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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Bird in hand
should stay there

AN attractive and nicely dressed young woman was crossing South Street recently when a car on Queen Street encroached into the crosswalk.

The driver of the car and the pedestrian apparently made the dreaded "eye contact." The male driver apparently thought the woman wasn't hustling fast enough across the street. The woman apparently -- and, as a neutral observer, I concurred -- thought the guy was a jerk. She had not even cleared the crosswalk before the jerk cut behind her. Then this young, attractive and nicely dressed woman did something extraordinary: She made a hand gesture toward the driver, and it wasn't a shaka sign.

The last time I gave a driver a one-fingered salute -- many years ago -- the driver and his passengers chased my car down the highway and tried to shatter my back windshield with a baseball bat. That driver, too, had been behaving in a jerk-like fashion. Why I decided that traffic enforcement was suddenly my kuleana, I don't know. The Honolulu Police Department never recruited me to help in highway enforcement. I don't carry a badge, gun or Miranda warning card. In other words, what I had done was extremely stupid and could have ended badly if the jerk driver and his buddies had a gun instead of a baseball bat.

The short of it is I got away; the long of it is that it took a threatening situation to make me realize that the innocent good ol' days, when you could give other drivers a "single-digit howdy," were long gone. I relate the incident from time to time to remind readers -- well, myself mostly -- that "road rage" is stupid.

OTHERS also are making the point. "Road rage" is the subject of television commercials where KSSK radio guys Michael W. Perry and Larry Price urge drivers to relieve driving stress by squeezing rubber balls. Mayor Jeremy Harris -- who as far as I know has not made commercials urging people not to murder, rob and rape -- feels compelled to remind drivers to chill out.

That's because driving is a unique form of unification. The roadways are a giant rolling lottery where the person you offend or who offends you may be Dagwood Bumbstead or Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. Actually, it's not a lottery; it's more like a casino, where, if you engage in road rage, you are betting that your adversary is harmless, not homicidal. That's a heck of a bet. If you are correct that the person you flip off is harmless, you win ... nothing. If you are wrong, you ... die. Or get beat up. Or your car gets keyed after you get to work and it costs you a thousand bucks to repaint it. Or you almost get your rear window broken with a baseball bat and put a lot of innocent other drivers in jeopardy as you engage in a high-speed car chase.

It's a stupid, pointless and dangerous bet. And, as I've said before of random timing, if you'd left your house or business just five minutes earlier or later, you never would have met a particular jerk at all. Why would you risk more by suddenly inviting such a person to become part of your life?

So that is what was so amazing about seeing the attractive and nicely dressed young woman "shoot the bird" at the jerk on South Street. She won this bet. The jerk drove on. She can be proud knowing she met rude behavior with equally rude behavior and lived to tell about it. With so many intersections in her future and so many jerks on the road, life promises to be pretty exciting.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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