I was sitting at a light with my daughter Megan. Some guy was off to the left yelling at people. He looked about sixty and had short gray hair and silver frame glasses. He looked like a high school teacher.
I couldn’t understand him, so I rolled down the window.
“You can’t turn right on a red arrow,” he yelled. He started waving his arms. “Stop! You can’t turn right on a red arrow!” Four or five cars turned right on the red arrow. He seemed really angry. “Stop!”
“He’s wrong,” I said to Megan. “You can turn right on a red arrow. He’s crazy.” I felt myself getting angry that some nut would be standing on the corner spouting nonsense. I was offended.
“You’re wrong!” I yelled out the window.
“Shut up, lady.”
“You’re crazy,” I yelled. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He flipped me off.
“Mom, Crazy Red Arrow Guy isn’t very nice,” Megan said.
“No, he isn’t,” I said. “I’m turning right on a red arrow,” I yelled at him out the window. Just then the light turned green.
“No, you’re not,” he yelled back. “Thanks for waiting for a green light!”
“I didn’t wait for a green light! I was turning with the red arrow, but the light turned green.”
“Thanks for doing what I said,” he said.
I tried not to look at Megan. She probably thought I was crazy too. I wanted to go back to the intersection and turn right on the red arrow but feared Megan’s reaction. I thought of dropping her off at home and then claiming I needed to get something at the store.
“That didn’t turn out like you wanted,” she said.
“No,” I said.
“You want to go back?” she said.
“No, it’s fine,” I said. I lied.
Later that night I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about Crazy Red Arrow Guy. I wanted to prove him wrong. I hated self-righteous people. My father was always self-righteous about grammar. I remembered all the times he corrected me when I was a little girl. It seemed like he didn’t want to hear anything I said. He just wanted to tell me I’d said something wrong. I would usually stop talking after he corrected me just as an experiment to see if he really was interested in what I had to say, and he would never ask me to continue my story. I’d sit there and watch him, just to see what he’d do. He’d look out the window or talk about something else. After a few experiments, he proved to me that he had no interest in what I had to say. I lost interest in talking with him or being around him.
I searched the Revised Code of Washington to find the statue that dealt with turning right on a red arrow. It was RCW 46.61.055, 3(c): “[V]ehicle operators facing a steady red arrow indication may, after stopping[,] proceed to make a right turn from a one-way or two-way street into a two-way street or into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the right turn….” I put the text into Word, formatted it nicely, added some clip art, and wrote a short intro paragraph.
The next morning I printed out a few copies and put them into the glove compartment. I planned to give Crazy Red Arrow Guy a copy every time I saw him.
About a month later, I saw Crazy Red Arrow Guy. He was walking near the red arrow intersection. I pulled next to him and asked Megan to hand him a copy of my flier. He took it, and we drove off. I kind of hoped Megan would say something smart-alecky to him, but she just said hi, smiled, and handed him a flier. I wanted her to slam him with some teenage sass, but she gave him nothing except the flier.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I said.
“I said hi. What should I have said?”
“Some smart-ass teenage BS.”
“You must have me confused with your other daughter,” she said. I had no other daughter.
“That was pretty good, something like that,” I said.
The next day there was a nasty message on the answering machine from Crazy Red Arrow Guy—I guess he got the phone number from my car (it’s painted on the side). He talked about how dangerous turning on a red arrow is. Anyone who does that is an idiot and deserves to crash and die. He had so much to say that he had to leave several messages. “If you ever contradict me again, I will fucking kill you.” Then he went on and on that he’s right, and he’s going to fucking find me and fucking slit my throat and my daughter’s throat. He called me a bitch a few times. He was really starting to remind me of my father.
Megan heard the recording. She was lying on the couch reading, and I couldn’t see her. “Crazy Red Arrow Guy isn’t nice at all,” she said.
“I’m sorry you heard that.” I said.
“It’s OK. It’s just some sad old man.”
“Seems like grandpa,” I said. I hadn’t meant to say that. Megan just looked at me. I forgot she never saw that side of grandpa because he died when she was six. “Maybe I should call the police,” I said. I wanted to sound like an adult.
“Probably,” she said.
“Are you scared?” I said.
“No,” she said.
I never did call the police, and I threw away the remaining fliers. I really didn’t want to antagonize him. I saw him from time to time riding a bike along 116th Street. One time he recognized my car and flipped me off, but I just waved. I was surprised he hadn’t left another message.
A few months later, I saw that Crazy Red Arrow Guy was dead; his obituary and picture were in the paper. He died after a long battle with some disease of the something. I felt a little better knowing he was dead, that he’d lost his long battle. He was someone I didn’t have to worry about anymore. I didn’t have to think about encountering him late at night in my house.
His name was Ross. He was a retired Boeing engineer who had started out as high school physics teacher (but he lasted only two years).
I showed the obituary to Megan, and she read it. “I feel sorry for his students,” she said.
“Maybe he wasn’t always like that,” I said.
When he died, he had no spouse (she died in 1996) but a son in Medford and another son in El Cerrito.
My father had been a college physics teacher.