• Dana Webster

Flipping the Bird


Paul and I decided on the spur of the moment to take a weekend away. Our house has been bustling with activity lately, my counselling practice has grown considerably in a short period of time and I have made writing commitments to myself (namely, this writing a novel in 30 days challenge) which take up a lot of my time and energy. We thought a quiet retreat in our favourite downtown hotel would be just the restorative break we needed.


All was well on our drive down to the city despite the exponentially increased volume of traffic since more Covid restrictions have been lifted. The familiar gridlock on the DVP is back with a vengeance. As we were not in a hurry, we simply breathed deeply as Paul wound his way through traffic like Nancy Greene on a slalom course.


However, once on Yonge St. and wanting to turn left onto Front St., we hit a dead stop. No one was going anywhere in a hurry. The intersection was consistently clogged and blocked at every turn of the traffic lights. Horns honked as cars jockeyed themselves into whatever lane they could access. It was, to say the least, chaos. When finally it was our turn to turn, a car to our right (yes, to our right) cut in front of us and made a left turn, effectively leaving us no room to manoeuvre into the appropriate lane.


Once we fought our way into the lane, inch by unbearably long inch, there was a secondary curb-side lane that was very clearly marked right-turn lane only (RTLO). There was no way a sighted person could miss the painted arrows and the signs. However, as we sat in our through lane, the RTLO lane began to fill with cars that came from behind us. As our light turned green. those cars went straight ahead; thus, disallowing those of us in the proper lane to advance through the intersection.


One such vehicle, a massive SUV, tried its very best to push its way in front of us, barely avoiding hitting the front end of our car. As Paul honked the horn, I looked over at the driver who was clearly yelling obscenities at us so, and I'm not proud of this, I flipped her the bird. Which only made her outraged screams louder. Her passenger, another woman, began hooting like a rabid hyena.


Well, they followed us into the underground parking, howling all the while through open windows. tailgating our bumper. Despite dozens of free parking spaces, they parked directly across from us. I use the word they deliberately because the driver had to switch with the passenger as she was unable to moor her own boat into its chosen dock.


I knew it was coming but still ... the ladies began to shout at and taunt me. Something about me being too old to flip someone the bird and how my mother must be rolling in her grave right now (likely, yes, but only because of the tawdry public display I'd gotten myself into.) When I calmly pointed out that they were sitting in a RTLO lane and that it was not their place to push their way ahead of us, she shrilled, "So what? You think when someone commits a driving infraction, it's okay to flip them the bird?"


To which I wanted but did not respond, "Yes! That is the very reason for one to flip the bird. That is why flipping the bird was even invented. For cases just like this!"


Am I right??


But I didn't say anything. There'd have been no point. People who are right when they are clearly wrong are not given to reason. They left off by calling me a few things like rude and shameful, thinking, no doubt, that they'd put me in my place.


Sometimes I wish I was those women. The kind of people who deflect personal responsibility onto others. The kind of people who feel so entitled to their own needs and motivations that they are blind to their transgressions. The grown-up me knows not to raise my middle finger at another person - it is an offensive and dispiriting act and for that I feel a modicum of shame. But in the face of blatant aggression, what is one supposed to do?


You know, the whole thing could have gone differently. To wit: those women could have exited their car and apologized for their behaviour. The driver could have said something like, "I'm so sorry that happened. I was feeling frustrated with the gridlock and made a bad decision." To which I likely would have responded with an apology for my finger raising and we would have wished each other a good day.


In the absence of a best case scenario, though, the interaction left me with a profound sadness. I just don't know what to make of all the aggression and general contrariness that the pandemic has brought out in us. It's all so divisive. The lobby of the hotel, once we finally arrived, was a zoo. Dozens of people lined up to check in. At least two of those people weren't even pretending to wear masks and one was using theirs as a chin strap, their faces and their breath open and accessible to all. I interpret this as a hostile act.


Maybe what I need to do is remind myself that the vast majority of us are still doing our best, still looking out for others, still trying to stay connected in a meaningful way. Because it is we who are the glue to keeping a civil society cohesive, bird flipping and all.


And, well, as long as there are cats, there is hope...

The Gals - Ruby, Sadie & Chloe


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