Dirt Road Rage by
(58 Stories)

Prompted By Road Rage

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One of Andy’s signs

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.**

Another of Andy’s signs

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.

Old Albany Post Road mile marker

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.

– – – – – – – – – – –

* 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

Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.

Characterizations: , right on!, well written


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    Tom, I loved your detour down the dirt road inspired by the prompt. That’s the beauty of writing for Retrospect. Everyone has a different story to tell, and the prompt (in my opinion) is a suggested jumping off point. That said, I hope you catch up with that guy who almost ran you off the road. I also gave up on auto-transcribe apps when I wanted to transcribe the 8-hour tape recorded memories dictated by my father. As painful as it was to listen to his voice after he was gone, I wanted his words to be as he intended.

    • Thanks, Laurie. Rather than catching him (which I could do if I chose; I do in fact know where he lives) I’d rather have him continue to look over his shoulder, so to speak. Perhaps not coming from a spot of generosity of spirit, but if as a result he takes more care with others on the road, so much the better. And God knows what I was thinking in the initial chase. There are crazies out there.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    You are a brave man to pursue that driver by foot on the dirt road, though walking it sounds like pleasant activity. Your photos enhance the story a lot. It all seems quite rural and lovely, but what happens when the dirt runs off in a large rain storm? Does the town come in and add more dirt?

    • Maybe foolhardy. Yes, the road is a public highway and the town does a great job of maintaining it. I wonder that townsfolk don’t get more than a little tired having tax dollars go to endless repairs of Old Albany, but so far there’s been no uprising. When I see crews on the road I say hello and thank them for taking care of us, saying while the job may be endless it doesn’t have to be thankless.

  3. Hi Tom! “Dirt road rage” makes me try to think of other types of rage. Like “always picking the slowest checkout line rage,” and “other people cutting in line rage.” (Either of which if you complain about out loud makes you look, well, nutty.) I think this kind of rage comes from feeling like you have no control, especially when others are discourteous, so I admire your ways of “remonstrance and instruction”…and what a wonderfully euphemistic phrase! Because it’s when we bottle too many things up for too long that we’re in danger of exploding. As Laurie reminded us, September is National Courtesy Month.” Hear, hear! Oh, and about voice-activated transcription, somehow I came across some “auto correct fails”… text messages (often rather blue) that had me laughing to tears. If you Google it, you might not want to be in a public place.)

  4. Suzy says:

    Tom, I will second what Laurie said about the prompt being a jumping-off point that may inspire a wide variety of stories. Long ago, when the prompt was Cooking, and I wanted to write about my mother, who was dying, I titled my story “This Story is Not About Cooking” and posted it on that prompt. It was very cathartic, and I got lots of great support in the comments. So write away, on whatever comes to mind!

    I love everything about this story. The road trip with tape recorder, the transcription software errors, your chase on foot of the guy who was driving too fast and in the middle of the road. But my favorite little tidbit is that the road you live on was actually paved, but then covered with dirt by the developer to comply with the covenant that the road never be paved. That is hilariously twisted!

    • Thanks, Suzy.

      A clarification: the covenants were the developer’s creation: he “dirted” the pavement and then established the covenants that included the never-pave stipulation. The kicker is, he went to all that trouble and the covenants in their entirety are probably unenforceable because he retained, or attempted to retain, the right to enforce them himself in perpetuity.

  5. Marian says:

    A really original take on this prompt, Tom, and very informative as well. I can only imagine what the dirt road is like in the winter, but it certainly lends this neighborhood a rustic charm.

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