I can’t imagine why I let Gloria talk me into meeting her downtown in the Gas Lamp District — and on a Friday afternoon, no less.
“Traffic’s gonna be friggin’ gnarly,” I remember mumbling to myself as I got into my Volkswagen and headed for the Interstate. I must’ve been crazy. Everybody knows T.G.I.F. is when the San Diego Freeway becomes the slow way, loading up with motorists frantically trying to escape the city for the weekend.
Cautiously, I pulled into line and began inching my battered VW up the on-ramp, and a bumper sticker on the flat-bed truck in front of me screamed out in Day-Glo colors: “KEEP HONKING. I’M RELOADING.” My fingers cramped and knuckles turned white as I self-consciously made sure my hands grabbed only the rim of the steering wheel. This was not going to be fun.
Remembering my previous encounter with Gloria, she had showed up wearing a tight leather mini-skirt, silver chains, and purple hair with streaks of orange. All right, I’ll admit we were going to a heavy metal concert at Humphrey’s, and the chick was really into it — full on scary. Her skin looked bleached, like she was trying to be a freaked out version of Michael Jackson, and she had stuck a diamond stud in her tongue, making her talk with a slight lisp. Not your average girl next door, maybe a little strange; certainly interesting. Green, blue, orange — I fantasized what color or new form of body piercing she might be into this time. That must be why I agreed. Yeah, sure, maybe her sexy ass had something to do with it, too.
Technicolor Gloria said she was going to drive in straight from work. She wanted to do some shopping at that festival marketplace, Horton Plaza, and afterward go to dinner at a small avant-garde French café everyone was talking about, a couple of blocks from there.
To make matters worse, “road rage” was the talk radio subject for the hour. As listeners phoned in their accounts of bizarre experiences with psychotic drivers, I began to carefully scrutinize the people in the cars around me. That’s when my imagination flipped out of control and shifted into high gear.
One lane over, the woman in the maroon Lexus could have been the nicest minnow swimming in the office secretarial pool. I figured she was anxious to get home to her Smurf-like tract house in the suburbs. Upon closer inspection, however, her salt-and-pepper frizz and haggard appearance convinced me she was a single mother. I bet Mom was hoping she wouldn’t find the high school football team hanging around her two teenage daughters again when she pulled into the driveway. Without hesitation, she’d take the Smith & Wesson .38 special out of her glove compartment and blow away any car that tried to cut her off. And if she found the acned jocks at her house again, drooling over her ripe adolescent offspring, she might waste them as well.
Or check out the yuppie Dot Com executive in the silver BMW convertible that passed me, zigzagging from lane to lane in heavy traffic. His pasty face and slicked-back gray hair seemed to match the color of his roadster. He looked like a dude who may have just shut off the cell phone on his wife, terminating a nasty conversation before it reached critical mass. He’s probably in a hurry to get to a saloon in the Logan Barrio where his sexy Hispanic girlfriend has been waiting for over an hour. Heaven help the unsuspecting motorist who should get in his way.
I flipped on my right blinker as I approached the freeway off-ramp that would take me down into the foul, cavernous bowels of the city. In my rear-view mirror a white panel truck, less than a car length behind me, started moving over at the same time. The young driver’s black hair was greasy and spiked. A large ring hung from his left earlobe and he had his right pinkie finger stuck up his nose, digging around like it was a uranium mine. When he saw me changing lanes, his hand quickly dropped and started pounding the middle of his steering wheel. Like, I could have shit my pants! If the idiot hadn’t slowed down he would’ve squashed my Beetle — with me in it. A moment before impact, he swerved and passed me on the left. The second finger of his nose picking hand extended upward, indicating his age and I.Q.
