The other afternoon I was driving to pick up my three-year-old son from preschool, as I do every week day, when something funny happened. Now, I should note that I drive a black, 2016 Tesla Model S that has never been washed (and looks like it); has a number of scratches and dents; and boasts three bumper stickers, which read “Elizabeth Warren for President,” “Tax the Ultra-Rich,” and “Real Ideas Don’t Fit on Bumper Stickers.” I should also note that during the Trump presidency, my stickers were decidedly more acerbic (one encouraged him to deport himself and included an expletive), and, unsurprisingly, I often got flipped off by other drivers, to whom I would gleefully return the favor.
But since Biden won and I remove those stickers, well, no one has taken note of my car, save for a few drivers that find the messaging funny or ironic. Which is why I was so surprised when, at 5:20 PM on a Thursday in Thousand Oaks, CA, the driver of a souped-up Chevy Silverado pickup truck (easily a $60,000 vehicle) pulled up alongside me and gave me the middle finger. And although I had no idea why he was doing so, I flashed it right back.
For the next mile or so, we sped up and slowed down, alternately using our hands to demonstrate a growing mutual hatred. Finally we came to a stop light and both rolled down our windows. I started to shout “Hey, what did you flip me off for?” but before I could get the words out he yelled–and I’m not kidding, this is a direct quote–“You drive a $70,000 car you piece of shit”…and drove away!
As best I can tell, he was impolitely expressing his disapproval of my support for taxing the ultra-rich; and I imagine he assumed that, being the owner of a Tesla, I must be ultra-rich, which makes me a hypocrite? (Worth pointing out that I got the car for $69,000. However, I received $20,000 on a trade-in, a $7,500 federal tax credit, a seven-year loan at 1.72% APR (fixed) to pay for the balance, and because of my solar photovoltaic array, I have never had to pay to charge it.)
Leaving aside the cost of his truck, and the absurdity of gesturing “fuck you” to someone over calling for a higher top marginal tax rate, two things have stood out to me as I’ve thought about the incident, especially in light of the most recent mass shootings, in Buffalo, NY and Uvalde, TX. The first is that I instantly, without thinking twice or questioning why, flipped him off right back. And the second is that he could very well have had an AR-15 in the passenger seat and shot me to death. After all, pickup truck owners are far more likely to be Republican, and 44% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they own guns (compared to 20% of Democrats).
We live in a country where a nightclub, concert, elementary school, grocery store, office building, or street corner can, in an instant, turn into a killing field; we never know who may be carrying a weapon capable of firing 400 rounds per minute, and if we are Black, Brown, Asian, or otherwise “Other,” we are even more vulnerable to violence at the hands of strangers or the state (in the guide of the police). At the same time, we are an increasingly angry nation, with people on the political right especially apt to turn that anger into insurrection, intimidation, violent protest, and shootings. Nor can anyone easily escape this tidal wave of rage, for we are awash in it, we cannot escape it, we feel it when we read about 19 children or 10 Black shoppers shot to death, just two weeks apart.
But it’s not just that. We feel it when those who oppose any sort of gun control tell us the solution is to have fewer doors, or more guns, or arming teachers. We feel it when we contemplate that the same people who want to tell a woman she cannot terminate a pregnancy because a fetus is a human being do not want to do anything to stop the mass killing of children, adults, the elderly–who are, I think we can all agree, human beings. And we feel it when we watch nothing happen in response to climate change, the corruption of the financial sector, the crimes of the wealthy, and so on.
In short, on a typical day in America, I drove to get my son from elementary school, thankful that his school had not been the one shot at by a guy who easily got hold of a semi-automatic weapon. And now I’m thankful that I am sharing the funny, ironic anecdote about a dude in a truck who cursed at me, rather than you reading an article about how I was shot, if not murdered, in a road-rage incident. Such us the sickness festering amongst us, a sickness that we have to take great precautions to avoid falling victim to. The speed with which I went from calm and chatting on the phone to making a concerted effort to ensure this driver could see my fury is, in retrospect, concerning; it speaks to so much of what is broken, and breaking, all around us and within us.
Lastly, it feels relevant to share a poem I wrote last November, which was published in Open Arts Forum, about the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, another right-wing murderer.
The Fog of Anger
“…acquitted on all charges in the August 2020 shootings of three men, including two who were killed.” – CBS
At what time the fog took over, I do not know:
I was, if not sleeping, attempting to, tossing
and turning like a Heron’s wing, lost in fog.
Fog clings to the hillsides like grime, like rust,
like coffee dregs, like piss on porcelain, like anger
on the heart: Who will scrub the world clean?
The fog is so thick, my son cannot see the soccer field,
grows angry, cries, demands to go home. We go home
and learn to count time: How long until the sun comes out?
I am not as angry as I should be, or content. It is neither
dark nor light, a purgatory of waiting. A young man fires
bullets at the fog: Who will atone for the Heron’s demise?
I can give my son a jacket, take a bullet, confront the fog
so he doesn’t have to. But how to shield him from this anger?
When the fog lifts, everyone, right or wrong, will take credit.
The day grows hotter. Flies sweat, as do trigger-fingers.
One misstep these days can kill you. Surely there is more
to aspire to than martyrdom? Look at the circling birds!
They eye us warily, with curiosity. They have had to adapt
to our anger, to learn to live with it better than we do.
Tomorrow I’ll have them explain their system of justice.
Earthbound, how do I escape the algorithms that stoke, reward
anger? We are commodities, eyeballs, data points. To still my
nerves, I swat at the fog, blame it for this and that injustice.
The fog is more than metaphor. Cars crash, ships run aground,
friends mistake friends for enemies. Then the fog lifts and
we face ourselves, guns drawn, hands shaking with fear.