Jon and I are driving around running errands when we get stuck in traffic on 13th East, a two-lane road that serves as one of only a few ways to get to the I-80 freeway from inside the city. A mini-van that not two seconds ago had aggressively swerved left to try and cheat its way through a line of cars, illegally, is frantically trying to get back over where it’s supposed to be because he realizes that his scheme will not work. I always wonder what these drivers hope to do with all that time they shave off their commutes. Two seconds here, a whole four seconds there. You start adding all that up, and by the time you get home you’ve got 20 extra seconds of free time. How do you even begin to decide what to do with that kind of fortune?
Problem is we’re already so far in front of the mini-van that to let him in front of us will cause more trouble to the other cars around us, so we pull forward thinking that he can slide in behind us. Except, I guess we’re not supposed to take into consideration all the cars around us that don’t care about that extra four seconds and instead would like to get home with their limbs intact. Because the guy in the mini-van rolls down his passenger-side window, leans as far over as the top of his body will go, and starts shouting four-letter words. I can’t make out exactly what he’s saying because my mind is mesmerized by the fact that he’s on his cell phone, and in between calling us all sorts of names he is carrying on a separate conversation. I imagine that the person on the other end of the phone was experiencing something similar to what my sister experiences when she calls me during the day, when I’m forced to interrupt a perfectly normal thought with an abrupt exclamation, like DO NOT PUT THE BUTTER IN YOUR PANTS, and it takes her a few moments to realize, oh, she’s not talking to me. You see, I don’t have that extra 20 seconds of free time to say hey, can you hold on a second, Jon got into the refrigerator again.
So Jon and I continue to pull forward because there’s no turning back at this point, and I don’t know, it’s Salt Lake City, for crying out loud. You can drive a mile here in under a half hour. It’s not like the guy in the mini-van is stuck in rush hour traffic in Manhattan trying to make his way uptown, you know what I’m saying? Where is this anger coming from? What terrible thing happened to him this morning that he pulls an illegal move and gets mad at us because it didn’t work out? Did someone eat one of his Cheerios? Did someone accidentally delete his favorite episode of Dora? Because he sure is acting like someone did.
I’m busy pondering all the possibilities when we pull up to a traffic light where the road finally opens up into four lanes, and the guy in the mini-van is still so upset that he pulls up to the left of us and continues yelling. And he goes on and on, screaming and flailing and spewing particles of spit, when Jon rolls down his window, holds out his left hand and, without saying a word, sticks up his bony middle finger. Normally Jon does not acknowledge these types of situations, does not honk his horn or make faces or react to unkind words by using unkind words of his own. So this tiny, subtle gesture — this casual lifting of his hand to say, see? Here’s my finger, you know what it means — this little flick of his wrist is as meaningful as pulling the offender out of his car and tying his nostrils to the bumper with dental floss.