It's tough to write about how we communicate frustration on the road without using the word jerk – or any number of rude variations on the word – but I’ll try.
There aren't many driving equivalents to the “excuse me” and polite smile we use almost everywhere else.
If some guy’s blocking my access to the cream at Starbucks because he’s scrutinizing the nutritional profile on the Splenda (it's still zero calories, buddy), I don't convey my message (hurry up) by standing so close that I can read the fine print laundry instructions on the label sticking out of his T-shirt. And he doesn't respond by stopping whatever he’s doing to just stand there.
Don't get me wrong, I react that way in my head. But, to avoid arrest and being late for work, I stick with “Excuse me, buddy.”
On the road, you either keep quiet or you act out. Communicating on the road tends to involves, well, being a jerk. Usually dangerously so.
It could be because I’m back in Alberta and most of the trucks are bigger than my Toronto apartment, but the one I notice most often is the Ram. And that might be because it’s fairly typical behaviour for one of these honking big pickups to approach my vehicle (doing at least the speed limit) from behind with no intention of slowing down. The Ram is tailgating, and delivering a personal message: “Get out of my lane, minivan.”
Of course, I do this, too. Not often, but my message is a little nicer: “I'm late for a meeting, buddy.”
I should ignore the guy. Or just switch into another lane. And, hey, maybe I’m imagining it. Big trucks look pretty intimidating up close in a rear-view mirror. Or maybe the guy’s busy texting and doesn’t realize he’s scaring me or that I’m a little sensitive about the minivan.
But too often, I’m not one to give in during an argument, especially when the offending vehicle is bigger and more expensive. Which is almost always.
First, I lock my doors. Then I drive at exactly the speed limit. If I’m feeling cocky, I go a couple of clicks below it. This works best when there’s somebody beside you and the jerk on your tail can't pass.
And then, I feel superior. I’m slowing down The Man in the fancy truck. It must be what those Occupy kids feel like, I tell myself.
I’m hoping he’s understood the message: Back away from the minivan. Jerk.
Most often, when he finally gets the chance to pass, he’ll drive by looking as if he’s totally consumed by some lame techno song on the radio and doesn’t appear to notice me, or my finger.
However, if he does take notice, and we've both managed to avoid a collision, we exchange confused, angry looks that say, “What a jerk.”
Jason Tchir writes our Driving Concern column. If you have any driving queries for him, send a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him through Twitter: @JasonTchir