POSTED: 21 SEPTEMBER 2004 - 7:30am HST

An End to Civilization?

Road Rage On The Road To The Shelter Island Ferry
y Dan Rattiner in Dan's Papers at

I am in this really, really bad mood, heading toward the ferry at North Haven. It is the tail end of Labor Day Weekend. Everybody is heading home, and for some reason, through this exodus of traffic, I have agreed to bring a television set, a desk and a new bed up to Boston, where my son David is at college.

Sunday night is when I can go. And here it is. And here’s my plan. Leave East Hampton at 6:30 p.m., drive to the North Haven ferry to Shelter Island, drive to the ferry from Shelter Island to Greenport, then drive to Orient Point. I have a reservation on the 9:45 p.m. boat out of Orient to New London, Connecticut, and the rule is you have to be there 15 minutes ahead of time or they give away your spot. Then I drive to Boston. Arrive around midnight.

Why I am allowing three hours for the trip to Orient, rather than half that, is entirely because this is Labor Day weekend, and who knows how long the wait will be to get on the little ferries that go to and from Shelter Island. Give it an extra hour and a half.

I arrive at the ferry line at North Haven. It is, indeed, a very, very long line. I cannot even see the ferryboats from where I am. A few more cars pull up behind me. This is going to take awhile.

Anyway, I’m in an orderly line. It is single file, off to the right. There are two traffic lanes, coming and going, for those people who want to drive to the dead end at the ferry slips up ahead or return from having driven to the ferry slips up ahead. Nobody is using the lanes now, but shortly, I expect, I will see a dozen cars coming toward me, indicating that a ferry has arrived from the island. I am now getting very anxious about the time factor.

At this point, I tune the car radio to National Public Radio. They are always broadcasting something soothing and calming and indeed on this occasion, I am not disappointed. They are broadcasting the ultimate in soothing: New Age music, the sort that goes on and on and on until you finally fall asleep.

I pick up the New York Times and am about to begin reading when I see an extraordinary thing in the rear view mirror. The car behind me, a brand new $60,000 Lexus SUV, is pulling out of the line. Why would he do that? He’s changed his mind about the ferry? He moves alongside me, and for a moment it looks like he is going to go ahead and find a place to make a U turn and go off in the opposite direction.

But then, I look ahead. In my leisurely New Age reverie, I have not noticed that the car in front of me has moved about two car lengths forward. Okay. I will ease forward. But I am not fast enough. The Lexus has pulled back into line directly in front of me.

That son of a bitch. For one goddamn car length. I can’t believe this.

I consider the ramifications of this. This is the most insulting, rude, low class, disgusting, intimidating maneuver I have ever been involved with with an automobile. It’s as if he has slapped me across the face. I am going to get out of my car and beat the living.... Maybe not. Maybe I ought to size him up first.

First of all, it has to be a him. It has to be. No woman would ever do this. But what kind of man? A big, hulking, muscle bound halfback who just beats the crap out of people? Or what? Caution would suggest I find out about this ahead of time. I am really angry. But I will contain myself for the moment.

Cars come from the other direction and we move slowly forward. We move quite a distance forward. Maybe fifteen car lengths all together, as fifteen cars pass us in a long line the other way. This SUV in front of me is black, gleaming clean and polished. It bears a Connecticut license plate. There is a dealership name on a frame around it. Fairfield Lexus. I can see the heads of numerous people inside, through the tinted window. I see the unmistakable glow of a cell phone screen, apparently going to the ear of the driver.

Big shot.

What am I going to say to this person when I pull alongside? I will pull alongside, perhaps on the right, across the grass, angling to pass him there on the right while he is on the phone, passing him after he’s passed me. Maybe give him the finger. Scum, I will say. Subhuman.

I don’t actually do this, of course. I consider another group of terms. “I don’t associate myself with people who are as ill-mannered as you,” I might say. Mr. Low Life.

