I've since come to the conclusion that Howard was a slug of a man when outside his vehicle. At about five feet ten inches tall, pudgy on the brink of obese, C shaped spine, and a constant fascination with staring at his phone, he lived a life of excessive consumption, as most of us are prone to do.
Speculation is what morons do.
When he got behind the wheel of his Ford seven fifty four by four super charged V eight though, he was a rock star.
I "met" Howard on my commute to work one morning. I don't have far to go, just a few miles on the freeway, but they're usually eventful miles. Almost every day I witness an exception to good driving. Cars that need to be moving faster than every other car. Cars that are too timid to move at freeway speeds. And cars with drivers that would rather watch videos on facebook than pay attention to the road.
Whatever, you do all those things too.
Howard was driving a car in the first category; those that need to move faster than the rest. I saw him in my rear view mirror inching closer and closer to my back bumper. He was leaned forward in the driver seat, one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand holding his phone. I could see his face move from the road to his phone, road to phone, road to phone. He was that close.
As he got within what seemed like millimeters of my bumper, I lightly tapped my brake lights. Now, I've heard public service announcements on the radio that say you should never do this because it causes accidents and tends to hurt people who aren't being assholes. But I couldn't help myself. It felt like only a matter of time until he nudged me off the road.
This, of course, did not sit well with Howard. When he glanced back up from his phone to find my brake lights illuminated, he backed off, swerved slightly, and I thought I saw him drop his phone in favor of using the hand that was holding it for steering.
I laughed and laughed, then accelerated back to my normal speed.
Once Howard regained control, he sped back up and took up residence on my bumper once again. Only this time, he was 100% focused on my car. I could see him mouthing some not so pleasant words in my rear view mirror. He flipped me off a few times, screamed what I assume were obscenities, and played a game where he'd back off a little bit then speed back up, like he was gearing up for an attack or something.
I just laughed and waved like the friendly driver I am.
Please, you're an asshole driver too, asshole.
I went about my route. The whole time, Howard was right on my ass. I exited the freeway. So did Howard. I made the turn on the road where my job lives. Howard followed. I pulled into the parking lot. Howard, still there. I parked.
Howard thought it would be a good idea to follow me to my job and confront me about the injustice I had delivered to him in the form of testing his reaction time. My only concern was whether or not he had a weapon. It's Texas. We love our guns.
I decided to get out of my car and go about my routine of walking to the front door without paying any attention to Howard. I got out, locked the door, and turned to walk towards the building. I heard Howard scream from his rolled down car window, "hey asshole! Fuck you asshole! You mother fucker! I'm gonna kick your ass!"
I turned around and started walking towards his car figuring that if he had a gun and was intending on shooting me, he would've already done it. Still, the approach wasn't without extreme caution. I imagined this is how policemen feel on every traffic stop.
I said, "I'll take you up on the ass kicking. Here I am." I stood about ten feet from his car and put my arms out to my side in a gesture I'd seen one thousand or more times in the movies when bros are about to throw down.
What he did next was unexpected. He got out of his car. Anger has a way of over ruling good judgment. He could've just said his threatening words and sped off. But he was so angry that he was willing to take it up a notch.
I hadn't been in a fight in a long time. I remember when I was in the ninth grade, a little seventh grader thought it would be smart to hit me in the face with his tuba on the bus. It wound up being a poor decision for him as I proceeded to break his stupid nose.
Since that fight, I learned to fight for real. I had sparred countless times and moved up the ranks of the belt system all the way to brown. Then I had to stop and pursue other interests, but the skills were still there, I hoped.
"Hey, get back in your car and leave. I don't want to have to hurt you fat boy," I said.
The "fat boy" part was uncalled for and only fueled his rage. He approached and threw a weak right cross. I grabbed his wrist on the follow through and jerked him enough forward that his momentum sent him face planting into the pavement. Before he could get up, I put my knee on his throat and locked his arm in a painful position. He was at my mercy.
"A little more pressure and your forearm bones will shatter and you'll never use this arm the same again," I told him.
You're so fucking full of shit.
All he could do is writhe in pain. I asked him to apologize for inconveniencing me. He said, "I'm sorry, please just let me go."
"If I let you up, you're going to leave and I better not ever see you again."
"Yes, just let me go."
I let his arm go and stood up off his neck, which should've been his queue to leave forever. What did I say earlier about how anger has a way of over ruling good judgment? Yeah, well it happened again.
He lowered his head, let out a primal scream, and charged me. His shoulder planted in my gut and thrust me back. I fell to the ground while positioning my forearm on his windpipe. My back scraped across the gravely pavement as I hit the ground. There was a burning pain from my right shoulder down the side of my ribs.
I tightened my grip on his neck, forcing his chin towards his sternum and his spine in the opposite direction. His airflow restricted, he began to flail in a panic.
"I told you to just leave. Now you have to die."
It takes a lot to strangle the life out of someone. It's not as easy as they make it appear in the movies. Once his struggling subsided to a tolerable level, I released my grip and rolled him off me.
"Breathe, fat boy, breathe."
Howard did eventually catch his breath. He used some of it to call the cops. They showed up. I explained the situation in detail. They decided to not do anything but tell Howard to behave himself on the road.
A few months later I crossed paths with Howard at a Starbucks. He had a big cut over his left eye and was wearing a wrist brace. I approached him and asked, "who pissed you off AND kicked your ass this time?"
He screamed an obscenity at me. Something like, "fuck you!" then went back to his usual digital coma, phone staring and mouth breathing.
In Dallas, and probably everywhere, there's no shortage of Howards operating vehicles on the roadways. I'm amazed there aren't more instances of people shooting each other.
I did hear a story about a guy, named Howard, who got shot and killed while driving down the freeway in rush hour traffic. I wondered for a second if it was THE Howard who I had violently encountered. Then I hoped it was him. The story said he was shot nine times, two in the chest, seven in the head. I never learned the victims identity.
You know it was him.