One of the reasons for creating my blog is to share stories as I walk through this world, whether in Marrakech, Manhattan, or my own neck of the woods in Northeast Portland. Usually my walks in Portland are fairly uneventful. With the exception of crossing paths with an especially stupid squirrel playing chicken with Wasabi, I don’t get a lot of storytelling material.
A couple of weeks ago I was walking in my neighborhood with my friend K, when a woman, around our age, veered towards us in a SUV. The way she pulled up put us on guard. She rolled down her window and told us a man was following her and asked if we would stand by her for a second? We said that was cool and sure enough a large, dark pickup sped up next to her passenger side and a white man in his mid to late 60’s, rolled down his window and started screaming at her.
“You flipped me off!” he yelled.
“No I didn’t!” she yelled back.
“Yes you did. You flipped me off.” He insisted.
This exchange went back and forth a couple of times and eventually he realized that he wasn’t going to get her to change her story, so he pulled his truck up in front of her, blocking her way. As he started to turn left to go down the intersecting street, he yelled at K and me, repeating, in case we hadn’t heard him before, “that woman flipped me off.”
K, sensing that the guy was not in a reasonable place, tried to diffuse his anger by saying, “You have a nice truck, sir.”
He shook his head as if wondering, what the hell?
I chimed in nodding, “Yup, nice truck.”
Finally he stormed off and while I didn’t catch his license plate number, K said he had Washington plates.
Once he left, we checked in with the woman and told her that we were happy to stay there for a while to make sure she was safe and that he wasn’t coming back. She explained that she was pulling out onto 33rd from QFC and he cut in front of her, and she raised both hands in a “what the hell” gesture and continued north. He turned around from the direction he was going and followed her for 12 blocks (which is where she met us) to eventually yell at her for flipping him off.
Here’s what I know. The guy was angry. Outraged really. He also had a very large truck and given our country, could have likely had a gun.
After thinking about the interaction for a day or so, I had one question I wished I had thought to ask him.
So what if she flipped you off? Seriously? Was his sense of order that disturbed by her behavior? Was he angry because it was a woman who did that? Would he be equally pissed if a man threw up the same gesture? Was his reaction out of fear—terrified to drive in Portland?
To follow up that question I wondered most importantly: To. What. Ends? What was he hoping to do by following her for 12 blocks? Merely yelling or was there more? Was he going to ram her car? Get out and beat her up? Call the police? What lesson, if any, was he hoping to impart? Or was it enough for him to scare her and show her and more importantly himself who was a big guy?
We are living in some pretty wacked out times right now. Things are fluctuating. Yes, Portland is changing. It’s becoming more urban, more crowded and everywhere tempers seem short. From Roy Moore, and #metoo to the BLM movement and Charlottesville, paradigms are shifting for everyone. I have to wonder if this guy’s anger was because he is lashing out against a world that is changing (seemingly not to his advantage) or is he just an asshole who has a history of intimidating people, or just a victim of low blood sugar? I hope it is something that could have been mitigated with a muffin, but something tells me it isn’t.