Ad astra per aspera

May 5, 2013

Driving through downtown Ottawa, Kansas this week, I got stuck behind a black Ford Fusion with a license plate that read OLDLUVR.

At every stoplight, this impatient love machine scooted through the red exactly three seconds before his turn. Perhaps he was rushing home to a hot grandmother, blue pills at the ready.

I was in no hurry, but his actions irritated me somehow. Why should he break the law and go unpunished, while I continue to pay my taxes and obey the speed limit?

I decided to do something about it.

The road finally widened enough that I could pull alongside this resolute red-light runner. I rolled down my window. “Hey, knock it off, would you?” I yelled, but he was already gone.

At the next light, it was much the same story, yet I was able at least to observe his tactics. Looking off to the left, OLDLUVR stared up at the green light of the westbound traffic. The instant it went yellow, the old man floored it.

This had now turned into a dangerous situation. What if OLDLUVR pulled in front of a schoolbus, or ran down an insurance adjuster on his way to a tornado claim? OLDLUVR had to be stopped.

I got up on the bumper of the black Ford Fusion, blinking my lights and honking my horn with the fury of a righteous sinner come to smite the wicked hordes on judgment day.

OLDLUVR remained oblivious to my actions, steadfastly rolling through each of the eighty-seven red lights in that small town. He even failed to stop for a blinking crosswalk, nearly running down some hapless farmer headed out to the back forty.

He turned near the end of town, pulling off onto a side street lined with a bucolic assortment of Midwest houses, each painted a different shade of pastel like so many faded Easter eggs.

Of course he didn’t use his blinker. I pulled in behind him and jumped out of my car. “Are you out of your fucking mind, old man?”

OLDLUVR stepped out of his car slowly. I estimated that he’d once weighed in at around 220 pounds and stood six-foot, five inches tall when he and the other members of his platoon invaded Normandy. The old gyrene was still a formidable figure, lean and hard like a weathered oak. “What’d you say, sonny?”

“Umm…you ran all those traffic lights,” I said, pointing an uncertain arm back towards town.

OLDLUVR stopped before me. His eyes were granite as he looked me up and down. “Not sure I recognize you, boy. You from around here?”

“Nuh, nuh, no.” My legs felt weak and I was beginning to regret the second cinnamon roll from the Holiday Inn Express where I was staying.

“Excuse me?”

“No, sir!” I hollered in my best boot camp voice.

“That’s what I thought you said.”

OLDLUVR put an arm around my shoulders and led me over to the rental car. “Since you’re a newcomer here, let me give you some advice.”

I decided it would be best to shut up and listen. His hand on my shoulder was steel.

“Ad astra per aspera,” he said. At the blank look in my face, he explained. “To the stars through difficulties. It’s the Kansas state motto.”

I took a deep breath. “So?”

His grip tightened. “It means don’t fuck with an old man in a hurry to get home and see his wife. Now get in your car, sonny.”

I obeyed the old drill sergeant. He gave a cheerful wave as I drove away. “Have a nice day, asshole!” he called after me, then spun about and marched to his front door.

I’m going to take the back roads to work from now on.  These Kansas drivers are too aggressive for me.

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