This event happened in 1984 before road rage had a name. The madness that happens behind the wheel is very real whatever you want to call it. I was a skinny sixteen-year-old girl working my very first job at a daycare center. I only worked for a few hours a day, fixing snacks for the children. Nutritious things like Cheetos and juice. Afterwards, I cleaned up the kitchen and went home.
I rode to work in a very recognizable Ford station wagon that I sometimes shared with my brothers. Family and friends affectionately referred to the car as the ‘Tank’. Many folks in the village of Midlothian recognized the Tank because of it unique Cocoa-Krispie brown shade and the shocking number of dents. This detail is important. I may have contributed a few of the dings, but my two older brothers created the lion’s share. At least that’s the story I’m sticking with.
One afternoon, my brother, Ken, needed the car, so he was tasked with picking me up after my shift. We pulled onto Midlothian Turnpike which is a very busy three-lane road with lots of shopping centers. After a few moments, Ken noticed a silver Mercedes driving very slowly in front of us. Patience is not one of Ken’s strengths, so my eighteen-year-old brother, turned on his blinker and sped ahead of the car, positioning himself in the left-hand land—apparently right where the silver Mercedes wanted to be. The Mercedes gunned it, cut us off, and nearly caused an accident.
The man was slamming his horn as we approached a red light. This is where most road rage stories end. As the Mercedes came to a stop beside us, the driver’s door flew open and a stout, red-faced man came barreling out. He was probably in his mid-fifties. I was sitting in the passenger seat only a few paces away when we locked eyes. That was the first time I remember being truly frightened by someone. The man was wild-eyed and screaming obscenities.
Ken was yelling back too. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”.
“You cut us off!” I remember yelling.
Incredibly, the man jerked the handle of the door where I was sitting. My pulse raced as I helplessly watched this man trying to get into our car. What exactly was his plan? Thankfully the car door was locked.
My brother had had enough. The light was still red, but Ken waited for an opening in traffic and then gassed it. We went flying through the intersection, my adrenaline soaring. I thought the exchange was over, but that’s when I noticed the silver Mercedes just behind us. “He’s following us!” I screamed. Incredibly, the man had run the red light as well.
My brother had many skills but at the top of that list was his talent for flipping cars and driving like a bat out of hell. We were only a mile from home and planned on making a run for it. We tore through our neighborhood, barely slowing to turn and desperate to outrace the Mercedes. After a time, it seemed that we had lost him. I was terrified the man would discover where we lived. Ken must have had the same thought, because as we approached our two-story brick house on a hill, Ken drove another loop around the block, ‘just to be sure’ he’d shaken him.
We eventually pulled into our driveway so fast, a cloud of dust rose from the gravel. Instead of parking at the edge of the driveway as we usually did, I jumped out of the wagon and threw up the garage door. Ken sped the car inside so it couldn’t be seen from the road.
Nobody else was home, and I felt far from safe. The man was still out there looking for us. “Surely, he won’t find us.” I thought. “The car’s hidden in the garage.” I nervously peered out my mother’s window which was positioned directly over the driveway. My gut churned as the Mercedes slowly drove by. Minutes later, it pulled into our driveway. The man hopped out of his car and looked through the garage windows below us.
Soon he was pounding at the front door. I paced in the hallway as Ken disappeared. But my brother showed up moments later with a loaded shot gun. A firearm makes a person very brave, and I remember my brother marching to the door with it perched across his chest. “Don’t open the door!” I cried, but Ken ignored me. He swung open the door only to discover the porch empty.
I thought the whole ordeal was over, but after only minutes, there was more pounding at the door. I was convinced the man had returned, but when Ken boldly answered the door with the shotgun hidden out of view, there was a policeman standing there.
The crazy man had actually called the cops on us—I guess mostly on my brother. The lunatic was standing in the driveway shouting things like “Where’s the kid?” and “I want him locked up!”
I’m watching from the porch when my bewildered-looking mother pulls into the driveway.
“I want this lunatic off my property!” Ken yells.
Meanwhile my mother pleads with Ken. “Just apologize to him.”
“Why should I?” Ken responded. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Eventually the police made the man leave, but not before he threatened to contact his lawyers and have everyone sued. He’d been going on and on with his maniacal tirade for so long that even the police could see that he was crazy.
After he left, the police interviewed me. The police officer explained that the man had been canvassing the neighborhood looking for the owners of the brown beat-up station wagon, and a neighbor told him where we lived.
The man accused us of speeding through a neighborhood where small children lived. “The man is crazy,” I told the cops in a tremulous voice. “He was chasing us.” Nothing ever came of the report. I’m sure this made the Mercedes driver very angry.
That night my mother received a late-night phone call from a man who panted heavily into the phone. It freaked her out. These were the days of rotary phones and before caller ID. The whole household suspected it was Mercedes man. The creepy phone calls continued for a few more nights. My dad was never involved because the phone was on my mom’s side of the bed.
I remember being confused by the phone calls and what they were supposed to accomplish. As an older adult, I wonder who the man was trying to intimidate. My mother, the innocent onlooker, Ken, or me? I also wonder how the man got our phone number. This was before the world-wide-web. He must have searched a three-inch phone book before locating us. Thanks to an unknown neighbor, he already had our address.
I was very nervous for a number of weeks as I drove back and forth from work. The Tank stood out like a sore thumb, and I kept expecting that lunatic driver to reappear. So to Mercedes Man who tried to yank open my car door and then showed up at my house, let’s never meet again.