As I drove down Broadway, most of the workers in the Government Center were exiting. By now the radio callers had gotten to me, like I was on a bad trip. Chewing on my lower lip until it started to bleed, both hands welded to the steering wheel, I found myself sandwiched in between rows of cars and trucks. We were all bumper-to-bumper, our horns creating a clamor that made me think of a high school orchestra, with seething hormones, tuning up for sex. Convinced “road rage” was breeding everywhere, and the office buildings in downtown San Diego were the incubators, I placed my right hand atop the locked glove compartment, where I knew a loaded .22-caliber pistol resided.
“It’s there, it’s right there! So, don’t mess with me!” I cautiously exhaled in a sigh of relief. Thank God — the worst of my commute to the inner city was over — I was almost safe.
When I turned to enter the multi-level concrete parking structure behind Horton Plaza, a Mercury Cougar nearly sideswiped me as it careened down the exit ramp. Before I could respond with the appropriate expletive, it accelerated out into the intersection and almost took out a bag lady in the crosswalk. The old woman was struggling with a shopping cart that contained all her worldly treasures, and a caster with a spastic shimmy.
“Damn! You just can’t ever let up in this city. You always have to be on guard…” I mumbled as I pulled the little white paper ticket from the toll machine and the entry gate began to rise. It must not have been fast enough for the yellow Toyota behind me, because its horn started honking furiously. I looked into my rear-view mirror and recognized the driver — Technicolor Gloria. She had something in her hand and was pointing it right at me! Like, holy shit!
An explosion ricocheted off the hard surfaces of the garage like a 40mm cannon. Technicolor Gloria was shooting at me! I crouched down in my seat and could barely see over the steering wheel.
“Honk! Honk! Honk!…” She continued to madly try to intimidate me with her car horn. The sicko was freaking me out. I had to do something, quickly. The woman had gone nuclear!
Flooring the accelerator pedal, I drove as fast as I could up the bumpy spiral concrete ramp and turned onto the ‘onion level’ — or was it ‘tomato’? I don’t know — I hated vegetables as a kid. Ah ha, the speed bumps were supposed to slow you down — but not me! Fear took over and became the driving force as I tried to emulate Bobby Unser.
My speeding car barely missed a battered Chevy wagon that was backing out of a parking place. Fortunately, the station wagon crunched into Gloria’s front fender. The collision stopped her cold. This was good! Maybe now I had a chance to get away from this lunatic chick. But why was she trying to kill me? My previous date with her had been almost platonic. I didn’t even try to get to first base. We hardly knew each other.
When I couldn’t see the Toyota behind me anymore, I pulled into an empty parking stall and slammed on the brakes.
“Ka-Wham!” Another explosion occurred right underneath me, and reverberated off the cold rigid gray surfaces.
“I’m a dead man!” I cried, as I fumbled with the key to the glove box, clutched the pistol, and struggled to open the driver side door — all the time crouching behind it for protection.
Gloria’s damaged yellow Toyota screeched to a stop next to the rear end of my Volkswagen. Cowering, I considered crawling underneath for safety.
Yelling obscenities as she got out of her car, she flung her right arm toward me, and I knew I was looking straight down the barrel of a small handgun. Holy shit! My life on this planet was over — I was a goner. I managed to shoot first.
She gasped, “Are you crazy?” and crumpled in slow motion to the concrete. Like someone punched the pause button on the VCR, it was all so weird; then reality took over and the movie speeded up again.
“God help me! What have I done?” I cried out, and ran to her side. Her body vibrated with a terrible spasm, and an expanding circle of blood, two shades darker than her new flaming red hairdo, discolored her white blouse. It hit me like a rogue wave, her quivering outstretched right arm was laying in the direction of my car. There was no gun! She had been only trying to draw attention to my two pathetically bald; now flat, rear tires.
Horrified, I cocked my right arm, threw the pistol with all my remaining strength, and heard it clatter against the concrete like a metallic toy. Running blindly down through the parking structure, I made it out into the fresh air, and staggered headlong into oncoming rush hour traffic. The last thing I heard was the rubbery squeal of tires, followed moments later by the unearthly scream of a siren.