by Len Lear
Last Sunday, I went to L.A. Fitness in the Andorra Shopping Center in upper Roxborough, as I always do on Sunday in the mid-afternoon. The afternoon was quite uneventful, as usual, until I left the gym, got into my car and began to depart from the parking lot in the rear of the building. When I got to the exit, I was sure I looked both ways, of course, and then hit the accelerator.
When my car was about halfway into the street, out of the corner of my left eye I saw a huge SUV (to me, they are tanks) coming right at me. Since there was not enough time to go into reverse and back up, I sped up and passed the SUV as the driver honked his horn at me. No surprise there and probably deserved.
I then made a left turn onto the street and moved forward toward Ridge Avenue, which was about 100 yards away. In my rearview mirror, however, I could see the SUV make a sharp U-turn, speed up, come around the right side of my car and turn slightly left, blocking me from going forward. About two-thirds of his car was at a 45-degree angle in front of my car.
“I don’t believe this,” I thought. “There is no way I am just going to sit here and wait for him to do something crazy.”
So I went into reverse and then drove around to the right of his car in an attempt to drive away. However, there were two cars in front of me waiting for the red light to change, so there was no room to speed away. The guy in the SUV then backed his car up and pulled around in front of my car diagonally again, but this time there was absolutely no room for me to get away.
This guy then got out of his car and walked toward me. I made sure my door was locked, but I was scared out of my wits as I lowered the window just enough to hear him yell at the top of his voice, “You tried to kill me!” I guess I should add that he looked about 10 feet tall, although he was probably only about six feet tall with bulging muscles. I’d say he was about 35, or less than half my age.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I did not see you.”
“Why did you try to pull away?” he screamed. “You should have apologized. You tried to kill me!”
The real reason I had tried to pull away, of course, is that I did not want to be the lead story on the 11 o’clock news and that I truly thought he might pull out a gun and shoot me, which has actually happened in Philly in the past year. There has always been road rage involving troubled, unhinged people, but in the old days they would just give you the middle finger, not try to end your life.
If you Google “road rage incidents on Philadelphia streets,” several will pop up in which motorists were murdered in recent years. Others involved stabbings, a sledgehammer attack, a motorcyclist starting a fiery multi-car crash, a machete attack, racially motivated beatings, a man deliberately ramming his car into another car and even one in which a man threw human feces at another car.
According to ThePearceLawFirm.com, “Road rage is a serious problem on the streets and highways in the U.S. About 200 people are killed in road rage incidents each year in the country. These aren’t ‘aggressive driving’ deaths – that number is much higher – but are deaths where someone intentionally killed a stranger out on the road.”
These are the thoughts that consumed me as I thought to myself, “Where are the police cars when you need one?” The SUV driver yelled four or five times, “You tried to kill me and take me away from my family” as his face contorted in fury. Each time I said, “I’m sorry. I did not see you.” What else could I say? I truly believed he would come up and try to drag me out of the car, smash my windshield or do something even worse.
Finally, he turned around, got into his car and sped right though a red light, which was ironic behavior for a driver who seemed to be homicidal because another driver was not careful enough leaving a parking lot. I must say I feel sorry for the next person who upsets this gentleman on the road, but I felt a huge sigh of relief, knowing that I would spend the next day in the Chestnut Hill Local office and not in a bed at Chestnut Hill Hospital.
The only moral of this story I can come up with is to remind motorists to drive very, very carefully and always look both ways, even if it takes you several extra seconds, before leaving a parking lot or any exit out into the street.
Len Lear, features editor at the Local, is a lifelong resident of Northwest Philadelphia. He can be reached at email@example.com