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Light 'Em Up!

The car was black: body, tires, rims even the smoked windshield (which allowed the observer only to see a silhouette of the driver), making the entire thing look like an eight ball without the eight. I was a half-block away as he idled, the car making a low, consistent rumble, like a pot just coming to boil on the stove. I didn’t understand why he was just sitting there. There was no traffic to speak of.

What’s he waiting for?” I thought.

Then, just before my foot hit the crosswalk where this machine sat, the driver gunned the engine, two quick taps on the gas pedal before he slammed it in gear, making a hard right turn, tires squealing. In a split second, with the pedal obviously to the floor, he sped away, the powerful engine advancing through the gears as this mystery machine disappeared into the distance, the only car on the road, a one-car drag race.

The scene I’m describing happened at 7:30 on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning on an otherwise quiet street in my otherwise quiet neighborhood. At the time, I was on a walk, enjoying the sunshine and warmth of an early summer morning, and all I could think of at that point was, “What in the hell would possess someone to do something like that, especially at this time of day on this street?”

At the time (of day) and given the timing (which seemed strangley choreographed), it appeared he was performing this act just for – or more to the point, at – me. I mean, why was he waiting, when there was no reason? And why did he wait until I was in the crosswalk not 10 feet from him and his machine before he tore off into the distance? Was he making a statement? Just trying to have some fun? Showing off? And if so, why for me?

I wasn’t judging, I was simply curious. OK, I was judging a little; and full disclosure, I was also stereotyping, envisioning exactly the type of person who would do something like that. (Not fair, I know, but hey, I’m human.)

As I continued my walk, metaphorically “eating his dust” as the car drove out of sight, I took a step back (in my head) to reassess what had just occurred. At first, I had trouble wiping the stereotype and negative thoughts I had developed instantly in the moments prior. Then, after a little while (with the rumble of his muscle car low in the distance; he had no doubt pulled the same maneuver at the stop light almost three-quarters of a mile away), I eased up.

Did I know who he was or why he chose early Sunday morning to light up the neighborhood with 400-horsepower of window-rattling force? No. Was he waiting for me (or someone), to show off or prove a point of some sort? I have no idea. In fact, did he even know I was there, or was this clashing of tennis shoes and torque simply a coincidence? Quite possibly.

Then, this popped into my head: Maybe he’d already had a tough morning – spilling coffee, hitting his head on an open cabinet door while grabbing a breakfast bar, spending 10 minutes looking for his keys, only to find them sitting atop a container of pasta salad in the fridge (“How the hell …?”) – and this was his way of letting off a little steam to reset and give him a fresh start (much in the way I’d silently – and violently – punch the air if I’d had such a morning, and I know because those exact things have happened to me within minutes of one another as I’ve gone through my morning routine.)

Is silently punching the air better than gunning one’s engine? Probably not. Nor is it worse. Both are, for the most part, victimless and harmless, though one is private and cloistered while the other is public and prone to stereotyping.

That said, what it came down to – in my mind, anyway – was this. Why not cut the guy some slack? Sure, his actions seemed over the top at the time, maybe even inappropriate given that I wasn’t the only one exposed to this display of bravado. (I’m sure neighbors heard it, and I’m guessing they also had their thoughts about him.)

However, maybe, just maybe, gunning the engine a couple of times on an empty road with no one but a guy out for morning walk was exactly what the doctor ordered to rejigger his attitude and reboot his morning.

And I’ll speak from experience. If he did spill his coffee, hit his head on the cabinet and spent 10 minutes looking for keys that had been “just chilling” in the refrigerator all night, I can certainly identify with wanting to blow off a little steam and give myself a “do-over” on my day.

The only difference: I’d silently punch the air. To me, it’s so much more gratifying.

© 2020 David R. Haznaw

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