Sometimes You Just Can't Curb the Urban Animal Within

Robin Abcarian's column is published Wednesdays and Sundays

A car, a couple of runners, a confrontation.

It was a total urban moment, that split second in which your civilized veneer peels away and you become what you detest--an angry animal ready to pounce.

My partner and I were trotting toward the beach on the first leg of a three-mile workout. We have to cross three busy streets to get to the unrestricted seaside portion of our run, and we do so at our peril.

But we are thrill seekers. We eschew traffic lights in favor of the far more dangerous crosswalks, strewn like mines across our path. After complaining about our husbands' lack of affinity for dirty diapers (10 minutes), gossiping about our co-workers (10 minutes), we often fill the remaining time discussing the relative merits of crosswalks and stop lights. We have come to the conclusion that the traffic engineers are right: Crosswalks provide pedestrians with a false sense of security and not much else.

Still, we feel self-righteous about our rights-of-way and have developed a few techniques to get drivers to stop.

Sometimes we put our hands in the air and command them to "Stop . . . in the name of love, before you break my legs."

Sometimes we flail our arms, looking panicked, so they think something is wrong. Occasionally, this shocks drivers out of their stupor.

More often than not, we are the ones who stop, because most Los Angeles drivers regard the sight of a person standing in a crosswalk as an optional stop, not a required one. They might stop, but only if they are feeling especially gracious and aren't too busy putting on lipstick, checking their hair plugs in the rear-view mirror or chatting on the car phone.

I have no idea what the guy in the Mercedes was doing when we entered the crosswalk.

*

On the day in question, we were plodding westward and were halfway across the intersection when a black southbound Mercedes seemed as if it were going to barrel right through the crosswalk, and--by extension--us.

At the last minute, the driver slammed on his brakes. The nose of his car came to a stop rather too close to our calves for comfort.

I took revenge, as I usually do, by walking verrrry slooowwly in front of his car--the better to annoy him for being in such a hurry and for scaring us.

My highly verbal, ultra-sophisticated running partner, however, turned on him.

"You (expletive often used for emphasis) (vulgarity for rear end)!"

The driver, who I guess wasn't in a hurry after all, lowered his passenger window. "What did you call me?"

She reprised her comments, this time con brio .

"Hey!" he yelled, "I stopped for your fat (expletive used for emphasis) (vulgarity for rear ends)!"

Some alien force--afflicted with coprophilia--invaded my body and took control.

It wheeled me around. It opened my mouth.

I heard my voice: "Eat (should be obvious), you (a compound vulgar noun that I would be embarrassed if my mother were able to figure out by reading this)!"

I was shocked. Such profanity, such angry poetry, such pleasure.

Where did that come from?

And why did it feel so good?

In a trice, I viscerally understood Jack Nicholson wanting to attack the car of that poor guy (well, formerly poor now that they've settled) who cut him off in traffic at Toluca Lake in February. (Nicholson was driving . . . a black Mercedes.) If I'd had a golf club on me, who knows what might have happened?

The afterglow, I must say, was incredible.

Best run we've had in weeks.

*

Generally, I avoid such entanglements. Like crosswalks, they are dangerous and unpredictable. You enter at your own risk.

I suppose we thought we were safe because someone driving a luxury car has too much to lose to really get nutty (pompous actors excepted) or maybe because we were steps away from a staircase leading to the beach, an easy escape.

But there was something discomfitingly invigorating about this exchange. Maybe it just felt good to yell. Maybe we just needed to relieve our pent-up frustrations.

And yet . . . isn't that why we run?

Could the stress of running in the city, wondered my partner, outweigh the benefits?

We spent the rest of our jog devising fabulous, witty things we wished we'd said to the Mercedes driver. His presumed anatomical shortcomings were high on our list of imagined ripostes.

Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I kind of hope we see him again.

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