My Merry Best

Got one! I was the victim of an anti-Asian hate crime today. Not really, but it was the perfect addendum to my beautiful essay that I still can’t get anyone to read.

I was driving in the 405 carpool lane in Irvine, Calif., at around 73 mph with a speed limit of 65. I saw a car approaching in the rearview mirror and sped up to 77-78 as a small courtesy.

The car started pushing further, and I immediately ended the precedent and held steady. We can flirt a little and make ourselves feel young again, but no means no. I’m a married man. The driver was a woman, hard to tell her age but certainly not elderly, and hard to tell her race but certainly not Black.

I could see her muttering to herself and getting antsy. Here’s where I was maybe less mature than her, and I regret it or at least want to regret it. I waved to her in the mirror with an overly jubilant smile and gave her a thumbs-up.

This seemed to take her from level 4 annoyed to level 10 livid. There was a lot of shouting and a middle finger. She must have been not super smart or just so pissed she lost awareness that we were in separate enclosed cabins, and I couldn’t possibly hear anything. I’m not trying to read lips in the mirror, which would require taking my eyes off one of the most dangerous highways in America for consecutive seconds.

Let me pause here purely for the sake of ego and defend my perspective, even though this is all besides the point:

  • The carpool lane is not the Autobahn. When you get in it, I feel there is an acceptance of risk that the other cars will not be going the exact same speed you want.
  • There were five lanes to our right, and she had the option to switch out of the carpool for most of the stretch — dotted white line for days. There would be more congestion, sure, but enough space to maneuver. I was going faster than most cars and not by any means disrupting the flow of traffic. In fact, I was actually gaining on the car in front of me, and by the time we reached the end of our flirtation, I had to slow down from my preferred speed anyway!
  • OK, ignore the car ahead of us and suppose you want to get your Jeff Gordon on and push triple digits. Going 20 miles an hour faster for the three minutes we were together would put you exactly one mile ahead. At my speed, I was going about a mile every 45 seconds. So… you want me to drive 100 miles an hour with my toddler happily playing with his toy trucks in the car seat to get you to brain surgery 45 seconds earlier.

She did switch out after a few miles and moved a couple of lanes to the right, probably getting ready to exit. I wanted to give her some additional face time, which was humane on my part because otherwise her head might have exploded.

She rolled down the window, let another bird fly, and continued to shout without an understanding of how sound waves work. Then almost as an afterthought, in a move she only could have learned from the least likable franchise in sports, she offered every Asian’s favorite, the slanted-eye pantomime.

I wonder if this woman would have eased the tailgating a few feet if she knew I had a 39-week-and-5-day pregnant wife at home and a 2-year-old in the back on the way to his first ugly sweater party. Five days before Christmas, two days before he was due to be a big brother. Forty-five seconds.


Now that I’ve made her look sufficiently bad, I want to pivot to an idea I have yet to find a grasp on. It will need to be a future standalone post.

For my three-person book club that I slow down with my elementary reading pace, I gave Dr. Brené Brown’s Rising Strong a whirl. I was blown away by all the insights. One of them was put in the form of a question:

Do you think people are doing the best they can?

It is such a wonderfully profound challenge. Anyone who consumes news must have an instant recoil to the notion that all the bad actors in the world are doing their best.

Dr. Brown at first was indignant this could be the case. She watched an older white woman at a bank flip out on a Black teller about either an error or her misunderstanding regarding some withdrawals. He offered help from his supervisor, also Black, but she refused and wanted a different one.

Afterwards, Dr. Brown asked the teller if he thought people, i.e. the prejudiced customer, are doing the best they can. He deliberated back and forth a bit, and his conclusion was yeah, she’s doing her best. Probably. She’s scared about her money.

The episode wasn’t all that dissimilar from mine. I don’t know the woman was racist at her core. She was furious and running short on ways to communicate and didn’t have much to go on to insult me.

I don’t know what was going on with her life that morning. As my sister-in-law would say, maybe she just really had to s___. (Ironic, because I actually did have to go No. 2 as my son has destroyed my morning routine.)

I also wonder if the woman was legitimately confused. There was nobody in the passenger seat, and it’s hard to imagine a parent rolling down the window to flip the bird, shout obscenities and make a racist gesture with a child in the back seat. Maybe she thought the carpool lane was the left lane. It’s not always clear on the 405. OK it’s quite clear in this section, but we all make mistakes.

More poignantly, what might be going on in your life that someone lightly mocking you would trigger such a reaction? What’s happened to you in the past?

It’s kind of hard to accept, but I like Dr. Brown’s husband’s take: My life is better when I assume people are doing their best.

I’m not there yet, not even close really. I would say 95 percent of the purpose of this post was to put that woman on blast and vent. But thanks to Dr. Brown, middle-ish age, gratitude for my family and other blessings in life, I leave the door ajar for grace.

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.