My Turn: Breaking down reasoning for aggressive, late-night encounter


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Bridge of Flowers dinner, an annual outdoor fundraiser, was the first I’d been to. It was lovely — a table the length of the iron bridge, a perfect summer evening, good food, banter among friends and strangers, a barbershop quartet serenading us from time to time. I was taking the place of a friend’s wife who couldn’t make it. A sweet evening of chit-chat, soft air. When twilight turned to night, I headed back toward Conway in an at-peace-with-the world mood.

Just over the Conway line, a large white pick-up truck began to tailgate my little car. I pulled over to let someone in a greater hurry than I pass me, as I always do. Once in front of me, though, he began to go slower and slower, then stopped.

A fellow maybe 60, give or take, got out of the truck and walked back toward my car. Medium build, blond or white hair. Steady on his feet, no smell of alcohol. My window was open, and I was still in an in-love-with-the-world mood. He yelled, “You got a problem with me?” I said, easy-going, “Well, I just pulled over to let you by.” He peered at me and snarled, “I don’t appreciate the high beams!” and headed back to his truck and continued to Conway, me, behind him. I turned off, he continued south on 116. I made a decision, questionable in retrospect, not to take down his license plate number. Live and let live.

My readymade explanation: A couple of years ago, some hugely important background information entered the margins of public discussion. As I remember it, census data showed modest longevity gains for all demographic groups — women, blacks, Latinos, and so forth — except for one: white middle-aged men. But why? When statisticians dug down into the data, what they came up with was truly chilling: white middle-aged men were committing suicide at a high enough rate to depress the stats on the whole group’s longevity nationwide. These stunning facts altered my view of the human landscape.

These are confused times for many of us. Uncertain, leaderless. Hard for me, too, a happy, healthy, well-educated gal in my 70s, working as best I can year-in, year-out, to leave some sort of living legacy for future generations. But the data tell us that for whatever massive tangle of social and economic vectors, white guys in their middle years, far more than the rest of us, are dying by their own hand. Common sense suggests that there are many more who probably killed themselves, but took care to disguise the bitter, humiliating truth.

Yes. Anything beyond this?

A week after the encounter on Shelburne Falls Road, an additional angle occurs to me. When this angry fellow confronted me at the window of my car on a deserted road in the dark of night, then beat a quick retreat, was something else at play? Something other than my unusually good mood on that perfect summer evening? My hair can be a bit wild and quite curly, depending on the day. As he was tailgating me so aggressively, could it have seemed, from the back, illuminated in his headlights, that I was African-American? Could matters have taken a different turn, when he arrived at my car window, if I had been black?

Sue Bridge is resident steward at Wildside Cottage & Gardens in Conway.