That’s terrible what happened, Betsy. Despite all the ills of northern California, at least in the Bay Area we don’t have to deal with snow. You have shown people at their best and worst.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    The first story was so very, Betsy, and, as usual, you had the perfect illustration — even if not, this time, from your family photo album.

    And the second story was, as you warned, harrowing. You nicely warned us that it was going to go in that direction, but it was still shocking in its brutality. And, by your telling us a bit about Darryl beforehand, we could not only mourn for him as a person, but also empathize with what you and your office mates had to deal with once you learned of this tragic and senseless loss.

    As you note, Darryl’s killing might not have been the result of road rage, or at least exclusively so. But, whatever it was, this story encapsulated the senseless anger and violence that is a part of road rage so often.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you for your comments, John. The story of my friend Millie disarming that rude person all those years ago has stayed with me and I am delighted to share it with this audience.

      The other story is almost surreal, as those whole two weeks were just horrible and Darryl’s horrific death capped off a time that would cause a mayor to be voted out of office. I had lived through a brutal winter and blizzard a year earlier in Greater Boston (though it didn’t get so ridiculously cold after), but at least Dukakis was smart enough to shut the city down so the plows and sanders could work without people trying to get to their jobs. Chicago was a nightmare from the get-go.

  7. Terribly sad story, Betsy. Chicago has a reputation — as you know — for deadly parking encounters. People spend hours shoveling out a parking place, and according to local etiquette, stake a claim to their hard work with a saw horse, pylon, etc. Woe betide the fool who steals a dug out place. There will be blood.

    The careful perusal of a middle finger baffles me — was your friend lavishing all that attention on her upraised digit while she was driving? Or was she standing still? And if she was standing still, why didn’t the guy shoot her?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Charles. They shovel out spaces and save them with various objects (lawn chairs, orange cones, etc) here in Boston too. As you point out, woe comes to anyone who takes such a space. This, of course, was something else, but tempers were flaring all over the place.

      My friend with the middle finger was driving, but slowly, I believe. Not on a highway, and the incident was over in a few moments. Perhaps she was stopped at a light next to the offender, then raced away as the light turned. This was 40 years ago, or more and guns were not as prevalent as they are today.

Leave a Reply