Maybe I should stay where I am. Ignore him. What has he gained, anyway? One car length. We get to the ferry, he gets on, I get on. Big deal. But then, there is THIS chance. He gets on and he is the LAST CAR. I am left to wait another fifteen minutes for the next ferry. The odds? 12 to 1. And losing those precious fifteen minutes, I miss the big ferry to New London, the last ferry across.

I turn off the damn New Age Music. This is what got me in this mess. And with the music off, I can hear raucous conversation, happy conversation coming from the SUV. It’s a real good time. About me? A hand reaches out from the car window and curls around the roof. It has nail polish on the nails. Black nail polish.

So what do these people think of me, anyway? Well, there are cars and there are cars. I am not driving a $60,000 SUV. But I should be driving a $50,000 SUV, which is my regular car. But I am driving, instead, a $17,000 minivan, a loaner. My $50,000 SUV is at the dealer, because the transmission crapped out. They are very apologetic. This SUV, a Lincoln, is just a year old. They call me “sir.” It’s a warranty repair. And they have given me this crummy minivan as a loaner. I’m a man with white hair, old enough to have a son in college, driving a crummy minivan. Probably a local. Watch this maneuver.

I’m going to put the minivan in first and ram him. Oops. Gear shift slipped. Sorry. But then I’d have to answer to the Lincoln dealer. God knows what trouble that would get me into, this being a loaner and all. Also, that is road rage. Yes.

We can see the ferryboats now, and they are waving us on. There are, count ‘em, thirteen cars in front of the Lexus, and then me. They start on, and they start packing them in. It is going to be close. NEITHER of us is going to get on. But NO!!! It can’t be. HE is getting on!!! And I am not.

But then the guy looks at me and there is one space left, off to the right, even with the Lexus, and he is waving at me and I am getting on, too.

See that, you son of bitch? What did you gain? NOTHING! I won’t say anything. I will pull alongside and I won’t even look at them. Not Mr. cell phone. Not Miss black nails. No big deal. I lurch forward, thump onto the metal ramp, and I pull up alongside. I begin reading the New York Times again. Never happened.

At one point, about midway across, I look over out of the corner of my eye. There is a girl in the passenger seat. People in the back. The driver is a big guy. Big. That’s the end of the glance.

And then we pull into the dock, and something remarkable happens. Ordinarily, the guys who wave you on and off the ferry motion you off in the same order you got on. But then he gets to us, and he points to me. I am to get off the ferry before him!

Now we are heading single file up South Ferry Road, away from the ferry slip. This is a straight road, two lanes, a white line down the middle, and I notice that the cars in front of me are pulling ahead of me. A bolt of fear goes through me. He is behind me. And he could do it again.

I step down on the pedal of my trusty minivan, and I lurch forward, 40 mph, 45, 50. I am gaining on the cars in front of me. He is falling back. Now he is gaining ground again.

It is about fifteen minutes, maximum, to do the twists and turns of Route 114 to get from South Ferry to North Ferry, and I am well above the speed limit of 35 mph. This is ridiculous. I slow down. And then I realize something. This is a two lane road. I could slow down and if he pulled out and up alongside me, I could just gun the engine and run with him, neck and neck, until he goes head on into any car that might be going the other way.

Unless the Lexus is just very much more powerful. It probably is. I’m a loser again.
At one point going up Route 114, there is a ninety degree turn to the left. I roar into it, swing around it and I hear a crash in the back. I know exactly what it is. The TV in the back has fallen over, onto its side. And yucky glowing goo might be just leaking out through the cracked screen onto the metal floor there. I am going to have to pull over. I am indeed going to pull over. And so, I put on my blinker, slow down and come to a stop on the grass, and all the rest of the cars, including the SUV, whiz by. And it is over.
I never see the son of a bitch again. He makes no appearance at North Ferry. I make the ferry. The TV is fine, by the way. I think. Later tonight, when I get to Boston, I am going to plug it in and see.

Detail of ferry dock painting by Nidia D' Allesandro


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