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What started as a pleasant morning commute devolved into a road war

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It was 7:45 a.m. as I began my regular short commute to work. It was an unexpectedly warm, sunny, spring morning – a bonus for what had been forecast to be a cool, rainy Thursday.

I drove with ease along the quiet Vancouver street that would take me to my first set of traffic lights. It would be five lights to my destination. It didn't matter that the first light was red, nor the second, as I had set out 20 minutes earlier than usual.

An unrushed commute offers many pleasant surprises. I spotted a magnolia tree just up ahead. I hadn't noticed it on other days, when the time had dictated speed and concentration. There it stood, resplendent in pink flowers, basking in the early-morning sun. And those grasses just over there, pushing up their tender sprays of spring green. How nice it was to drive-dawdle. I rolled down the window to let in the morning air, and caught a whiff of subtle sweetness … the Earth's perfume.

At the next intersection, I stopped for a dog walker entangled in a myriad of leashes by frisky little pooches in trendy jackets. We made eye contact and smiled at one another as she struggled to free herself.

Driving on, I felt the warm sun on my chest this last day of my work week. Another bonus.

Within minutes, I was approaching my third set of traffic lights. When the light turned green, the car in front of me drove ahead and I indicated a right-hand turn. I waited while a young man crossed the freshly painted crosswalk, texting with his right hand and holding a coffee in his left. He proceeded slowly, as if he wanted me to know that he was taking his sweet, entitled time.

"Move it!" I shouted into the windshield. "I don't have all day!"

But he was oblivious to my commanding voice as he continued thumbing his message.

In the block ahead, a woman in a flashy red Audi had her car door thrown wide open as she sat talking on a cell phone while puffing on a cigarette. Because of an oncoming vehicle, my 24-year-old roadster was unable to pass by. I tapped my horn ever so gently to let her know that I needed to get by. She either didn't hear me or chose not to react.

With a heavy fist, I hit the horn. The Audi door slammed shut and a bejewelled hand came through the window, signalling with an erect middle finger followed by a cloud of white smoke.

The ease with which I had started my morning commute was draining away. I hit the gas pedal and made for the next set of lights. Red again! Crap!

Mariah Llanes for the Globe and Mail

The wait at this particular set of lights is long and annoying. I hoped for a pedestrian to come along and hit the button to force a faster change to green. I heard a honk coming from behind. I checked my rearview mirror. Certainly not for me? The traffic light was red.

In the SUV behind me, a 30ish, good-looking woman at the wheel appeared to be making eye contact with me via my rearview mirror. She was leaning forward, her face almost at the windshield, aggressively mouthing a message. She honked again.

I looked at the light. Still red. What could she possibly be honking about? Our eyes met again in the mirror. She blasted another honk. Huh? The light was still red! What was I supposed to understand that I didn’t understand?

The light turned green. With shoulders raised and jaw clenched, I moved ever so slowly so as not to indulge my aggressor. The SUV sped past me and snorted another honk into my ear.

My good morning start was gone. I pushed the gas pedal. This was war! My hands gripped the steering wheel, my chest tightened, my torso became erect and ready for action. Onward!

Traffic light number four had graciously turned red for me, and there in the left-hand lane was the SUV. I pulled up alongside. My head was pounding, my face burned with anger. I looked over, eyes piercing my enemy. Her passenger window was halfway down. She was vulnerable.

“Why all the honking?” I yelled out. Miss Thirtyish Good-Looking appeared to have no head movement. She looked straight on, as if imploring the light to change.

I raised my verbal daggers. I shot expletives into her sacred space. “Why all the freaking honking?”

Still no response. I shot more expletives.

Suddenly she retaliated: “You were going goddam 40 all along First Avenue … so goddam slowww!” She looked away.

I shot back. “You were honking at me at a red light! What did you expect me to do?”

She turned slowly to face me. Her eyes were closed, her expression soft. “I’m sorry,” she uttered.

My shoulders fell. My torso sank back into the seat. My hands dropped into my lap. I decided to spare my enemy. The light turned green and we moved on.

As I approached my destination, the throbbing in my head eased. I parked the car and sat for a moment in the stillness.

How easily one provocation creates another. How easily we raise our verbal daggers. How easily we aim and shoot. This is how wars start.

Thinking of Miss Thirtyish Good-Looking, I heard her voice as she uttered, “I’m sorry.” I am sorry, too. There is no war.

Carla Pitton lives in Vancouver.

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